Ulefone Paris budget smartphone review

It costs less than £100 and comes with dual-SIM 4G LTE connectivity, an octa-core processor and a 5in HD screen - but is this budget Android phone a good buy? We review the Ulefone Paris budget Android phone. Also see: Best smartphones 2015/2016. Updated with our video review.

The Ulefone Paris offers excellent value at under £100. Our review sample came from Coolicool.com, where it currently costs £88, but be warned that the phone ships from China and if your parcel is picked up at Customs you will need to pay import duty. Read our advice on buying grey market tech. (You can also buy it from Amazon UK for £119.95.)

Even with the potential additional charges, the Paris is a decent budget smartphone offering. In common with many Chinese phones it supports two Micro-SIMs, which operate in dual-standby mode. Both support 4G LTE (although only one can be used for data at a time), and the Ulefone Paris covers all three UK 4G LTE bands (3, 7 and 20).

It also supports microSD cards up to 128GB capacity and, unlike many of its rivals, doesn't force you to choose between the second SIM and removable memory. If you want a microSD card you'll need to factor in the extra cost, but you may find the Ulefone's 16GB of built-in storage (of which 9GB is available) is plenty for your needs. Also see: How to add storage to Android.

At 8mm thick and 128g the Paris is well proportioned for a budget Android phone. Available in Metal Grey (as reviewed here) or Silk White it has a lightweight metal frame with a removable plastic rear and a fully laminated 5in HD IPS display. Ulefone has squeezed inside a 2,250mAh battery and, pleasingly for those who want to extend battery life, it's removable. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

That said, the core hardware is modest, and shouldn't place too much of a drain on battery life. Ulefone specifies the 1.3GHz octa-core MediaTek MTK6753 chip along with ARM Mali T720 graphics and 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM. Performance will prove capable for most users in day to day use, and in our benchmarks the Ulefone Paris easily met its competition. See all smartphone reviews.  

For photography the Ulefone Paris uses a pair of Omnivision cameras, with 13Mp at the rear and 5Mp at the front. We've seen better results from 13Mp cameras but again, given the price, we can hardly grumble.

With Android Lollipop 5.1 out of the box, Ulefone also preinstalls the U Launcher. This removes the familiar app tray and places everything on the home screen in an iPhone-esque layout. Icons are also very Apple-like, displayed as squares with rounded edges. There are four slightly different themed skins, which you choose between by tapping the Change Skin button on the home screen, plus a selection of extra themes and wallpapers you can download, which includes such items as 'Alliance' (aka Captain America) and 'Hammer Brother' (Thor, clearly). Ignoring the naming scheme, it's quite cool.

Two things you won't get on an iPhone, though, are the gallery timeline on the final home screen, and a handful of gestures that support such things as three-finger screenshots and the ability to take a photo by waving your hand in front of the camera. Also see: Best Android phones 2015. 

Ulefone Paris

Ulefone Paris review: UK price & availability

The Ulefone Paris was sent to us by Coolicool.com, which is currently selling the budget phone on its site for £88.39. Note that this phone is shipped from China, so you may have to pay additional charges for import duty. Read our advice on buying grey-market tech.

If you'd rather buy direct from a known UK retailer, the Ulefone Paris is also available from Amazon UK for £119.95. Also see: Best budget phones 2015. 

Ulefone Paris review: Design & build

For a budget phone the Ulefone Paris has a very slight and unoffensive build. It weighs a tiny 128g, and is just 8mm thick, making it easy to operate in a single hand. Although it looks plastic, the frame is a very lightwight metal which adds durability, while the 5in fully laminated HD IPS screen is protected with tough Gorilla Glass 3.

With 1280x720 pixels stretched across a 5in panel, the Ulefone Paris has a pixel density of 294ppi, which is a little below that of the 326ppi iPhone 6s. This means, for a sub-£100 phone, the screen is pretty clear.

With IPS screen tech the viewing angles are good and the colours realistic, although we did find the screen a bit dull even at maximum brightness - you may find visibility in very bright sunlight is compromised. It's also very prone to fingerprints.

There are just two physical buttons on this phone, a volume rocker and a power switch on the righthand side. The three home, back and options buttons that sit below the screen are capacitive, and with no legends save for a white circle around the home button you'll need to remember which way around they operate. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2015.

As with many Chinese phones the Micro-USB charging slot is found on the device's top edge, a setup we're gradually getting used to. Also here is a 3.5mm headphone jack, while at the bottom you'll find the speaker grille and mic.

The Ulefone's plastic rear is removable. It's flimsy but holds tight to the phone and doesn't flex or creak in normal use. Tucked underneath are dual-SIM and MicroSD card slots, plus a removable 2,250mAh battery. A camera with LED flash sits in the top right corner, lying almost flush to the phone. Very slight surves at the edges, and also on the screen's 2.5D glass, make the Paris more comfortable to hold in the hand.

Ulefone Paris

Ulefone Paris review: Hardware & performance

The Ulefone Paris ships with a 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 octa-core processor, 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM and ARM Mali-T720 graphics. Performance for a budget phone is very good, and in real-life use it shows very little lag - launching the Camera app is probably the slowest thing, which takes just a couple of seconds. Plus, having all your apps on the home screen can speed up finding what you're looking for, provided you don't have too much installed.

