Ulefone BeTouch budget 4G phone review: Impossible to fault under £150

I'm finding it incredibly difficult to find fault with the Ulefone BeTouch, and that says a lot about a phone that costs less than £150. Find out why in our Ulefone BeTouch review. Updated on 14/4/15 with our video review. Also see: Best cheap 4G phones.

Ulefone's BeTouch is a Chinese phone that's available to buy in the UK through Geekbuying for just £147 at the time of writing. Bear in mind that Geekbuying ships the BeTouch from China, so you may also incur import duty. Before you buy this budget phone you should read up on our advice on the pros and cons of buying cheap phones from China. If you do decide to take the plunge and purchase the BeTouch, you absolutely won't regret your choice.

Not only does this phone offer dual-SIM functionality (dual-standby to be exact - find out what that means in our dual-SIM buying advice), but one of those two SIMs supports 4G. And unlike many dual-SIM phones, it doesn't force you to choose between a second SIM and storage expansion - you can boost the BeTouch's 16GB of internal storage by as much as 64GB through microSD, and add a second SIM.

Then again, 16GB is a decent amount of storage for such a cheap smartphone, particularly when you consider that the Ulefone BeTouch is refreshingly free from bloatware. Running an absolutely vanilla version of Android 5.0 Lollipop, we were amazed to find all but one shortcut fit on a single page of the app tray out of the box - and that's the Nexus launcher app tray, of course.

Ulefone BeTouch review: Impossible to fault under £150, the Ulefone BeTouch budget 4G phone ticks all our boxes

Without the hindrance of bloatware, performance from the 64-bit octa-core MediaTek processor is good. In Geekbench 3, for example, the Ulefone was beaten only by the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, plus the UMI eMax that we'll be reviewing later this week. Benchmarks should be taken with a pinch of salt, of course, but in real-world testing we found this phone very smooth in use. Also see Best smartphones 2015 and best Android phones 2015.

The 5.5in screen is of a useful size for viewing media, and its HD (1280x720) resolution is quite acceptable for a sub-£150 phone. This is an IPS screen, protected by Gorilla Glass 3. The Ulefone's display is fully laminated, with rounded edges and very slim screen bezels.

Ulefone has carefully considered the design, and despite the low price the BeTouch features a stainless steel frame and an aluminium-magnesium alloy mid-frame. It remains pretty light for a phablet, at 160g, and although we're not so keen on the way the rear camera protrudes at the rear (an increasingly common feature in today's flagships to keep down the width), we like the fact the speaker is bottom- rather than rear-facing, preventing sound firing into your palm. The rear cover is removable, but sits flush with the case and doesn't feel at all flimsy or cheap, and it gives access to a removable battery - extra points for Ulefone here.

One of our favourite features of the Ulefone, though, is its fingerprint scanner. We've tested loads of phones with this functionality built-in and, with the exception of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone, in all cases we've switched off the fingerprint scanner as soon as the novelty has worn off. Swipe-based fingerprint scanners are an absolute pain in the neck, so we were pleasantly surprised to find the BeTouch uses the same touch-based input as the S6 and iPhone. The fingerprint scanner on this phone is not just a cool idea, it's a genuinely usable feature.

And there's more. While Ulefone has left the Android OS alone, it has added some useful screen gestures. You can double-tap to wake the screen or create your own custom gestures, which launch an app of your choice when you draw a letter on top of the screen in standby.

A 2550mAh battery that can charge up to 35 percent in 15 minutes, dual-band ac Wi-Fi and 13Mp rear- and 5Mp front cameras complete a brilliant package. Let's take a closer look at the Ulefone BeTouch. Also see: Best budget phones 2015.

Ulefone BeTouch review: Impossible to fault under £150, the Ulefone BeTouch budget 4G phone ticks all our boxes

Ulefone BeTouch review: Price & UK availability

The Ulefone BeTouch is a Chinese phone available in the UK through grey-market sites such as Geekbuying. In the UK it was listed on their site for £147.06, but bear in mind that this phone is shipped from China so you may also incur import VAT if purchased from the UK. Read up on our advice on buying grey-market tech.

Ulefone BeTouch review: Design & build

With a 5.5in screen the Ulefone is a large phone and what we refer to as a phablet - somewhere between a phone and a tablet. However, the aviation-grade stainless steel frame and aluminium-magnesium mid-frame help keep down the weight to just 160g, while the curved screen edges and slim bezels make one-handed use possible. Also see: Best phablets 2015.

