You may have heard of FreedomPop at some point, they’re an MVNO offering free (as in beer) minutes, texts and data every month with no strings attached (unless you count the requirement for their app as part of the deal). They launched in the UK in 2015 and have been slowly making a name for themselves both for the free service and their low-cost plans for when the free tier is not quite enough.

I’ve been making use of their services infrequently over the last couple of years for test devices and tablets which mostly live near WIFI, but may occasionally pop out of the house with me. It’s incredibly convenient to have a service that’s always there when I need it, but not costly when I don’t.

They recently launched the FreedomPop V7, a 5 inch Android Marshmallow handset preloaded with FreedomPop’s service and apps. It’s not the first FreedomPop-branded device (well, perhaps in the UK it is) as they’ve dabbled in the past, but they’ve been more often associated with the sale of refurbished devices through their website. With the launch of this new device, I thought I’d jump at the opportunity to take it for a spin and publish my thoughts.

Hardware

The device itself is a fully unlocked V7 Zyro which has been subject to no additional FreedomPop branding and can be purchased on Amazon for under £100. FreedomPop however offered it bundled with their £11.99/month Premium 2GB plan (the first month is free and can be cancelled before renewal) for £59 all in. This 2GB plan also comes with unlimited texts and minutes.

For the price it’s a reasonable handset that feels more expensive than it is; the aluminium frame is the biggest reason for this and looks great against the matte, grippy, plastic back cover. Under this cover sits a 2100mAh removable battery, 2 SIM slots (the 2nd is 2G only for some reason) and a MicroSD slot capable of carrying up to 32GB MicroSD cards. The back of the unit is easy to gain access to, though the cover on my mine is quite difficult to re-secure to the device due to somewhat poor clips.

The V7 is powered by a Snapdragon 210 (I didn’t realise they went that low, honestly) 1.1GHz quadcore chip with 1GB RAM and 16GB storage. Commonly devices touting a gig of RAM are bundled with 8GB of internal storage, so doubling it is a nice touch. The screen is a 5″ 720p display that uses Dragontrail glass instead of the more popular Gorilla Glass, but it comes with a factory-fitted screen protector. Underneath the screen sit capacitive buttons which still seem to be a thing in 2017.

The headphone jack (yes, it has one!) and microUSB charging ports sit on the top of the phone, while the power and volume sit down the right-hand side. The buttons are clicky and don’t feel cheap, another nice touch for a budget device.

On the back sits a 13MP camera, which is adequate, though not particularly impressive. The front camera is even worse at 5MP, though admittedly I’ve seen front facing cameras with a much lower resolution. Here’s a sample from the rear camera.

On the bottom sits a mono speaker which is quite loud, though by no means the loudest I’ve heard, and finally while it benefits from Bluetooth 4.0, WIFI is limited to 2GHz and there’s no NFC – so sorry, no Android Pay on the V7.

Software

 

The V7 ships with 6.0 Marshmallow and a light skin. Besides the hexagonal icons and an additional setting or two, the device is pretty much stock. Given the low-end processor and limited RAM, limiting the skinning was definitely a wise choice.

Performance is more than adequate; I found doing the day to day activities of browsing the web, checking mails and browsing twitter perfectly fine, though more media-heavy apps such as Facebook do suffer the occasional stutter.

The most interesting aspect of the unboxing was the way in which FreedomPop set it up – on powering the device up for the first time I was greeted immediately with a home screen; no first-run Wizard and no indication at all this is how it was supposed to be. FreedomPop appears to take each device, run through the Wizard without adding any accounts and then install their apps via APK (by enabling unknown sources) before then shipping the device out.

My first thought was someone has messed with this device before factory resetting it and starting fresh. This, unfortunately, wipes out the apps FreedomPop pre-loaded, but luckily I took a backup of the APKs just in case (I’ll link to them at the bottom for others who have done the same).

At the point of resetting I also got a taste of just how slow the device can be. Something that takes a couple of minutes on higher-end devices took around 10 minutes to complete on the V7, it spent an uncomfortable amount of time on the V7 boot animation following the reset which had me wondering if it may be looping.

Additionally while discussing the odd way in which the device was set up, I also notice encryption is disabled by default, a setting that likely coincides with the low-end processor, though after enabling encryption I saw no particular decrease in performance. Given the benefits of encryption, I’d certainly always enable it when the choice is presented and you should, too.

Battery life

I’ve only been using the device for a couple of days so haven’t had much of a grasp on battery life. It does at the moment with limited use last well over a day despite the small battery (the HD screen and low-end processor definitely play a part here).

Enterprise use

Given the low price, it may be tempting to order in bulk for enterprise deployment. Like many low-end smartphones, once loaded up with enterprise applications, encryption enabled and a management agent running frequently in the background, battery life and performance may suffer. It certainly seems more capable than some of the older low-end Samsungs (The Ace and Young line of devices were horrible) but should be thoroughly tested under all corporate use-cases before deployment.

Being Android 6.0.1 it does indeed support Android Enterprise (AfW) out of the box and managed Device Owner mode without much fuss. Under normal circumstances however (enrolling them without AE), don’t expect to be able to control much, and don’t expect much reliability in pushing payloads.

In other words, embrace Android Enterprise or don’t consider this device.

Conclusion

At £59 with free mobile service for life*, the V7 is a pretty compelling offer. It doesn’t wow on any front particularly, but it is a cheap, cheerful and capable device for day to day usage for those who wouldn’t consider themselves power users.

As for FreedomPop’s provisioning, I’d have hoped for better; sending out devices somewhat pre-configured with no notes to say why the device isn’t presenting the first-run wizard may lead to confusion and concern. Moreover, sideloading APKs and leaving unknown sources enabled is bad practice and not secure. They need to be working with v7 to have their apps preloaded into a factory image, or provide instructions for how users can set the devices up themselves.

If you buy a v7 through FreedomPop, I’d suggest factory resetting it on receipt, you can then reinstall the missing apps by downloading the following zip:

FreedomPop Apps

*This is what they say, how long it actually lasts we’ll have to wait and see, though it’s been a few years so far. The free for life offer includes 200 minutes, 200 texts and 200MB data.

Have you bought a FreedomPop V7? Have you purchased it through V7 directly? Let me know your thoughts on the device in the comments, @jasonbayton on twitter or @bayton.org on Facebook.

 



Jason Bayton

I’m an accredited mobile technology & EMM (MDM) specialist with an interest in Linux, Virtualisation, Hosting, Disaster Recovery, Internet of Things, Web Development and Open Source. I play the Sousaphone, too!

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