The OUKITEL C15 Pro brings a modern design to the table without pricey frills
OUKITEL has been steadily releasing budget-friendly smartphones for years and steadily improving on those over time. Its latest handset, the OUKITEL C15 Pro doesn’t buck that trend but it doesn't necessarily follow it either.
In a nutshell, the result of that is a device that delivers an experience that isn’t entirely unique and doesn’t really seem to stand out too much from the crowd but which doesn’t disappoint on too many fronts. Aesthetically, some of the bigger changes over the last year are present and accounted for.
The latest software innovations are readily available via Android 9 Pie as well as a couple of hardware throwbacks to save on cost.
The end result is a smartphone that will likely act as a perfect go-to for those who need something cheap but don’t necessarily want to lose out too much on modern design or features. That's not to say it’s perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but at just $99.99 to $110.99 on average with discounts dropping the cost to as low as $79.99 to $88.79 it certainly won't be without an audience.
Not-so-budget design language ...budget materials
The design language used for the OUKITEL C15 Pro is actually right up there with that used on modern mid-rangers and some flagships.
The device did feel somewhat bulkier than a premium device in hand. But the rounded corners and edges, placement of the fingerprint scanner, and waterdrop notch coupled with tiny bezels mean that I never felt like I was using a budget smartphone in day-to-day use unless I stopped to think about it.
The materials used in the build, aside from the 6.088-inch 2.5D curved Dragontrail glass display at the front, are plastics. The rear panel feels a bit like glass in hand but is obviously not when viewed from the proper angle, showing all of the imperfections one would expect with polycarbonates.
The top-facing headphone jack and micro USB port on the bottom give away the device’s budget price placement too. Flagships have begun to forego the use of a headphone jack at all and USB-C has rapidly risen to almost replace micro USB as the standard.
Despite the small quirks, the color and comfort of this device are actually very good. There weren't any lose buttons or ports to be found.
Nearly the entire front of the phone is screen and the slightly-larger-than-premium bezels meant that I didn’t suffer from any accidental screen presses.
The colors the handset is available in go a bit further than might be normal across the board too. My test unit was the “Twilight” variant, featuring a deep black primary color with metallic fleck leading to an equally deep blue (or purple, in the right light) hue toward the bottom. It’s also available in dark green, bright purple, or a straight black configuration.
The gradient in the Twilight coloration is subtle, up until it isn’t, under direct lighting it becomes immediately obvious that the phone isn’t black. That gives this device at least one way to truly stand out from the crowd since so many aspects of it are simply continuing the trends being set by other gadgets.
I did also notice that the plastics used on the back panel did a much better job of withstanding near-constant use without building up fingerprints, compared to contemporary devices I've used. It's not immediately clear how that is accomplished here but did mean that while the plastics will still scratch easily, I didn't spend nearly as much time wiping it off as using it -- by about half. That just hasn't been the case with other budget devices comprised of plastics.
Features to match the latest handsets available and almost mundane
Features with this OUKITEL are going to fall in line with the latest Android has to offer outside of beta programs due to the out-of-the-box inclusion of Android 9 Pie. That’s nearly stock Android too, with AOSP features such as a Clock, Sound Recorder, Calculator, Phone and FM Radio App accompanying the usual run of Google apps. Security is, as of this writing, still within the recommended 90-day update window, set to March 5, 2019.
Using that software, from the UI to features and installed apps, shows OUKITEL’s commitment to refinement, making for an easy experience that was generally without frustration.
There’s no app drawer to be found here, setting the experience apart from other gadgets further. Folders and other methods for organizing installed apps are possible but that does mean all apps will be housed on the various home screens.
On a more positive note, aside from the Google apps, there’s almost no bloatware at all. Extra features are, as might be expected, identical to those found on effectively every OUKITEL handset.
There is a DuraSpeed feature, turned on via a toggle, to help foreground apps run better by tuning back background apps as well as granular control over which smart gestures are turned on. In addition to standard screenshots, Adobe Captivate is included in the Quick Settings tiles for easy screen recording with a swipe and a tap.
OUKITEL has included facial recognition and a fingerprint scanner here but there are some caveats to both. With the first, that works fairly quickly and ships with a few options. Users can toggle on or off ways to access face recognition in the menu -- from a swipe up to enable it when the power button is clicked -- and it can be set up to activate the screen for use in dark environments.
The second point is indicative of the issue with facial recognition in this device. Namely, it's based on a single camera without the aid of other sensors for accuracy. So while it's going to be better than nothing for security, it's not going to be foolproof.
The caveats with the fingerprint scanner, I found to be somewhat worse. While the capacitive reader does respond quickly when it responds, it doesn't always catch the fingerprint the first or even the second time. I ultimately shut the feature off entirely and just used a pin since I'd been using that so often anyway.
