Cubot X17 full review
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Cubot will be an unfamiliar brand to most phone buyers in the UK. It’s a Chinese company which is working hard to expand its reach into the UK. This model is a budget phone with a 5in, 1080p screen, 4G support and – on paper at least – some other tempting specifications. Should it be your next upgrade? Read our Cubot X17 review to find out.
Cubot X17 review: Price
At £124.99 from Amazon, the X17 isn’t the cheapest phone you can buy, and there’s competition from better-known brands such as Vodafone with its similarly priced Smart Ultra 6. You can buy the Ultra 6 from Amazon for £115, but it's locked to Vodafone - a dealbreaker for some.
There’s also the Cubot P12, which costs £74.89 from Amazon. It’s surprisingly similar to the X17, but lacks 4G and has only a 720p screen. If you can handle those compromises, it’s a decent saving. Confusingly, there's also an X16 which seems identical to the X17 - the difference is that it has 2GB of RAM compared to the 3G in the X17.
Cubot X17 review: Design and build
From a distance, the X17 looks like a sleek, stylish phone. Look more closely and you’ll see that although it has a metal frame, the white plastic extends above and below it a little like the old iPhone 4 design.
Fit and finish are in keeping with the price: decent, but not up to the quality of flagship phones. The glass curves into the plastic edging (Cubot calls this 2.5D) and the side bezels are as thin as the Huawei Mate 8, giving a more premium look. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.
But like the Mate 8, the screen itself isn’t actually as large as the black area: there’s a border of a few millimetres around its perimeter:
Metal volume and power buttons can be found on the right-hand side, a headphone jack on top and microUSB on the bottom. On the left is a dual SIM tray which can accept a nano SIM, and a micro SIM or microSD card, depending on whether you want to use two SIMS or add up to 32GB to the 16GB of internal storage.
On the back is a metal panel flanked by plastic at the top and bottom. In the top section is a protruding 16Mp camera with dual-LED flash and at the bottom a single speaker, which is reasonably loud, if lacking in bass.
Below the 5in screen are three touch-sensitive buttons which aren’t backlit. Above the screen is an 8Mp camera, an ambient light sensor and – not visible until lit – an indicator light.
Cubot X17 review: Hardware and performance
With a quad-core Mediatek 6735A processor and 3GB of RAM you might expect great performance. However, as with build quality, the X17 only performs to the level you can expect from a £125 phone.
Benchmark results make it seem worse than it is: 1821 in Geekbench 3 (multicore), 8.3fps in GFXbench’s T-Rex and just 2.1fps in Manhattan aren’t terribly inspiring scores. The AnTuTu result of 34809 is a bit better, but these aren’t significant improvements on the performance of some of the £75 phones we’ve tested, including the Cubot P12.
However, you can’t forget about the high-resolution screen. With extra pixels to drive, game scores will always suffer – it’s the same reason why the iPhone 6s outscores the 6s Plus. In real-world use, the X17 feels fairly swift and can just about handle some of the more intensive games like Modern Combat: Blackout and Asphalt 8.
They are occasionally jerky and detail levels are low, but the games are playable.
Loading complex websites in Chrome is speedy, too, as is navigating around Android 5.1 which the phone ships with.
If there’s one complaint it’s that the screen isn’t as sensitive as we’re used to. It could be the factory-applied screen protector (which has an odd semigloss finish) but on occasion our taps and prods simply weren’t registered. Things did improve slightly without the screen protector, but it was marginal.
One other point to note: the phone gets quite warm even in normal use. When you push it hard it becomes even hotter, but not to dangerous levels.
The screen itself is a decent example of a 1080p IPS panel, fully laminated to the cover glass. Colours are good, as is contrast and brightness. As it’s only 5in, it has a high pixel density of 441ppi.
Cubot X17 review: Software and battery life
It’s a shame Cubot doesn’t supply Android Marshmallow, and there’s no word on whether there will be an upgrade from Lollipop. It’s a near-stock version of Lollipop, but without the Google app and launcher. That’s easy enough to download through the Play store, of course.
