LAB501

Allview Impera i – dual SIM Windows Phone 8.1

From the first moment I heard about the new Impera line from Allview I was intrigued… “Allview with Windows Phone? Interesting!” But what really got my attention were the hardware specs. I knew that Microsoft recently relaxed their conditions for Windows Phone smartphones and I knew that they added dual SIM support, but until now I haven’t used one. More important, however, is the fact that Windows and Windows Phone are now free for devices with a screen diagonal lower than 9″, and I think this will be the main catalyst for the abundance of new manufacturers that will get into Windows Phone this year, and that is the case with Allview’s Impera line (Impera i, Impera S and the tablet Impera i8).

For those of you who are not familiarized with the OEM and ODM concepts, the truth is that most of the products we buy are made by a handful of Chinese OEM or ODM. When you have your own design and specifications, you outsource to an OEM partner from China for production – that is what Apple is doing with Foxconn for instance. When you want to use a design that is already made, you choose from what an ODM (original design manufacturer) has to offer.

Depending on the number of units you order you can have a design exclusive for you or that design can also be used in different regions by other brands. And of course, depending on the number of units you order and your relationship with the ODM, you can customize various aspects, starting with the basics (package, logo, color) and ending with more complex modifications like a different camera sensor, a specific storage size and so on.

Allview is the largest brand from Romania that works with chinese ODMs – they have a large variety of products, from 60 USD entry level smartphones to 500 USD Snapdragon 800 beasts, they use MediaTek, Qualcomm and Intel chipsets, and until now they have launched a great number of devices with Android. They sell in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Holland and a number of other European countries. To have an idea regarding how big these guys are, imagine that in Romania Allview is one of the best selling smartphone & tablet brand…

You can find similar products from their counterparts in India (Xolo), USA (Blu) or China (Gionee). So even if you don’t live in a part of the world where you can find an Allview product, you will however be able to purchase some local variant from the same ODM (with software and configuration differences, of course). For instance, the counterpart for Allview Imperia i in India is Xolo Q900s.

Well, Allview is also one of the first brands to jump into the dual SIM Windows Phone 8.1 bandwagon, and for me that is more interesting than screen size or monster chipsets. And I dare say that the bet they took with this hardware configuration and Windows Phone 8.1 is a winning one for the consumer – you will see that the phone offers a very convenient deal and a very pleasant user experience.

The hardware we see at work is a consequence of Microsoft relaxing their policies – the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 MSM8212 is a quad core Cortex A7, a distant relative of the usual Krait solutions we could see inside Windows phones so far. The price tag (200 USD / 150 Euro) justifies this, and so do the rest of the features, but the whole package, and especially the price/performance ratio is ideal from my point of view. Let’s take a look on the next page and see why…

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Those who are familiar with the Windows Phone universe should forget about the high-end Lumia devices for a few moments – the hardware platform inside Allview Impera i was not meant for high-end devices but for affordable devices that offer the most convenient price/performance ratio. Therefore, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 (MSM8212) chipset is a new entry-level chipset from Qualcomm, that is comprised of 4 Cortex-A7 cores that run at 1.2GHz and an Adreno 302 GPU. We also find 1GB of LPDDR2 RAM and 8 GB storage space that can be extended with the help of a micro SD card.

On the outside, Allview Impera i is pretty amazing – very thin (just 7.2mm) and very light (under 100g)! The combination of these factors manage to trick the consumer into not realizing the planar size of the phone (which is pretty big, due to the 4.7″ display and generous bezels). The 4.7″ screen has 720p capabilities (1280×720) and even if it does not fit with the full HD trend of 2014, it is more than enough for this price range. You cannot tell it is a 720p display unless you really look from a very close distance to spot the pixels.

On paper, Allview Impera i has 2 pretty strong cameras – the front one has a 2MP sensor while the main camera uses an OmniVision sensor (OV8858) and can take 8MP pictures. The big question mark from my point of view is the video capabilities – the sensor is more than capable of HD footage, but I supposed that the ISP in the chipset is the limiting factor which makes Impera i only record 864×480 movies.

On the connectivity side, Allview Impera i has almost everything that you could desire from a smartphone – dual SIM stand-by (the phone can accomodate 2 micro SIMs), WiFi 802 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP and EDR. However, the only area where we are worried after reading the specs is the battery – because the phone is very slim, they could only fit a 1750mAh battery inside. The secret here resides in the nominal voltage, which unlike regular Li Ion batteries (3.7v) is 4.35 (Allview Impera i has a LiPolimer battery). Doing the simple math, we realize that Allview Impera i has a current capacity of 2057mAh – not too much but also not too little for a mainstream phone.

