Ulefone Be One Octa-Core 1.4GHz Android 4.4.2 KitKat Smartphone Review @ ModSynergy.com
The only Smartphone's I've reviewed on ModSynergy have been of the Samsung variety with the original Note, Note 2 and S4. You've seen other accessory reviews where my HTC Windows Phone 8X was used, but never reviewed. I have an interest in all Smartphone's, though for the past couple of years I've a keen interest on Smartphone's from China. I own an older Chinese Smartphone by the brand name Newman that I use on a daily basis.
I thought I'd give you readers more variety in my Smartphone review category by introducing you to Chinese Smartphone's Today I'll be reviewing the brand new Ulefone Be One Smartphone that sports an Octa-Core processor in the form of the MediaTek 6592M, 1GB of RAM, 5.5" IPS OGS 720p screen from LG, and also operates on the Android 4.4 KitKat platform. It can do 3G data speeds in North America as well and all of this can be had for about $140USD making it an interesting solution in the ever growing Smartphone market. I'll introduce you to the world of Chinese Smartphone's and some of the names involved. I'll briefly touch on frequency bands and if certain Chinese Smartphone's can work in North America.
Chinese Smartphone's used to be dreadful, but in recent years with the help of MediaTek's growth, they have become a viable option for many around the world, and have the overall performance to play with the bigger names in the lower to mid-range market, not to mention the value aspect that is key for some. MediaTek, at the time of writing, does not have a chip that can play with Qualcomm in the high-end market. This will not be a review that answers what is the best or who is the best, that is not the point of this review.
Just to note, the Ulefone Be One is something I purchased myself and was not provided for review. As usual I'll be aiming to be honest in my review. If the product stinks, then I've just thrown away $140USD of my hard earned money, and if its good, then I'll be certain to let you know.
About Ulefone (Exactly From Their Website)
"Ulefone Phone is a high-tech enterprise specializing in the R&D, manufacturing, domestic and overseas sales. Our products are competitive in quality and price, commanding a good market at South American states, Southeast Asia regions and other parts of the world. It has won the trust of customers around the world. The company mainly produces Smartphone's with a TV, GPS, WIFI, touch features; We have an experienced R & D team, they constantly make high-tech mobile phones which are beautiful and multiple functional, combining the latest technology in the world. In virtue of the concerted efforts of iSTAR Ulefone People, iSTAR(Ulefone) has successfully completed an integral industry chain from independent R & D, production & processing to marketing function, it is determined to become a professional mobile communication equipment manufacturer. This product will no doubt expose many people to the wonderful world of iSTAR(Ulefone)."
Ulefone Be One Product Overview
Featuring a 5.5 inch LG 720p HD IPS screen with OGS technology, the Be One has a high pixel density of 267ppi and sharp picture quality. The LG IPS OGS touch screen with full lamination responds immediately to your touch and provides extra wide viewing angles. The main camera on the rear uses Sony's IMX214 (1/3.06") Stacked CMOS Image Sensor with an effective pixel rate of 13.3 Megapixels and is paired to f/2.2 lens, while the secondary front facing camera utilizes an 8 mega-pixel Samsung S5K5E2 BSI imaging sensor paired to f/2.8 lens.
The Ulefone Be One has 16GB ROM, half reserved for the OS, half (8.67GB) available for real storage space, however, the Be One also contains an expandable micro SD card slot good for another additional 64GB. Other features include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, FM radio, and dual SIM card slots working on either select 2G GSM or 3G WCDMA bandwidths.
The Be One DOES NOT have other high end features such as NFC, 4K video recording, 1080p/2K display, 2GB+ RAM, waterproofing, 64-bit CPU, 4G LTE, fingerprint sensor, heart rate monitor, Gorilla Glass, USB 3.0, GLONASS, or pricey materials. Again, it's only $140USD.
Ulefone Be One Product Features
Ulefone Be One Product Specifications
The Ulefone Be One comes packaged in a very simple white and red stripe compact box with the company logo at the center. The back of the box contains a sticker that mentions the main selling features of the Smartphone.
The sticker mentions...
Ulefone Be One is a fairly powerful device when you consider its price. It features a capable MediaTek MTK 6592M Octa-Core ARM Cortex A7 processor that is clocked at 1.4GHz for each of the eight cores. So there are eight low-power energy efficient cores available to be used, improving and providing longer battery life than if faster and more power hungry Cortex A15, A17, A57 cores were used. Where the Ulefone Be One is positioned, the mid-range, Cortex A7 cores in the MediaTek 6592M fits the bill.
The Be One makes use of a high quality screen, it's the 5.5" LG sourced 720p IPS OGS display providing 267ppi pixel density and promises to offer rich color and extra wide viewing angles associated with an IPS display.
The Ulefone Be One has a fairly large 2350mAh battery that should work well in conjunction with the low-power, energy efficient MediaTek 6592M. It's not the largest battery size out there, but nor is it the smallest.
The Ulefone Be One is offered in only two colors, white and dark blue.
Found within the box are the following items bundled...
Interesting to note is that the Ulefone Be One does not come with an earphone bundled in the package. I'm starting to notice more Smartphone's are not being bundled with earphones in the box.
Another thing to point out is just from seeing and reading horror stories online, I would not trust using generic USB wall chargers from China, unless it had multiple certifications from within North America and came from a first tier brand. There's stories out there that involved fires and explosions. Stick to big name brands for any sort of chargers and away from fakes because they use extremely cheap components, don't take into consideration safety aspects of components and design, they simply should be avoided. The same can be said for laptop AC adapters, stay away from generic and fakes, I've personally had a "universal laptop AC adapter" physically start to melt while I was my laptop, thankfully I was there to smell and spot the melted plastic or else it could have burned down my home. I won't make the same mistake ever again, nor should you.
Who are MediaTek? I've never heard of them?
