Just like mainstream, international smartphone makers, Umi engineered the Umi Iron Pro flagship in order to cater to the most popular needs of users. Focusing its efforts to create a balanced smartphone and a massive campaign to promote the phone before its release, the company launched the Iron Pro in the Fall of 2015 to largely positive first impressions and early reviews. Since then, the number of reviews has decreased unsurprisingly. Chinese flagships don’t really attract the attention of customers for long, even though there are many examples of good design and performance implemented into a handset. The Umi Iron Pro is one of those balanced smartphones that was surrounded by a lot of hype around its release, due to the massive giveaway and promo campaign, but has not been able to keep atop the fame train, as it were. This is our Umi Iron Pro review after three months of it being our daily driver.
Read through the in-depth review or scroll to the bottom of the page for TL;DR review notes, in case you’re not in the mood. Before digging into the review, I’d like to point out the features that Umi has emphasized in their promo campaign before the phone was launched. The handset was marketed as a flagship device with emphasis on durability, although it doesn’t have waterproof certification. Its metal-framed unibody was one of the highlights of the campaign, aiming to attract customers who were into the premium side of smartphones. Biometric security, top-notch performance and customization were also features the company focused its campaign on. So how does the Umi Iron Pro deliver on all these?
[x_custom_headline type=”left” level=”h1″ looks_like=”h6″]Design[/x_custom_headline]
The Umi Iron Pro comes in a well-designed box that follows minimalist elements and looks rather simple, yet elegant. Although boxes are not as important, they do reveal how much interest a company has directed towards making the entire experience with the phone likeable, including the unboxing. With a matte black finish and a metallic silver insert, the Umi Iron Pro box is one of the more elegant boxes I’ve seen when it comes to Chinese smartphones. It’s not as cool as the Nextbit Robin’s box (which you can see here), but it’s definitely a good example of how smartphones should arrive in the mail.
The Umi Iron Pro itself comes with a rather simple design that doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. A simple rectangular design, a metal frame with screws on the sides, a matte finish on the back that comes with a slightly grainy finish that makes it pretty comfortable to the touch. On the top and bottom of the back, there are plastic finishes of slightly different colors and textures than the rest of the back. Some people will enjoy these small design elements, while others will find that it interferes with the overall streamlined aspect of the handset. The edges around the frame are chamfered and shiny, further emphasizing the industrial elegance that Umi tried to infuse into the Umi Iron Pro design. The fingerprint sensor is neatly placed below the rear camera, right in the center. The position of the sensor is great, as your finger easily finds its resting place there when gripping the phone. The buttons, volume and power, are on the left side of the phone and are clicky, but not as textured as I would have liked them to be. Nonetheless, they’re easy to get a feel for, even though I would have preferred having them on the right side of the phone.
The actual footprint of the phone is rather large, the Umi Iron Pro touting a 5.5-inch display. Nonetheless, there are thin bezels all around and the bottom bezel is considerably thinner than on other phones. There aren’t capacitative buttons, as Umi went for the on-screen configuration, which in my opinion, suits the phone rather well. The phone itself is rather thin, with slight curves around the edges to facilitate a better grip. The frame is, unfortunately, slippery and the handset should be handled with care, unless one wants it to slip out of their palms. There’s a headphone jack up top, a dual-SIM/microSD tray on the upper right side of the frame, a mic and USB Type-C on the bottom and the physical buttons on the left side. Unfortunately, there’s a single speaker on the bottom back of the handset.
The front of the Umi Iron Pro is streamlined, more than the back, having a glossy black finish where there’s plastic and a durable, smooth screen. Up top, we can see a speaker, the front-facing camera and its own flash conveniently placed for better selfie-light as well as a heart rate scanner. On the bottom of the front, there’s a Pulse LED notification light which can be customized, having three color options you can set for various types of notifications. Otherwise, the phone is pretty symmetrical and generic, but it still manages to come off as an elegant and premium device. It feels great in the hand, even though it’s a big phone. It’s also a lightweight handset that might have done better with a bit more bulk, but it still manages to feel premium. There are compromises that the company made to arrive at a very consumer-friendly price tag, and in my opinion, that balances things out.
[x_custom_headline type=”left” level=”h1″ looks_like=”h6″]Camera[/x_custom_headline]
Umi paid a lot of attention into marketing the camera the right way. Emphasizing its low-light capabilities, selfie-oriented design for the front and manual controls, Umi positioned the phone as an affordable, yet capable device for amateur photography enthusiasts. During the few months I’ve spent with this device, compromises became evident, but the experience was still enjoyable and pleasant – at least for the rear camera. The front camera of the device is the one I have beef with, and it’s because of the flash mostly. In low-light, the handset struggles as many others do, but it is on par with most phones in its price range and even above. There’s a 13 MP f/2.0 aperture Sony IMX214 camera on the rear with dual-LED flash, with resolution boosted to 20 MP thanks to software. I’ve found that using these boosts has little effect and can even make for a less enjoyable user experience, so I reckon the camera is best used as it was intended to with its 13 MP camera.
The rear camera is made for social media, I would say. In a world where we get most of our images and enjoyment off of social networks we access on our phones, such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, DSLR-level photos are more of a luxury than a necessity. With the Umi Iron Pro, photos that one posts to social media look just as good as the ones posted from iPhones or Samsung phones. When one pulls them up on a bigger screen, you can see that the camera does falter in detail and noise levels, but not as much as to make the photos downright ugly. It’s a decent camera for the price and considering that the photos we take with our phones usually don’t do much else than parade on social media, I think it’s an acceptable trade-off.
