When you think of a smartphone that costs just $169 USD, you probably think of something that feels "cheap", with low specs, and likely a hint of lag. With the Ulefone Vienna, you get none of that. It's a smartphone coming out of China that will cost you just $169 USD and brings some pretty respectable specs. But the real question here is how does it stack up against other smartphones that are priced pretty similarly? Let's check that out in the full review.
The Vienna sports a 5.5-inch 1920x1080 resolution IPS display, this gives you around 441 pixels per inch. Additionally the MediaTek MT6753 octa-core processor is powering the show, clocked at 1.3GHz, which is paired with the Mali-T720 GPU, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. The Vienna does support micro SD cards, allowing you to expand the storage available on this smartphone.
As far as cameras go, we're looking at the Panasonic MN34152 sensor on the back, which is a 13-megapixel sensor with an f/2.0 aperture and can record video at 30 frames-per-second (fps). While the front-facing camera is a 5-megapixel sensor, and can shoot video at 640x480 and 10 fps. For WiFi, we're looking at 802.11 b/g/n connectivity. GPS features A-GPS and GLONASS for tracking and positioning. We also have Bluetooth 4.0 which does feature A2DP, along with Micro USB 2.0 for charging the Vienna - additionally the USB port does support USB-OTG (USB On The Go, meaning you can plug in a flash drive and add more storage, if desired). The Ulefone Vienna is powered by Android 6.0, and a non-removable 3250mAh battery inside.
The network bands on the Ulefone Vienna are as follows:
GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900
WCDMA: 850, 900, 2100
LTE: 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2600
In the Box
Inside the box, there's the usual suspects. Ulefone includes the Vienna - of course - we also have the micro USB to USB Type-A cable along with the wall adapter (this particular model includes an EU wall adapter) and some paperwork. Ulefone also includes a clear TPU case for the Vienna along with a screen protector. Something you don't typically see coming in the box of a brand new smartphone, definitely a good thing though.
The build quality of the Ulefone Vienna is actually pretty surprising. The body is made of polycarbonate and metal, making for a pretty premium feeling smartphone. The sides of the Vienna are rounded, and the back isn't slippery, mix that with the fact that the Vienna has a 5.5-inch display, the phone feels nice and comfortable in the hand. Throughout the review process, we didn't drop the Vienna once, definitely something that's good considering how many smartphones are slippery these days.
Ulefone has put a fingerprint sensor on the back, just below the 13-megapixel (Panasonic-made) camera sensor, with the dual LED flash between the two. The speaker is further down on the back of the device. On the right side, we have the power button and volume rocker with the left side featuring the smart key and dual SIM card slot. Of course, up top we have 3.5mm headphone jack and IR blaster with the micro USB port on the bottom of the device.
The front of the Vienna houses that 5.5-inch display, along with three capacitive buttons below the display. The left-side key looks like it would be a recents key, but it is actually a menu button. With the Home button in the middle and back button on the right side. The Home button doubles as a recents button. A bit unfortunate that these buttons are not customizable. Leaving you with the default configuration that Ulefone has provided here.
When it comes to the internals, the Ulefone Vienna packs a MediaTek MT6753 processor, this is a 64-bit octa-core chip clocked at 1.3GHz. That is paired with the Mali-T720 GPU along with 3GB of RAM. This leads to some pretty amazing performance as well as gameplay. This processor is more of a high-end, mid-range processor. More on the level of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 600-series of processors.
During our time with the Vienna, we played a slew of games on the device. Some were graphic-intensive while others were pretty simple. Like Stack and Crossy Road. All of them played quite well on the Vienna. Additionally, we never felt the need to clear out the apps in memory, due to the phone slowing down. The Vienna handled apps in memory quite well, allowing the experience to be quick and speedy.
However, the phone does get a bit warm. We mostly noticed the phone getting warm on the back, near the camera. It typically got warm during long periods of gameplay, benchmarking, and watching videos on full brightness for an extended amount time. This is pretty understandable, and happens with most smartphones. So it's not really that big of a surprise.
