Review: Yezz Billy 4
Having already reviewed the Billy 4's big bother device, the Billy 4.7, the smaller, cheaper, more lowly specified device is always going to seem like an anti-climax. And, in truth, much of what was said about the 4.7 is also true here, but in miniature. What of the Billy 5S LTE? We're working on getting that one in, too....
I'd been expecting something slightly amateurish, but as with the Billy 4.7, there's nothing cheap and nasty about the Yezz Billy 4 - or indeed its packaging, with a very solid box. Admittedly, the structure inside is rather flimsier and the accessories provided unspectacular, but a) at least the first impression in the shop is great, and b) hey, at least Yezz supply headphones, which is more than Nokia/Microsoft do these days(!)
The Yezz Billy 4 is very obviously a two-halves design and in fact it only takes the slightest pressure with a fingernail to begin the separation process. Which is not to say that the back's going to fall off in use, but you can bet that it would if dropped (a shock absorption feature?!) and at least you don't have to break your nails trying to get 'in'.
As with the 4.7, you get extra back covers in the Billy 4's box - in fact, three of them, dark-blue-grey, red and green, in addition to the original black. The materials used are first class - smooth and yet 'matt' at the same time and reminiscent of the finish on my black Lumia 635, which is a compliment.
Under the hood is a 1420mAh battery, which is under specified for a 2015 smartphone, but then we're (very definitely) not talking power users here, so 'normob' use should still see it serving for a couple of days on a charge. Also notable inside are two SIM slots (both appear to be 3G) and a microSD card, completely and utterly propping up the 4GB internal disk (more on this below).
One oddity is the way all the aerials are uncovered - this gives the internals a very amateurish (and somewhat 'steampunk') look - one wonders why these are normally sealed or otherwise protected on other handsets - possibly a barrier against damage or corrosion - if you look closely you can see impurities building up already on the aerials of this brand new handset.
To put everything into perspective, in size and scope, the Yezz Billy 4 is a direct competitor to the Lumia 435. In the UK the 435 is actually cheaper, but that's presumably because of having to import the Yezz. In its target markets the Yezz will surely be cheaper?
Some essential specs:
|Lumia 435||Yezz Billy 4|
|Physical||118 x 65 x 12mm, 134g||122 x 64 x 10mm, 109g|
|Memory etc||8GB internal, plus microSD, 1GB RAM||4GB internal, plus microSD, 512MB RAM|
|Processor||1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon 200 CPU
||1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon 200 CPU
|Screen||4", 800 x 480||4", 800 x 480|
|Other specs||2MP stills camera, 480p, FFC, 1560mAh battery||8MP stills camera, 480p*, FFC, 1420mAh*|
* contrary to the official claimed specs (which are wrong!)
As with the Billy 4.7, there's something of a holistic imbalance in how the package comes together. To have what's quite a decent 8MP camera (for the price) but cripple the phone so badly in terms of internal storage and (arguably) RAM in 2015 seems a little crazy.
As with the 4.7 version, the Yezz Billy 4 uses physical Windows Phone controls (i.e. capacitive), meaning that the full 4" is available all the time. The controls are standard, too rather than the Billy 4.7's generic dot, circle, and another dot! The controls aren't backlit though, perhaps another cost cutting measure here.
The WVGA screen is typical of a £50-ish budget smartphone, a low grade TFT panel which breaks up a bit if you swipe too fast. The auto-brightness was set pretty low and cranking the screen brightness control right up shows the display up in a better light (no pun intended). And it's pretty ropey outdoors, as you'd expect at this end of the price spectrum.
Windows Phone on the Yezz Billy
The startup sequence of Windows Phone 8.1 was familiar. And no, I didn't miss out any 'Update 1' from that spec - the Yezz Billy ships with Windows Phone as it was up to six months ago - all Microsoft/Nokia devices shipped since the Autumn have come with Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 inside. In practical terms, this mainly means missing out on Cortana, though of course the Yezz Billy range aren't necessarily designed to be sold in countries which have Cortana already, so this may not make much difference to the target market. Also missing by not having 'Update 1' on board are Start screen folders, but then a new user would be unlikely to know that these are even possible, so....