Chances are you haven't heard of MediaTek before since they are virtually unknown outside North America as they focus more in China, India, and other emerging markets. MediaTek focuses on low to mid-range devices of all sorts and they have made numerous strides over the years playing catch-up to Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments, and Broadcom. It's paying off as MediaTek became the 5th largest Smartphone chip maker back in 2012, and in 2013 became the 4th largest fabless IC designer in the world. If I knew how to invest in the Taiwanese manufacturers stocks, I would have done so years ago and made money, as this company continues to grow steadily. MediaTek has grown up so much within the past couple of years that their Smartphone chips have now made its way into HTC and Sony Smartphone's and boatloads of other Android TV boxes that saturate the market. MediaTek has just recently released their 64-bit Octa-Core LTE SOC as well for Smartphone's
I should also point out that Intel is playing catch up very quickly in the Smartphone market, I wouldn't be surprised to see more Intel SOCs (system on a chip) in a variety of Smartphone's in 2015. If the newly announced Asus Zenfone 2 is any indication, Intel might become a major player, and who can blame them? Everyone wants a chunk of the pie and Intel is more than capable of success.
The MediaTek 6592M is the SOC being reviewed today in the Ulefone Be One. It has shown to be faster than Qualcomm's Snapdragon 400 and more than competitive with the Snapdragon 600. Note that in this Ulefone Be One, MediaTek's MTK 6592M is used, the M moniker designates that it is the slower version of the normal MTK 6592. MTK 6592M is clocked at 1.4GHz, while the normal MTK 6592 is offered at a higher clocked speed at either 1.7GHz or 2.0GHz and having a faster GPU speed. The MTK 6592M SOC still integrates a high level of features including ClearMotion, MiraCast screen sharing, Full HD HEVC H.265/VP9/Ultra HD 4K H.264 video playback decoding codec's, 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth, GPS, FM tuner, support for up to 16MP cameras, just to name a few things. The MediaTek 6592 SOC is comprehensive.
One of the key features in the MediaTek 6592M processor is a video playback feature called "ClearMotion". The best way I can describe this is would be what you would experience with a 120Hz capable HDTV. The motion of the video is smoother and on a 5.5-inch screen, it works significantly better than on a large screen HDTV. Using this ClearMotion feature, the MediaTek 6592M converts 24/30fps video automatically to 60fps in real-time to (in theory) eliminate motion blur in fast moving scenes.
In my HDTV reviews, it was clear that I did not like 120Hz technology, it looked unnatural and presented clipping and artifacts. On this Ulefone Be One having its smaller screen, I saw nothing of that under usage. It works so well I simply leave it on..
Will this work in North America? What kind of frequency bands does it support?
The Ulefone Be One comes SIM Unlocked for worldwide use and supports 2G GSM bands of 850/900/1800/1900 MHz and supports 3G WCDMA/UMTS bands of 850/1900/2100MHz.
In Canada this phone will work under both 2G and 3G/ using the Rogers network. Depending on the cell towers where you live, Rogers has a variety of them that operate on combination of 850/1900/2100/2600MHz frequencies. So in this case, the Ulefone Be One will work on Rogers 3G using 850, 1900MHz and 2100MHz frequencies. Under 2G mode, the Be One will work on Rogers 850 and 1900MHz.
There's a great Canadian Cellular Towers Map here: http://www.ertyu.org/steven_nikkel/cancellsites.html
I'm not familiar with USA network coverage, but I believe that the Be One will work on 3G mode with AT&T as they use 850 and 1900MHz bands. It should also work with T-Mobile, but under 2G mode only. It would be best to call your network carrier and ask them which frequency they operate on.
Editors Update: Well I just tested a Rogers 4G LTE SIM card from my friends phone on the Ulefone Be One Smartphone and now I can confirm that it infact supports better than what I expected, which was only 3G. I was in a known spotty location with about 2 bars indoors, but the phone was switching between 3G and HSPA+. The taskbar symbol read 3G H+, and despite the slow results in this area, it was great to see that the Ulefone Be One can get reach even greater speeds in better locations!
How to Install Dual SIM Cards
Not going to lie, I bought the Ulefone Be One because my Newman Smartphone's display was dying, I dropped it too many times and it eventually started to show. After looking at many Chinese Smartphone's, I ended up purchasing the Ulefone Be One because of 1) my strict budget (I got it on pre-order pricing), 2) because it looked really nice, and 3) it supported the GSM frequency bands I use here in Canada. I've no previous experience with Ulefone brand before, I do know that they are relatively small and not as popular as other Chinese Smartphone's out there such as Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi (dubbed the Chinese Apple), THL, Jiayu, Lenovo, Meizu, OnePlus, and Zopo. In China there are hundreds of Smartphone brands popping up every so often that it gets hard to know who's actually any good.
For this review I've tried something different, I've produced two real YouTube videos of the Ulefone Be One on our ModSynergy YouTube page. It took me quite a while to complete and involved lots of time waiting for it to upload, but I'll see if you readers like this kind of stuff and if this is a direction that I need to explore more in the future. Let me know what you think of the YouTube video, either in YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. You can see the videos down further in the review around the results section.
The Ulefone Be One is constructed out of purely plastic to keep the cost down. No pricey materials are used on this device such as aluminum, sapphire, metal, glass. Plastic isn't bad if done right, just look at Samsung using all plastic for quite some time now and they are priced significantly higher. One good thing about plastic is that it keeps weight down.
According to my digital scale, a naked Be One weighs 166 grams or 0.366lbs, with the battery inside. When you slip on the provided protective case the weight increases to 188 grams or 0.415lbs.
The Ulefone Be One feels tough enough to withstand normal usage, not sure how it will do in a drop though. It feels strong in my hand and there's no creaking noise that I have with my older Newman Chinese Smartphone. This one feels solid in general, especially with the free protective case on to prevent the back from getting scratched. The whole protective casing is smokey and translucent to a degree.
The screen is glossy and shiny, whereas the body has a smooth matte white finish. A screen protector is placed on the device from the factory, while another extra screen protector is provided in the box, for use at a later time, which is always a welcome. Accessories for Chinese phones are hard to find accessories for, unless they are the really popular models. Thankfully Ulefone provides an extra screen protector and free protective case. Just to nitpick, the pre-applied screen protector contains a small air bubble near the top left of the screen, but it's hardly noticeable under use. They do a heck lot better job than I do though! I always have air bubbles when placing screen protectors.
