The world of budget smartphones is one where the rabbit hole goes on infinitely. It is because of this that when we were offered to review this particular budget entry I was curious to say the least.
I have personally stuck to well known brands such as the Nexus series for long as I can remember – not wanting to give up on the vanilla Android experience.
This would constitute my first foray into chinese/european brands such as Umi. Our review unit was provided to us by Gearbest who are also offering promos on the same right now for WCCFTech readers.
1. Introduction and Specifications
On paper, the specifications of the smartphone are absolutely impeccable. Not a well–known brand itself but rocking components from very well known brands, the Umi Plus looks like the ultimate budget smartphone for Android. Without any further ado, here are the official specifications:
- Brand: Umi
- Model: Plus
- Colors: Grey/Gold
- Body: 6000 Series Alumminum Alloy
- Scren: 5.5 Inch 1080p SHARP LTPS screen with T2X-1 Glass
- OS: Android 7.0 (via OTA Upgrade)
- Fingerprint Sensor: Front TouchID (0.3s)
- CPU: MediaTek Helio P10 Octa Core
- GPU: ARM Mali T860
- RAM: 4GB Samsung eMMC5.1 +LPDDR3
- Storage: 32 GB
- Battery: 4000 mAh 4.35V
- Back Camera: 13 MP Samsung 3L8
- Front Camera: 5.0 MP GalaxyCore GC5005 camera
- Dual Sim
- 2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
4G: FDD-LTE 800/1800/2100/2600MHz
- Accelerometer,Ambient Light Sensor,E-Compass,Gravity Sensor,Gyroscope,Hall Sensor,Proximity Sensor
- SD Card Slot: Yes
- Dimensions: 15.50 x 7.50 x 0.88 cm / 6.1 x 2.95 x 0.35 inches
- Weight: 0.185 kg
- Charge Time: 1.5 hours.
- Standby Time: 13 days
As you can see, on paper the phone sounds more like a mainstream flagship than a budget phone from a relatively unknown brand. Instead of a plastic design you might expect from a phone in this price range, the Umi Plus has a full aluminum alloy body which gives off a very premium vibe to the phone. The camera itself, specs wise, is outstanding as is the front. The screen should be pretty darn good as well. The GPU is moderately powered but this is to be expected considering the Umi Plus focuses heavily on battery life and nothing eats battery more than a power hungry GPU.
The processor at the heart of the Plus is coupled with 4GB of RAM which is on par with what you will find in the biggest flahgships out there. All of this is topped off with a mamoth sized 4000 mAH batter. You really will not be able to find better value else where. They have made sure that the hardware involved in the making of the Umi Plus is absolutely top notch and comes from manufacturers that everyone is well aware of. The camera has dual sim capability although only 1 sim will be able to receive LTE while the other will work on GSM. Oh and it has a fingerprint sensor as well, hidden snugly in the center button of the Umi Plus.
2. Unboxing and Design:
The phone arrived in a very sleek looking black box with transparent plastic. Unfortunatley it received quite a lot of scratches during the shipping process but I assume it would look gorgeous without them. The phone could be seen visible just under the surface and after removing the seals you can immediately get your hands on the device.
Right off the bat the phone feels heavy and sturdy in my hand. The cold metal gives off the premium vibe that I have talked about and its looks resemble something of the new iPhone (possible source of inspiration for the design). I was already intrigued by the specifications of the phone and this only added to my bemusement about how a phone with this low a price tag could be specced so high. The build quality, I have to admit is absolutely fantastic.
The box comes coupled with a fast charger, USB Type-C cable (UMI Proprietary) the phone manual and a sim slot opening pin. The phone had about 50% charge left right out of the box, which is the ideal state to store lithium ion batteries in and I booted it right up. It took a few seconds to breeze through the setup process and I arrived quickly at the home screen. The Umi Plus had its own custom launcher but being a fan of the pure android experience, I quickly downloaded and set the Google Now launcher as default, bent on doing an apple to apple comparison with a Nexus device.
Here are some of the angles of the phone itself and as you can see the design, while inspired, is really quite good and does not feel or look like a budget phone at all. The heft of the device, as well as the 2.5D curvature of the screen itself, sets it a hint above all of its competition. So far so good, it has excellent looks and excellent insides – but can the smartphone hold up as a real life daily driver?
3. Analysing the 2.5D SHARP Display
The screen of a smartphone is one of its most important features. A bad panel is usually one of the most obvious features of a budget smartphone. Bad viewing angles and inaccurate color reproduction rule this segment of the market. The Umi Plus however, has a SHARP IPS panel with a 1080p resolution. The viewing angles are perfect as is the color reproduction.The color temperature of the screen is a bit on the cold side as you can see above, but that isn’t a con by any means. In fact, the screen also has enough brightness to keep it fully visible on even the brightest of days.
In fact, I had an old Nexus 5 lying about and in terms of maximum brightness it absolutely puts it to shame. While the Nexus screen has a warm color temperature, the color reproduction is actually slightly less accurate. The screen is not overly-saturated and feature a nice neutral tone for most of the color spectrum. So the screen should suffice in pretty much all lighting scenarios and is sharp enough (pardon the pun) to satisfy even the strictest tech enthusiast.
The curvature of the screen is 2.5D, which basically means the screen curves off at the end. This is nothing more than a gimmick really, to give off a unique looking vibe and has no functional value. Of course, another important factor is the input lag of the touch screen itself. I was not able to feel any perceptible difference between my daily driver (Nexus 5X) and the Umi Plus but after putting it through a couple of tests it transpired that the Umi Plus IS slightly less responsive than the Nexus 5X. However, this is not to any perceptible degree and is not something you should even consider leaving the phone over unless you are someone who plays mobile MOBAs at very low pings.
