Smartphone manufacturers in China have been making big waves of late and due to what seems to be a common trait of offering as good as they can specs, for the lowest price that they can. One of the newer companies emerging from China is UMi. Although, they are newer and less-known globally compared to some of their counterparts, they have already released a number of devices including the UMi Iron which looked to place an emphasis on its design, while also offering market-relevant specs. Since then, the company has also released an upgraded version of the UMi Iron in the form of the UMi Iron Pro.
In terms of the specs, there does not seem to be a lot on offer here that is different to the previous non-Pro version. In terms of the screen, we are looking at a 5.5-inch screen which comes equipped with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Moving to the insides and the Pro comes equipped with 3GB RAM and is powered by a MediaTek (MT6753) Octa-core processor which clocks at 1.3 GHz, along with a Mali-T720 processing the graphics. On the camera side of things, the Iron Pro offers a 13-megapixel rear camera, which is coupled with an 8-megapixel front facing camera. Internal storage is set at 16GB and there is also the option to expand thanks to the inclusion of a microSD card slot (up to 64GB). Additional features come in the form of a fingerprint sensor, eye recognition software, Type-C USB, 4G LTE support, dual-SIM and the device is powered by a 3,100-3,300 mAh battery. The whole device comes running on Android 5.1 (Lollipop) out of the box.
In The Box
A trend of late is for smartphones to come much less packed than before, so gone are the days in which you should expect additional items like earphones to be included. The Iron Pro does follow in this trend and the contents of what is on offer is on the minimal side. As well as the actual handset, the Iron Pro comes accompanied with a simple and plain looking white Type-C USB cable, a USB wall adapter (ours came with a European plug), a SIM extraction tool and the user guide.
Hardware & Design
As the Iron Pro is a variant of the UMi Iron, the general look of the device is rather similar. In fact, like the specs, there are very few notable changes. The overall appearance of the Iron Pro adopts the same primary metal design which does add to its aesthetic appeal and does make the device look a little more premium than it is. That is, only in looks though, as once in-hand, the build quality does not feel as premium and does feel much more like a plastic-based device. The one benefit of this, is that the Iron Pro does feel quite light considering its size. So although, it looks the part, this is a device which instantly makes its price and range evident the moment it is picked up.
The front of the device makes use of a 5.5-inch screen which generally speaking, is not too dissimilar in overall size to other devices which make use of a similar sized front panel. As a result, the Iron Pro does not feel unnecessarily bigger (or smaller) than any other 5.5-inch sized device. Accompanying the screen is some clear bezel action, the front facing camera which comes positioned alongside a usable heart-rate monitor. While underneath the screen is a small LED powered panel which offers a more obvious use of notification-by-light feature.
The back of the UMi Iron Pro is where you will find the main difference compared to the previous UMi Iron. While the layout remains the same (with the same metallic main back plate which is accompanied with the same plastic upper and lower portion), the back plate on the Iron Pro houses the fingerprint sensor.
In terms of the sides, UMi have opted for the ‘other way round’ design and as a result, the right-hand side of the device is rather lacking in terms of notable aspects, although this is where the dual-SIM tray resides. The left-hand side of the Iron Pro is where you will find the volume up and down buttons, as well as the power button. Going against the grain of the majority of manufacturers, this does mean that the positioning of the volume and power buttons makes the phone feel a little strange at first and most notably, when trying to take a screenshot. Although not a massive issue and one which you will adjust to after enough time, there are those moments where you naturally feel to the right when looking to adjust the volume, take a screenshot or power down the device. In terms of the feel of the buttons, there are no major issues here with the buttons adopting a good level of tactile appeal and do extrude enough for you to feel when they are being pressed. It is also briefly worth pointing out that the sides do come equipped with screws so you can open up the device if you need to.
Moving to the top and bottom of the Iron Pro and once again, these adopt a more minimalist approach with the top simply housing the 3.5 mm jack port and the bottom only housing the Type-C USB port. One aspect to note about the Type-C USB port, is that it is not centrally positioned and instead, is slightly off-kilter to the right.
Overall, the design of the UMi Iron Pro is one which is adopting what is fast becoming a traditional Chinese OEM stance. The device looks a lot more premium than it is and will certainly look the part when placed down on a table or surface. However, the trend to re-position the buttons to the left-hand side of the device, is one which (although does not matter in the grand scale of things) highlights that some of the smaller details are not designed with the end-user in mind. The quality here though is the biggest issue. While the device is cool to the touch and does feel slim and sleek in the hand, it does feel rather vulnerable and you should not fancy its chances if dropped or banged too hard.
