Chinese manufacturer Cubot has a brand new budget smartphone on the way, called the Cubot X18 Plus, and the OEM sent us one early so we could give readers an in-depth look before it launches sometime in March. As its name might imply, the handset is actually the larger, more capable older sibling to Cubot's X18. Of course, it doesn't necessarily bear too much resemblance to that other device, most notably lacking a bezel-free folded edge display. However, it does pack a significant boost to specifications and screen size. The X18 Plus is also very comfortable in the hand, with a premium build, snappy user experience, and serious value in terms of pricing. This is a handset well worth a look for anybody in the market for a new smartphone, with very few caveats and no real deal-breakers, who doesn't want to spend the cash to buy one of the many top-of-the-line Android smartphones currently available for hundreds of dollars more.
With regard to the specs of the Cubot X18 Plus, the device ships with MediaTek's 64-bit octa-core MT6750T SoC on board. That's four ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.51GHz and four more clocked at 1GHz, with a Mali-T860 GPU handling graphics. Backing up that chipset is a generous 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage. A dual SIM slot is included, with the second slot pulling double duty to provide additional storage via micro SD card up to 128GB. That's all squeezed into a metal frame that measures 158.5 x 73.6 x 8.55mm and behind a 5.99-inch fullHD+ display with an 18:9 display ratio. The display resolution is set to 2160 x 1080 with a pixel density of 403ppi. That leaves very little room for the ultra-slim bezels and no room at all for any front-facing hardware buttons.
Above that screen, there is a 13-megapixel selfie shooter and an earpiece speaker, surrounded by all of the various sensors users have come to expect from a smartphone. Rolling to the glass-encased back of the device reveals a dual-camera configuration set in a vertical orientation. That's comprised of a primary shooter, set at 20-megapixels with a f/2.0 aperture, and a 2-megapixel sensor for depth sensing. The main camera is backed up by an LED flash. Below the cameras is a super fast fingerprint scanner which can read a fingerprint in just 0.1 seconds. A headphone jack can be found along the top edge of the Cubot X18 Plus. Meanwhile, the whole package is powered by a 4,000mAh non-removable battery which charges via a standard micro USB port placed between a single bottom-firing speaker and mic along the bottom. The price of this Android 8.0 device has, as of this writing, not been revealed. However, it is expected to go up for pre-order in March, with black and blue variations available. The cost will almost certainly be above the smaller Cubot X18 - which is priced at $115, roughly - but isn't likely to exceed $200.
Opening up the box reveals the Cubot X18 Plus lying face down with a pre-installed protective TPU case. The case has visible bumper protection to ease the impact of drops onto any of the device's corners and fits snuggly, leaving some front-facing lip to protect the screen in most cases. However, this is one device that, like many others, doesn't come with a screen protector installed. So buyers will want to factor in the added cost of screen protectors when buying this handset. Aside from the case, the X18 Plus ships with almost no amenities. It does include a standard micro USB to USB cable and an adapter of the standard two-prong Type C variety - suitable for its primary sales regions. Buyers outside of those regions will, of course, need an adapter that works with their own wall sockets rated at 5V/2A for charging.
Aside from the included SIM tool, a short explanation of the smartphone's compliance with regulations, and a user manual, there isn't anything else to speak of. However, the user manual included with this particular device is noteworthy for the fact that, although it doesn't include troubleshooting tips, it is actually exceptionally well-done as compared to some that arrive with new handsets. For starters, it's relatively short with each page containing instructions on how to use the device in no fewer than 8 languages. Those instructions are concise and to the point, showing users all of the basics of using their new Android device from unlocking to using the keyboard and using the email application. Each is accompanied by an equally clear, full-page image which is an exact representation of the X18 Plus and its interface. That means this could feasibly be a perfect starter phone for those who aren't necessarily accustomed to smartphones or Android.
