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Our Verdict

At £89 you can't expect too much from the Spark, but when a phone struggles with even the basics you really have to worry. It's a mind-numbingly frustrating experience from the moment you turn it on, and impossible to recommend.

For

  • Great low price
  • Solid design
  • Decent display

Against

  • Shocking performance
  • Unacceptable storage
  • Struggles with even the basics

I wanted to like the WileyFox Spark, I really did. I questioned the British start-up's reasoning for launching a new smartphone brand into an already saturated market in 2015, but it surprised me with just how well its opening duo – the WileyFox Swift and WileyFox Storm – performed.

Since their full TechRadar reviews I've personally recommended those first WileyFox handsets to friends and family looking for a low-cost smartphone – and their feedback has been positive.

When I was invited to the launch of a trio of new handsets for 2016, then, I was genuinely excited to see what the Blighty-based company had to offer for its second season.

Rather than unveiling a second-generation Swift and Storm, though, WileyFox has introduced a brand new line under the name Spark, comprising three handsets: Spark, Spark+ and Spark X.

WIleyFox Spark review

The WileyFox Spark is the first of the trio to go on sale, and at just £89 SIM-free it's the cheapest of the bunch too (it's also cheaper than the Swift and Storm), making it the company's new entry-level offering.

That's just a touch more expensive than the now-aging Motorola Moto E (recently reduced to just £69) and newer Vodafone Smart Prime 7 (£75), but it's cheaper than the HTC Desire 530 and Wileyfox Swift (both £129), the Honor 5C (£150), and the new, top-notch Moto G4 (£169). That's not a bad starting point.

You won't find the Spark in stores though. WileyFox is an online-only company, much like OnePlus and Honor, so you'll have to head to the firm's website, or to Amazon, to pick the phone up.

Before you do though, you should read this review.

The price point is excellent, no question about it – but with so many good low-cost smartphones now on the market you can't just turn up with a bargain bucket price tag; you've also got to perform. And that's where the Spark falls down.

WIleyFox Spark review

Design

It's not just the WileyFox Spark's price tag that's eye-catching – the handset itself is actually rather nicely constructed. Don't expect premium build quality and an aluminium unibody, but considering this is a sub-£100 device I'm impressed.

WileyFox may have played it safe with the Spark, employing the traditional black slab that has served manufacturers well for years, but that means it's relatively inexpensive to produce, and still feels pleasing in the hand.

The 5-inch display keeps the dimensions to a manageable 143 x 70.4 x 8.65mm, allowing the handset to nestle nicely in the palm, while the rounded corners and curved textured plastic rear provide a high level of grip – although that texture does feel just a little sandpapery.

WIleyFox Spark review

The fact that the rear is removable, as is the battery, will be music to the ears of power users – and it also reveals the microSD card slot (which is absolutely essential, more on that later) and dual microSIM ports.

Even the WileyFox logo on the back of the Spark endears you to the handset, and one-handed use is certainly possible, assuming your hands aren't on the smaller side.

The power/lock key (on the right) and volume rocker (on the left) fall nicely under thumb and fingers.

WIleyFox Spark review

It's worth noting that the Spark doesn't sport NFC, which means contactless payments via Android Pay are out of the question.

WileyFox took the decision not to include NFC to keep the handset price down, and with Android Pay still being relatively new to the UK it's unlikely to faze too many prospective purchasers.

Overall the WileyFox Spark is a solidly designed budget handset that doesn't look out of place alongside phone in the price tier above. But looks aren't everything.

Display

The WileyFox Spark boasts a 5-inch display with a 720 x 1280 resolution. That's a great offering considering the price of the handset, and it's because WileyFox doesn't deal in anything lower than HD when it comes to screens.

WIleyFox Spark review

The IPS panel may not provide the same colour vibrancy as its AMOLED rivals, but Android still looks bright, crisp and clear.

That makes watching video, playing games and even just browsing the web much more easy on the eye – if you ignore the glaring performance issues for a second, the Spark could command a price tag double its actual cost.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Phones and Tablets Deputy Editor

John (Twitter, Google+) got his first phone aged 12 and since then he's been fixated on all things mobile, churning his way through a multitude of handsets, tablets and operating systems. Signalling his arrival at TechRadar by becoming a Guinness World Record holder in his first week (for the highest score on Super Mario Bros using a giant controller), John hasn't looked back since.