Verykool Maverick SL5550 review: Unlocked phones get another strong contender

You may have not yet heard of the verykool brand, and that’s okay. It’s a startup based out of San Diego. The parent company, InfoSonics Corp, has a past history as a distributor for more known brands (Samsung, LG) before it branched off to do its own thing.

Verykool has quite a few smartphones under its belt now, and the experience shows. We were given its latest, the Maverick SL5550, to review for you guys today.

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The SL5550 comes with a considerable 5.5″ screen and is LTE-ready. Verykool thinks it’s packed with all the things you’d need from a top-notch smartphone, at a very cool retail price of $179. Let’s check out if the Maverick SL5550 is the unlocked smartphone for you.

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Design

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I’ll cut to the chase about the Maverick SL5550’s design. I was majorly impressed upon opening the box. An asking price of $179 doesn’t beg for high expectations. I was wrong. Budget phones are beginning to offer a lot, and the SL5550 is certainly no exception.

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The classy metal frame slapped me in the face when picking up the smartphone for the first time. It looks and feels so good. The finish on the metal is smooth and matte. It’s flanked by shiny chamfers on both sides, which create a lovely contrast. The metal alone gives the phone an appearance way past its price.

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I also like the front of the phone as well. Tempered glass protection dominates the entire front panel, and verykool was considerate with minimizing bezel.

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However, with such an aggressive price, something indeed had to give. The back cover doesn’t keep up with the quality feel of the rest of the phone.

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The plastic has a cheap feel, and there’s a hollow response when you tap on it. The glossy finish tries to hide the fact, but it can’t really.

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I’m not suggesting that the backing won’t hold up, and the fact that it is removable can be a point of redemption. Yes, the battery in this guy is replaceable. Access to the back also provides a microSD card slot and two SIM slots.

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Performance

The SL5550 is powered by a MediaTek MT6735P processor, which consists of four ARM Cortex-A53 cores running at 1.0 GHz. The MT6735P is comparable to the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 SoC (low-mid range). Therefore, you shouldn’t expect mind-blowing performance.

That isn’t to say it won’t get you by. In my experience, the SL5550’s performance was just fine for basic phone functionality (moving through the UI, opening applications, internet browsing, etc.).

What had me most worried was the fact that the processor is bundled with only 1GB of RAM. It is a big risk going with such a low memory capacity (bear in mind that part of it is reserved for the OS). In my opinion, 2GB should be the minimum in this day and age. It may forgivable for a sub-$100 phone, but not at $179. Fortunately, it didn’t show a problem for basic phone functionality. But there can be slowdown when you ask for more from the system (gaming, camera, multi-tasking, etc.).

The SL5550 comes with 16GB of internal storage. That isn’t a lot when you consider that the OS takes up a chunk of that space. However, it’s fantastic that the concern is supplemented by microSD expansion support (up to 64GB of additional storage).

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Regarding audio performance, I was pleasantly surprised. The external speaker (bottom-facing) isn’t anything to write home about, but I felt the headphone output was superb for a phone at this price range.

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The sound is clear and rich. And where most budget phones I’ve tried make my favorite tunes uninspiring, the SL5550 is engaging and has that articulated oomph from strong-hitting notes in the music.

Display

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I’m always worried when powering up a budget phone for the first time. You never know what you’re gonna get with the display. They usually have some kind of standout weakness in the form of color degradation or a washing-out effect.

I was pleasantly surprised with the SL5550’s display. No, it won’t match top-end panels from Samsung or LG, but it’s not far off either (and that’s saying a lot for a budget phone). It most definitely surpasses what you’d expect from this price range. It’s clear that we’re looking at an IPS panel, because blacks are deep and the image quality is maintained at angles (even surprisingly at extreme viewing angles). Colors are neither vivid nor dull; they should be just right for most people.

But what I will red mark is the resolution. At a 5.5″ display size, a 720p resolution (267 ppi) does show weakness. Elements in the images show a slight blur, especially to someone used to seeing a much more pixel dense display (which isn’t hard these days). However, I admit that this is more of a snobby complaint. The display is just fine for general use.

Camera

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I’ll cut to the chase and say I wasn’t overly impressed with the camera performance. The capturing speed is what bugged me the most. It can be too slow to focus and take the shot. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not incompetent. I’m speaking from the perspective of snappy shooters in many smartphone cameras these days.

Spec-wise, we’re looking at a 13MP module as the primary camera and a 8MP front shooter. The megapixel count is impressive for a budget device, but the general consumer must know by now that the amount of megapixels don’t determine camera quality.

Rather than just talk about it, I’ll let you be the judge (click the image to go to the collection):

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The camera software is verykool’s own implementation. Navigation through it is just fine, and it has the essential functions you’d expect from smartphone camera software (HDR, panorama, picture effects). There’s a feature called Live Photo Mode, which is a gif-like capture (or moving set of pics).

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A minor annoyance in my experience with the camera is the software’s shutter button. You have to hit it right at the center. Many times when I thought I got the picture, it actually only focused where I tapped.

Battery

The SL5550 packs a modestly-sized 2,500 mAh battery. Considering the price and size, I have no complaints over the capacity. The value is also raised by the fact that can buy another battery and swap it out at desperate times (an ability that many phones have now lost).

But how does that 2,500 mAh battery pack perform in the SL5550? In my experience, fabulously. I consistently managed to get over a day. Specifically, it would be around 30% by the time I went to bed.

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This was with being out and about half the day and at home on WiFi. I tried to cover several use cases (internet browsing, music listening, picture taking, and navigation). The SL5550 held up like a champ. Note that although the battery stats say “Use since last full charge”, it doesn’t actually display the complete usage (must be a bug).

A neat feature verykool has implemented to help on battery life is called Standby Intelligent Power Saving. As implied, it helps minimize usage while the phone is in standby. It worked pretty well in my test. I went to bed at 37% and woke up to 32%

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However, note that Google baked this kind of battery-saving feature into Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) – Doze. The SL5550 is on Android 5.1 (Lollipop), so it’s generous that verykool has a similar feature in the meantime until Marshmallow comes through.

Software

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Verykool did it right with regard to software in the SL5550. It is practically stock Android (version 5.1, Lollipop). I will always praise when budget phone manufacturers don’t waste their resources in trying to create a standout UI (which end up being fugly) and just let Android be Android. Stock Android has a UI, just use it and put the effort into something that matters.

/rant.

With that said, the SL5550’s software isn’t completely free of verykool’s own touches. I must say that I was extremely worried about the presentation upon the phone’s initial power up. I was taken to a home screen that didn’t look one bit like Android. Fortunately, this only turned out to be a verykool app that launches on startup (not very cool at the slightest).

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You have to press the Home button to get into Android. I also need to say that launcher isn’t Google’s own (you won’t find Google Now on the far left panel), but it might as well be. Lollipop transitions, icons, app drawer, and notification shade are present. And the fluidity and animations when moving through the UI is how it should be.

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Final Thoughts

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My overall opinion is that verykool did a fine job with the Maverick SL5550. I think the manufacturer is progressing nicely, and it is making the right compromises for the aggressive price target.

The way I give a passing grade to a budget phone is if I could say I could drop my flagship and use it as my daily driver if I really needed to. With the SL5550, I no doubt could. But what keeps me from saying “I totally could” is the 1GB of RAM and sub-par camera performance. I hope that verykool has these refinements on the priority list for the next phone.

Nonetheless, the SL5550 would definitely be one of my top recommendations for someone looking for a sub-$200 smartphone.

Maverick SL5550 product page

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