The phone comes – as many Chinese models do – already rooted. This can cause problems with certain apps such as Sky Go which will refuse to run if they detect the phone has been rooted.
There are various tweaks, such as the information display at the bottom of the multitasking screen. This shows how much memory is free, the phone’s temperature and even the battery voltage. A button in the middle does some tidying and optimising to free up memory – it stops all running apps in one go, which can be handy.
You can customise the notification LED to show different colours for different alerts, and you can set it to work while the phone is charging and show a different colour (red, green or blue) when the battery is full or low.
There’s a battery saver mode which you can set to kick in at 15% or 5% remaining power, ‘air gesture’ controls for swiping in front of the screen to scroll through photos or change the radio station, and gestures which let you turn the screen on and off. Plus, there’s a Miravision section which lets you toy with colour saturation and contrast.
By default the screen is set to timeout after 15 seconds, but without the actual battery saving modes enabled, we found that the phone drained its battery in standby rather quickly (within two days). If you use the X17 heavily it won’t last a full day, but under normal use, it should last from the time you wake up until you go to bed; you certainly won’t get more than a day out of the 2500mAh battery, which is not removable.
Cubot X17 review: Connectivity
This is a dual-standby phone and supports all three 4G LTE bands used in the UK. That means it will work no matter which provider you’re with. There’s also 3G support of course, but you don’t get NFC: there’s Mediatek’s alternative – HotKnot – which works with other Mediatek-based devices.
There’s GPS – A-GPS rather than GLONASS – which means the phone may take a little longer to lock onto a location than one equipped with GLONASS.
The phone also supports USB OTG and you get Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi.
Cubot X17 review: cameras
Everyone knows that you should never judge a camera by the number of megapixels. This proves true with the X17. While its 16Mp main camera is acceptable, it’s not great by any stretch.
The dynamic range is relatively limited so you end up with skies with burned out highlights or deep shadows in darker areas. Enabling HDR fixes this, but introduces other issues such as noticeable ghosting even if you really try and keep the phone still.
Here's a standard photo. Note the oversaturated colours and lack of detail in the bottom-left corner: (click to enlarge)
Here's a 100 percent crop - you can see that sharpness and detail is relatively good in this section of the photo:
Here's the HDR version with much better dynamic range and - oddly - much more natural colours: (click to enlarge)
But zoom in to 100 percent and you can see the ghosting due to slight movement of the camera between exposures:
There’s no stabilisation to help out, and this also means video can be shaky. It is, at least, captured in full HD at 30fps. Checking the file details, it was recorded at 17Mbps with 128kbps stereo audio.
Such specs don’t tell you whether the quality is any good, and our test videos showed poor focus and sharpness. Again, it’s adequate, but nothing more.
At the front is an 8Mp camera with a wide-angle lens. This is fine for shooting selfies and ‘grouphies’ and does a decent enough job unless there’s bright lighting in the frame. It’s fairly sharp, and some will appreciate all the beauty mode tweaks you can apply.
You can also enable a gesture mode where it will detect a ‘v’ sign and perform a countdown before it releases the shutter.
Cubot X17: Specs
- 5in HD (1920x1080, 441ppi) IPS fully laminated display, 1300:1 contrast, 450nit brightness
- Android 5.1 Lollipop
- 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6735A quad-core 32-bit processor, Mali T-720 GPU
- 3GB RAM
- 16GB storage
- microSD slot supports up to 32GB (shared with micro SIM slot)
- dual-SIM dual-standby (nano-SIM and Micro-SIM), 850/900/1800/1900MHz 2G GSM, 900/2100MHz 3G WCDMA, Band 1, 3, 7, 20 4G LTE
- GPS, A-GPS
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
- 8Mp (interpolated to 13Mp) rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, LED flash
- 16Mp rear camera
- 8Mp front camera
- 2500mAh non-removable lithium-polymer battery, charges over Micro-USB
- gesture controls