For those not in the know, Android One is a Google initiative to put stock Android into more consumer hands, especially those in developing markets. You may argue: What? Another derivative of Android? Isn’t it super fragmented already? Well, no and yes. Android One is the purest form of Android packaged into uber accessible devices, some as low as USD100. Yes, Android is fragmented, but Android One ensures users get the latest and most secure OS updates promptly.
In short, you get a Nexus-like Android experience and fast updates, direct from Google.
Currently, there are a dozen Android One devices: from Xiaomi’s powerful Mi A1, Moto X4 and HTC U11 Life. Aside from the mainstream brands we know and love, there’s a little known Turkish phone maker that makes affordable Android devices too—General Mobile 4G.
General Mobile made an entry to the Malaysian market in July this year with its flagship GM5 Plus smartphone. The company currently sells its devices across 30 different countries.
When it debuted at the end of 2016, the GM5 Plus was the most powerful device in the Android One lineup. That, of course, changed when Xiaomi introduced its shockingly good Mi A1. The GM5 Plus may have lost its speed crown, but as you’ll see in the review, it’s still a neat little package, even by 2017 standards.
Specs at a glance
[nextpage title=”Design + Build, Hardware, Software, Performance”]
Design + Build
Let’s start with the design. The GM5 Plus has a titanium+aluminium alloy frame and a plastic textured back. The back cover brings me back to the glory days of Samsung’s faux leather and removable plastic backs. So, the GM5 Plus comes out looking a little dated, at least from the rear.
The rear houses the rear camera module that has a pronounced bump, with the dual-LED flash unit and General Mobile logo beneath it. The Android One logo is proudly emblazoned at the bottom.
On the front, you’ll get the 5.5-inch display with respective front camera module and front-facing LED flash at the top. What you’ll notice is that there’s no physical home button. The GM5 Plus makes do with capacitive buttons, and oh, no fingerprint sensor. We’ll get to that in a bit.
I wouldn’t go as far as to call it ugly, because it isn’t. In fact, from the front and the sides, it’s pleasant-looking if generic. In fact, it reminds me of the Mi A1 from the front.
Build quality-wise, it’s surprisingly solid, and feels good in the hand. The textured back, despite my opinions of the design, gives you a good, firm grip. None of the insecure slippery feeling of some glass and metal-bodied phones today.
Tipping the scales at 160g, it’s considered fairly lightweight, while it measures 7.9mm at its thinnest point.
Overall, not bad-looking device and well put together, considering its price point.
Now we get to the tasty bits—the myriad components that make the GM5 Plus tick. A decidedly mid-range octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 (MSM8952) powers the device. Yes, somewhat old, but don’t forget, this device came out in 2016. Qualcomm’s 600-series chips aren’t bad though, and pretty power efficient. Naturally, it won’t beat the newer SD625/630 chips found on many of today’s mid-range devices.
What’s good is a generous 3GB of RAM, and an acceptable 32GB of internal storage. There’s a hybrid SIM slot that allows you to expand storage up to 128GB via microSD.
It sports a 5.5-inch IPS LTPS FHD (1920×1280 @ 401PPI) display which is protected by Gorilla Glass 4. The display isn’t bad at all, delivering as punchy and sharp as an IPS display can.
Powering the device is a 3,100mAh built-in battery that charges up via USB Type-C. The USB Type-C is a huge plus point, and it enables Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. QC3.0 allegedly delivers 60 percent charge in as quick as 30 minutes of charge time.
In the camera department, the GM5 Plus offers a 13MP f/2.0 main shooter with autofocus and dual-LED flash. It supports HDR and Panorama modes and is capable of shooting 1080p @ 30fps.
Selfie lovers should be quite happy with the 13MP autofocus front shooter with front-facing LED flash.
Connectivity-wise, it ticks all the right boxes. First up, support for 4.5G LTE. Yes, superfast Cat.7 which is rated at 300Mbps DL and 100Mbps UL (where supported by networks).
It also rocks Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS and as mentioned USB Type-C.
A big disappointment for me is the lack of a fingerprint sensor on the device.