I did 'check for updates' inside Settings before starting to write this review, but there was nothing available - it remains to be seen what sort of track record Yezz has of keeping its handsets updated.
As you might expect, quite a few of the built-in applications were crying out for an update through the Windows Phone Store though, as shown below - good to see the full suite of 'MSN' applications onboard, I've been more and more impressed by these on the platform. Ditto Skype, which is now working pretty well on the newer Snapdragon processors.
Just as Google has done on Android, Microsoft's policy of splitting a number of core applications out into the Store is paying dividends, with Calendar here receiving an update.
The presence of the MSN applications are welcome from a numerical point of view too, since without the 'Lumia' (ex-Nokia) utilities, Windows Phone would be looking a little bare.
Some notes from the application set included in the Yezz Billy 4:
- 'Maps', onboard here, seems to be the old Bing Maps but powered by HERE Maps data - yes, I know it's confusing. Happily, for those in the know, HERE Maps/Drive/Transit (now divorced from their Nokia roots, of course) are only a download away and installed and worked well.
- Windows Phone's default Camera app is all you have for imaging. To be fair, it still works well enough (albeit slowly, as noted below), though the 'pro' inside me was wondering where all the 'Lumia Camera' options had gone(!)
- Shortcuts to four trial XBox Live games are included, but nothing's actually preinstalled here, which is helpful for space reasons.
- Messaging and Phone both get two entries in the main application list - one for each SIM card you may or may not have inserted. It's a little confusing - the OS knows full well which SIM cards are inserted, so couldn't the application entries for each slot be hidden until appropriate?
- Podcasts is also pre-loaded. It forms part of the wider Microsoft app set in my opinion, so good to see here.
- Ditto Files, which emerged with 8.1, of course.
- Data Sense and Storage Sense are here in the app list, part of Windows Phone 8.1, of course.
Everything works as you'd expect and the 480p screen presents UI elements just right, unlike the 'let's not bother' attitude taken for the 720p Yezz Billy 4.7.
On the space issue, media can be saved/sideloaded to SD, as can applications, but a Gigabyte free is soon going to be swallowed up by system component updates, patches, PIM data, and so on. A 4GB internal disk in 2015 is NOT sustainable. As Microsoft has found, making sure all of its new budget offerings, including the aforementioned Lumia 435, have a 8GB internal disk.
Imaging and media
Here are some still samples from the surprisingly good (for the price) camera, click each to enlarge or downloaded, for proper study:
Grab the JPGs for yourself and see what you think. The biggest issue I had with the camera on the Billy 4 was its speed, or rather lack of it. Auto-focussing was slow, half the time it didn't 'lock' and then when you tap the shutter icon there's a full second before the photo is taken - which is simply far too long for real world use. I blame Yezz here for lack of attention to detail in interfacing the camera software from Microsoft with its own electronics.
As with the Billy 4.7, in the original specifications for the Yezz Billy 4 is '720p' video capture, but in practice it's just 480p. In all probability, the engineers got the camera capturing at 720p but then the media playback routines couldn't play it back properly at full frame rate. So, rather than fix the playback codecs, they coded it out of the camera application. Ugh, what a kludge.
In terms of media playback, music was fine, as ever limited more by headphone quality and encoding bitrate than playback software or device electronics these days. The mono speaker's a different story though - because there isn't one. Amazingly, Yezz has economised unforgiveably by re-using the earpiece as the main speaker - so anything you play or output audibly comes out shrill and weedy. Quite appalling. In fact, this is the first phone I've EVER reviewed which didn't have its own speaker. I'm lost for words....
As with the Yezz Billy 4.7 before it, the Billy 4 is an odd mix of components, almost thrown together. Sometimes bad (build, storage) and sometimes good (camera, mainly) hardware, thrown together with bog-standard Windows Phone 8.1 and a fervent hope from Yezz that it comes out smelling of roses. In fact, it comes up smelling rather awful, no thanks to the terribly, terribly slow camera, crippled storage and the complete lack of loudspeaker. I can't recommend the Billy 4 at any price.
Thankfully the Billy 5S LTE is incoming, so let's hope that this rapid iteration from the American company is going to pay dividends.
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at