UMI eMax Mini budget smartphone review

Much more than just a mini UMI eMax, this budget smartphone has lots to offer. We review the UMI eMax Mini. Also see: Best budget phones 2015/2016.

When we first heard about the UMI eMax mini we were expecting a compact version of UMI's eMax (read our UMI eMax review here). While there are similarities in the design, UMI has done much more than slimmed down its earlier phablet.

The mini swaps the MediaTek processor for a Qualcomm chip, shrinks the screen from 5.5- to 5in and battery from 3870- to 3050mAh, preinstalls Android Lollipop rather than KitKat and bumps up the front camera from 5- to 8Mp (the rear camera is also now an actual 13Mp camera, as opposed to an 8Mp camera boosted by software to 13Mp). Also see: Best smartphones 2015/2016.

The colour options have changed, there's a new removable rear cover with a ribbed texture, the speaker has been moved from the rear to the bottom, and Wi-Fi has been upgraded to 802.11ac. The customisable gestures have gone, but you can still double-tap to wake the screen.

And the mini eMax is £20 cheaper, with the original UMI eMax still £115 from Coolicool.com.

UMI eMax Mini review

UMI eMax Mini review: Price and UK availability

Our review sample of the UMI eMax Mini came from Coolicool.com, which charges £95.19 with free shipping if you buy the phone from its Chinese warehouse. There's nothing wrong with doing this, but you may be invoiced for import duty after receiving the phone - read up on our advice on buying grey-market tech.

Alternatively, Coolicool also has stocks of the UMI eMax Mini in its European warehouse for £122.39. This option also includes free shipping to the UK, and you won't have to pay import duty. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

A third option is to buy the UMI eMax Mini from Amazon UK, where UMI has recently begun officially selling its handsets with a 12-month warranty and two-day shipping. This is a slightly more expensive option at £139.99, but until this weekend there's a 10 percent discount taking the price down to £122.39. Also see: Best Android phones 2015/2016.

UMI eMax Mini review: Design & build

As we mentioned in the introduction to this review, the UMI eMax Mini shares some similarities with the original UMI eMax in its design, but it's not simply a slimmed down version.

Although smaller it is, now measuring 139.8x69.6mm and weighing 130g against the UMI eMax's 152.3x76.5mm and 148g. It's 1mm chunkier, at 8.9mm, but this has allowed UMI to fit a generous- (albeit smaller-) capacity battery at 3050mAh.

(The original eMax has a 3780mAh battery, and you could take advantage of its OTG support to charge another phone from its battery. The UMI eMax Mini also has OTG support, though you might be less eager to share it with your friends.) Also see all Android phone reviews.

UMI eMax Mini review

The thicker chassis also means the camera is able to lie flush with the phone's rear, rather than jutting out and allowing the phone to rock when placed on a desk. 

The mini eMax is plastic like the original, but it now comes in new colour options and with a chrome-effect trim looks and feels a bit more stylish. Whereas the UMI eMax came in grey or silver, with the Mini you get a choice of white or black.

From the front the design is very similar, but turn it over and quite a bit has changed. The speaker has moved from the back to the bottom edge of the UMI eMax Mini, resulting in better-quality audio that isn't fired into your palm. The camera suround is now circular rather than rectangular, and the rear cover swaps the brushed-metal effect finish for a new ribbed texture that aids grip in the hand.

This cover is now removable, although the battery remains fixed. Underneath the cover you can access dual-SIM slots and a microSD card slot, which in the original eMax were accessed from a side-loading tray.

As before, there's a micro-USB charging and data transfer port on the bottom edge, a volume rocker and power switch on the right, and a headphone jack at the top. Touch-sensitive home, back and recent buttons sit below the screen, which has been reduced in size from 5.5- to 5in.

The screen is still a full-HD IPS panel, though, and with its 1920x1080 pixels stretched over a smaller area it's sharper with a 441ppi pixel density. The UMI eMax Mini's screen is extremely vibrant, very bright and with popping colours. Viewing angles are excellent, as you would expect from IPS tech.

UMI eMax Mini review: Hardware & performance

A key difference between the UMI eMax and UMI eMax Mini is the processor nestled inside. Originally fitted with a 1.7GHz MediaTek chip, the Mini now features a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor. This means the graphics have also changed, from the ARM Mali-T760 MP2 to the Adreno 405. Both are octa-core 64-bit chips, and both phones are paired with 2GB of RAM, plus 16GB of storage that can be boosted by up to 64GB through microSD.

