OUKITEL went completely against the grain with the U25 Pro's style and it kind of works
OUKITEL is among the most prolific Android handset OEMs on the market today, constantly making iterative updates to its gadgets and improving at a rapid clip over the past couple of years. So, when the opportunity to try out the OUKITEL U25 Pro came along promising an even better experience than some previous devices from the company, I was eager to put the new smartphone through its paces.
Rather than something groundbreaking through in terms of the latest advancements from battery and camera to display tech or design, what I found was a throwback to a previous era of the category.
Available in two color configurations and in a single hardware variant, keeping things simple for consumers, this device doesn't go in for notched screens or massive screen-to-body ratios. Set at a retail suggested value of $134.14 to $146.33 and often sold for between $109.99 and $119.99, the OUKITEL U25 Pro bucks other trends too.
That leads to several flaws that we'll cover later on, as it turns out this not a perfect handset in any sense of the word.
However, none of that means this gadget doesn't have its own target audience or that it's bad compared to other devices in its price bracket. Not only is it undeniably true that not everybody likes or appreciates the latest design trends in the market. There is actually still quite a lot to like about the OUKITEL U25 Pro.
Party like HTC's back in fashion in an absolutely gorgeous color
Among the most noteworthy aspects of the OUKITEL U25 Pro is its relatively old-school design language. To begin with, it was immediately noticeable to me how much wider this smartphone is compared to the modern design direction. At 1080 x 1920 resolution and just 5.5-inches from corner to corner, the U25 Pro is decidedly more squat and smaller in general than its contemporaries.
The company has also accented the smooth curve of the polycarbonate back panel — which feels remarkably glass-like — with an aluminum-titanium alloy edge and a 2.5D front LCD panel made by LG. Bezels at the left and right-hand edge are slim but the 'chin' and 'forehead' are classically large.
The one problem I had with the rear panel taking away from the premium feel is how quickly and intensely it gathers fingerprints and smudges. Those were a near constant annoyance here, unfortunately.
The only accent that takes away from the premium in-hand feel, though, is the slightly raised bump of the rear-firing speaker, fingerprint scanner, and camera hump — each raised to about the same tiny degree from the rear panel. Those aren't too distracting. The entire design is just familiar and solid in a direction other devices aren't taking.
The colors OUKITEL has gone with for its U25 Pro aren't too far out there but look good with the more traditional aesthetic. The device I tested was a "Twilight" variant. It turns out that can mean a lot of things in the world of marketing because this is actually an almost black purple color with a metallic fleck in a gradient pattern.
Unless this gadget is hit by exactly the correct angle of light at an appropriate brightness, its color looks like a crystalline black accented by a brighter purple on the fingerprint scanner.
The other color available is a matte-looking grey hue that gives the handset a more stately and serious aesthetic.
The only real drawback to this design is that it looks slightly out-of-place among most other devices in its category but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There is a fairly big subset of users who loved the old candy-bar style smartphones and this fits neatly into that category's peak design period. It's not for me but it's going to be perfect for some consumers.
The buttons here are clicky and feel nice while the fingerprint scanner responds as rapidly as any other on the market. There doesn't appear to be any IP rating so the OUKITEL U25 Pro probably shouldn't be used in very dusty or wet environments, although the included slim-fit clear TPU case does offer some protection and fits well.
There's no 3.5mm headphone jack either — holding with at least some modern trends. A USB-C headphone adapter is included instead.
A respectable battery and performance to match
Thanks to relatively low-powered internal components — an octa-core MT6750T clocked at 1.5GHz backed by 4GB RAM and 64GB storage — battery life with this particular OUKITEL handset is above acceptable.
Now, that didn't seem as though it was going to be the case at first since I took the OUKITEL U25 Pro from 40-percent to completely dead in just under two hours on the initial startup and with moderate exploration. That also involved all of the sign-in activities required with a new smartphone and some relatively intensive use but was still surprising.