Software is where the GM5 Plus excels, although I wouldn’t call its hardware shabby. So, let’s talk about Android One.
The promise of Android One is two-fold. Firstly, pure stock Android. This means no custom UI layer, no fancy schmancy features you don’t need and first-to-the-mark Android updates. There’s absolutely no bloatware, and no unwanted apps.
You always run the latest version of Android, with the latest security patches. Google has assured that Android One devices will get at least two generations of Android OS updates, so expect Android Oreo to come soon.
Secondly, Android One is about affordability and accessibility. The idea is to get Android into as many hands as possible. There may be 2 billion Android devices in the market out there today, but Google wants to “spread the love” especially into developing markets.
Sure, you may argue that MYR899 (USD300) isn’t exactly “cheap” by any means, but the GM5 Plus is considered one of the top-rung Android One choices in the stable, so you get what you pay for.
As you would expect, accessing Google Assistant is as easy as holding down the Home button.
Based on daily usage of social media updates (hint: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter), web browsing, emailing and watching videos, the GM5 Plus runs without complaint.
Thanks to pure stock Android, it’s responsive and snappy and switching between apps is pretty effortless too.
The display is adequately bright and crisp, and it does a pretty good job in sunlight too.
It copes well with light gaming, but crumbles when attempting to run a more intensive 3D game like Real Racing smoothly.
Moving on to battery life, the GM5 Plus returns 3-4 hours of screen on time, which is decent for an almost full day’s worth of use. While it has a slightly bigger battery than the rival Mi A1, I found the latter to have a tad better battery life.
What’s cool about the GM5 Plus is the support for Quick Charge 3.0 through General Mobile’s own GM Turbo charger. GM claims the phone can get to 60% charge in 30 minutes, however, I never got close to those speeds.
I could manage around 30% charge in 30 minutes, and a full charge took a little over two hours.
It’s still a plus that it’s got a USB Type-C port, and included in the box is a microUSB to Type-C connector.
The GM5 Plus’ 13MP main shooter is what you’d expect from a 13MP sensor. It takes decent, sufficiently sharp photos under ideal lighting conditions. Colour reproduction is not bad, and HDR mode returns pretty good results. White balance can sometimes be a little off and in general photos are a tad washy. Check out the sample photos at the end of the post.
For selfies, the 13MP front-facing camera does an OK job overall. The front-facing LED flash is a plus, and comes in handy in dimly-lit environments. A good addition is HDR support for selfies, which comes in handy when in tricky light environments. Selfies tend to lack detail and suffer the same washiness as the rear shooter.
My gripe with the camera lies with the stock Android camera app. It’s annoyingly slow in general, and the lag between shots can be rather unsettling. It’s a pretty basic camera app, although I’m more bothered by the lack of responsiveness than the dearth of features.
The other thing is the fact that the stock camera app uses cloud-based Photos to store all your shots, which can also be noticeably slow to appear once you’ve taken a shot.
This seems to afflict the stock Android Nokia 8 as well.
[nextpage title=”Pros, Cons, Verdict”]
- Affordable, value-for-money
- Quick Charge 3.0 support
- Fast 4.5G LTE
- USB Type-C
- Stock Android, no bloatware, fast updates
- Bright and crisp display
- Dated design
- Laggy camera performance
- Quick charging not as quick as advertised
- No fingerprint sensor
- Average battery life
- Annoying black borders on display
Pricing and availability
If you’re looking for a stock Android experience on a budget, then the GM5 Plus may be a good option for you. It’s well put together and has acceptable mid-range specs for the price.
It undercuts its closest competitor, the Mi A1 by MYR200, and in this price-sensitive segment, that’s going to be a key factor in making a purchase decision.
There are several niggling faults and the absence of a fingerprint sensor is a huge trade-off. If you insist on the fingerprint sensor, then you’ll have to look at the GM6.
Overall, a neat package that’ll give you a pure stock Android experience for under MYR1,000.
Interested to catch a showdown of two of the most powerful Android One devices right now? Watch this space.