Looking at the front of the Ulefone Be One Smartphone, we find nice design cues in the form of horizontal perforated patterns at the very top and bottom of the phone. It adds some unique styling to the overall design and if I had to guess, also adds value of being able to dissipate heat as well. I think there's some function involved with this pattern. The same perforated pattern is displayed on the capacitive buttons at the bottom of the screen, three symbols for the menu key, home key, and back key. These capacitive buttons are illuminated upon touch and automatically turn on after a few seconds. The same perforated pattern is used again on the back of the phone for the speaker portion of the phone.
More flair in the overall design is given off by the dark plastic chrome panels used at the top and bottom portions of the Be One covering the 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB charge port and microphone.
In terms of ergonomics and handling of the Be One in the hands while taking a photo, I usually hold Smartphone's on the four corners with my thumb and index fingers. But in this case, and how the camera lens is positioned, I need to be careful that my other fingers don't cover the camera. Some other phones have the camera position a bit downward from the top so this doesn't happen, this one on the Ulefone sits directly at the top. Just something minor to get used to.
People with small hands will not be able to reach across the real estate of the screen. You need two hands to fully operate the Be One's large 5.5" screen. In the end you need to make the necessary adjustments if you have small hands. If you have large hands like basketball player that is a different story, but once that is done, the experience is very enjoyable. I would have liked an eyelet for a wrist strap somewhere on the body, that would be the most secure way in preventing any possible drops of the phone. It would look funny but I wouldn't mind.
The LG 720p HD IPS OGS display with full lamination is indeed the star of the show. It has enough pixel density to disguise individual pixels under normal viewing distance. You won't notice individual pixels unless you really squint with the screen next to your eyes, or take a close up photo of the screen with your camera. In daily usage and normal viewing distance. you don't notice any of this, all you notice is a wonderful IPS screen that is sharp, with good natural colors, and really wide viewing angles that comes from an IPS display. In my opinion, viewing angles from this screen is excellent.
One of the key features of this MediaTek 6592M is a video playback feature called "ClearMotion Video Fluency Enhancer". The best way I can describe this feature is the 120Hz feature on some HDTVs, but this one is done so much better, or it looks better because its on a smaller screen. In my HDTV reviews, it's clear that I did not like 120Hz technology on a big screen, it looked fake and caused onscreen clipping and artifacts, on this Ulefone Be One nothing like that happens.
Android Operating System - 4.4.2 KitKat
Ulefone Be One features the already mature Android 4.4.2 KitKat mobile operating system. I remember Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean from my Samsung Galaxy Smartphone reviews and this is not that much different, the transition is very easy to KitKat. KitKat improves further on an already mature ecosystem.
On the Ulefone Be One I did not have any weird issues such as crashes or restarts, it's been very stable and reliable. I've no phantom touches with the touch screen as well, touch screen performance is great. This is something I had troubles with on a different Chinese Smartphone called the Doogee DG350, that one had portions on the screen that were not responding to touches. Obvious build quality issues with Doogee, not a good phone that one was.
Ulefone has promised and advertised that the Be One has support for the latest Android 5.0 Lollipop, and according to UleFone's Facebook page, Android 5.0 Lollipop will be offered OTA (over the air) by an update at a later time. Interesting to note that I couldn't find anywhere in the settings menu that allowed me to check for software updates, even in its usual location under 'About phone'. Android 5.0 Lollipop will be a huge leap forward in transition than the move from Jelly Bean to KitKat. Anytime the Android OS changes versions by full digital (2.0, 3.0, 4.0, x.x), it's always a significant change.
It should be noted that with the Ulefone Be One, the Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system is very slim and not bloated with useless app's, always appreciated. Ulefone chose to go with a stock experience, without any customizations or skins many other companies like to place on their phones, such as TouchWiz for Samsung, Sense for HTC, or Xperia UI for Sony. I love it this way, slim and without bloat. The Be One has snappy performance and is quick all around. I really didn't notice any lag navigating through the OS, maybe just a tiny bit sliding through the widgets, but only for a second.
Also to be noted is that the Be One does not have any pre-loaded, irremovable Chinese based app's, something that is known to be on some Chinese Smartphone's. For example, some Chinese phones are bundled with baidu app's, 360 antivirus app's that can never be removed, unless you root your phone. It becomes a pain in the rear.
I like that the Be One has the feature called 'Scheduled power on & off' in the Settings menu, very straightforward and great for saving extra battery power when you're in bed. It's been offered for a while on Android 4 but on some phones its not there. Check the gallery below for OS screen shots and benchmark screen shots displaying the performance of the Ulefone Be One.
The Ulefone Be One - Any good?
After using the Ulefone Be One, I would have to say for sure this phone is pretty good in terms of an overall package, especially considering the $140USD price tag, the performance you get, and camera components put inside the Be One. Sure it's not the best phone out there, it's not the most feature rich as it doesn't have NFC for example, it's not the fastest phone out there, but not all of us need the best.
For my needs the Ulefone Be One is more than enough and a healthy jump up in performance from my old Chinese phone, so I'm very happy with my decision. I'm pleasantly surprised and happy with my Ulefone experience so far despite not having any prior experience with them. Honestly I never heard of Ulefone before.
Truth be told, the Be One is powerful for most users out there. The Be One is faster (in Synthetic Benchmarks) than other budget Smartphone's out there like the Moto G (1st/2nd Gen), Nexus 4, Asus Zenfone 5, Galaxy S3, HTC Desire 816, just to name a few. Can it touch the likes of the high-end iPhone 6, Galaxy S5, LG G3, Galaxy Note 4, Xperia Z3, Nokia Lumia 1020, Moto X? Heck no, it cannot touch those, but it's also significantly cheaper, and not entirely a world away.