After charging the device up via USB-C "fast charging" at 5V/1A for just over 3-hours and 11-minutes, that drain leveled off. That is a long time to charge up any modern smartphone but afterward, that 3,200mAh battery lasted through around 6-hours and 15-minutes of constant use.
That's only including 3 hours and 20 minutes of screen-on time for playing games such as Tiles Hop, Mortal Kombat, and the like, in addition to YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play Music. But there wasn't a moment during that over-6-hour period where the device wasn't in use and with no battery saving features enabled. 10-percent and an estimated 40 minutes remained at that point.
Battery life is not impressive but is to be expected with consideration for how well the device itself performed. The touchscreen stayed responsive through all of those activities and was bright enough for use outside — though not under direct sunlight. It's worth noting that battery time includes the handset constantly looking for a connection too.
The apps themselves ran well and I didn't notice any lag except one instance for around a second or two while playing Mortal Kombat and Into The Dead 2. That's not shocking since this is effectively entry-level hardware and it's not meant to go all-out in mobile games.
That level of performance stayed consistent throughout my use of the device, showing above-par optimization at the OUKITEL U25 Pro's price point.
There may (or may not) be a problem in the software here
Despite the high level of performance for the hardware and reasonable battery life to match, there may actually be one larger issue with this device in terms of software that potential buyers will want to be aware of. Since these are software quirks, they could easily be fixed with an update — as could any of the real problems noted in this review. That doesn't make them any less important.
Namely, OUKITEL has shipped this device with Android 8.1.0 Oreo. Budget-minded and mid-range devices have now begun shipping with Android 9 Pie and all that entails. This one won't and the security during my review was far out of date too — listed as December 2018.
What that means for end users is that this device will be somewhat less secure than it could be.
A larger problem I noticed in the hardware was caught very early on and affected the notification shade and Quick Settings panel. Not everybody uses those UI elements to the same degree but in this case, they actually couldn't be used at all after I rebooted the device following the initial startup.
Upon loading up the home page and moving to adjust screen brightness to a more reasonable level, I noticed that the entire Quick Settings panel was gone. In its place was a blank white space where the panel used to be with the exception of the small dot denoting the current brightness level. That persisted through several restarts until I hard reset the device back to factory settings.
Notifications from apps still showed up but not those from system apps.
After restarting, everything seemed to fix itself and over the course of a few weeks that didn't change. So this may just be a teething issue with the specific device I tested instead of the entire device line. At very least, it's good news that a hard-reset appears to fix whatever was causing it, although it could feasibly crop up again from time to time over long-term use. With any luck, a future update will eliminate the problem.
That was the sole issue I noted with the software at the system level, which appears to be almost entirely stock Android 8.1 on the OUKITEL U25 Pro.
The sound here is par for the course
Sound is another area where the OUKITEL U25 Pro feels like it stacks up well against competitors. Expectations regarding the quality of audio from smartphone speakers should never be set too high due to their small size and these sounded like they were only slightly less powerful than what can be had for a lot more money.
That means that while frequencies across the board are audible, they don't provide a lot of punch and there's a certain level of tinniness in higher tones. The USB-C 3.5mm adapter alleviates some of the problems that plague every handset for those who prefer their audio over buds or headphones but aren't spectacular either.
Unless a user happens to be an "audiophile" or is making a real-time direct comparison — and as long as a decent listening device is used — they aren't likely to notice a major difference from other mobile devices. There's just nothing to set this device apart on the audio front as being much better than anything else that's available.
It bears repeating that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The level of consistency here means that although nobody's going to be blown away, there won't be any disappointing surprises either.
Photo and video captures are appreciable, imperfect
The forward-facing selfie camera on OUKITEL's U25 Pro performs just about as one might expect and similarly in terms of quality to its Sony IMX135 dual camera. Placed dead center, those are 13-megapixel and 2-megapixel snappers and, as with most devices under a certain price, quality of captures here is hit-and-miss.
