The IUNI U3 isn’t a phone we expect to see many of outside of China, at least for the time being, and that’s a shame. Still here is our review of the flagship 2K phone, which costs only $320 on the Chinese mainland.
Before we begin I need to clear up a few details. The phone we have is a preproduction model and does not seem to support WCDMA networks. As you may have noticed we are spending some time in Europe this year, and so far I have been unable to get the U3 to accept 3G with my SIM. I believe this is down to the phone being a sample, as official specs to mention WCDMA and FDD LTE support. This has caused a problem though in that I have not been able to test the phone as a phone…. Another issue is that IUNI OS, being designed for the Chinese market, has no Google Play support (an installer will be on the way through 3rd party sources though), so I haven’t been a little limited in what I can do.
Still there is still plenty to look at, and I plan on revisiting the review once these details are sorted. In the meantime lets take a look at what we can for now.
Who are IUNI?
Before we get in to the nitty gritty of the review lets take a look at IUNI the company. IUNI have actually been around for just under 2 years, but we only started to hear about them early this year when they started to talk about the IUNI U2, their first every smartphone.
At the time of the U2 launch many people compared IUNI to OnePlus, and in fact the two companies are very similar. Just as OnePlus is a spin off from Oppo, IUNI are a new internet brand created with the help of Gionee, however there are some differences.
IUNI design all of their own hardware and their own ROM, so they are more similar to Xiaomi in that repeat. OnePlus on the other hand are a marketing company, don’t have their own ROM yet and sell a product made for them by Oppo.
As it stands IUNI don’t have an international audience, but they have expressed their interest in launching abroad and have recently launched an English language ROM, while sources have hinted to us at which company they hope to enter first (its a big one).
So now we know a little about the company, lets take a look at their current flagship.
IUNI U3 Review – Design
Compare the IUNI U3 with the previous IUNI U2 and we have 2 very different phones. Where as the IUNI U2 was a compact device with full ally body, the U3 is larger, and has a plastic body. Some might see the move in materials as a downgrade, but seeing the two phones next to each other the IUNI U3 does look more modern.
The first thing that struck me about the U3 was the overall palm friendly size. For a phone with a 5.5 inch display the U3 is actually pretty small. In fact its about the same size as the Meizu MX4 which as a smaller panel! The table below gives the dimensions of the IUNI U3 compared to similar phones.[table id=157 /]
As you can see above the U3 is quite competitive on the size front, and even with it’s rather thick overall depth it still manages to feel very comfortable to hold due to the very rounded rear panel. If there was one complaint to make though it is the fact that the phone is rather heavy at 176g, at a lot of that weight is in the top of the phone. Even with the compact size this has led to a few near fatal trips to the floor when the phones balance tips it out of my grip for a second!
With a one-piece aircraft grade magnesium body and plastic shell it does make you wonder what is adding to the weight of the phone. Well the large 3000mAh battery will be part of it, but as that is located lower down in the chassis I am not sure what is making the phone top-heavy.
I have to say, I really do like the look of the phone. From the front it is mostly screen, 77% of the face is the 2K panel apparently. The bezels either side of the phone are thin and the upper and lower sections are about as narrow as they can possibly be.
From the display the bezels connect to the alloy frame, only a couple of mm are showing, before the large plastic shell wraps around the back. The phone is rather chunky in the middle, but thankfully the rear has a nice wide arc making it appear and feel thinner.
The plastic used is really top quality, and the finish is really nice. It is cold to the touch and has a similar feel to the baby skin coating on the 16GB OnePlus One. The rear is home to the 13 mega-pixel main camera, single LED sim, large speaker grill and IUNI logo.
Like many of the phones we have tested recently the rear panel is removable and this time it makes a little more sense. First of all IUNI will be offering optional rear panels for the U3 giving you the choice of style, but the main reason for getting inside is to get at the dual SIM slots. Being a flagship phone with Dual SIM is quite unique still and is part of the reason so many people are looking to this phone. You can also see the large 3000mAh none-removable battery inside too. No, there isn’t a micro SD card slot.
The only controls on the outside of the phone are the power and volume buttons on the right hand side. All other controls are handled by an onscreen navigation bar.
Overall I really like the look of the IUNI U3. The shape and design are basic but they have been thought out so well that we are getting a huge screen in a tiny package! Sure it is thick, but you don’t notice this so much thanks to the pillow-like shape for the rear, however the weight is something that gets you as soon as you pick it up.
