Hands-on with the £129 Wileyfox Swift

Two years ago, Motorola pioneered a new smartphone category with the original Moto G: the almost flagship. It was a device that offered close to high-end performance and design with a price-tag usually reserved for less capable mid-tier handsets. It's now the company's bestselling smartphone and few, if any of its rivals have managed to replicate its winning formula. The latest competitor to step up and take a shot is Wileyfox, a complete newcomer from the UK. Over the next couple of months it'll be launching two new smartphones which run the Cyanogen flavor of Android: the Swift and the Storm. The cheaper of the two, the £129 ($200) Swift, sits somewhere between the latest Moto G and entry-level Moto E. But it's got a lot to prove if it hopes to steal some of the company's thunder.

For a sub-£150 handset, the Swift is quite the looker. So many mid-tier devices, especially those produced by UK carriers, skimp on design in order to maximize their spec sheets. Not so with Wileyfox's first handset. The rear plastic panel has a soft, matte finish that looks almost like granite from afar. You'll find the company's stylised fox head logo etched into the back with its name in sunset orange underneath. The same shade surrounds the camera module up top, completing a design that is both sleek and stylish, if not particularly adventurous. I prefer the colorful and curvaceous look of Motorola's Moto phones, but the Swift has a business-like swagger similar to a Blackberry or the Blackphone.

The design isn't without its faults though. The volume rocker and power button are a little mushy, and the bottom of the back panel vibrates whenever the speaker is pushed above 75 percent. If you've held a flagship phone recently, especially one with a Quad HD display like the Samsung Galaxy S6 or LG G4, you'll also be disappointed by the Swift's comparatively meagre 720p panel. It's not bad per se, with punchy blacks and accurate colour representation, but it's hard not to notice and inspect all of the individual pixels.

What about the software? Well, Cyanogen 12.1 is a joy. For the uninitiated, this is basically the "stock" version of Android found on Nexus devices, albeit with a few extra customization options. These include changing the quick settings panel and on-screen navigation buttons, as well as buying and applying custom themes from the Cyanogen Themes Store. Wileyfox has its own version installed by default, but you can easily dive into the phone's settings and pick an alternative that's closer to pure Android Lollipop. Like the Moto and Nexus line-ups, the Swift also comes with minimal bloatware. That means if you decide to buy one, you'll actually get close to the 16GB of advertised storage.

The Swift boasts 2GB of RAM and a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 processor, which is a fraction less powerful than the 1.4GHz version in the Moto G. Those specs should be more than serviceable, but it does occasionally stutter while launching apps and carrying out more resource-intensive activities. It's never unusable, but there will be moments when you have to wait for it to register taps and swipes. These instances are relatively few and far between though. For the most part it's a smooth experience, especially for common tasks such as texting, email and web browsing. Just don't expect an Android powerhouse.

The Swift is unique and, for a £129 smartphone, exciting. So many handsets in this price bracket look like bland prototypes that have been picked off a factory floor. By comparison, Wileyfox's first handset is ostentatious. The Swift's stylings aren't particularly memorable, but it also wouldn't look out of place in a line-up of Android flagships. Cyanogen is a solid software choice and the lack of unwanted apps should appeal to both hardcore Android fans and the general smartphone populace. The device does have a few flaws -- for the price, that's expected -- but the amount it gets right is cause for celebration. Finally, companies are starting to learn from the Moto G.