With the launch of its new US division, Kphone USA, Chinese manufacturer K-Touch has been working on expanding its International presence with its unlocked phones that look more like premium devices but are priced considerably lower. While still not quite at the pricing level as some other Chinese OEMs like Elephone, Meizu, Xiaomi or Ulefone to name a few, the price range of Kphone's devices are still way less than LG or Samsung, for instance, and as such offer a value that many US customers aren't quite used to yet. The Kphone K5 5.0 is the smallest of the three devices that Kphone offers on its US website, and retails for $349. Let's take a look at what the K5 offers and how comparable it is with other unlocked devices on the market.
Spec wise the Kphone K5 5.0 runs middle to entry level on most of the bullet points. A 5-inch 1080p IPS LCD display comes in at 440 pixels per inch density, a solid figure by any count. A 2,920mAh battery fits inside the slim frame, which is definitely larger than most phones with a 5-inch display. The K5 measures in at 142mm high by 70mm wide by 7.2mm thin and you'll find only 16GB of internal storage here with no microSD card slot. A 64-bit Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor clocked at 1.4GHz sits inside alongside 2GB of RAM, and an Adreno 306 GPU powers the graphics front. A 13-megapixel camera with single-LED flash sits on the back while a 5-megapixel camera is up front. Dual-SIM capability is here as well as Android 5.1 Lollipop powering the experience with a skin overtop.
In the Box
In the nicely designed white box with red trim sits the phone, well padded and wrapped in plastic, placed front and center as the first thing seen. Underneath is a series of books including user manual, warranty card and description of contents of the box. Underneath that you'll find a dual-sided box that holds the 5 volt 2 amp charger that's designed to charge the phone pretty quickly, while the other side of the box contains the SIM ejector tool, adapters for nano-SIM cards to fit in the micro-SIM card slot, a pair of headphones and the microUSB cable.
The IPS LCD on the Kphone K5 is actually quite fantastic, from its high resolution panel down to the rest of its aspects. Viewing angles are good all around, with color shift or black level change only happening at extreme angles, and even then only from specific sides. There's no light bleed from any edges, and the overall light levels and quality are excellent, delivering plenty of brightness when needed and being able to get quite dim when in a dark room. White balance is mostly excellent, with only a slight tinge of blue to shift it just a bit into the cool side of the spectrum. The color accuracy doesn't suffer noticeably from this at all though and looks fantastic. Even the saturation levels of the display are great, giving off plenty of vibrant colors but keeping them from looking too cartoony or unrealistic. Black levels aren't great, but that's the norm for LCD displays, especially in this price range.
The best part about the display isn't what you can see though, it's what you touch. The digitizer used here is of the utmost quality and feels exactly as it should on a modern multi-touch display. This means fast typing, swiping and other tasks involving multi-touch feel great, respond quickly and most importantly accurately. There's no ghost swipes or anything like that here, something that's often found on cheaper phones because the components generally come from lower bin manufacturing parts.
Hardware and Build
There's no denying the iPhone 4/4s generation design language here, from the glass front and back panels to the metal trim, chamfered edges and even the speaker grilles on the bottom of the phone. That doesn't mean it's not a nice phone though, or one that looks old by any description, quite the opposite actually. The glass front and back panels combined with the rigid sides create a feeling that's wholly quality. I found though that the back in particular scratches quite easily, and I've already got quite a few scuffs and one large scratch on my review unit. This is not just because it's glass but because there are no raised edges to keep the glass from laying on the bare surface, a problem that also presents itself when placed on a surface with no friction as the phone will slide off any surface with a slight tilt to it. On the right you'll the find the power button just above the mid-point and the volume rocker right above that, while the left side holds the dual micro-SIM card tray.
Up top you'll find the 3.5mm headset jack while a microUSB port is on the bottom flanked by what appear to be stereo speaker grilles, however only the left side is a speaker. Interestingly enough the top and bottom lines of the phone are a bit bowed and not just a straight-cut edge. This gives a subtle yet slightly more interesting look to the device that you can see in the pictures. On the front you'll find moderately sized bezels on each side of the screen, along with three capacitive buttons at the bottom. Situated in the middle is a circular home button, with a three-dot menu button to the left and a uniquely shaped back arrow to the right. Above the screen you'll of course find the earpiece, but what's unique here is that the proximity sensor is found encased next to the speaker, giving the design a cleaner look.
Performance and Memory
The Snapdragon 410 isn't exactly a performance powerhouse and is often times chosen more for price or battery life considerations. Kphone's implementation of it in the K5, however, makes it feel much more like a better performing package than what it actually is. Everyday performance feels no different in most situations than you would find on considerably more powerful processors, which oftentimes are found in this price range and could be seen as a big negative on the spec sheet. This is particularly surprising given the 1080p resolution which commonly makes the Snapdragon 410 struggle even in the normal UI. This means your everyday experience should be virtually the same as on a phone with a better processor, and as such the spec list shootout means less here than it might otherwise on other phones. Even gaming was great on the phone, with 3D titles working just as well as any device in this price range for most games.