The MediaTek 6592M has shown to be faster than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 and competitive with the Snapdragon 600. Note that in this Ulefone Be One, MediaTek's MTK 6592M is used, the M moniker designates that it is the slower version of the normal MTK 6592. MTK 6592M is clocked at 1.4GHz, while the normal MTK 6592 is offered at a higher clocked speed at either 1.7GHz or 2.0GHz and having a faster GPU.
Editor's Edit: According to the spec sheet, the Mediatek MTK6592M is supposed to be operating at 1.4GHz clock frequency. Well at the time of review, I didn't notice that the Ulefone Be One was operating a higher clock frequency of 1.66GHz. This is almost non M version speeds (non M operates at 1.7GHz). This was confirmed in a number of apps such as CPU-Z and AnTuTu Benchmark, yet I never really noticed it during testing. This explains the brisk performance. Ulefone modified the kernel to allow them to run at a higher clock frequency (overclock) and thus the Be One sees greater performance than other MTK6592M Smartphones that are running at 1.4GHz stock frequency. Running a higher clock rate comes at the expense of more heat being generated by the chipset and with the some expense of battery life. I didn't notice any strange heating issues, maybe that horizontal perforated patterns on the top and bottom of the Be One's bezel plays into the Be One being able to dissipate more heat. In terms of battery life, I suppose we're possibly losing a couple of hours of battery life if Ulefone choice to run the CPU at the stock 1.4GHz. But it's apparent that the compromise was worth it to them.
Performance out of the box is great and leaves a satisfying experience. I was never under the impression that I was using a budget phone, I thought I was using a quality phone. Performance is fast, snappy, and smooth navigating across menus, app's, widgets, everything associated with the KitKat OS. As stated earlier, Ulefone chose to provide a KitKat OS that's very slim and without any bloat ware app's or any further skin customizations like other companies do, this I believe along with the MediaTek 6592M contributes to the satisfying experience with the Be One.
In terms of slowdowns and lag, I honestly did not see much of it going on, though just a tiny slowdown for a few seconds when I swiped across the widgets menu. Other than that its normally swift like wind, considerably better than my old Chinese Smartphone using the outdated MediaTek 6589 SOC, that one has noticeable slowdowns and lag, this new MTK6592 SOC has really showed me the age of the old MTK6589 SOC.
This Be One took only 6 seconds to load to the lock screen from a power off state. I'm 100% sure fast boot is enabled somewhere, yet I could not find that option to be disabled in its the usual location. Why am I sure that fast boot is enabled? Well because when the Be One is restarted, it takes 29 seconds to reach the lock screen. This is the true time it takes the Be One to start from a real power off state.
Waking up from standby and sleeping takes 1 second, shutdown appears to take 4 seconds before the screen is turned off, but more or likely there's no need to shut down.
Performance - Benchmark Results
We suggest you take a look through the gallery above to see all the results from the Be One and their breakdown, however, here are some of the scores below from various Benchmark apps.
Browsing & Multimedia
The Ulefone Be One is capable of connecting wirelessly to any 802.11B/G/N network, however, doesn't have support for the latest AC standard, not really a big deal in my opinion. I did not have any issues connecting to wireless networks with or without a password, I've had this trouble on some phones in the past.
The Be One's wireless antenna has better strength than my older Chinese Smartphone, the Newman NM890. Side by side on the second floor, and with the wireless router being on the first floor, the Be One gets 2-3 wireless bars out of 4, while Newman NM890 only gets 1 bar. The Ulefone reads Good signal strength instead of Fair signal strength on the Newman. Likewise the Be One's Link speed nets 48Mbps as opposed to only 18Mbps on the Newman. The Ulefone Be One's wireless antenna is indeed strong being able to pick up signals from quite a distance, I don't know if the horizontal perforated patterns on the top and bottom of the Be One's bezel has to do anything with helping achieve better wireless signals, though I suspect there is a possibility of that being the case. I haven't noticed any major differences in wireless range in comparison to other well known phones such as that of the HTC 8X or Galaxy S4.
As for the signal strength of the antenna that connects to the cell phone carriers network, it's similar to what I see with HTC 8X and Galaxy S4. Out of 4 total bars, in this area which is spotty at best, I always get 2 bars indoors in the house. If outdoors then the reception is usually excellent, unless I'm in an area with known spotty service. Call quality is good, and the call volume while not the absolutely loudest I've heard, is still quite high. The speakerphone on the other hand is very loud, Ulefone put a good speaker in the Be One.
The built-in Android Browser is compatible with just about every website and renders them without any issues on the 5.5" IPS OGS LG display, and the amount of detail shown is very high. You can read small fine text easily, it's like reading small font printed on a laser printer, its clear enough to read.
Go to YouTube and videos play out of the box without major issue, the only issue I saw was skipping to parts of the video causes it to play at super speed until the video catches up to the part you selected and it'll return back to normal speed. Not sure if this is a software issue with flash, etc. Go to Vimeo and watch videos and no problems occur. For Vimeo videos, ClearMotion is applied as its using an external video player, but it all plays within the browser without problems.
In terms of lag within the Android Browser, yes there is some lag and unresponsive/choppiness/stuttering while the webpage is being loaded initially, any attempts to scroll down and up will cause some delay, choppiness, and stuttering until the page fully loads. After its finished fully loading, scrolling up and down is smooth and quick. I don't think this has anything to do with the MediaTek MTK6592M CPU but rather more to do with the actual Android Browser, because I've seen and had this happen on many Android Smartphone's, even ones with more RAM.
Speaking about RAM, for Internet browsing I tend to leave a lot of pages open in tabs and go back and forth between them, just a habit. At times I did feel like having more RAM, at least an extra gig, to prevent the constant reloading of pages. I notice less of the reloading when using an S4 for example with its 2GB of RAM.
Browsing along website's, you can cut, copy, paste like you can do on your desktop machine. You can save web pages to view offline at a later time as well with the integrated browser, this feature has been on Android Browser for a while now.
Play Store is installed by default on the Ulefone Be One, so you can enjoy thousands of app's, games, books, movies, music. Play Store has come a long way and is just as great as the Apple App Store.