Benchmarks should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but our test results are as follows: in Geekbench 3.0 we recorded 2614 points in the multi-core test, making it faster than the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 which currently sits at the top of our budget phones chart, and not far behind the iPhone 6 and HTC One M8.

In graphics and SunSpider it lags those phones, but is still more than a match for Vodafone's best budget phone, with 15fps in GFXBench T-Rex (6.2fps in Manhattan) and 1489ms in SunSpider. We also ran AnTuTu, in which the Ulefone Paris recorded 29,796 points. You can compare the Ulefone Paris' performance to all the phones we've recently tested in our article What's the fastest smartphone 2015.

There's 16GB of storage inside, although only 9GB is available to the user. Fortunately there's a microSD card slot, which supports up to 128GB when many budget phones can accommodate only 32GB.

The battery is removable, with 2,250mAh capacity. Ulefone says it provides a full working day, and 268 hours on standby. Your mileage will vary depending on your usage, but there's nothing here that will place an excessive drain on the battery.

Ulefone Paris

Ulefone Paris review: Connectivity & extras

One of the great things about the Ulefone Paris is that it's a dual-SIM phone, accepting two Micro-SIM cards. Dual-SIM functionality is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, allowing you to separate work and pleasure, or even just so you can insert a cheaper local SIM during trips abroad. Both the SIM slots on the Paris support 4G (and all three UK 4G LTE bands are covered), but only one can be configured to use data at a time - this phone operates in dual-standby mode. Also see: How to check whether a phone is supported by your network and best dual-SIM phones.

There are few other extras, as you might expect from a budget phone. The Ulefone Paris supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and GLONASS and USB OTG. Although there's no NFC, there is support for HotKnot, which is a MediaTek equivalent popular in China.

Ulefone Paris

Ulefone Paris review: Cameras

The Ulefone's primary camera is a 13Mp Omnivision model that unlike many of the 13Mp cameras fitted to Chinese phones appears to achieve this without software. It has a large f/1.8 aperture and a dual-LED flash, and supports full-HD video recording. Smart gestures are also supported, letting you take a photo by swiping your finger over the front camera or taking a photo only when your subject is smiling.

It talks the talk, certainly, but in our tests we weren't overly impressed with the camera on the Ulefone Paris. Our test shot with HDR is below, and as well as appearing a little washed out there is notable banding across the top half of the image. Still, for a budget phone it's not so bad. Also see: Best phone camera 2015.

For selfies you also get a 5Mp Omnivision camera at the front of the Ulefone Paris.

Ulefone Paris

Ulefone Paris review: Software

The Ulefone Paris is sold with Android 5.1 Lollipop, but with custom U Launcher software that makes some notable changes to the UI. As we mentioned in the introduction to this review, the result is an Android phone with some very iPhone-like software, whereby the app tray is removed and all your app shortcuts are placed on the home screen. It's a messy approach that I'm not especially keen on, but it's easy enough to organise apps into folders and some users will find it faster to seek out the apps they need.

The icons are also very iPhone-like, shown as squares with rounded corners. Four themes are available for altering the look of these icons, and you switch between them by tapping the Change Skin button on the home screen. You can also tap the Theme button to download extra themes and wallpapers, then set them as the default with a single tap.

One addition we do like is the gallery timeline shown on the final home screen, pictured below. It's an attractive way or displaying your photos, and it makes quickly finding them by date much easier.

Ulefone Paris

Other deviations from stock Android include some smart gestures - although none are customisable as you often find with Chinese Android phones. In the Settings menu you'll find an option to turn on three-finger screenshots (you merely swipe up or down with three fingers to take a screen grab), plus a handful of options that are mainly to do with making, receiving and muting phone calls and taking photos.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2015/2016.

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter.

Ulefone Paris: Specs

  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 octa-core processor
  • ARM Mali-T720 GPU
  • 2GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • 5in HD (1280x720) IPS screen, Gorilla Glass 3
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 13.2Mp Omnivision OM13850 rear camera with LED flash, supports full-HD video recording
  • 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
  • 4G bands 3, 7 & 20
  • OTG
  • HotKnot
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Micro-SIMs), both support 4G
  • 2,250mAh battery
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Micro-USB port
  • comes in Metal Grey or Silk White
  • 144.5x71.7x8.0mm
  • 128g
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 octa-core processor
  • ARM Mali-T720 GPU
  • 2GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • 5in HD (1280x720) IPS screen, Gorilla Glass 3
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 13.2Mp Omnivision OM13850 rear camera with LED flash, supports full-HD video recording
  • 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
  • 4G bands 3, 7 & 20
  • OTG
  • HotKnot
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Micro-SIMs), both support 4G
  • 2,250mAh battery
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Micro-USB port
  • comes in Metal Grey or Silk White
  • 144.5x71.7x8.0mm
  • 128g

OUR VERDICT

The Ulefone Paris is a great budget buy at £88, but bear in mind that you may also need to factor in import duty. Even so, it's a great rival to the £125 Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, which sits at the top of our budget smartphone chart, with faster core hardware and 4G dual-SIM functionality, but a lower-resolution screen. The camera isn't as impressive as the rest of this budget phone's spec, but it's still acceptable for such a cheap device.

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