Many may question the reasoning behind Ulefone using a full HD display here instead of a QHD display. However, remember that a full HD or 1080p display, uses less power compared to a QHD display. This means that there is more power from the processor and GPU set aside for running apps and games on the phone, as well as saving battery life. This display is made by Sharp, and it's actually pretty sharp, no pun intended. The 1080p display here is pretty bright, great for using it outdoors. It does get dark, but not as dark as we'd like it to be, at night.
The 5.5-inch display here includes Gorilla Glass 3. Which is here to keep the display fresh without getting scratched up when in your pocket (or purse for the Ladies) with keys and such. Viewing angles on this display are pretty good as well. The Vienna doesn't suffer the terrible viewing angles that some of the early Sony Xperia Z smartphones suffered from. Definitely a great thing for a smartphone this cheap.
The fingerprint reader has a bit of an issue with this device. When I first set up the Vienna, I set up the fingerprint sensor using my index finger - seeing as it's on the back of the device. That went fine and all, however, a few hours later the phone's SystemUI crashed repeatedly and was unable to get back into the device. I was forced to go into recovery and wipe everything and set it up again. This time around I didn't set up the fingerprint sensor in the setup process, and everything went fine. However, going into the fingerprint settings results in a force close. Which means we weren't really able to test the sensor. A bit unfortunate, and it definitely looks like Ulefone has some software issues to figure out here with the Vienna's fingerprint sensor. Hopefully that will be taken care of in a future software update.
The Ulefone Vienna is quietly an amazing device with HiFi audio. Ulefone has put in a pretty impressive DAC and amplifier that provides some amazing sounding audio. If you plug in a good set of headphones, and play some high-resolution audio, you'll be able to definitely see how good the audio is on the Vienna. It's pretty tough to put into words. But if you're an audiophile, then this alone is a reason to pick up the Vienna.
Inside we have a 3250mAh battery. That's plenty of battery to keep the Vienna going all day long. You should be able to get at least around 4-5 hours of on screen time out of this battery. Which is quite respectable, to say the least. Of course, if you're a heavy user, you may not get the same results. Remember battery life is subjective as always, and everyone won't have the same experience, unfortunately.
While the battery is a fairly large 3250mAh battery, it doesn't sport any type of quick charge technology. So you're stuck with the normal 1.5A charging, which is quite slow in this day and age. Fortunately, the battery can last you all day long, so you can just charge at night. Then the charging speed won't really bother you that much.
Phone Calls & Network
As you'd expect, with most smartphones coming out of Asia, the Ulefone Vienna does not work on T-Mobile nor AT&T, for anything more than EDGE speeds. A bit unfortunate, but that's how it is, generally. The speeds we got on both WiFi and on EDGE were comparable with other devices we've reviewed recently. So the modem seems to be on point, without any issues.
When it comes to phone calls, the Vienna was able to make calls without any issues, even when connected to T-Mobile US' 2G network. We didn't notice any dropped calls, and users on the other end noted that we came in crystal clear - something we always like to hear. Now, since this phone isn't made for the US, it doesn't support HD voice. That's not a knock on the Vienna, and it's something we basically expected, to be honest.
As far as benchmarks go, we ran the typical three benchmarks on this device. That includes AnTuTu, Geekbench and 3D Mark. The results from these three benchmarks, are shown below, and are pretty similar to what we've seen out of other devices with the same specs. Leading to no real surprises when it comes to performance here on the Vienna.
Software is often times the most important part of any smartphone. And that's definitely the case with the Vienna. Ulefone has Android 5.1 Lollipop installed here. It's not the latest version of Android, unfortunately, but it'll do. It doesn't support the fingerprint API that's in Marshmallow - seeing as it doesn't run Marshmallow - so the issues with the fingerprint sensor aren't as big of a deal, at least to us.
