Monday 16 December 2019

How good can a €120 smartphone really be? Doogee N20 reviewed

€120 from Amazon.co.uk or DoogeeMall.com

Doogee N20
Doogee N20
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Ever heard of Doogee? Few in Ireland will have, bar a handful who follow the Spanish football team Villarreal, with which it has had branding sponsorships.

It's an ultra-budget smartphone and gadget company which defines an era of commoditisation - assembling impressive-sounding phone features from the Chinese factories which make them at scale and sticking them into a phone without too much of its own design needed.

This way, it can offer the phone at what seems like a ludicrously low price in relative terms. And such is the case with Doogee's latest N20. Its specifications suggest at least a mid-range device: a dual-sim 6.3in phone with a long battery life, regular and ultra-wide camera, 64GB of storage memory (with memory card support for extra storage), 4GB of ram and both facial and fingerprint unlocking. (It even has a traditional headphone jack.)

On paper, these are almost exactly the same headline features as, say, an iPhone 11. Obviously, this is a different experience from using Apple's latest handset.

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I didn't come to the N20 with much expectation of clear substitute for a flagship smartphone. What I found was a device that does the modern day basics of smartphone usage reasonably well, with glaring compromises for those looking for something comparable to the flagships.

The biggest of these is the 6.3in screen. Although very bright and crisp (428ppi is up there with most decent displays), it is immediately apparent it's a cheaper surface. You know this because your finger slightly drags along the screen, making the process of scrolling or tapping slightly more erratic. To be fair, I would have been astonished if it were anything otherwise at this price.

The second-tier tech is also pretty evident in the rear cameras. Doogee has put a regular and ultra-wide lens on the back, complemented by an additional depth sensor for portrait photos and blurry backgrounds ('shallow depth of field' or 'bokeh', in photography terminology).

Doogee says the cameras are made by Sony (which is predictable as Sony makes a huge chunk of other phone manufacturers' cameras) but they remind me of much earlier models, when the technology was finding its feet. Photos are fine in good light but noticeably struggle more than premium phones in low light. As useful as it is to have an ultra-wide lens, this one is way off the best models, wildly warping images at the edges of the photos. This isn't a deal-breaker - early GoPro cameras had the same effect and we got on just fine with them.

From an aesthetic view, Doogee has wisely refrained from trying any individual flourishes and has fashioned a decent, modern, on-trend physical handset with an all-screen front, rounded corners and slim side-buttoned where you'd expect them to be.

As well as the 3.5mm headphone jack, charging it is done via the (almost obsolete) micro-USB connection. I suspect this won't be a problem for many, as there are still millions of these cables around and they're dirt cheap.

Is this phone worth getting? If you're not fussy about the finer points of performance, sure. Although I suspect the main market here is clearly a price-oriented one: people looking for an affordable phone for their teenager, people who need something up to date just for occasional use, or people who have an unfortunate habit of losing or cracking their smartphones.

As far as I can tell, you can't buy this phone in a physical Irish shop. I could only find it online from Amazon and a handful of UK outlets. Still, at this price, local sales and advice is not at a premium. You're buying a phone based on its specifications and ultra-budget price, not after-sales support.

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