Review

A review of the Oukitel U13 - jump in the low end

For the past year, as I’ve moved away from Microsoft’s mobile efforts, I’ve entrenched myself deeper and deeper into the Android ecosystem. As part of that transition, I’ve skated down the price scale to see what the market looks like and what consumers can expect at different price points. I’ve looked at devices redefining flagships, like the OnePlus 3T, firmly in the $400 range, and at those aimed at discerning consumers like the Elephone S7, going for $250. Now I’ve jumped in at the lowest end of the smartphone market, just around the $100 price tag. For this part of my little experiment, I’ve taken a look at two devices, the Oukitel U20 Plus and the Oukitel U13. Both are available just above and below that $100 price point, and promise to offer a lot without breaking the bank.

This quick review deals with the Oukitel U13, a device that’s currently priced at $119, but which would generally retail for around $150. This handset, aimed at those looking for a budget phone, was originally supposed to come out last summer, but due to manufacturing issues, it was pushed back. It finally launched to market recently, promising to raise the bar for very affordable devices. So let’s see how it does.

Design

For the most part, Oukitel seems to have given quite a bit of thought to the look and feel of this device. From its brushed aluminium body, to the 5.5-inch display, to its slim profile, this phone hits above its weight. Despite a few tiny niggles, like the plasticky looking antenna lines, this handset is of good build quality.

Its slim profile, amplified by the 2.5D curved screen, chamfered aluminium edges and slightly curved back make it comfortable to hold and easy to keep a grip on – though the aluminium back does work a bit against you on that front. Weight distribution is a tad weird with this device: it’s not too light or heavy, but the top side with the screen feels heavier than the backside, leading to a weird effect where the back of the device feels hollow. You do get used to this quickly, but even after a few days of use I still couldn’t totally escape the feeling that I could bend the back of the device if I pressed on it hard enough – even though I couldn’t when I applied a reasonable bit of force on it.

The device’s corners are a bit on the square side, a design that reminds me of Sony’s line of mobile handsets. This isn’t a negative aspect, and it mostly comes down to your personal stylistic preference. Me personally, I seem to prefer slightly milder curves on the edges and corners of a device.

The 5.5-inch screen on the front is bordered by bezels on all sides. Up top, you’ll find the front-facing camera, speaker grill, and proximity sensor. Below the screen, there’s nothing, as the phone doesn’t have any physical or even capacitive navigation buttons. Instead, it relies fully on software. Given this trait, I’d much rather have preferred if it had a considerably smaller bezel under the screen. I’m guessing the company kept it like it is partially for aesthetic symmetry, but for me, it just feels like unused, useless space.

The left side of the device is home to the power and volume buttons, while the right side hosts the dual-SIM tray. Like its Oukitel U20 Plus cousin, the U13 can host multiple SIMs or a memory card by utilizing both sides of the SIM tray. It’s a small, but ingenious bit of engineering, which I appreciated.

The back side of the phone, made up of the aluminium unibody, encases the 16-megapixel world-facing camera, together with the double-LED flash and fingerprint scanner. There’s a slight camera bump, as so many of today’s devices feature, which users should be careful to keep safe.

The top side of the device holds the 3.5mm headphone jack while the underside of the handset is home to two speaker grills, a microphone, and a micro-USB port.

Display

The Oukitel U13 has a 5.5-inch, 1080p, LCD, IPS display made by Sharp. It’s essentially the same one used in the U20 Plus, and features many of the same strengths and flaws that I mentioned there. The first thing I noticed was the profuse blue light that came from the backlight of the screen. It’s tinged in such a weird way that I generally find it uncomfortable to look at when coupled with a white background and a high brightness setting. The effect isn’t as pronounced as the one on the U20 Plus, which is good because, with the U13, users no longer have access to the myriad of screen color settings that was present on the other handset.

There was also a weird issue where swiping seemed to register inconsistently. I couldn’t find out whether this was the screen’s fault or the software, but every once in a while, swipes didn’t register at all, forcing me to do the same action a bunch of times. It’s a worrying aspect for me, which harkens back to the old days of Android smartphones, even if it only came up sporadically.

