Cubot-S600-AH-NS-03

Featured Review: Cubot S600

January 25, 2016 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Cubot is a very busy manufacturer, pumping out new phones pretty much every month and offering some design and spec changes to differentiate between the two.  It seems that Cubot’s sweet spot is in the sub-$200 range, and the manufacturer offers up plenty of options to choose from here.  Packing great specs for the price, a light and nearly stock build of Android and even a fingerprint scanner, all while coming in at around $160 unlocked, it’s pretty clear to see what Cubot is good at doing.  Let’s take a look at what differentiates the S600 from the X series that we’ve been reviewing nearly monthly as of late.

Specs

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-specs

If you’re in the market for a mid-range sub-$200 device you’ll probably recognize quite a few of these specs.  The Cubot S600 is a relatively small phone in the days where a 5.5-inch display has become the norm.  The S600 packs a 5-inch 720p IPS LCD display inside of a body that measures 146.5mm high, 71.3mm wide and only 7.5mm thin.  Panda glass sits atop both sides of the all-metal zinc titanium alloy frame and weights 170 grams, which feels a tad heavy for this size of a device.  The S600 and comes in three colors: gold, white and black.  The phone is powered by the MediaTek MTK6735A 1.3GHz quad-core 64-bit processor and has a Mali-T720 GPU.

2GB of RAM is plenty for a 720p device and 16GB of internal storage is included, with microSD card support inside that dual-SIM card tray.  Underneath the non-removable back sits a 2,700mAh battery, which seems about right for a device of this physical size.  On the back you’ll find a square camera sensor that lays on top of a 16-megapixel Samsung camera sensor, while the front houses an 8-megapixel sensor with 88-degree wide-angle lens.  Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11 b/g/n support is here, as well as OTG USB storage support.  Android 5.1 Lollipop powers the experience and is kept rather light and without bloat.

In the Box

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-box

Cubot’s boxes are a pretty fancy looking affair, with a shiny copper-like coating and a nice cross-hatch patterned material on it.  Inside is a pretty great value, not only including the phone and a thin clear plastic case for some minor bump and scratch protection, but also a tempered glass screen protector.  This plastic case is pretty cheap and will probably only suffice as a way to keep the phone from getting scratched or broken until you can get a nicer one, if you want a case at all of course.  Aside from that you’ll find a microUSB cable, wall charger, SIM eject tool and a manual.

Display

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-display

720p hasn’t been considered high end for a number of years now, but that doesn’t stop it from looking good at a relatively small 5-inches.  You’re definitely going to see pixels on the screen, but it’s certainly not bad by any account.  Color accuracy and white balance are both excellent, and this one doesn’t pan too sharply toward warm or cool tints at all.  Everything is nice and balanced and in general looks great, with saturation levels being pretty perfect and everything else looking good.  Black levels are acceptable for an LCD in this price range, and at least while looking straight on at the display they look pretty good.  Look at an angle though and you’ll see some pretty massive color and black level shift, which thankfully won’t happen much at angles that you’d likely be actually looking at the phone or while sharing the screen with someone.  There’s also a fair amount of light bleed from the edges, especially when looking at them even a little bit off to the side.  Also worth noting are the brightness levels, which range from super bright and easily viewable outdoors, to super dim and very easy on the eyes at night.

Cubot-S600-AH-screenshot-miravision

The MiraVision panel, shown above, is a MediaTek chipset feature that allows you to granularly adjust the picture quality and elements to your liking, giving you lots of control over how the scren looks.  The digitizer on the Cubot S600 is pretty standard fare for a phone at this price point.  That is to say it’s relatively accurate and won’t have trouble keeping track of one finger touching no matter what you do, but faster multi-finger movements might get muddled.  Typing, for example, can’t be done too quickly or the phone gets lost and isn’t sure where you’re intending to press.  Using a keyboard like Fleksy or Swype that requires gesture-based movements might become problematic if you move to quickly.  I didn’t have any issues in gaming or while pinching to zoom though, so your mileage may vary here depending on how you use the phone.