The front camera is an 8 MP wide-angle camera with its own LED flash. Although it produces decent photos, I found myself avoiding to use it, because unless lighting conditions were optimal, the selfies turned out grainy and slightly distorted. The flash, I must admit, is shite. There’s a pink hue to it and its range is very small, small enough to light up the middle of your face and that’s about it. It’s not a pleasant experience, I must say. However, if you ever find yourself in a situation where it’s dark and you need to check if there’s something smeared all over your face or send a selfie to someone asking for help because you’ve glued your eyelids together, it’s good. Don’t use glue near your eyes, even though these make-up gurus on Youtube tend to come up with all kinds of weird tricks to get their contour and eyeliner on fleek. Just don’t.
Overall, I would say that the front camera of the Umi Iron Pro is sub-par, while the rear camera is pretty decent for the price. In this price range, I doubt you would get better performance out of any other smartphone camera, but I’m sure a couple phones could match the photos one can take with the Umi Iron Pro. The dual-LED flash and fast autofocus, as well as the extensive manual controls add to the experience and give the user a sense of freedom to play with the camera’s capabilities – usually resulting in mixed feelings. The phone, under my command, produced a good amount of cool photos, but probably just as many bad photos. If you have the patience to frame your shot and focus properly, you’ll get good results. However, if you want instant snapshots that look great, you might want to consider spending upwards of $300 on a phone and not even that guarantees a good camera.
[x_custom_headline type=”left” level=”h1″ looks_like=”h6″]Hardware[/x_custom_headline]
After bashing the camera a bit, it’s time to look at the hardware, which is oddly impressive in the user experience, but less flashy on paper. First, the screen is a 5.5-inch LTPS display with an FHD resolution (1920*1080) that in my mind is quite enough for the modern Android user who savors a lot of Youtube and video content. The display itself is very bright and still manages to be power-efficient enough to not eat up the entire battery of the phone in a couple of hours. Colors are crisp and sharp and there have been no weird hues while in use. Blacks do wash out on occasion, but only when on top brightness, which I doubt people use that much. When on maximum brightness, the display takes its toll on battery life, as with any other phone, but the dimmest it can go is good enough for most indoor environments or rainy outdoors. When it’s bright outside, max brightness comes in handy. It’s just a 5 point touchscreen, though, but that didn’t really impact my own user experience. It could be a problem for editing or some games, though.
The hardware of the phone is unsurprisingly representative of most Chinese flagships, featuring a MediaTek MT6753 octa-core CPU with ARM Mali-T720 GPU, 3 GB RAM and 16 GB expandable internal storage. Although the setup seems bland, I assure you, it’s not. Multitasking is a breeze, resource-hungry games and social apps run without a hitch and the phone has not once crashed an app in the three or so months I’ve been using it. I was really impressed with the performance of the phone, as it opened every app in a matter of milliseconds and switching between them was seamless, something I can’t say about many other Chinese flagship phones. The camera app is the only one that occasionally stutters, but that’s a pretty common occurrence with many smartphones still. Running on a custom version of Android 5.1 Lollipop, the Umi Iron Pro has an almost stock UI with few apps that don’t come in the stock version of the OS. What’s more is that these apps can’t be considered bloatware – unless SuperSU and support for rooting software (Rootjoy) is bloat to you. The fact that Umi endorses customization and rooting is great, as it allows users to tweak their phone according to their own needs.
The Umi Iron Pro comes with dual-SIM slots for Nano-SIM, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE (check whether your preferred band is supported before buying though) bands, USB Type-C, 3300 mAh battery, Pulse LED notification light on the bottom (which you can customize YAY) and a fingerprint scanner. The fingerprint scanner is one of the best scanners I’ve used and definitely the best on the Chinese market (not considering the Xiaomi Mi5, since I haven’t tested that yet). Surprisingly, the scanner recognized the three registered prints seamlessly 9 times out of 10, which in my mind is a great score, much better than other phones. There’s also EyePrint ID eye recognition enabled as an extra security feature, but that feature seems more experimental to me as I couldn’t really get it to work properly. Maybe it’s because I wear glasses, although it should be noted that a friend without glasses also tried and it didn’t really recognize their eyes that much when locked. Unfortunately, there’s no NFC or HotKnot… At least there’s a heart rate scanner up front next to the camera, which seems to work on and off. It gives unusually high counts for me, which is something out of the ordinary, so I’d rather not say that it works seamlessly. Let’s just say optical heart rate monitors on any device should not be trusted, ok?
[x_custom_headline type=”left” level=”h1″ looks_like=”h6″]In the end…[/x_custom_headline]
The Umi Iron Pro costs $150 unlocked, which is a very good price for what the phone actually has to offer. You can use a coupon CICPRO to buy it from CooliCool for $175, if that matters. If you want to order, though, keep in mind that depending on your country and method of shipping, there will be extra fees and customs fees that you will have to take into consideration. Overall, the Umi Iron Pro is a solid choice for a daily driver and even though it has its ups and downs, it handles regular, pretty intensive usage fairly well. The battery life of the device would average at about a day and a half of regular use, which is alright in my book. It could be better, considering the 3300 mAh battery that’s inside the phone, but it’s not the worst I’ve seen. Charging time is also good, at around 3 hours needed to charge the thing. I’ve seen phones charge in 12 hours, so 3 hours is definitely a good mark. Overall, I would say that the phone offers great bang for the buck for the regular Android user and power user as well. The extra developer tools and features come in handy and the customization options, as well as Rootjoy support, add to the appeal of the handset. I liked it and still do, but it’s not for everyone. Write a list with your priorities and compare them to the Umi Iron Pro to find out whether it’s suitable for you or not.