Smartisan Nut Pro review: Android smartphone enhanced with drag-and-drop, text editing and smart sensor
From a company whose founder wants to be China’s Steve Jobs comes an innovative handset whose major software tweaks are worthy of applause but ultimately try too hard to change what isn’t broken
When it comes to global recognition, five-year-old Chinese phone maker Smartisan isn’t on the same level of smaller Chinese brand Meizu or upstart brand OnePlus – let alone the big boys Huawei and Xiaomi. Despite this, Smartisan has a cult following. In May, 4,000 paying fans filled Shenzhen Stadium, in the city over the border from Hong Kong, to watch the company’s launch event (I was there, and I saw scalpers outside the stadium).
The reason for the fandom: company founder Luo Yonghao, an eccentric, trash talking, hilariously blunt former university dropout who has openly stated his desire to be China’s Steve Jobs.
With such a bold goal, Luo’s products had better not be cookie-cutter, and the Smartisan Nut Pro definitely isn’t. It’s technically an Android phone, but Luo has crafted such odd, quirky software that it makes these unlike anything else on the market.
Design and hardware
The Nut Pro is a glass-back phone with dated (meaning not slim) bezels around a 5.5-inch 1080-pixel display. It has a clickable button below the display that’s also a fingerprint reader. It’s got a mid-range Snapdragon 625 chip-set, 4GB of RAM and dual 13-megapixel cameras. The whole package is well built, but it’s boring, dated hardware at this point.
Software and features
This is where Luo has left his mark. Smartisan’s OS, as mentioned, overhauls Android in every way. Let’s start with the home screen: all apps fill the entire screen in a perfectly symmetrical grid (4x4 or 5x5), while every app has its own cartoonish, real-world icon that run counter to Google and Apple’s “flat design” style.
Smartisan’s OS has also completely rethought the manner with which users share documents such as photos and files. Instead of sharing from within the document, as in all other Android devices, Smartisan users have to go to the home screen and tap on the “One Step” icon that’s locked to the bottom right portion of the phone.
Doing so shrinks the home screen to about 75 per cent of the size, with the free space showing a customisable row of apps such as WeChat, Weibo or Facebook. From there, the user can drag and drop, say, a photo from the camera app and drag it to Instagram or email for instant sharing.
In a clever hardware/software design move, the Nut Pro can tell the difference between touch inputs via a fingertip (which is a typical touch) or an entire thumb. Smartisan OS assigned the latter to trigger specific functionality, the best of which is “Big Bang”, a clever copy and paste feature.
In all other smartphones, users can only copy words in consecutive sequence, but with Smartisan, “Big Bang” brings the block of highlighted text (up to an entire paragraph) into a pop-up text editor, from there on, the user can freely edit the block of text (add or delete words). This is useful for editors doing work on the go.
Performance and battery life
The Nut Pro’s Snapdragon 625 is not a powerful chip set, but it’s enough to handle all smartphone tasks. Besides, Smartisan’s OS is so different from every other Android device that it means most users won’t be able to tell if the phone is misbehaving.
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The device has dual speakers which pump out great sound, but the LCD panel displays dull colours and doesn’t get bright enough. The dual camera can take solid photos in all lighting situations and battery life is excellent, offering nearly six hours of screen-on time.
Considering how flooded the Android market is, I want to applaud Luo for his attempt to reinvent how Android operates. Some of his changes, such as “Big Bang” and “One Step”, are genuinely useful features, but ultimately the software tries too hard to change what isn’t broken.
Other than the software, nothing about the Nut Pro stands out from the pack. At HK$2,700 (US$350), the Nut Pro is cheap enough that fans can purchase it to see what the buzz is about, but for most consumers, they’d be better off with a traditional Android phone.
Dimensions: 155mm x 73.4mm x 6.98mm
Weight: 158 grams
Display: 5.5-inch, 1080p IPS LCD
Battery: 3,500 mAh
OS version reviewed: Android 7.0 with Smartisan OS on top
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
Cameras: dual 13-megapixel rear lens with 16-megapixel secondary front-facing camera
Memory: 32/64/128GB and 4GB RAM
Price: HK$2,700 to HK$3,050