F150 a small startup company out of Hong Kong has a new rugged smartphone: Bison B2021 which is now available for purchase. The main feature of this new device is a new dedicated outdoor or F150 mode.
Fresh off the completion of CES 2021 we are starting to see a slew of new gadgets. F150 sent me the gold color version of the Bison B2021 smartphone.
First impressions, it’s great to see a rugged device in a color other than black. Secondly, on paper, this device packs a serious wallop in terms of price-to-performance ratio.
With F150 offering some great launch pricing, is this a great rugged smartphone for the price? Let’s give it the full review treatment to find out if this is true or not.
Unboxing the Bison B2021
Inside the box is the smartphone, charging brick, and a USB-C cable with some paperwork. For a rugged tough smartphone, the insert holding the phone is extremely flimsy. Not a great first impression.
Bison B2021 Hardware Impressions
Right off the bat, I have to admit that I really like how this device looks. It might just be the unique Gold color. Typically rugged devices from Chinese smartphone makers are available in Henry Ford Black and nothing else. So it is refreshing to see a small new startup decide to offer a bold new color option.
Switching from color to build quality, let me say that the B2021 doesn’t scream budget device in this category. The backplate has a nice textured surface with some eye-catching accents. This backplate is secured via 4 star-shaped screws to the frame. The gold accent border around the camera module provides a nice dose of added personality. This theme continues with a loop at the bottom below the speaker cutouts to attach a lanyard of sorts. Finally, the F150 logo is done tastefully without too much bling.
Moving on from the back to the sides, the four corners of the device have textured high durometer rubber inserts to protect the phone from drops. At the bottom is the USB-C charging port with the headphone jack with a cover. The sides have metal rails with metal buttons which are again secured to the frame via star-shaped screws. On the right-hand side are the fingerprint scanner, power, and volume buttons. On the opposite side, we see the dedicated F150 button and the dual-SIM/SD card tray with cover. The covers for the ports close flush to the frame indicating good manufacturing tolerances.
On the front is the 5.86″ 720 x 1520 pixel notch display with 401 PPI pixel density with a 19:9 aspect ratio. The display is quite nice although the notch is a bit obtrusive. A hole punch display would have made this device look quite nice. On the other hand, F150 didn’t skimp on protecting this display and we get Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the display. The side bezels are reasonable in size and same is true for the top and bottom bezels as well. Finally, there is the F150 logo in gold in the center of the bottom chin.
A couple of minor things to note though. The phone is a bit on the heavy side due to the massive 8000 mAh battery along with all the extra materials used to achieve the rugged phone IP and drop test requirements. And for those looking for a more traditional look, F150 is offering the B2021 in Black color as well.
Let’s talk about the display quality
Bison B2021 has a 5.86″ HD+ display with 720 x 1520 pixels. This results in a 287 PPI pixel density which is sharp and no pixelation is visible in everyday use. Aside from the resolution the B2021 sports a modern 19:9 aspect ratio. While the screen size is below 6″ overall there is just enough real estate for browsing, playing video games, or catching up on YouTube subscriptions.
Since there is Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on this display panel I expect reasonably decent scratch resistance during day to day use. However, unlike other Chinese smartphone makers, this one does not have a factory-installed screen protector at least on my review unit.
As far as screen brightness goes I had zero issues with outdoor visibility on bright sunny days out here in Southern California. Even though the specs in terms of nits are scarce my suspicion is that this panel sports around 400 to 450 nits of brightness.
I was hoping to be dismayed by the display settings but surprisingly enough there are quite a few options available. These include adaptive brightness, color tone adjustment, nightlight, and economical backlight settings. For color (called LCD effect) I left it on Neutral for my review. One nice feature is that system-wide dark mode is available right from the top drop-down quick settings menu.
In summary, the display quality is serviceable – not great but definitely something you can use on an everyday basis.
Bison B2021 runs on a MediaTek Helio G25 processor. This is a TSMC 12nm FinFET processor for entry-level 4G smartphones. This eight-core chip has four Cortex A53 cores at 2.00GHz and four Cortex A53 cores at 1.50GHz. So considering the chipset, this phone is most definitely not going to win any spec wars. But when coupled with 6GB of RAM, it runs the usual slate of apps without any glaring hiccups. In regular use, the performance is similar to phones such as the Teracube 2e or the Redmi 9A.
As far as gaming is concerned, low graphics intensity games like Subway Surfers, BB Racing, Hill Climb 2 are fine. You can switch back and forth between the games and apps without any hassles primarily because of the extra RAM since most entry-level phones only have 4GB RAM onboard. Thermal management is also decent but I give credit mainly to the large size of the phone versus any significant engineering improvements. Of course, with an entry-level processor note that your experience with games like Call of Duty or PUBG will be subpar.
Geekbench 5 scores are as expected, 151 for Single-Core score and 754 for Multi-Core score. The Compute benchmark score is not available since the test kept getting aborted. The phone has a very mild skin on top of stock Android so for the most part, you will not encounter any major issues. But still, you will definitely feel that it’s a budget phone.
From a storage perspective, you get about 52 GB of space after setting up the phone with OS and basic Google Apps. And you can add a micro SD card for additional storage without giving up dual-SIM capability which is a nice bonus.
Software still has a few kinks
The parent company F150 has it’s own take on Android 10 as far as software goes for the B2021. Along with the near-stock Android normal mode, there is a special outdoor F150 mode. Long pressing the F150 key on the left-hand rail allows switching between the two modes. There is an audible animation that precedes switching between modes which may or may not be to everyone’s liking.
