Ulefone was originally an ODM that handled everything from the design, development, manufacturing and after-sales support for a number of large brands. Having done that for almost a decade, in December 2014 they decided to take a different route and release their first smartphone. Since then they've released two more, and in this article I'll be reviewing the latest one: the Ulefone Be Touch.
If you haven't already checked it out, take a look at my first impressions and unboxing video here, which goes through all of the different things that come with the phone!
Instantly when picking up the phone you get an iPhone-esque feeling. Although the Be Touch doesn't try to pose itself as an iPhone clone, it clearly took a number of design cues from it, which is most obvious in the phone's bezel. Another cue influenced from Apple is also what sets the Be Touch apart from a number of other phones: the home button which doubles as a fingerprint scanner. In most Android phones we see a separate fingerprint scanner, usually on the back of the phone, but this isn't the case with the Be Touch.
The phone measures in at 158.1mm x 77.4mm x 8.6mm, although the protruding camera pushes the thickness to around 10.4mm at its thickest point. The phone comes fitted with a screen protector although the 2.5D display is made from Corning's Gorilla Glass 3. The top of the screen has, from left to right, the selfie cam and a front-facing flash, followed by the ear speaker. It's worth mentioning that that isn't a typo: the front-facing camera also has a flash, which isn't a typical feature for smartphones.
Going to the bottom of the screen we have the standard three-button Android cluster. The left and right buttons are non-backlit capacitive buttons, while the center "Home" button is a physical button that can be pressed down. As mentioned earlier, it also doubles as a fingerprint scanner, and allows you to unlock your phone with one movement (i.e pressing the home button while the phone is in a locked state will both turn on the screen and unlock the phone if it has a fingerprint lock). This is in comparison to phones which have a separate fingerprint sensor requiring you to double-tap the screen or pressing the on-button and also keeping your finger on the fingerprint scanner to unlock it.
The back cover of the phone is removable and "snaps" in and out with a number of clips besieging the cover. The rear camera is shiny and metallic and protrudes out of the back cover. Immediately below the camera is a single-LED flash, and about an inch below that is the Ulefone logo which is just the word "ulefone" in some sort of italic typeface.
The metal bezel that wraps around the phone is a dark metallic color. On the left side of the bezel there is a volume rocker and the on/off button, and there is nothing on the right side. At the top of the bezel you find both the micro-USB charging port and the 3.5mm headphone jack, and at the bottom you find a small drilled hole for the microphone followed by six larger holes for the loudspeaker.
Taking off the back cover, below the camera and flash you find the dual micro-SIM slots. The left micro-SIM slot is integrated with the micro-SD card slot. Not that it is an either-or, but you place the micro-SD card in vertically and then place the SIM card horizontally on top of it. Check out the photo below for a clearer picture, because it's a bit difficult to explain how it works. Personally I didn't like this design at all, but I have seen it in a number of new phones and I'm not exactly sure why -- it's lacking in both form and function. Below that you find the battery. On the inside of the back cover itself there are a number of connected diamonds with symbols inside of them with what I guess are the basic abilities of the phone (music, a clock, etc).
The Ulefone Be Touch had to make a sacrifice somewhere to keep the phone at a competitive price and it appears that the display is what took the hit. While most phones in this price bracket have 1080p panels, the Be Touch only has a 720p display. This naturally comes with its own set of positives and negatives, with the positives being that on-screen time consumes a lot less battery and performance receives an uptick, and the negatives being that the display isn't as detailed or as crisp as a 1080p panel.
To be honest, I don't find it to be that much of a deal breaker. There is a fairly obvious lack of crispness in things like the icons where they don't "pop out" like they do on better screens, but it's really not that bad -- it's still a fairly high PPI. For example, a 4K (3840 x 2160) monitor at 24" is only 183 PPI. Granted that we don't immerse ourselves so closely to our monitors as we do with our phones, but it helps to emphasize the point that it isn't all doom and gloom. Nevertheless, the total score naturally loses a point for this. But the Ulefone Be Touch has since been revamped into the Ulefone Be Touch 2, which has a 1080p panel as expected. I'll cover this in my "final thoughts" below, but the final score will still reflect the model I received.
The Be Touch has the same SoC as what you find in phones like the Jiayu S3 and Elephone P7000. It is the eight-core MediaTek MT6572 clocked at 1.7 Ghz. It's made up of eight Cortex-A53 cores which are the most power-efficient cores developed by ARM, and all eight cores are able to switch on or off when needed.
The MT6572 is capable of almost everything you can throw at it. It's no Snapdragon 810 but it's still enough for everything you intend to do on a phone in 2015, and that includes things like gaming.
