UMI Rome budget smartphone review

The latest smartphone in UMI's budget line-up has premium appeal - we review the UMI Rome. Also see: Best budget smartphones 2016.

Also see: Best Black Friday Phone Deals

UMI Rome review: UK price and availability

UMI phones were until recently available only from third-party Chinese distributors such as Coolicool.com, which supplied our UMI Rome for review. It offers the Rome from its EU warehouse with free shipping at £113.59, or you can take a gamble and buy the Rome from the Chinese warehouse for £85.19. Beware that you may have to pay import duty when shipping the UMI Rome from China, however - read up on our advice on buying grey market tech.

UMI phones are also now available in the UK via Amazon. They usually cost a little more from Amazon, but at the time of writing the Rome was on offer at £112.55 with free UK delivery. We've also been given a coupon code that allows you to save £10 on the UMI Rome: WXNXE8T9. See all budget phone reviews.

UMI Rome

UMI Rome review: Design and build

Out of the box we had an interesting first impression of the UMI Rome. It was absolutely freezing cold - ice-cold to the touch. We actually felt a bit sorry for the postie, because it must have been nearing arctic conditions outside for the pretty well-wrapped Rome to cause our fingers go numb. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

The reason for it feeling so cold is the metal frame, which is something that even now we can't say is a given for most budget- or even mid-range smartphones. This is one advantage of buying a Chinese phone - you get to ditch the plasticky builds we see in most cheap UK phones for something a lot tougher that at least looks premium. Also see: Best phones 2016.

As we'll discover later in this review, the UMI Rome is very much a mid-range phone sold at a budget price. As such there are both highs and lows, the most obvious of which are found in its design.

Our review sample came in a shiny Champagne Gold, but the Rome is also available in black. The golden metal frame is complemented with a glossy gold plastic rear, but on closer inspection the bands scattered around the frame to improve signal prevent it from sitting entirely flush. It spoils what would otherwise been an appealing and premium design, although we do appreciate the ability to remove this cover and access the removable 2500mAh battery and dual-SIM- and microSD slots.

Something else that spoils the design is the bizarrely placed mic below the screen, randomly situated to the bottom right of the Home button. It's not even central, which hurts our OCD - but more importantly, why on earth is it there?

UMI Rome

It's worth pointing out that the Home button is a touch button and does not feature a built-in fingerprint scanner. If we were reviewing a UK phone at this price the omission of a fingerprint scanner would be expected, but we've been spoiled by a run of cheap Chinese phones with fingerprint scanners, and usually located in a more convenient rear position. That the UMI Rome doesn't have one at all seems odd.

It's most certainly not all bad, though. Out of the box we thought the UMI to be a good-looking phone and, despite being a rather large phablet at 153.8x77 and 177g, the 2.5D curved glass, rounded corners and tapered rear edges allow the UMI to feel manageable even in a single hand.

The Rome is just 7.9mm thick, which is thin for a phablet and super-skinny for a £100 phone. The camera juts out a little at the rear, but at least is positioned top-middle to make it less likely to rock on a flat surface.

Something that's relatively rare among smartphones is the front-facing flash (there's also a dual-LED flash at the back). Taking selfies, conducting video chats and even just checking your appearance can therefore be more effective in low light, although it's a shame the selfie camera is rated at only 2Mp. Again, even at this price we're becoming accustomed to 5- or even 8Mp cameras.

Another plus point: speaker grilles facing out from the bottom rather than the rear of the phone. The UMI also features a 3.5mm headphone jack and supports FM radio with a pair of earphones plugged in. Also see: Best sounding phones 2016.

AMOLED is an unusual screen technology to find in the UMI Rome, with the majority of phones using IPS or, if they're really cheap, basic TFT LCDs. AMOLED is seen on Samsung phones in the form of SuperAMOLED, and is considered to be more energy efficient with no requirement for a backlight. Contrast is unbeatable, viewing angles are excellent, and colours are vivid.

The 5.5in display on the UMI Rome is a great choice, with a thin black border edging the screen. Although it's 'only' HD in resolution, with 1280x720 pixels, we found it to be plenty clear. One complaint of AMOLED is that it can be less visible in bright sunlight, and the UMI Rome's display could be a tad brighter.

UMI Rome

UMI Rome review: Hardware and performance

In general processing performance the UMI Rome is faster than some of the UK budget phones you could also be considering, such as Vodafone's Smart range or the Moto E or Moto G. With general performance on par with the two-year-old HTC One M8, we'd say this is a budget phone with mid-range performance.

In real-world use the UMI Rome is neither fast nor slow; it is quite capable for everyday tasks. We found most apps launched quickly, and the continuous controlling home screens and app tray gave the perception that navigation was perhaps faster than it was.

We ran the UMI Rome through our usual benchmarks to find out exactly what its 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 octa-core 64-bit processor, ARM Mali-T720 GPU and 3GB of RAM was capable of. You can compare this performance to all the phones we've recently tested in our article What's the fastest smartphone 2016.