Multi-tasking is actually incredibly good for the most part, and is a bit of a surprise for a device with only 2GB of RAM. Nowadays it's not uncommon to see phones ship with double this amount of RAM, even at this price range, but it's clear Kphone hasn't loaded this phone down with RAM-clogging bloat or other stuff to stifle the experience.. Switching between apps never caused any reloading in my experience, even when switching between games and heavy apps like Chrome. The only weird thing is how to call up the multi-tasking interface, which is done via a double-tap of the home button; a gesture that's not commonly used on Android, rather iOS. Even though this is a non-conventional Android gesture though it still brings up the Overview interface incredibly fast, which is important to making it a useful screen.
Considering the Snapdragon 410 debuted in devices in the first half of 2014 and was a low-end chip when it launched, it shouldn't be much of a surprise to see this one scraping the bottom of the benchmarking charts 3 months into 2016. Check out the results in our benchmark suite below, but remember the every day and gaming performance doesn't really match up with what's seen here.
Phone Calls and Network
The Kphone K5 is designed and built with US GSM networks in mind, and that includes LTE signals from the big GSM carriers too. This means T-Mobile, AT&T and all of their MVNOs like Cricket, Simple Mobile and more will work flawlessly with this phone. I had LTE everywhere that I would have expected to, however there's no HD calling support on T-Mobile or AT&T because of the way these carriers work. That means good 3G calling quality but no ultra clear HD Voice calling as you will get on official carrier phones, so if you're looking for higher quality calls you'll need to make them through Hangouts, WhatsApp or another data calling service. The earpiece speaker was fantastic, loud and clear, and I never had an issue clearly hearing the person on the other end. There's no NFC support here
2G bands: 850/900/1900MHz
3G Bands: 850/900/1900/2100MHz
4G FDD-LTE Bands: 1/4/7/17
Packing a 2,920mAh battery already makes this a bigger battery than most phones with a 5-inch screen, but the battery savings that a Snapdragon 410 gives in addition to whatever Kphone is doing in their skinned version of Android really add up to something special. Unfortunately they have modified the battery stats screen and the way it's collected, so we were unable to gather an accurate measurement of average screen on time during charges. Regardless of this though it was several hours, at least 6 without a doubt, as this was my main phone during the testing period and lasted an average of nearly 3 full days on a single charge.
Looking at the Futuremark PCMark battery test that we run on every review phone it looks like the phone could reach a theoretical maximum of nearly 12 hours of straight, heavy usage with the screen on, a figure that absolutely shatters just about everything else on the market. For reference most phones get half that figure regardless of their size of power. Battery life here is truly epic to say the least, and I'm fully confident that no matter what you're doing it should be easy to get at least 2 full days of battery life out of this phone. There are also a number of power savings modes that can eek out even more battery life if you're willing to turn off syncing, WiFi and some other features too, which are all done automatically as you switch between modes in the power saving app.
Quality wise the sound output via the 3.5mm headset jack is fantastic, delivering well balanced audio that's clean and clear. It's incredibly quiet though, even with the volume slider maxed out, and I found I had to turn my truck's audio system up about 30% to hear the music at the same decibel levels as other phones. There's no built in equalizer or anything like that, so the default audio output you get via the 3.5mm headset jack or Bluetooth is what it is. You can always try software equalizers but those generally make sound output even quieter, which will become a problem on this phone.
Output via the speaker on the bottom of the phone was quite good given that it's a single, bottom-facing speaker. It's very loud and clear despite the small size, and in general it was pretty enjoyable to listen to music on. At max volume there's some distortion, and overall it's got a hint of tinniness, but none of these negatives are particularly bad. It's likely not going to be your preferred speaker if you have other choices but it's certainly not a bad backup by any means. Finding the section for ringtones is a bit obscure as it's hidden under system profiles instead of the sound & notification settings section like you might imagine. Once in here though you can set different ringtones for each SIM card, as well as different system sounds, notification sounds and the defaults for all of these between the General, Silent, Vibration and Outdoor sound profiles.
If the design of the phone didn't tip you off that Kphone was going for a heavily iOS-influenced experience, the software design certainly will. Everything from the launcher to the font, icons to even the wallpaper will make you think this is iOS, but of course it's Android 5.1 Lollipop. That said there's plenty of Android here, and certainly more Android-looking and functioning parts than are found from other companies like Xiaomi, for instance. Take multi-tasking for instance, where a very iOS double-tap the home button gesture brings up the Overview window, but this Overview window is the same design that you would find on a Nexus device, meaning Kphone changed what they thought needed to be changed and left things they liked about Android alone.
Moving through the UI you'll find the lockscreen is untouched from stock Lollipop, which is a Godsend for sure as the stock Android lockscreen is nothing short of amazing. The pull-down notification shade is super similar to stock Lollipop but features redesigned quick toggles that fit more buttons on the screen, 15 in all. There's also a dedicated music control area here too, which is a nice addition over stock Android, although the quick toggles themselves don't feature the one-touch options like stock Android does, which means switching WiFi and some other toggles requires you to navigate away from the app you're currently in. You'll also notice the foggy glass effect on many elements including the lockscreen, notification shade and volume panel.
