The UMI Zero is an affordable 5 inch Android smartphone from 2nd tier Chinese manufacturer UMI who have done a solid job of making the Zero a fairly unique and attractive looking device. For a price tag of around $200 USD the UMI Zero offers plenty of bang for your buck, but how does it compete side by side with more flagship killer devices from players like Xiaomi? Mobile Geeks report:
UMI and Xiaomi… Breeds Apart
When you consider the branding that UMI have used on most of their products you may get a nagging feeling of familiarity. This is because UMI have kind of co-opted the branding and style of Xiaomi, one of the largest and most successful smartphone vendors in China. The UMI logo is almost a replica of the Xiaomi logo for example and of course the name of the company is also similar; Xiaomi (小米) means small rice, UMI (优米) literally means excellent, or good quality rice.
Aside from these differences however, the two companies and their respective products are quite different breeds. The UMI devices we have used have usually been much closer to more a typical affordable mainland Chinese device that you find in the markets of Shenzhen, using cheaper components and a stock, vanilla Android experience. Xiaomi have recently wooed us with devices like the Xiaomi Mi3 (my personal favorite…) and the new Mi4 which reviewed a few months back that give you real flagship level hardware with a heavily customized and distinctive UI. There isn’t too much in common between the two companies and their products apart from the fact that one has ostensibly tried to piggy back the others branding.
Back in June we reviewed the UMI X1-Pro, a super affordable $100 smartphone that had plenty of appeal for device in that price bracket. Today we are taking a look at UMI’s new and certainly classier offering with the UMI Zero which will command double the price of the X1-Pro. The Zero represents an attempt to create a top shelve smartphone that can compete further up the food chain than UMI are usually used to going.
UMI Zero: Hardware Overview
The UMI Zero is centered around a good looking AMOLED display that is five inches across the diagonal sporting a Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. The device is powered by an Octa-Core MediaTek processor backed by 2GB of RAM and accompanied by 16GB of storage, plus you have support for a microSD card. When it comes to camera sensors you have a 13MP camera on the rear that is joined by a dual LED flash while the front is adorned with an 8MP camera.
Overall the UMI Zero is a an attractively designed handset, with what we are told is Corning Gorilla Glass 3 employed on both front and back faces. It certainly seems to be the case as front and back are pretty much scratch proof. In fact the overall design of the Zero is uniquely impressive, with the retail package also including a protective bumper which is cut to the shape of the letter ‘Z’. It’s not like anything we have seen before, and I’m not totally sure how much I like it, although it certainly gives the device a distinctive look. Let’s take a look at the specifications in full.
UMI Zero: Specifications
- 5.0 inch Super AMLOED Display
- 1920 x 1080 w/Mulitouch
- MediaTek MT6592T processor
- Octa-core @ 2.0GHz
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB Storage
- MicroSD up to 64GB
- Dual micro SIM
- 13MP Rear Camera plus Dual Flash
- 8MP Front Camera
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 146mm x 70mm x 6.4mm
- 142 grams
- 2,780 mAh Battery
- Android 4.4.2.
The spec sheet has a distinctive Mainland Chinese flavor for me, mostly centered on the MediaTek chip that powers the device; the MT6592T a mobile processor platform that can comfortably claim to be one of the most widely adopted chips ever produced by the Taiwan silicon vendor. Every man and his dog within the greater Shenzhen area has made a smartphone based on a version of the MT6592. We recently saw it used on the Gionee Elife S.1 we reviewed just last week and are becoming quite familiar with its capable, if not exceptional performance. The other specs including a 13MP camera that does well considering this is a device that you can acquire for around the $200 mark.
UMI Zero: Design and Build Quality
You kind of feel almost like UMI are staking their manufacturing reputation on the design of the Zero by attempting something that is clearly trying to be as classy as possible, and maybe even taking a risk or two. The packaging the device arrives in is pretty big considering the contents which includes a pretty standard bundle, but it tries to prepare you for something earth shattering with its over-sized black packaging which upon opening centers around the ‘Z’ shaped bumper I mentioned earlier.
With the bumper employed the Zero really does turn into something of a conversation piece, adding a big metallic ‘Z’ to the rear of the handset that looks slightly too gimmicky for me personally, or at least it did initially. Although I have since grown somewhat fond of the ‘Z’ bumper (in its almost kitsch way), I think still prefer the look of the device without it. This is because the Gorrila Glass finish on the rear looks good sitting atop a black aluminum frame.
The frame has uniformly curved edge that is not so dissimilar from that which we enjoyed on the Xiaomi Mi3. The frame certainly adds a feeling of stability and durability to a device that weighs 145 grams, a similar weight to other 5 inch smartphones including flagship Galaxy S5 and Xiaomi’s Mi3. It feels like quite a long device with a length of 146mm – just a tad longer than the two mentioned above with fairly wide bezels above and below the display. Or maybe it just feels longer due to the fact that it is not as wide as most competing devices at just 70mm.