Bluetooth 5.0 is included here and means that audio and data transfers happen much more efficiently and can happen at a greater distance. Typically, budget handsets are using Bluetooth 4.0 or variants of that, so it was nice to see that OUKITEL stepped up there on this smartphone.
How does that match up with the internals and performance?
On paper, this particular OUKITEL smartphone would seem to be among the weakest performing handsets on the market. That’s because it only ships with 2GB of RAM, 16GB storage, and is powered by a new, albeit relatively underpowered, MediaTek SoC with four smaller ARM Cortex A53 cores clocked at 2.0 GHz.
On one hand, the storage problem is certainly real here, only allowing a limited number of applications to be installed. There’s more room than in many other gadgets thanks to the reliance on stock Android but it’s not going to seem like much if more than a few apps are needed.
That can be expanded via micro SD card and apps can be moved to that as needed if they’ve been coded to allow for that by their respective developers -- although that process still isn’t as easy as it should be.
The low level of memory also presents itself in the fact that not as many background apps were able to be kept running and it seemed like I was constantly waiting for an application I had just left to load up again. That’s mostly going to be managed by a combination of device-specific algorithms and developer decisions in coding individual apps too, in addition to requirements of each individual app.
In spite of that, the apps do actually perform very well when they are running to a point. High-end or intensive apps and games, where settings can be lowered, perform as expected, pointing a high-level of optimization. I noticed some lag in games such as Into The Dead 2 but they weren’t unplayable except where they're made incompatible by design and unable to be downloaded, to begin with.
Touchscreen interactions remained responsive through the overwhelming majority of experiences except where lag occurred, as expected. None of that seemed to have any impact on system actions or navigation either, so even where issues occurred there wasn’t a big enough problem to make the phone itself unusable -- as has happened and does happen with some gadgets on the market.
At the same time, resolution of that display only sits at 600 pixels by 1,280 pixels. It maintains a mostly clear view in most circumstances, irrespective of that, and that does help bolster a relatively limited battery capacity. It also leads to moments where high-definition content can become pixelated and space between the pixels is readily apparent.
The one aspect of this device I was completely unable to test is usability to make calls or send text messages. On the other side of the coin, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other connectivity methods performed admirably and that should too but this smartphone features bands that won’t work in the US.
Supported bands on the GSM side of things for 2G include 850, 900, 1900, and 1800 MHz bands while 3G WCDMA is supported via the 900 and 2100 MHz bands. LTE FDD bands 1,3,7,8, and 20 are supported.
Since Wi-Fi calls showed strong performance from both the mic and earpiece, this device should work well wherever it is officially sold -- in regions such as the UK, Europe, and Asia, as well as moderate band support in a select few other regions. So that’s really a non-issue but is worth noting.
Ease of repairs should be high but with a fairly big drawback
One of the first things I noticed when removing the OUKITEL C15 Pro from its packaging was that the sticker on the back panel provides a brief explanation of how to remove that. In fact, that was noticed as I peeled off the pre-installed protective TPU case to get a closer look at the handset since a portion of the back panel came away at the same time.
I initially thought I'd managed to break it right out of the box.
On closer inspection, the back panel comes off because the SIM slots and micro SD card slot are found under the panel instead of accessed via a SIM drawer. But the other thing I noticed immediately is that everything underneath that seems to be held on by standard Phillips fasteners.
I didn't venture much further into that since it's not really recommended repairs are done by anybody other than a professional but that should point to repairs on this handset being relatively straightforward compared to many other handsets available today. The exception to that would be the display, which is effectively buried under every other component but the fasteners should make that job easier at any rate.
Stepping past that, the removal of the back panel immediately points to one of this handset's drawbacks too. Namely, there's not going to be any real dust or water resistance to be found here at all. The back panel is held on via clips and there aren't any visible layers of protection underneath to stop liquids or dust from getting in.
That means that although this device is relatively cheap to buy, those who don't plan on buying one as a throwaway device will probably want to keep it out of situations where it can be damaged by those things.
About those cameras
On the hardware front, the OUKITEL C15 Pro sports an 8-megapixel and 2-megapixel dual snapper at the back and a 5-megapixel snapper at the front. The company says that’s coupled with a brand new algorithm that should bring improvements across the board.
The user-facing side of things on my test unit didn’t seem to be all that different front the stock AOSP software. Performance of the cameras themselves was fairly standard for a budget-friendly smartphone and lined up well with every other characteristic of the device.
Unfortunately, that also means it can’t be considered great in light of how well at least some budget handsets perform -- including some others made by OUKITEL.
As highlighted in the sample shots I was able to capture and share via Flickr, that means that there are a number of issues here and it isn’t immediately clear whether those are the result of hardware or software.
