The OUKITEL U23 is one of the company's best phones to date
OUKITEL is a handset manufacturer that may be more generally known for its abundant releases into the ruggedized handset market but among its latest Android smartphones, the OUKITEL U23 proves the company can go far beyond that niche. With a starting cost below $250, the device would seem to fit squarely into the budget category. Closer examination, however, shows that the OEM has taken great care in terms of optimization and design to offer a high-value handset that's at the top of its game. In fact, it wouldn't be unfair to claim the OUKITEL U23 performs very nearly as well at most tasks as a flagship smartphone that's nearly four times the cost. Its build quality is similarly great while the built-in dual camera seems to punch at above the weight of devices twice its cost. With consideration for nearly every aspect of the U23, it's safe to say it is one of the very best budget-end values currently available in the world of Android devices.
Starting out at just $213, OUKITEL's U23 is a 6.18-inch handset with a nearly bezel-free LCD IPS notched display set at a resolution of 1080 x 2246 and a pixel density of 403 ppi. That's packed into an aluminum frame measuring 153.5 x 73.2 x 8.7mm and weighing just 201 grams in a stunning blue to purple gradient hue that's coated in clear polycarbonate at the back to prevent scratches in the metal. At the front, the display is comprised of 2.5D curved glass at an aspect ratio of 19:9 set below an 8-megapixel f/2.0±5% camera. A fingerprint scanner is located at the back below a dual 16-megapixel + 2-megapixel primary snapper at a f/2.0±5% aperture. A
USB-C charging and audio out combo port are embedded in the bottom edge next to a single bottom-firing speaker.
Internally, a MediaTek Helio P23 octa-core is clocked with four ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 2.0GHz and four more at 1.5GHz. Backing that is 6GB of 1600MHz LPDDR4 RAM, 64GB storage, and a 10W wirelessly-chargeable 3,500mAh battery. Bluetooth 4.2 and GPS/GLONASS accompany the Wi-Fi and mobile data radios for connectivity. A dual Nano SIM drawer pulls double-duty allowing for storage to be expanded up to 128GB via microSD. All of that hardware is driving a slightly modified AOSP variant of Android 8.1 Oreo.
In The Box
Inside the packaging, the first item consumers are greeted with is the OUKITEL U23 itself with a slim-fit case preinstalled alongside a film screen protector. Under that is the standard Type-C wall socket adapter suiting the regions where this handset is available as well as an OTG charging cable. A warranty card, user manual, SIM tool, and USB Type-C to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter are included as well. None of that's too unusual but it is worth noting that the case doesn't quite offer any kind of front-facing lip for added screen protection. So buyers will likely want to account for the cost of an additional case when purchasing this device.
Hardware and Design
On the hardware front, as is often the case with OUKITEL's less ruggedization-oriented handsets, the U23 is a gorgeous phone. The color shift in the two-tone configuration is a smooth blue that moves rapidly to a deep purple hue at the edges regardless of what angle the device is viewed from. That controlled variance adds plenty of flare without seeming overbearing or gaudy, delivering plenty of style points on top of an already smooth design. Edges are all rounded out to complement the 2.5D screen and the polycarbonate in use feel very close to a type of glass, lending to the feeling that they'll last quite some time without discoloration or scarring. Its only real drawback is that, as with almost all polycarbonate, it collects particulates like crazy. The fingerprint scanner has a great matte metal feel and the buttons are smooth and clicky with no hint of undesirable give. With the exception of the wide front notch in the display, which is still a controversial design decision for any OEM, the OUKITEL U23 has a very premium look and feel.
Build quality is also quite high. All ports fit their associated cables or plus seamlessly and snugly without any wiggle. The speaker is loud and crystal clear without any distortion to be heard. The rear-mounted fingerprint scanner feels extremely fast compared to just about any other handset in either the mid-range or budget categories as well as a few flagships. The screen pops on almost instantly as soon as a finger is put in place. There are no creaks or groans from the body and no flexibility to indicate that the screen is likely to crack without a substantial drop or that the gapless design will start displaying space between its parts anytime in the near future. The in-hand fit is great thanks to a gentle curve at the back. Summarily, this handset looks and feels as though it belongs in a much higher price bracket. The value is very high compared to even devices costing upwards of $600.
Like the overall hardware and build of OUKITEL's U23 budget device, everything about the display screams quality. It may not be as high a resolution and isn't showcasing the latest in OLED panels. But it does have as high a resolution and color depth output as any other LCD display we've used and is about as close to OLED as its possible to be without the added cost of that technology. Much more importantly, it's very responsive and accurate to touch, bearing some similarity in those aspects to flagship devices from some of the world's top manufacturers. Colors display accurately with no sign of over-saturation and brightness is high enough for use even outdoors on a bright day without turning that setting all of the ways up.
Performance and Battery Life
This is not at all the first device we've tested out that utilizes a MediaTek Helio P23 SoC or even the first to ship with this type of battery but not all devices built on the platform are the same. In terms of benchmarks, Geekbench 4 placed the OUKITEL U23 in the same category as those other devices. That means that, at least on paper, it's comparable to other OUKITEL handsets on the performance front — as shown in the screen captures below. The battery lasted just short of five hours at almost full performance capacity with screen dimming turned off and brightness up.
