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Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) Review


If the ancient 3310 can come back from the dead, why not other phones? Micromax seems to have caught the nostalgia bug and has decided to resuscitate the Canvas 2 – in name at least because there’s absolutely nothing that this new phone carries forward from its namesake. We don’t know why Micromax went straight to Canvas 2 instead of just rebooting the line and starting with “Canvas” – the 2012 model might have been popular but it certainly wasn’t iconic. Budget phones at the time weren’t built to last very long, and we doubt many people would even be able to pick it out of a lineup of low-cost phones from that era.

Still, maybe there are pockets of buyers who remember this model fondly, and so we have the new, improved Micromax Canvas 2 (2017). A lot has changed in the four-and-a-half years since the original was launched, most notably the rise of Chinese companies in the budget segment and the resulting decline or even disappearance of several Indian brands. Just for fun, here’s a quick look at the features and specifications that got people excited in 2012: the Micromax Canvas 2 (A110) was a “big” phone with a 5-inch 480×854-pixel, 262K colour screen, a dual-core MediaTek MT6577 processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, and a 2000mAh battery. It had an 8-megapixel rear camera, a 0.3-megapixel front camera, and ran Android 4.0. Of course, its best feature was its price: just under Rs. 10,000.

Times have certainly changed. Micromax will need to do a lot better if it wants to impress buyers in 2017, even in the value segment. Let’s take a closer look at the Canvas 2 (2017), freshly risen from the dead.

 

Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) design

The new Canvas 2 looks pretty slick, though it really has nothing in common with its namesake. There isn’t even one slight visual cue or reference. The original was curvy with a textured back, while this device is a sleek rectangle with flat sides and rounded edges. There’s nothing that sticks out, except for a silver ring around the camera lens and a shiny Micromax fist logo on the rear. The front of the Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) is quite minimalist with no visible markings or logos. You’ll see the earpiece and front camera above the screen, and the fingerprint sensor below it. This sensor doubles as a capacitive Home button, but only when the phone isn’t in standby mode, which means you can’t tap it to light up the display. You’re meant to navigate through Android primarily using on-screen buttons.

Micromax says that it has partnered with Corning to bring Gorilla Glass 5 to the budget smartphone segment for the first time, and the durability this promises is certainly appreciated. The Canvas 2 (2017)’s box proudly proclaims that it is unbreakable, but you still get one free screen repair or replacement during the warranty period. The company also claims that this is 2.5D curved-edge glass but we could see only the slightest of bends right at the very edges of the front, that too disappearing into a plastic frame.

We had a positive impression of the fit and finish of this phone when we first took it out of its box. The seams are clean, the design isn’t tacky at all, and there’s no feeling of cheapness. The main thing that stands out about the new Canvas 2 is the glossy black finish of its rear shell, which while plasticky, still looks good. You’ll want a case because it will pick up fingerprints and scuffs in no time. This phone fairly thick by today’s standards, at 8.5mm, but it isn’t too heavy. The grip is okay, and we didn’t find this phone too slippery despite the glossy finish.

The power and volume buttons are on the right, but the Micro-USB port is on top, next to the 3.5mm audio socket. There are two symmetrical speaker grilles on the bottom, though predictably only one of them actually has a speaker behind it. Unlike most unibody phones today, the rear shell of the Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) can be popped off to reveal two Micro-SIM slots and a separate microSD slot. You can also see the battery, but it’s fixed in place.  

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Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) specifications and software

With an MRP of Rs. 11,999, Micromax is aiming for the extremely competitive value market which is currently dominated by the Moto G5, Honor 6X, and Xiaomi Redmi Note 4. Other than the Gorilla Glass 5, this phone doesn’t have any distinctive features. You get a quad-core MediaTek MT6737 SoC clocked at 1.3GHz and a fairly generous 3GB of RAM, but only 16GB of storage. Honor and Xiaomi both offer 32GB of storage for the same price or less. 4G and VoLTE are supported, as well as Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth, and GPS.

The 5-inch screen of the Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) has a resolution of 720×1280 which isn’t bad, but again lags behind the full-HD displays that most other companies offer at this price level. You also get a 3050mAh battery, 13-megapixel rear camera, and 5-megapixel front camera. The spec sheet lists Android 7.0 which is a pleasant surprise.

Despite the naming gimmick, everything about this phone looked good up until the point when we turned it on. Micromax has taken quite a few liberties that became apparent quite quickly when we started using this phone. One of the biggest problems is Micromax’s Steroid Launcher, which behaves inconsistently and feels sluggish. On the home screen, we found that the Android navigation buttons could be hidden but not easily revealed. A long-press or upward swipe pulls up an iOS-style Control Centre with most of the same functions that are already found in the Quick Settings area of the notifications shade. Note that you can’t swipe up from the bottom of the screen like with iOS, because the Android navigation bar is a dead zone. Sometimes, when trying to dismiss this panel, the home screen stayed dimmed until we launched and exited an app.

