The Kazam Tornado 348 vies with the Oppo R5 in the battle to be the slimmest phone in the world. It’s an interesting battle - a plucky Brit taking on the might of China, and while the Tornado 348 might fall short of smartphone perfection, it’s interesting enough to put Kazam on the map.
The Tornado 348 is alarmingly slim, and it’s not bad-looking either. We think it’s a great flag-bearer for the future in some respects — as phones get bigger they need to get slimmer to make sure we can hold them without getting bionic fingertips surgically attached. And we don’t think a 0.5-inch-larger phone is worth going all Blade Runner over.
But is this a phone you should actually buy, or more of a strong proof of concept? And what’s been sacrificed in the name of ultra slimness?
All are questions that need answering...
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Measuring the waist
But first, just exactly how slim is the Kazam Tornado 348? Why, it's 5.15mm thick - 1.75mm thinner than an iPhone 6. Or 25 per cent thinner, if we want to make it sound more dramatic.
It’s skinny and then some, but like the last self-consciously super-slim phone we tried, the Oppo R5, it makes sure you notice every one of those tenths of a millimetre. Its design is similar to that of the iPhone 5S, with a rectangular shape that gives the Kazam Tornado 348 an angular rather than smooth feel.
If the Tornado 348 was a creature, you’d definitely be able to see ribs poking out its sides.
It’s not just notable for its slimness, but its light weight too. The Tornado 348 is just 95g, making it 25 lighter than an iPhone 6. If we just blew your mind, we apologise for the mess.
The Tornado 348 has a pretty striking look to boot. Our white version has bronze-gold aluminium on the sides and glassy-looking surfaces on the front and back. The black version uses silver on its sides for a similar two-tone effect.
It looks expensive and feels very well-made, too. Both front and back sides are covered with Gorilla Glass 3, which is fairly scratch-resistant and helps make the phone feel expensive, if a little fragile.
Kazam has also put a bunch of little insurance measures in place. The company will replace the front screen for free if you smash it in the first year, and a screen protector and rubbery case come in the box, letting you avoid just about all damage with the unfortunate side-effect of ruining the Tornado 348’s USP.
But here’s the thing — the phone doesn’t really need to be this thin. A little subtle curvature would actually improve the phone’s ergonomics, and at times the light glassy design does make the Tornado 348 feel very precarious.
When taking photos one-handed it feels as though a light breeze could whisk the phone from your hand, bounce it off a drain cover and send it, screen smashed, head-first into a pile of dog mess in a calamitous sequence that’d impress Rube Goldberg. Sometimes having a bit of weight and substance to a phone isn’t a bad thing.
We’re also not too happy about the lack of a microSD slot, which we’re also going to presume is a result of the limited chassis space. The 16GB of storage leaves you with just under 10GB to actually use: fine for some but not remotely enough if you want to use the Tornado 348 as a place to store all your music.
Yes, we like the Kazam Tornado 348 design well enough, just don’t expect alarming revelations in dropping down from using a 8mm thick phone to a 5mm one.
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More serious issues arise as we look at the screen. The Kazam Tornado 348 has a 4.8-inch 1,280 x 720 pixel AMOLED screen. At this price we’d really like to see a 1080p screen, but not because we’re simply greedy for pixels.
720p 4-5-inch screens can look great, but this one doesn’t. Due to the way the Tornado’s AMOLED display works, its pixels actually share the little RGB elements that make up each little dot of pure white, and the result is that it looks weirdly fizzy next to the 720p screen of the £140 Moto G. We find it pretty obvious and distracting in the Kazam Tornado 348 - enough to turn the OLED screen from a pro into a con.
There are also a few other oddities in the display. Colours are very oversaturated, making everything look that little bit tweaked and unnatural. It also seems to do some very odd things with motion. When watching movies there’s a frame interpolation effect that almost makes people look as if they have been sped-up — you’ll often see this in higher-end TVs as a way to improve motion handling, but we’ve always found it looks kinda… weird.
This screen is a dead ringer for the one we saw in the Samsung Galaxy S3 back in 2012, but things have moved on a little since then and it’s too easy to notice its shortcomings now we’ve been so spoilt by screens such as the LG G3’s QHD one. Conversely, shop around and the LG G3 can be yours for not a huge amount more than the Tornado.
OLED isn’t without benefits, though. The Kazam Tornado 348 offers great black depth and contrast. That should be perfect for movies, but it’s spoilt a bit by the fizziness, colour saturation and motion weirdness issues.
As is to be expected of a phone thinner than a Ryvita, the speaker doesn’t help the Kazam Tornado 348’s chances of scoring a job as a mini cinema either. It has a single speaker on the back, and while it avoids sounding distorted, it is very trebly and thin.
Operating System: Android 4.4.2 with ColorOS
Screen: 4.8in AMOLED with 1280x720 resolution (306ppi)
Processor: MediaTek MT6592 @ 1.66GHz
Storage: 16GB (not expandable)
Camera: 8MP rear with LED flash, 5MP front
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth 4.0
Dimensions: 140 x 68 x 5.15mm
Vanilla with a twist
As with previous Kazam phones we’ve seen, the software strategy seems to be to keep everything pretty close to standard Android.
