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Featured Review: Oukitel U10

September 22, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Oukitel is another one of the up and coming Chinese companies constantly making news around here at Android Headlines, and they’ve done quite a bit to differentiate themselves from the pack.  Whether it’s offering a smartwatch that’s compatible with Android and iOS to making a phone that can literally pound nails into wood and get beat with a hammer without taking damage, Oukitel is out to show they’re just a bit different from some other Chinese OEMs.  Oukitel’s latest affordable flagship, the U10, takes plenty of inspiration from the iPhone 6 Plus’s design but packs Android 5.1 inside inside for a superior experience.  Is this one worth the $160 or so it costs?  Let’s take a look.

Specs

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Nowadays a phone over the $150 price point begins to push the barriers of what was thought to be entry level pricing all the way into the mid-range segment.  The Oukitel U10 is powered by a 64-bit MediaTek MT6753 1.3GHz octa-core processor with a Mali-T720 MP4 GPU.  3GB of RAM is packed in for great multi-tasking, and you’ll be seeing everything through a 1080p 5.5-inch JDI IPS display.  The screen itself is 2.5D with curved glass and an OGS (One Glass Solution) for better touch responsiveness.  The camera on the back is a Samsung ISOCELL 5K3M2 13-megapixel sensor with dual-LED flash, whereas the front camera is a 5-megapixel shooter.

No NFC is included here but HotKnot is, so sharing photos and media with other phones that have HotKnot is as easy as pressing the screens together.  Under the metal body is a non-removable 2850mAh battery, and inside you’ll find 16GB of internal storage.  Dual-SIM card support is here for two micro-SIM cards, and the second SIM card tray doubles as a microSD card slot.  Lastly you’ll find that the phone is 76.9mm wide by 154.0mm high by a slim 7.9mm thin and weighs a nice 170g.

In the Box

Inside the box you’ll of course find the phone as well as a standard microUSB cable and a wall charger.  Aside from that a manual detailing basics of how to use the phone as well as the SIM tray removal tool are just under the cardboard waiting to be unpacked.  It’s a pretty light package but expected when you have a phone with build quality like this one has and retails for as little money as the U10 does.

Display

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In the land of $150ish phones you’ll often find that the display is one of the first things to be cut, often times moving towards the less expensive 720p displays instead of having a higher resolution one.  On top of that calibration and other more cost-sensitive measures are not taken, leading to displays that are often far too cool even after trying to calibrate them using built-in adjustment tools.  None of these problems are displayed on the Oukitel U10 and it’s quite refreshing to see.  The screen is crisp and clean at 1080p, even at the larger 5.5-inch size.  Colors are accurate and natural looking and not over or under saturated.  Black levels are good for an LCD and even viewing angles are pretty fantastic, with only a little bit of a drop in black levels at certain angles.  There’s no obvious light bleed from the edges of the screen, and even the response time of the screen is great.

There’s basically nothing to complain about here, and that’s fantastic when a phone is this inexpensive.  Thanks to the 2.5D glass that’s used the screen actually looks sort of like it’s floating on top of the phone rather than recessed into the frame.  This gives some extra depth to the screen and creates a more immersive effect.  The digitizer is mostly great and does an excellent job of keeping up even with fast typing.  I’m a very fast typer, especially when using Fleksy, and there’s plenty of inexpensive phones out there than just can’t keep up.  This one almost never posed a problem and even when it did I only had to slow down for a second before I got right back into the rhythm.

Hardware and Build

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Build quality might just be the very best thing about the Oukitel U10.  Sporting an all-metal build that’s incredibly slim and light, while still retaining enough weight to feel quality, the Oukitel U10 is one of the nicest built phones around regardless of price.  The construction is completely solid and honestly resembles the iPhone 6 Plus in nearly every way.  In fact most people I handed it to couldn’t distinguish apart from the device and thought I handed them the new iPhone instead.  Obviously the lack of a physical circle button means that anyone with knowledge of smartphones will be able to tell this apart nearly right away, but the similarities between the two are more than intentional.

