A rugged smartphone for under $200 is almost too good to be true, but Ulefone has a great offering here in the Armor
When it comes to rugged smartphones, none of them look pretty, none of them have small bezels, and almost none of them have fingerprint sensors. And that's exactly what you're getting here with the Ulefone Armor. This smartphone isn't going to win any style points, but it is going to win some points in drop tests, and durability and for some, that's what matters the most. The Ulefone Armor packs a pretty large battery with a pretty power efficient processor, which should give you enough battery to last all day long. It's also running basically stock Android, which makes it seem like a great phone for those that need a bit more durability out of their smartphone. We've been putting the Ulefone Armor through its paces, so let's see how it stacks up.
When it comes to specs, the Ulefone Armor isn't sporting the most high-end specs, and that's to be expected given its price point. But it does have a 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 resolution display, which is protected by Corning's Gorilla Glass 3. Powering the Armor is the MediaTek MT6753 octa-core processor which is clocked at 1.3GHz. There is also 3GB of RAM inside along with 32GB of storage and a micro SD card slot that allows for up to 256GB of additional storage. It measures in at about 148.9 x 75.8 x 12.5mm thick, so it is definitely a thick smartphone, like most rugged smartphones on the market right now. It also weighs in at about 195 grams, and is waterproof with a IP68 rating.
On the camera side, there is a 13-megapixel camera on the back with a 5-megapixel camera on the front. The rear camera has a single flash, and that's about it. There's not much going on here when it comes to the cameras, and that's due to the fact that is not the main selling point of the Armor. The Armor is powered by a hefty 3500mAh battery and Android 6.0 Marshmallow. As far as connectivity goes, there is Bluetooth 4.0 included, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz form. There is also a gyro sensor, GPS, GLONASS, NFC and a compass included.
In the Box
Inside the box that the Ulefone Armor comes in, there's not a whole lot of extra goodies in there, but you do get a micro USB cable, a wall adapter, a screw driver and a headphone jack adapter. Now let's explain a few of these things. The screwdriver is needed to pop off the back panel of the Armor to gain access to the micro SD card slot and the SIM card slot. Then the headphone jack adapter is here not because there isn't a 3.5mm headphone jack, because there is, but because the opening is so narrow that some headphones won't be able to fit into the jack - the same applies to the micro USB port, since they are both at the top of the phone and are covered by a flap.
As mentioned before, there's nothing stunning or beautiful about the hardware on the Ulefone Armor, and that is to be expected. This smartphone wasn't made to turn heads, but it was made to withstand drops, or even getting run over by a car. And with that, we have a pretty thick bumper around the phone as well as some thick bezels. The Ulefone Armor is available in both black and orange, our review unit here is of the orange variety, and it definitely looks unique. As stated, there is a nice bumper around the outside of the phone. This serves as a way for the phone to take a drop or two and not actually get damaged, but it also makes the phone much easier to hold onto with added grip. The backside of the phone is also textured a bit, making it easy to hold onto.
This is a water-resistant smartphone, rated at IP68, so you can toss it into some water and it won't get damaged. That's why the micro USB port and the 3.5mm headphone jack are hiding underneath a flap at the top of the phone. However this flap is rather annoying. Since it connects to the phone in between the two ports, and the power button is next to it. There's not a whole lot of room up there, and actually most micro USB cables aren't going to fit in there to charge your Armor, so you'll need to use the one that came with the phone, as it's a bit more narrow.
As you'd expect on a rugged smartphone like this, we don't have on-screen buttons, nor do we have capacitive buttons. We have physical buttons. So on the far left is the menu button, followed by the home and back buttons. To access recents, you'll need to actually long-press the home button. A bit different from most other Android smartphones, but only takes a little bit of time to get used to, so it's not a huge deal in the long run. There are a few other buttons included here, one of which is located at the top of the phone and that is the power button. On the left side is the volume rocker and then there are two on the right side. The upper button on the right is the SOS key while the lower one is for the camera. Surprisingly enough, the camera shortcut really only works when you're on the home screen. But it does also double as a shutter key.
The Ulefone Armor is definitely a bit of a chunky smartphone, and that's to be expected. Given the hardware available here, the Armor seems to be a great phone for those that do drop their phones quite often or those that do work in construction and need something that can take some damage if need be.
