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Featured Review: Ulefone Power

February 8, 2016 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Every phone has to have some sort of major selling point.  Some OEMs market on price alone, while others push the boundaries of what mobile technology can do.  The Ulefone Power’s claim to fame is the size of its battery, one that’s more than double the size of the average phablet’s, and one that’s coupled with specs that are known to sip power rather than gulp it.  All this combined with a price tag of well under $200 means that Ulefone has a potential real winner on its hands, and a device that looks to be starting 2016 off with a bang for the Chinese manufacturer.

Specs

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A phablet in every way, the Ulefone Power’s 5.5-inch 1080p LTPS display fits on a body that measures 155mm high by 77mm wide by 9.5mm thin.  With a 6,050mAh battery underneath that removable back it’s not surprising to see this one weighing a pretty hefty 190 grams, which is at least 20% heavier than the average phablet on the market.  Under the hood sits a 64-bit MediaTek MT6753 Octa-core processor, a Mali-T720 GPU and 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM.  16GB of internal storage can be expanded thanks to the microSD card slot found within the dual-SIM card tray, and this one runs Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box with an Android 6.0 Marshmallow upgrade already in the works.  A fingerprint scanner can be found out back alongside the 13-megapixel Sony IMX214 camera sensor, which is a sensor found in flagship phones just a year or so ago.  On the front is a 5-megapixel OmniVision OV5648 camera sensor, and the whole face is covered in Gorilla Glass 3 for excellent scratch resistance.  The phone retails for $180 and comes in dark blue, silver white and wood color options.

In the Box

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As if $180 for a phone with these sorts of specs wasn’t enough value for you, the box comes chock full of goodies for added value.  A quick charging wall charger is included for fast charging of the large battery as well as a microUSB cable and of course a manual.  Extras not normally found in other phones include an OTG cable for utilizing the storage capabilities of a USB storage stick, earphones for quick music listening, and even an extra screen protector in case the pre-installed one gets damaged.  On top of this a flexible TPU clear case is included and should keep the phone from getting damaged after most drops.

Display

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Cheap LCD displays are pretty common for a phone in this price range, and this one doesn’t do much to get out of the average quality range.  The best thing it has going for it is color accuracy, in which it’s both not too over or under saturated, as well as utilizing a mostly moderate white balance that might tend to the cool side just a touch.  Black levels are pretty bad, and blacks will show up as dark gray no matter how low the backlight.  The brighter the backlight the worse these will get, and they suffer when viewing the screen from an angle too.  The screen is nice and bright though and can be seen in daylight without issue, and even in a dark room it won’t strain your eyes thanks to a low luminance level when needed.  Refresh rate is excellent though and there’s little to no ghosting even in high contrast situations.

What’s profoundly better than many phones at this price range is the digitizer, which feels more like it belongs on a $300+ phone rather than one under $200.  There was never a single time where I encountered a ghost swipe, mistouch or any other weird anomaly that’s often found on phones in this price range with poor digitizers.  Multi-touch capabilities were phenomenal and fast, and many times I forgot I wasn’t using my Nexus 6p because of how quick and responsive the screen was.  This is incredibly refreshing to see and something that does more than you might think at creating an experience that doesn’t feel cheap.

Hardware and Build

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Many OEMs in the industry have started pushing metal builds on phones, even at this price point, but sometimes such things have to be sacrificed in order to get other more important specs.  The largely plastic build of the phone definitely feels plastic, but not necessarily a bad plastic.  It’s a solid build all around and won’t feel cheap in the hand in a hollow sort of way, however that slippery plastic back will get nasty quickly with finger oils.  Three capacitive keys are located below the screen, although only the home button is marked by a circle, while the other two buttons on either side of it have no markings or lights at all.  This one does feature a metal frame which extends to the sides of the phone, but doesn’t really do much to help make the phone feel premium or anything like that.  At the very least the metal buttons feel great and have a nice click.

On the right side you’ll find the volume rocker situated near the top, with the power button located just below that.  Curiously enough there’s a dedicated camera shutter button just below the power button, situated dead center on the right side of the phone.  The left side holds the dual-SIM/microSD card tray, while the top features both a 3.5mm headset jack and an IR blaster, something not commonly found in phones in general much less ones in this price range.  The bottom of the phone houses a lone microUSB port, while a sound bar resides on the back near the bottom.  Centered on the back at the top-most section is the round camera lens, with the dual-LED flash to its left and the circular fingerprint sensor recessed a bit into the body below it.

Performance and Memory

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MediaTek’s processors have reached legendary status in the world of affordable devices, and the MT6753 Octa-core processor inside here doesn’t fail to impress in any way.  This experience feels more like a flagship Android phone than a budget one, and I almost never noticed slowdown or stuttering no matter what I did.  Everything from gaming to watching HD videos was a flawless experience, and there were only a handful of times that the phone chugged at all while it was processing multiple intensive background tasks at once.  Even the latest 3D games ran perfectly on this 1080p screen, two things that aren’t necessarily all that common in the under $200 price range.