That being said the combination of all-metal frame and back combined with the curved 2.5D glass on the front create an incredibly compelling device.  Smooth edges and curves give this a wonderful feel in the hand, and the thin construction keeps things elegant and attractive.  On the front you’ll find a nice large 5.5-inch display with some minimal bezels set within the frame, as well as 3 capacitive buttons below the screen.  Oddly enough these buttons barely light up and are only noticeable under certain lighting conditions,  or at least the white and gold model I have seems to have this.  I’m not sure if this is intentional or not but I didn’t think there were any buttons at all during the first use, only later to realize they did actually light up when things turned a little darker outside.

Besides having smooth corners all around the design of the ports and buttons isn’t outside of the norm.  On the right side you’ve got the volume rocker and power buttons, which honestly were a little too squishy for my liking and didn’t deliver much of a click.  The bottom houses the microUSB port while a 3.5mm headset jack resides on the top.  On the left side is the dual micro-SIM card tray that also doubles as a microSD card slot for the SIM 2 slot.  Around the back you’ll find the rounded square camera lens that protrudes from the body a few millimeters, and to the right of that a dual-tone dual-LED flash.  Below that is a square fingerprint reader that boasts the TouchID name, and near the bottom is the speaker bar.

Performance and Memory

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MediaTek’s higher end components still fit nicely in the affordable price slot but perform much more like top-tier flagship phones from just a year and a half ago or so.  Match this with 3GB of RAM and a modern quad-core Mali-T720 GPU and you’re good to go when it comes to pretty much anything you can throw at the phone.  I never once saw the device hiccup outside of the usual huge app installs, which honestly even high end phones still do from time to time.  Most apps installed nearly instantly though and the phone showed no sign of slowing down, and you can likely thank the incredibly fast internal storage speeds for this one.  This is some excellent storage that blazes past most phones in this price range and helps offer a superior user experience no matter what’s happening.

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Multi-tasking could be great on this device, given the amount of RAM, fast processor and zippy internal storage speeds, but the interface makes this one nearly useless.  Not only is there no dedicated Overview key which would allow multi-tasking to be a single-button solution, as all Android phones should have at this point in time, but the interface itself hearkens back to the Android 2.2 FroYo days of a single row of icons instead of the big, beautiful scrolling row of thumbnails that we’ve enjoyed on Android for some time now.  No matter the speed of switching apps I have to absolutely say multi-tasking is a disaster thanks to this awful interface.  If you’re willing to put up with it though the phone does multi-task admirably, keeping apps in memory as it should and giving you options for clearing out all apps or locking them in memory too.

Benchmarks

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The Oukitel U10 flew threw benchmarks like a hot knife through butter, with the exception of some of the ridiculous higher-end ones like the OpenGL ES3.1 Slingshot test on 3DMark of course which even the highest of high end phones struggle with as well.  Check out all the results below and you’ll find this meets or beats even the best phones in this price range pretty handily.

Phone Calls and Network

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While the Oukitel U10 supports a pretty good range of worldwide bands, I found it to be difficult to use on T-Mobile US simply because it doesn’t support any of T-Mobile’s 3G or 4G bands in my area.  This restricted me to simple 2G data anywhere I didn’t have WiFi and made mobile productivity nearly impossible.  Thankfully it didn’t have any issues with the calling or texting portions of the functionality that’s required for a phone, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend this for T-Mobile US at the very least.  2G bands supported include 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz, while 3G connectivity sits only in the 900 and 2100MHz spectrum.  There is a 4G LTE modem in here but it only supports 800, 1800, 2100 and 2600MHz bands, so make sure to check with your regional carrier of choice before purchasing.  You’ll also find dual micro-SIM card slots here with full control over calls, texts and data for each SIM too.