It'd be hard to complain about a nearly 6-inch fullHD+ screen for a handset in the expected price range, even if that didn't include the slightly curved edges and minimal bezel found on the X18 Plus. However, those are features of Cubot's newest device and there's more to love than just the 2K resolution. This display has a contrast of 1300:1 and 16 million colors, covering 90% of the NTSC color gamut. With brightness rated at up to 450 nits, the device is usable in nearly every circumstance indoors or out - though it will wash out a bit on the sunniest of days. Meanwhile, touches, swipes, and taps are consistently registered quickly and the screen feels responsive.
Bearing that in mind, the company has not revealed whether the glass has any type of tempering at all. There's no mention of the use of any variety of Gorilla Glass on the device's website or in the packaging. While that doesn't necessarily mean that the Cubot X18 Plus lacks in advanced screen materials, it might be a good idea for buyers to ensure it remains in a case. At the very least, a high-quality screen protector would be recommended as a preventative measure against scratches and other damage.
Hardware & Build
Even in a case, the Cubot X18 Plus is going to fit very comfortably into most user's hands. The back of the device may be reminiscent of an LG but this phone has all of the smooth curves of an HTC. In fact, those curves help the device to feel surprisingly and pleasantly more slender than it actually is. The OEM hasn't actually provided specifications for this device's weight and that's something that's difficult to gauge but it is lightweight without being so light as to feel cheaply built. The metal surrounding the cameras and fingerprint sensor also add to that premium feel, as does the inclusion of two speaker holes along the bottom - although, as mentioned above, only one of those actually houses a speaker. In the meantime, the power and volume rockers along the right-hand edge are clicky and feel solid. Both the headphone and charging ports also feel well-built and snug. The fingerprint sensor works as advertised, with an uncanny speed for a device on the budget side of the spectrum.
Overall, this is a smartphone that feels well made, if a bit subdued. However, that's not to say that everything's perfect. Fingerprints, oils, and other substances are going to collect on both sides of this handset with some frequency and it doesn't seem as though there is any coating of any kind used to prevent that. Moreover, wiping those away with a cloth revealed that there are slight gaps in the metal surrounding the cameras and fingerprint sensor. The result was strings of cloth left behind which needed to be tugged out. What's more, Cubot hasn't revealed any ruggedized details for this handset so it would probably be a good idea to keep it out of dusty or watery environments.
Performance & Battery
On the performance front, we really weren't able to find much to slow this smartphone down. Even high-intensity games such as Real Racing 3, Asphalt 8, or Hungry Shark didn't cause any noticeable drops in frame rate or responsiveness. This handset doesn't necessarily have the best processor or GPU available, so that's most likely down to optimization and a general lack of any bloatware. In any case, despite that benchmarks don't show anything too spectacular, it's difficult to image this handset getting bogged down by anything other than the most demanding titles. The 4GB of RAM and MediaTek SoC are very capable. In fact, the initial boot up - which took entirely too long to complete - is the only area where any slow down was noted.
Battery life is equally impressive for a smartphone in the budget category. The X18 Plus, of course, doesn't come with too massive a battery and it isn't going to last a user for several days on end. However, the 4,000mAh pack supplied did admirably in benchmarks at around 50-percent CPU usage. The test ran for approximately 6 hours with the screen on the entire time. Real-world usage has seemed to match that so far, as well. That means it should last a full day for most users with no issues. Despite not advertising fast-charging features or including USB Type-C, the battery only takes around one and a half hours to charge completely from dead.
Unfortunately, it also needs to be said that we saw the device consistently shutting itself down while still at around two to three percent battery remaining. It's not immediately clear whether that's a result of this being a pre-release device and something that will, therefore, be addressable before it launches. It could also be the result of an anomaly specific to our individual test handset and is not necessarily a dealbreaker since the battery seems to be in good shape otherwise.
Connectivity & Audio
For connectivity, the X18 Plus features Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 2.4G 802.1.1 b/g/n, and cellular data. Cell service works with networks on the 900MHz and 2100MHz WCDMA frequencies for 3G and on bands 1, 3, 7, 8, and 20 for 4G. Meanwhile, 2G GSM networks are supported in the 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, and 1900MHz bands. That means it likely won't work with the vast majority of U.S. carriers but will work with a good number of global service providers. Unfortunately, we were using H20 Wireless and couldn't get the device to recognize our SIM card. With that said, a call was able to be made over a Wi-Fi connection and the quality of both mic and earpiece speaker was good.
