In an world where every company tries to come up with an ever thinner device than last year’s, sacrificing battery life for looks, leaving out plasic and using metal and glass instead, it’s nice to see a manufacturer like Nomu. Its whole lineup of devices is aimed at people that are normally in harsh environments.
With IP68 water resistance rating, utilitarian design and a mind-boggling 5000mAh battery, the Nomu S10 is not aimed at someone working a run-of-the-mill office job.
The specs for the Nomu S10 are very respectable for 2016 standards. And look at that battery.
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 5.0-inch display at 1280 x 720 pixel resolution; Gorilla Glass 3
- Quad-core Mediatek 1.5GHz processor
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB internal storage; microSD expansion card slot for 32GB
- 8-megapixel (interpolated to 13-megapixel) rear camera
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
- 5000mAh battery
- 2G GSM: 850/900/1800/1900（B5/B8/B3/B2）
- 3G WCDMA: 900/2100（B8/B1）
- 4G FDD-LTE: 800/900/1800/2100/2600（B20/B8/B3/B1/B7）
- TDD-LTE: 2300(B40)
- WiFi: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n 2.4GHz
- Bluetooth: 4.0 BLE
MicroSD support is also nice in an era where more and more phones leave this feature behind in favor of internal storage. You’ll have to make a compromise though: it’s either a microSD or two SIM cards, but not both.
Initial Impressions and Setup
The packaging is pretty straightforward. It’s just a brown box with the Nomu logo on it, devoid of any other branding or indication of the phone itself. Curiously, the Nomu S30 comes in exactly the same box, even though it is much bigger.
Inside you will find the phone, a pair of headphones and a charger. This review unit came with a charger compatible with European plugs, something which wasn’t a problem for me but could be a minor inconvenience for those who live in the US.
Something peculiar about this phone is that, upon powering on, it doesn’t take you to the normal setup screen that you’re used to when booting an Android device for the first time. Instead, you’re greeted with the phone’s main screen. You can effectively use the phone without configuring. As a person who dislikes long setup processes, I like this approach.
If you actually want to use your Google account with your phone, accessing any Google-made app will take you to the configuration you’re used to. From then on, everything will work exactly as expected. As a side note, some Google apps you’re used to don’t come installed by default, including YouTube and Google Drive; you’ll have to do that by yourself.
Hardware and Build Quality
First, let me address the elephant in the room: this is the thickest phone I’ve used since my Nokia 3590 back in 2003. Probably the massive 5000mAh battery has something to do with it. But let me get something straight: this is actually not a bad thing.
Sure, Apple, Motorola, Samsung and company have us think that a thinner phone is better (which, to an extent, you can say it is), but there’s also a market for people looking to, you know, actually use their phones. What’s more, they don’t want to turn off every shiny new feature to make it through the day. Sure, there’s a trade-off, and that’s something Nomu has obviously accepted, but kudos to them for favoring function over form.
Upon holding the device, you will immediately notice its ruggedness. This is a heavy-duty phone, aimed at people who work in harsh environments, where a power outlet is not available for hours and/or water is a serious concern.
Corners are not rounded, but very angular and sharp instead. It tries to alleviate the thickness factor by reducing it around the edges, something which works to some extent.
Except for the Gorilla Glass 4 screen, the whole device is made of some kind of rubberized plastic. While many phones these days opt for metal and glass casings that can make the phone slippery, the Nomu S10 is almost impossible to drop by accident under normal conditions.
The device itself is black with orange accents, which, combined with its rugged elements, makes it look futuristic and it has certainly garnered attention when using it throughout my review process.
Its IP68 water resistance rating means that it can be submerged for 30 minutes under a maximum of 1.5 meters of water. That’s A LOT of time, so feel safe knowing that this phone will survive that drop into the toilet.
All of these characteristics and focus on ruggedness makes the phone feel incredibly sturdy. Your immediate reaction would be to think that this phone is more expensive, because it sure feels like it is.
For those wondering, the volume keys and the power key (in that order, from top to bottom) are all located on the upper right side of the device, while the speaker is at the back.
The 3.5mm headphone jack is present (thanks Nomu for not being “courageous” enough to remove it) and located at the top, while the microUSB port is located at the bottom. Both of them are covered by rubber flaps in order to achieve its water resistance rating. I actually didn’t try submerging the phone with the flaps open, but I’m pretty sure that is one of those “don’t try this at home” situations.