The Ulefone Be One is powerful enough to be used as a standalone movie playing machine. It supports just about any file formats you throw at it no matter the size, resolution or how they are encoded. And because of the 720p IPS OGS LG display, they look great! I've had no issues with AVI, MKV, MP4, WMV, XVID, H.264 and using subtitles, 720p or 1080p. Even Blu-Ray source files work smoothly with little buffering between jumping to different parts of the video, impressive to say the least. You can also download other media players such as MX Player if you want more features than the stock video player.
I tried playing 4K video, and while it did play, it was not 100% smooth. Maybe I needed to get another video player, but that could likely be the limit of the MTK 6592M. Thought I'd share even though it makes no sense to play 4K video on a 720p screen, and a small 5.5" at that, but thought I should try for review purposes to test the performance.
Ulefone advertises that the Be One comes with a 5.5" IPS OGS LG display with full lamination. I can't verify if an LG display is really used without opening the Smartphone, something I'm not prepared to do, however, this screen is one of the better 720p screens I've seen. On my unit there is no backlight bleeding, no clouding, no weird gradients, and the picture quality is sharp, with natural looking colors. The blacks are black but you can distinguish the shadows from the dark colors, they are not crushed blacks. The screen is a pleasure and joy to use, I see no reason to suspect otherwise.
I've had bad experiences in the past with some IPS screens. For example, another Chinese phone I had, called the Doogee DG350, had a weird 5.0" IPS screen, the picture looked like it had fine graining and weird gradients, and it had visible backlight bleeding in the corners. The Ulefone Be One has no such issue.
The built-in speaker on the Be One can become real loud, which is a good thing. It's more than enough for general YouTube usage, phone call speakerphone use, gaming, but like most Smartphone's out there, the internal speaker lacks any depth and passion. But it is louder than other Smartphone's I've heard, its a good one. Using the 3.5mm headphone jack solves the problem of lack of passion and should be used if you really want a great audio experience.
Audio Quality - Any Good?
Sound quality when using earphones or headphones with the Ulefone Be One is the best way to go. I've been more than impressed with how the Be One sounds, it has legitimately great sound quality. Ulefone does not advertise what kind of DAC chip it contains, however, it's without a doubt one of the better ones out there, especially from a Chinese Smartphone. My old Chinese Smartphone, the Newman NM890 also had a great DAC (also not advertised what it was), it had an awful lot of bass and it pounded so hard with Sennheiser's Momentum On-Ear Headphones. However, the sheer power of the low end did spill into the mid-range and highs taking away from the clarity of those frequencies.
But with this Ulefone Be One, though admittedly I noticed it has marginally less low end than the Newman NM890, it still has impressive punch for its low end bass, but now better and clearer mid to high range than the Newman NM890. I'd gladly take that compromise. The Be One's sound quality is vibrant, clear, punchy, honest. Compare this to the sound quality on the Doogee DG350 I had, that one really was simply horrible. The DAC inside the Doogee DG350 was flat like a pancake, it sounded like listening through a tin can. Music had no life, it felt tiny, little, artificial, it was likely one of the worse sounding Smartphone's I've ever come across.
I have the HTC 8X Windows Phone that comes with Beats Audio, so I'd like to compare with that. The Ulefone Be One can compete dynamically and musically with what I've heard from the HTC 8X, though ultimately the 8X with Beats Audio is better, but not by as much as you would think. HTC 8X has more output through the headphone jack than the Ulefone Be One has (so the Be One has to be at a higher volume to match the same volume level on HTC 8X), the 8X with Beats Audio has got even more low end bass than the Newman NM890 had, and the mid to top end is a tad bit more revealing than the Be One. But that's nothing to take away from the Be One's sound quality, its genuinely impressive and I venture you get 80% of what I was hearing in the HTC 8X with Beats Audio for a substantially less budget. For that reason I feel the Be One is even more impressive when you factor in the price, I can live with the audio quality on the Be One all day.
Editors Update (February 2015): A new revelation has since emerged from when we last posted our Ulefone Be One review. This new information has made everything we thought and experienced with the Be One's camera performance make complete sense now. We pointed out how the camera images on the OnePlus One (another popular Chinese Smartphone) looked significantly better than the photos being produced by the Ulefone Be One, which was sold and marketed as having the same Sony IMX214 camera sensor as the OnePlus One.
It didn't make complete sense to me at the time why such a big difference was seen between said Smartphones with the same image sensor. I questioned the quality of the lens being part of the reason why the photos looked blurry on the outer edges of the photo, but now I know the major reason why the rest of the camera photo looked the way it does and disappointed me as being a lost opportunity. I even suggested that Ulefone make a firmware update to improve the camera quality because optimized firmware if done right can produce amazing results for Smartphone cameras, ask Apple about this.
There's an Australian and now US adaptation of a TV show called Secrets & Lies that I've watched and I guess has some relevance now to what has been revealed here in this case.
Ulefone advertised their Be One Smartphone and newly released bigger brother model, the Be Pro Smartphone, with a Sony IMX214 13MP rear camera sensor. This was clear from all the marketing materials and images Ulefone sent out to all the online resellers of Chinese Smartphones, and made even more clearer from the sticker placed on the Ulefone box which states with 100% certainty the same information, a rear Sony 13MP IMX214 camera sensor. Why in the world would you place these pieces of information in the first place? This was one of the major selling points of the Ulefone Be One (and bigger brother model Be Pro) Smartphone, that it had a camera sensor found in more expensive models. This was one of the reasons why I purchased the Ulefone Be One with my own money and reviewed it.
Well guess what folks? Let's call a spade a spade. Ulefone lied. Ulefone knowingly lied about the Be One and now Be Pro Smartphone's having a rear 13MP Sony IMX214 camera sensor and continued to sell them for weeks with this known information hidden from the general public.
On February 4, 2014 at 7:19pm, on Ulefone's official Facebook page, they released a letter of apology. It's a short paragraph that states the following...
