UMI Iron Pro review

UMI has unveiled a Pro version of its Iron Android phone, adding a fingerprint scanner and USB-C. But does the UMI Iron Pro have what it takes to flatten the competition? We find out in our UMI Iron Pro review. Also see: Best budget phones 2015.

UMI Iron Pro review: UK price and availability

Our review sample was shipped to us by Coolicool, which currently charges £122.39 with free shipping to the UK. However, note that Coolicool is a Chinese site and you may be charged import duty on top of this (read our advice on buying grey market tech).

That's around the same price at which you can buy the original UMI Iron from Amazon UK; the new Iron Pro is also available at Amazon UK, but at the higher price of £129.99. We'll look at some of the differences between the two below.

UMI Iron Pro review

UMI Iron Pro review: Build quality and design

Usually when you think of a Pro smartphone you think of one that is either faster or has an upgraded screen or perhaps even a better camera over the original. The UMI Iron Pro shows no advancement over the original Iron in this regard, and all that's new is the addition of a USB-C port and a rear fingerprint scanner. Performance in our benchmarks was slightly improved over the Iron, as we'll see below, but not because of any changes to the core hardware.

Actually, that USB-C port is more interesting than it sounds. Not only is USB-C faster but it's reversible, allowing you to plug in a cable any way up. Plus, the Micro-USB port on our original UMI Iron was oddly rectangular, making it difficult to fully insert a Micro-USB cable, so we're pleased that UMI has tackled this issue.

The fingerprint scanner is also cool, but we have the same issue with it as we do the EyePrint ID eye-recognition technology also built into this phone - given that you can bypass it by entering a password or PIN, it's only ever as secure as that lock code. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

UMI Iron Pro review

The fingerprint scanner is rear-mounted, which is a more convenient position than those that are built into the home button (the Iron Pro does not have a physical home button), and we like the fact that you can use the fingerprint scanner to wake the screen since no Smart Wake gestures are supported. If you were to use a pattern, PIN or eye-unlock feature you would first need to tap the power button to wake the screen, and given that it's placed on the phone's left edge this could be an issue if you're protecting the Pro in a flip case.

The UMI Iron Pro is otherwise identical to the UMI Iron before it. For a budget phone it's good-looking, and looks a little like a cross between an HTC, Samsung Galaxy and iPhone 6S Plus. As before it's made entirely from metal and glass, complete with metal screws should you need to access and replace the otherwise non-removable battery. Also see: Best Chinese phones 2015.

UMI fits the same 5.5in full-HD IPS screen, which is bright, clear and vibrant, and keeps to the same dimensions and weight at 7.9mm thick and 148g. The pulse notification light remains at the Pro's base, too, flashing various colours for different types of notifications, so you never miss a call or text.

One thing that has changed is the battery capacity, which makes sense given the identical weight despite there being a new fingerprint scanner. Whereas previously the UMI Iron had a 3350mAh battery, on the box UMI now specifies only 3100-3300mAh.

Everything's exactly where it was before, with the aforementioned volume rocker and power button at the phone's top left edge, and a dual-SIM (or one SIM and one microSD card) slot-loading tray on the right edge. Even the heart-rate scanner still sits to the left of the front camera - but this time it actually works!

A headphone jack is found on the UMI Iron Pro's top edge, and on the rear a 13Mp camera protrudes slightly. This is protected with stainless steel, and paired with a dual-LED flash. At the front you'll find an 8Mp selfie camera, also with an LED flash, which is necessary for the UMI's eye-recognition security. Also see: Best smartphones 2015.

UMI Iron Pro review

UMI Iron Pro review: Core hardware and performance

The UMI Iron Pro runs the same core hardware as the UMI Iron and, save for the 3GB of RAM that sounds pretty good on paper, it's not of the level we'd expect to find in a 'Pro' smartphone. Nevertheless, the performance afforded by the 1.3GHz octa-core MediaTek MTK6753 processor and ARM Mali-T720 GPU isn't bad for a mid-range Android phone.

Bizarrely, the Iron Pro performed a little faster in our benchmarks than did the original Iron, although this is partly why all benchmarks should be taken with a pinch of salt - sometimes you can get different results from one minute to the next.

What really counts is real-world performance, and as with the original Iron we have few complaints in this regard. Apps can take a couple of seconds to launch, but it's certainly not a painful wait.

While we're not convinced that MediaTek chip is worthy of a 'Pro' phone, it's certainly worthy of a £122 phone. In Geekbench 3 we recorded 2839 points in the multi-core component, which is not only faster than the original Iron (2606) but also the Sony Xperia Z3 (2805), Nexus 5 (2800) and HTC One M8 (2761), and it's only a little way off the Samsung Galaxy S5 (2869). 

For overall performance we also ran AnTuTu, in which the Iron Pro recorded 38,683 points; the original Iron scored 32,873.

UMI Iron Pro review

We use SunSpider to test web-browsing performance, and the Iron Pro performed a little better than the Iron, with 1288ms against its 1552ms (lower is better in this test). This is way off flagship-level, but more impressive than phones such as the OnePlus 2 (1471ms), Moto G 2014 (1504ms), Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 (1545ms) and Sony Xperia M2 (1647ms).