Despite the metal frame the Ulefone's rear cover is plastic. It's a removable cover which, usefully, affords access to an also-removable battery and the dual-SIM and microSD slots. It sits flush to the case, which prevents it feeling cheap or creaking in the hand.

The 13Mp camera protrudes a little from the rear - it's not something we particularly like, but it is becoming increasingly common with today's ever-slimmer flagships. While the Ulefone BeTouch isn't as skinny as some phones on the market, at 8.6mm it's thin for a budget phone.

Our sample came in metal grey, although the Ulefone BeTouch is also available in silk white. The fully laminated display is prone to picking up fingerprints, but the HD IPS display below looks good. At this size and resolution, the screen is a good fit for viewing media, and the BeTouch displays realistic colours and useful brightness, with good viewing angles to boot. You can also invert the screen colours if you find the display easier to read in this manner.

The power button and volume rocker are found on the phone's left edge, which can be a bit of a stretch for righthanded users. However, one of several useful gestures allows you to wake the screen with a double-tap, so we didn't find the positioning a problem in real-world use. Options and back software buttons sit below the screen, either side of a home button that incorporates a fingerprint scanner.

The beauty of this fingerprint scanner, and something we haven't been able to say about any of the fingerprint scanners found on rival cheap Chinese phones, is that it works. Using touch- rather than swipe input, we found the BeTouch recognised our fingerprint every single time, and that means we're actually likely to use it. It's fast, too, recognising your fingerprint in a fraction of a second, even when your hand is wet.

Six small holes on the BeTouch's bottom edge allow sound to escape from the built-in speaker. It's a preferable approach to a rear-mounted speaker that can fire sound into your palm, although front-facing would be even better.

Ulefone BeTouch review: Impossible to fault under £150, the Ulefone BeTouch budget 4G phone ticks all our boxes

Ulefone BeTouch review: Hardware & performance

With a 1.7GHz octa-core processor from MediaTek, 3GB of RAM and Mali-T760 MP2 graphics inside, the Ulefone BeTouch is a capable smartphone. In real-world use we found it very smooth, and this is no doubt thanks to not only the hardware but a lack of bloatware slowing it down.

We ran the Ulefone BeTouch through our usual benchmarks, and the results make for pleasant reading - particularly in Geekbench 3, which measures processor performance. In the multi-core component of this test the BeTouch scored a staggering 3817 points. And that really is super-duper fast, beaten only by the fastest Android phones we've ever tested, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. (And the UMI eMax, although the Ulefone shows better performance in other tests.) In the single-core component the Ulefone scored 794 points, which places it in between the UMI eMax and UMI Hammer.

In SunSpider, which measures JavaScript performance, the Ulefone BeTouch did a good job for an Android phone, with this benchmark's scoreboards dominated by the various iPhone models. We ran SunSpider both on the browser that came preinstalled on the Ulefone, in which it scored 915ms, and in Chrome, which we use to ensure a fair test across all Android phones, in which it scored 975ms. In SunSpider a lower score is better, which means it actually did a better job here than did the aforementioned S6 and S6 Edge.

GFXBench is used to measure graphics performance, and the Ulefone recorded 25fps in T-Rex and 12fps in Manhattan. Both are very good scores for a phone at this price point, and in line with flagship phones such as the LG G4 and Nexus 6. You can compare the Ulefone's performance to all other phones reviewed by PC Advisor in our article What's the fastest smartphone 2015.

Two new tests we've recently begun using in the PC Advisor lab and for which we currently have few scores to compare are AnTuTu and the battery life test built into Geekbench 3. In AnTuTu the BeTouch recorded 41,661 points, which is a little below Ulefone's claims of 45,000 points-plus, and put its performance somewhere between the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Nexus 5.

In Geekbench 3's battery test the Ulefone recorded 2540 points (04:38:40), which is a little behind the LG G4. Arguably, though, even the best phone battery will quickly be drained by a heavy user, so how fast the phone can recharge its flat battery is also important. Using the included charger the BeTouch can reach 35 percent in just 15 minutes. This is a two-pin plug, but Geekbuying will also supply a UK adaptor in the box upon request.

Also pleasing is the fact the Ulefone BeTouch's 2550mAh battery is removable, which means you could carry a spare (or a power bank - see our round-up of the best power banks).

Ulefone BeTouch review: Impossible to fault under £150, the Ulefone BeTouch budget 4G phone ticks all our boxes

Ulefone BeTouch review: Connectivity

Well, we've found our first cause for complaint with the Ulefone BeTouch: it doesn't support NFC. (Do we care? No we do not.)