We are sorry that we mentioned that our phones uses Sony camera in our disclosed product information. It is a mistake made by our official when we were doing marketing promotion. Although Sony camera technology is widely used for a varies of phone cameras, our camera indeed is not Sony.
As you see from the above statement, Ulefone got caught red handed and with their pants down. If certain events hadn't unfolded the way it did, this information would have very likely been kept quiet. What a shame. Even more shameful in my eyes is the statement suggesting blame toward an individual (their official) employee, suggesting it was his or her mistake when they were doing their marketing promotions and released the wrong information. Hello, I'm not sure how many employees your company has, but are you telling me not one individual of the whole company did not spot this error, for many weeks spanning pre-order to release and then finds this out now? You send out marketing materials for weeks, you spend lots of time spreading news of your brand and awareness of the Be One, and then you ship them out with stickers that have Sony IMX214 written on it, and no one knows there's a very big discrepancy? It's very hard to for me to believe Ulefone's word. I can only conclude that this was done on purpose to drive up sales. What a sneaky, devious, dirty tactic in order to gain thousands of sales based on false information. What a crying shame, talk about shooting yourself in the foot when your original purpose was to improve the brand awareness of the Ulefone name. Well your brand name is tarnished, congratulations.
Supposedly this is what happened that caused Ulefone to be caught. They released the bigger brother of the phone I reviewed, which is the Be One, but this new better Smartphone is called the Be Pro. It was advertised to have the same 13MP Sony IMX214 image sensor. But when folks received their order, the cameras only could push out 8MP photos. Questions were raised with Ulefone. But the nail in the coffin was from a Hispanic tech forum called HTCMania, where a member had enough luck to accidentally drop their Ulefone Be Pro Smartphone on ground shattering the phone rendering it useless. Then he decided to open up the already broken Ulefone Be Pro to only find the camera module with the numbers on it of "8865". 8865 referred to a camera sensor from OmniVision, not Sony. To make matters worse, the OmniVision OV8865 is an 8-megapixel camera sensor, not 13-megapixel. The sensor isn't as advertised and based on specs alone is clearly not as good.
The forum member had the bigger brother model Ulefone Be Pro and that had the OmniVision 8865 image sensor as was revealed. The Ulefone Be One Smartphone I reviewed here is part of this fiasco and according to Ulefone has the same OmniVision sensor according to their Facebook Apology Letter, however, I wanted to myself figure out if I could verify if it indeed had the same image sensor and not something else. I can't really trust them after this. So I found out in Android if you have a Root Browser and open the file called "camera_version" in location of /proc/camera you can find out what camera sensor you have. So I can confirm that on this Ulefone Be One I reviewed, it contains the OmniVision 8865 image sensor for the rear, and can confirm that the front camera is indeed the Samsung S5K5E2. Here is the attached photo showing this.
OmniVision is not a bad camera sensor company, they are used in many Smartphones on the market for many years. They have some sensor models that are used in lower end solutions and are okay, but they also have some great sensors used in higher end offerings. Even Apple has used OmniVision camera sensors on numerous occasions, so if Apple uses them, that says what they are capable of when in good hands.
You can find more information on the 8-megapixel OmniVision OV8865 camera sensor here...
Here are a few quick points regarding the OmniVision OV8865 8-megapixel camera sensor...
• OmniVision's OV8865 is a low-power high-performance 8-megapixel camera solution for next-generation Smartphones and tablets. Utilizing an improved 1.4-micron OmniBSI-2™ pixel, the OV8865 delivers best-in-class pixel performance in a smaller, more power efficient package compared to the previous generation OV8835 sensor.
• The OV8865 offers a number of performance improvements including a five percent improvement in dynamic range and a 50 percent reduction in dark current, resulting in superior high- and low-light images. Furthermore, the OV8865 consumes considerably less power than the OV8835, achieving the sub 200 mW benchmark preferred by high-end mobile device manufacturers.
• The 1/3.2-inch OV8865 supports an active array of 3264 x 2448 (8-megapixels) operating at 30 frames per second (fps) for high-speed photography. The sensor is also capable of capturing 1080p high-definition (HD) video at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps.
So forget what I talked about in my review explaining about the Sony IMX214 camera sensor. Throw that out of the window and judge the photos by how they appear to you. So obviously keep in mind that the Ulefone Be One is interpolating photos from 8 to 13-megapixels.
Original Unedited Review Portion Below
Okay let me get this question out of the way real quick. Is the camera on the Ulefone Be One as good or better than the cameras found on the original Samsung Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note 2, or Galaxy S4? The answer is a resounding no! And in no way does it have to be considering the $140USD price tag. But as you are about to find out, it could have been so much better!
Most Chinese Smartphone's, and for that matter some big name Smartphone's, do not reveal what kind of camera sensor is using used. Ulefone on the other hand discloses this information because this is one of the major selling points of the Be One that they want to make. Most Chinese Smartphone's in this price range ($150-$200) have really bad cameras, though a few of them have okay cameras. And more likely than not, they come with really cheap lenses and few generations old camera sensors to keep cost down. You would have to spend more money, $250 and upward if you wanted a good camera with a good camera sensor.
But Ulefone doesn't want you to have a crappy camera on a $140USD investment, and thank Ulefone for being that nice.
The Ulefone Be One makes due with a 13 megapixel Sony IMX214 (1/3.06") stacked CMOS image sensor for the main rear camera. The Sony IMX214 is paired to a to f/2.2 lens on the Be One. This camera sensor is a formidable one WHEN and IF paired with a good lens, and if the right camera firmware optimizations are made. The Sony IMX214 sensor is still being used today in a number of more expensive Smartphone's
What is equally interesting is that the secondary front facing camera utilizes an 8 megapixel Samsung S5K5E2 BSI imaging sensor paired to f/2.8 lens. It should be noted that the 8-megapixel front camera is interpolated from the native 5-megapixels, because the Samsung S5K5E2 BSI imaging sensor has a native maximum resolution of 2560x1920 according to Samsung's product catalogue specifications. This sensor is EOL (end of life) at the time of writing.
