Initial Impressions: The Obi SF1

Initial Impressions: The Obi SF1

If you are a tech enthusiast, then there is a very fat chance that you are aware of the legendary story of Apple Inc. The point that probably made Apple what Apple is today was when a certain individual fired Steve Jobs from Apple. It’s not like Apple did very well under this gentleman, but the firing made Steve the big man, who would then return to Apple and start the glorious era that defined personal technology as we know it today. The gentleman known as John Sculley may take credit of transforming the life of Steve Jobs and therefore, Apple as a company, but his time at Apple has always been seen as a bit of a failure.

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John is back in the game of personal technology and with a bunch of Indian partners and other investors is now spearheading the challenge of Obi Worldphone into the mobile space, hoping to make the dent in the universe that he could not, in his time with Apple. Their first major flagship, the Obi SF1 was announced in India last week and we have been playing around with the device for a good couple of weeks now.

About the Device

Before getting into quick brief about what we feel, about the phone, it is worth mentioning that being a USA based brand, the SF moniker in the name of the device stands for San Francisco, as that is where the device was designed at. Turn the phone on its back and you get the confirmation that the device was designed in the SF and assembled in China.

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A brief interaction with the Obi team made it clear to us that Obi is already exploring the opportunity that the Make in India initiative has brought, and that in the future we could well have them following the likes of Gionee, OnePlus, Xiaomi and Samsung who assemble their devices in India. Another significant point about the SF1 is that it will, to start off with will, remain an online exclusive product, selling only on Gadgets 360 site here, though they may explore the options of going into offline retail space later.

Design and Style

Obi claims that the display of the device is its hero and in order to give it prominence, the 5 inch, 1080 P display sits on top of the phone body, slightly raised from the rest of the chassis. The best way to describe this design is that it looks like there is a very thin iPod stuck on top of a slightly thicker power bank at the bottom. Think of the likes of Nokia Lumia 800 or Nokia N9 here. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a design that takes some time getting used to it. The raised display from the body means that there is a lot of accumulation of dust on the intersection point, and that can be a bit of a nuisance to clean off.

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The phone has rounded corners on the bottom and sharp corners on the top which means that the only way to make the phone stand vertically erect is by placing it on the head down. Not the smartest decision there. The phone is largely constructed out of metallic frame and matte flat back, which makes the phone sturdy and provides decent grip. Thanks to a rather thin profile at just 7.8 mm, the device feels good in the hand and doesn’t cause any bulge when placed in the pocket.

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The screen is not the brightest, nor is it the most saturated display that we have seen this year. There is a slightly warm effect to the display, which makes the display very comfortable to read even at high brightness. We had no problem with the viewing angles or reading under direct sunlight on the device.


The Obi SF1 is running a skinned version of Android 5.0.2. The team from Obi did confirm that they are already working on the Marshmallow update for the phone and it is expected to be rolled out sometime in the first quarter next year.

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The entire experience is kind of hybrid of Vanilla Android and the Obi skin, and that kind of feels inconsistent. The dialer, for example, is completely stock Google while you have icons that are skinned. The lockscreen too is skinned and has an interesting three-way launch for unlocking the phone, firing the camera or opening the dialer app. The phone does give you the option to disable the Obi UI and revert to a more stock UI including changing the icons and lockscreen. There are a few other tricks up its sleeve like changing the background of the Menu to transparent, having a blur effect on the lockscreen or the ability to answer the call by just placing the ringing phone next to your ear.

The camera app is perhaps the most comprehensive one that we have seen so far and you can virtually set any parameter of your shot manually including the ISO, White Balance and Contrast. If you do not like complicated stuff, you do have some built in filters too which will take care of the beautification. We did not play around with the camera enough to judge the quality, but the few shots we took came out well. The rear camera on the phone is 13 MP while the front-facing snapper is 5 MP. Both the cameras have accompanying flash to help you out with low light photography.


We have had our reservations with devices running Snapdragon 615 and sporting 1080 P panels, in our time with the Xiaomi Mi 4i and the Motorola Moto X Play. The Obi SF1 has a similar setup and our fears did come true. You will see across the UI that there are minor stutters that infect the phone. This is something we have come to expect from a Snapdragon 615 device and there is little if anything that Obi can do about it. We have been using the 2 GB/ 16 GB variant, and perhaps the things would be slightly better on the 3 GB RAM/ 32 GB ROM model.

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On the unit we are using, there were constant lags around the UI, during app switching and very minor stutter while even taking pictures. Some of this can definitely be fixed with OTA updates, and while it is not something that will prevent you from using the phone, the whole experience feels a little rough around the edges.

We have only used the phone for a couple of weeks yet and will give it a week before we pass any sort of a judgment in the form of our full review. However, with our initial impressions, we do feel that Obi could do with some refinement on the phone to make it worth the Rs 11,999 mark that the 16 GB/ 2 GB variant is selling for. 


Arpit is a Digital Marketeer who is perpetually disturbed by what is flying in the sky and being kicked around at Old Trafford.
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