featured review

In this day and age, when there’s really fierce competition on the smartphone market, it is really difficult for a brand to gain traction, brand recognition, and, of course, market share. It’s easy if your name is already on the lips of millions and millions, and if that name is Apple, Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei, Motorola, Sony, or any of the other big guns. These companies have flagship, premium devices (with premium specs, build, and, of course, premium price tags), but they also have lower-end, and mid-range offerings, for those who can’t afford to always rock the latest and greatest. But even those are still wearing that well renowned logo (brand).

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…and then there are the smaller manufacturers, some even so small, or new, that chances are many have not even heard about them. So is OUKITEL, a Chinese smartphone maker based in Shenzen, established in 2007, holder of the National GSM/CDMA mobile phone license since 2008, with other certifications awarded in later in 2009. With over 1,000 employees, OUKITEL is, according to the official description on its website, able to deliver up to 20 million handsets per year. Of course, these 20 million phones need to be sold, and, when you’re a young Chinese smartphone manufacturer with no solid background or brand recognition, that’s a tad difficult even in the largest smartphone markets on the planet. “Finely designed affordable smartphones” is the company’s motto.

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We won’t judge you, not one bit, if you’ll say, or think, from the very beginning that the OUKITEL U10 we’re looking at in this review resembles (a lot) the iPhone. Yes, it does, we do agree, but it also resembles the OPPO R7 Plus, or any modern smartphone on the market in this day and age. We’ll leave out the “who copied who?”, or the “this is a shameless copy!” debates and arguments.

Specs & Hardware

There are a lot of inconsistencies between the official information on the website, promo materials, and the reality of this phone. We’ll leave all manufacturer wording to the side, and base our conclusions on what we can see, hear, and feel ourselves.

The OUKITEL U10’s body is made out of metal. Whether that’s aluminum or an alloy of some sort, we can’t tell, but its texture sure feels like aluminum. It is cold to the touch, and feels as premium as metal can feel, for the most part. The top and bottom extremities are almost certainly plastic, painted in order to blend in with the metal on the back; this is probably where the antenna resides, and plastic plays nice with reception (something we’ve learned over time from the big guns in the industry).

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Overall, the in-hand feel is much better and more rewarding than you’d think to expect from a phone that you can buy for $180 unlocked (at the time of this review).

On the front, a JDI (Japan Display Inc.) manufactured large screen takes up most of the real estate. It is protected by glass (it’s not sure whether it’s Gorilla, or another make), and said glass is 2.5D curved towards the edges. Don’t get fooled by promotional materials that advertise this phone as being bezel-less (thanks to the reflections and refractions produced by the 2.5D glass). It does have bezels, rather thin ones we’d say considering the manufacturer and price point, but it’s by no means bezel-less.

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Official specs claim 170 grams (but we could only measure 165 grams, and that’s a good thing), and dimensions of 154 x 76.9 x 7.9 mm / 6.05 x 3.02 x 0.31 inches, which is roughly comparable with the size of the iPhone 6/s Plus, the U10 tries so hard to look like.

Underneath the glass there’s a really bright 5.5-inch IPS+OGS (One Glass Solution) display with 1080p, full HD (1080×1920 pixel) resolution, numbers familiar to iPhone 6/s Plus owners. Surprisingly, the quality of the display itself is very good. Not to mention that it is super bright. Color reproduction, saturation, and contrast levels are on par with those of displays found on higher-end phones, and this can only be a good thing.

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A 64-bit octa-core MediaTek MT6753 SoC powers everything, a chip which, according to its maker, is “designed for the super-mid market”. Clock speeds on the U10 are advertised at 1.3GHz, and, in conjunction with the Mali-T720 GPU, and 3GB of RAM, the system delivers surprisingly good performance.

16GB of on-board storage can be expanded with the help of a microSD card, granted, at the expense of the secondary micro SIM card, as the OUKITEL U10 uses a (by now popular) shared dual micro SIM tray that can house either two micro SIM cards, or one micro SIM card and a microSD memory card.

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The main camera is one of 13MP (16MP interpolated, says the wording), and it’s a Samsung 3M2 ISOCELL chip. We’ve seen this camera on the OPPO R7, and, while it’s not the best shooter you’ll find on a smartphone (that’s mostly reserved for the likes of Note 5, iPhone 6s Plus – and variations who that use the same camera: GS6, GS6e, GS6e+, iPhone 6s), its performance is decent – more on that in our dedicated camera section. The front-facer is a 5MP unit.

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While the back is non-removable (and hence the battery is baked in), the power unit inside the OUKITEL U10 is a 2,850mAh component. Network operation is possible on GSM, WCDMA, and FDD-LTE standards (bands and frequencies can be found on the manufacturer’s website), and the usual suspects include Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, WiFi 802.11b/g/n, but no NFC. Instead, the phone uses MediaTek’s own HotKnot technology (“which utilizes the physics of a capacitive touch screen, such that the transmitting grid in the screen of one phone can interact with the receiving grid in a second when they are in close proximity (less than 1 centimeter)”) to transmit via Bluetooth or WiFi.

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On the back, underneath the camera, you’ll find a fingerprint scanner, which, in our tests performed surprisingly well. It allows you to unlock your smartphone without waking it up from its standby state. Just place your finger on the back scanner and the device will instantly wake (9 times out of 10, which we’ve found to roughly be its recognition success rate) and unlock.