It's interesting that Ulefone neglected to put this information regarding the front Samsung S5K5E2 BSI camera sensor on the box. I mean they already mentioned the Sony IMX214 sensor info on the box, I would have thought you would list the Samsung as well. Turns out if I hadn't ever looked at the press material specifications list, I would have never known. For a $140USD phone, having these name brand components from Sony and Samsung should be something you should tell, doesn't matter if the front camera sensor, the Samsung S5K5E2, is already EOL.
The Sony IMX214 (1/3.06") stacked CMOS image sensor is used on such Smartphone's as the Google Nexus 6, HTC Desire Eye, Huawei Honor 6, OnePlus One, Xiaomi Mi4, Huawei Ascend G7, Oppo Find 7a, Oppo N1, ZTE Nubia Z7, and more. This Sony sensor is actually one of the better ones on the market, even by today's standard.
The Samsung S5K5E2 BSI image sensor is used on such Smartphone's as the HTC One mini 2, HTC One (M8), and HTC Desire 816.
So is the Ulefone Be One's camera any good? Short answer is yes, especially at this price point, the Be One camera is just only good. Good as in not very good, not great, not excellent. Again not even in the same league as that on the original Samsung Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S4, or even HTC 8X Windows Phone. But with a great 720p LG IPS OGS screen on the Be One, the screen will make the photos look better than they actually are, until you look at it on a computer or bigger screen.
Long answer is, both cameras could have been so much better if they were paired with better lenses and if Ulefone actually optimized their camera firmware. As it stands, I think Ulefone just put a good camera sensor in the Be One and hoped it would work out on its own. But it doesn't work this way, it never does.
It's just like a vehicle paint job, the paint job will only be as good as the prep work. If the prep work sucks, the paint job sucks. Likewise for any camera, the more work you put into the camera firmware with software optimizations, algorithms, the more quality you get from the photo in the end. It's as simple as that. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure most Chinese phone companies don't care about camera optimizations as opposed to big name vendors such as Apple and Samsung. If these companies spent more time optimizing their camera code and firmware, then camera quality can definitely be improved greatly. Then again, this requires more money to accomplish because you have to hire the right people to do the job, and the goal of all companies is to make the most profit right?
I've provided some full resolution 100% crops from the Ulefone Be One, my old Newman NM890, and the HTC 8X Windows Phone that you can compare the differences between each. I even threw in a photo from a Samsung NX2000 for fun, just to show what a larger sensor achieves, something I always mention in my DSLR reviews.
The Be One, on paper, has a better rear camera than my old Newman NM890 (though not a substantial jump in real world, a disappointing lost opportunity for Ulefone as you'll find out), the Sony IMX214 camera sensor is paired to a lens that offers a bit more FOV (field of view) which means you can have more objects contained within the photo (always good), captures more detail in the photo, dynamic range is slightly better, the contrast is slightly less harsh than the camera on the Newman, and the lens is a slight upgrade having a larger aperture of f/2.2 on the Ulefone compared to only f/2.4 on the Newman, this means more light is being captured.
On the negative, the Be One's rear camera, compared to my old Newman NM890 (also 13MP), have more noise in the photos and are not as smooth looking and artifact free as the shots from the Newman NM890, even though it has a tad bit more detail.
The major thing that bugs me about the Be One's rear camera is that that the photos are more distorted on the edges of the photos than my old Newman NM890 exhibited. The Be One is usually distorted or blurry on the edges of the photo.
I think this ultimately comes down to the actual lens Ulefone decided to pair the Sony camera sensor with, I don't think the lens is up to par with the camera sensor, I think they skimped out on the lens. I believe aside from software optimizations, this is the one of the major causes of poor looking photos. Apparently the Newman NM890 has a better quality lens on an unknown camera sensor.
Ulefone doesn't mention anything about the lens they paired with the Sony IMX214 camera sensor, how many elements the lens have, any further coatings, etc. So for example, the center portion of the image looks clear, but once you start looking off center, it gradually becomes darker, sometimes changing color and it starts to distort and get blurry.
Why do I know that this lens combination on the Ulefone is wrong for the Sony IMX214 camera sensor? Because the OnePlus One Smartphone has this same exact Sony IMX214 camera sensor and does not exhibit the same issues that the Ulefone Be One has, you can check on Google but the photos coming out of the OnePlus One are significantly better than those coming out of the Ulefone Be One. My friend has a OnePlus One and I hope to update this review at a later time to compare the cameras.
Remember the Ulefone Be One is paired with a f/2.2 lens with unknown amount of lens elements. Well the OnePlus One Smartphone comes with a f/2.0 aperture lens containing six elements on the lens according to the engineering team at OnePlus. It's very clear that OnePlus did their homework on which lens to pair with the Sony IMX214, and its clear that they have an engineering team that has been made to focus on the camera, likely creating software optimizations on the firmware along the way. Apparently this is not something Ulefone has or did not focus on or else they would have done it.
Why do the number of elements on a lens matter for a camera? You've heard me talking about number of elements/coatings/ED glass on specific lens in my older Nikon DSLR camera reviews. You even read me talking about buying faster glass for your DSLR, as the majority out there uses the same APS-C size sensor, in the end lens matter. I wish all Smartphone's had full frame sensors, but that's physically impossible, unless you want a chunky Smartphone.
Elements in lenses matter because the number of elements on a lens (all lenses are made up of multiple lens elements arranged in a specific way to combat certain issues) affects the way a photo is captured, and is used to correct the many types of optical aberrations. You have coatings and lens elements that correct lens flare issues, purple fringing, chromatic aberration, numerous issues. Again there is a cost factor involved and more or likely Ulefone did not want to absorb this cost and decided to compromise (cut corner?) and use a cheaper lens, and the picture quality suffers as a result. On a larger DSLR lens there can be up to 16 lens elements. On a smaller Smartphone there is usually around 2-6. I have no clue how many lens elements are on the Ulefone Be One's lens, all I know is that it doesn't have enough.
