The past year or so has treated us with some seriously upped expectations when it comes to budget devices. It wasn’t too long ago that a phone under $200 had little to no expectations from consumers, delivering a baseline spec sheet and no extras at all. Today’s game is a completely different one where sub-$200 devices often deliver more value than their higher priced competition, simply because we’ve hit a point where most of these phones are just good enough for consumers’ every day lives. The previous Cubot phone we reviewed was the X12 back in July, a $100 phone that did a pretty good job overall. Today we’re going over the $150 or so Cubot X15, so expectations are a bit higher than on the X12 if for no reason other than the price.
For around $150 you’re getting a pretty well specced phone, including a processor that’s in the latest lineup of MediaTek’s 64-bit processor family, the MT6735. This one is a quad-core 1.3GHz processor and is accompanied by 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage and a 5.5-inch 1080p display. There’s support for dual SIM cards here and one of these slots doubles as a microSD card slot for expandable storage. Android 5.1 Lollipop powers the experience and a 16-megapixel camera sensor sits on the back while a 5-megapixel sensor resides on the front. A 2,750mAh battery sits inside an ultra slim 6.9mm thin frame, while the phone is 153mm high, 76mm wide and weighs 177 grams.
In the Box
Inside the little phone box you’re going to find the phone encased in a free hard plastic case, something that’ll likely help protect against the occasional scratch or small drop. In addition to this there’s a screen protector already on the phone and an additional one included in the box in case something happens to the original. A micro fiber cloth is there to keep things shiny and new looking, and of course the manuals and SIM ejector tool all help too. Last but not least is of course the USB to microUSB cable, as well as a wall charger.
Cubot advertises this phone with a bezel-less display, something that’s certainly not the case here. The bezels are pretty thin compared to some other phones, especially ones in this price range, but there’s a clear bezel around the entire display no matter how you cut it. In addition to that this is one of the worst displays I’ve seen on any phone without hesitation. It’s crisp and features some good PPI resolution, and the brightness levels are phenomenal without a doubt, but those are probably the only positive qualities I can pull here. Calibration of the display is atrocious to say the least, with washed out colors, crushed black levels and an image quality that just looks like there’s a haze over everything. Using the MiraVision calibration tools provided with MediaTek’s processors I still couldn’t pull a decent picture out of the display, although it at least helped it a bit. The digitizer is almost as bad as the display too, registering what felt like 70% of my presses most of the time, and even then I had to press pretty hard to get it to respond. Typing and swiping were frustrating experiences unless I took my time doing both of them, something I’m not used to having to do in the age of instant technology.
Hardware and Build
Built quality of the Cubot X15 is mostly a high point, with a metal frame and an incredibly thin build. 6.9mm is thinner than the vast majority of the phones on the market, and it’s immediately obvious when picking the device up. The metal frame makes the phone feel sturdy despite how thin it is, and the chamfered edges give it a really satisfying aesthetic. Our review model is white and features a silver chrome coating on these chamfered edges and really looks quite elegant. The back of the phone is the only low part of the build, as it’s not only non-removable but feels a bit on the cheap side. It’s made of plastic without a doubt and has a bit of give to it, something that’s sort of odd given how thin the phone is.
The right side of the phone features the volume rocker which actually has separated volume up and down buttons for ease of pressing, while the power button resides below these. The left side features two separate SIM card slots, one of which doubles as a microSD card port. The 3.5mm headset jack sits on the top side while the bottom houses dual speakers on either side of the microUSB port. Under the screen you’ll find some pretty hidden capacitive buttons representing menu, home and back keys, while the sensors and earpiece sit above the display. Lastly on the back you’ll find a square camera lens on the top left with a single LED flash next to it.
Performance and Memory
MediaTek’s newest lineup of 64-bit processors all perform admirably in daily situations, even the lowest tier model as is housed inside of the Cubot X15. This one is a quad-core 1.3GHz model and mostly does a good job at giving acceptable performance, however I noticed that while scrolling in places like Chrome and the Overview/multi-tasking menu the framerate would chug quite a big, making the phone feel slower than it should. Apps all launched nearly instantly though, and the only time I had to wait any significant amount of time was during the loading screens in games like The Walking Dead: No Mans Land. Internal storage speed was impressively fast, which transfers into those fast app launching speeds even when the app isn’t sitting in memory waiting.