Pressing the button continuously and rapidly will activate the emergency sequence with a loud SOS alarm with the flashlight rapidly flashing. Supposedly this might come in handy outdoors in case you need help or need to scare an animal away. There are a few other tools that are in the F150 mode tool bag. These include Torch, Compass, Protractor, Plumb, Fs-Clock, Timer, Voice
Simulation, Step-Counter, and Magnifier. F150 claims that these work in offline mode as well. During my review period, I got a chance to test Torch, Compass, and Step counter functions.
Another feature of the F150 mode or skin is the octagon element. In F150 mode, all the app icons are in the shape of an octagon. The shape is also integrated into the boot animation, UI design as well. Most of the widgets, apps, and texts are all yellow in color to help with outdoor visibility.
My main issue is the amount of difficulty in loading the final production software version. The download center points to a Mega site for the software updates. Hopefully, this is not the case for future OTA updates. Additionally if by mistake you install the Euro version it will render your USA version device useless as it doesn’t recognize the SIM cards anymore. It took me over a week of going back and forth with the manufacturer to get the correct version of the latest software.
The other issue is the Settings menu is quite different than stock Android or other versions like One UI or Realme OS. And a lot of features are in places you would least expect so that is something to keep in mind if you decide to get this device.
Battery life is absolutely bonkers but charging has issues
One area where the Bison B2021 is heads and shoulders above the competition is battery life. It has a whopping 8000 mAh battery which translates very easily into a multi-day battery life smartphone.
This device is easily a 6-8 hour SOT smartphone. So charging every two days is definitely within reach for most users and for heavy users it should last a full day without any issues whatsoever. For charging though it is best to use the factory charging brick and consider overnight charging as it takes easily over 3 hours to charge this battery. And another item to consider is that the phone charges very very slowly with a brick in excess of 10W rating for charging. Oh, and the 18W charging is a misnomer since the box has only a 10W charging brick in it.
Reverse charging is hidden under USB preferences – ‘Charge connected device’ instead of Battery settings which is a head-scratcher. So in a pinch, you can use this phone as a power bank to charge headphones or any other gadget via the USB-C port. That is definitely a feature to keep in mind as you consider this phone for your needs.
Audio quality is adequate
Bison B2021 has all the basic audio equipment onboard. As far as speakers go, there is one bottom-firing speaker on the rear panel. The audio output is okay at regular volume for speakerphone or for watching videos. However, due to the large size of the device, the audio sounds like it is coming out of an echo chamber at higher volumes. The top earpiece for phone calls is good for voice calls.
Audio output from the headphone jack is in line with other entry-level smartphones. And wireless Bluetooth audio quality using various earbuds is satisfactory and comparable to the headphone jack. Just note that the headphone jack is adjacent to the charging port and so the cover flap will dangle around during use. This can potentially cause the flap to break after long term use so best to use wireless headphones from a device longevity perspective.
Cameras are a letdown
Bison B2021 has a quad-camera setup. However, there is one main 13MP primary shooter. In addition, you get two 2MP cameras and one QVGA low light sensor. Ignore the hype for anything except the main lens.
According to F150, the main 13MP camera is f/2.2 aperture and 1/2″ image sensor. I find these specs to be unreliable based on the image quality. The front selfie camera is a Samsung 8MP 5-element lens with f/2.8 aperture.
Other than broad daylight pictures I don’t think the camera results are any good. That too you need to adjust the focus and exposure level manually to get decent results that you can share on social media. Portrait mode blur is too aggressive and edge detection is fairly poor for rear and selfie cameras.
Blue skies are mostly a miss depending on the framing of the shot and require manual exposure intervention. More often than not the sky tends to wash out. Indoor shots in medium light are okay via Night Mode. For any other low light situation, it is best to avoid this smartphone. Take a look at some sample pictures via our Flickr gallery below.
Bison B2021 Camera Samples – Flickr Gallery
The camera app offers Panorama and Pro Mode options. HDR mode is present but you need to turn it on manually. And there is a dedicated Night Mode but the results are really poor. Video is FHD or 1080p at 30fps for both front and rear cameras.
Camera performance is really quite a letdown for the B2021. I am not sure that this can be improved via a future camera app update or via a third-party app. So if you need a decent camera for use in outdoor settings then this might be a dealbreaker.
Connectivity is on point
For a Chinese smartphone, connectivity is actually on point. Out of the box LTE, VoLTE, and VoWiFi connections as soon as I put my T-Mobile SIM card in it. Download and upload data speeds compare well with the LTE only Pixel 4a on the same network. I suspect similar results with AT&T but best to check with F150 prior to purchasing this device for use in the USA.
Call quality in handset or speakerphone mode presents no issues. Texting, downloading apps, catching up on YouTube subscriptions, or streaming music via various apps presented no issues during my review period. Bluetooth 5.0 pairing with my various earbuds was quick and easy as well. Since Google Messages is the default texting app, there is RC5 support right out of the box.
The best part about this phone is that it has NFC for Android Share / Google Pay. NFC is the one feature pretty much universally not available on entry-level smartphones so this is a definite plus for this phone especially for contactless payments in the COVID-19 era.
So should you consider buying the Bison B2021?
If you are looking for a rugged entry-level smartphone then the Bison B2021 should be on your list. It definitely checks the boxes for good hardware, great battery life, fairly good display, reasonably good audio, excellent connectivity, and relatively bloat-free software. Although I am not too sure how much ongoing software support will be available for this device. However, the biggest drawback is the camera performance which is not great in low light and requires a bit of exposure tuning to coax out good pictures. So if you can live with low software support and so-so camera performance, then the launch price of $110 provides a good option for those interested in a reasonably priced rugged outdoor smartphone.
This article originally appeared on https://www.androidheadlines.com/2021/01/bison-b2021-review-is-an-entry-level-rugged-smartphone-any-good.html