A capable rugged phone at a very good price, the Ulefone might not be the fastest handset out there or have the best screen but for many people it prove ideal.
Price When Reviewed
We all try to look after our smartphones and protect them from damage, but for some users doing so is almost impossible. If your job involves manual labour or you’re into extreme sports, your phone is more vulnerable to the elements than most. For these type of users a rugged phone such as this Ulefone Armor will make a great purchase. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2017
Available from GearBest at the attractive price of £122.34 ($149.99/136.92€), the Armor is IP68-certified waterproof, dustproof, shockproof and can withstand temperatures from -40°C to 80°C. With a Gorilla Glass 3 coating the screen is also scratchproof.
Ulefone claims it has an extra strong signal thanks to a large antenna and that plastic casing, which combined with built-in GPS and a compass will be useful in the great outdoors. Battery life is also good from the 3500mAh lithium-polymer cell, and there’s a dedicated SOS button should you get lost.
In other respects this isn’t the most exciting smartphone, but with reasonable performance it will get the job done.
If you decide to go ahead and buy the Ulefone Armor from GearBest you should be prepared to factor import duty into the overall cost. This is calculated at 20 percent of whatever value is on the shipping paperwork, plus an admin fee of around £11. For more advice on buying tech from China see our article on grey-market tech.
Ulefone Armor design and build
The design of the Armor is perhaps the most interesting thing about it. With a blend of TPU and polycarbonate plastic and rubber, nothing is getting in or out of this case – water, dust or otherwise. Also see: Best Android phones 2017
Ulefone claims it uses waterproof gum to attach this case to the phone, and waterproof film to cover any inevitable gaps. The touchscreen has also been optimised to work effectively with wet fingers, and worked well in our tests.
The Armor has an IP68 rating, which means it can withstand up to 1.2m of water for up to 30 minutes, but in Ulefone’s own testing it was able to withstand up to 1.5m of water in that time.
The rugged case adds some thickness to the smartphone, which measures 12.5mm at its thickest point. Thankfully, though, the smaller-than-most 4.7in screen keeps down the overall size of the handset. It’s still reasonably weighty at 195g, but reassuringly so.
This screen is sadly only an HD panel, with a resolution of 1280×720 pixels. It’s been a while since we tested anything with a lower than full-HD resolution, even in the budget market, but because the screen is ‘small’ everything still looks sharp. It has a pixel density of 313ppi, which is only just short of the iPhone’s 326ppi.
You might find the screen a little dull for outdoor use in the brightest conditions, and contrast is also lacking, but on the whole it is a good performer with realistic colours and good clarity. Also see: Best mid-range phones 2017
The Ulefone Armor has an interesting design, and is instantly recognisable as a rugged phone. Available in black or orange and black (we reviewed the latter), it’s a bit like Marmite: you’ll love it or you’ll hate it.
On the orange and black model an orange plastic trim runs the circumference of the screen, which itself has pretty large bezels. Though this is often something you find in cheap phones, here it is purposely created to protect the screen from damage.
The orange colour scheme is more obvious at the rear, which comprises six vertical panels with a rough, textured surface that helps you grip it with wet or cold hands. The second panel down features two screws, which you remove in order to prise off the panel and access the dual Micro-SIM slots and microSD port.
Screws also hold in place the other rear panels, but these require a different type of screwdriver to the one supplied in the box for getting to the SIM slots. We don’t think Ulefone wants you to remove these.
At the top of the rear is a 13Mp camera with a waterproof housing and a single LED flash, and to the right of this a mono speaker. The Armor wasn’t built for audio quality, and not only will it fire sound into your palm or on to a table or flat surface, but the results are rather tinny.
At the bottom of the Ulefone is a large silver, grooved piece, which we think is part of the antenna. As we mentioned previously, Ulefone claims excellent signal strength for the Armor.
Because the casing is rather thick, also in the box you’ll find an extender cable for the 3.5mm headphone jack, and a Micro-USB charging cable with a slightly longer prong than most (you might find using third-party USB cables tricky).
Both these ports are hidden behind a rubber flap – we would prefer to see waterproofing on the ports themselves, as is the case with the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7, but this phone costs nowhere near as much so we can hardly complain.
It’s a shame not to see USB-C here but, again, this is a budget phone, and the processor doesn’t support any form of quick charging in any case. Ulefone supplies a 5W charger but it’s a two-prong adaptor, so we recommend using your previous handset’s USB charger or buying a third-party model.
Below the screen are three physical buttons for home, back and multi-tasking. These are waterproof and coated in rubber, and like the other buttons on the phone require extra pressure to operate. Bizarrely, above the back button is an onscreen back button, but with no label. Had we not noticed it mentioned in the Quick Start Guide we would have thought the phone was playing up.
Ulefone Armor review continues on the next page >>
The Ulefone Armor also features something that’s becoming increasingly rare these days: a dedicated camera button. It’s located at the bottom of the phone’s right edge, as you’d expect, but serves only as a shutter button: it won’t launch the camera from standby.
