For years, I’ve bemoaned premium smartphones that – beyond demanding a significant chunk out of one’s wallet – break too easily or require additional accessories, incurring a further investment. It was a breath of fresh air, then, to receive South African company AG Mobile’s Ghost land on my desk.
The Ghost is AG Mobile’s newest smartphone – a mid-to-premium range 5.5″ Android 4.4.2 KitKat contender. As I said on the first episode of Bandwidth Blog On Air (our new podcast) opening the Ghost’s packaging is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had – outclassing the magnitude of unboxing a new iPhone.
AG Mobile have done a number of things with the Ghost I wouldn’t hesitate to call ‘the right approach’ – when opened from its leather box, the Ghost is accompanied by a plethora of accessories; a 7,500mAh battery pack, two screen protectors, three USB cables (each of differing length) a car and wall-mounted charger, in-earphones, and a case. It’s a rewarding feeling to receive a new smartphone alongside high-quality accessories one would usually have to splurge on later.
Additionally, the Ghost comes with AG Mobile’s 24 hour swap out service; should the phone fail, the company will exchange it or repair a cracked screen (twice) at no charge. Judging by the reactions of my fellow South Africans, I feel that this represents the service many of us have longed for amidst a sea of ruined iPhones and Samsung smartphones.
AG Mobile offer a great brand experience – one, which for the first few days after unboxing the phone, I frankly couldn’t shut up about – and I am still left with the feeling that were one to purchase the Ghost, the end result is purchasing a visible investment to the AG Mobile marque. Largely, that’s a positive thing – though, for the first time in my career, I wished the company had extended their touch further into the actual innards of the smartphone. More on that later.
Physically, the Ghost is an appealing smartphone to those who enjoy Apple style minimalism. At 5.5″, the Ghost lands in Samsung’s phablet territory, and at times can feel slightly cumbersome in the hand, chiefly because the phone itself is a brutally crisp slate. If you’ve ever held an iPod Touch in your hands and wished it was a slightly larger smartphone, your wish has been answered.
Much like its namesake, the Ghost is eerily light, and runs cold to the touch, often feeling frigid on first grasp of a cold Cape morning. The accompanying case is equally as austere as the Ghost’s shell, sweeping coolly in brushed aluminium-style waves. Overall, the Ghost is handsome in an uncomplicated manner that made my daily driver, an Xperia Z1, feel like an over-encumbered battletank around the sides. The only finish – Rose Gold – might feel somewhat effeminate to some, though I found it didn’t bother me over much; though I think a silver sibling might be well placed.
My biggest qualm – which might be a boon to some – with the Ghost lies on the inside; and it runs against everything I’ve ever said about how popular manufacturers make use of Android.
Let’s take a breather and for a moment consider TouchWiz – Samsung’s infamous Android skin. Garish to some, bloated to many, TouchWiz has been a bugbear for many years amongst the Android community for the manner in which it over-encumbers Android with a host of often-meaningless “improvements” which slow down the entire operating system. With the recent release of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, this has changed – though for a working definition, let’s remember the Galaxy S5.
Despite all of the above inconveniences, TouchWiz does serve a very important purpose; it puts a host of easily accessible features at the fingertips of those who are likely to never customise their smartphone. For the average user, TouchWiz offers a perfectly usable experience which offers utility and simplification. The average person reading this post might have been tempted to install, let’s say, a custom launcher on their Android smartphone, though the masses who often purchase them might not know that’s possible.
The Ghost arrives with stock Android 4.4.2 KitKat. There has not been a single improvement made, an app added, or a feature tweaked; this is stark, stock Android that’s about as garish as a yellow suit and pink tie. Yes, this is Android, and yes, this can be customized, but I still largely wish AG Mobile had invested in a custom skin and launcher to better cater to South African consumers who’re likely to never take those steps.
As a result, the Ghost bears a bleak-feeling interface which I would have been far more forgiving of had it arrived with stock Android 5.0 Lollipop. I quickly installed at set Google’s official apps as device standards on opening the Ghost.
Performance-wise, the Ghost accommodates a solid experience that rarely puts a foot wrong; powered by a 1.3Ghz quad-core processor, the Ghost carries 16GBs of on-board storage (expandable up to 128GBs) with 2GBs of RAM. The Ghost runs optimally, and never over-heated nor became unresponsive in my hand. Of particular frustration was the Ghost’s capacitive touchscreen, which oft interpreted my lighter swipes as a press, making internet browsing a frustration. The rear speaker, while lacking some definition at the highest level, was pleasantly loud.
With a 720p display, the Ghost feels modern and is a treat to watch videos on, but lacks overall sharpness compared to Samsung’s Galaxy A range.
The Ghost’s power management deserves great acclaim; standby time was excellent, and seldom lost over 2% of its total battery life while left on overnight, and managed up to 6 days in standby mode. During daily use, the Ghost made it through a full day and up until midnight – a full 16 hours.
The camera on the Ghost was somewhat of a dark horse; lacking smoothing and optical image stabilisation, pre-capture images were shaky and ill-detailed; however, once captured, images were crisp, clear, and offered an incredible macro focus and depth of field.
The front-facing camera didn’t disappoint, though I found it’s colour reproduction to be slightly cooler than its primary counterpart.
Overrall, AG Mobile’s Ghost sets the bar high for mid-to-premium range contenders. At its cheapest contract price with Cell C for R329pmx24, the Ghost competes ably in a segment where the likes of Samsung, Huawei, and LG have been battling with the likes of the A5, P7, and Leon, respectively.
While the Galaxy A5 offers a far more smooth user experience overall, the Ghost is a sound investment for anyone seeking both a great smartphone and an equally competitive brand experience – between both bundled accessories and service.
For those willing to get to grips with customising a bare bones copy of Android and who desire peace of mind between great accessories and a 24 hour emergency swap-out service, the AG Mobile Ghost offers a new gold standard for South African consumers seeking an able and desirable mid-to-premium range smartphone.