Nomu S30: A promising phone ruined by hardware defects (review)

nomu s30

In a time where we have reached a plateau in terms of innovation in the smartphone segment, companies have to resort to doing things differently in order to stand out in a sea full of choices. Nomu has built its brand around ruggedness, about getting things done in environments where no other phone can, about not worrying about the well-being of your device in certain conditions. The Nomu S30 is the company’s flagship device, packing the best specs out of the trilogy (completed by the Nomu S10 and S20). As such, Nomu has tried to incorporate everything it’s got, from NFC to useful software features, from a 16MP camera to an impressively loud speaker, from a 1080p screen to an elegant body design.

Specs

Being the flagship phone by Nomu, the phone packs really good components under the hood.

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 5.5-inch display at 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution; Gorilla Glass 4
  • Octa-core MediaTek 2.0GHz processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB internal storage; microSD expansion card slot for 32GB
  • 13-megapixel (interpolated to 16-megapixel) rear camera
  • 5-megapixel (interpolated to 8-megapixel)front-facing camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • 5000mAh battery
  • 2G GSM:850/900/1800/1900(B5/B8/B3/B2)
  • 3G WCDMA:900/2100(B8/B1)
  • 4G FDD-LTE:850/900/1900/2100(B5/B8/B2/B1)
  • FDD-LTE:800/900/1800/2100/2600(B1/B3/B7/B8/B20)
  • WiFi: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n 2.4GHz
  • Bluetooth: 4.0 BLE
  • NFC

Unlike its smaller, less powerful brother, the Nomu S30 actually has two SIM slots and a microSD card, so you won’t have to compromise anything.

Initial Impressions and Setup

nomu s30
The back of the device is plastic, with a nice carbon fiber pattern.

Nomu tried to keep the device packaging as uncomplicated and straightforward as possible. The box is a light brown package with the Nomu logo on the center and not much else. Inside, you’ll find the phone and, below it, some instruction booklets, a pair of headphones and a charger. Keep in mind that it is designed for European outlets, so, in order to charge your phone in the United States and some places of Latin America, you will need an adapter.

Unlike the Nomu S10, the S30 takes you to the usual Android configuration process. This means that you can’t use your device until you finish the lengthy setup process. I can’t figure out with the S30 has a different setup process than the S10, but I like the S10’s approach much more.

Hardware and Build Quality

Just as Scott mentioned on his initial impressions article, the Nomu S30 doesn’t look like a rugged device. You can see elements that both the S10 and the S30 share, such as the distinctive corners of the device or the flaps that protect the ports, but other than that, they look very different.

At the bottom of the Gorilla Glass 4 screen, you’ll find three capacitive buttons: Menu, Home, and Back. More on these buttons later. The front of the device is only disrupted otherwise by the front-facing camera and the earpiece. A hole for the microphone can be seen at the bottom left of the device, something I haven’t seen in a phone for a while.

The device has a plastic shell with carbon fiber patterns on the back. There’s also a door just below the camera/flash combo that houses the ports for the SIM and microSD cards. At the top of the device is the headphone jack, while at the bottom you’ll find the microUSB port (which is curiously aligned to the left of the device and not to the center). Both are covered by rubber flaps.

The sides of the device are covered by a silver metal frame. The right side is the home of the volume keys and the power button, while the left side has a button that can be mapped to different functions (more on that later).

Personally, I dig the aspect of the device. It looks elegant, different from the glass/metal craze that is invading several OEMs these days and does a good job in hiding the ruggedness of the device behind its looks. Something I dislike is the huge bezels that the device has. It makes the phone unnecessarily big, and it is more noticeable when you compare it to other 5.5-inch devices. Sure, most of them don’t pack a 5000mAh battery, so that’s the tradeoff you have to make in order to get a phone with a big battery.

Also, I have to mention that the device is heavier than you might me accustomed to. I’m coming from an iPhone, but before that, I had a Nexus 6, which is probably the heaviest device I’ve ever owned. At 260 grams, it is a full 76 grams heavier than the Nexus 6 and more than 100 grams heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S7. Keep in mind the battery that this device has, though.

The IP68 water resistance rating this phone holds means that you can submerge it in water for 30 minutes up to 1.5 meters. This means that you can pour your favorite liquid over it and the S30 will be fine.

nomu s30
The device has capacitive keys that weren’t working correctly for me.

Here’s the problem: my capacitive keys are nuts. They just love to press themselves for no reason. You think that you finally got the perfect angle for that shot? It would be a shame if the back button presses by itself. In the middle of a very important conversation on Telegram? Home button for you, sir. Sometimes when you are on the home screen, you see the phone struggling with itself, pressing the menu button and then the back button repeatedly with no reason at all. It’s sad and thus, it diminishes my enjoyment using it. Scott reported this same thing as well.