Hardware and Build

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-15

It’s really incredible just how far mid-range and budget-level devices have come in so many ways.  The most obvious at first glance of course is the build quality, and while just a year ago most phones in the sub-$200 price range were all plastic and felt rather cheap, now many of these devices have moved over to metal manufacturing processes.  The Cubot S600 is a pretty heavy phone for its size, but it feels incredibly solid because of it.  The titanium alloy frame lends a really solid feel to the overall structure, and the 2.5D Panda glass that sits on both the front and back of the frame features curved edges to keep your finger smoothly moving over the edge when swiping inward from either side.  The curves on top and bottom are somewhat similar to the Nexus 5 and gives an overall pleasing look to the eye.

Once on the fairly large bezels around the screen become obvious, as there’s a black border around the screen that makes the bezels look non-existent when the screen is off.  This diminishes the beauty just a touch once the screen is on, but it’s really not a big deal.  Underneath the screen you’ll find 3 old school capacitive keys that function as a menu button on the left, back button on the right and home button in the center.  To top things off these are marked via old Android 2.x style buttons, making it look just a tad old at first glance.  Moving around to the back you’ll find a rather large square fingerprint sensor centered horizontally on the device but situated closer to the top vertically.  This over-sized fingerprint sensor is nice for users who have larger fingers and will cover a wider area than most sensors out there.  Just to the left and situated slightly above it is a square camera lens, while the dual-LED flash is next to that.  There’s a small speaker near the bottom left of the back located under the logos.

The sort of unfortunate thing about having this 2.5D curved glass is that it protrudes over the metal frame, meaning any surface you’re laying the phone on will come in direct contact with the glass.  Panda glass should have some good scratch resistance but that’s not to speak for the incredibly slippery nature of the phone since it’s still glass, after all.  Moving to the sides we find a rather interesting and unique edge design that rather looks like crown molding in a house, or something similar anyway.  It features a nice matte finish with a touch of sparkle that looks rather spiffy on our gold unit.  On the left sits an incredibly unique large dual-SIM card tray that doubles as a microSD card slot in that second SIM tray.  On the bottom is a microUSB port and microphone, while the top houses the 3.5mm headset jack.  On the right is a power button just above the mid-point of the device, while the volume rocker is closer to the top.

Performance and Memory

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-perf

The MediaTek processor found inside is based on the Cortex-A53 processor design and features some pretty phenomenal processing power for the low amount of battery power that it requires.  While not as fast as an A57-based design, the A53 will get you through everyday tasks without a problem and even give you some great gaming performance as well thanks to the help of the Mali-T720 GPU.  Visually everything looked great and performed great as well, playing a handful of popular 3D games on the Google Play store like Walking War Robots and Truck Driver 3D: Offroad, to name a few.  All of the titles we played worked perfectly and ran around 30FPS with a few stutters, but nothing that’s game breaking or annoying.

Switching between tasks was a quick affair as far as actual loading of apps goes, and I almost never saw an app reload.  Even leaving games in RAM while doing other tasks allowed me to quickly switch back to them without losing my progress or having to wait for the game to reload.  The only thing that would make this better is the use of a proper Overview multi-tasking button instead of the incredibly useless menu button which sits next to the home button.  Without a dedicated button, you need to press and hold the home button to bring up the multi-tasking interface, a procedure that takes a couple of seconds and becomes annoying after a while.  Outside of this annoyance the phone performed pretty perfectly in all tasks, and a lot of that can also be thanked on the relatively low 720p resolution of the display, as that’s considerably less taxing on a processor than higher resolution 1080p and higher displays would be.

Benchmarks

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-bench

The Cubot S600 sits right about where we would expect it to, that is to say about half the relative speed of last year’s flagships.  Given that this phone retails for 1/4 of the price of those phones, and how well it performs in everyday situations, this is likely not a disappointment in any way.  One surprising benchmark result was the speed of the internal memory, which was at or above even some flagship levels.  A surprising point given that this is usually one of the first places a manufacturer cuts corners to make this price point a reality.  Check out our suite of benchmarks below to see how it scores.