In other respects, the Ulefone BeTouch has all connectivity bases covered, with dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, A-GPS and GLONASS and OTG. Plus, not only is it dual-SIM (dual-standby - find out what this means in our dual-SIM buying advice), with one slot supporting a full-size card and the other Micro-SIM, it supports 4G. And, unlike some Chinese phones, wireless updates are available, making it easy to install software updates.

Ulefone BeTouch review: Cameras

Slapped on the back of the Ulefone BeTouch is the same 13Mp Sony Exmor IMX214 camera that is found on the rear of many Chinese phones. That's not a bad thing, though, and the photos it takes are much better than you have any right to expect at £150.

The camera is quick to focus once you've launched the app, although a dedicated camera button would make doing so even faster. There's a dual-LED flash and the Ulefone stretches to ISO 1600 for better low-light pictures, while the rear camera also supports up to 4K video recording at 30fps and has a tracking autofocus for capturing moving objects.

Around the front is a 5Mp selfie camera with an 80-degree wide-angle lens.

Both cameras support real-time application of filters, plus various modes including picture in picture, live photo, motion tracking, beauty, panorama and multi-angle. You can trigger a shot with a gesture, smile or voice command, although in doing so the camera switches off its anti-shake feature. Face detection is also supported.

Ulefone BeTouch review: Impossible to fault under £150, the Ulefone BeTouch budget 4G phone ticks all our boxes

HDR is not automatic, but we found photos look better with it turned on. You can see our test shots (with and without HDR) and video below.

Ulefone BeTouch review: Impossible to fault under £150, the Ulefone BeTouch budget 4G phone ticks all our boxes

Ulefone BeTouch review: Impossible to fault under £150, the Ulefone BeTouch budget 4G phone ticks all our boxes

Ulefone BeTouch review: Software

The Android Lollipop OS preinstalled on this phone is exactly as Google intended, and that makes a refreshing change. There is zero bloatware preinstalled, and we found all but one of the shortcuts fit on a single page of the Nexus launcher app tray - amazing.

The only changes Ulefone has made are for the better: there's the aforementioned option to invert screen colours in the Quick settings drop-down, plus you can set custom gestures that allow you to launch an app of your choice from standby simply by drawing a letter on the screen. The ability to wake the screen with a double-tap also eases managing this phablet in a single hand.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2015.

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter

Ulefone BeTouch: Specs

  • 1.7GHz MediaTek MTK6752 (ARM Cortex-A53) octa-core 64-bit processor
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • 3GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 16GB storage (plus microSD up to 64GB)
  • 5.5in HD (1280x720, 267ppi) IPS 2.5D Arc screen with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Mali-T760 MP2 dual-core GPU
  • 4G FDD-LTE/3G WCDMA/GSM
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (1x full-size, 1x Micro-SIM)
  • dual-band 802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • OTG
  • GPS
  • A-GPS
  • GLONASS
  • fingerprint scanner (touch-based)
  • 13Mp Sony Exmor IMX214 rear camera, dual-LED flash, 4K video recording
  • 5Mp front camera with 80-degree wide-angle lens
  • 2550mAh removable battery with quick charge
  • 77.4x8.6x158.1mm
  • 160g
  • 1.7GHz MediaTek MTK6752 (ARM Cortex-A53) octa-core 64-bit processor
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • 3GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 16GB storage (plus microSD up to 64GB)
  • 5.5in HD (1280x720, 267ppi) IPS 2.5D Arc screen with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Mali-T760 MP2 dual-core GPU
  • 4G FDD-LTE/3G WCDMA/GSM
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (1x full-size, 1x Micro-SIM)
  • dual-band 802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • OTG
  • GPS
  • A-GPS
  • GLONASS
  • fingerprint scanner (touch-based)
  • 13Mp Sony Exmor IMX214 rear camera, dual-LED flash, 4K video recording
  • 5Mp front camera with 80-degree wide-angle lens
  • 2550mAh removable battery with quick charge
  • 77.4x8.6x158.1mm
  • 160g

OUR VERDICT

Ulefone's BeTouch is an unrivalled deal at £147. It's fast, it's dual-SIM with 4G connectivity, it has a working fingerprint scanner for security, the screen is large and with an HD resolution plenty crisp enough for the money, and there is absolutely no bloatware. A few minor quibbles aside, it's genuinely difficult to fault this phone at this price.

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