The phone does have a custom interface, but aside from a few tweaks you could easily mistake it for vanilla software. So, what are the tweaks? The Kazam Tornado 348 lets you add folders in the apps menu, has a new-look Settings menu and a few added features such as custom smart gestures. These let you do things like take the phone out of sleep with two taps, or launch specific apps from standby by drawing a specific object on the touchscreen.
It’s not a bad approach to customisation, but we have noticed a few slow or glitchy moments in the custom areas, especially the Settings menu. While the interface may look like standard Android, it’s not quite as well-optimised.
One interesting touch is the Amazon Mayday-like Kazam Rescue app. It doesn’t video-call Kazam customer services - you have to use an actual phone number to get hold of them - but it does allow them to remote access your phone (with your permission, natch) to diagnose problems or simply help you get setup. It’s a neat feature and something that more and more gadget makers are going to be including in the future, but we suspect it will only be a deal-maker for a small and specific set of people.
Eight little cores
It’s not like there isn’t enough power to go around: the Kazam Tornado 348 has an octa-core MediaTek MT6592 CPU with 1GB of RAM, and while MediaTek chips aren’t quite as efficient or popular as their Qualcomm alternatives — the Snapdragon 800 of the Nexus 5 is better — there’s a good amount of power on tap here.
As long as you make sure all eight cores are prepped to fire-up when needed, the Kazam Tornado 348’s gaming performance is very good. It uses the Mali 450 GPU, which sits roughly between the power on tap in the Motorola Moto G and Nexus 5.
In other words, it’s good but don’t let those eight cores go to your head too much. It also doesn’t have four true high-power cores, as other 8-core CPUs do.
It’s not a bad setup for efficiency, though. Four of the cores can be effectively switched off to save battery life, and that helps avoid the dismal battery life we feared when seeing a phone as slim as the Kazam Tornado 348.
It has a 2050mAh battery, similar to the Motorola Moto G. With normal use you’ll get a solid day and change out of a charge and we got a solid 10 hours of video playback before the phone gave up. While you’ll get better out of the rival Honor 6, another young upstart out to attack the big boys, it’s better than we expected from such a slim phone.
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An extra serving of selfies
The cameras aren’t too shabby either. You get an 8-megapixel sensor with LED flash on the back and a 5-megapixel selfie cam on the front.
While the Kazam Tornado 348’s pictures won’t trouble the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5 or Nokia Lumia 930, we’ve had fun shooting with the phone. It’s fairly quick at taking shots (although HDR processing takes quite a while), and the camera app tries to be about as simple as it can.
Taking a few cues from the iPhone 6, the app doesn’t offer reams of extra features, instead largely sticking to the basics of HDR and panorama on top of standard Auto shooting. If anything these are actually pushed a bit too far into the background, with HDR accessed from the camera settings menu through a fiddly slider.
There are no fancy low-light abilities on offer here, with detail taking a nosedive at night. Even in daylight there’s a bit of fizziness to images, and the HDR mode is fairly poor, introducing too much sharpening, which spoils the character of photos. But then the Kazam Tornado 348 never really claims to be a photographic hero.
But selfies are a cut above the norm thanks to the 5-megapixel sensor. As with most of these new high-res selfie cams, don’t expect to see every unsightly nose hair rendered crisply if you shoot in dim indoors lighting, but the results are still flat-out better than the generic 2-megapixel front cameras you get in so many other low-end and mid-range mobiles.
However, with the way things are going at present, 5-megapixel front cameras may become the norm for just about all but the cheapest phones in 2015.
The future vs the past
With a slimmer body than ever that doesn’t totally kill battery life and a jazzed-up selfie cam, the Kazam Tornado 348 can seem like a forward-looking phone. But in other respects it’s not.
The most serious sin is that it doesn’t have 4G. This has become the norm in just about all phones of £150 and above, making its omission pretty hard to accept.
We found it a bit annoying during testing, too. Watching Netflix at the gym, we noticed a good deal more time than usual spent on the buffering screen: it’s not good news for those who like to watch videos or download apps on-the-go.
Most other connectivity extras are missing, too. There’s no NFC and no IR transmitter, making the Kazam Tornado 348 a bit lacking on the wireless front.
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Kazam Tornado 348 verdict
The Kazam Tornado 348 is a remarkable phone, but almost entirely because it’s so slim. In other respects, it’s just a bit too pedestrian for our liking.
The screen looks less detailed than the 720p competition thanks to its OLED screen, and there are several good 1080p phones available for the same price or just a little more.
We were pleasantly surprised how easy the phone is to live with thanks to its respectable battery life (always one of the main worries with a super-slim phone), and the fact that Kazam actually seems to care about its customers makes a refreshing change, but you’ve got to really prioritise those things if you’re going to overlook its many omissions and shortcomings.
In the end, most people will find better options in the £250 ballpark, but that doesn’t mean we’re not excited about what Kazam does next.
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