Everything is powered by Android 5.1 with a custom user interface on top, one that ditched the app tray in favor of multiple home screens.

Software

Android 5.1 is powering the OUKITEL U10, and, we’re happy to report that, aside from a couple of OEM-added settings (more on that later), the launcher, and a single toggle in the notification shade (Audio Profiles for quick toggles between sound, mute, and vibration), everything looks and feels pretty stock. That’s not going to only appeal to those who prefer a vanilla Android user experience, but also to those who like their phones to be as snappy and uncluttered as possible.

The launcher is a basic, standard one, in line with what you’ll probably find on most Chinese phones. It lacks the app drawer, and, instead, you have homescreens after homescreens packing your apps. Luckily, there’s little to no bloat  (or nothing that can’t be uninstalled or disabled manually) on the phone, but the launcher features skinned icons for most stock apps (that’s something you have to live with). Luckily, there are a gazillion of third party launchers you can replace it with. We ended up, after our review period, slapping on Google’s Now Launcher, and the phone instantly felt more like home.

U10 poor translation
Phone Android custom skin more work needs translation in.

While Google’s untouched settings are in plain English, those added by the OEM (to support proprietary features) read like they were translated with an automated online translation system. And they most probably were. We’ll let you enjoy a couple in the screenshots below.

You’ll find a lot of settings regarding gestures; the phone supports (successfully, for most part) several types of off- and on-screen gestures. Just to name a few, you can double-tap- to wake the phone, drawing shapes or letters to launch apps, trace your finger around a portion of the screen to make a selection and share it, three finger swipes (up for camera, down for screenshots), two finger swipes (up and down to adjust the volume), as well as waving your hand in the gallery to advance to the next picture (something Samsung users are so familiar with), when it works, etc.

U10 gestures

Camera

When it comes to the camera, and its performance, on the OUKITEL U10, you can view it from two different perspectives. One: compared to the flagship cameras out there (mentioned at the beginning of this post), it definitely underperforms. Two: compared to cameras on phones in the same price range, even slightly higher, it is definitely a great camera. To have such decent camera performance and output on a phone that sets you back $180 (at the time of this review) is something worth mentioning as a definite pro.

 

It is all thanks to the Samsung ISOCELL 5K3M2 13-megapixel sensor. Will you see noise? Yes, you will, under certain scenarios. Will color reproduction be slightly off? Sometimes it will. Will some of your shots come out slightly blurry? Occasionally, yes. Should you care? Definitely not. If you’re looking for a phone on the cheap,this phone’s shooter outperforms most other in its price range, and even some of the more expensive ones. Will you be happy with it? At this price point, you should be! We know we were pleasantly surprised.

Performance

…and you know what else surprised us? The performance.

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The octa-core MediaTek MT6753 chip and the 3GB of RAM really help the OUKITEL U10 perform surprisingly well in day to day tasks. Chances are you are not a heavy gamer if you’re looking to purchase this phone, but, the U10 will likely deal with most of the titles out there that you throw at it.

Day to day tasks are handled extremely well. Whether it’s the lack of bloat, Android 5.1 Lollipop’s optimizations, or the processor, RAM, and GPU system (or a combo of all the aforementioned), it is really difficult to bog it down, let alone notice any gross lags. Phone calls, texts, social media, email, streaming (video on YouTube or audio on Spotify), and all the other regular activities will be handled without problem.

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Thanks to the SoC and RAM, multitasking shouldn’t be a problem, if you stick to the hardware perspective. But it is, thanks to a poor software implementation. Instead of going with the standard multitasking interface (task switcher), the OUKITEL U10 features its own, which is, archaic, to say the least. Yes, you can switch between apps, or kill them all, but you’ll have to do that after a long press (no dedicated button), and, from a screen that only lists your running apps as icons.

You know we don’t really believe in benchmarks around here, but, just to throw it at those who do: GeekBench 3: 2,645, or AnTuTu: 32,145. In case you don’t care about them either (you shouldn’t), and, you’re more of a “real life” user, this thing won’t disappoint you (for the money)

Pros

+ Excellent value

+ Great display

+ Solid performance overall considering price point

+ Solid camera performance considering price point

+ Great battery life

Cons

– UI needs a lot of work

– Menus need to be translated properly

– Lacks NFC due to MediaTek’s implementation of HotKnot

– Very slow charging

– Poor, tinny, sound quality

Pricing and availability

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If what you see above looks interesting to you, and you’re in the market for a sub-$200 phone, that performs well, has good battery life, great screen, fingerprint scanner, above average build and camera performance, then you can grab one unlocked, SIM free, from Gearbest, at $180 (as of this review. Note: pricing varies, as we’ve seen, during our review period, this phone go for as low as $160)

Conclusion

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It’s not every day that we can say we’re pleasantly surprised by a Chinese phone (that’s not OPPO, Huawei, ZTE, or another renowned by now brand), and it’s definitely not every day we’re excited about a sub-$200 phone that packs as much as the OUKITEL U10.

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It is not only suitable as a “first smartphone” for someone uninitiated, it is also a great replacement for your current low-end or mid-range phone. If you’re looking for top notch, stellar performance, you should probably look elsewhere (Samsung, HTC, Sony, Motorola, LG, etc.). But, if your wallet only allows you two Benjamins (and you also wanna have a quick meal), the OUKITEL U10 is a smartphone you should definitely consider.

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