Software & UI
Much like the hardware, the software running on the Iron Pro is the same as that of the original Iron. On offer is Android 5.1 (Lollipop) out of the box and what is generally quite a light version. So for those looking for a more stock-like experience, for a Chinese OEM device, this is not bad at all. That said, there are the few notable UMi touches in play here and the most obvious is the omitting of the standard app drawer icon, which is replaced with an UMi icon. While you might not think of this as a massive change (and it’s not), it does have a strange effect on the usability of the button. Almost every time you go to open the app drawer, there is that moment where you have to look for the button. It just seems wrongly included, much like the re-positioning of the volume and power buttons.
Moving passed the app icon and much of the rest of the general software looks like you would expect with Lollipop with only minor tweaks to the notifications and settings. The drop-down shortcut menu does include a couple of less-traditional icons like a ‘End all’ for instantly closing all apps, as well as a ‘Battery Saver’ and ‘Audio Profiles’ Icon.
As this is a rather close to stock experience, the level of pre-installed apps is quite minimal. In fact, it is very minimal with the only non-typical apps consisting of Backup and Reset, U Health, Super SU and ViPER4Android. All of which are less bloating in nature as they do offer clear benefits to being included.
You will have noticed that Super SU was one of the apps which was listed as coming pre-installed and this does mean that the UMi Iron Pro comes rooted out of the box. This was checked briefly using a third-party root checking app which did confirm the device was rooted. Therefore, those looking for a more customizable experience will be able to jump straight in, install TWRP, switch the ROM or add whichever customization features wanted. Or of course, make use of the company’s Rootjoy feature to switch up a ROM. On this point however, for a device which clearly comes prepped for customization, the level of customization on offer was more minimal than had been expected. There are no options for theme changing and you cannot even adjust the layout of the on-screen buttons. It would have been nice if there was a little more of a choice on offer for themes out of the box.
U Health is also briefing worth touching on, as this is the company’s take on a health app, albeit a very basic one. U Health largely exists to offer two features, the ability to check your stress level and the ability to check your heart rate. Both of which make use of the front-facing heart-rate monitor.
In testing, this proved to be more style over substance as the readings on offer seem to be a little on the inconsistent side. In particular, the heart-rate results. The monitor was used to repeatedly test the heart rate and over a very short amount of time (immediately after one test ended, the next one began and so was considered to be a relatively identical scenario). However, the results varied drastically on every occasion and never twice were remotely similar. So while the heart-rate monitor is present, there does seem to be an issue of inconsistency, which was disappointing.
Moving on and this is a device which looks to make use of additional levels of security, namely the inclusion of both a fingerprint scanner and an eye identification feature. In terms of the finger scanner, on the whole, this proved to be quite reliable. Most of the time (not all of the time), the fingerprint scanner did read well and would unlock the device and was thought to be operating at a relatively consistent level of performance. In fact, the speed of unlocking was very good and certainly better than had been expected. However, it is also worth pointing out that the set-up procedure for the fingerprint scanner is significantly long and much more time-demanding than what you would encounter on other devices which make use of a similar feature. So while the performance of the scanner is good, the set-up leaves a lot to be desired.
In terms of the eye scanning feature, the set-up for this was surprisingly much quicker and when tested, again, performed to quite a reliable degree. Although the usability of the feature is a little more of a concern, as it did feel that having to align the phone with your face every time to open was largely pointless and certainly more time-consuming than any other security method offered on the Iron Pro. However, this was not a criticism of the Iron Pro in particular, as the performance was reliable.
Call & Audio Quality
Starting with the general call quality, this was at best, OK. During testing, calls were made and received and generally sounded fine with no major complaints. The quality of listening to someone on the other side was not crystal clear, but was clear enough not to be an issue. Likewise, there were no major issues with using data on the Iron Pro. Connection remained solid and there were no drop offs or outs in either call or data quality that were noticed. Although, it is worth pointing out that the best connection achieved on the Iron Pro was a 3G connection. This is a device which is 4G LTE supported, however it does not support T-Mobile’s 4G service, which was the network being used to test the device.
Where the Iron Pro does suffer the most though, is definitely in the general sound quality of the device. The rear facing speaker (which is already a negative) is not very powerful. As a result, the sound is extremely low compared to other devices and this did impact on the quality of the audio output as well. Although music and vocals can be heard fine, the definition is simply not there and certainly not as impacting as would have been liked. The audio is certainly one of the aspects which looks to have been comprised to save on cost. This is presumably one of the benefits and reasons as to why ViPER4Android comes pre-installed. In reality though, it did not seem to make any meaningful difference when tested. The audio output is frankly disappointing. That said, it should be noted that there were no issues when tested with headphones.