4. Performance Benchmarks, Battery Life and Comparison
We are finally at the most meaty portion of the review where we take a look at the benchmark performance of the Umi Plus. To set a base line, the Nexus 5 usually scores anywhere from 1800-2300 depending on the clocks while as the Nexus 5X scores around 2000-2700 depending on the clocks. Vanilla handsets usually score closer to the earlier range. Keep in mind however, that the Nexus 5X is significantly more expensive than the Umi Plus. In fact, it is almost twice as expensive.
In our testing the Umi Plus was able to score an outstanding score of 2654 points (all-core) which is right up there with the Nexus 5X (which costs $296 I might add). This level of performance is absolutely unheard of in the $169 bracket and consider us very impressed. The single core performance for all the enthusiasts out there is also given and is on the lower side (considering this is a tiny core design). All the individual tests also revealed above par performance on all counts. We had originally tested the phone on Android 6.0 but the Android 7.0 OTA was rolled out just a few days before so we had to redo them.
Moving on to the gaming performance, this is something that is mediocre and on-par with this price bracket. Considering battery life is the corner stone of the Umi Plus design, this isn’t really something surprising as high end mobile GPUs eat through the battery like anything. The Umi Plus scores 463 points in Sling Shot Unlimited and 315 in Sling Shot Extreme. Once again, if you look at the break down you will see that the compute performance (Physics) is miles ahead of this league.
The smartphone scores 45131 points in the famous Antutu Benchmark (latest version). As far as the CPU performance went, it scores 15544 points which is in the high end spectrum. The GPU performance score is 6165 which is once again a mid level score.
With all that out of the way, lets talk about the battery life. One of the biggest problems with having high end hardware inside a smartphone is that you have a very large variance in the battery life of the phone. If you are not doing anything processor intensive, the smartphone will last a day but do some heavy gaming for more than a few minutes and you will quickly bleed off the battery. One of the biggest advantages of the Umi Plus is that not only does it have a large battery but its hardware is optimized for power efficiency.
I have spent a few hours gaming on the Umi Plus and was shocked to see that I had barely used 30% of the battery during the entire session. A similar session on the Nexus 5X or even the Nexus 5 would have meant a dead phone in less than half the time. The battery life however, has a cost, which is mid-level gaming performance. While the phone was able to run just about everything I threw at it, I am also sure that fps on demanding AAA mobile titles will not be ideal. All that said, this is a cost that is easily acceptable considering the target market of this mobile which will probably be sticking to casual to mid level gaming.
4. Testing the Camera
And finally, we arrive at the camera. On paper, the Umi Plus has a very nice camera, but the real life experience was probably the only thing out of the entire package that did not live up to its name. The 13 MP camera on the back is complimented by dual tone flash and can be accessed by the camera app inside. The problem is however, that if your hands are even slightly shaky while taking the shot, you will end up with a blury picture. There is no semblance of image stabilization whatsoever and the reason appears to be a software oversight, not a hardware one.
The default software, when faced with low light, lowers the shutter speed of the lens by a lot and this is something you cannot readily change. Even the “Pro” mode given inside the Umi plus helps little. Secondly, the Umi Plus has image compression bult in which shrinks the large 13MP prints to barely 300 kbs. My nexus on the other hand produces 8MP prints that are 1.5MB large. This is of course a problem for people who rely on their camera as the primary means to take photos. One way to bypass the software hiccups is to shoot in RAW but once again, the Umi Plus does not allow RAW on the current ROM.
This was really something that was slightly disappointing for me. I was all set on giving this phone a brilliant review but this is something that could quickly be a deal breaker for any people. It would be a good idea for the company to skip their own custom software and utilize the vanilla camera app that google provides while allowing users to access the RAW compatibility of the phone. Given below are two image comparisons, one taken from my dated Nexus 5 and the other from the Umi Plus.
The default app also features the HDR feature. Unlike most phones, which fake HDR by manipulating shadows and highlights in post, this one is legit. It does take shots in two different exposure levels and then picks the shadows and highlights from the correct ones. The result however, is not something that is necessarily better and can have “over-HDR” look that many photographers avoid. The low light performance of the phone is pretty damn decent, but once again the compression software manages to ruin an otherwise perfectly good picture.
Umi is really on to something here. The reliable update support, the cutting edge hardware and the design is out of this world. The only actual snag is the camera of the phone. Actually no, not the camera itself, but the software powering it.
My advice to any Umi reps reading would be this: You have an absolutely killer smartphone, but the shody camera software shatters the premium illusion that every other aspect of the phone works so hard to provide. Stick to the vanilla google camera app that knows how to handle exposure in low light, kill the compression software (or at-least make it optional), and optionally, allow RAW support. Do that and you have a disruptive product on your hands.
That said, everything else exceeded my expectations. For anyone who isn’t a photography enthusiast or doesn’t mind re-taking the occasional blurry photo then I have absolutely no problem recommending this phone to you (You can buy this phone for $169 on Gearbest). It will be the best bang for the buck phone you will be able to get in the sub $200 price range that doesn’t feel like it was made for kids.
One of the best value, premium feeling, Android 7 ready smartphone with an absolutely exceptional battery life.
- Exceptional battery life (the best we have tested so far)
- Very high compute performance
- Decent storage (32 GB)
- Large RAM (4 GB)
- 1080p IPS Panel from SHARP with excellent viewing angles
- Upgrade-able to Android 7 via OTA
- Has a fingerprint sensor
- USB-C port is not standard compliant, compatibility with any other standard USB-C cable is not guaranteed
- Camera has no semblance of image stabilization (optical or digital)
- Has quality-killing image compression software built in which cannot be turned off