To the left of the main home screen is the Around screen, which is supposed to aggregate news, status updates, and location-specific tools such as restaurant recommendations. It also ties-in to services such as Zomato, Uber, Ola, OYO Rooms, Ixigo, Yandex, and Udio. The idea is to save you from having to deal with multiple apps, but you’re restricted to the services that Micromax wants to offer, and the interface isn’t very polished. There are other niggles as well – notification badges are shown on top of app icons, but in the form of red circles with the letter N – nothing useful, like a number. The app drawer is broken up into alphabetical blocks and there’s no way to change this.

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One of the first things we saw when we starting using the Canvas 2 (2017) was a popup asking for permissions for a System Update utility. Thinking this was probably important, we let it do what it wanted. From then on, we started seeing notifications from System Update which were nothing but ads for various apps and shopping websites. This is a blatant show of disrespect for Android security and for paying customers, and it left us extremely disappointed. On top of that, with no sense of irony whatsoever, the phone started showing a persistent notification asking if we were annoyed by unwanted notifications! Tapping it led to a Micromax notification blocking feature within the M!Account app, which for some reason requires users to sign up for a Micromax account. All five apps detected as potential spam sources were Micromax’s own.  

The M!Account app also has a section for offers from partners, which is just more advertising. Swiping right within the app drawer is supposed to pull up another page of “curated apps, offers and content” though all we ever saw here was an error message. There are a few preloaded apps: Eros Now, Mobile Assistant, OYO, and Udio Wallet, plus two game trials. We’ve complained about Micromax shovelling adware down its paying customers’ throats before, and while it isn’t as bad as it used to be, we’re still not happy.

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Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) performance and battery life

We did find the Canvas 2 (2017) to be a bit sluggish with ordinary use, especially when using the modifications baked into Steroid Launcher. Apps ran decently, and we didn’t have trouble with touch response. The fingerprint sensor was accurate enough, but it wasn’t always easy to find the sensor by touch alone, causing recognition to fail. One strange problem we noticed is that at times, the notification LED stayed very dimly lit or flashes lightly when the phone is in standby, and the only way to turn this off was to manually dismiss all accumulated notifications.

The screen is a bit dull and has a slightly yellow cast, but we had no complaints otherwise. It’s sharp enough for everyday use, and viewing angles are fine. Sound from the built-in speaker is hollow and tinny, but reasonably loud. We found that it was possible to get almost a full day of use out of the Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) if we didn’t play games or stream video for too long, but our HD video loop test lasted only 8 hours, 50 minutes before the phone died. The bigger problem was that this phone took way too long to charge – at an average of 15 percent per hour, you can’t hope to top it up quickly if you’re running low. We had to make sure to plug it in overnight every night.

Benchmark scores were relatively low, especially when it came to graphics performance. We got 28,282 in AnTuTu, 10,628 in Quadrant, and 536 and 1,506 in Geekbench’s single-core and multi-core tests respectively. 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme gave us 1,789 points, and GFXBench managed only a paltry 8fps.

When it comes to Micromax Canvas 2’s cameras, we were left with somewhat mixed feelings. It was hard to always get right, and we had to hold our hands steady and deal with some serious lag with the viewfinder and shutter. However, photos came out quite well when conditions were favourable. Details were decent in daylight shots. Photos look fine on screen and can be shared on social media, but don’t expect great quality when you zoom in. Night shots suffered, and moving subjects were difficult to capture under any conditions because of the lag issues.

The camera app is decent, and puts all controls in a row right above the shutter button so they’re within reach. There’s a bokeh mode which doesn’t do much, plus HDR, beautification, and panorama options. The video recording resolution only goes up to 720p, and output looks grainy even on the phone’s screen.

Tap to see full-sized Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) photo samples

Verdict
Whereas Nokia tried to at least evoke the spirit of the original 3310 in its reincarnation, we can’t say the same for the Canvas 2 (2017). The name feels shoehorned onto a product that has absolutely zero relation to it, which smacks of PR stuntwork. Looking past that, this phone has some very serious competition and it’s going to take a lot for Micromax to be as successful now as it was in 2012.

Unfortunately, the Canvas 2 (2017) behaves more like a zombie than a reinvigorated classic. The specifications, performance and user experience are not where they need to be for a phone that costs just under Rs. 12,000. Usage is occasionally frustrating and none of the software customisations have any positive effect. Nothing about this phone really stands out for good reasons, expect perhaps its looks. The battery charging issue is a huge concern. Camera quality is the one thing that works for this phone, but only if conditions are favourable the user puts in a lot of effort.

One last note is that Micromax and Airtel are offering buyers free local/ STD voice calling and 1GB of 4G data per day for one year. This could tempt some buyers, but we don’t think it’s nearly enough to make up for all this phone’s shortcomings.



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