Being a $100 phone in this era means that some corners have to be cut. The first place where you notice this is by looking at the screen. The 1280×720 5.0″ Sharp IGZO screen does a decent job under normal conditions and you can perform your tasks without your eyeballs bleeding. However, sometimes you can see some icons and colors being displayed in a weird way. Picture an image compressed 5 times: this is how the S10’s screen displays stuff sometimes.
This was really noticeable for me while taking a closer look at the default wallpaper. At first I thought “Wow, that’s a really crappy picture,” but then I changed it to a different one and saw the same kind of artifacts. It’s a shame, because otherwise this panel would be decent enough for a $100 device.
It gets really bright (there’s almost no direct sunlight in Estonia at the moment, but trust me, the screen can get very bright) and the 720p resolution is good news for battery life. Unfortunately, in its current state, the screen leaves something to be desired.
Speakers and Audio
As previously mentioned, the speaker is located at the back side of the phone. The last phone I owned that had this configuration was the LG G3, and I sure hated that speaker. I just can’t stand speakers there because you have to lie your phone on its screen for the speaker to be useful. That simply doesn’t make sense.
Anyways, the good news is that it gets extremely loud. If loudness was the only factor, then actually I would use this phone over my Bluetooth speaker. However, as we know, quality is the other side of the story, and unfortunately some distortion and loss of quality can be heard when the speaker is at its maximum. It’s not a deal-breaker, but something to note anyways.
Nevertheless, keep in mind that this may be noticeable to us who actually care about this kind of stuff. I tried the speaker with a couple of friends and both noticed the loudness first, and made no mention about the loss in quality.
When actually connecting the phone to a pair of headphones, output was good enough. Note that I’m not able to detect any significant improvements in quality since my only pair of headphones are Apple Earbuds, but I can definitely notice a reduction in said quality, something that didn’t happen while listening Epica’s latest masterpiece, The Holographic Principle, or a really nice 80’s music playlist I found the other day.
If you didn’t get the message when talking about the charger that ships with the S10, then you will definitely notice it here. Clearly, Nomu is not focused on the US market for now. Why? In short, it’s because its phones doesn’t have the required bands for 4G to work there. That is really a shame for our US readers; the phone will get 3G speeds at best. However, here in Estonia, Telia uses bands 3, 7, and 20 to deliver its 4G service, so I could test it.
Overall, I got good signal everywhere I went. Call quality was exactly as you might expect, so, if you have the required bands, the phone behaves exactly as you expect it to. Be sure to check this beforehand, though.
Regarding WiFi, I could achieve the same download speeds as on my other devices, so there are no surprises here either. A thing to note, though: there’s no support for 5.2GHz WiFi networks as only 2.4GHz is supported.
Do you like stock Android? I have good news for you. Nomu has decided that Google’s implementation of Android Marshmallow is good enough for its purposes and decided to leave it partially unchanged. That is normally good news regarding updates, since it means less things to test and update for new versions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for a Nougat update.
However, let me tell you that this Android 6.0 implementation works pretty well. Since you already know the main features of Android 6.0, I will tell you the deviations from Google’s original software.
First, there is the launcher. I know what you might be thinking: “First, he says that Android is largely unchanged and then he says that the launcher is different?” I know, let me explain. This is neither Google Now Launcher nor the shiny new Pixel Launcher introduced in Android 7.0. This is a generic launcher that has home screens, an app drawer and nothing more. It is pretty bare-bones and, frankly, not that good of an experience. Fortunately, the Play Store has a plethora of options from which you can choose, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
Also, a weird thing about this Android build is that, even though it is Marshmallow, the icons for some apps look like their Jelly Bean era counterparts. I can’t for the life of me understand the reason behind this.
Regarding other aspects, you’ll see that the quick settings has two new members: Audio Profiles and Supershot. The former lets you change your sound profile from four predefined options: General, Silent, Meeting and Outdoor. The latter lets you take a screenshot without having the Volume Down + Power Button combination.
When taking a screenshot, you will get the option of editing it too. You can crop it in a rectangular shape, with a lasso tool, or with a graffiti function (the image becomes your canvas and you select parts of it by making lines over it). You can also create longer screenshots by using the scroll function.
The problem with this is that the phone doesn’t generate screenshots correctly. It compresses its height a little bit, making the image look distorted. It seems like it is a problem with the implementation of the navigation bar, since making it hide and then opening an app results in screenshots being captured correctly. I’m sure this can easily be corrected with an update, but it’s inadmissible that this kind of faults have made it through QA and into production software.
There are some really useful options in the settings screen. Stuff like tap to wake, hiding the navigation bar and turbo download (download big files using both data and WiFi) are present there for your pleasure.
