OUKITEL's K9 scales up from the competition and mostly only where it should be
OUKITEL is among the most prolific handset makers around and it has gone to great lengths in its pursuit of new ways to set its devices apart. Among its latest accomplishments on that front is the OUKITEL K9. Where this device stands out is admittedly much easier to spot.
Like many of the company's devices, the K9's battery is relatively huge but instead of wrapping that in a thick bulky shell, OUKITEL has grown the casing of the device and screen while keeping things slim. The result is a handset that mostly stands alongside, instead of in front of, the average $150 to $400 gadgets it competes with while simultaneously offering more viewing space and sleek style.
The OUKITEL K9 is by no means perfect but it also shows maturity for the brand that is, frankly, missing to one degree or another from many of its offerings. Even for users in the U.S., where most China-based budget devices don't work properly, this absolutely isn't a device that should be ignored in its price bracket at just below $200.
With a battery only OUKITEL would squeeze into a phone this thin
The OUKITEL K9 is comparatively enormous. That much was clear without even opening the box and it's going to be for others who have used the brand's devices too since the bright orange box is noticeably so much larger. But the biggest feature of theOUKITEL K9 is arguably going to be its battery.
Setting aside the included an unusually high 5V/6A charging, that's not because it's a 6,000mAh unit either. It's around twice the size of the average smartphone. OUKITEL is widely already known to squeeze bigger batteries into its handsets and a lot of companies go this route.
The squeeze here is the real story. It may come down to just how long and wide this device is — at 7.12-inches — but it seems exceptionally thin for its battery size. That also has an impact on how premium it feels, which I'll get into in the next section on the topic.
What really matters here, however, is that the battery both holds its charge well and keeps this smartphone going for a long time as well as filling up quickly. I started my initial battery test thinking that I would be able to drain the device quickly due to the drain typically witnessed at setup.
I realized that wasn't going to be a feasible way to empty the phone's battery when that only drained things a couple of percentage points and decided it would be better to recharge and just do a more realistic battery test.
After getting the device topped off, I set to work using this as intensely as I might on my most boring day. I started by spending hours playing YouTube videos, music, and other streaming media and then a further few hours playing back videos. All of which was at around 75-percent screen brightness.
A couple of hours were spent playing hardware intensive — and therefore battery intensive — games like Pokemon Go and Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. Those are generally very extreme in terms of battery drain and usually have the capability to drain a battery to half full or much lower in just a few hours.
At 56-percent battery and after 24-hours of the above-mentioned use coupled with some day-to-day things like texting, web browsing, and calls, OUKITEL's K9 finally claimed I had just over a day remaining. Summarily, struggling to get a day of use out of this phone is going to be more difficult for just about anybody to accomplish than getting a full two days of use and upwards of three.
In fact, I originally thought after that first period that I wasn't going to be able to fill and drain this battery quickly or enough to give an honest accounting of how that works.
Fortunately, the battery charging side is just as good as its stamina thanks to USB-C and the abovementioned charging rate.
A full charge took me right around 1 hour and 21 minutes, using the included European charger and a suitable adapter for the wall plug. Getting a full day's use at half charge took no time at all and I hit 77-percent in just under an hour — which probably would have allowed for two days use if I'd had battery savings features turned on and brightness at a reasonable level.
The only feature that's really missing from this equation is wireless charging. While it's understandable that wouldn't be included with a battery this large, it would be useful for those who like to charge up overnight. Regardless, this is an impressive handset when it comes to its prowess at saving power and enduring a heavy usage day.
Where bigger on the hardware is definitely better
As noted above, this is a 7.12-inch smartphone and that is going to mean a lot of different things to a wide variety of people. For myself, it was almost shocking or surreal to pull from its packaging despite the fact that I presently use a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 as a daily driver. The OUKITEL K9 is just a hair shy of three-quarters of an inch bigger.
It doesn't seem too much thicker in-hand either, thanks partially to the oversized battery pack adding and balancing just enough weight to maintain a relatively premium feel. Realistically, that's because it's not much thicker — just 0.1mm heftier, to be exact — and it has a similar feeling curve at the back.
Put simply, the size here is comparable to a tablet with one extremely obvious difference. Namely, the bezels are so scaled back and slim that it doesn't quite feel like a tablet to hold. That made watching movies, reading a book or some news, or playing games absolutely phenomenal, despite the somewhat weak internals.