Dimensions: 158.1 x 77.4 x 8.60
Operating system: Android 5.0 Lollipop
Touch ID: Front Fingerprint Scanner
CPU: 64Bit MTK MT6752 processor Octa core 1.7GHz CPU
GPU: Mali T760 MP2/700MHz GPU
RAM: 3GB LPDDR3 RAM
Size: 5.5 inch
Resolution: HD 1280*720pixels
Type: IPS OGS (NEW 2.5D Arc screen)
Material: Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3
Rear camera: 13MP 4th generation camera Sony IMX214
Front camera: 5.0MP (OV5648)
- GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 (band5,band8,band3,band2)
- WCDMA: 850/900/1900/2100 (band5,band8,band2,band1)
- FDD-LTE: 800/1800/2100/2600(band20,band3,band1,band7)
SIM: Dual sim dual standby, Micro SIM and Standard SIM
WiFi: WiFi802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Support dual-band Wi-Fi(2.4GHz/5GHz)
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0
- GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Digital Compass
- Hall Effect Sensor, Gravity Sensor,
- Ambient Light Sensor,
- Touch Sensor, Digital Compass
The Ulefone Be Touch performed wonderfully on benchmarks, falling just short of the Note 4 and a tad higher than the OnePlus One in AnTuTu with 47,309.
I played a few games on the Ulefone Be Touch, including Modern Combat 5, Asphalt 8, and a couple of those Real Steel games. Everything ran well and I didn't experience any slow downs or frame rate problems. This SoC performs well with phones that have 1080p displays, so I doubt there is anything you can throw at this phone (with its 720p panel) that would cause it much grief.
The phone comes with Lollipop 5.0 out of the box and has since received an OTA update. It doesn't have any extra apps or modifications to the stock Lollipop, and this is actually considered to be a feature of the phone. There is an Android KitKat ROM available and ready to flash for those who are not fans of 5.0, but I haven't really come across any reason why I would downgrade the phone. So far its pretty responsive and I haven't run into any issues that would be fixed with a downgrade.
The phone is advertised as being able to charge to 35% in just 15 minutes, but in my experience it hasn't been that fast. It has a 2550 mAh battery which is on the low-end for Chinese smartphones in 2015, but the 720p display isn't power hungry at all and you still get a full day's battery out of it. Higher density displays like 1080p and 1440p naturally consume much more energy, but the standard HD display of the Ulefone Be Touch doesn't take that much of a hit. This is a shame, however, as a larger battery would have been very welcomed.
The Ulefone Be Touch has the fairly common - but quality focused- 13 megapixel Sony IMX 214. This is the same camera you'd find in a number of different phones, including the Nexus 6, OnePlus One, Jiayu S3, Elephone P7000 and so on. It can record video at 1080p and has an aperture of f/2.0, which allows it to focus in extremely well.
Photos were usually crisp and had a lot of detail, although it has some white balance issues in cases where there was too much sunlight (for example, when there was bright sunlight reflecting off a white wall). Focusing was great and it was able to pick up on some very minute aspects of the scenery. It's definitely implemented better than the Jiayu S3, which had the occasional hiccup.
Videos weren't very great in direct sunlight (as shown above) but once they focus in they pick up some pretty good details. The Sony IMX 214 isn't implemented as well as it is in the Nexus 6, but it's better than some other Chinese phones out there.
The Ulefone Be Touch comes with a micro-USB data cable, a wall charger and a pair of headphones. The micro-USB cable appears to be able to put out a decent ~1.8 amps so it's definitely a quality cable (your typical Chinese micro-USB cable only manages about 0.3 amps). It comes with two screen protectors, one already installed and another in the box.
The headphones are good quality and remind me of the Moto G's: really ugly but produce good sound and a user's voice comes across crystal clear in phone calls.
The Ulefone Be Touch is a pretty good all-round phone with two main faults. The two faults sort of cancel each other out, but they're still faults nonetheless. The first is that it only has a 2550 mAh battery. That might have been OK last year, but for this year a flagship shouldn't have less than 3000 mAh and most Chinese manufacturers have understood and accepted this.The second is obviously the inferior screen resolution, which I've detailed above.
The faults are not deal breakers in and of themselves, however, because - as mentioned above - they really cancel each other out, and the 720p display on the Ulefone Be Touch is still extremely capable. Other phones like the iPhone 6 Plus have similar screen resolutions at a similar size, and there are not that many complaints. Clearly Ulefone took that as a sign that they could follow suit, but Ulefone are not Apple and their customer base are more focused on specs than branding.
Ulefone has since understood these two issues and corrected them with a refresh called the Ulefone Be Touch 2, which is almost exactly the same phone but comes with a higher pixel density 1080p display and a 3050 mAh battery, which is much more in line with what we'd be expecting from a smartphone in 2015. The Ulefone Be Touch 2 also comes with Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box rather than 5.0, and the specs seem to claim a camera with an aperture of f/1.8 although I'd have to see it to believe it - I'm fairly sure it's an error in the documentation.
Even though the original Be Touch -- the one I reviewed -- has sort of been 'discontinued' in exchange for the Ulefone Be Touch 2 refresh, I'm still going to take off 1.5 points for the lackluster battery and the 720p display. I'm personally pretty happy with the Ulefone Be Touch, and looking forward to Ulefone's future offerings.
Special thanks to out friends at Gearbest for providing the Ulefone Be Touch for this review. If you find the Be Touch interesting, you can pick up the Ulefone Be Touch 2 (with the improved battery and display) from Gearbest's current flash sale for $179.99 until July 1st or when the promotional stock is finished -- whatever comes first. After that, the phone will be selling at the standard price of $229.99, but will come with a free case and tempered glass screen protector.
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