In terms of the software, thanks mostly to the use of AOSP, the camera's stylings and features fit in well with the now-old-school motif of the handset itself. The interface is minimal with a top-row carousel for modes, deeper settings tucked beneath a gear icon, and classic filters underneath an arrow icon on the left.
There's nothing really out of place in any of those UI elements and the software is great, with no lag and a shutter that performs well enough that I was able to capture what I wanted without worrying that I'd miss anything.
Performance in photos themselves is where things get a bit strange. The colors and shadows captured by the U25 Pro are well done and accurate, even with HDR mode deactivated. The contrast in shots with huge variances in lighting goes a bit high and details tend to get lost. In low light, performance is adequate as compared to similarly-priced smartphones and pixelation is a tell-tale sign this doesn't contain any features of high-end models.
Following along with imperfections with this camera, the "blur" mode — meant to create a user-controlled focus on a subject — feels way out of date. That's a radial blur with some fine tuning but it doesn't meet well with the "bokeh"-style standards users have come to expect. Fortunately, that's offset by an actual bokeh effect that leaves some pixelation in the background but appears to find subject edges with high accuracy.
The primary caveat to the bokeh effect is that between 1.5 and 2-feet of distance from the subject, the camera has a very difficult time finding the object it's supposed to focus on. In those cases, the camera sometimes focuses on the background, applying bokeh to the foreground and subject instead. That's something that a subsequent software update could most likely fix but does mean that, for now, getting up close to take shots of smaller objects or details can be a chore.
Similar minor pitfalls plague the "Beauty" mode as well, although the results are obviously going to be subjective. In my opinion, the fuzzy and almost "dreamy" look created by some smartphone cameras is terrible and this phone doesn't create those kinds of shots. Instead, the blemish remove seems natural up until the effect is turned up to 75-percent or higher. After that, things start looking plasticky.
Setting all of that aside, this just isn't going to be a brilliant camera phone. That doesn't seem to be its point either, with OUKITEL's focus here appearing to be on creating a generally well-rounded device. That describes the shooter on the U25 Pro perfectly. It performs well under most conditions, color accuracy is good, details captured are fine, as shown in our sample gallery via Flickr.
For its price, this camera is par for the course when compared to its well-made contemporaries — leaving behind many of the offerings in the bracket while falling short of anything special.
No data for me and but that's not a problem
One feature of this smartphone that I couldn't test was how it actually works as a phone. No connection was available in the US on any carriers because this device is primarily suitable for bands in Europe and Asia. Supported bands include 2G: GSM at 850, 900, 1800, or 1900MHz; 3G: WCDMA at 900 or 2100MHz; and 4G: FDD LTE on bands 1, 3, 7, 8, and 20. Multiple regions or carriers can be used at different times thanks to a hybrid dual-nano SIM slot.
Having said that, I was able to test out the earpiece speaker via a VoIP call and that side of networking was not only solid. It was also better than many premium devices I've tested in terms of distance I could travel from the router before it disconnected. The earpiece performed on par too, as did the mic based on feedback from those I called.
If the mobile connectivity strength matches up with the strength of Wi-Fi or the Bluetooth 4.0, it wouldn't be unfair to say this gadget is going to serve well anywhere it's supported.
Worth the money?
The question of whether or not the OUKITEL U25 Pro is worth the purchase comes down almost entirely to personal preference. With the sole exception being the lack of an IP ruggedization rating, the specs and performance across the board with this gadget seem to be just about on par the upper reaches of devices in the "budget" category.
This is a device that won't play the most intensive new Android titles without flaw and isn't going to multitask dozens of apps all at once. It's not without flaws but it's solidly built and consistent in performance. AOSP rounds all of that out with a familiar experience in terms of interacting with Android 8.1.0 Oreo.
So for those shopping in the category, this is almost all going to come down to styling and design. If a great IP ruggedization rating and the very latest software and security are required, this simply isn't going to be the one. If you happen to like a classic wide-format LCD screen and the smooth curve of the back panel — matched by rounded corners and larger bezels — are more your thing at less than $150, this is going to be one to consider for sure.