IUNI U3 Review – Screen
So dual-sim is part of the charm of the U3, but it isn’t the only feature this Chinese smartphone has to boast! The display on the U3 is a 5.5-inch panel, on par in size to the OnePlus One and Oppo Find 7, but the Sharp LTPS here is a second generation panel with 2K resolution!
What this means is that along with the extraordinary resolution of 2560 x 1440, and wonderful pixel density of 538ppi, the screen has a few more features up its sleeve.
Negative display brightness is one feature of the screen which allows brightness and contrast to increase by %15 and boosts colour saturation to 70%. So it’s a nice bright screen, but it is also more energy efficient! Up to %15 better on batteries apparently!
The new panel also has a self refresh RAM memory which allows the display to do its thing and let the processor handle other operations, helping to improve efficiency and performance of the phone.
In use the screen is superb, it really does offer amazing viewing and is a true joy to use, the fact that the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 panel has a 2.5D arc to it also helps you enjoy the screen more too. Instead of being flat the panel on the IUNI has a slight curve to the edges, and has a layer of Canon Optron AF across it, now this might not sound like much but it feels great and when you first get the phone you can’t help touching and stroking your fingers across it. Every played a game on a phone only to find that the surface offer to much grip and friction for slight movements? Not with the IUNI U3 you won’t.
IUNI U3 Review – Performance
Specifications of the IUNI U3 are amazing! Not just for a phone costing just $320, but for any phone on the market today. On top of the large battery and, stunning 2K display, the U3 boasts a Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor running at a cool 2.3Ghz,, with 3GB LPDDR3 RAM and 32 GB of internal memory.
You will recognise these specs as they are similar to the Xioami Mi3 which also costs $320, and the OnePlus One, however neither of those phones has a 2K panel.
When running benchmarks the 2K display does take it toll on the overall results, but as we are all aware by now, benchmarks don’t really mean anything in the real world. As you would expect from a flagship phone of this year there is no slow down, no lag and gaming performance is top-notch on the U3. It also helps that IUNI OS appears to be well optimised and isn’t full of junk or bloat.
Undergoing all these benchmarks, through daily usage (well without data) and gaming, the U3 only became warm, never hot.
Unfortunately I was unable to perform as many benchmarks as I really wanted, as the phone hasn’t got the Google Play store, still I did get a few apps from 3rd party stores and ran them. Results are below.
IUNI U3 benchmark results
- Antutu: 37,320 (2K display does eat in to it)
- Vellamo metal: 1,171
- Vellamo HTML5: 1,923
- Quadrant: 19,938
- Ice Storm Unlimited: 15,042
- Ice Storm Extreme: Maxed out
IUNI U3 Review – Camera
The rear camera on the IUNI U3 is a 13 mega-pixel Sony model with F2.0 Aperture and OIS optical image stabilisation. This is a good base for any camera which you hope to take good photos with. The camera works through IUNI’s own camera application and uses Arcsoft Algorithm Engine to professionally tune images.
So the camera hardware is up to scratch, but how is it in actual use? Well we have had great results from phones with similar set ups i the past and the U3 is also capable of getting some really nice photos, however the camera app is a little too basic with hardly any options of features.
You may have read our Meizu MX4 review last week, well after going from that feature rich, and wonderfully simple to use, camera app, the camera on the IUNI is lacking in features.
Compared to camera apps from Meizu and Vivo the IUNI is seriously lacking behind, we only have HDR, Night mode, Panorama, filters, brightness and we can choose to either use the auto focus or focus where we like and choose an optional light source. What we don’t have are settings to change the size of the images, the exposure, or any number of manual features that otter phones have been offering for a long time.
On the one hand this does make the camera nice and simple to use, but on the other hand I have felt I have needed the options as I haven’t been 100% happy with the photos the phone manages or the slow focus. If you need to catch a good photo at a moments notice the U3 isn’t the device for you, not unless future updates improve things.
It is also a bit of a shame to see the phone has just the single LED flash. Although bright and does help quite well for low-light photos, it would have been nice to see a dual tone dual LED flash on the phone.
Were also seeing a similar lack of features in the video department too. Where as most flagship phones now come with 720p slow-motion video or 4K video options there are no such settings in IUNI OS, at least not yet.