Phone Calls and Network

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-phone

While the MT6735A chipset inside is made for worldwide LTE, the supported bands on the phone really only make it work with European LTE networks.  Even still the GSM signal quality in the US leaves a bit to be desired, at least on T-Mobile, and I often times had serious issues with signal when inside buildings.  When sitting at my desk, for instance, I had to hunt around for a very specific place to set the phone down on the table to get any signal at all.  Even then it constantly switched back and forth between 2G and 3G signals, never seeming to hold on to one and having trouble making calls and sending/receiving texts until it finally decided on a signal to grab.  Obviously, the issue is more complicated than this but it’s pretty clear this one isn’t built well for US networks as a whole.  On the WiFi front it was nice to see 5GHz support on the phone, meaning if you’ve got a compatible router you can use the higher frequency WiFi antenna on that router, leaving you with a signal that’s likely to be more free from interference than a 2.5GHz signal would be.  Check out the whole list of supported spectrum below.

2G: 850/900/1800/1900MHz

3G HSPA: 850/900/1900/2100MHz

FDD-LTE Bands: 1/3/7/20

Battery Life

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-battery

As would be expected on a fairly low powered processor and resolution screen such as the S600 has, battery life was pretty stellar with the included 2,700mAh battery.  I normally got around 4 hours of screen-on time, a measurement many people often use to tell how good real-world battery life is.  I often times come under the normal amount though, as I tend to have a lot of background tasks running like music streaming, chat services, multiple Google accounts syncing and so on.  As such it’s not surprising to see the PCMark battery test come in a little higher than my average battery life.  Most of the time at the end of my normal 18-hour days I had 20-25% battery left.  It’s likely you’ll get at least what I got, which seems to be normal in my tests, so look for battery that easily lasts all day no matter what you do.

Sound

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-audio

There’s a number of sound enhancements to be found in the sound section of the system settings menu which range from a generic “audio enhancer” for the headset jack, extra volume boost for the external speaker on the phone’s body, virtual surround sound and lossless Bluetooth audio.  The most useful one here is lossless Bluetooth audio without a doubt, and provides a way for you to listen to higher quality Bluetooth audio without the stuttering or compression that Bluetooth audio can sometimes have.  The rest of the modes will vary wildly depending on what output you’re using, but generally I’d stay away from them as they don’t help the audio quality at all.  The default listening experience is good and very comparable for the price.

The lone speaker on the bottom of the back of the phone does a pretty decent job of producing the sound needed for everyday usage, but when moving into more quality-critical measures like music and voice it tends to falter a bit.  The biggest problem comes in volume, where it gets loud enough to hear without an issue, but the top 15% of volume makes the speaker rattle quite a bit.  This deteriorates the quality quite a bit and forces you to keep it under max volume, a problem that might rear its head at some point.

Software

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-02

Stock Android 5.1 Lollipop look and feel is here thankfully, and there’s essentially no bloat on the phone either.  Only the most basic of apps are included here, browser, messaging, phone, etc.  Even only the bare-bones Google apps are installed too, so you’ll need to add your most used apps from the Play Store.  This is a good thing as it keeps you from having to uninstall junk that you wouldn’t want on there to begin with, and it also keeps the internal storage as free as possible out of the box.

A number of features have been added to stock Android and only add to the experience, including things like motion gestures and additional audio profiles.  A handful of waving gestures are here and work by waving your hand over the sensor above the screen, a gimmick that’s been around since the Galaxy S4 days and is no more useful here.  7 colors can be chosen for the LED notification light on the front of the phone, and can be customized for messages, calls and other notifications so you have an idea of what you’re missed without turning the screen on.

