UMI Hammer S budget smartphone review

The Hammer S is a larger phablet version of the UMI Hammer, the wallet-friendly Chinese phone that was billed as virtually unbreakable. It's not just the size and weight that's changed here, however. Find out more in our UMI Hammer S review. Also see: Best new phones coming in 2015. Updated with our video review.

The Hammer S adopts the same aviation-grade aluminium frame as the older UMI Hammer, but now features 2.5D curved glass. It's a good-looking phone, and should prove pretty tough.

Larger in size and weight than the 5in Hammer, the Hammer S has a 5.5in HD screen and a higher-capacity 3200mAh battery - an important upgrade for those who have found it difficult to get the 2250mAh battery inside the Hammer through a full working day. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

The screen is still an IPS display, with realistic colours, strong viewing angles and useful brightness, if not quite as crisp now that its pixels are stretched over a larger area.

New to the Hammer S are a touch-based fingerprint scanner on the phone's rear, and an IR blaster that allows you to control various electronics devices within your home directly from your smartphone. And it  charges over forward-thinking USB-C rather than Micro-USB. See all smartphone reviews.

Not everything is an upgrade, though. UMI says it has decided to focus on user experience rather than benchmarking performance, and while we found it sufficiently fast that we didn't feel we were left hanging around waiting for it, the 'S' moniker clearly doesn't stand for 'speed'.

Whereas the original Hammer had a 1.5GHz MediaTek MTK6732 chip, the Hammer S has a 1GHz MTK6735 (both are quad-core chips), which it pairs with 2GB of RAM. In place of the Mali-T760 MP2 graphics there's now a Mali-T720 GPU. Performance from the Hammer S was significantly lower in all our tests.

For photography there's an 8Mp Sony IMX179 camera with dual-LED flash at the rear, which is boosted to 13Mp using software. You'll also find a 3.2Mp camera at the front. Our results with HDR on were quite acceptable for a phone that costs just £108, with no extra charges for tax or delivery.

As with other phones in the UMI line-up, the Hammer S supports Rootjoy, which lets you plug it into a PC or laptop and easily flash a custom ROM. It comes with a very plain version of Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, with just a handful of preinstalled extras. Also see: Best Android phones 2015.

UMI Hammer S

UMI Hammer S review: Price & UK availability

We received our review sample of the Hammer S from Coolicool.com. It's available from its Chinese warehouse for £88.39, or the European warehouse for £108.79. It's up to you which outlet you choose to use, but if you take the cheaper option you could end up paying more if your parcel is picked up by Customs (no charges are applicable when shipped within Europe). Read our advice on buying grey-market tech before you make that decision. Also see: Best budget phones 2015.

UMI Hammer S review: Design & build

For a cheap phone, the Hammer S has a really nice design. Ours came in white, but the UMI is also available in black. It's larger and heavier than the original Hammer, but its 8.5mm design and 200g is not too extreme for a phablet, and the slightly curved edges both on the rear and the 2.5D glass on top make it easier to handle.

The frame is built from aviation-grade aluminium, and it feels not only tough but premium. Along its top edge you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and IR blaster, and at the bottom a USB-C charging- and data-transfer port and a single speaker - pleasingly this has been moved from its palm-muffling rear postion on the UMI Hammer. On the righthand side is a power button and volume rocker.

Turn over the Hammer S and a camera juts out a small amount from the case, sat to the left of a dual-LED flash and just above a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, which falls naturally under your forefinger when handling the phone. This cover is plastic and removable, but not flimsy or creaky, giving access to an also-removable 3,200mAh battery, dual micro-SIM slots and a microSD card slot. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2015.

The 2.5D curved glass at the front adds a touch of flair and protects the edges of the screen from chips. It doesn't lie entirely flush, however, and running your fingers over the edge you'll feel the lip of the metal frame. Don't do that too much, though, because the Hammer S is rather good at attracting fingerprints.

The screen itself is a large 5.5in HD panel, which means it's usefully large for reading text or watching videos. (It's not so hot on gaming, as we'll come to later, but casual gaming should be fine.)

An IPS panel with a 1280x720-pixel resolution, the Hammer S is bright, responsive, and has excellent viewing angles and very realistic colours. Pictures and video look good, but despite the HD resolution the large screen area means you can pick out some fuzziness around the edges of text and icons - the UMI has a pixel density of 267ppi. Also see: Best smartphones 2015.

UMI Hammer S

UMI Hammer S review: Hardware & performance

The Hammer S is not the fastest phone you'll find at this price, but in real-world use we think few users would think it slow. We never found it to take more than a second to launch an app, and there are various smart gestures that make it even quicker to access what you need from standby. Lag is minimal, too, at least in its out-of-box, almost-vanilla-Android state.

But benchmarking is what we do at PC Advisor, so benchmarking we did. None of the results raised an eyebrow for any of the right reasons, but neither would we expect them to do so at this price.

In AnTuTu we recorded a lowly 20,237 points, and just 1,391 points in the multi-core component of Geekbench 3.0. Performance in SunSpider was up there (or rather down there) with Android phones of the past, measuring a slow 2095ms in Chrome. Graphics weren't any better: in GFXBench (onscreen) the Hammer S turned in 8.5fps in T-Rex and 3.5fps in Manhattan. You can compare the UMI Hammer S' performance to all the phones we've recently tested in our article What's the fastest smartphone 2015.

Given its budget price, the Hammer S' storage and battery specifications are more attractive. There is 16GB of storage built into this phone - twice what you'll find from many of its rivals - plus support for microSD up to 64GB. Also see: How to add storage to Android.