Actual gaming performance wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. This processing package is built more for 720p displays, and unfortunately with this high of a resolution it struggles with any relatively intensive 3D game. You’ll see this reflected in the benchmarks section below. Multi-tasking was pretty good overall and apps were rarely ever unloaded from memory when switched between. The biggest problem here is the continued use of the menu button on lower-end devices, a problem that manifests itself in slower multi-tasking performance because the dedicated Overview multi-tasking button isn’t there, rather you have to press and hold the home button to bring up this screen.
The step up between this and the MT6752 processor that’s in other phones around this price is pretty significant and shows 50-100% performance games in everything includes games and benchmarks. For instance the similarly priced Lenovo K3 Note scored around 44,000 in AnTuTu while the Cubot X15 only scores around 24,000.
Phone Calls and Network
There’s little to complain about here, with good reception throughout the buildings I frequent and good call quality. There’s no HD calling support here in the US with T-Mobile so we’re not talking the best call quality possible right now, but this is about as good as I can expect regular quality calls to be. Data speeds were equally as average with 3G/HSPA connectivity on T-Mobile US’s network however I wasn’t able to get a signal at all on AT&T’s network no matter where I went. This was a bit odd as AT&T usually has spectrum that’s more friendly to international phones than T-Mobile. What’s impressive here though is that T-Mobile’s LTE spectrum got picked up by the Cubot X15, a first for any phone we’ve tested in this price range. This means blazing fast network speeds and great compatibility with T-Mobile’s US network.
Check the spectrum listing below to see if your carrier of choice worldwide is covered:
4G LTE: 800/1800/2100/2600MHz
Battery life on the whole was great in every day use, easily lasting a full day with over 4 hours of on screen time. Standby time was good too, dropping only a few percentage points overnight even with sync on. Overall there is very little to complain about here, especially if you’re not using the phone super heavily throughout the day, but 5 hours of on screen time is probably the absolute maximum you’re going to get out of this one. The size of the battery keeps this number from being larger, but on average the majority of users out there won’t be using a phone for longer than that, meaning this phone has some pretty great battery life.
Android 5.1 Lollipop was the latest version of Android publicly available when the phone launched, and while Android 6.0 Marshmallow has launched since then we’re not sure this phone will ever see that update. That’s certainly not the end of the world, especially if you’re used to buying a less expensive phone every now and then to get newer specs and software. While this update certainly isn’t out of the question there are plenty of Marshmallow features here in the phone including app permissions management. App permissions allow you to allow or deny individual permissions for every app installed on the phone, allowing users to restrict permissions usage for sensitive information like contacts, GPS location and more.
There’s a lot of gestures here that’ll all be familiar if you’ve been an Android user for the past few years. This is great because it means you don’t lose these features even if you’re not willing or able to spend more on a phone. Gestures include hand waving motions where you move your hand over the front of the device to control things on the phone without touching the screen. This functionality extends to a handful of apps (listed in the setting), for instance scrolling through the gallery with a swipe, taking pictures with the camera with the same gesture, and even making a call to someone by just bringing the phone up to your ear when in the messaging app.
There’s also screen-off gestures like double-tap to wake the device, drawing different shapes and letters to launch apps and even drawing down to pause music. Most of these secondary gestures are hit or miss though and you may find that they tend to go off when placed in a pocket, meaning you might want to disable these unless the phone is normally kept in a bag or purse. Last but not least there’s support for scheduled power on and off, a feature that’s definitely niche but will be invaluable to those that need it. Let’s not forget about HotKnot which allows users to share data when the screens of two supported devices are pushed together. This means there’s no NFC unfortunately, which means no mobile payments or pairing with supported devices, but may not be a deal breaker depending on where you live or what your mobile habits are.
The rest of the experience is pretty stock Android and only features an icon theme for the stock launcher. Everything else remains pretty much untouched, and that’s a great sigh of relief for those that despise the skins so many OEMs like to use.