In terms of audio quality, the single bottom-firing speaker found on the Cubot X18 Plus is, as likely expected, not very high-quality. Sounds emanating from within are loud enough to be serviceable for ringers, alarms, and notifications, but are exceptionally tinny. Audiophiles will likely want to avoid this device. However, audio quality through the headphone port and Bluetooth is substantially better with strong bass driving a more premium sound. Unfortunately, there's no way to adjust the audio settings out of the box so, while the audio will be great for many users, that isn't going to satisfy everybody.
For software, as mentioned above, this device comes with a near-stock adaptation of Google's own launcher. That means that everything should be very familiar to those who have used a stock Android device. In fact, only a few applications included on the phone, such as the text messaging application, the sound recorder, music application, camera, calendar, and file manager are AOSP or Cubot-made. Everything else is fairly close to a pure Google experience, including pre-installation of Google's Duo for video chatting. There's also no bloatware to speak of, with Cubot leaving the vast majority of this handset's 64GB untouched and ready for use by the consumer.
All of that is built on top of Android 8.0 Oreo, which means this device has all of the latest under-the-hood optimizations brought with the newest iteration of the software. Better still, the Cubot X18 Plus has the most recent security updates - with the patch level set on February 5, 2018. There's no way to guarantee, of course, that this handset will remain up-to-date on the firmware and software side of things but it is a nice touch that Cubot chose to launch this smartphone with the latest of those.
The cameras on the Cubot X18 Plus are another area where the manufacturer could have done just a bit better. The problems are almost certainly down to software since the camera hardware appears to be relatively high-spec. However, as with other budget-minded handsets, the images are not going to be the best with this device. Problems mostly come down to the graininess of shots, particularly in low-light situations, while well-lit shots are serviceable. In fact, under the right lighting, this device would probably suit the needs of the majority of users. There are plenty of filter options available and plenty of manual adjustments that can be made so it would be a bit too much to say that they are bad. Having said that, unfortunately, most everyday circumstances don't provide optimal lighting. Moreover, images with too much light tend to wash out other portions of a given photograph and even clicking over to HDR mode doesn't do much, if anything, to correct the issue. Overall, the cameras perform okay but that they certainly aren't going to fit well with any user who aspires to excel at amateur photography. This shouldn't be altogether surprising as its a problem present on nearly all phones below a certain price range but it bears pointing out.
The Good & The Bad
What makes the Cubot X18 Plus a great device is that it's beautiful but unassuming and comfortable to use as a daily driver. At the same time, it offers an almost pure Android experience with a near perfect hardware execution in a package that will most likely be under or close to $200. The glass coated back and metal sides house internal hardware in a slim and light package, despite the generous battery. The internals themselves aren't uncommon in budget smartphones but just seem to work better in the X18 Plus than in some others. That's likely thanks to serious optimization and the company's choice to not include bloated extra features but it results in a smooth performance that wouldn't be out of place on a much more expensive device. All of that is topped off by a brilliant fullHD+ display that's bright enough for most occasions and backed by a battery that will last just about anybody a full day.
On the other hand, this 6-inch category device also suffers the same camera problems as nearly all affordable handsets to come before. Photo software is not as well thought out as on top-of-the-line devices and it's immediately noticeable. Meanwhile, the speaker is tinny but loud - which can be offset by the surprisingly good quality of other listening methods available but which still wouldn't pass the test of any audiophile. Lack of ruggedization and screen tempering or hardening knock a few more points off of the board despite that this handset does come with a well-built slim TPU case.
Generally speaking, the Cubot X18 Plus is a great update to the original in phablet form. It isn't going to be the perfect device for audiophiles or anybody who wants to take a lot of images but that really isn't the point. Instead, this budget handset caters to users who need consistent power in a comfortable package. That the whole thing is rounded out by a relatively large battery and brilliant screen are an added bonus. Although the price of this device is not yet known, it would likely be a mistake for any user looking to buy a new device to overlook the Cubot X18 Plus.