And while many people have reported battery life problems with the 2,250mAh battery inside the UMI Hammer, the Hammer S is fitted with a higher-capacity 3,200mAh battery. UMI says you can expect 300 hours on standby, 17.5 hours of music playback, or 11 hours of internet browsing over 4G.

UMI Hammer S

UMI Hammer S review: Connectivity & extras

And that leads us on to our next point. One of the problems with importing phones from abroad is that they are not always compatible with UK 4G networks. But the UMI Hammer S supports all three 4G LTE bands used in the UK - 3, 7 and 20 - and does so with support for dual SIMs (dual-standby). Also see: How to check whether a phone is supported by your network and best dual-SIM phones.

There's an IR blaster for controlling compatible devices within your home, and the fingerprint scanner on the phone's rear is a pleasing addition given that it recognises touch- rather than swipe-based input - it's much easier to use, and even lets you set biometric security for individual apps rather than the entire phone.

The reversible USB-C port is another welcome addition, and now that support for the standard is built into the latest version of Android we'll see an increasing number of phones, tablets and accessories adopting Type-C USB.

The Hammer S supports dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and USB OTG. Rather than NFC it supports HotKnot, which seems to be pretty standard for Chinese phones.

UMI Hammer S

UMI Hammer S review: Cameras

UMI says the Hammer S has a 13Mp camera, but it's actually an 8Mp Sony IMX179 that uses software to boost to 13Mp. It has six precision lenses, an f/2.0 aperture and a dual-LED flash.

The Camera app supports the usual modes, covering everything from HDR to Beauty mode, motion-tracking mode, panorama and multi-angle view. There's Smile shot, face detection and Continuous shot, too, but no image stabilisation.

By default images are shot by the Hammer S at 13Mp in 4:3 format, and if you wish to shoot in 16:9 the max available is 9.5Mp. The results aren't bad - some detail is lost, but we quite like the vivid colours returned by the UMI. You can see our test shot (captured with HDR on) below. Also see: Best phone camera 2015.

UMI Hammer S

A 3.2Mp camera with an f/2.2 aperture and 1.12um pixels is also available at the front of the Hammer S.

UMI Hammer S review: Software

The Hammer S is preinstalled with Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, although you can also use the Rootjoy application to quickly flash custom ROMs from a PC or laptop. (This phone is sold rooted, and you'll find the SuperSu app preinstalled.)

It's a reasonably plain implementation of Android, and whereas you'd normally expect to find a plethora of Google's own apps all you get here is Google Play. Of course, that means you can download any or all of Google's apps (and any other apps) as you see fit.

That's not to say no apps are preinstalled, of course. There are UMI's own Browser, Camera, File Manager, Messages, Music and Calendar apps, plus the ZaZaRemote and SuperCleaner apps. Of the device's 16GB of built-in storage, just under 12GB is available to you.

One of the tweaks UMI has made, and something that is very common in Chinese phones, is the ability to use smart gestures to wake the phone from standby and instantly launch an app of your choice. A double-tap will wake the screen; drawing down pauses music, and right or left can skip the song; and you can set custom gestures whereby drawing a letter on the front of the screen will wake the phone and launch your chosen app.

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UMI Hammer S: Specs

  • 1GHz MediaTek MTK6735 quad-core processor
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop with UMI Rootjoy
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • microSD support up to 64GB
  • 5.5in HD (1280x720) IPS display, 2.5D curved glass
  • aircraft-grade aluminium frame
  • ARM Mali-T720 graphics
  • 8Mp Sony IMX179 rear camera (software to get to 13MP), six precision lenses, f/2.0 aperture, dual-LED flash
  • 3.2Mp front camera, f/2.2 aperture, 1.12um pixels
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x micro-SIM)
  • supports all three UK 4G bands
  • dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • HotKnot
  • GPS
  • OTG
  • IR blaster
  • Touch ID fingerprint scanner with app lock, 1s recognition and support for five fingerprints
  • USB-C
  • 3,200mAh battery (300 hours standby, 17.5 hours music playback, 11 hours 4G internet browsing)
  • Smart Wake gestures
  • 154x77.4x8.5mm
  • 200g
  • AnTuTu: 20237
  • SunSpider (Chrome): 2095ms
  • GFXBench: T-Rex 8.5fps, Manhattan 3.5fps
  • Geekbench 3 SC: 489, MC: 1391
  • 1GHz MediaTek MTK6735 quad-core processor
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop with UMI Rootjoy
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • microSD support up to 64GB
  • 5.5in HD (1280x720) IPS display, 2.5D curved glass
  • aircraft-grade aluminium frame
  • ARM Mali-T720 graphics
  • 8Mp Sony IMX179 rear camera (software to get to 13MP), six precision lenses, f/2.0 aperture, dual-LED flash
  • 3.2Mp front camera, f/2.2 aperture, 1.12um pixels
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x micro-SIM)
  • supports all three UK 4G bands
  • dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • HotKnot
  • GPS
  • OTG
  • IR blaster
  • Touch ID fingerprint scanner with app lock, 1s recognition and support for five fingerprints
  • USB-C
  • 3,200mAh battery (300 hours standby, 17.5 hours music playback, 11 hours 4G internet browsing)
  • Smart Wake gestures
  • 154x77.4x8.5mm
  • 200g
  • AnTuTu: 20237
  • SunSpider (Chrome): 2095ms
  • GFXBench: T-Rex 8.5fps, Manhattan 3.5fps
  • Geekbench 3 SC: 489, MC: 1391

OUR VERDICT

We really like the UMI Hammer S. It's not the fastest phone you'll find at this price, but it's fast enough for daily use. The design is nice, and genuinely useful technology - USB-C and the fingerprint scanner for example - comes at an attractive price. A strong rival to the excellent Vodafone Smart Ultra 6.

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