Both ends of the device have a very subtle curve that kind of adds a touch of class to the overall aesthetics. The display’s Gorilla Glass finish actually seems sit on top of the front frame with neatly rounded corners to the glass. The Gorilla Glass looks good on the back of the handset too, although it does quite like fingerprints. Both the UMI and Zero logos are present on the back but produced in a grey on black lettering that looks very understated and far from the gaudy branding that can be common in China. Indeed the whole design is understated and really trying hard to be classy. The end result is not far away from what was intended.
Once again we find volume rocker and power buttons on the upper left hand edge of the phone, a trend that seems to be gaining momentum recently. I get the idea. Right handed users are invited to use their fingers rather than thumbs to engage the phone. Sounds good in theory but I am a bonafide thumb user who is totally used to feeling for the right hand edge. Left-side placement confuses and even infuriates me, but in fairness this is a very subjective issue that essentially comes down to personal taste.
Another queer decision from UMI is the placement of the USB 2.0 port on the right side of the top edge. 99% of designs I have seen tend keep it on the bottom edge and I cannot recall ever seeing one on the top. I understand the logic of having the headphone jack up top, so you can hold it like an iPod, but can find no benefit of having the USB port here. Being different for differences sake?
The display’s navigation includes the three hardware buttons along the bottom bezel, which is something I quite like. On screen buttons take up real estate and if the lower bezel can accommodate hardware buttons, so why not have them. The audio comes out of a small row of tiny holes on the lower left of the back cover. The battery is non-removable, which is forgivable considering the design employed here.
In general the design of the UMI is Zero is pretty classy. It’s black on black aesthetics and understated sleekness look good. It’s just a slight shame that there are a few odd decisions when it comes to port and button placement.
UMI Zero Gallery
Full HD Display – Bright, Vibrant with Good Viewing Angles
The display on the UMI Zero is highlight of the device, not least because its really good to see Full HD resolution panel used on a product of this price. 1920 x 1080 pixels for around $200? What’s not to like? This is really good going. The display itself is a Super AMLOED that has plenty of brightness up its sleeve, really good viewing angles and vibrant colors.
On first inspection it appears that the upper edge of the display tends to darken somewhat at the upper edge. Upon further inspection, this appears to something that is implemented on purpose in the home screens, an odd thing to do I but suspect one that is meant as a design feature of the UI. When viewing brightly lit photos for example there is no darkening what-so-ever on the top edge, but regardless of what wallpaper you choose for the home screens, that top edge remains darkened at the top the screen.
In truth however, this is one of the most impressive displays that I have seen on an Android smartphone of this price. The brightness and vivid colors are particularly impressive, not too far off other Super AMOLED screens on device that cost many times the price of the UMI Zero.
MediaTek Octa-core Processor Gets the Job Done
As I mentioned the MediaTek MT6592 processor has more design wins to its name than I have space here to mention. You have several hundred device designs from lesser known Chinese vendors such as GooPhone, DooGee, Elephone, Zopo, Archos Karbonn and many, many others. We have seen the MT6592 clocked somewhere between 1.7GHz and 2.0GHz. Here on the UMI Zero we find that it is indeed clocked at a healthy 2.0GHz.
UMI Zero: Benchmark Comparison
|UMI Zero (MT6592)||Gionee Elife S5.1 (MT6592)||Sony Xperia Z2 (Snapdragon 801)||ASUS Zenfone 6 (Intel Atom Z2580)|
|GFX Bench T-Rex||12.7fps||12.6fps||26.9fps||9.1fps|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||7295||7152||18753||8041|
MediaTek solutions typically perform a little behind equivalent products from Qualcomm and at times Intel when it comes to raw performance in the CPU department. Looking at the scores in the table above you can see that the UMI Zero and its MediaTek cores do very well in most benchmarks, even compared to a Sony device that uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801. It’s only when we see the 3D or graphically intensive scores that we see Qualcomm really push its weight around. Qualcomm’s Adreno GPU technologies are up there with the best, so this is no surprise.
Overall the performance we see here from the UMI Zero is totally respectable and in line with what we would expect from a MediaTek processor. Real-life gaming is largely unaffected by the presence of the slowish Mali GPU, but while you will not enjoy the same high frame rates on most demanding games at high-levels settings, the majority of games we tried played smoothly.
When it comes to the smoothness of the UI itself however, the UMI Zero does suffer from the stutter here and there, especially when transitioning from an app back to the home screens which can lag just a touch when swiping from pane to pane. It may not be an issue with the MediaTek processor, and certainly there are no memory issues, with the device having a solid 2GB of DDR3 to play with. It kind of feels like the UI just needs to be optimized a little better. The device can also be a little slow to wake from sleep, taking a second or so to wake up once the power button is pressed. Not a huge flaw by any means, but I am used to an immediate and fast response. That is not the case here.