Although not without its own issues, the 2.5D glass water-drop style notched display is really quite good in terms of resolution, clarity, and brightness under almost any circumstances as well. It could have stood to be brighter, especially under direct sunlight where it was usable but not enjoyable to interact with. Responsiveness was great even after leaving the handset running through to its demise at zero-percent battery capacity.
The USB-C port and metal-backed SIM drawer fit snug, leading to near seamless operation. The smoothness of the frame felt as though it was matched only by OUKITEL's decision to add a shallow groove along the top and bottom edge, which kept the charging port's edges less 'catchy' than normal.
Those grooves also meant that the device felt much more grippy to me when held in landscape orientation, though it's really not too slippery, to begin with. That's largely down to the fact that it's made out of plastics that have a hardness that feels like — though isn't as protective against scratches as — glass.
Similar attention to detail could be found in the fact that the camera hump is only just barely raised from the rear panel. The fingerprint scanner — as fast as any other I've used, without bothering for a precise measurement — seemed to almost blend into the back panel. OUKITEL left just enough lip on the K9's scanner to ensure it can be found while adding a touch of comfort that just isn't there on other gadgets.
Finally, that extends through to the buttons found on the right-hand edge too. Even though the buttons are smoothed off to meet the standard set by the rest of the body, the volume rocker felt just big enough to easily distinguish from the volume button without much need to acclimate.
The keys are much quieter than what I've found on most devices but have that same satisfying "click" feel to them without the squishiness, indicating that they will most likely last a good long time.
Maybe a bit too big without the benefit of ruggedization
The size of this device is also a drawback. Using it with one hand is something that can mostly be forgotten about and using the slim-fit case that's included doesn't necessarily offer enough protection for comfort. That's despite the fact that it seems very well made. Moreover, there's no IP rating for dust and water resistance.
The latter of those issues only became annoying once I started examining other aspects of the device which we'll discuss momentarily. Meanwhile, the materials used here do collect fewer fingerprints than other device's I've had the pleasure of testing out that are made of similar plastics. But that doesn't mean they don't collect them or that it really becomes any less obnoxious over time.
Using the OUKITEL K9 with one hand during phone calls and similar tasks isn't difficult. I found that the real problem is chiefly there when trying to do things that require a lot of interaction or in apps that have UI stretched to the opposing sides of the display.
For instance, it's all but impossible to click on checkboxes in an email app one-handed since I happen to be right-handed and those UI elements are on the left. This might be brilliant for those with larger hands since accidental taps and swipes will be less likely there and the stretch won't be so far but that's not the end of caveats for the display and size either.
Despite the scale of the screen, the rounded edges mean that a small portion of UI elements are cut off. It bears noting that only applies to a fraction of a percent of a given element. The time displayed to the left of the water drop notch, for example, had a tendency to cut off a sliver of whatever number was the furthest to the left.
That's not noticeable in most apps but in some cases, it can become annoying once it has been noticed.
The lack of anything really bordering the display, meanwhile, meant that accidental taps and swipes were an issue, even if only when I tried to reach to the other edge instead of using two hands.
Finally, the size made holding the gadget for phone calls awkward from the perspective of personal comfort in a public setting. It just still feels out of place to hold a 7.12-inch gadget next to the ear, irrespective of whether it garnered any odd looks from passersby — and generally, it didn't.
Acceptable sound quality is met by a disappointing omission
The audio output from the handset itself was actually surprising in both its clarity and its bass response. It's not going to emulate the best sounding smartphones on the market and it's nowhere near what could be found in a comparably priced Bluetooth speaker. But it's not bad at all despite only pumping out music, video, and other audio from a single bottom-firing speaker.
Breaking down just what that means, I found the sound to be moderately tinny, just as it is with other smartphones because the speakers are absolutely tiny. They do seem to be louder and better sounding than other OUKITEL handsets too and that's likely down to — but not confirmed to be from — a larger speaker in use here thanks to the larger device size.
Bass tones rang through regardless of what I listened to across a number of genres but weren't heavily prominent. This isn't going to thump.