We use Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu to measure overall performance, and here the Rome recorded 2805 and 35,921 points respectively, making it a close match for the similarly priced Bluboo X9. We also ran GFXBench graphics tests, with the Rome scoring 4fps in Manhattan and 9fps in T-Rex; and the JetStream web-browsing test, where it managed 19.904 points.

In terms of storage you get 16GB onboard, which is more than the 8GB you might expect at this price. There's also a microSD card slot that will accept up to 64GB of additional storage. Also see: How to add storage to Android.

UMI has fitted the Rome with a 2500mAh removable battery that, for most users, should be good for a full day's use (UMI claims you'll get 12.5 hours of 'on-screen' time, or 8.8 hours of 4G web browsing). However, if you need to eke out every last bit of juice there's also an ultra power saving mode. There's no support for fast- or wireless charging, as you'd expect. See all smartphone reviews.

UMI Rome

UMI Rome review: Connectivity

We mentioned earlier that a clear advantage of buying a Chinese phone is the build quality in relation to the price. The other advantage is that the vast majority of these phones are dual-SIM. The UMI Rome is a dual-standby model that accepts two Micro-SIM cards, allowing you to more easily manage separate tariffs for work and play, or for whatever reason you like. We explain the ins and outs of dual-SIM in our best dual-SIM phones article.

The UMI Rome is also a 4G phone, and importantly it supports all three 4G bands used by the UK's mobile operators. You can learn how to check whether a phone is supported by your network here.

Also on the connectivity specs sheet are dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 and GPS; missing are NFC, OTG and an IR blaster. Also see: Best cheap 4G phones 2016.

UMI Rome

UMI Rome review: Cameras

The UMI Rome is billed as featuring a 13Mp Sony IMX179 rear camera with dual-LED flash, and a super-selfie camera with its own flash. The latter should be ideal for taking selfies or conducting video chat in low light, but unfortunately the camera is rated at only 2Mp and the flash itself doesn't make a huge difference to performance. Also see: Best Android phones 2016.

The front camera is actually an 8Mp model, which uses software to boost to 13Mp. There is a dual-LED flash here, which works better than the one at the front. All the usual modes and options are present, including real-time filters. 

You can see our test shots of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel below, first on auto mode and then with HDR. It was an admittedly dull day, but we weren't overly enthused by the Rome's photography capabilities. It'll do fine for the odd snap when you don't have a camera to hand, but the image is very soft in areas with a lot of detail missing. Also see: Best phone camera 2016.

UMI Rome

UMI Rome

UMI Rome review: Software

The majority of UMI phones we review are advertised with support for Rootjoy, which lets you hook it up to a PC to quickly back up contents and install custom ROMs. The UMI Rome doesn't feature the Rootjoy branding, although it is evidently from the preinstalled SuperSU app a rooted phone. Also see: How to root Android.

Out of the box there are very few preinstalled apps, although full Google Play access means you can install what you wish. We like the continuously scrolling home- and app tray screens, and the customisable Smart Wake gestures are a neat addition, but this is otherwise a fairly stock implementation of Android 5.1 Lollipop.

UMI Rome

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2016.

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UMI Rome: Specs

  • Available in Champagne Gold or Shine Black
  • 5.5in HD (1280x720) AMOLED screen with 2.5D curved glass
  • 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 64-bit octa-core processor, ARM Mali-T720 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • MicroSD support up to 64GB
  • 8Mp (interpolated to 13Mp) Sony IMX179 rear camera with dual-LED flash
  • 2Mp front camera with LED flash
  • Android Lollipop 5.1 with Rootjoy
  • supports UK 4G bands 3, 7 & 20 (800/1800/2600MHz)
  • dual-SIM, dual-standby (both Micro-SIM)
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • GPS
  • 2500mAh battery (claimed 12.5 hours screen-on time, 8.8 hours 4G web browsing), ultra power saving mode, charges over Micro-USB
  • 153.8x77x7.9mm
  • 177g
  • Available in Champagne Gold or Shine Black
  • 5.5in HD (1280x720) AMOLED screen with 2.5D curved glass
  • 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 64-bit octa-core processor, ARM Mali-T720 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • MicroSD support up to 64GB
  • 8Mp (interpolated to 13Mp) Sony IMX179 rear camera with dual-LED flash
  • 2Mp front camera with LED flash
  • Android Lollipop 5.1 with Rootjoy
  • supports UK 4G bands 3, 7 & 20 (800/1800/2600MHz)
  • dual-SIM, dual-standby (both Micro-SIM)
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • GPS
  • 2500mAh battery (claimed 12.5 hours screen-on time, 8.8 hours 4G web browsing), ultra power saving mode, charges over Micro-USB
  • 153.8x77x7.9mm
  • 177g

OUR VERDICT

You can hardly fault the UMI Rome at this price, but while it offers mid-range performance at a budget price, you can still get more for your money elsewhere. It has a mostly pleasing design but, up close, shows some signs of cost-cutting.

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