With all those negative out of the way, however, I have to say the screen offered a very good viewing experience on the whole. Yes, the blue tinge is occasionally annoying, especially when dealing with white/grey backgrounds, and blacks slide more towards blueish greys thanks to the LCD screen, but neither of those aspects detracted from the experience. Color popped on this display, and movies looked beautiful. Viewing angles were as good as you could expect on a modern smartphone, and the screen is bright enough for any occasion – noticeably brighter than the Oukitel U20 Plus.

Specifications

In order to get a clearer picture of the capabilities and limitations of the phone, one has to look on the inside. So here’s a quick look at the Oukitel U13’s specifications:

Dimensions 149 x 75 x 7.8mm
Display 5.5-inch IPS LCD 1920 x 1080 px
CPU MediaTek MT6753 Cortex-A53 quad-core @ 1.3GHz
GPU ARM Mali T720-Mp1 @ 650MHz
RAM 3GB
Storage 64GB, expandable by MicroSD up top 32GB
Camera 16-megapixel primary, 13-megapixel secondary
Battery non-removable, 3,000 mAh
Other

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Fingerprint scanner

Dual SIM

Performance

The U13 handset is powered by an octa-core MediaTek MT6753 SoC with a 64-bit processor capable of reaching 1.5GHz, coupled with 3GB of RAM. Because the handset was delayed by nearly half a year, the system-on-a-chip that’s powering it is significantly older than the ones found on most new devices. At this point, the MT6753 is about a year and a half old and somewhat underpowered. As such, I didn’t have high hopes for it.

Luckily, the phone performed better than expected. Yes, there were occasional stutters when scrolling, a few pages took longer than usual to render but none of it was infuriating or unreasonable.

In terms of benchmarking, looking at PCMark’s Work 2.0, the phone was quite close to the Oukitel U20, scoring about 2850 points on average. However, this is a perfect instance which shows why you shouldn’t necessarily rely on benchmarks to judge a device. Despite having similar scores, my experience was quite different with each device. The Oukitel U13 was mostly fluid and remarkably quick when navigating the operating system or booting native apps. Obviously though, that’s still a far cry from the company’s “infinite power” marketing claim.

The system did feel somewhat unstable when opening a large number of apps and going through them in the app switcher. I actually managed to crash the system like this, forcing me to reboot the device. But that was the only real instance where pure raw performance affected my experience.

One separate aspect that I wanted to mention in this category was the performance of the fingerprint scanner. It was very hit and miss. Many times, the sensor didn’t detect my finger at all, and occasionally my fingerprint was detected but not recognized. Even when the sensor did work, it didn’t give any feedback and it took the system a couple of seconds before waking up – leaving me to guess whether the phone was unlocked or not during that time.

To make matters worse, the standard fingerprint settings menu is missing in action. Searching for it brings the setting up, but tapping on it leads you to the security menu, with no way of actually managing the stored fingerprints. This was quite unfortunate and annoying, with the only option left open to me being to reset the device and go through the original setup again, just to manage fingerprints.

Another aspect that I wanted to mention but couldn’t fit in anywhere else, was this phone’s connectivity. Oukitel cut some corners to keep the price down, leaving some connectivity options off the table. For one thing, the phone doesn’t support 5GHz Wi-Fi. You’ll have to rely on the generally more crowded 2.4GHz frequencies. The same goes for 4G connectivity, with the handset only supporting FDD-LTE. This shouldn’t have affected me at all being in Europe, but I found the 4G capabilities of the device to be quite flaky. Depending on where you are around the world you might want to keep an eye on your carrier’s bands.

As you can see, overall performance was a mixed bag with the Oukitel U13. Day to day use felt smooth enough without any hassle, but occasional issues did crop up, the fingerprint scanner was more trouble than it’s worth, and certain hardware limitations need to be taken into account before purchasing.