Fingerprint & Security

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-fingerprint

It’s clear the fingerprint scanner is here to stay and has finally made its way to many entry-level and mid-range devices.  While accuracy and speed isn’t nearly as high here as you would expect to find on much more expensive phones with such a feature, it works quite well most of the time and I only found myself having to re-tap my finger on the scanner a few times when unlocking the phone.  Unfortunately, the lockscreen doesn’t show anything when fingerprint mode is enabled; no notifications, no shortcut, and no access to the notification shade.  That means if you’re using the fingerprint method of unlocking the lockscreen becomes essentially useless as anything more than keeping your information safe.  Not having even just a quick camera shortcut is incredibly annoying and increases the time it takes to get to common tasks.

What’s cool about the fingerprint utilization on the Cubot S600 though is the ability to lock individual apps with your fingerprint, so if you want an extra layer of security on your messaging or email apps, for instance, you can lock those behind a separate fingerprint-enabled lockscreen.  This worked incredibly well in my usage and is a wonderful addition to have.  There’s also a full suite of per-app permissions here so you can deny individual permissions to apps like you can on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and there’s even a way to keep apps from auto-starting with the phone too.

Camera

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-camera

In general there’s not much of a need to expect a good camera experience from a phone that costs $160 in total, and if you’ve come with that expectation to the Cubot S600 you’re not going to be let down.  The camera isn’t a great experience but it isn’t bad either.  Any kind of decent light will net you a decent shot, with considerably better ones taking place during broad daylight.  The Samsung sensor inside here does a pretty good job with the overall quality of the shots, but it’s the software that seems to keep the experience downgraded a notch though.  Auto mode works just fine, and focusing is pretty good all around with Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) to help things focus quicker and more accurately than sensors without such a process.

Taking the shot on auto is instant and there’s no complain here at all, rather it’s the HDR mode that takes way too long to take a shot and is unfortunately rendered fairly useless unless you’re patient and don’t have to catch something quickly.  Low light shots are a mixed bag but generally trend toward the super soft side, as noise levels creep up quickly with lower light and the denoise algorithm tries to combat this by softening the image.  The front-facing camera does a good job and will do just fine for social media selfies and video chats alike.

The software itself is nothing surprising and is absolutely identical to just about every other phone in this price range.  A rather old looking interface is at least quite useful in its design, with quick mode switching on the left, as well as dedicated shutter and record buttons on the right.  This means you can take picture or video at any moment without having to switch modes, a design that’s infinitely better than the many iOS camera clones out there.  The downside of having this particular software is that it’s generic software and not tuned to the hardware at all.  That means that sensor-specific modes like instant or real-time HDR simply isn’t present, and in fact, HDR takes quite a few seconds to take a shot as previously stated.  This means many of the additional modes will only be useful under very specific circumstances and that auto is likely the only truly useful mode in many situations.  Check out the gallery below with all the photo and video samples we’ve got.

Cubot-s600-ah-flickr

The Good

Impressive build quality, especially for the price

Great display for the price

Near-stock Android experience

Lots of additional security and privacy features

Per-app fingerprint locking

Great performance for your buck

The Bad

A bit heavy

Raised glass on both sides means both prone to breaking and super slippery

Fingerprint scanner can be slow and inaccurate sometimes

Lockscreen is useless when fingerprint unlocking is activated

Old way of multi-tasking that’s slow and annoying

No NFC

Final Thoughts

Cubot-S600-AH-NS-01

The Cubot S600 is another solid entry in the sub-$200 market from the Chinese OEM, but it’s nothing surprising outside of the heavy metal built quality.  It at least feels nice in the hand, though, albeit being a tad to slippery for its own good, and it’s nice to look at too.  The stock Android experience keeps things light and fast, and you’ll likely not be complaining about the phone taking too long to load or lagging at all, even when playing intensive 3D games.  The annoying capacitive buttons, particularly that pesky menu key, really need to go though, as they hold back the user experience considerably, making things clunkier than need be.  So long as you don’t need a great camera experience though, this is really quite a solid entry into this price range, and definitely a winner if you want a a metal phone.  Just be sure to stay away if you’re on T-Mobile US though, as the spotty reception compatibility will definitely get annoying fast.