image

Smartphones

Tech review: Onkyo Granbeat DP-CMX1 smartphone – awesome for audiophiles, but comes up short for regular users

If you know what FLAC stands for and shudder when you see others listening to music via YouTube, Onyko’s new phone could be just for you – otherwise, an underpowered processor and ageing OS will likely put you off

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 8:18am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 5:33pm

With a new smartphone seemingly hitting the market every other week, what chance does a company have if it lacks the brand cachet of an Apple or the deep pockets of Chinese corporations such as Huawei and Oppo?

One logical way to tackle this problem is to go after the niche market, and that’s exactly what Japanese audio-product maker Onkyo has done with the Granbeat DP-CMX1 – a device built with a long list of features that will have audiophiles drooling but leave average Joes scratching their heads.

Design and hardware

The first thing you notice when picking up the Granbeat is its size and heft. At 11.9mm thick and weighing 234g, together with a boxy design that doesn’t even bother to hide the sharp corners, the handset feels like a brick – albeit one finely crafted from cool aluminium.

Every bit of that thickness is needed, because the Granbeat seemingly comes with two of everything: two DACs (digital-to-analogue converters), two amplifiers and two headphone jacks – a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a “balanced” 2.5mm jack.

The latter is a staple of audiophiles, using two amps in unison to pump out a deeper, fuller sound.

The device has physical music buttons – play/pause, fast-forward and back – along with a volume dial, allowing for full music controls without turning on the 5-inch, 1080p screen.

Powering the smartphone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 chip with 3GB of RAM which, while quite underpowered by 2017 Android standards, will have no effect on the music-playing experience as the DACs and amps sit on a separate motherboard.

This all makes the Granbeat feel more like a digital audio player with smartphone capabilities tacked on than a full-fledged smartphone.

Software and features

The Granbeat runs Android 6.0, which in a few months will be almost two generations behind. That, coupled with the dated Qualcomm chip, means this phone is hardly a powerhouse. It’ll handle web browsing and Instagram fine, but playing graphics-intensive games such as Mortal Kombat X led to severe frame rate drops. Less demanding games like Super Mario Run ran fine, however.

The built-in music player excels as expected. It offers myriad customisation options, such as the ability to run real-time DSD conversions to upsample a music file, and store up to 1,000 EQ profiles.

The DAC here (an ESS ES9018C2M) can handle virtually every music file imaginable, including FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec), WAV, AAC, MQA (Master Quality Authenticated, a new form of hi-fi streaming file) and, of course, MP3s, with audio quality topping out at 24bit/384kHz.

Review: Google Pixel – fine camera and bigger screen than iPhone 7, but battery is a let-down

So, the big question: does the Granbeat pump out better sound than other phones? The short answer is yes, mostly. I listened to Radiohead’s Kid A and Nas’ Illmatic on FLAC with Bose Soundlink headphones and the audio did come out deeper and fuller than on my Samsung Galaxy S8.

But does the Granbeat sound better than the LG V20, which also has a high-end DAC? I couldn’t tell the difference.

With so many uncompressed audio files, the phone’s 128GB of onboard storage may fill up quickly. Luckily, the device has two microSD card slots, each supporting memory cards up to 256GB for a combined total storage of 640GB.

Review: ZTE Axon 7 – hi-def phone, half the price of an iPhone

Performance and battery life

As a smartphone, the Granbeat performs solidly as mentioned earlier, and the 16-megapixel camera take surprisingly sharp photos in daylight. At night or in dimly lit rooms, however, the camera suffers.

The 3,000 mAh battery can easily power the device for almost two days if used as a normal smartphone. If you use it mostly as an audio player (with the screen off), Onkyo claims it can last up to 25 hours. My testing mostly backed that claim up – I left the device spinning tunes for 10 hours and lost about 40 per cent of battery life.

Conclusion

Whether or not the Granbeat is worth the purchase is a question only you can answer. Do you own headphones that cost thousands of Hong Kong dollars? Do you shudder when you see others listen to music via YouTube? Do you know what DSD and ALAC stand for? If you answered yes to any of those, then the Granbeat may be worth consideration.

But to the rest of us sonically challenged normal folk who can accept listening to compressed MP3 files on those generic white earbuds that come with iPhones, the Granbeat’s heavy-handed approach to playing music is overkill. And the smartphone part just isn’t good enough to justify the HK$6,000 price.

Review: Xiaomi Mi 6 wins on power and price, but falls down on looks

Key specs

Dimensions: 142.3mm x 72mm x 11.9mm

Weight: 234g

Display: 5 inch, 1080p

Battery: 3,000 mAh

OS version reviewed: Android 6.0

Processor: Snapdragon 650

Cameras: 16-megapixel rear, 4-megapixel front

Memory: 128GB ROM, 3GB RAM

Colours: Black

Price: HK$6,000