Several years ago the attractive design was just about the only standout feature of a mobile phone for the lack of other notable features. Today, the tables have turned. The features are numerous but the designs have become so plain that a good design, which is rich in character, can easily stick out. As if consumers have almost had their fill of advanced features and they are after that elusive combination of looks and functionality that few phones can deliver.
The Lenovo Vibe Shot brings a much-needed shot of innovation on that front and is one of the best-looking phones we've handled this year. But Lenovo's ambitions stretched further than nailing design - they wanted to excel at the key selling point for many smartphones - the camera.
This dictated both the theme of the design of the phone (a point & shoot camera) and the feature list too. The camera comes fully loaded with a high-resolution sensor, optical stabilization, and triple-flash, plus an actual hardware switch to give you manual control over the camera (plus plenty of intelligence for the Auto mode).
On the other side of the lens is an excellent display - a 5" LCD that can rival flagships in image quality. Sure, it's not QHD-sharp, but at this size, it makes very little difference. And the Vibe Shot isn't a flagship - it's priced as a premium mid-ranger.
That's the class that flies above the usual rabble of the mid-range and offers a mix of high-end features without the elite price. Here's the rundown of the features.
The screen and build quality of the Vibe Shot are definitely top-level stuff, the still camera could use some polish (and the video camera is just ordinary). The memory situation is surprisingly good - you get 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage as a base. And the microSD card gets a dedicated slot, so dual-SIM users don't have to choose between a microSD card and a second SIM.
The software is a mixed bag, literally. The Vibe OS is based on Android 5.1 Lollipop but brings many features typically reserved for 6.0 Marshmallow. The software package is pretty good out of the box though you'll probably want to replace the multimedia apps right away. The preloaded apps also eat quite a bit of the storage.
While the Lenovo Vibe Shot uses the metal frame/glass sandwich combo, the Huawei Honor 7 goes full metal. It brings a slightly bigger screen (5.2") with pretty excellent quality and the chipset beats the S615 on graphics performance. The camera sports a 20MP sensor with phase detection autofocus (no OIS though) and it too tops out at 1080p video.
The ZTE Nubia Z9 mini swaps out the back glass pane of the big Z9 for more practical plastic. It's not particularly "mini" either with its 5" 1080p screen. The camera has a 16MP 16:9 sensor too though without much hardware add-ons (it does have manual controls though). The Snapdragon 615 chipset once again puts the upper limit of video at 1080p. Keep in mind that this is the most affordable phone on the list, though.
Sony's Z series get the most attention, but this year the Xperia M5 won over a lot of fans. A waterproof phone (IP68) with a 21MP camera (with phase detection AF and hardware shutter key), what's not to love? Don't forget the 13MP selfie cam. The MediaTek Helio X10 chipset speeds ahead of the S615 and the M5 is on track for a Marshmallow update. The build quality is solid though not as premium.
The YU Yutopia (due to launch any moment now) sits closer to the flagships than the others on this list. It has a 5.2" QHD screen, a Snapdragon 810 chipset and a 21MP camera with OIS, phase-detection AF, even 2160p video capture. Note that YU is regionally-limited when it comes to distribution and the Yutopia is not their cheapest model.
The HTC One ME is a bit pricier too, but that buys you a 5.2" QHD screen, stereo speakers and a chipset that can do 2160p (Helio X10 like the Xperia M5). The 20MP camera skips the OIS, but most M8/M9 models don't have it either. The One ME does have their cool dual-tone exterior, though and a ticket for the Android Marshmallow ride.
Despite being huge in the PC market, Lenovo phones have pockets of popularity in some countries but not global appeal. The Vibe Shot will certainly raise Lenovo's profile where it already has a foothold. Can it break into the international market, though? Perhaps few will bother to import one, but those who do will get a kick ass screen and a capable camera too.