With the Super, UMI is hoping to tap into the mid-level market with a solid, attractive offering yet a few minor issues hold it back from prominence.
The mid-range spectrum of the smartphone market has been heating up in recent years. The concept that you can get a good smartphone for under $700 is no longer a myth and companies like Lenovo, Xiaomi, and other Chinese OEM's are looking to take a piece of the pie. The latest of these offerings from UMI looking to grab consumer’s attention is the UMI Super. This large 5.5-inch phone brings an all aluminium design to consumers for less than $220; unfortunately, some minor issues and bugs hold it back from being something truly special.
At first glance, you would be hard pressed to imagine the UMI Super is a $220 smartphone. The 5.5-inch 2.5D Gorilla Glass screen sits at the front of body made entirely of aircraft grade aluminum. The phone has a notification light that doubles as a home button on the front and a speaker grill on the bottom of the handset. The Super has a slight curve to the back of the phone making it a pleasure to hold in your hand. The UMI Super also has a fingerprint sensor on the back for good measure, ensuring you have all the latest protection that even mid-level phones are now expected to have.
The UMI Super has a premium feel that elevates it above the other phones in a similar price range. After unboxing the unit, I was amazed to see how comfortable and robust the phone felt in the hand. Even the placement and quality of the buttons was far better than expected. The power and volume buttons on the right side of the phone work well and have a satisfying feeling when used. Despite what I have experienced on many mid-range phones, they did not feel cheap or that there would be any problems with the buttons later in the phone's life. On the left side of the phone, the Super features a customizable button that can be programmed to open any application you choose.
Under the hood, the UMI Super comes loaded with a MediaTek Helio P10 MT6755 running at 2.0 GHz, a Mali-T860 GPU for graphics and 4GB RAM. Behind the 2.5D Gorilla Glass, there rests a 1080P IPS LCD Sharp panel that is bright and vibrant. The phone allows for dual-sim or one Micro Sim and one Micro-SD card, and is one of the first phones in the mid-range category to be equipped with USB-C.
The UMI Super manages to be a very powerful device and runs far better than expected. In testing, I was hard pressed to make the phone heat up, and it was only during the initial setup where I installed a slew of applications I managed to make it warm up at all.
When running the Umi Super through the regular series of testing—including YouTube, Chrome, and multitasking—it did not stutter once. The overall experience was silky smooth, thanks to the 4GB RAM under the hood. The phone even managed to score a 51,072 on AnTuTu, and while that will not come close to touching some of the top tier devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7, it does manage to beat out the similarly spec’d Elephone P9000.
The real issues lie with the GPU, the Mali-T860, and its ability to render 3D. While it is not a terrible GPU when compared to older smartphones, it does not stack well against the Adreno offerings available on many flagship devices. After running the Benchmark X tests, it was easy to see where the phone's biggest weakness was, managing to only score a 14,120, falling far short of phones such as the HTC 10 (28,882) and the LG G5 (27,577).
With such scores, I was a little amazed at how well it handled even the most intensive gaming. The UMI Super ran all the games I threw at it flawlessly. Mortal Kombat X and Asphalt 8 both ran without any noticeable frame drops or slowdowns. Games such as Fallout Shelter, Clash of Clans, and Hearthstone all ran very well which makes the UMI Super a fantastic low-cost mobile gaming phone. Even though the Mali-T860 is not the most powerful GPU on the market, the lower resolution 1080P screen ensured it never had to push itself beyond its weight class.
With heavy gaming, you need a battery that can keep up with your needs and the needs of the processor. Luckily the UMI Super comes loaded with a 4,000mAh Sony battery that will last though most people's days with ease. While it was nowhere near as good as other phones batteries like the Redmi Note 3 Pro—with which I could go almost 48 hours without real issue—it did get through a 12hr day with around 30% battery left. That included light gaming, web browsing and heavy social media use. I would have liked a bit more life from the 4,000mAh battery, but with Quick Charge PE+ it was never really an issue to top it up before a night out.
The audio ability on the Super was acceptable, but not fantastic. The sound felt tinny at louder volumes and the audio lacks any nuace. Thankfully the bottom-facing speaker is not muffled when the phone is resting on a table, but it still managed to become muted by my hand when held in normal usage. The headphone jack, on the other hand, sounded good, and while it may not be the best DAC currently available on smartphones, it will service most music lovers well.
Another detrimental issue with the UMI Super is the camera. Boasting a Panasonic 13-megapixel sensor on the back, I was expecting reasonably fair shots. Sadly, I was sorely disappointed. Daylight shots came out dull and washed out, with colours looking greyer than even some of the worst smartphone camera currently available. The low-light and night shots are for all intensive purposes unusable, with images coming out looking grainy and dark. It is something UMI might fix with a future software update, but at the time of this review, they have still not addressed the problem and are giving little idea on when future updates will hit.
Luckily for many Android lovers out there, UMI has added the bare minimum to the OS, leaving an almost pure Android experience. The Super comes loaded with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and running though the OS is a smooth and pleasant experience. It's nice to see a Chinese OEM not installing their custom OS and opting for a more Nexus-like feel. That said, I am a bit worried about the updates to the handset. UMI has been slow to address the issues with the phone even after several weeks, and with Android N just around the corner, I fear it may be an update the Super never receives.
There are a few odd design choices that UMI made with the Super that are more baffling than the hardware or software issues. Firstly, there is no NFC in the device, and while I have never used NFC for much, it is a nice addition to have, especially with more mobile payment systems coming online. The second issue is the navigation buttons; while it does have hardware navigation buttons (with the notification light acting as the home button, and the left and right spaces beside it acting as back and menu) these need to be activated in the setting. Out of the box, it has onscreen buttons that will take away valuable screen real estate for no apparent reason. Lastly, the customizable button, despite marketing, is only a shortcut button. If you wanted to program it to be a shutter, you would be out of luck. It will open your camera, but the button’s use stops there.
When I first heard of the UMI Super, I was sceptical it would be able to live up to the marking UMI was throwing at the world. After testing it, I am pleased to say it manages to live up to most of it. While the Super will not supplant the flagship phones from HTC, Samsung and LG, UMI has built a solid device with a lot of great features. However, while the UMI Super packs an extraordinary value at the price point, buyers will need to ensure they can live with the issues before purchasing.