We don’t know the reason, but if it was because of water or shipping, then this leaves the company in a bad position. Being a phone that is supposed to handle water with ease, while being shock resistant, and then breaking at the first sign of unfavorable conditions doesn’t speak well about its ruggedness. We will work with Nomu to see if they can find the source of the issue and update the article if we get some news.

Screen

The Sharp-produced 5.5″ 1080p panel manages to produce very vibrant images. Everything seems to pop out of the screen. Sure, this is no Samsung AMOLED, but the screen on this device is very respectable and more than enough for whatever activities you plan to do on the device. I feel like it could get a little bit brighter, but that is a minor thing that doesn’t cut away from the enjoyment of using it.

Also, it’s good to know that it doesn’t have the weird defects the Nomu S10 has, so that’s a plus. I certainly was expecting an improvement from the S10, but the vibrant colors, deep darks and overall clearness of the screen left me pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately, the screen is almost unusable when wet, even if it is just a little bit. True, most screens can handle just a certain amount of water before they have no idea of what is going on, but the Nomu S30 is particularly bad at this. It’s a real surprise since the phone is supposed to fare well under conditions that are not ideal.

Something that surprised me is that the screen is weird under normal conditions, too. If I want to change the home screen’s page, but I just drag halfway and keep holding, the icons jump around until I let go, something I have never seen in a modern smartphone. Sometimes, it registers my scrolls as clicks too, leading to a lot of undesired actions and navigation. Sometimes it doesn’t register my touches at all. Since the screen is the main source of user input, having a panel that doesn’t work obliterated the enjoyment I got out of this device.

Speakers and Audio

nomu s30
Since the speaker is on the bottom, the device doesn’t have to be in a specific position to get the most out of it.

The bottom-facing speaker means that you can actually leave your phone on the table and it will work flawlessly. It seems like loudness is pretty high on Nomu’s list of priorities because, just as the Nomu S10, this speaker can get very loud. Unfortunately, at high volumes, some quality is lost, but it is not as bad as with the Nomu S10.
Being a drummer, I pay close attention to the drumming lines in songs, so I was disappointed when I could barely hear the drums in Kamelot’s “Insomnia” or Delain’s “Fire With Fire.” However, quality is decent enough to use the phone as a speaker for some nice background music in one of those improvised moments where you don’t have a proper speaker nearby.

Quality from headphones was good enough too. When I don’t have my iPod nearby, Spotify is my product of choice, and I had no issues outputting music through my headphones while walking to my lectures.

Connectivity

This aspect of the phone could make or break it for you. Apparently, Nomu has very few intentions of penetrating the US market, since its phones don’t include some of the necessary bands for LTE connectivity. This means that you could be stuck in 3G (or even in 2G!). As I live in Estonia, the phone actually has the bands necessary for LTE reception.

nomu s30
Remember checking the compatible bands before clicking the Buy button.

I think these days, very few phones have problems with call quality or connectivity. Some get a bit more reception than others, but that’s about it. This phone got the same signal strength as my iPhone 6 and the Nomu S10 review unit. Also, WiFi behaved the same as with other devices I have (not laptops, obviously), so there’s no surprises in this area.

Software

nomu-s30-software-1
Stock Android!

Thank you, Nomu! The company decided to ship the S30 with an almost stock Android 6.0 build. Also, the few things that were added are actually useful! Weird, right? Let’s dig further.

The stock launcher is pretty barebones. Also, for some reason, it isn’t the same as the S10’s launcher. In the S30, the app drawer features horizontal paged navigation, which is a deviation of what Google is doing with the Google Now Launcher and the Pixel Launcher. Other than that, the minimum features are included and not much else. A problem with the S10 was that some of its apps had icons from the Jelly Bean era, and some Google apps were not installed by default. This is not a problem from the S30, as the only missing app is YouTube. Even Android Pay is included.

The quick settings have a new member that is not included in stock Android: Audio profiles. This lets you change quickly from four different presents: General, Silent, Meeting and Outdoor. It is a very useful and fast way of changing from different environments.

Curiously, one of the highlights of the Nomu S10, Supershots, is not included here. You can only take a screenshot and it will be saved for you. That’s it. No editing, no cropping, no scoll, nothing.

Also, Nomu has included some gestures when the screen is off. This includes double tap to wake, swipe up (lights up the screen and unlocks), launch apps by drawing letters on the screen while it is off and control music through gestures. I’m glad to say that all of them work extremely well and add to the experience. More OEMs should consider adding this kind of useful stuff to their Android builds.