Camera

This handset comes with a 16-megapixel world-facing camera coupled with optical image stabilization to minimize motion blur. The camera does a fairly adequate job in good lighting conditions, with colors being rendered correctly and lots of details being captured.

The first time I shot images with the U13 I was shocked by how good they looked on the phone’s screen. Images, obviously, look better when viewed on a 5-inch display, but the phone’s software was adding a bit of extra magic to the pics, with colors, especially blue, popping out very nicely and everything looking extremely crisp.

Of course, that quality didn’t stand up to closer scrutiny on a larger display. Colors proved to be rendered accurately but no longer popping, with Oukitel going for a more realistic tone.

I was also disappointed by the stark difference between background and foreground content. While foreground content looks crisp and clear even with moving subjects, backgrounds often come out very noisy and soft, even in perfect lighting conditions.

Low-light performance was above my expectations in most scenarios, though that will vary based on your settings. For example, having the phone set to automatically detect a scene, would result in dark images with crisper content, concordant with the available lighting. Toggling that setting and leaving everything at its default value would result in a much brighter image, but with a lot more noise due to the higher ISO used.

Speaking of settings, Oukitel opted for simplified toggles which let you set Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, Hue, and so on, but only by choosing between low, medium, and high, without any precise controls. ISO is the only setting that’s fine-tunable.

The phone also supports continuous shooting, with up to 99 shots, a useful feature when trying to capture a moving subject.

Overall, the phone’s camera is decent, especially given this device’s price point. I think it does a great job for images you’d share on social media or quick, simple snaps. Anything more complex than that will likely require a separate device on the part of the user if high quality is what’s being sought.

Battery Life

The Oukitel U13 comes with a 3,000 mAh battery, which is above average in terms of capacity in today’s smartphone market. As such, it should be able to offer users a comfortable amount of use time and peace of mind that their device will easily get through a day of work.

Unfortunately, that’s far from being true. In this department, the U13 is a clear example of “bigger isn’t always better” and battery capacity alone couldn’t save this phone’s battery performance.

A negatively outstanding example in this department came in the video test department. As usual, I looped a local HD video, with the phone set in Airplane mode and screen brightness set to 100%. The battery got absolutely obliterated in this test, with the device shutting down after only five and a half hours. That’s awfully poor performance for a modern device; even the Oukitel U20 Plus, whose battery life I also maligned, managed to go more than nine hours in this test – while a flagship device can easily get to 12-14 hours. Android’s battery monitor points to the screen as being the main culprit in this instance, going through battery life like there’s no tomorrow.

In terms of day to day use, I managed to go through 12 hours with light usage and brightness set to 50%, before the device’s battery saver kicked in. Speaking of that function, I experienced unexpected problems in this department. The handset features both the standard Android battery saver as well as Oukitel’s own simplified launcher which kicks in when you’re low on battery.

Oukitel’s feature works by essentially transforming your device into a dumbphone with only a few options, such as calling or texting, being open to the user. However, in this case, the implementation failed horrifically, leaving me with a semi-usable phone: notifications would still come through but not be accessible, calls and texts were being received but I could no longer send them, the settings pane menu completely disappeared even after reverting out of battery saving mode, and so on. It was a really bad experience that caused me quite a bit of angst at the tail end of a long day out on the town.

Finally, to close out this section, I need to mention there’s no quick charging. So once again, users have to wait about two hours for the phone to fully charge.

Wrap Up

The Oukitel U13 is a mixed bag for sure. On one hand, I was left somewhat impressed with its unexpectedly good performance and decent camera, as well as its aluminium unibody. However, many of those earlier positive aspects were dashed by the horrific battery life of this device and the occasional infuriating software failures. A software update could probably fix many of the issues mentioned here, but I’m not holding my breath when it comes to Oukitel’s update rollouts.

As such, even though I wanted to give this phone a higher score, I was forced to revise my stance. Can the Oukitel U13 deliver on its promises? It can, on most of them, even with its older hardware. However, battery life is a major concern, and the phone’s software has some unexpected issues that may seriously hamper your enjoyment of the device.

 

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