You probably haven’t heard of the company Umi. They’re a relatively unknown Chinese manufacturer with a mission to make affordable devices with compelling feature sets. And they’re not alone in pursuing that formula: there are tons of companies throughout Asia trying their hardest to grab a share of the entry-level market.
OnePlus, another Chinese startup founded by former Oppo employees, succeeded in competing with other electronics giants by selling well rounded and affordable Android phones, however they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Historically I've taken issue with smaller OEMs and the devices they produce as they rarely live up to their advertised claims, making quality a big hit or a huge miss seemingly at random.
However, I am willing to give any company a chance to impress, which is why I have the Umi Touch in the office to review. Priced at $160, the Touch carries a respectable list of specs including a 5.5-inch 1080p display, 13-megapixel Sony IMX328 camera, a huge 4,000 mAh battery, a metal design, and even a fingerprint sensor. It’s running the latest version of Android as well, without much bloatware or customization.
So can the Umi Touch break away from the norm and actually present a good package from a lesser known Chinese manufacturer? I’ve spent more than a month with the Touch to find out.
The design of the Umi Touch is nothing too fancy. The phone is a pretty typical rounded-rectangle with glass on the front, and metal on the back that curves around each long edge. This metal is flanked by plastic along the top and bottom of the rear, finished to look similar to the metal plate.
This method of disguising plastic doesn’t often work from a visual standpoint – the difference in materials is obvious – and is something not seen on premium handsets. Of course at this price point, the Umi Touch isn’t a premium device, so I can forgive the company for opting to design it in this way.
I certainly prefer the metal back to the plastic build budget devices like the Moto G employ, and in general this 5.5-inch device is comfortable to hold thanks to decent curvature along each edge. However, there’s no mistaking this metal design for the best on the market; the HTC 10 and Nexus 6P, for example, are still several steps ahead in terms of visual appeal.
There are a couple of design issues with the Umi Touch that expose it as a cheap handset. The seams between the metal and plastic on the rear are very noticeable and not particularly even, which is something a high-end phone manufacturer wouldn’t tolerate. The front panel also lacks symmetry in design: the front camera is at a different height to the front flash, and the home button below the display is very slightly askew in the unit I received to review.
Most damning is the difference between the press renders of the Umi Touch’s front panel and the real model. The renders appear to show a large display with very little bezel at the edges, but in reality the bezels are considerably larger and quite noticeable. I don’t like this sort of deception at all, as the renders portray a design that’s significantly more attractive than the actual device. Buyers expecting a sleek, bezel free design could be seriously disappointed when their Touch arrives in the mail.
The Umi Touch (left) is almost as large as the Google Nexus 6P (right)
The bezel size makes this 5.5-inch phone larger than average: it’s bigger than the Galaxy S7 Edge by a decent margin, and almost the same size as my 5.7-inch Nexus 6P. At 8.5mm and nearly 200 grams, it’s a thicker and heavier device too. The weight in particular is very noticeable, as it helps to make the Touch feel dense for a phone of this class, probably due to the 4,000 mAh battery inside.
The glass panel on the front is both good and bad. I like the way the glass curves away to the polished metal rim, creating a “2.5D” edgeless feel while swiping across it. However, the coating Umi has used isn’t the same quality as most other smartphones, which makes it a bigger fingerprint magnet and reduces the swooshability. Swiping across the display has more resistance than the 2015 Moto G, for example.
Below the display is a fingerprint sensor; something seldom seen at this price point. The sensor is touch-activated, like most fingerprint sensors found in smartphones, and it works far better than I was expecting. It’s similar in speed to a Nexus 6P and only slightly less accurate, plus it doubles as a capacitive touch home button. Kudos to Umi for getting this key feature of their smartphone working well.
Umi has designed the other capacitive navigation buttons, found to the left and right of the fingerprint sensor, in a similar fashion to OnePlus. There are no logos on the buttons, which can be a little confusing before you realize the right button is back, and the left button is menu. I’d have far preferred to see the back button on the left, and an app switcher button on the right, as opposed to the legacy and generally unnecessary menu button. A software option to change this, similar to OnePlus, would be much appreciated.
The power button and volume rocker are found on the right side in a comfortable position, and both exhibit a decent clicky response. On the bottom is a standard micro-USB port, while the 3.5mm audio jack is on the top. The left edge features a single tray with two slots: one for a micro-SIM, and another for either a second micro-SIM or a microSD card depending on your needs.
There is a single speaker on the Umi Touch, located at the bottom of the rear panel. There’s no front facing audio here, so you might need to cup your hands around the speaker to get a decent audio experience. Quality is very average as you’d imagine, and it’s not particularly loud either.