Battery Life

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Regardless of the large screen and fairly small battery size I found that the Oukitel U10 had pretty great battery life, even pushing over the 4 hour screen-on time mark on some days of usage.  PCMark’s battery test shows over 5 hours, and that’s generally a pretty accurate assessment of things in most people’s situations.  I’m sort of a weird battery user and tend to drain phone batteries a little quicker than the average user, so you can easily expect a full day’s usage out of the Oukitel U10 without issue.

Sound

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It was only a few months ago that most Chinese phones in this price range didn’t exactly have great sound output.  Like many things in a less expensive phone you wouldn’t expect everything to be quite up to par with more expensive phones, including things like display, sound output, camera, etc.  That being said there are a number of things on the Oukitel U10 that are actually pretty darned close to a flagship device, and sound output is thankfully one of them.  Arguably one of the most important factors in a modern smartphone as most everyone uses their phones to listen to music no matter where they are.  Output from the speaker on the device itself was quiet and very treble heavy, which is to be expected from a smaller single speaker, but it could be a little louder to improve the fact that it’s facing the back of the device.

Output via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm headset jack is likely perfect for many, as it’s likely that more people than not use headphones that won’t give the full quality of audio in the first place.  There’s even a built-in equalizer that works quite well and enhances the sound in positive ways.  Don’t bother with the built-in “sound enhancements” under sound settings though, they really just aren’t any good and make everything sound tinny and downright awful.

Software

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Oukitel is running the latest version of Android 5.1 Lollipop on the U10, and there’s barely a skin to be found here too.  Just about the only custom looking part of the OS you’ll find is the launcher, which is configured very similarly to many other Chinese launchers out there in that it doesn’t have an app drawer.  Featuring rounded-square pastel icons, the launcher doesn’t look out of place in the Material Design world of Android Lollipop.  The launcher itself is pretty typical and doesn’t do much to stand out, and thanks to Android’s modular design this can be replaced in the blink of an eye with one of the hundreds of replacements on the Google Play Store if you don’t like the way it works.

Outside of that you’ll find a single addition to the notification shade pull-down, which is the ability to switch audio profiles at the tap of an icon rather than navigating to the volume control and selecting it from there.  Moving into the settings menu will reveal quite a few more options and some significant additions to stock Android to say the least.  Lots and lots of gesture type additions are made here and not just the usual crew either.  You’ve of course  got off-screen gesture like double-tap-to-wake, drawing letters and shapes to launch apps and so on.  These are almost all customizable to launch any app you have installed.

The system gestures are where things get a lot more interesting though, and Oukitel does some wholly unique things that work incredibly well.  Holding down the menu button brings up an overlay that lets you trace your finger around a portion of the screen and share it.  This can be done freestyle or via a set shape and makes sharing a portion of your screen rather than the whole screenshot incredibly easy.  Those familiar with the Galaxy Note line of phones will know exactly how this works.  Using three fingers anywhere and swiping down takes a screenshot, although I didn’t find this to be useful since it often scrolled the screen during the screenshot, often times taking what I wanted to show off the screen.  Similarly three fingers swiping up anywhere launches the camera, which works incredibly well and was super fast too.  Two finger swiping up or down anywhere on the screen adjusts the volume, something I’ve not seen before that feels like a complete stroke of genius on Oukitel’s part.

Another section is the familiar hand-waving gesture that the Galaxy S4 introduced to the world, and all the usual suspects are in here.  Swiping between pictures in the gallery, songs in the music app and pages on the launcher all work just fine, but this feature really is just a gimmick and doesn’t have much real world use.  About the only actual useful section here is the direct contact dialing, where you can be texting someone and just call them by holding the phone up to your face.  Either way this section is super limited in its use and I’m sure most people won’t ever bother with it.

Fingerprint Scanner

While fingerprint scanners aren’t anything new and have been around for quite a few years, 2015 is certainly the year they’ve become popular again.  That being said there’s a number of different kinds of fingerprint sensors out there and thankfully Oukitel uses the right one on the U10: TouchID.  Setup for the fingerprint scanner is simple, entering the Fingerprint section under security settings asks for 10 presses of your finger to accurately identify it.  You can store lots of different fingerprints, but commonly I’m sure most people will ID both of their index fingers since the scanner is located around the back of the phone.  The fingerprint scanner can be used not just for unlocking the phone but also for locking individual apps, so if you’d rather not secure the whole phone you can secure individual apps with a fingerprint as well via the built-in settings.

