UMI Z review: First Helio X27 phone is fast and great for selfies

UMI is undergoing a rebranding exercise, and this UMI Z is the last phone it will release before its name officially changes to UMIDIGI, short for UMI Digital. Somewhat confusingly an almost identical version of the UMI Z comes with a dual-camera at the rear and is known as the UMIDIGI Z Pro (reviewed here). The two phones should go on sale at around the same time, with this UMI Z currently up for preorder at GearBest and shipping from 25 February. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2017

Right now you can pre-order the UMI Z in grey or champagne gold for just £192.40 (or $239.99). It works with all three UK 4G bands, and runs stock Android 6.0 Marshmallow with an OTA upgrade promised to Nougat in the coming months, so there are no usability issues here. As we'll see below it is a real bargain at this price, offering excellent value for money.

We would advise caution when buying from China, however, primarily because your consumer rights are not the same as in Europe, so should the product arrive faulty or not at all the process may not be as straightforward as you like. There's also the question of import duty, which is charged at 20 percent of the value on the shipping paperwork plus an admin fee of around £11. You can read more in our article on buying grey-market tech.

If you take the plunge you will be pleasantly surprised by the UMI Z. It's the world's first phone to run the deca-core Helio X27, which is MediaTek's latest flagship smartphone processor. Raw processing performance is up there with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820, which is the chip 2016 flagship phones such as the LG G5 and HTC 10 make use of. (And you won't find one of those under £200.)

The UMI Z has an attractive aluminium-alloy unibody design, which houses two 13Mp Samsung cameras - one at the front and one at the back, with accompanying soft- and quad-LED flashes respectively. 

The battery is another highlight, made by Sony and rated at 3,780mAh. Some users might find they can squeeze two days of life from the UMI Z, and when it's time to recharge you can get a full day's juice in just 30 minutes. Also see: Best phones 2016

UMI Z

UMI Z review: Design and build

Let's start with the screen, since it forms a large part of the face of the UMI Z. This is a 5.5in panel, which makes the UMI Z a 'phablet'. It's reasonably weighty at 175g, as you might expect, but with slim dimensions of 154.6x76.8x8.2mm it doesn't feel overly large in the hand. This is in part helped by the fact it has smooth, rounded edges that glide into the 2.5D curved screen glass, but also the incredibly thin bezels to the left and right edges of the display.

The display resolution of 1920x1080 pixels is what's known as full-HD, and you certainly wouldn't expect anything higher at this price. It's pleasingly sharp, and with good screen brightness, contrast and viewing angles this Sharp IGZO display shouldn't give you any headaches. The UMI Z supports MiraVision, which allows you to adjust the display to suit your tastes.

UMI claims it had in mind the Bauhaus principle when designing the Z, which it says puts user experience above all else. It's crafted from a single block of space-grade aluminium-alloy, with two thin antenna strips integrated to the body top and bottom on the rear, and a stainless steel camera surround with sapphire glass lens protection.

UMI Z

It's certainly one of the best-looking UMI phones we've seen to date, and save for perhaps reducing the size of the CE logo on the back we find it difficult to pick holes in the Z's design. UMI has thought carefully about the positioning of everything from the power button, which falls neatly under the right thumb, to the selfie camera, which is slightly off-centre to match your stance when held in the right hand.

With its unibody build the UMI Z feels well put together, and with none of the usual creaking and flexing of plastic smartphones with removable rear panels it feels like a phone that will last. Of course, one of the down sides of the one-piece body is a non-removable battery, but UMI has cranked up the capacity to lessen this burden.

The rear camera does protrude slightly at the back, but to fit two 13Mp cameras and a large-capacity battery into a phone just 8.2mm thick is quite the achievement.

UMI Z

Two symmetrical rows of drilled holes sit either side of a forward-facing reversible USB-C port on the UMI Z's bottom. One houses a mic and the other a speaker, while you'll find the headphone jack up top. In its standard position at the top left edge is a pin-operated hybrid SIM tray, which allows you to insert either two Nano-SIM cards or a single SIM and a microSD card of up to 256GB capacity.

If we had to pick one thing we didn't love it would be the home button, which you tap or hold rather than press. It just doesn't feel natural to us. We're not especially keen on the removal of the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen either, though these are accessible with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen. If you're happy not to use them you can tap the home button to go home, or long-press it to open the recents menu. 

UMI Z review: Core hardware and performance

The UMI Z has two key selling points that differentiate it from other similarly priced Chinese phones on the market. The first is the 13Mp selfie camera with soft LED flash, which we'll come on to later, and the second its Helio X27 processor. In time many phones will adopt this chip, but for now the UMI Z is your only choice should you want to use it.

The Helio X27 is a deca-core chip, which always sounds impressive on paper, particularly when you're comparing it to the likes of the Snapdragon 820 and 821, which are quad-core chips. Equally important, of course, is the technology each of those cores use and at which speed they run. This 20nm processor builds in two Cortex-A72 cores running at 2.6GHz for performance, and two groups of four Cortex-A53s tuned for efficiency. Also see: Best Android phones 2016

UMI Z

In raw processing performance we found the Helio X27 a close competitor to the Snapdragon 820, though with an inferior integrated GPU. To be fair to it, though, the Mali-T880 MP4 GPU inside the Helio X27 is said to show an 83 percent performance improvement over the Helio X20, MediaTek's first deca-core chip.

UMI Z review continues on the next page >>


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