Other interesting features added to the software are Glove Mode, Flip to Mute (incoming calls, alarm, music, and videos), and a built-in task cleaner. Also, you can change what the previously mentioned left button does. You can choose between triggering an app or an SOS situation. To expand on this last feature, the S30 lets you call an emergency number and send an SMS to it. We hope you never have to use that function, but it’s there for you anyways.

Performance

For those of you interested in benchmarks, the phone scored 52149 in AnTuTu.

nomu s30 antutu

This puts it fairly above the Meizu M3 Note, Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8. The difference between the S30 and the Xiaomi Mi 4s is almost 9000, while it has similar values to devices like the HTC One M9, Samsung Galaxy S6 edge and the Nubia Z9 Max.

Fortunately, this is translated into good performance in real life. Every task is a breeze, the phone never lags (except when using Facebook, but that isn’t the phone’s fault) and gaming on it is really good. Even when trying some N.O.V.A. 3, the phone was able to keep up a produce great graphics. I didn’t notice any slowdowns or skipped frames, even when there was a lot going on.

Going from one app to another through the task switcher is swift, thanks to the 4GB of RAM. Unless you’re doing something extremely heavy and processor-demanding, there’s no way the performance of the S30 will leave you disappointed.

Camera

The 13MP (interpolated to 16MP), Sony-produced, f/2.0 lens camera aided by a single flash behaves exactly like me in university (and almost every human being, for that matter): really good in some situations, decent in some of them and laughably bad in others. If you are here looking for a Samsung Galaxy S7 camera experience, then you will have a bad time. However, if you just want to take some shots of things happening around you, then the S30 does a pretty good job at it… Except in nighttime.

Living in a place that has been covered in snow almost every day since the end of October, the pictures that I can take are mostly white with cloudy skies. I noticed that the camera sometimes struggle to capture the sky. It just gives up and gives you a white thing on top. If you are patient enough, then the camera can actually make peace with it and capture its details. Other than that, the camera behaves decently enough, although it tends to blur things a little sometimes without no reason.

The problem comes when the sun sets. Night pictures are so unbelievably bad. You can judge from the samples yourself.

I had a Siemens C66 that behaved better than this in night time. Well, not really, but I can’t recall a camera that performed so poorly in night conditions.

Also, on both situations previously mentioned, the camera was really slow to focus and to actually take the shot. This was exacerbated in night shots, where the camera just stood there doing nothing for 2-3 seconds.

Indoor shots performed much better and are definitely the strength of this camera. Photos taken inside are detailed and have very vivid colors. Also, almost none of the lag found on other situations was found here.

Regarding the front camera, as long as you are not planning on printing them or something similar, you’ll be fine. Just don’t rely on it for taking decent pictures of that once-in-a-lifetime trip you’re about to make.

Battery

Nice functions have been added to the software and they don't affect battery life in a noticeable way.
Nice functions have been added to the software and they don’t affect battery life in a noticeable way.

As with the Nomu S10, battery life is one of the S30’s strongest points. Featuring a massive 5000mAh battery, it puts my iPhone 6’s battery to shame (but then, which phone doesn’t?). I reported that the Nomu S10 could last three days on a single charge easily. The S30 has less endurance, with two days being easily achievable and maybe two and a half if you are careful enough. Still, two days is pretty good and I have no complaints about it.

Something to note, when I received the unit, it was fully discharged. I failed to bring it back to life using the phone’s included charger. On a last try to revive the phone, I used my iPhone’s charger, and then it worked. Not sure if this is something about my device or if it is a widespread issue, but either way, I’m still worried about the QA process that this company has.

Conclusion

Just as the S10, the Nomu S30 left a bitter taste ion my mouth. Even though it has everything to succeed, it has these punctual but almost unforgivable mistakes that keeps it from reaching the glory. While some stuff is really good, such as performance, battery life, software and the speaker, stuff like the poor camera, dodgy screen and build quality issues are very evident and make this device difficult to recommend.

If they can get these stuff sorted out, then Nomu will have a winner in their hands. In it’s current state, however, the bad things outweigh in importance the good things. Sure, it’s nice to have a phone with a big battery so you don’t have to worry about charging it every day, but it’s of no use if your capacitive keys keep messing with you and your actions.

If you still want to buy the phone and see if you have better luck than I do, you can do it from these outlets:

Prices vary from $230 to $270, but you shouldn’t pay more than that. To get more information about the phone, head to Nomu’s official site. They have everything laid out in a nice way.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Setup
Hardware and Build Quality
Sound & Speaker
Software
Display
Camera
Battery
A very quiet person from Guayaquil, Ecuador studying in Tartu, Estonia. I'm passionate about technology since I can remember. I also develop iOS apps and write Android app reviews for a living. Barcelona Sporting Club <3