The launcher and wallpaper are all iOS with nearly zero modifications from Apple's design language. Stock wallpaper is a colorful flower placed in the middle of a black background, and the launcher is all icons and little else. Thankfully widget support is here though, so that integral part of Android wasn't removed at all. You'll also find that many of the stock apps and menus feature a single-color status bar instead of the darker Material Design type bar, another iOS influenced choice here to note. Pulling up the settings menu defaults to a general settings menu, dialing down the number of options users see at first and clearing up any confusion that might come from trying to find settings in a wall of text. While commonly used settings like WiFi, Bluetooth and screen brightness are placed here, a quick swipe to the right tab labeled All gives you everything.
Once in here you'll find plenty of little visual tweaks in the display menu, like turning off that fogged glass look if you don't like it, and some sensor calibration sections too. Outside of this you'll not find many additional software features. There's no hand-waving gestures here, no double-tap to wake the screen up, no off-screen gestures and no multi-finger gestures. This could be a disappointment for some people, and it certainly makes it feel like more of a barebones package. There are a few included apps over the basic calendar, phone, calculator, etc., but not a whole lot. This is generally seen as a positive thing since it doesn't needlessly take up space on the phone with apps that normally can't be removed.
Apps like FM Radio, NoteBook, Sound Recorder and Compass offer some additional features over a more stock build of Android yet take up little space on the phone. Most of these apps are well designed, although the gallery app seems a little too simple for its own good, as there's no obvious way to share multiple photos at a time. App permissions have also been added to Android 5.1 Lollipop, something that's not officially part of Android until Android 6.0 Marshmallow. They're clear and to the point, with a great management section that shows clear permissions and allow or deny each when needed per app.
Like most things on the phone it's painfully obvious that iOS is the target for design here. Outside of initial looks it's not all iOS, in fact functionality wise it's definitely better than the single-mode iOS style camera that so many OEMs just slap on their phones. On the bottom you'll find a dedicated shutter and record button for instant picture taking or recording of a movie, which is a huge step up from other OEM's camera software in this regard as you don't have to switch modes to take a picture or record. Other modes are found in the camera icon up top, which seems like a weird icon for switching modes but consists of the following: Beauty, HDR, Panorama, Manual, Gesture, Smile, Back and Delay.
Manual mode is really just manual exposure changing, where the green focus reticule is separate from the orange exposure reticule and allow you to spot meter separately from your focus. Another more cryptic mode is the Back mode, which is a selfie feature using the back camera in which the phone actually talks to you and lets you know when it detects a face to take a shot of. The other ones are pretty self-explanatory, although it would have been nice to have HDR in a more front-facing toggle rather than hidden in the modes menu. Actual performance of the software is pretty good, not quite the fastest we've ever seen but not anywhere near the slowest either.
Taking pictures is generally fast, although there's a slight bit of time taken after the shot that can be distracting. Holding down the shutter button gives a burst mode, but it's only a few shots at a time rather than the ultra-fast multiple shots per second as we see on many other devices. Focusing is the real problem here, as it's not only slow to focus but tends to sit out of focus way too long, forcing either a second touch to focus or multiple ones when it has trouble. This is particularly an issue while taking videos where it seems to have a hard time focusing at all in the beginning and slowly works its way toward sharper focus, but this doesn't happen every single time either.
Quality of both pictures and video are good but only match what I would have expected from most phones in this price range a year ago. The biggest issue is when comparing it to other $300 phones, where something like a Nexus 5x is going to simply annihilate it every single time in every single lighting condition. While the quality and balance are good overall, they just aren't quite up to what we have come to expect since the end of 2015, which brought a massive shift in camera quality thanks to phones like the Nexus 5x. It's likely that you'll be happy with the quality of the shots from this phone, especially in good lighting, but comparatively they aren't quite up to the level as some others. Low light performance isn't bad but often suffer from blur as the shutter is held open way too long because the phone doesn't want to crank up the ISO like it should be. Denoise is also very aggressive and tends to muddy up details as you zoom in close, an effect that becomes more pronounced as light levels go down. Check out the gallery below for all the pictures and video samples.
Incredible battery life
Above average screen
Light skin, virtually no bloat
Good build quality
Balanced sound output
Excellent US GSM LTE network coverage
Low specs for the price
Glass back scratches very easily
Single bottom-facing speaker
The Kphone K5 is a great entry into the rather slim 5-inch screen category. Nowadays it's difficult to find a phone that's worth its weight in salt at this size, and for the most part the K5 certainly is. Still it feels like the phone should be priced a bit lower, especially when you consider the specs are ones often found on phones in the $200 or less price range. $350 is a lot to ask for in this case, but thankfully the experience doesn't match what the spec sheet might make you think. If you're impressed with what you see head on over to Kphone's website and grab one for yourself for use on any US GSM-based carrier.
UPDATE: Kphone has made us aware that the K5 is currently selling exclusively through QVC for a phenomenal price of $200. This price literally negates just about any of the above negatives and makes it easily among the absolute best phones you can buy around $200. At $350 this phone doesn't offer as much value as others at that price range, but $200 completely changes the entire conversation. Here's hoping it stays at that price point, because that makes it one seriously amazing device.