Just up from this is an SOS button. If you’re going to be going out and getting yourself lost then you may see the need for this. Provided you have configured it beforehand, pressing this button will automatically call and send a text message to a specified contact informing them of your GPS co-ordinates and the fact you need help.
The SOS button works only with the first SIM, and we didn’t like its position where we’d usually expect to find the power button. However, it does usefully serve to wake the screen when inadvertently pressed.
Separate volume buttons are found on the phone’s left edge, while the power button is up top.
One issue we have with the Ulefone Armor is its lack of notification LEDs, which means you’ve no way of knowing you have a missed call, text, email or other without picking it up and waking the screen.
Ulefone Armor core hardware and performance
Battery life from the Armor should be good, which is important if you’re away from civilisation and unable to fast-charge the battery. Ulefone quotes a full day’s heavy usage, or two days with lighter use. It says it will endure 300 hours on standby, or six hours of constant talk time. (And you can always use a power bank if you need more.)
In other respects performance is nothing to shout about, but the Armor is capable of most tasks. It’s only a little slower than the Helio P10-powered Nomu S30 in general processing speed tests, for example, but a little faster in graphics tests which is likely due to the lower-resolution screen.
The Ulefone Armor runs a 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 octa-core 64-bit processor with the integrated ARM Mali-T720 GPU. This is paired with 3GB of RAM and a generous 32GB of storage, plus you can add a further 64GB through microSD. Also see: How to add storage to Android
In Geekbench 4 we recorded 603 points in the single-core component and 2571 multi-core. AnTuTu 6 clocked the Armor at 37,404, and in GFXBench it recorded onscreen framerates of 20fps in T-Rex, 9fps in Manhattan and 7fps in Manhattan 3.1. Also see: What’s the fastest phone?
Ulefone Armor connectivity and extras
Fingerprint scanners are pretty standard even in budget Chinese phones, but you won’t find one in the Ulefone Armor. That’s really all you’re missing, though, because the phone supports dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, GPS, GLONASS, Bluetooth 4.0, OTG and NFC. The latter could be useful for mobile payments and cut down the amount of gear you have to take out and about with you, but only provided a fingerprint is not required for authentication.
As we touched upon earlier, the Armor is a dual-SIM dual-standby phone, and allows you to insert two Micro-SIM cards for two different networks. This can be useful for managing separate SIMs for home and work, or local and abroad. Only one can be specified for data usage, but both numbers can make and receive calls and texts.
A bonus: you’re not forced to choose between microSD and dual-SIM functionality as you are with phones that feature hybrid SIM slots.
If you’ll be using the Armor in the UK, it’s good to know that all three of the UK’s 4G LTE frequency bands are covered, meaning you should get the strongest signal your mobile network can offer wherever you may be. Also see: How to tell whether a phone is supported by your network.
Ulefone Armor cameras
We weren’t expecting miracles from the Ulefone’s 13Mp, five-piece-lens camera with single-LED flash – this phone simply isn’t designed to be a premium camera phone. As such the camera app is very basic, and changing any of the options (such as selecting HDR) will slow things down.
Viewing images at full-size noise is noticeable, though a fair amount of detail is captured and colours are reasonably natural. The Armor is certainly up to the task of snapshotting your latest excursion or whatever job you’re working on, provided you’re not trying to take those shots in the dark. Also see: Best phone cameras 2017
You can view a couple of our test shots with Auto and HDR settings below. (Click to view full-size.)
The Ulefone Armor also has a 5Mp selfie camera, which is fine for video chat and Snapchat.
Our review sample showed a glitch where all the icons in the camera app would twitch after we switched between the main and selfie cameras. It was still usable, but offputting, and a restart seemed to fix whatever had gone wrong.
Ulefone Armor software
The Armor runs a fairly standard version of Android 6 Marshmallow, which was succeeded in late 2016 with Nougat. We don’t know if or when the Ulefone will be updated. Also see: Best phones 2017
You’ll find an entry for the SOS button in the settings menu, and Ulefone has applied its own theme to the UI which changes the look and feel of the shortcuts on the home screen, but aside from this everything should be as you’d expect.
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Ulefone Armor: Specs
- 4.7in HD (1280×720, 313ppi) LTPS display, Gorilla Glass 3
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 octa-core 64-bit processor
- ARM Mali-T720 GPU
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB storage
- microSD support up to 64GB
- rugged design: waterproof, shockproof, dust-proof, scratch-resistant, temperature -40°C to 80°C
- dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Micro, SOS function works only with SIM 1)
- 4G FDD-LTE 800/1700/1800/2100/2600MHz
- dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
- GPS, GLONASS
- 13Mp, 5P rear camera with single-LED flash
- 5Mp, 5P front camera
- SOS button
- dedicated camera button
- 3.5mm headphone jack (with extender)
- 3500mAh lithium-polymer battery