In general the fingerprint scanner works pretty well and accurately scans fingerprints upwards of 75% of the time.  The biggest problem is always having to put your finger on the button exactly like you scanned it, which can be aided a bit by varying the placement of your finger during the initial setup but can only be helped so much.  It’s possible that this can be enhanced via software over time but there’s no telling for sure either way.  Right now it definitely works better than the old swipe style scanners but not quite as good as the brand new Huawei Mate S’s scanner, for instance, which is a considerably more expensive phone anyway.

Camera

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I’ll say it right now: the Oukitel U10 has the best camera on any smartphone under $200.  I’m actually impressed that this is the case because, normally speaking, Samsung’s sensors aren’t all that great when compared to Sony sensors of a similar price range.  The assumption is that Oukitel is likely using the Samsung ISOCELL 5K3M2 13-megapixel sensor because Sony has been having a hard time fulfilling all the orders there are out there for smartphones.  It’s no secret that Sony supplies most smartphones with their camera sensors, but it may just be that Oukitel found Samsung’s newest generation of sensors outperforms Sony’s.  Either way Oukitel made a fantastic choice here, and it seems they picked out a good lens as well as there’s zero visible aberration or blurring anywhere and no discoloration either, something that’s basically unheard of at this price range.

Shots are clear, clean, free of excessive noise and incredibly enough the denoise filter doesn’t have to go into overdrive either, even in low light.  Dynamic range is fantastic on these pictures and it’s likely that no one will ever notice you’re using a less expensive 13-megapixel shooter when looking through your pictures.  Color accuracy is super high, white balance and overall exposure balance are nothing short of fantastic, and the overall image is absolutely excellent.  My only complaint is the HDR mode which takes way too long to take any shot and is only likely useful for still scenes, and even then you may want to pick and choose your scenes as it brightens up the scene a bit too much for my liking.

Software wise this is pretty typical fare for most Chinese smartphones and has plenty of features and options for advanced users.  Conversely the interface is as simple as it gets, with well marked camera shutter and video buttons for instant picture or video taking, and a simple slider on the left that visibly displays all the available modes to shoot in.  Settings are contained in the little cog wheel on the bottom right and feature tons of tweaks, including sharpness, white balance, saturation, hue and more.  Burst mode is quick and takes a few shots per second by simply holding down the shutter button, with a total of 40 burst shots per session.

Video quality was better than most phones at this price range, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise given how good the photos are, but they still aren’t quite up to par with more expensive phones.  This is likely more down to software than anything, which stores videos in an older 3GP format which seem considerably more compressed than an MP4 that some more advanced software saves in.  Overall though it’s good looking video that looks nice enough, even on a TV, and will certainly garner no complaints from those using video mainly for social media.  Check out the Flickr album below for the full resolution shots.

 

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Conclusion

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What can I say?  The Oukitel U10 is a fantastic phone that’s absolutely worth your money in almost every way.  It features a beautiful full-metal build with a slightly curved 2.5D 1080p screen, very stock looking Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box with tons of added features, a fingerprint scanner that works much more often than not, and is incredibly speedy at everything it does to boot.  Let’s not forget the excellent camera that absolutely blows anything out of the water at this price range.  Negatives include the rather poorly designed multi-tasking screen that replaces the brilliant Lollipop one for something that looks straight out of a 4-year old Android phone, the inability to work with some US 3G and 4G networks and a digitizer that might not be able to keep up with the fastest of typers out there.  Still there’s plenty of worldwide bands supported, and both the speed of the phone itself and the excellent battery life certainly help round out the negatives.  If you’re interested in picking one up yourself don’t forget to check out Oukitel’s official U10 page as well as the listing on GearBest for around $160.