For a quality camera, battery, and NFC at around $100, the Ulefone Power 3L is the one to buy — in areas where it works.
Buying a new Android handset can be a real hassle at the top-tier segment of the market and that gets worse as the budget falls and tradeoffs are made. As one of the most prolific smartphone manufacturers in China, Ulefone has a range of devices that cover the gamut of special use cases but its Ulefone Power 3L especially is out to prove that doesn't have to be the case.
Even at below $100 on average to buy, the Ulefone 3 spins convention on its head to offer an array of features that is stunning in its completion. To be clear, this is still very much a budget smartphone and, as is the case with others in the "Power" series, its most prominent attribute is its battery.
There are one or two quirks to be found as well as trade-offs to be considered but anybody looking for what is on offer here would typically expect to pay over $200 on a mid-range gadget.
Battery life for literal days
Now, I wasn't able to put this gadget completely through its paces because it doesn't support the bands on my US wireless provider. That means the assessment of the battery life will be somewhat skewed too and not necessarily in a favorable way since the battery can drain faster if a device is searching for service that isn't there.
Regardless of that caveat, I easily saw two days of use from the 6,350mAh battery using a hot-spot for connectivity. That remained the case even on days where heavier use of battery-intensive activities. That included a couple of days spent taking pictures at a local museum and zoo before uploading the over 1GB of resulting images. That equated to well over 10-hours of screen-on time with more capacity to spare.
Gaming or media playback obviously created a greater drain on that capacity but, even under those circumstances, a full day is definitely attainable. In fact, two days of use is well within reason from this gadget under that use. That is, in a word, impressive. It also means that under lighter usage, the Ulefone should easily last even longer.
Charging this smartphone through its micro USB port takes just over an hour and a half, with more than half of that filling up in under half the time via fast charging protocols. Reverse charging from the battery to another gadget happens at the same rate of up to 5V/2A too. So users can expect that to fill up most devices as quickly as possible too — and without draining their Ulefone Power 3L.
An impossibly good camera for the cost
When I started using the camera on this smartphone, my initial thoughts were that it was going to be at least as bad as what is ordinarily included on any device below $400. That's not an unfair assumption either since most devices under a certain price have usable hardware and software combinations that will work but which aren't really "good" from a comparative standpoint. In this case, that presumption turned out to be baseless.
The software with the new Ulefone Power 3L is straightforward and its 13-megapixel + 5-megapixel dual camera hardware, at least compared to the rise in "48-megapixel" budget cameras, isn't spectacular on paper. It isn't going to perform like a Huawei or Google device for night shots either.
Under effectively any lighting situation other than those, the resolution and detail results from this Ulefone budget solution are crisp. Color accuracy is high, rising well above the drawbacks of other devices in the price bracket.
Snaps that include are equally impressive, with the camera really only failing to keep up under a few circumstances or with HDR mode activated.
The full suite of software features are still present too and work as well as any other smartphone using lightly modified AOSP code. The selfie camera is outstanding too, whether used for photos or just as a way to unlock the device. I didn't actually feel the need to use any of those with the exception of a few test shots to check whether the camera was consistent across each mode — which it was.
The primary camera mode was good enough for daily use without adjustment as seen in the full gallery at Flickr.com.
After using the Ulefone Power 3L after as a primary smartphone for several days, I was forced to take yet another look at its price and conclude that Ulefone has done the impossible. There are certainly better camera phones out there, and it would be a mistake to expect perfection here.
The caveats to the camera will be discussed later on. When and where it does function properly, it offers a smooth experience with plenty of filtering, pro mode, and settings options that equate to a near-premium experience.
Bearing that in mind, it's going to take a whole lot of searching and possibly quite a bit of luck to find one that matches the Ulefone Power 3L in details without shelling out at least four times as much money.
Solid but not groundbreaking design
Due to the size of the battery in the Ulefone Power 3L, the device is substantially thicker than flagships but it's smoothly curved edges and slightly rounded back give it a nice in-hand feel all the same. The candy bar shape should, in fact, be familiar to anybody who's held a Ulefone device before.
That is also the source of the almost-premium heft of the handset which, at 220g, is almost imperceptibly heavier than a Samsung Galaxy Note 9. On a diagonal, the Ulefone Power 3L measures 6.95-inches, just shy of that other gadget while its display is noticeably smaller at 6-inches of 2.5D curved glass.
The bezels surrounding the screen aren't the slimmest either and there are obvious top and bottom bezels in avoidance of incorporating either a notch or display cutouts for the camera, sensors, or earpiece.
The buttons don't feel as though they have any wiggle to them but click through with a satisfactory click, as do the bottom-facing port and top-mounted headphone jack. The dual nano-SIM/TF card hybrid drawer feels equally well-made and fits snugly in the frame, leaving no lip or overhang to be felt.
The rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner is awkwardly small at first and has an oval shape. But that works exceptionally well too and doesn't feel out of place on the plastic-coated rear panel after a day of use. That actually feels like a softer glass to the touch, rather than feeling cheaply made.
For color choices, users aren't spoiled for choice and the Twilight version I was able to test out is likely to be the most interesting. That starts from a bright-toned deep purple hue and gradients into a color resembling 'furious fuchsia' while the gold and black variants match their own respective descriptors accurately for those who need something less flashy.
