The world of Chinese manufacturers is incredibly competitive, always pushing the boundaries of what people thought was possible at a specific price range. Companies like Samsung, LG and Apple all thrive on the sales of their high-end smartphones that cost over $500 and even well above the $1,000 mark in some cases. Chinese manufacturers have seen that oversight of banking on only those that can afford these sorts of phones and instead have mostly focused on the mid-range to entry-level price point, focusing on phones that cost between $100 and $300. uleFone is relatively new to the Android smartphone game and it's been putting out models of various scope since the beginning of the year. The Be Pro is uleFone's highest-end smartphone but it's still only $159, making it one of the cheapest phones you can buy with these specs. Is it too cheap though? Let's take a look.
At $159 you probably won't expect a lot from the uleFone Be Pro but you'll likely be surprised by what you find.
- 5.5-inch 720p LG-IPS OGS Display
- MediaTek MT6732 1.5GHz Octa-core Processor
- Mali T760 GPU
- 2GB of RAM
- 16GB internal storage, microSD card support
- 2,600mAh battery
- Android 4.4.4
- 13MP rear-facing camera, LED flash
- 8MP front-facing camera
- 157mm tall x 77.8mm wide x 8.8mm thick
What's pretty crazy here is that uleFone chose the MediaTek MT6732 to put inside the phone. This means that at nearly $100 cheaper than the Elephone P5000 you're getting a more powerful processor, and the only things that appear to be worse on paper are the screen and the battery size. That's some pretty incredible value depending on what's important to you in a smartphone.
At 5.5-inches a 720p display isn't going to be winning any awards nowadays no matter how good the other factors look. The screen is low resolution for most phones, especially many 5.5-inch screen phones, but doesn't fall outside of the normal range of a phone priced this cheaply. Other phones in this range include the Xiaomi Redmi Note, and this screen looks better than that any day. Saturation and contrast levels are good for this price range, and overall colors and brightness are superb. Viewing angles are less than great but as long as you're not looking at it from the side of the phone it won't become a bother. There's almost no ghosting on the panel which is a breath of fresh air for cheaper panels, which often have quite a bit of ghosting compared to higher-end phones. Overall the display gets the job done, is perfectly viewable outside, and doesn't look bad outside of the resolution.
There is definitely an issue with the digitizer though, one that we've seen with a few other phones in the past year. Notably the OnePlus One and the Oppo Find 7 suffered from the same issues, which is interesting given that this phone is clearly modeled after that one. It's possible that the uleFone Be Pro use the same Synaptics digitizer as those two phones do and that a simple driver update will fix the issues, but as it stands it's nothing but annoying to type using a keyboard that doesn't support a swipe input method. I used Google Keyboard for the review since it has swipe and it literally saved the day, as it's absolutely impossible to type with more than one finger and get any actual correct words because of the multi-touch issues with the screen. I didn't find this to be an issue while gaming though, just fast typing.
Hardware and Build
As you would expect from a phone that sells for around $160 the uleFone Be Pro features a predominately plastic build. It doesn't feel as hollow and cheap as Xiaomi's Redmi Note for instance but it's definitely a cheaper build in order to be able to sell for this price point. That being said the phone feels really good in the hand and it looks really sleek too. The curve to the back fits in the palm very well, the edges aren't sharp but aren't so rounded that you can't grip the device, and overall I give this one very favorable marks in terms of overall feel. If you've ever seen an Oppo Find 7 or OnePlus One you'll know where uleFone got their inspiration, as it looks nearly identical to either of those phones in many ways. This also means the phone flat out looks good and has a very distinct look and feel that many Android phones don't go for. I found myself admiring the design of the phone a number of times during my review period and I'd be proud to carry this one around anywhere, it's just a flat out fantastic looking device.
