UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price

We've been impressed by what we've seen from Chinese phone maker UMI so far, having recently reviewed both the Zero and Hammer. This UMI eMax is an altogether more powerful beast, with an octa-core processor, a standout 5.5in full-HD screen and a massive 3780mAh battery that can even serve as a power bank for other phones. Find out more in our UMI eMax review. Updated on 9/7/15 with our video review. Also see: Best cheap 4G phones 2015 

The best bit about the UMI eMax is its price, and right now it's available for just £115 from Coolicool.com. That's amazing value for money. Bear in mind, though, that this phone ships from China, so you may also incur import duty when purchased in the UK - read up on our advice on buying grey-market tech. 

While the UMI eMax's graphics performance sits in line with UK-sold budget phones, its processing and battery performance is spectacular, beaten in our benchmarks only by the best Android phones in the land, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and its brother the S6 Edge. While benchmarks can be cheated, and its AnTuTu score isn't quite so high, the eMax shows no sign of lag in real-world use, and even the Camera app launches relatively quickly. 

The eMax isn't as good-looking as the metal-framed Hammer and Zero, but for a phablet it's reasonably attractive. Legends for the three Android-standard home, back and options buttons are always visible below the screen, and the camera juts out at the rear very much like on the Samsung Galaxy S6. There's also a rear-mounted speaker, although the size of the phone means it is unlikely to fire sound into your palm. 

UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price, this budget 4G phone is worth £115 of anyone's money

Available in grey or silver, the eMax is a plastic phone with a subtle brushed-metal-effect finish on the rear. This is not removable, with trays at the left and right edges for adding two 4G SIM cards and a microSD card. But with 16GB of storage as standard and very little bloatware preinstalled, you may find there's enough space for your files and apps without expansion. Also see: Best smartphones 2015. 

In terms of photography you get the standard 13Mp rear- and 5Mp front camera setup. There's support for smile-, gesture, and voice-activated capture,  real-time application of filters, plus all the usual camera modes, including HDR, picture-in-picture, live photo, motion tracking, panorama and multi-angle capture. The front camera also has a Beauty mode. 

UMI's eMax is sold rooted, but don't let that put you off. With Android 4.4 KitKat preinstalled out of the box, and an upgrade to 5.0 Lollipop available, the eMax in common with the Hammer also supports Rootjoy. This is a program that you download to your Windows PC or laptop, then plug in your phone to quickly install updates, flash a new ROM of your choice (including such things as MIUI6), install a custom UI or back up your data. 

The interface is largely plain KitKat, but you do also get the customisable gestures and double-tap to unlock feature so often found on Chinese phones. With the phone in standby mode, drawing a letter onscreen will launch an app of your choice. 

While the eMax lacks some advanced features, such as the fingerprint scanner found in the £147 Ulefone BeTouch, at £115 you get a great deal for your money. Let's take a closer look. 

UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price, this budget 4G phone is worth £115 of anyone's money

UMI eMax review: Price and UK availability 

Our UMI eMax sample was shipped from Coolicool.com, where it costs £115.59. Coolicool is based in China, which means you may also incur import duty when shipping items to the UK. Read up on our advice on buying grey-market tech before you buy. 

UMI eMax review: Design & build 

Unlike the Zero and Hammer before it, the UMI eMax is a relatively plain-looking, unassuming device. With a 5.5in screen this is a phablet, but it's still just 148g and with slim bezels reasonably easy to operate in a single hand.  

From the front the eMax is marred only by the always-visible legends for the Home, Back and Options buttons. Switch on the screen, though, and you instantly don't care: with a full-HD resolution this IPS panel is crystal clear, and as sharp as many flagship Androids at 401ppi. You absolutely should not expect a full-HD screen at this price. Colours are bright and realistic, even with the brightness turned down, and viewing angles are very good. Also see: Best Android phones 2015. 

From the rear the eMax is less attractive, but by no means ugly. We're confused by the Chinese-English translation in the eMax's marketing materials, which states: "The one piece art of frame battery cover is made by Polycarbonate with 200 times processing brushed stainless steal [sic]." This phone looks and feels very much like a plastic device to us, although there is a subtle brushed-metal effect to the rear. 

UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price, this budget 4G phone is worth £115 of anyone's money

The rear cover is non-removable, with side-loading trays for the two SIM slots and microSD card. A power button and volume rocker are also found on the eMax's right side, while there's a headphone jack at the top and Micro-USB charging port at the bottom. Despite its plastic feel the eMax feels very sturdy - not as tough as the Hammer, but tough nonetheless. 