The Front camera on the U3 is an interesting piece of kit and is in fact a 4 mega-pixel ultra-pixel unit with F2.0 aperture and a pixel size of 2.0 microns. The same features that are available are here too, but panorama is replaced with that all important beauty mode.
IUNI U3 photo samples
IUNI U3 Review – Connectivity
Officially specifications list the IUNI U3 as having TDD-LTE bands 38/39/40/41, FDD-LTE, 3 and 7, TD-SCDMA 34, 39, WCDMA, 1,2,5 and GSM 2, 3, 5, 8. Whether any of that works I have no idea as the phone we have seems to only support TD networks. Dual sim supports GSM in one tray and data through the other.
I was able to test WIFI, and like the Xiaomi Mi4 and Meizu MX4 the U3 has 2.5G/5Ghz dual band WIFI which runs well through my Xiaomi router. GPS wasn’t really tested as I had not data to navigate with, but lock on time was on par with every other Snapdragon 801 phone we have tried this year.
Bluetooth works too and there is even an FM radio, a feature still very much in demand in some markets but something I have never felt the urge to use.
IUNI U3 Review – Battery
Another piece of the puzzle I couldn’t really test was the battery. Being stuck on WIFI only and no access to 3G and LTE means you get amazing battery life from the LG sourced 3000mAh battery, even with the 2K display turned on full, but that’s not how we use phones is it?
So battery life is going to have to wait until we get working data either by hacking this phone or receiving a device that works on other networks.
IUNI U3 Review – IUNI OS
Meizu have Flyme, Xiaomi MIUI, OPPO ColorOS and IUNI have their own IUNI OS. Based on Android 4.4.4 Kitkat, the version of the ROM I am testing is the new dual language option that features English and Chinese.
Translations are fine with no odd English anywhere, but the IUNI app store is still only in Chinese, and all the apps on there only have the Chinese names too. Hopefully the international version of the phone will have Google Play so this won’t be an issue, if not there is still some work needed.
If you read the remarks above about the camera app then you will already have a good idea about the ROM as a whole. IUNI OS is as simple and basic as a ROM can get. It is a beautiful looking rom with wonderfully smooth transitions and animations, and I love the fact there is a new lock screen image overtime I wake up the screen (with the power button there are no quick wake options), but there is a lot that isn’t there.
The basic nature of the ROM does mean that is very clean. Everything works well and it is all candy to the eyes. Allowing the IUNI developers to focus on getting the basics correct was worth it, but the lack of features is a little underwhelming.
Again though the ROM is very new so we are still only seeing it in its infancy. We can expect some great things in the future, and if they keep applying the polish and shine as they have done so far IUNI have the potential to have one of the best looking Chinese ROMS so far!
IUNI OS also handles all the navigation with a simple back, home and menu arrangement onscreen. In certain apps the icons will reduce to just dots on the screen to give you more onscreen space, although I hardly felt the controls took much away as they are really neat and narrow.
If you swipe up from the bottom of the screen the task manager, brightness control and a few useful toggles are displayed on a really pleasing transparent background, swipe down at way it disappears.
IUNI U3 Video Review
IUNI U3 Review – Conclusion
It’s not an easy task starting a smartphone company especially in China where we see some many phone makers come and go year by year. IUNI have done some really remarkable things in the past 10 months. They have launched two phones, released their OS on 11 Chinese phones (including the Mi3 and OnePlus One) and have just release the English version of their ROM.
Its a shame we were unable to fully test every feature on the IUNI U3, but we will get hold of a model with network support for where we are, and also by then we can hopefully get Google Play on the phone too (an installer was available for the U2 so it shouldn’t be long to wait). We will certainly be revisiting IUNI and their products, and with rumours that they could launch a 3rd phone later this year you are sure to hear some more news from them.
As for the phone and if you should buy it. If you are in China and can get this phone for the retail price of 1999 Yuan then yes you should give it a try if you want massive specs on a budget. It is an amazing device with huge potential, a lovely screen and big battery.
If you are not in China I would keep a close eye on IUNI as I believe when they finally do launch their products around the world, pricing could be almost as low as Chinese retail prices! But until then you might need to look elsewhere.
Thanks to the folks at IUNI for allowing us to have this IUNI U3 ahead of release. For more information you can visit the IUNI websites.