To begin with, while color accuracy and contrast between shadowy and light areas in shots are both good and even great in some instances, detail capture is 'iffy'. That comes down to two primary factors -- blurring and light balance.
Even in shots where the camera was held in hand almost perfectly still and the on-screen focus appeared to be locked on, shots still came out with some loss of detail due to blurring. That was particularly obvious in close-up macro shots that were taken.
I found myself taking several photos of a single object to get captures that were decently detailed when scaled up to be viewed on anything larger than this handset's 6-inch panel. That's despite that the camera captures at a resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels by default. A similar imbalance happened with the selfie camera as well.
Interestingly, bokeh, beauty mode, and pro mode did seem to be smoother and more accurate than many other devices in the same price bracket. Problematic artifacts in shots weren't immediately visible to my eye in any captures either, beyond the obvious shortcomings. Longer shots taken over a larger distance didn't seem to cause any big issues.
The issue at hand is that no amount of lighting adjustment or change in any other external factor seemed to rectify the problem mentioned above. Details only get worse as the light dims and artifacts do begin to appear in low-lit circumstances as they do with any smartphone.
A secondary problem occurred only when shooting from a dimly lit position and into any kind of backlighting at all. In those shots, colors started to get washed out.
In some shots, performance actually seemed better here than with some mid-range devices. Each of the problem areas can summarily be placed under an umbrella of inconsistency that wasn't entirely enjoyable since I typically use one of the better handsets on the market as a daily driver.
The cameras here are by no means terrible and will be serviceable in a pinch or for those who are just looking to save a few memories and don't want to empty out their bank account to do that. They just don't quite stack up to what I had as an expectation going into this review.
One truly good and one truly bad thing
Taken collectively, there’s really not much about this OUKITEL device to make it stand out that hasn’t already been covered. That’s not necessarily a bad thing at all because it meant, generally speaking, this gadget was just about as good as any device in its price range and in a few ways as good as those that cost more.
OUKITEL has obviously spent a lot of time getting any and all optimizations done right here whether in RAM or storage management or in other characteristics of this solid all-around smartphone.
One big area where this stands out in a positive light is in terms of battery life. Charging up the battery is not at all impressive, taking just over three hours to go from completely drained to full. That’s in spite of its relatively standard 3,200mAh capacity and the fact that other gadgets with similar batteries can go from dead to full in under two hours.
That battery does last a long time though, despite that I didn’t have any service throughout the test and it likely would have done better if I had. Between gaming for an hour or two, watching YouTube videos, listening to music in the background, and other activities, it took a full nine hours before the battery hit 10-percent.
Of that nine hours, the screen was active and turned up to full brightness for just six minutes short of five hours.
The battery estimate feature in Android 9 Pie stated that I had approximately an hour and four minutes of use remaining at that rate, with no battery saving features in use except for standby power reduction. This phone was effectively never in a full standby mode without anything running, so that’s actually pretty great.
Among the few aspects of this device that may ultimately drive a consumer away are its speakers. Nobody expects perfection or even above-average performance from built-in audio devices on a smartphone but these speakers are very inconsistent depending on the media that’s being played.
For clarity, on first listen -- listening to a frequency rich song that wasn’t too reliant on deeper flavors of bass -- I was pleasantly surprised by how good the bass came through. It didn’t hit too hard due to speaker size and was somewhat drowned out by highs when those were heavily present but it was audible. Mids were much more powerful than expected at the OUKITEL C15 Pro’s price point.
Switching to a different song to test that further, I immediately noticed no bass tones at all. Instead of popping through other instrumentation meant to serve as accent notes, it just wasn’t there. Now, that seems to apply almost exclusively to the lowest registers but almost every other smartphone I’ve used has shown some representation of those same tones.
Sound quality from the headphone jack or Bluetooth is actually quite good so it was surprising and disappointing that the speakers here are only really going to work for ringtones and non-music media playback.
Priced to move and probably worth the cost
At its relatively low price point set below $100 on average, the OUKITEL C15 Pro cannot be expected to be completely without issues. Whether its the minor problems in capturing a clear shot consistently with the cameras or the underperforming audio output, this isn't a perfect device. The display resolution is relatively low too.
Conversely, where it really matters in terms of making phone calls and software stability, there is quite a lot to love about the OUKITEL C15 Pro. Its modern approach to design and a nearly unique assortment of color options holds to the apparent suggestion that users don't need to be stuck without style or with a gadget that feels impersonal either.
What OUKITEL has done here is to strike a balance between tradeoffs that will suit fashion-savvy users without compromising too much everywhere else -- leaving no nasty surprises in the actual usability or readily apparent deal breakers in the meantime. So anybody looking for a device that works where it needs to and doesn't look like it was designed years ago would be remiss to overlook the OUKITEL C15 Pro.