Wileyfox is the new brand on the Android block, and it’s brought reinforcements

Qualcomm and Cyanogen lend their muscle to the launch

This morning, we were at the launch of new smartphone brand Wileyfox, headed up by ex-Motorola manager Nick Muir. These are the folks who made a pretty big splash in the tech press world last week by sending giant replicas of journalists’ faces made of chocolate. Including mine:

https://twitter.com/holly/status/633235208687472640

As press stunts go, the combination of chocolate and narcissism was spot-on and definitely got our attention. But it didn’t tell us much about the phone, so we were very interested to hear what Wileyfox had to say this morning.

One brand, two phones

Well, firstly, there’ll be two phones from Wileyfox at launch: a lower-end model called the Swift, coming in September, and a higher-end one called the Storm due in October.

BlackBerry-ish names aside, there are quite a few talking points about these phones:

1. They’re really cheap

Wileyfox had a harsh hashtag for the flagship pricing of their competitors:

(In fact, most of their presentation was written in hashtags, which was probably overkill).

They went on to say that despite offering “the best components on the marketplace,” they’d be pricing them low – and we’re talking low. The ÂŁ129 Swift’s specs look like this:

While the ÂŁ199 Storm offers:

Yes, the budget-but-awesome market is becoming crowded this year (with Motorola, OnePlus, Honor, Huawei and countless others getting involved) – but that’s still impressive.

The phones will be sold online only, from Wileyfox’s website, Amazon, Expansys, Clove and a few others. They won’t be partnering with any networks, which is talkable in itself.

2. They run Cyanogen OS out of the box

After ‘consciously uncoupling’ from OnePlus earlier this year, Cyanogen have now lent their backing to Wileyfox. (For the uninitiated: Cyanogen OS is the commercial version of CyanogenMod, a modified version of Android that’s more customisable, and enormously popular – Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster mentioned 50m users during his part of the presentation).

Usually, users have to download and install Cyanogen themselves, which can be tricky – especially for newbies. Wileyfox phones have the mod preinstalled, skipping all the confusion and effort. For Android experts and tech enthusiasts, this endorsement is a big deal. For mainstream customers, who are used to buying a phone with a manufacturer version of Android installed anyway – Cyano-what?

The Swift and Storm are the first two phones to run the newest version of Cyanogen OS, 12.1, and it says a lot about Cyanogen’s enthusiasm for the brand that their CEO turned up in person to the launch.

He might have regretted it, though – a journalist in the audience somewhat awkwardly reminded him of his comment that he’d like to “put a bullet through Google’s head,” followed by asking if the Wileyfox partnership would help him do that. The answer, unsurprisingly, was a bit of a hedge.

3. There’ll be UK call centres and support

This is one of the things Wileyfox hopes will differentiate them from super-cheap Asia Pacific brands. They were cagey about comparisons to OnePlus, but the parallel is clear: both companies offer budget smartphones aimed at flagships, running modded versions of Android – but OnePlus has been taken firmly to task for their lack of support and infrastructure outside China. No one wants to send their phone to another country to get the screen fixed.

Wileyfox clearly hopes to be the European equivalent, with local call centres (including in the UK) offering added-value services like 2-year warranties extendable to 3 years for ÂŁ10, and a ÂŁ10-a-year screen replacement service. It’s all done by post, and Wileyfox couldn’t confirm how long you’d be without your phone for, but the fact that their packaging is designed to be pushed through letterboxes is a forward-thinking move.

4. They’re focusing on privacy

Since Cyanogen originated with tech-savvy enthusiasts, it’s much more privacy-conscious than your usual Android overlay. Version 12.1 comes with the ability to block apps from accessing certain features, on a point-by-point basis – Wileyfox CMO Victoria Denman showed us how she’d blocked Uber from accessing her contacts and camera, for instance. This feature is rumoured to be coming to Android Marshmallow, which Victoria says is a compliment to Cyanogen.

The Swift and Storm also include:

  • Pin Scramble, which randomly changes the order of numbers on the lockscreen so your PIN can’t be determined from finger smudges or a quick look over your shoulder
  • Protected Apps, which are kept out of sight in lockable folders (Victoria mentioned that this is ideal for people who let their kids use their phones)
  • Qualcomm’s SecureMSM tech, including SecureBoot for verifying authenticity of code and data

But can Wileyfox succeed?

The Android market is overcrowded. Everyone’s looking for a point of difference. When a journalist from TechRadar asked how Wileyfox intend to make themselves stand out, their answer basically covered the four points above – while Cyanogen unsurprisingly thought the answer was Cyanogen:

We think Wileyfox is a really interesting proposition – about halfway between Motorola and OnePlus. It has the UK presence and slick branding of a bigger company, plus the backing of some big names – but also offers the low price and quality components of an Asian outfit. Cutting out the invites and awkward returns process is a bonus, and the online-only sales model makes perfect sense at this price point – especially when you consider that their skeptical target market would rather buy their phones SIM free than sign up for two years.

However, Wileyfox seem to think their audience is young and mainstream-ish. We think it’s much more likely to be the tech-savvy, privacy-conscious specialist crowd that queue up for OnePlus phones. Which means they might not achieve massive volume, but will probably find an audience of devoted fans. The Cyanogen endorsement will go a long way towards building that from launch, and Qualcomm’s backing adds trust.

We’ve got a Swift to try out, so we’ll report back with our findings. For now, though, we’re impressed that a brand who introduced themselves with chocolate have kept up the intrigue on launch day. Well played, Wileyfox.


Main image: Wileyfox

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 289 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.