Sound output was pretty fantastic from the Cubot X15, something that is always surprising at this price range. There’s lossless Bluetooth audio support for higher quality Bluetooth audio when supported by devices, as well as a few rudimentary sound enhancement features. I’ve found that these types of generic enhancements don’t offer much in the way of positive results, and your mileage will vary depending on what you’re listening to music through. Sound output out of the 3.5mm headset jack was quite excellent and featured a great range of sound that’s not often found on phones in this price range. Sound output from the speakers on the bottom of the phone was nice and loud, very clear and in general about as pleasant as such speakers can be. I have little complaints other than their placement.
There’s no equalizer outside of the one built into popular music apps, so adjusting the quality of the audio is going to lower the volume a bit, but you might be surprised at how good the default sound reproduction is from the Cubot X15. Unfortunately during our testing period the 3.5mm headset jack stopped working for no apparent reason, something that would normally be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty anyway.
There’s always trade-offs for every smartphone that sells around $150, and that means the priorities of the OEM are going to shine through. It’s pretty clear that, although the software experience is lacking a bit, the overall camera quality found on the Cubot X15 was a big focus for the company. Shots are crystal clear with great focus, almost no noticeable noise in any situation, and great video recording quality. This is a massive difference from many other smartphones at this price point, and if Cubot can make the shutter speed just a bit faster they’ll have a surefire winner on their hands here. On average it took 2-3 seconds for the camera to take the shot and be ready to take another one, a delay that’ll likely make you miss your intended shot if you didn’t get it right the first time.
Thankfully the quality of the actual shots is excellent and represents some seriously fine photography quality. There’s no weird purple hue or other strange problems that a lot of cameras in this price range have, and overall photos were incredibly crisp and clear. The denoise filter doesn’t have to do much if anything thanks to the sensor provided here as well as the bias towards a longer shutter speed, keeping the ISO low and the noise down with it. No extra denoise filter means plenty of extra details that you won’t always find from other phones. Unfortunately the slower shutter means that low light photography is a bit inconsistent, and while you may get some incredible shots sometimes there will be other times that the picture is blurry due to hand shake.
The software provided here is identical to other camera software packages on phones in this price range and will be incredibly familiar to those who have used any mid-range or entry-level phone in the last 2 years. There’s quite a few options here as well as different modes including panorama, picture-in-picture mode, live photo, multi-angle and motion tracking. All of these work quite well and are actually quite a bit of fun to play with, especially the picture-in-picture mode where you can take pictures or record video using both cameras at the same time, as well as multi-angle mode which lets you take a picture from multiple angles and rotate around the object in the gallery. This last one is more for smaller objects obviously but can be used for some fun creativity too.
Lastly we get to video mode which is phenomenal to say the least. Clean and clear 1080p video comes from the device and is a breath of fresh air in the land of cheaper phones that often forgo any kind of decent video performance for a better price point. There’s little to complain about here except for the audio, which left a little to be desired, but otherwise was plenty usable. There’s also some digital image stabilization here to help with hand jitter during video recording. Check out the gallery below with picture and video samples to see for yourself.
Metal frame build, thin too
Good battery life
Excellent sound output
Great picture and video quality from the camera
Stock Android 5.1 Lollipop with added features
Great multi-tasking despite the lack of dedicated Overview button
4G LTE worldwide including the US on T-Mobile
Screen is washed out and terrible looking
Digitizer needs a lot of work, misses a lot of touches
Camera can be slow, especially in lower light
Performance can be sluggish at times, particularly in games
For $150 there’s not always a lot you can ask for in a phone, but sometimes it’s the basics that need to be met first to move onto more advanced sections. The biggest problem with the Cubot X15 is the screen, which is washed out and terrible looking even on a bad day. The digitizer that powers the touch experience behind the glass is also mediocre at best, and only slow typing and deliberate gestures would register during use. This is a shame too because the rest of the phone is mostly a solid experience. While the performance of the device could be a little better at times, its audio output is phenomenal and the quality of the pictures and videos taken by the camera are nothing short of great, especially at this price point. Battery life is good and this one even has a metal frame build, not to mention being ultra thin too. Cubot has a bunch of different phones too, so be sure to check out their Facebook page to see them all.