 AllView Impera i
SoCQualcomm MSM8212 Snapdragon 200
CPUQuad-Core 1.2 GHz Cortex A-7
GPUAdreno 302
Display4,7 inch @ 1280x720 (312PPI) IPS OGS
RAM1GB
Storage8GB, microSD up to 32GB
ConectivityDual-SIM, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth 4.0 cu A2DP si EDR, microUSB 2.0
Camera8 MP, OV8858, 864x480

Front: 2MP
OSWindows Phone 8.1
BatteryLiPolimer 1750 mAh
Size135.8 x 67.2 x 7.2 mm
Weight98.9g


I have to say from the beginning that the phone we tested was not a final version but a pre-release engineering sample so the bundle and the software is not final. Even so, we got a retail box that comes in the Windows Phone colors – blue and decorated with colorful tiles.

In the package we can find the standard accessories – the charger, data cable, headset and users manual but also the 24 months warranty and a protective film for the screen.

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The design of the new Impera i is pretty interesting, even if the phone is pretty mundane from a construction point of view. This is not a high-end smartphone so the fine details are missing and the back of the phone si made from a very shiny plastic. Even so, the reduced thickness (7.2mm) and weight of the phone (98.9g) will give you an interesting sensation while handling it. At first, you feel like you are using a small tablet of some sort – with a simple shape and big bezels, the Impera i does not fit perfectly in your hand in the first couple of hours. However, after you get used to it you will appreciate the fact that you can always fit it in your pants and that your arm does not get tired when your are holding it against your ear.

The front side of the phone is designed in the classic Allview style. When I first tested such phones I was not convinced with the generic design, but after a while this has become quite a signature for the romanian manufacturer. A notable detail for the front side – the keys are pretty interesting, with a small circle in the middle and two dots on the sides. In the beginning you will get confused as to which is the Back and which is the Search key, but in time you will get used to it and you will see that it actually looks pretty neat.

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On the sides of the phone we find the usual keys (volume on the left and power on the right) and the micro USB connector and 3.5mm stereo jack on the upper side of the phone. However, unlike in the old days of Windows Phone, you will not find a dedicated camera key. The only observation I have to make regarding the build quality is the amount of force you have to use in order to press the side keys. Taking into consideration the fact that the phone is slim and slippery, I would have appreciated it if I wouldn’t had to apply such force in order to be able to push the buttons.

The interior layout is also very simple – the main components are located in the top side of the phone while the lower side is reserved for the battery. I really liked the old school way in which you can introduce the micro SIM into its tray – you flip the metallic safety, you place the SIM and then you lower the safety. It’s such a simple, effective way, especially when you use a plastic adapter (in LAB501 we use nano SIM’s and the adapters to micro or normal SIMs, so we can test any phone with the same SIM).

In order to insert the micro SD card you have to remove the battery and there is also a safety sticker that tells us not to remove any of the SIMs while the phone is turned on.

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Getting on to the screen, we didn’t have a chance to measure the display but that is of no importance since the software is not yet final so there are still fine adjustments to do. Many of you will look at the 720p resolution and think that this is somehow outdated in 2014. And terms like IPS and OGS (One Glass Solution) will probably not catch your attention, as they usually are marketing terms. However, the most important thing when it comes to a display is how good it looks, and I have to say that the display used on Impera i is phenomenal for this price range. The resolution is more than enough and the contrast is pretty good. However, there are some bleeding issues and at extreme angles the contrast is very low.

I was also very pleased with the audio capabilities of the phone. Impera i cannot stand in the same line with the best phones on the market but the volume is very high-without distortion. That makes the phone calls sound very good even in noisy environments – tested by yours truly at a concert.

The good reception also helps with this – I didn’t had any connectivity issues with this phone and it never lost GSM signal. Also, the theoretical maximum download speed (42Mbps) is only topped by 4G phones, which is very nice. And remember, we are talking about a very affordable smartphone.

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And finally we get to the interesting part of this particular phone. We are used to associate Allview with Android – we saw mostly dual SIM phones but lately we also saw some high-end single SIM devices. Well, Impera i goes back to the recipe that brought so much success to Allview – the dual SIM stand-by, but it changes the other important ingredient – the operating system. Allview Impera i runs the latest Windows Phone 8.1 operating system, which got some notable improvements like dual SIM support or the notification panel.

As far as the dual SIM support goes, things are pretty simple. The interface changes are subtle and they are tailored in such a way that they naturally blend with the elements we already have. In the app list we can find two telephony apps and two messaging apps – in fact, the apps are the same but in the app list we find special shortcuts for each SIM. The switch between the two SIMs is done very simple and you can change the data SIM from the settings (netwoek and data). A simple and elegant solution from Microsoft, that will most likely be enjoyed by the Impera i users.