Multi-tasking was a phenomenal experience outside of the method to call up the interface.  Plenty of RAM means no apps were ever in need of reloading when switching back and forth between them, and by utilizing the proper carousel multi-tasking Overview menu from stock Android the experience of switching between apps was fast and flawless, with no question as to which apps you’re looking to switch to.  The drawback with the phone in this regard is having to hold down the home button to get to this interface instead of being able to quickly launch it via a dedicated Overview button.  This is annoying and makes getting to the interface slower than it should be.

Benchmarks

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Benchmarks were right in line with what we would expect from the MediaTek MT6753 platform and weren’t surprising at all.  That means measured performance that sits under any flagship, but of course, doesn’t necessarily represent real-world performance in everyday tasks.  Check out our full suite of benchmarks run below.

Phone Calls and Network

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International phones aren’t always compatible with US networks to their full extent, and that was unfortunately my experience with the Ulefone Power.  I could only get a 2G signal on T-Mobile US, which falls right in line with what you can see below in the supported frequencies chart.  That doesn’t mean that you’ll experience this with your carrier of choice in your home country, but make sure to check the list of signals supported by your carrier with the list below.  There’s no WiFi 5GHz support, which is a shame for sure, and there’s only Bluetooth up to 4.0 here, no 4.1 or 4.1 support.  That should work with all current wearables though and includes the Bluetooth Low Energy tech for keeping power drain down.

2G: 850/900/1800/1900MHz

3G HSPA: 900/2100MHz

FDD-LTE Bands: 1/3/7/8/20

Battery Life

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A 6,050mAh battery is about double the size of your average phablet’s battery, and that reflects in the usage without a doubt.  I got 2 full days of usage out of the phone without having to charge at all, including over 6 hours of screen on time over that 40 hour time period.  Standby was alright but nothing excellent, and I didn’t notice any less power drain overnight than while using it during the day.  This will hopefully be improved with the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update coming soon when Doze mode is added, but for now don’t expect to leave this on overnight and only loose a few percentage points.  Regardless of this fact though I never found a point where I needed to slow down or stop using the device to get through the rest of the day.  This size of a battery will give you peace of mind about never having to worry about a charger in any single given day no matter how much you use it, and even into that second day you won’t have to slow down until the end of the afternoon.  Thankfully when you do need to charge though you can do so quickly with the latest quick charge standards from MediaTek, which charges the full 6,050mAh battery in less than 2 hours.  30 minutes of charging is rated to last a full day’s use, and I found that’s pretty accurate in my use.

Sound

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Quality of the sound coming from the 3.5mm headset jack is nothing short of excellent, and it’s clear that we’ve finally made it to the point where it doesn’t matter how much or little you spend on a phone, you’re going to get great sound output from it.  I didn’t need to make any adjustments to the quality, which was good since there’s no proper built-in equalizer to make changes to the audio.  Some generic sound enhancements are here such as “audio enhancer” for the 3.5mm headset jack output (which only seems to hurt sound quality in my testing), and a virtual surround that can be decent depending on what headphones you’re using to listen to music.  Overall though I found that the default output was great and didn’t need any help at all, delivering crisp, clean sound that was clear and free from obvious distortion.

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The placement of the speaker on the back of the phone is less than desirable, though, and makes it difficult to hear videos and the like when playing them back.  This is the worst possible place for a speaker since it pushes sound away from your ears, and the quality of the speaker isn’t that great overall anyway.  Volume could be better but it’s not terrible, and although I struggled a bit using it as a loudspeaker while on phone calls in the car, it was still usable enough.  This one won’t be giving you any mind blowing quality, though, so be prepared to use another speaker if you want to listen to music or anything else that requires quality audio.

Software

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A mostly stock Android experience out of the box means an excellent overall user experience.  Very few modifications have been made to the system, and even then they are usually only additions, not changes of Google’s vision for what Android should look like and how it should operate.  Lollipop’s beautiful Material Design language is here in all its glory, and most of the apps included out of the box feature the same design language too.  There’s two stock launchers included out of the box, one that looks like the Google Now Launcher (minus the Google Now screen), and one that resembles an iOS launcher more than anything else.  This second launcher actually has full theming support, so it’s good for more than just behaving like an iOS launcher if you prefer such a thing.  Outside of the normal phone, messaging and emails apps included with the phone are an FM radio app, sound recorder and a torch app.  Inclusion of the torch app is unfortunate since Ulefone removed the torch quick toggle, a silly replacement that shouldn’t have been done.

As many modern phones have done you’ll find gestures that can be drawn on screen while the screen is off to perform quick actions.  Double tap to wake the screen up and drawing a number of different letters to launch quick apps are all here, although none of these check with the proximity sensor or front facing camera to see if they’re in your pocket first.  That means inevitable unlocking and other actions in your pocket if you have no lockscreen security enabled.  There’s a sensor on front that detects hand waving gestures over the screen, which has become a familiar Android feature in many phones since the Galaxy S4.  These features are cute but ultimately niche in their use, and you may or may not like them depending on what you’re doing with the phone.