One more thing that bugged me is with the lack of camera optimizations made by Ulefone. Out of the box, the camera's auto white balance is not the best. It has a tendency to choose a cooler color cast, even on a sunny day. It was indoors but clearly sunny, but I had to manually select the Daylight white balance to get a proper white balance or else the photo had a blue cast.
I don't know if I made the rear camera sound worse than it actually is. It's still a good camera considering the price. It just could have been so much better, what a missed opportunity by Ulefone to achieve something greater. On paper, this should have been a big jump up from my old Newman NM890 camera, however that is not the case, its unfortunately just a smaller jump in improvement. Best thing is to check out the full resolution samples below and judge for yourself.
I hope Ulefone one day releases a firmware upgrade that improves the camera substantially. They should really consider doing this for their promised update to Android 5.0 Lollipop at a later date, or even right now for Android 4.4.2 KitKat. They do the Be One a disservice by not doing anything to improve the camera since it already has a good camera sensor, but it's not being taken advantage of to the fullest extent that its known to be able to perform.
Samsung S5K5E2 BSI Front Camera - Any Good?
I won't spend as much time with the front camera as I did the rear. But I was pleasantly surprised with the Samsung S5K5E2. Overall it was a massive jump up in front camera performance compared to my old Newman NM890 Smartphone. My old phone front camera had very little detail, dull and washed out colors, it was just bad for a selfie camera.
The front camera used on the Ulefone Be One could have been used as a rear camera when paired with the correct lens with a wider field of view. The Samsung S5K5E2 provided decent to good detail for a selfie camera. I felt that Ulefone also chose the cheap route by pairing the Samsung S5K5E2 with a cheaper, narrower, and slower f/2.8 lens, however, I did notice the lens is optimized for close up shots. I would have preferred a wider field of view to fit at least two individuals with the front camera's frame, however, that's not the case. Fitting two faces on the same frame with the front camera would likely be a tough thing to do, unless you had really long arms. Fitting yourself in the frame is easily done, so its regulated to a selfie portrait camera.
You can take 8-Megapixel images with the front camera, however, that is interpolated as the Samsung S5K5E2 BSI imaging sensor's native maximum resolution is only 2560x1920. It still looks good even when interpolated, but best left at its native 5MP resolution.
Original Test Images & Video Samples
1080P Video Sample - YouTube
720P Video Sample - YouTube
This is a very important area for most customers because they don't want to be charging their phones all day long. The Ulefone Be One has a fairly large 2350mAh battery. Would have been great if a 3000mAh battery was used, however, again that would have driven the cost up. 2350mAh is a good compromise considering the 720p screen and energy efficient MTK 6592M processor.
With moderate usage consisting of movie playback, YouTube, GPS, Music, Internet Browsing, Video Recording, 3D game playback, I managed to get around 15-16 hours. If I used the Be One sparingly, I easily see over 1 day of battery life.
If you require a Smartphone with fast lock on GPS and use GPS frequently, the best thing would be looking at Smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon SOC. The GPS units inside Qualcomm SOC's are so much better because of GLONASS support and they are generally much faster than MediaTek.
MediaTek has always had problems with their GPS out of the box, their GPS units just are not the best. I've never had a MediaTek device with working GPS out of the box, it was only until I had to fix it that it worked. I'm sure they work better in Asia, but you always have to tweak and fiddle around with either EPO settings on MediaTek devices or delve into the MediaTek Engineering Mode and fiddle around with A-GPS and EPO modes. MediaTek uses A-GPS (Assisted GPS) that needs the latest EPO (Extended Prediction Orbit) files to help the device locate GPS satellites. Qualcomm uses a different system with GLONASS and its so much better.
Out of the box the Ulefone Be One's GPS did not work for me, and since the Be One is not rooted, I didn't have a way to root the phone as of yet. On my Chinese Newman NM890, I had to fix GPS by rooting the phone and then downloading an app that allowed me to automatically download the EPO files.
However, since there doesn't seem to be a way yet to root the Ulefone Be One, I thought I was out of luck. Luckily after many hours of fiddling around, I found an app that let me get inside MediaTek's Engineering Mode in the phone and though I have no exact clue what I did to get GPS working, I got GPS working.
it seemed that by going to MTK Settings Mode ---> Location ----> Location Based Service ---> YGPS ---> Information sub tab and pressing AGPS restart, and then heading back to Location ----> Location Based Service ---> AGPS sub tab, change A-GPS mode from MSB to Standalone. Then head to EPO sub tab and hit EPO (Download). Head back to AGPS sub tab again and change A-GPS mode back to MSB.
After that, the GPS on the Ulefone Be One started working for me! After about 30-40 seconds it started picking up and locking on GPS satellites, and got even quicker thereafter. It should be noted that on most Qualcomm based phones, GPS is picked up within a few seconds, much faster.
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Boy oh boy, I think this is one of the longest reviews I've done, almost 17 pages of written text and two full length YouTube videos. Took a lot of work but I think it was worth it.
Overall I'm satisfied with the Ulefone Be One Smartphone. Sure it's not perfect, or the fastest, or the best, but I don't think there's such a thing as a perfect Smartphone. But for my needs, and for most other people's needs, the Ulefone Be One is more than enough. For $140USD, the Ulefone Be One makes a solid case for a purchase in a very saturated market.
The Be One's performance is quick and snappy that I don't notice I'm using a budget oriented phone, it can play 1080p videos, Blu-Ray videos without problems, the 720p LG IPS OGS display is greatly satisfying and enjoyable to use, the Be One also has fairly good rear and front cameras using imaging sensors from Sony and Samsung respectively (though could have been much better, disappointing opportunity lost), and the sound quality from the internal DAC is legitimately satisfying. Dual SIM cards allows me to leave my Canadian SIM card in the phone and place a worldwide SIM card when I travel. Micro SD expansion allows me to have tons of music and video when I'm traveling. It also comes with 2 screen protectors and a free protective case.
The Ulefone Be One Smartphone earns ModSynergy's Recommended rating.