Also, there’s this neat feature in which you can draw a letter on the screen while it is off, and, upon detection, the phone will open the related app. For example, I configured the C to open the camera. It works exactly as advertised, although it could benefit from opening the app faster. The current implementation wastes time making an animation based on the detected letter.
I know that benchmarks tell us nothing about the performance under daily use, but here is the AnTuTu benchmark score in case you were wondering.
With its score of 37396 points, the Nomu S10 is ranked among devices like the Samsung Galaxy A3 (2016), Huawei Honor 5X, Blu Vivo XL and OnePlus One. For reference, the Google Nexus 5 scores 23225 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 scores 76912.
Using it for a couple of weeks, though, I can say that I could easily use this phone as my daily driver. It is really snappy when doing normal activities, like checking Facebook and Twitter, watching YouTube videos and streaming Spotify. It struggles when there’s a lot of things going on (for example, when downloading apps), but then again, a lot of phones do.
Games is a different matter, though. Stuff like Star Knight performs superbly, since it is not a graphic-intensive game. However, things change a bit when launching N.O.V.A 3. It’s likely my fault for trying to run such a game on a $100 phone, but results are decent at best. The game gets laggy in a lot of instances and skips a lot of frames. If you’re the kind of person that plays heavy-load games, then you won’t be interested in this mid-range phone.
Continuing with the list of components that were hindered in order to reduce costs, we arrive at the camera. I don’t want to blame the camera only, since the screen actually makes pictures look worse than they are, but the results are not stellar either. The 13 MP shooter with a single flash does a modest job in daylight conditions, but it is especially bad in low light.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a single clear day to take pictures in which the sky was blue, but you can clearly see that colors are not bright enough on any of the samples anyways. Also, you have to move the phone as little as possible when taking pictures, because if not, the photo will turn out blurry.
Low-light images look like they were printed on sandpaper and the camera does an awful job with colors too. Also, focusing sometimes takes a really long time, something that, in my opinion, is as annoying as the quality itself. This is specially true on low-light conditions, when focusing is sometimes downright impossible.
The camera app is not Google Camera but a different implementation which actually has some nice options. There’s a mode in which you can capture a picture with both cameras at the same time, and the software will superimpose one on top of the other. There are also different filters like mono, sepia, negative, whiteboard and similar.
Stuff like scene modes, timers, ISO and video quality can be changed at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, it can’t aleviate the camera’s inefficiencies, which is a hardware problem that no software might be able to resolve.
The phone can easily last three days on a charge with location, several social networks constantly pinging home for no reason, some light gaming, some YouTube videos, and Amaranthe’s Maximalism looping for hours on Spotify.
There’s one small thing though: standby time could be better. Sometimes, when leaving the phone at home with WiFi and Bluetooth on, the phone discharges just a bit slower as when actually carrying it with me and using it appropriately, something that makes no sense.
Actually, the phone has a function called “Standby Intelligent Power Saving,” which I tried to turn on and off for a few days but it made no noticeable difference. Another thing, the battery screen appears to be kind of broken, since it always displays “Phone idle” as the most expensive process, with a disproportionate amount of computed power use.
Charging the phone takes a lot of time, even with the included charger. We’re talking about 4 hours easily. Also, the phone tends to get warm when charging, especially when the battery is almost depleted. This is an increasingly common thing these days thanks to Quick Charge, so you probably shouldn’t worry about it.
The Nomu S10 is certainly a peculiar device. It has no middle ground: its ups are superb, but its downs are almost catastrophic. On one side you have a really sturdy, rugged, Bear Grylls-worthy build, but the screen then fails to display some patterns correctly. The battery is the best one I’ve used by far (at least since the dawn of the smartphone era), but its camera is not dependable at all. Even within the same category, there are some superb stuff and some unbearable aspects. Take as an example the speaker: really, really loud but on the back of the phone, and some quality is lost at high volumes.
Recommending this phone is as hard as it gets. Do you care about a phone that will last through use and abuse? Then buy it. This is the S10’s main market, and, it is really good at that. Do you want to buy a phone that will accompany you through your son’s first years in this world? Then don’t but it. You will probably want to take pictures of his first steps into this world, and this camera will produce pictures that will leave you as disappointed as the kid will be when he realizes he has to study for the next 20 years.
There are some situations in which this phone is almost perfect, and some in which it’s not up to the task. For $100 though, this phone is good to have as a backup (which actually has longer battery life than the phone it is backing up).
If you’re looking for one, you can get it from the following shops:
Prices vary from shop to shop, but they won’t ever surpass $130 dollars (or euros, depending on where you are). If you want more information about the phone, then Nomu’s official site has more information.