You get a feature and you get a feature too
One of the biggest features included on Ulefone's Power 3L, on the hardware side of things, is the inclusion of NFC and Google Pay. Under normal circumstances, buying a mid-range or high-end gadget, that's something that's not only common but usually expected. On budget devices, particularly with Chinese smartphones, that's almost always non-existent or replaced by an alternative that doesn't quite do the same things.
That means I was able to make payments and transfer some things I just had to have between this gadget and my daily driver device with ease.
There's still a headphone jack on the Power 3L too, coupled with a hi-fidelity chip that, all things considered, is going to be indistinguishable from many devices in a much higher price range. It's not perfect and there will be some audiophiles who will be able to note differences. To my own ear, the differences were negligible and this device far outstrips anything costing less than $200 that we've used when coupled with a decent pair of earbuds or headphones.
In terms of navigation features, the dual GPS and GLONASS module ensures the connection stays strong and accurate, which made traveling to unfamiliar areas a breeze.
Keeping with the hardware theme, Ulefone also includes a touchless unlocking feature — that doesn't work if security is set. That allows users to wave their hand over their device and unlock the phone.
For more secure unlocking, facial recognition is as fast and at least as accurate compared to the vast majority of this Ulefone's competitors. A huge assortment of accessibility and fingerprint gestures are available via the settings menu too and each of those is laid out in a straightforward, near stock Android 8.1 Oreo fashion. So users really can set things up to be simple and straightforward to their preferences with minimal hassle.
The gray areas aren't unexpected
Despite all of its envelope-pushing features — for a gadget in the sub $100 range — the Ulefone Power 3L is not without its faults. Fortunately, for the overwhelming majority of those, I found that the issues were either on par with or slightly less prominent than those seen in nearly every other device on the market in the sub-$300 price bracket. So they don't at all come as a surprise and basically are to be expected at the cost of the handset.
The first of those is in this particular handset's screen. Although it wasn't immediately obvious except in certain applications, the display on this device is not at all top-tier and comes in at a resolution of just 1440 x 720 pixels. That's not a very bright panel either but is usable under all but the brightest direct sunlight. Colors are nonetheless as vibrant and accurate as can be expected.
Another problematic area for those that might need a bit more from their handset is in the budget-friendly chipset — a bottom-rung quad-core MediaTek MT6739 processor clocked at 1.5GHz. That's backed by just 2GB of RAM and a paltry 16GB Storage.
Taken in combination with high levels of optimization, the drawbacks related to that hardware aren't immediately apparent in most applications or system-level tools and apps. With that said, the first place I noticed latency was in the camera. That's also got a very slight issue with oversaturating in bright sunlight but the issue wasn't easily recreated and the lag was a much more prominent problem.
After spending more than a full day filling the device's storage up with the above-mentioned images, media, and apps, the camera started to freeze up while trying to focus and had issues maintaining focus.
The storage on this handset can be expanded via SD card up to 128GB which might alleviate that issue but it was also noticeable while multitasking with any more than a half-dozen applications. It's not unusual for budget-minded gadgets to have these kinds of issues or to fail to run high-end games well, as the Ulefone Power 3L is wont to do. But there's nothing that can be done short of clearing out the memory periodically to solve RAM shortages.
Built-in speakers, while loud, were not well-made for listening to music for anything more than short bursts either. They aren't necessarily 'tinny' sounding but there also isn't any bass intonation making it through the rest of the noise either. As noted above, headphones and Bluetooth 4.1 rectify that and go beyond what should be expected but the speaker here is really only usable for notifications or movies.
On that same front, the earpiece speaker and mic perform at just above average but not well enough to label them revolutionary.
Last, but certainly not least, the OS itself — while well laid out and easy to navigate — is out of date by quite a bit since this Ulefone is still running Android 8.1 Oreo.
There's a comfortable familiarity with that version of the OS but it won't come with the latest firmware features and that's a fact that seems to have rubbed off on the security patches. That's only currently set to October of last year, meaning there are a few key security vulnerabilities that can probably be avoided with diligence but which also present a threat in their own right.
Here's why this is absolutely worth the cash …where it's officially supported
Problem areas for the Ulefone Power 3L could almost entirely be addressed via a software update — with the notable exception of the storage and RAM. But there's another issue here that may keep this from being the best device in its category entirely. It simply isn't going to be widely available.
Potential buyers can pick up the device from a number of websites and, at least on paper, the device seems to support a good number of bands. Those are also only switched on to support specific regions though — Ulefone confirms the Power 3L is intended for Europe. So somewhere like the US will see very bad band support while Europe will see widespread support.
Bands that are supported on 2G GSM and 3G WCDMA, respectively, include bands 2, 3, 5, or 8 and bands 1, 5, or 8. For 4G, bands 1, 3, 7, 8, and 20 are supported.
The fact that NFC is included will be enough to make this a go-to for either a backup or a daily driver for many users with phone budgets in its price range. A true two-day battery, solid build, features, and well-performing camera — with caveats — certainly doesn't hurt either.
Put simply, users who do take issue with its other drawbacks noted here will probably need to look at devices in a higher price category but this gadget goes quite a long way to fixing problems noted in the bracket in the past. So, in regions where those bands are supported, this phone will be among the very best devices available at its budget-friendly cost if not the very best.
At under $100, the Ulefone Power 3L does what others at comparable cost don't. It's not only comfortable to use but enjoyable.