Performance is significantly lower for the mini version of the eMax, as measured by our benchmarks, although we found it very quick to use in real-world testing. The camera can take a few seconds to launch, but there is otherwise very few signs of lag. (You can compare the UMI eMax Mini's performance to other Android phones we've recently tested in our article What's the fastest smartphone?)

UMI eMax Mini review

We use Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu to measure overall performance. While the UMI eMax turned in scores of 4101- and 41,799 points respectively, its compact sibling was capable of 2518- and 31,722 points.

In SunSpider the UMI eMax Mini also took a dive, recording 1427ms against the original eMax's 840ms (lower is better in this test).

But in our graphics tests the phones were evenly matched, with both turning in 15fps in GFXBench 3 T-Rex and 6fps in Manhattan. See all smartphone reviews.

UMI eMax Mini review: Connectivity & extras

The UMI eMax Mini has seen a slight improvement over the original with the addition of support for the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi protocol. However, in losing the MediaTek chip it's also lost HotKnot, and NFC is still not present.

In common with the UMI eMax the Mini is a dual-SIM, dual-standby phone that accepts two Micro-SIMs. In the UK it supports only the 1800MHz and 2600MHz 4G LTE bands, which means O2 customers (and those of other networks such as Giffgaff that rely on O2's 800MHz 4G frequency) will not be able to access mobile data at these faster speeds. Also see: Best dual-SIM phones 2015/2016 and How to check whether a phone is supported by your network.

Other connectivity specs include Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and OTG.

UMI eMax Mini review: Cameras

UMI eMax Mini review

The cameras on the UMI eMax Mini have seen an upgrade from 5- to 8Mp at the front, and from what was an 8Mp camera boosted using software to 13Mp to an actual 13Mp camera at the rear. This is the Sony IMX214 camera with an f/2.2 aperture and an LED flash. The front camera also claims an f/2.2 aperture with 1.12um pixels. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2015/2016.

You get all the usual photo modes, including HDR, Face beauty, Panorama, Time-lapse and Manual mode. Video recording is also available at 1080p.

We were reasonably impressed with the primary camera in our tests, and you can see our test shots of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel both with and without HDR below. Both have managed to retain much of the detail, which is particularly evident when you try to pick out the individual bricks. It's certainly not bad for a phone at this price point. Also see: Best phone camera 2015/2016.

UMI eMax Mini review

UMI eMax Mini review

UMI eMax Mini review: Software

The UMI eMax came preinstalled with Android KitKat, while this smaller version comes with the newer Android Lollipop OS. Both support UMI Rootjoy, which is software 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 MIUI), install a custom UI or back up your data.

The customisable gestures that we saw in the UMI eMax are gone, but you can still double-tap to unlock, and turn over the phone to mute the alarm or incoming calls.

You get all Google's apps preinstalled on the UMI eMax Mini, and no bloatware. UMI has also installed the Nexus launcher, which keeps things looking very clean and very Google.

UMI eMax Mini review

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2016

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UMI eMax Mini: Specs

  • Android Lollipop with Rootjoy
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor
  • Adreno 405 graphics
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage plus microSD support up to 64GB
  • 5in full-HD (1920x1080 pixels, 441ppi) IPS display
  • 4G LTE bands 1800MHz and 2600MHz (not 800MHz)
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (both Micro-SIM)
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • OTG
  • GPS
  • Sony IMX214 13Mp, f/2.2 camera with LED flash
  • 8Mp, f/2.2, 1.12um pixels front camera
  • bottom-facing speaker
  • Micro-USB
  • 3050mAh non-removable battery
  • 139.8x69.6x8.9mm
  • 130g
  • Android Lollipop with Rootjoy
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor
  • Adreno 405 graphics
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage plus microSD support up to 64GB
  • 5in full-HD (1920x1080 pixels, 441ppi) IPS display
  • 4G LTE bands 1800MHz and 2600MHz (not 800MHz)
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (both Micro-SIM)
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • OTG
  • GPS
  • Sony IMX214 13Mp, f/2.2 camera with LED flash
  • 8Mp, f/2.2, 1.12um pixels front camera
  • bottom-facing speaker
  • Micro-USB
  • 3050mAh non-removable battery
  • 139.8x69.6x8.9mm
  • 130g

OUR VERDICT

The UMI eMax Mini is a very decent attempt at a budget Android phone with mid-range specs, and a strong rival to the Vodafone Smart Prime 6 that tops our budget phones chart. It's slower than the original UMI eMax in our benchmarks, but in real-world use it feels just as fast. The cameras have been improved and also the design, in our opinion, resulting in a cheap phone that offers strong value for money.

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