Standard button configuration is in play here with separated volume up and down buttons residing on the left side of the device with the power button on the right. On the bottom sits a lone microphone for phone calls, and the top uses a 3.5mm headset jack alongside the microUSB charging port. This design is excellent because if you need to charge while listening to music you won't have plug sticking out of both ends of the phone. If you've ever had a phone with ports on opposite ends of the device like that you'll know how inconvenient that really is. Under the screen on the front you'll find three capacitive buttons in the form of a menu, home and back button. On the back is the fairly large circular camera center with the flash positioned below it, as well as the speaker bar near the bottom of the back.
Performance and Memory
Here's an area where the uleFone Be Pro really excels. This is particularly interesting because we've reviewed two other Chinese phones lately that feature nearly the same Android skin but suffered from some performance issues. The uleFone Be Pro doesn't suffer from any of the issues of these phones even though it's a nearly identical skin with similar feature set as those other ones. I found gaming and other multimedia performance to be stellar, with the phone handling HD YouTube video and other Internet video with ease. Games like Fast and Furious Legacy and Assassin's Creed Pirates ran like butter on the phone, with no slowdowns or noticeable lag. Benchmarks put this somewhere around the same level as the Xiaomi Redmi Note and others in this price range, with it scoring somewhere in the range of 25,000 on AnTuTu.
Multi-tasking is mostly positive outside of not having a dedicated Recents button to make things quicker and easier to use. To multi-task the home button needs to be held down and the standard list of vertically scrolling thumbnails from stock Android comes up, which is one of the better interfaces around. I never had any apps reload on me which is likely due to the fact that this display is only 720p while it still has 2GB of RAM; a massive amount of RAM for this resolution. Not having a heavy overbearing skin take up unnecessary amounts of RAM helps a lot too, and overall this is one of the speediest phones at this price range that I've ever used.
A 2,600mAh battery for a 5.5-inch screen doesn't exactly sound like a winner on any spec sheet but I was surprised with just how good the battery life was on the uleFone Be Pro. As was the case in the performance category having only a 720p screen really helps the battery life on the phone, as the processing components don't have to work so hard to display everything you're doing on the phone. I got a full days' battery life and a little bit more, with phenomenal standby that lost only 1% overnight much like is seen on the Elephone P5000. General use got me the usual 3.5 hours screen-on time with 40% left at the end of my work day, which is as good as I've ever gotten out of any phone. As is the case with every phone my particular usage case scenario will be different from yours, so don't base usage solely on screen-on time as many people tend to do.
Phone Calls and Network
I used the uleFone Be Pro on T-Mobile's US network, which resulted in excellent connectivity to their HSPA+ 3G network. The antennas in this phone seem to be particularly good as I got a much stronger signal than with almost any phone I've ever used. I never once dropped a call when using the phone, even in areas that are more prone to this happening. 3G data was as speedy as it gets, and although it doesn't hold a candle to LTE in terms of speed or response time it definitely gets the job done and streams content just fine, especially since this is only a 720p screen. The uleFone Be Pro will also work on AT&T's network as well as any MVNOs of either T-Mobile or AT&T such as Cricket Wireless, Simple Mobile and other GSM operators like US Cellular. Check with the specific bands supported below to see if they work on your carrier of choice.
2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
4G: FDD-LTE 800/1800/2100/2600
At the time of review the uleFone Be Pro runs on Android 4.4.4 KitKat, with a promised update to Android 5.0 Lollipop seemingly any day now. This particular skin of Android is very light and eschews visual changes in favor of just adding features to stock Android's list. There's no Do Not Disturb mode here, which is probably the biggest oversight I could find, but other than that this phone is going to deliver a fantastic stock experience with extra features. HotKnot is supported here instead of NFC, giving you easy file sharing with other phones that support HotKnot by pressing the screens together. The downside here is that there's no way to pay with your phone without having NFC, so mobile wallet solutions like Google Wallet and others simply won't work here.
uleFone is using hands-free gestures such as waving your hand over the screen to move between pictures in the gallery and camera, as well as moving between songs on the built-in music software. Honestly these sorts of things are useless in the vast majority of situations, but they're nice if you like to use them and worked fairly well in my testing. Off-screen gestures are also here, but as was the case with the Elephone P5000 and the iOcean Rock they are completely useless when your phone is in your pocket. This is because the phone doesn't check the proximity sensor to see if it's in a pocket before being woken up, resulting in constant accidental unlocking while walking around. It was one of the first features I turned off because I kept calling and messaging people on accident.
