After the rousing success of Xiaomi, a lot of Chinese manufacturers saw India as a potential market, and one of them is itel Mobile. The brand is owned by Shenzhen-based Transsion Holdings which also own the Tecno and Infinix brands.
itel entered the Indian market in a rather discreet manner as they launched only feature phones. In just a year, it has managed to become the 3rd biggest feature phone brand in India, according to a Counterpoint Research report. Last year it went full-on to consolidate its presence in the smartphone segment.
The brand recently launched three full-screen 18:9 display smartphones in the country — itel A44 and A44 Pro and s42.
International Business Times India received a review unit of their budget-friendly flagship - itel S42 (First Impressions). The phone is an offline-exclusive.
The interesting thing to notice here is that the phone finds itself in a price segment which also has the likes of the Redmi 5, Redmi Note 5 and itel's sister brand's Infinix Hot S3.
itel S42 Quick Specs
|Display||5.65-inch IPS On-Cell with HD+ (1440x720 pixels) and 285 ppi|
|Rear Camera||13MP with LED Flash, PDAF|
|Front Camera||13MP with LED Flash|
|Processor||1.4Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 quad-core SoC|
|Battery Capacity||3000mAh non-removable|
|OS||Android 8.0 Oreo-based|
|Special Features||Face Unlock, Fingerprint scanner|
First, let's find out what you get with the box. Apart from the phone, there's user manual, and travel adapter with a detachable USB cable rated at 5V at 1.0A. itel has been generous enough to bundle a decent pair of in-ear type headphones and a high-quality hard case which has a frosted matte finish. We especially liked the case because it fits snugly and gives the phone a very elegant look.
itel S42 Design
The itel S42 design isn't the best in the price segment. However, the 5.65-inch 18:9 display makes the phone narrower and easier to hold. The phone has a solid built and we didn't notice any creaky sounds nor at any moment felt that the back panel flappy.
The 5.65-inch LCD display comes with thin bezels on the sides and slightly bigger ones on the top and bottom. It is protected by a 2.5D curved glass on top (not Gorilla Glass), which also gives the phone a near-seamless look when you look at it from the front.
The back panel is metal endowed by plastic bits on the top and bottom where the antennas are.
There is a vertically aligned camera module on the top-left hand side of the rear panel, housing the single 13MP rear camera and the LED flash below. It's a little raised from the flat surface of the back panel. Below it is the round fingerprint sensor.
The metallic back cover has circular patterns which render the phone a nice feel, but the back is also a fingerprint magnet. However, the bundled back case should resolve the issue.
The top part only the 3.5mm audio jack, while the bottom has a bottom-firing speaker grille on the right and a microphone grille on the left, with a MicroUSB charging port in the middle.
Talking about the sides, the right side of the phone has the volume rocker button, and the power on/off button. There's there is the SIM tray port on the left-hand side of the phone which supports two SIMs and also has a dedicated MicroSD card slot.
itel S42 Display
The display is one of the highlight features of the itel S42. It's a 5.65-inch IPS On-Cell LCD panel with the modern18:9 aspect ratio and an HD+ resolution of 1440x720 pixels (285 PPI).
The display is quite bright and vibrant and we were also impressed by the sunlight legibility of the screen. The text looks sharp and crisp, but the display seems to be a little oversaturated especially while displaying bright colors like red or orange. Nonetheless, the display will not disappoint you.
itel S42 Camera Performance
Apart from the 18:9 full-screen display, the cameras are also one of the major USPs of the itel smartphone. The phone has a 13MP rear camera with dual LED flash and a 13MP selfie camera with dedicated flash.
The selfie camera also has a Portrait bokeh mode which blurs the background. Although not perfect all the time, but we quite like how it detects the edges and focuses on the subject.
The picture quality is good in daylight outdoor conditions and also in well-lit environments in the night. However, in low-light situations, the pictures tend to get grainy with a lot of noise noticeable in the darker areas of the image.
The video quality is also nice, you can capture 1080p videos with 30fps, but the camera is constantly confused where to focus in the video mode. Since there is no form of stabilization, the video will be shaky if you shoot while walking.
Overall, the itel S42 has an above average selfie camera with Portrait Mode and beauty mode, and a decent rear camera at this price point.
itel S42 Audio Output
The itel S42 comes with a bottom-firing speaker which is very loud but isn't clear. It sounds a bit tinny at high volumes. But the output via headphone is very decent and the same goes with the output from the earpiece.
We never noticed any noise or disturbances while on calls and the cellular reception was also good.
itel S42 Gaming Performance
Gaming is one area where the phone struggles a bit. That might be due to the dated Snapdragon 425 quad-core chipset. We played popular smartphone games like Subway Surfers, Clash of Clans and Asphalt 8.
The performance was smooth while playing Subway Surfers and Clash of Clans but we noticed a few stutters and lags here and there while playing the graphics-heavy Asphalt 8 at full graphics settings. However, if you lower the graphics then it works just about fine.
itel S42 User Interface
The itel S42 runs on a heavily-skinned UI that's based on Android 8.0 Oreo. The UI is smooth, except for some occasional hiccups here and there. Nothing major, but we did notice them.
There were times when we were not able to manually adjust the brightness due to the slider not responding in the portrait orientation, but when we flipped the phone to the horizontal orientation, it worked absolutely fine.
itel S42 Special Features
While we were reviewing the phone, we got an update that brought along the promised 'Face Unlocking' feature, along with some UI improvements.
After the update, the fingerprint sensor also got faster and more accurate and we have to say that the Face unlocking feature gets it right almost 99 percent of the times, even in low-light situations. There's an option where the screen lights up to throw light on the face while unlocking it in darker conditions.
itel S42 Battery Performance
The phone is powered by a 3000mAh non-removable battery which took us about 3 hours to fully charge.
The battery backup is good and the phone lasted a typical day of moderate usage that included an hour of calling, around two hours of watching videos on YouTube and an hour of browsing.
However, we have to mention that when connected to a Wi-Fi, the phone's battery drains very quickly.
itel S42 Conclusion
The itel S42 is a good smartphone. It's got a good design, a solid build, and has all the features that we would want in a smartphone under Rs 10,000. The fact that it comes with Android 8.0 Oreo preinstalled out-of-the-box is another plus. The face unlocking feature is also a very good thing to have and it's got a decent battery life and camera setup.
Having said that, where the phone fails to impress is in the UI which looks a bit cartoonish and colorful and the storage department. It offers just 16GB of internal storage which is very less, but the dedicated MicroSD card is a nice addition to have.
The itel S42 has a lot of competition in its price range. There's Xiaomi's Redmi 5 which also offers a 5.7-inch 18:9 full-screen display and price starts at Rs 7,999, which is Rs 1,000 less than itel S42's Rs 8,999. Then there is the Infinix Hot S3 which at the same Rs 8,999 price tag offers a bigger 4,000mAh battery, and more importantly a 20MP selfie camera.
The Infinix Hot S3 looks strikingly similar to the itel S42, which isn't surprising since both brands are owned by the same parent company. But it does not have the premium metal back of the itel S42.
All in all, the itel S42 is for those who are looking to buy a good smartphone with a strong feature set and one that is available easily in the offline market.