Our final test is GFXBench, which measures graphics performance. Whereas the first Iron failed to even run this test, the second recorded 4fps in Manhattan and 13fps in T-Rex. That's by no means great but, again, for the money it's not bad. You can compare the UMI Iron Pro's performance to all the phones we've recently tested in our article What's the fastest smartphone 2015.

Despite its reduced capacity, the 3100-3300mAh battery inside should still last a full working day. The Iron Pro does not support wireless- or quick charging, however.

The 16GB of storage is decent for a budget phone (many come with just 8GB), and it can be boosted using microSD up to 64GB if you don't wish to take advantage of the dual-SIM functionality. Also see: How to add storage to Android.

UMI Iron Pro review: Connectivity and extras

And on that subject, the UMI Iron Pro can support two Nano-SIMs, which may be useful if you want to manage separate phone numbers for work and play, or tariffs for home and abroad, from one smartphone. Also see: Best dual-SIM phones.

UMI Iron Pro review

One thing to watch out for when buying a phone from China is that it is supported by your network (also see: How to check whether a phone is supported by your network). The UMI Iron Pro can connect to UK 4G LTE bands 3 and 7, but not the band 20 (800MHz) that O2 (and networks that are based on O2, such as Giffgaff) relies on for 4G connectivity.

Other connectivity specs include dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and OTG. There is no support for NFC or HotKnot. Also see: What is NFC?

UMI Iron Pro review: Cameras

The Iron Pro features the same cameras as the UMI Iron, which means there's the 13Mp, f/2.0 Sony IMX214 camera at the front with six precision lenses and dual-LED flash. The UMI now uses software to boost this resolution to 20Mp - that's in 4:3 aspect ratio; full-screen the most you'll get is 15Mp. All the usual modes are available, including HDR, Panorama, Live Photo and Motion-Tracking. You can also get real-time previews of various filters.

Our test images were reasonable for a budget phone and with realistic colours, but despite the high resolution they still lack detail and show a fair bit of noise at full-size - it is impossible, for instance, to pick out individual bricks in the test image below. Also see: Best phone camera 2016.

UMI Iron Pro review

We also took a photo of the same scene with HDR on, which failed to deal with shadows and highlights as well as some budget phone cameras we've tried.

UMI Iron Pro review

At the front is an 8Mp camera with, unusually, an LED flash.

UMI Iron Pro review: Software

The UMI Iron Pro runs Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, but support for Rootjoy means you should be able to plug it into a PC or laptop and relatively quickly and easily install a new OS, including Xiaomi's MIUI. Rootjoy can also be used for backup purposes. Also see: Best Android phones 2015.

The software will be familiar to existing Android users, with few additions to the standard Lollipop OS. UMI has added a handful of apps such as U Health, SuperSU and ViPer4Android, plus app permissions, the aforementioned Pulse notification light and the ability to configure a Guest user account. There are no smart wake gestures as seen in the UMI Iron, however.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2016.

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter.

UMI Iron Pro: Specs

  • Available in silver or black
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop with Rootjoy support
  • 5.5in full-HD (1920x1080) IPS display
  • 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 64-bit octa-core processor
  • ARM Mali-T720 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 16GB storage, plus support for microSD up to 64GB (uses second SIM slot)
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Nano-SIM)
  • supports UK 4G LTE bands 3 and 7 (not 20/800MHz)
  • 802.11a/b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • OTG
  • 13Mp, f/2.0 Sony IMX214 camera with dual-LED flash
  • 8Mp, f/2.2 OV8858 front camera with LED flash
  • EyePrint ID eye recognition
  • fingerprint scanner
  • 3300mAh non-removable battery, charges over USB-C
  • 152.3x76.5x7.9mm
  • 148g
  • benchmark results - Geekbench 3: 625 single-core, 2839 multi-core
  • AnTuTu: 38,683
  • SunSpider (tested in Chrome): 1288ms
  • GFXBench: 13fps T-Rex, 4fps Manhattan
  • Available in silver or black
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop with Rootjoy support
  • 5.5in full-HD (1920x1080) IPS display
  • 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 64-bit octa-core processor
  • ARM Mali-T720 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 16GB storage, plus support for microSD up to 64GB (uses second SIM slot)
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Nano-SIM)
  • supports UK 4G LTE bands 3 and 7 (not 20/800MHz)
  • 802.11a/b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • OTG
  • 13Mp, f/2.0 Sony IMX214 camera with dual-LED flash
  • 8Mp, f/2.2 OV8858 front camera with LED flash
  • EyePrint ID eye recognition
  • fingerprint scanner
  • 3300mAh non-removable battery, charges over USB-C
  • 152.3x76.5x7.9mm
  • 148g
  • benchmark results - Geekbench 3: 625 single-core, 2839 multi-core
  • AnTuTu: 38,683
  • SunSpider (tested in Chrome): 1288ms
  • GFXBench: 13fps T-Rex, 4fps Manhattan

OUR VERDICT

Aside from a new fingerprint scanner and USB-C, there's not much new in the UMI Iron to justify the Pro moniker in this phone's name, especially given that it's no faster than the original. However, for the money it's a decent mid-range Android phone, and the EyePrint ID eye scanner is pretty cool, if no more secure than your PIN. Given that you can buy it for around the same price as the original UMI Iron, it makes sense to plump for the Pro version.

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