Audio via Bluetooth was much better than that thanks to Bluetooth 4.2 being used here instead of older variants but Bluetooth 5.0 isn't used so it's not going to be perfect for audiophiles. And that's going to be a problem for some pickier users since there's no 3.5mm audio jack.
The reason for not including an audio port is not immediately clear since aiming for an IP rating and reducing potential incursion areas obviously wasn't the reason for the omission. This probably can't be blamed on space savings either, all things considered.
For reasons that may or may not be completely unreasonable, that irritated me to no end. I found myself wanting to take advantage of the larger screen size for mobile gaming or media consumption but the lack of a headphone jack just kept getting in the way since I generally want the best sound I can get.
By comparison to other smartphones in its price range, the OUKITEL K9 performs admirably. Likely because of the speaker size, the range of frequencies that come through strongly is higher too. It's just not a suitable substitute for some of the best flagships or mid-rangers on the market.
This actually worked in the US!
Now, normally reviewing an OUKITEL-branded handset or any number of devices from other Chinese OEMs means that I don't get to test the full capabilities of the smartphone in questions. That's because they typically don't support U.S. bands, let alone those utilized by the MVNO I use for test devices. The K9 is an exception to that rule.
With some slight adjustments to the advanced APN configuration in the Settings application, I was even able to access 4G LTE in some areas where I live. Calls and texts worked out-of-the-box. That means I was able to properly test the quality of calls and data connections too.
On the texting and calling side of the equation, this handset works as well as any modern smartphone should, with solid connections and no more delay or audio anomalies than what would be seen with my daily driver on my network. That's good but, as hinted above, data connections were a different story.
Although I live in a relatively rural part of the U.S. I can generally expect to access 4G LTE and 3G with no issues where I typically use my smartphone. That wasn't the case here. At home, I was only able to access 3G and I had to leave the area to access 4G. Working out exactly why that was happening is something I wasn't able to do but it likely comes down to which specific bands were supported.
3G connectivity was solid. It was slow by comparison to 4G, whenever was stuck with last generation's top mobile connection technology but it was usable and stable. So this handset should work on at least 3G for most users in the region as well as in other regions this is designed to work in. The handset did come with a European-style plug so it's more likely meant to see wider support in those areas of the world and that's going to be a firm connection based on my experience with this phone.
The cameras work but are nothing to write home about
The camera software, like the rest of the software here, is average. It seems to predominantly be built around AOSP Android with a few very minor tweaks. Video, picture, "Beauty," bokeh, monotone, and pro modes are present and accounted for and each works as expected.
With regard to how the cameras themselves function, Beauty mode, in particular, is actually well done on this device, for those who are into that kind of image snapping — for clarity, I'm not. There are a few different features including skin smoothing, eye enlargement, and slimming and each does what its name implies with sliders to get everything adjusted right where you want them.
Pro mode, conversely, is super simplified here. A circular slider is in place with moveable icons representing the various adjustable settings and each of those, again, works as expected. The only exception to that is the complete lack of any HDR mode — at least that I could find in any of the settings or UI. That's disappointing in a modern phone, although there are individual options for various "scenes" accessible via the settings menu.
Switching to the water drop notch-embedded selfie 8-megapixel camera reveals an AR sticker functionality not dissimilar to what's available on some flagship handsets.
In terms of performance, the color capture proved to be just a bit brighter than I'd have liked since I favor a much more 'natural' hue but that touch of added vibrancy isn't going to bother everybody. That's also one of the best aspects of this camera, despite its lack of HDR controls.
Heavy backlighting doesn't translate well with the 16-megapixel and 2-megapixel dual sensors onOUKITEL's K9 and neither do dimly-lit scenes with external light sources off-camera. In the latter case, light-bleed shows through at the edges in a way that just seems far too prominent. As shown in our example gallery via Flickr, refocusing on brighter areas only causes shaded areas to become too dark.
Although I typically keep my indoors areas fairly dark — mostly to save battery life in terms of display brightness on all of my electronics — this camera performed about average. That means that artifacts started showing up relatively quickly as the lighting was lowered and details started to be lost at about the same rate.
The only major area where the OUKITEL K9 failed to meet my expectations was the focusing and light balancing on the software side. Both the initial focus period and the shutter speed, as well as the adjustments to the various settings, were sluggish.
