If you’re looking for the cheapest 4G phone on the market, then you’ve come to the right place. The Rook is available for the paltry sum of £39 for EE customers. Otherwise you’ll have to pay £49, plus another £10 to top up the phone, though since this is credit you can use to make calls it’s hardly a catch.
Even at the higher price, it’s still a very cheap device, with most budget phones with 4G LTE support costing £80 to £100. Even EE’s own Harrier Mini is £99, so the closest rival on price is the impressive Vodafone Smart Prime 6 at £79.
As with most budget phones, there’s little to say about the EE Rook in terms of looks and build. The device is small, too, so fits in the hand much easier than most modern phones. The 130g weight helps the Rook to feel solid, and like its bigger brothers there’s a yellow ring around the camera.
The rear cover is removable, giving access to the card slots and battery. Our main gripe is that the rear cover attracts fingerprints and grease, so it constantly looks grubby. Plus, the recessed ear piece will be a magnet for dust and dirt.
At 4in, the display is tiny compared to almost every other smartphone on the market at the moment. Anything under 5in can arguably be described as small, so going back to the same size as the iPhone 4s is strange if you’ve got used to today’s average.
Unsurprisngly, the resolution is just 480x800, so images are far from crisp. There is, however, a bigger problem – poor viewing angles mean you need to look at the Rook straight on to see what you’re doing. Move the device, or your head, even a small amount and image quality diminishes severely. From the bottom of the phone, it’s almost completely white, while the opposite is true when looking from the top.
The Rook is powered by a MediaTek MT6735M 1GHz processor, which is quad-core and 64-bit, with a built-in 4G modem. There’s also 1GB of RAM, and apart from the initial setup of the phone, we found performance to be unexpectedly smooth. Don’t try and play any graphically advanced games, but titles such as Temple Run 2 will be okay.
It’s far from flawless and the Rook does lag when you push it, but on the whole it can keep up with most regular tasks. We were also impressed with the benchmark results, which you can see in the table below. Note that it outpaced the Smart Prime 6 and EE Harrier Mini in graphics tests.
Of the 8GB of storage just 2.5GB is available out of the box, however, a microSD card slot alleviates this problem and can accept up to 32GB memory cards.
Don’t expect much in the way of other specs, though. It has basic Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth 4.0, but no fancy features such as NFC for use with EE’s Cash on Tap.
As mentioned earlier, the battery is removable and isn’t particularly large in capacity at 1500mAh. However, the Rook faired pretty well in our benchmark test lasting five hours, 22 minutes. That’s better than the mid-range Sony Xperia M4 Aqua, which managed four hours, 49 minutes.
We wouldn’t have been too shocked to find one or even no cameras on the EE Rook in order to achieve the price, but it has both front and rear shooters. The back offering is 5Mp, while the front is a very basic VGA resolution camera. Although there are features such as HDR and panorama available, the results won’t be anything special.
It’s impressive to find the EE Rook preloaded with the latest version of Google’s Android operating system, 5.1 Lollipop. Like the EE Harrier and Harrier Mini, the experience is largely stock Android, or ‘vanilla’, so the firm has left the OS alone on the whole.
The Rook comes with a number of preinstalled apps, including Lookout, Deezer, Games and Apps, plus various apps from Amazon. While widgets can be removed from the homescreen panels, the apps themselves can only be disabled, not uninstalled completely.
Navigation buttons sit below the screen, which in this case is pretty handy as the 4in display is small enough without having to host a nav bar. It’s good to see that one of the buttons is for recent apps and not the out-of-date menu option, which we’ve seen on other phones.
If you don’t mind the basic design, the EE Rook is a good little phone. We can’t argue with the price of £39 for existing customers and the performance is better than we expect for a sub-£50 phone. It’s mainly the miserable viewing angles of the screen that put us off, so you are better off spending a little more if you can afford it.