13MP Camera Doesn’t Disappoint, in the Right Conditions
UMI’s website tells us that the Zero is fitted with a 13MP rear facing camera that features a Sony Exmore RS IMX214 stacked sensor – apparently the same sensor we saw on the OnePlus One and the Xiaomi Mi4. In theory this would mean support for 4K video plus HDR support video. In fact what we find is a top video resolution of 1080p. My feeling is that the MediaTek chip would be a performance bottleneck when it comes to 4K video support, but moreover, the general feeling is that this is not the same caliber setup as the OnePlus One for example which is one of the better shooters we have seen this year.
If you look at the example photos below, it’s clear that the UMI Zero can take decent photos, but it is probably not going to win any awards this year. The camera app includes a solid HDR offering that seems to do good job in slightly darker situations, but despite the Dual Flash, nighttime shots are still pretty gloomy and uninspiring. Other features include panorama shots, beatification options and other standard features but the app is actually quite simplistic and minimal compared to other high-end efforts. The voice activated shots worked very well.
There is also a Camera Box app however which offers real-time beatification, age and face detection (it knows your age and applies the beauty as needed haha…). There is also the chance to add filters and effects and yet more beautification stuff after the shot has been taken. Plus there’s a barcode reader and scanner built-in.
In general this is a fairly mid-level camera experience that has plenty of features and fun stuff going on, but when it comes to straight forward shooting, it is no world beater. Decent shots are possible of course with a little patience and the right conditions.
Android Kit Kat in UMI Style
The software experience of the UMI Zero is one built atop Google’s Android 4.4.2, so while not being the very latest 4.4.4 implementation, UMI are certainly not too far behind. Let’s not mention Android 5.0 just yet, simply because MediaTek and UMI will have a lot on their hands making the jump and I wouldn’t expect any Lollipop action for some time yet.
The one thing that really defines the UMI Zero (or indeed the UMI) experience of Android is that it is very, very minimal. It’s kind of like you just bought a new house, and all the retailer did was paint the walls. I would almost be tempted to describe this as Android ala MediaTek because there is an obvious feeling that this is Android as built by MediaTek’s software engineers – the company does a superb job of bundling Android with its processors, a major reason for its success and this feels a lot like UMI has actually done very little except add a few wallpapers and one or two apps.
Perhaps the really good news is that UMI have pre-installed Google Play you can go ahead and download all of your favorite apps including apps like Gmail, Drive, Maps and other essential Google offerings. I regard this as great news because some Chinese manufacturers neglect to include Google Play on their products as it is largely redundant in China. Installing Google Play OTG can be done of course, but it can also be a hassle.
The good news about this approach from UMI is that it is about as bloatware-free as any Android phone you have used. It also keeps the memory footprint very small with a total of 12.1GB free of your 16GB phone, even after I installed all the benchmark apps, including some larger apps like 3DMark and GFX Bench 3.0. The icons are very standard, the navigation is exactly as standard and overall, it’s not all that unattractive.
The only solid gripe that I cold have really is that the whole thing lacks any kind of UMI flavor. Compared to heavily customized UIs from Xiaomi, the OnePlus’ Cyanogenmod UI or LG’s very slick and good looking Android experience, the UMI just kind of feels rather bland. There’s nothing to really complain about, just an absence of any real and distinctive character.
This Single Speaker Disappoints
The audio arrives thanks to a small internal speaker on the lower left of the device. Audio escapes the chassis via a row of small holes. The volume levels are almost surprising considering the small speaker involved, but at the highest volumes it can tend to distort a little. There is also very little bass frequency to speak of.
If by accident you cover the small holes with your finger (totally possible in landscape mode) then the audio pretty much disappears. The UMI Zero does not shine is this area and in no way competes with high-end offerings like HTC’s BoomSound technology for example. It is rather loud however considering the source.
Battery Life – Respectable for a $200 Chinese Handset
When comes to the issue of battery life I do tend to give Chinese made affordable handsets a bit more scrutiny than most, simply because these kinds of smartphones in the past have provided really poorly performing batteries. So it is with a degree of relief that I report that the UMI Zero has totally acceptable battery life. Our standard LapTop Mag Battery Informant test ran for just over 6 hours with brightness at about 70% and WiFi turned on. This is not revolutionary battery life, but it is decent enough. We have seen some larger devices last for around ten hours or more, so there is plenty that UMI can do to improve things too.
Anyone but the very heaviest of users should get a full days use from the UMI Zero. Lighter users should see a day or two on one charge.
The UMI Zero is an attractive proposition at the approximate $200 dollar price that it retails at. The hardware overall has plenty to offer at this price point; a solid processor with 2GB of RAM, a decent camera setup that offers decent snaps if you have a bit of patience. The real highlights however are the display and the build quality, both of which are actually very impressive. The UMI Zero when placed in its bumper actually looks like a very original and standout design, and the in hand feel feel and overall durability of the device are very solid. UMI have done a good job on the general construction of the Zero, that is for certain.
On the issue of recommendation, I could certainly recommend this phone to anyone looking for a 5-inch Android device at this price point. The problem that the UMI has, is that for just a hundred dollars more or so, you can acquire a Xiaomi device. The Mi3 from Xiaomi is a genuine flagship contender and it can be yours for just hundred bucks more. The choice is yours.
available from eFox.