That didn't make the phone unusable and could be fixed with an update. Those with older or similarly budget-friendly handset will likely barely notice, if at all. But it was annoying enough to dissuade me from enjoying the experience. Those also mean that capturing action shots does not, in any sense, feel intuitive — although they weren't any more difficult to snap than with similarly priced devices.
Average software, internals, and performance …mostly
Android smartphones have come a long way over the last couple of years in terms of optimizations and bug fixes, among other things. For the sub-$200 market, which includes the OUKITEL K9, that means budget smartphones have improved immensely and it's no longer going to be a problem for most users to buy a phone that isn't a flagship.
OUKITEL's K9 is an average Android 9 Pie handset in that respect.
Aside from some initial lag in the UI during initial setup — almost certainly attributable to the download of games and apps as well as sign-in processes and updates — the experience itself was buttery smooth. That was true in terms of both software and display responsiveness and in terms of hardware aspects like the fingerprint reader or physical button responses.
For the fingerprint reader, that's actually a very good thing here. OUKITEL includes a wide and diverse array of special features to set its K9 apart, going above and beyond the stock AOSP that seems to be installed at first glance. Among those is a group of settings, easily and intuitively discoverable alongside the rest of the fingerprint scanner's settings, that lets users control their phone with the sensor.
Summarily, the sensor can be used with gestures and measured presses to access the home screen, return to recent apps, take photos or videos, answer calls, as a back button, or to control the media player. That's aside from the equally easy-to-find gesture features that allow device motion and on-screen gestures to control various aspects of the device.
In the notification shade-based Quick Settings tiles, OUKITEL takes things further with the inclusion of a comprehensive screen recording button. That's going to be useful for those who want to record their gaming or other use since this phone does seem to handle those extremely well — thanks in part to a 2.3GHz octa-core MediaTek chip backed by 4GB RAM and 64GB expandable storage.
Screencasting is present in the Quick Tiles too, as are two blue-light killing features. One of the latter features is for general eye protection while the other is a much more prominent blue-light filter for bedtime.
Those can be controlled automatically and each is easy to find, making for an intuitive experience during my test that never felt like having to struggle to learn something new.
Aside from the utter lack of an app drawer — which I've always found very annoying — OUKITEL includes all of the software you'd expect. Namely, that's Google's software up to and including the Files Go app that seems completely unnecessary given the amount of storage available. There's a calculator, FM radio, music, and sound recorder app pre-installed, in addition to a pedometer and QR code scanner.
Expected inclusions from OUKITEL are present too. For those who haven't used this brand's handsets, that meant I had access to a special toolkit for DIY projects and to fit other life needs that OUKITEL calls "ToolBag." That comes with a Compass, SoundMeter, Pic Hanging level, Gradient measurement tool, HeightMeasure, HeartRate, and a camera-based "Magnifier," on top of a Protractor and even a Plumb Bob tool. Most of those utilize the camera to work.
Finally, System Manager is a tool OUKITEL includes for managing various aspects of the system similar to Samsung's Device Care features. In this case, OUKITEL goes a bit above and beyond those with a "Super Power" management feature that I really didn't feel I needed thanks to storage and battery available but it will be useful for some.
The feature includes the usual app cache and storage cleaner as well as the ability to autoboot up apps when the phone is restarted. It can also lock down apps, automatically clean up those aspects, and completely freeze apps. The latter acts as a way to uninstall apps and stop them from interacting with the system without actually uninstalling them.
Worth the cost?
The only remaining question is going to be whether or not this is worth the cost to purchase at around $200. For those who happen to be in the U.S., this smartphone may be something of a pain to set up due to the APN change requirement. If that and the huge size of the OUKITEL K9 is not a problem, this phone is definitely going to be a worthwhile buy.
OUKITEL has continuously improved its devices over the past couple of years and this phone is no exception to that. Its biggest selling points are going to be its 7.12-inch scale, the near stock software experience with intuitive to use extras, and its enormous multi-day battery that leaves almost no room for anxiety. The biggest drawbacks are mostly centered around low-light photography or its lack of ruggedization.
Put simply, OUKITEL's K9 is well worth the money for those who need a solid budget-friendly smartphone that won't die too quickly and leaves plenty of screen for apps, games, and entertainment.