In Western markets - or really anywhere but Asia - it's preferred to have a smartphones with an app drawer. While it's pretty popular in Asia to do away with the app drawer and have all of your apps on your home screen. Ulefone has done something unique here. Installing two different launchers. One is called their U Launcher and doesn't have an app drawer, but it does have a few skins included, which theme all of the icons, and that's about it. However, if you would rather have an app drawer - you could of course install a third-party launcher - Ulefone has added another launcher that's pretty basic. But it features an app drawer. There's nothing really all that special about either launcher really. So you won't lose any functionality by installing something like Nova or Action Launcher 3.
Ulefone has included quite a few gestures here on the Vienna, which are all located under the "Smart Settings" section in the Settings app. In here you can turn on gestures like Smart Wake, Smart Answer, Flip Mute Calls, Flip Mute Alarms, Pocket Mode and Float Multi-Task. All of which can be enabled individually. Really adding to the software experience of the Vienna. That's really all that Ulefone has done with the software here. Otherwise, it's a stock Android experience, for the most part. This is something that's always nice to see, but not too surprising on a smartphone that costs as little as the Vienna does.
The camera experience here is pretty plain. There's not a whole lot going on here in the camera UI. Within the app, you can have it auto-detect the scene. Making it easy for you to just open the camera and take your shot. Without worrying about needing to get the ISO, white balance and such correct. As far as modes go, we have the auto mode, along with live photo, motion tracking, Panorama and Multi-Angle Mode. Pretty simple, and all of these are rather self-explanatory. Vienna does also support burst mode, up to 40 pictures.
As far as the pictures coming out of the camera, they are actually quite good. Now they aren't perfect, nor will this replace your DSLR, but the pictures will definitely work well on social media. We found that in close ups - or macro shots - the camera did quite well at getting in all of the detail. There were some bits of noise that we weren't fans of, however. Some outdoor shots had blown out areas, which we've found to be the case on most of these sub-$200 smartphones as of late. Indoors, and in low-light, the camera also performed pretty well. In some pictures, it performed better than it did outside.
We've uploaded all of our shots from the Vienna into the Flickr album linked below. Allowing you to view the shots in high-resolution.
Display: While it is just a 1080p panel, it still looks nice and vivid, without being able to see individual pixels. It won't be good enough for VR, but you shouldn't be buying a phone this cheap for virtual reality.
Processor: We've tested many smartphones with the MediaTek MT6753 (seems to be a favorite among OEMs), and it lives up to past experience. Speedy, smooth and without lag.
Build Quality: I am really blown away by how good the build quality is here, especially given the price. I'd say it even feels higher quality than my LG G5, which cost around 3-4 times as much money.
Battery Life: The battery is pretty good, it's not the most amazing battery out there, but for the size, it performed past our expectations.
Camera: It's a pretty bland experience. We didn't really expect a ton from the camera here, given that it's a Panasonic sensor (one that isn't used often at all) and that there's not much software here to make images look even better than normal.
Fingerprint Sensor: As we've mentioned before, we hope that our issues were either isolated, or able to be fixed with an update. But it definitely wasn't a good look for Ulefone with the Vienna.
Capacitive Keys: My gripe isn't actually the capacitive keys, but the fact that the menu button is designed to look like a recents key. Make that look like a menu button, and we'll be all good.
Throughout this review, I had to keep reminding myself that this smartphone does cost so little. Which means my expectations were a bit lower, than if I were reviewing something like the LG G5, OnePlus 3 or even the HTC 10. However, I'm happy to say that the Vienna did surpass my expectations. I really had no issues with this smartphone, other than the menu capacitive key and the wonky fingerprint sensor. Everything else about the Vienna is amazing, I especially love the Smart Key, however it would be nice to be able to customize its functionality.
Should I Buy the Ulefone Vienna?
If you need a phone for checking email, browsing the web, playing some casual games, then yes. Definitely buy the Ulefone Vienna. If you're a more hardcore user, playing a lot of graphic intense games, doing a lot of social media on your smartphone, then you may want to think about the battery life here. The Vienna's battery is pretty good, but as always it could be better. That will likely be the determining factor for a hardcore user, is if the battery can get them through a full day.