On the Armor we have a 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 resolution display. That's a pretty low-resolution display, but that's also a pretty small display, even in today's world. The display is 4.7-inches, but when it's next to the LG G6, it actually looks to be about the same size, and that phone has a full inch larger display. Of course, that's due to the much larger bezels and larger casing on the Armor. The display overall, though, isn't too bad. It's not as high-res as we would like, but for the most part it does it's job. We've had no issues with the digitizer not working correctly, and we also haven't had any issues with seeing individual pixels, something that many people might be concerned with on a 720p display at this point.
The colors on this display are pretty much on point. It can be a bit warm at times, but it's not too bad, and the untrained eye likely won't even notice a difference there. Now this does include MiraVision, which is a nice addition, and it allows you to change up the picture modes here, and we did change it on over to Vivid, which made the display look pretty stunning. Of course, you can also choose "User Mode" and then adjust the settings to your own liking. Definitely a nice feature to have here on the Ulefone Armor.
Inside the Ulefone Armor, we have the MediaTek MT6753 processor running the show. This consists of eight Cortex-A53 cores running at 1.3GHz each. Now that's not a massively powerful or fast processor, but it is a processor that will sip on the battery and allow the battery to last quite a while, which is also important. This is paired with the Mali-T720 GPU for graphics and 3GB of RAM. All told, you should expect some pretty decent power and performance out of the Ulefone Armor, although it won't be on par with flagships like the Xiaomi Mi Note 2, Meizu PRO 6 or even the Samsung Galaxy S7.
During our time with the Ulefone Armor, we had a pretty good experience with the device. Performance was pretty good, obviously it wasn't perfect, but there wasn't much to complain about here. We did notice occasionally that when pressing the power button or home button to turn on the display, it would take a few extra seconds to actually turn on. But otherwise, performance was rather good. There was always plenty of RAM available, we never had to close any of the apps that we had open when using the device, to free up space and have a better experience. Even while gaming, the Ulefone Armor performed rather well. Of course, if you like playing some of those more high-end games, then you may not have the same experience.
Ulefone has placed the speaker on the back of the Armor, it's actually up near the top of the phone, next to the camera. This leads us to believe that the bottom half of the phone is all battery, since all the hardware is at the top. But the speaker isn't that great, to be honest. It does sound a bit tinny, and it doesn't get as loud as you'd like or really expect. Now it'll work fine for playing music or watching YouTube videos, but it won't provide you with the best sound. Basically what we are saying, do not buy the Ulefone Armor solely based on the audio quality, but on its other features, like its durability.
Phone Calls & Network
We did use this smartphone with T-Mobile here in the US, and it performed about as we had expected it to. The Ulefone Armor fully supports T-Mobile's 2G network, and does support their 1900 band on 3G and band 4 for 4G LTE. Which was actually rather surprising. For AT&T, it does not support 2G, but it does support two of their 3G frequencies, 850 and 1900, for 4G LTE it does also support one band, being band 4. So in the US, you can actually use the Ulefone Armor, but you won't get the best experience, especially if you live in an area that does not use band 4 on either AT&T or T-Mobile. Of course it goes without saying that CDMA carriers are not compatible at all with the Armor, that includes Sprint and Verizon. You can see the supported bands below.
2G: 850, 900, 1800, 1900
3G: 850, 900, 1900, 2100
FDD-LTE: band 1, 3, 4, 7, 20
TDD-LTE: band 38, 39, 40, 41
Of course, you can make phone calls on the Ulefone Armor, as you'd expect, and phone calls are about what you would expect. There's no HD Voice support here, so people you call will sound normal, and the same for people that are listening to you. There's also no VoLTE supported on the Armor, which isn't the end of the world, but it is something that would have been nice to have available.
As we typically do with smartphones, we ran three benchmarks on the Ulefone Armor. Those were AnTuTu, GeekBench 4 and 3D Mark. Now we didn't expect outstanding scores on these, seeing as this smartphone is a rather mid-range device, as far as internal hardware goes, and the scores did reflect that. On AnTuTu, it scored a 37,449, that was low enough to put it at the very bottom of the list, behind the top 50 smartphones. Over on GeekBench 4, we got a 593 on the single-core test and a 2393 on the multi-core test. Again, still fairly low, and it put the Armor at the bottom. Finally, over on 3D Mark, the Armor received a 195, which means it's not the best for gaming but it can get the job done. You can check out the full scores in the gallery below.
There's a 3500mAh battery inside the Ulefone Armor here, which is a pretty beefy battery, all things considered. That's even larger than most smartphones these days. Ulefone doesn't tout anything about how long the battery should last, but we've had it last us a couple of days on each charge. This is largely due to the fact that it is a mid-range device with a huge battery. So the phone really uses very little power. The 3500mAh battery should get you through two full days, or at least one very, very heavy usage day.