The notification shade is a mostly stock experience, and quick toggles have received a few extras from stock including Cast Screen and Audio Profiles. These are all useful additions and add to the experience in a positive way. You can even customize the notification light to an extent, changing the blinking color for calls, messages and other notifications depending on what you want it to be. The biggest positive additions might just be the app permissions and mobile anti-theft tools. As we've seen in other Chinese Android ROMs app permissions allows you to set what permissions individual apps are allowed to access on your phone, including allowing or denying permission to things like reading your contacts information, GPS location and more. This can be done at a granular permissions level to see what apps have access to certain permissions or at a per-app level to specifically control one app's permissions allowances.
Mobile anti-theft gives you the ability to set a backup phone to remotely erase your data in case the phone gets stolen. Since it works via the phone number and not data it uses SMS to send codes. Many phone thieves would normally turn data off so the phone can't be tracked but won't usually turn the cell radio off, meaning your chance of erasing the data on the phone is likely greater using this method. Of course using something like Android Device Manager to actually track the phone is smart too, so make sure to enable both.
Instead of a tiny speaker on the back of the phone, uleFone has put a larger sound bar on the back, giving an obvious boost to volume and clarity compared to these other types of speaker configurations. Being on the back means that it's inherently a worse place than the front of the phone for sound as we've seen on phones like the Nexus 6 and HTC One, but it's not bad by any means. The speaker is super loud and I was able to easily use the loudspeaker in my truck on the highway, and the earpiece is equally as loud and clear. If you want to listen to music on this it's certainly not horrible but listening to music on a phone's speaker is never really a pleasant experience anyway.
There's a design flaw with the 3.5mm headset jack that keeps most plugs from going in all the way. Doing a quick Google search turns up large threads about this issue with a list of headphones and adapters that will fix the problem. Buying a $3 adapter from the Internet isn't a huge problem but it's something I shouldn't ever have to do, and as a result I was never able to use the headphone port in my review. Thankfully I can use Bluetooth to stream audio and as such I can report that audio output from the uleFone Be Pro is fantastic, especially in this price range. As is the case with most phones now there's a built in equalizer that lets you adjust the audio output for the type of music you're listening to, and I found the quality overall to be great. There's even a lossless Bluetooth audio mode that helped increase the quality of the audio for me, which was another plus for listening via Bluetooth instead.
Outside of the defective headphone port this is easily the worst part of the phone. While the camera isn't useless it's pretty bad, giving fuzzy off-color photos even in direct sunlight. This is not a phone that's going to replace any camera you have by any means, and while it'll do the job for social media and sharing photos via MMS or Hangouts, you're not going to want to use photos from this phone for much of anything else. Video was about the same quality, doing the job of making memories but producing nothing that's really worth watching on anything larger than a phone screen.
If you don't need a working heaphone port or a better camera this is a fantastic phone for $150. Depending on your usage these may not be a deal breaker, and in that case I can definitely recommend this phone. The screen is great for this price range, running 720p resolution at 5.5-inches you've got plenty of working space and a resolution that gets the job done. The build of Android 4.4.4 KitKat included with the phone doesn't change much of anything from stock Android, instead it adds features to an already great looking OS. The Android 5.0 Lollipop update is seemingly right around the corner, with an event from uleFone scheduled for the 3rd week in April that's likely going to include more details on the update. If uleFone can tweak the camera a bit and fix up the digitizer with a newer driver this could be the defacto phone to recommend at this price level. Until then I'm going to say stick with the Xiaomi Redmi 2 if you're looking to spend $150 right now on a phone.