Battery Life & Performance
In terms of the battery, UMi defines the capacity on offer as being 3100-3300 mAh, which is a little lacking in definition. Either way, for a device that comes packing a 3000+ mAh capacity, battery life was a little on the average side, albeit on the good side of average. Typical screen on time during testing never fared much better than four to five hours, with just over the five hour marker being considered the upper limit to be expected. This of course is largely dependent on the level of usage, with the worse case scenario being about three and a half hours of life (this should be thought of as purposely trying to drain the battery). So overall, while not groundbreaking, there are no major issues with the battery life on offer and this was probably one of the better and more positive aspects of the Iron Pro, as you could expect to get about four hours of screen on time consistently.
In terms of standby time, this was also a little on the average side, when the device was strictly left in standby mode (maximum of fifteen minutes screen on time), the battery typically would self-deplete in about 36 hours.
Moving on to charging and once again, there is not a great deal to positively note. An empty battery takes on average three hours to fully charge. So there does not seem to be any form of quick charging on offer and you do need a full three hours to get the device back to a full-day usage level. Although, it is worth pointing out that the model tested came with a European wall plug and as such, the original UMi Iron Pro USB cable was tested using a third-party Anker intelligent charger. It is possible that charge times may be increased with the original wall socket, although, this could not be verified or disproved and is unlikely to be much different to what was noted during testing.
In terms of the wider performance, again, you are getting what you pay for the Iron Pro. While there is nothing overly wrong with the performance and generally speaking, the device did perform well, the performance was a little on the sluggish side. Considering this is a close to stock level of Android with a very light skinning, it was felt that the performance should have been a little more fluid and smoother. Navigating through the system, switching between apps and so on, was all fine and occurred without any notable glitches or otherwise, but there was that slight delay in response time between activation and fulfillment of actions.
At this price-point, it will be no major surprise to learn that the Iron Pro is not positioned as a high-performance device. That is, in spite of what is considered to be on the whole, more higher than lower overall specs. However, while the specs remain industry-relevant, the processor is a MediaTek (MT6753) processor and this is far more decidedly mid-range. A sentiment which was clearly backed up by the benchmarks. In terms of the AnTuTu results, the Iron Pro scored an overall 38,693 which placed it firmly below the likes of the Lenovo K3 Note and Letv 1s, which both come with slightly better processors – in the case of the K3 Note, this is the marginally better MediaTek (MT6752) chip inside. Moving on to Geekbench 3 and the Iron pro scored 617 in terms of its single-core and 2,855 in terms of its multi-core. The single-core results placed the Iron Pro in-between the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the ASUS Nexus 7, while the multi-core result was a little better – with the 2.855 figure being more in line with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5. Completing the list, the 3D Benchmark scores came in with an overall 182 score, along with a graphics score of 147.
Cameras continue to be one of the major selling points for smartphones and while this is marketed as a more affordable handset, even at this price-point, camera quality is nothing to be ashamed of. The numbers would suggest that the Iron Pro would continue this trend as we are looking at a 13MP and 8MP rear/front camera configuration. However, in reality the Iron Pro camera abilities were not great. There was nothing majorly wrong with them and for this price, they certainly will offer a good enough snap-n-go level of usage. However, the rear camera was disappointing for a 13-megapixel camera and was a prime example of how MP count alone does not dictate image quality.
Where the rear camera really suffered was in the color balance. Images on the whole lacked color definition and generally appeared rather consistent in their tone and almost bland-like color. They were simply far too plain. This was much the same issue with the blacks which lacked any true depth. However, for a quick snap of an event, the camera will get the job done. You can check out a few of the images taken with the UMi Iron Pro rear camera by scrolling through the gallery below.
Moving briefly to the software side of things and there are no massively notable aspects to touch on. The camera app is fairly limited and bland but does provide you with most of the norm features and settings you would expect. You can make use of HDR and marginally adjust the settings and can alter the white balance and exposure from preset drop down options. So overall, the software, albeit limited, it’s sufficient enough to again make sure you capture any moments you need, when out and about.
The big selling point with the UMi Iron is unmistakably the price. This is a cheap phone, as far as phones go. The cost is $179.99 and for that money, you are getting a device which is spec and feature-heavy and offers much of the contents you might expect from a premium positioned device. Therefore, if what you are after is value for money – value defined as features – then the UMi Iron Pro is a good buy as you are getting far more than you would from most other phones at this price point. That said, there is an issue with the quality here and while this is a premium-feature phone, it is not a premium-build phone. It does lack all the minor details and accents that make a phone fashionable. While, this is hardly a criticism at this price point, the quality of the build is certainly where the Iron Pro lacks as a smartphone and there are better build and quality smartphones out there at this price-point.
Should you buy the UMi Iron Pro?
The truth of the matter is that it all depends on what matters to you the most. If you just want a phone which offers a ton of features, then for the price, you cannot go wrong. The UMi Iron Pro is a very aggressively priced device and you do get a ton of features including eye identification, a fingerprint sensor and a Type-C USB port for your money.