However, on the other side of the fence of having a large battery, is how long it takes to charge up that battery, and it does take quite a while. Since the Ulefone Armor is using a MediaTek processor (an old one at that), there's no form of Quick Charge or fast charging available here, so you are stuck with your standard charging speed, and that can take quite a while. So you'll definitely want to charge this at night. On the plus side, it's a good thing that this phone lasts the entire day, so you don't need to top it off during the day.
The Ulefone Armor is running slightly outdated software here, we are looking at Android 6.0 Marshmallow along with the September 5th, 2016 security patch. A security patch that is technically 6 months old now, and for security that is way out of date. While we've been using this device, we have not gotten any software updates, so it's tough to say when or if the Armor will get any further updates, bringing it to Nougat, or in the least, a new security update.
This is mostly stock Marshmallow here on the Armor, there are a few cosmetic differences here, but not many. Starting in the quick settings. When toggles are toggled on, they will turn a sort of bronze color, while they are a bit silver when toggled off. Now in the settings, there are icons next to each setting, and they actually look like buttons, which is pretty cool, actually. Otherwise, there are no changes here from stock Android 6.0 Marshmallow. There is a setting for the SOS button, which allows you to enter in your emergency contact so that when you press that button, it'll contact that person for you. That's actually a pretty cool feature when you think about it.
We do have an app drawer here on the Armor, which is a nice addition, it's a horizontal sliding app drawer with about 20 apps on each page (5x4 drawer). Speaking of apps, there are no extra apps installed here. You'll find a few Google apps, and then the usual system apps included here. The only app that you will find that you may not be used to seeing on a smartphone is actually the one for the FM Radio. That's a feature that's not that popular on this side of the world, but is much more popular in Asia.
Overall, the software was pretty fluid. Of course, that is to be expected, considering this is essentially AOSP on a smartphone with more than capable specs. I, personally, could have done without the changes to the icons, but that can mostly be taken care of with an icon pack and a third-party launcher, so that's not a bad thing either. The only issue we have with the software here is the fact that it is so out of date.
The camera on the Ulefone Armor isn't anything special. It's not a feature that the company is really bragging about, so we didn't expect much out of the camera, and that's about what we got. Just to recap, Ulefone has a 13-megapixel sensor on the back of this phone with a single LED flash, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. The software is very basic here as well. Only giving us two modes, panorama and auto. There's not even a manual mode included here, which is actually a bit of a surprise. These days, it's hard to find a phone without a manual or professional option. We do get the usual filters, and the ability to use HDR. As you would expect, with HDR enabled, the phone takes photos quite a bit slower. So for the most part, we had HDR turned off.
We took quite a few pictures on the Ulefone Armor, while we were in New Orleans with Sprint and Qualcomm, and even took some at the Raptors/Pelicans game that night. And the pictures came out pretty mediocre. A few looked really good, while some of the others had blown out backgrounds, which is actually common on smartphones in this price range, but that's still not an excuse in 2017. With many people dropping their normal point-and-shoot cameras in favor of their smartphone, everyone is wanting a good smartphone camera, and unfortunately the fact that the Ulefone Armor doesn't take good photos every single time means that we can't recommend it to everyone for the camera.
All of the pictures that we took during the review period are in the Flickr gallery below, so you can check out the full resolution and see how they are for yourself.
Outdated software, no word on when or if updates will arrive.
Camera is mediocre
Micro USB instead of USB-C
No fingerprint sensor
Poor speaker quality
There's a lot of good, and a fair amount of bad, when it comes to the Ulefone Armor. It is nice to see a few more rugged Android smartphones coming onto the market. There is a market for smartphones like these, even if it is fairly niche at this point. Those that work at construction sites are definitely going to find this smartphone useful. But it's hard to overlook the outdated software and the camera. The camera is mostly forgivable, since you can get some pretty decent photos out of it, but it would be nice if it were a bit more consistent.
Should you Buy the Ulefone Armor?
That's going to depend on a few things. If you're one that is constantly dropping your smartphone, or need a waterproof phone, then the Armor is definitely worth taking a look at. But it's also important to remember that you are paying under $200 for this smartphone. So if you can afford a bit more on a new phone, there are plenty of other options out there. But the Ulefone Armor is likely the cheapest smartphone that is rugged, waterproof and actually somewhat up-to-date and has decent specs. So it is worth taking a look at, but just remember that it's not going to compete well with something like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active.