We're not so keen on the way the phone's 13Mp camera sticks out at the rear, but this is becoming increasingly common in today's ever-thinner phones. And this is one of them: at 7.9mm thick, you'd never guess the eMax costs just £115. As is the case on the Samsung Galaxy S6, though, this camera is centred and squareish, so it won't rock nearly so much when placed flat on the table as, for example, the iPhone 6. 

Also at the base of the rear is a speaker grille. Usually this is a no-no for us, muffling sound as it fires it into your palm, but this phone's phablet dimensions stopped this being a problem in our testing. Also see all smartphone reviews. 

UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price, this budget 4G phone is worth £115 of anyone's money

UMI eMax review: Hardware & performance 

Inside the UMI eMax is a 1.7GHz MediaTek MTK6752 octa-core 64-bit processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and an ARM Mali-T760 MP2 graphics processor. We have seen this setup before, such as in the Kingzone Z1, while the Ulefone BeTouch adds an extra gig of RAM. But the eMax appears to have put its hardware to the best use - at least if our benchmarks are to be believed. 

And therein lies the catch: benchmarks can't always be trusted. Nevertheless, we found the UMI eMax smooth and responsive in real-world use, with no sign of lag. 

In Geekbench 3.0 the UMI eMax gave its standout performance. We use this test to measure processing performance, but have also recently begun including results from its battery life test. The eMax aced both - and the latter is certainly no surprise, given the capacious 3780mAh cell found inside. With OTG support (and an adaptor included in the box), the eMax can even be used as a power bank to charge another phone - it will fill an iPhone 6 twice, says UMI. So, you can expect several days' life with normal use. 

The reigning champions of our Geekbench 3 tests are the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, with the S6 scoring 4438 points in processing- and 4136 in battery performance, and the S6 Edge 5076- and 4011 points. The UMI eMax got incredibly close to those scores performance, with 4101 points in processing-, and 4006 in battery performance. By comparison, in processing performance the UMI Hammer recorded 2203 points and the Kingzone Z1 3689. We also ran the Kingzone through the battery life test, and it scored 3074 points. 

UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price, this budget 4G phone is worth £115 of anyone's money

AnTuTu is another new test to the PC Advisor lab, and with few results with which to compare devices for now it's rather difficult to understand what the scores are telling us. However, through AnTuTu's own database we can see that the UMI eMax's 41,799-point score is faster than both the Nexus 5 and LG G3, but slightly below last year's flagship Samsung Galaxy S5. It also performed better than the UMI Hammer (32,506) and Ulefone BeTouch (41,661). Also see: Best budget phones 2015. 

Graphics performance in GFXBench showed something to be desired, and rather than delivering scores to match the flagships the UMI eMax put in a performance similar to that of other budget- and mid-range phones, including the EE Harrier, Sony Xperia M2 and Moto E 4G. Casual games will be easily playable on the eMax, but scores of 15fps in T-Rex and 6fps in Manhattan are nothing to shout home about. 

Our final test is SunSpider, which measures JavaScript performance. We ran this test both in the preinstalled browser, in which it recorded a very good 734ms, and in Chrome to ensure a fair test across Android phones. Its Chrome score of 840ms is still very good (lower scores are better in this test), and in line with the likes of the Honor 6, Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung Galaxy S5. 

You can compare the UMI eMax's performance to all the smartphones reviewed by PC Advisor in our article What's the fastest smartphone 2015. 

 

UMI eMax review: Connectivity 

Connectivity-wise there's support for dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. For positioning you get both GPS and A-GPS with EPO, with the separate GPS sensor claimed to offer faster results and improved accuracy. Also see all Android phone reviews. 

NFC is missing, but you do get HotKnot, which is MediaTek's equivalent. This lets you share files and web pages, play games and more with other HotKnot-connected phones. 

OTG support is perhaps more useful in the UMI eMax than it is other Androids, given the large-capacity battery. You could use the eMax as an emergency charger for powering other devices… or you could be selfish and keep that juice to yourself, and tell your friends to buy themselves power banks. OTG also lets you hook up external storage devices, and an adaptor is handily supplied in the box. Also see: How to add storage to Android. 

The UMI eMax is a dual-SIM phone that operates in dual-standby mode (read more about dual-SIM phones), accepting two Micro-SIMs. It's a 4G phone, which is very good at this price, but if you're buying the eMax in the UK check that it will work on your network first. The eMax operates on GSM 900/1800/1900MHz, WCDMA 900/1900/2100MHz and 4G-FDD 1800/2100/2600MHz. Also see: How to tell whether a phone is supported by your network. 

UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price, this budget 4G phone is worth £115 of anyone's money

UMI eMax review: Cameras 

As with virtually every Chinese phone we see, the UMI is fitted with a 13Mp camera at the rear, with f/2.2 aperture and an LED flash, and a 5Mp selfie camera with f/2.2 aperture and 1.12um pixels.  

The primary camera focuses in 0.3 seconds, and we found it did a decent enough job when we switched on HDR, although some detail is missing when you zoom in. You can see our test shots with and without HDR below. 

UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price, this budget 4G phone is worth £115 of anyone's money

UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price, this budget 4G phone is worth £115 of anyone's money

Real-time filters are available at the composition stage for both cameras, and both also benefit from a Beauty mode and Picture-in-picture. Switch to the main camera and you get more options, including HDR, live photo, motion tracking, panorama and multi-angle capture. There's support for smile-, gesture, and voice-activated capture, too, plus a 40-shot burst mode.  

Note, however, that the full 13Mp is available only in 4:3 format; in the phone's default 16:9 stills top out at 9.5Mp. 

We also tested the video camera. Playback was fine on the phone, but developed a stutter when we downloaded it to our computer, so we haven't included our test footage in this review. HDR can also be switched on for video. 

UMI eMax review: Software 

Given that the UMI eMax is sold rooted and with support for Rootjoy, there's no need to stick with the Android 4.4 KitKat OS preinstalled out of the box unless you want to. An upgrade to Lollipop is available, or you can load up Rootjoy on a Windows PC or laptop, hook up your phone and then install a custom OS of your choice. Rootjoy also lets you load updates, install a custom UI and back up your data. Also see: How to back up Android. 

Stick with KitKat, though, and you won't be disappointed. This is a fairly stock implementation of the Android OS, with full access to Google Play and Google apps. Very little bloatware is preinstalled, and you may find additional apps such as ToDo and File Manager useful. SuperCleaner's effect is debatable, but it aims to clear away junk files, help you manage your apps and startup items and more to boost performance. 

In common with the majority of Chinese phones we review, customisable gestures are present. Not only can you double-tap to wake the screen, but you can draw a letter onscreen in standby mode to automatically launch an app of your choice. The sooner this becomes a standard feature of Android the better.

UMI eMax review: Blistering performance at an unrivalled price, this budget 4G phone is worth £115 of anyone's money

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2015

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter

UMI eMax: Specs

  • Android 4.4 KitKat with Rootjoy
  • 1.7GHz MediaTek MTK6752 octa-core 64-bit processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage, with microSD support up to 64GB
  • 5.5in full-HD (1920x1080, 401ppi) IPS display
  • ARM Mali-T760 MP2 GPU
  • dual-SIM (dual-standby, Micro-SIM): GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz, WCDMA 900/1900/2100MHz, 4G-FDD 800/1800/2600MHz
  • dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • OTG (adaptor cable supplied)
  • GPS
  • A-GPS with EPO
  • HotKnot
  • 13Mp rear camera with LED flash, f/2.2 aperture, dynamic HDR, 0.3s fast autofocus and six-piece lens
  • 5Mp front camera, f/2.2 aperture, 1.12um pixel size
  • 3780mAh non-removable battery
  • 152.3x7.9x76.5mm
  • 148g
  • Android 4.4 KitKat with Rootjoy
  • 1.7GHz MediaTek MTK6752 octa-core 64-bit processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage, with microSD support up to 64GB
  • 5.5in full-HD (1920x1080, 401ppi) IPS display
  • ARM Mali-T760 MP2 GPU
  • dual-SIM (dual-standby, Micro-SIM): GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz, WCDMA 900/1900/2100MHz, 4G-FDD 800/1800/2600MHz
  • dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • OTG (adaptor cable supplied)
  • GPS
  • A-GPS with EPO
  • HotKnot
  • 13Mp rear camera with LED flash, f/2.2 aperture, dynamic HDR, 0.3s fast autofocus and six-piece lens
  • 5Mp front camera, f/2.2 aperture, 1.12um pixel size
  • 3780mAh non-removable battery
  • 152.3x7.9x76.5mm
  • 148g

OUR VERDICT

UMI's eMax offers superb value for money. It's not as good-looking as other UMI phones we've reviewed, but the eMax has a big and bright full-HD screen for enjoying media and more, and showed very capable performance in the majority of our benchmarks. Photography is decent at this price, and enthusiasts will appreciate the Rootjoy support. At £115 you can't go far wrong with the UMI eMax.

Best prices today

Retailer Price Delivery

Price comparison from , and manufacturers