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Ubik Uno REVIEW: From Kickstarter to nonstarter

by Mark Burstiner | September 23, 2015September 23, 2015 3:00 pm PDT

These days, the question isn’t whether you are a Kickstarter phone, it’s whether you’re the best Kickstarter phone. Let’s find out if the Ubik Uno has what it takes to be a forerunner in the democratization of the smartphone.

The Ubik Uno was reviewed over a period of seven days. The Ubik team also made it very clear that what we’re using now is a pre-production sample. It is hand built, and it is not totally representative of the completed product. Any hardware issues we see here should be resolved by the time production spins up.

The Ubik Uno is an interesting device. The team behind it has a ton of experience working at major OEMs, so this ain’t their first rodeo. The device has a distinct look to it with its nonexistent side bezels and tall form factor. It feels sturdy enough in the hand and feels premium with its metal frame and chamfered edges. The back is a plastic non-removable panel with a radial texture that adds some grip. I wouldn’t use the word “nice” to describe how it feels in the hand, but it doesn’t feel bad either. It’s a very utilitarian feel.

Alright, let’s talk specs:
• Mediatek Octacore MT6795 2.2 Ghz
• 3 GB RAM
• 20MP Sony camera
• 16 GB onboard expandable by up to 64Gb via microSD
• Android 5.1.1
• 3100 mAh
• 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS Display

The rest of the hardware is just kind of there. The buttons are identical and difficult to tell apart. The U logo on the chin seems like it should be a button and it’s not. The speakers get tinny at higher volumes, but they’re serviceable otherwise, and the left side is where you’ll find your SIM and microSD slots.

The 5.5-inch display is strong. Color temperature is a bit off for me and I wish colors were a bit more saturated, but the blacks are rich, and sharpness is where you’d expect it to be at 400 DPI. Where it does take a dip is the responsiveness of the touch panel. It definitely feels like the touch panel here is sub par.

Ubik Uno Review

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Check out this comparison between the Galaxy Note 5 and the Ubik Uno. You can see that the Uno has a much harder time maintaining a consistent touch response and it comes through in day to day usage.

Camera

One of the other marquee features of the Uno is the camera. On paper, the giant Sony sensor on the back should snap some great images. In practice, it still needs a lot of work. The camera is totally unable to focus on anything close up, whether in Instagram, in the camera app, or the Google camera app. The 120 FPS video doesn’t quite work yet, resulting in a choppy melee of visual and audio. The software, though, is easy enough to use and does offer a ton of options, but that’s really not enough to justify such poor performance across the board. I’m crossing my fingers that this is a simple issue of the software not quite being ready for primetime, and not a fundamental shortcoming with the camera module.

Processor

The Ubik Uno is rocking a Mediatek processor. Mediatek gets a really bad rap in mobile largely in part due to the company’s refusal to share source code, which means that custom ROMs and third-party patches aren’t something you should expect to see on the Uno. This is kind of unfortunate because I do think that Mediatek is doing good work. The company is focusing on multicores and intelligent cluster management and it really shows. Mediatek’s work on Heterogeneous Multi-Processing is the same tech that Samsung is working towards with Exynos chipsets, and Samsung doesn’t share source either. If you’re happy using a Samsung processor, I have a hard time seeing why you’d have a problem with Mediatek.

Performance was excellent. Aside from the obvious issue of touch panel responsiveness, the Uno was always ready for me to throw something at it. The benchmarks certainly don’t look great compared to similarly priced cohorts, but I never had any issues with performance. Animations were smooth, apps were responsive, and where other devices would lag, the Uno didn’t bat an eyelash. I’ve never used a Mediatek processor before, but I was very pleasantly surprised with the quality it brought to the table.

The software here is totally inoffensive. It’s mostly stock Android with a few small tweaks. There are some nice additions like tap to wake and gestures, but everything else is entirely stock and that’s a good thing. Stock Android is likely one of the reasons this thing feels like it runs so smoothly. The battery life was totally fine. Not crazy good, but I didn’t have any issues with it, though this is probably because I wasn’t able to get any SIM cards working on LTE here in California. Hopefully that’s something that gets resolved before they hit production.

As far as a value devices go, we’re about to start seeing some seriously heavy hitters in the arena, and if you want to win you have to bring your A-game. The Ubik Uno just doesn’t seem to do anything that other manufacturers aren’t doing. In its second iteration, Ubik will be counting on the community to let the company know what features to support and what the design of the device should be like, but for now, it’s just another budget device. It’s not a bad phone, I’m just not sure it’s doing enough to make a name for itself right now.

The Ubik Uno isn’t the worst phone you can buy for the price, but that isn’t the point, is it? In a space that is getting more and more crowded by the day, we need revolution, not evolution.

The Ubik comes in at $320, which is certainly at the lower end of the value device range, but I’m struggling to see anything special about it beyond the totally reasonable price. I hope next year’s entry, which will have been fueled by the Ubik community, is a little bit more forward thinking. Even though this isn’t the phone I’d be rushing out to get, I still think it’s good for the industry that it exists.

Disclaimer: Ubik sent us a hand built pre production unit to review and was formally reviewed for seven days.


Mark Burstiner

Mark is a former entrepreneur from New York by way of Chicago. He's a tech enthusiast and heavy gamer. If it's bleeding edge, he wants it. If it's...

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