Fingerprint & Security

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The fingerprint reader on the back is certainly my personal favorite place for a fingerprint reader, and this is for multiple reasons.  For one it’s right where your index fingers lie when holding the phone, making unlocking easier than if it were in another location.  Having it on the back also means you don’t have to apply more pressure to the phone than needed, as it’s likely you’re going to run into an unbalanced phone if you have to use it on the front of the device, especially with a large device.  The downside is that you can’t fingerprint unlock while the phone is sitting on a flat surface, which will definitely get annoying at times.  Sensitivity and accuracy of the sensor wasn’t bad, but it’s certainly not as good as the ones found in flagship phones.  I found that most of the time I had to press my finger against the sensor more than once to unlock the phone, something that definitely got irritating after a while.  It still worked well enough to keep me using it though, and it’s far more effective and convenient than using a PIN code or other password alone, as you can also unlock it without having to turn the screen on.

Ulefone has done something incredibly innovative here with the fingerprint scanner though that I’ve never seen on any other phone though; quick actions with fingerprints while unlocking.  When enrolling your fingerprint in the security section you first choose the finger on your hand, which in turn allows the phone to assign quick actions to that finger.  By default the action is just unlocking the phone, but you can use it to assign a finger to any app on the phone.  This means you can quickly unlock to and launch any app just by pressing a designated finger against the sensor, so for instance if you want to quickly jump on Facebook or Google Plus and browse by pressing your ring finger against the sensor, or launch the dialer to call someone with your middle finger, you can do so.  This is of course limited to the number of fingers you’ve got on your hand, and realistically not to your thumbs since that would be horrendously awkward.

Camera

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Given the pedigree that Sony’s IMX214 sensor has you would automatically assume the pictures and video taken with the Ulefone Power were of excellent quality.  If you assumed this you would unfortunately be wrong, but at least you’re not too far off the mark.  The experience here is largely spoiled by the software, which is as generic as it gets and doesn’t take any advantage of the hardware found within the phone.  The software is identical to almost every single other phone in this price range that features a MediaTek processor, regardless of camera sensor, and is not only slow but ugly looking.  There are a handful of modes here in addition to auto, but all of them degrade overall quality and don’t work incredibly well.  On the bright side there’s a dedicated camera shutter and record button here for quick picture and video taking no matter where you’re at.  Quick actions along the top or rightmost row (depending on which orientation the phone is in) will give you access to HDR mode, toggling flash, switching between front and rear camera, and toggling the gesture feature for taking hands-free pictures.

What’s really cool, and not seen that often, is the presence of a dedicated camera shutter button on the right side of the phone.  It’s situated dead center and in a really great position for use.  It’s nice and clicky but not so much so that it bumps the phone when pressing it.  Clicking this button at any time will launch the camera app, a feature that’s bound to be used plenty of times if you’re rocking this phone as your daily driver.  Once in the camera app it activates the shutter, but it’s only a single click button, which means holding it down activates burst mode rather than focusing as you might imagine a shutter button doing.

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Dedicated camera shutter button

The quality of the pictures overall is fairly poor, and that’s all due to the software giving priority to the ISO rather than the shutter speed.  This means that although noise levels will be low, something that’s good given the aggressive nature of the denoise filter here, you’re probably going to end up with blurry pictures more often than not.  Even in broad daylight I found that the phone kept the shutter open for far too long, making the pictures more blurry than they should be.  The problem is exacerbated in dark areas where you’d better hold the phone dead still unless you enjoy the lost art of blurry photos.  Forget taking HDR shots too, because the shutter speed between shots is far too long and always created a double image no matter how hard I tried to keep the phone still.  Video quality isn’t much better, and while it’s technically 1080p video it sure doesn’t look like it.  This sensor is capable of recording in 4K as it’s been shown in many phones, but the processor isn’t, and the overall low bit rate of the video codec used means videos will be fuzzier or softer than desirable.  The problem here is all software though, as has been shown by the sensor in phones like the OnePlus One, Nexus 6 and plenty of others.

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The Good

Huge battery, long battery life

Stock Android experience with a few added extras

Phenomenal performance

Incredibly responsive digitizer

Great multi-tasking

Great sound output quality

Tons of additional goodies in the box

Great software features, especially quick fingerprint app launching

The Bad

Mediocre camera

Rear-facing speaker

Slippery plastic back

Fingerprint reader is inaccurate

Final Thoughts

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Phones in this price range never seem to cease to amaze, and the Ulefone Power fits right in with that description.  There are definitely some negatives, including a camera that’s less than great and some issues with the fingerprint reader’s accuracy, but overall this is an experience that’s closer to flagship levels than budget range.  $180 gets you a lot of phone and tons of extras, in addition to an experience that’s sure to please nearly everyone.  The upcoming Android 6.0 Marshmallow update for the phone could very well spell some serious improvements in various areas, but we’ll have to see just what Ulefone is cooking up to be sure.  Check out the Gearbest link below if you’re interested in picking one up!

Buy The Ulefone Power 4G