The other important thing Windows Phone 8.1 brings is the nou notification panel called Notification Center. In fact this is a copy of the solution we use on the Android smartphones and it opens in the same way – slide from the top. Besides the app notifications and details regarding the device, we can also find shortcuts to certain settings. These shortcuts are chosen by the user so you can have the data switch there or the airplane mode switch, if you prefer. Being a solution that is already adopted by the other important mobile operating systems, this is very intuitive for the users. However, I wish that the bottom bar you pull up to close the panel would be wider.

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WP Dual-SIM


The software on the phone we tested is not the final version and one of the aspects Allview are working on right now is the camera software.

Even so, I am happy to report that when it comes to software (color temperature and exposure) the photo camera does pretty well. Even when the contrast of the scene is too high the phone manages to find a balance between the light areas and the dark ones and the colors are relatively correct. A bit too cold and a bit too over saturated, just like with many other smartphones.

However, the biggest problem of the camera is the optical system – we don’t get too many fine details in our images and we can also notice some distortions and chromatic aberrations where the contrast is too strong. Allview Impera i is not one of the best shooters around but it has enough quality for landscape photography and holiday moments.

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As I was saying, the landscapes come out ok, even though I wish that the exposure and the green saturation were a bit lower.

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Video

One of the biggest problems I have found with our pre-release sample is the video capture mode. The exposure jumps from one value to another very fast and we are left with a very disturbing flicker. And even when this issue will be solved in the final software, the low resolution and the lack of details are still pretty serious problems from my point of view. Especially the resolution is very odd for a smartphone launched in 2014, which also has a quad-core CPU. However this is one of the aspects they are still working on and I am curious how the final product will perform.


Allview Impera i shows very good performance for it’s price, getting close to the performance of the latest Windows Phone models while it surpasses older phones like Lumia 620 or 720. However, keep in mind that the multi threaded benchmarks are not always a reflection of how real life apps work. Even so, if we look at WPBench we can notice that even the single threaded tests are handled pretty well by Impera i and it gets better results than Lumia 620 and 720. However, in this scenario Impera i falls behind flagships like Lumia 920/925/1020.

MultiBench confirms the story and Allview Impera i usually gets in between the flagships and the more affordable Windows Phone devices. Considering the price, I would say that Impera i has a very good price/performance ratio.


In the browsing tests Allview Imperia i gets a bit lower results – the one in BrowserMark are actually low but the phone makes a comeback in SunSpider 0.9.1.


As you know we test the battery life with both real life and synthetic tests. The first scenario is that in which we use the phone normally – we make calls, we listen to music, watch videos, play, use social media apps and spend time on the internet. Even though this scenarios cannot be repeated, it gives us an idea regarding how your day will look with such a device.

The second scenario is when we set the brightness to 100% and WiFi on and then we watch a movie until the phone shuts down. When it comes to gaming, we use Asphalt 8: Heat ( a great resource hog) and again we drain the whole battery of the phone.

We managed to get one hour and a half in gaming and 4 hours and a half of video playback, together with around 38 hours of regular usage. The LiPolimer battery Allview is using on Imperia i gets good results and you can use the phone for almost two days if you take care a bit about the resource management (close the connections you don’t use and don’t game too much). As far as gaming and video recording is concerned, the battery life falls under other Windows Phone smartphones capabilities.


Here we are at the final chapter of our preview, and I think the conclusions are pretty simple. My general feeling regarding this phone is very good, because for 200 USD / 150 Euro without a contract I cannot think of another smartphone better put together then the Imperia i. The recipe seems to be ideal – the performance is more then enough, giving the user a smooth experience, we have two SIM slots, a good display and a fresh operating system.

I would even say that Impera i is a better “package” than some of the well known Android smartphones from Allview. First of all, compared to some mainstream Android phones from Allview the software seems better put together. Microsoft’s restrictions seem to be working wonderfully in this case, because the end result is a smooth OS, with carefully designed and intuitive graphic interface.Everything works perfectly when it comes to the users interface and this is a big thing for a small brand (worldwide speaking).

Also, the price is very convenient – the hardware from the Android V1 Viper (Gionee Elife E3) is similar but that phone is more expensive. I don’t know if Microsoft is helping them in this direction, in order to promote their OS, or if there are other reasons, but the price is very attractive (for readers outside EU, the price also has romanian VAT included. The price outside EU would be 24% smaller).

Ok, I said all these nice things about Impera i, but it also has it’s flaws. I’ll say this straight on – it is not the most careful built phone and the attention to detail is not very convincing – the side keys are hard to press, the camera needs a lot of work from the software department and the body is not built with high-end in mind.

What I am trying to say is that Impera i is not a phone for the picky ones, who want an expensive and elegant jewelry. However, if you don’t mind this kind of details, Impera i is pretty awesome phone for the price tag. I think that the mix between performance, user experience and even battery life is optimum, considering the price and Impera i is a phone that really has something to offer to the potential user. And of course, such a phone is a big step forward for Allview and Microsoft too, if you ask me.

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