None of that bore out in real-world usage though. Instead, performance was buttery smooth and the device was even capable of handling some higher-intensity games with settings maxed out. The experience of navigating the main system and most apps was comparable to that of a top-tier flagship. That's surprising but a true testament to OUKITEL's refinements and optimizations. The battery was better in real-world use too. Between six and seven hours of screen-on time, with a battery that takes just over 2-hours to charge and wirelessly charges with 10W fast charging made using the device feel decidedly premium.
Connectivity and Audio
Audio from the OUKITEL U23's single bottom-firing speaker is surprisingly very good. Most mobile devices are just plain terrible with regard to audio from the built-in speakers that but simply isn't the case here. Given the size of onboard mobile speakers, the bass isn't necessarily amazing but it's still present. Other tones are well-balanced too, leading to an experience that isn't amazing but is exceptional. Audio via Bluetooth or through the included audio adapter offered sound quality not dissimilar to any other current handsets. Since mobile hardware is becoming much more ubiquitous so there's nothing unexpected there but it is comparable to even the most expensive current flagships.
The OUKITEL U23 ships with dual-band Wi-Fi support under Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n and 802.11 n 5GHz profiles as well as with Hotspot functionality. No NFC reader is included but Bluetooth 4.2 offers solid connectivity, as does the navigation-based hardware. We weren't able to test mobile connections due to incompatibility with our MVNO but did make a phone call via Wi-Fi to test earpiece quality. That performed as well as can be expected on any mobile device and the mic offered clear tones to the individual we called for the test too. Of the compatible bands listed below, LTE Cat-6 allows for up to 300Mbps download speeds and 51Mbps on the upload side while 3G connections run at up to 21.2Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up, where compatible.
2G: GSM Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
3G: WCDMA Bands 900, 2100 MHz
4G LTE: 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2600 MHz. GSM Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
The software included with this device is, in just a few words, all but stock. That's not a bad thing at all since it means users can customize their experience to suit their own needs. That also leaves nearly all storage space wide open for their use. Google Play Store, Maps, Navigation, and Calendar are included out of the box, alongside a flashlight app, calendar, calculator, notebook, clock, and FM radio. Facebook is the only third-party software installed by default. Everything here is really well optimized, as mentioned above. That equates to a UX that is both familiar and very nearly as fast as any other device we've tested, with no surprises or anything unusual.
Motion and gesture options are definitely not standard but don't differentiate from the options available in most handsets. So is the option to swap around navigation software keys but aren't really outstanding or exceptional since many OEMs include them. However, there are two additional options in the notification shade that aren't typically included with a smartphone — LiveDisplay and Adobe Captivate. The first of those allows users to fine-tune their screen's color balance and includes settings for night-mode. The latter is Adobe's solution for screen captures, letting users record their screen in a video-like fashion.
The camera software isn't too outlandish either but includes fast autofocus, phase detection, face detection, HDR mode, continuous shooting mode, panorama mode, Self-timer mode, and various scene modes. It is not the best camera hardware we've ever tested by any stretch of the imagination but it is really quite good and noticeably better than other smartphones in the price bracket. In fact, it's comparable to many flagships in terms of color accuracy, shutter speed, and compensation for over or under-exposure. Autofocus could stand to be much faster but that's not a major issue. Every other aspect of the software is zippy and the hardware takes shots that are nothing to scoff at. Photos are shot at 4608 x 3456 pixels by default while video capture is at a solid 30 frames-per-second regardless of whether that's shot in 1080p or 720p HD.
As with the other software on the OUKITEL U23, there aren't any extras and the only real issue noted in captures was that heavy backlighting tended to wash out images. That's nothing unusual and was actually comparable to the Galaxy Note 9 in a quick comparison. That doesn't bear out across every scenario and the camera overall shouldn't be compared to that flagship phablet but in situations where backlighting caused flare-out or wash out, it genuinely was comparable. Shots taken in low-lighting or extreme low-light aren't brilliant but are as good as most mid-range or lower premium smartphones.
Exceptionally well-optimized hardware allows a premium user experience
The camera is fast and smooth with very good performance
Can handle many high-intensity games very well but not all
Very responsive UI and display
Fast wireless charging
Gorgeous color in a solid design
Audio quality is relatively high
Great battery life
Rear panel coating, cameras, and front speaker area are magnets for dust and particulates
No NFC capability
No headphone jack
Somewhat slow autofocus
The notch is almost as wide as the display
With very few drawbacks, an optimized performance that feels tuned to its best, and a price that falls well below that of even mid-range handsets, the OUKITEL U23 genuinely feels like a flagship to use. It's snappy performance and great looking design, coupled with a camera that's above par for its cost are only offset by missing features such as NFC, a headphone jack, and part of the display. None of those aspects are necessarily any better in most other handsets in the price range. Although this smartphone probably isn't going to work for users in the US, it goes quite a long way to show how far OUKITEL has come. Put simply, the OUKITEL U23 is an easy handset to recommend for those looking in the $200 to $400 price range and would even be a viable option for those who thought they'd need to spend much more in most cases.