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Zen Ultrafone 701 HD Review

on June 22, 2013 – 3:18 pmNo Comment

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The Zen Ultrafone 701 HD is one of the many mid range 5 inch devices that have been flooding the Indian smartphone scene. If you take a look at some of our recent reviews, you’ll know what we are talking about. With almost identical specs, it is pretty hard even for the manufacturers to differentiate within their ecosystem. So, they try to differentiate with price or with features. In this case it’s the price and some more. At Rs. 11,999 is the cheapest 5 inch 720p device really worth its dough? Lets find out.

Box contents

We unboxed the device sometime back and found the box contents to be quite surprising. The long box was stuffed with whatever you’d want with a device and more. You get all the usual accessories like the poorly built charger, headphones and a micro USB cable and additionally, you get a scratch guard, extra cases and more importantly a service centre list. You can watch our unboxing video and read more about it here.

Hardware Walkthrough

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The design comes off as something very familiar. With rounded corners and a curved back you could mistake it for any device. Simply said, there s nothing unique to make it stand out from the crowd. The build quality though is pretty decent.

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The soft touch back is nice and grippy and the weight provides a solid feel to the device. The device is slightly chunkier than usual but adds to the overall solid feel. We do like the direction in build quality the Indian manufacturers are taking with their recent products. But over prolonged usage, it became glossy with all the greasy oils stuck to it. Minor issue that can be solved with regular wiping though.

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The front of the phone is dominated by the 5 inch display and covered by glass throughout. The glass is a finger print magnet. Above the display you have the ear piece, the usual pair of sensors and the front facing camera. On the left is the notification LED.

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Below the display are the three capacitive shortcuts and the primary microphone.

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Over at the top you have the 3.5 mm audio jack and the micro USB port.

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On the right side of the phone is a power/lock switch and on the left is the volume rocker. Pretty standard arrangement for most phones these days.

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On the back is the 8 megapixel rear facing camera with a single led flash and down below you have the fairly quiet loudspeaker.

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Underneath the back cover you have the 2000 mAH battery, the micro SD card slot and the normal sized SIM slots. Thats it for the hardware walkthrough, lets go in detail then.

Display

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The 5 inch 1280×720 IPS LCD screen is quite nice. It is one of the better screens in this price range with a balanced colour reproduction, good brightness and contrast. While it is more than decent indoors, the outdoor visibility fails due to a very passive brightness control.

At full brightness, it was more manageable but the reflectivity still got in the way of a decent experience. That said, it is better than some other displays we’ve seen in the same range. Coming in at a standard 294 ppi of pixel density, the display is as sharp as you’d expect it to be. On a side note, we did notice a single dead pixel that appeared and disappeared at will, again a minor defect we noticed.

Cameras

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The 8 megapixel rear facing camera on the Zen Ultrafone has a back side illuminated sensor and a LED flash to go along. To put it plain and simple, the camera is nothing special. It does take decent pictures in daylight but we found it too sharpened and artificial for our tastes. Low light is noisy and unusable sometimes, but we have handpicked some of our samples so that you can judge the camera quality yourselves -

If you can notice above, there are some blurry artefacts in some photos, especially in the top right part. We didn’t see them on another unit, so we guess this is an isolated issue in ours.

Still doubtful about the camera? We have a camera review on video here, watch -

The phone can record 1080p videos at 30 fps, with software stabilization, if enabled, but the quality was slightly noisy even in day light. You might want to take a look at the sample here -

To be honest, we didn’t expect much from a phone at this price, but having seen comparably decent cameras on other devices in this price range, we are left wanting more. The 3.2 MP facing camera might seem awesome on paper, but in reality its quality is just passable but it is good enough for video calling and occasional narcissism.

The camera UI is very familiar to these other MediaTek based devices and offers extensive control over the various aspects of still and the video camera. While the HDR mode proved of no use, the sweep panorama mode called multi angle and the auto-scene selection mode were useful at times. Otherwise, the features like face beautification and the normal panorama mode weren’t good enough to be mentioned.

In the video settings, you can set EIS, a software stabilisation mechanism to on, with options like zero shutter lag, continuous shots and face detection appearing for stills. The EIS option did not make much of an impact but here is a sample anyway -

Internals

The MediaTek MT6589 1.2 GHz Quad Core processor has found its way into many devices and the Zen happens to be one of them. Powered by a potent PowerVRS GX544 MP2 for graphics, the chip adequately powers the phone with performance that does not disappoint.

We benchmarked and ran some tests on the Ultrafone 701 HD and found it to be quite comparable to all the other MediaTek devices in the market. You can find them here, and here are a couple of benchmark tests we ran -

Overall, the performance was smooth and fast, with games working well. Here is a gaming demo in case you are interested in seeing how games fare on this phone -

The phone comes with 4GB of internal storage, out of which 1.74GB is usable.

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However, the options inside the storage settings allow you to specify the micro SD card slot as the default installation media, so the problem of bloated apps occupying the internal storage is not a problem on this device. There is 1 GB of RAM, out of which 972 MB is usable, and is adequate for most tasks, including gaming.

Connectivity and call quality

The device is packed with all the connectivity options you’d expect, like WiFi b/g/n, 3G HSPA, Dual SIM(GSM+GSM), Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS. The call quality was good, but the external loudspeaker didn’t prove to be a good option for conference calls, as it was too quiet even for loud music. As a consequence, the ringtones were quiet too. A minor day to day annoyance we observed. Another hardware defect that we noticed was the 3.5mm jack’s audio output, which was almost only mono whichever device we connected it to. But the defect was present only on our unit, as we noticed nothing of that sort in another.

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The 3G speeds were fast and WiFi held on as good as other devices. The GPS lock took a little bit more time though, but not a concern. The dual SIM features worked quite well out of the box, and the SIM management settings were robust with granular control over each SIM’s voice and data parameters.

Software

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Coming to the software side of things, the Zen Ultrafone 701 HD runs on Android 4.2.1 JellyBean, only one digit below the latest Android version. This brings in some cosmetic and functional changes to the OS such as lock screen widgets, Day Dream, notification toggles and various renewed system apps like for example the clock. Project butter and Google Now have been a part of Android since 4.1 and they do stay.

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With almost a stock like interface, there is little differentiation here when compared to some other devices from the competition. The interface is almost 98% true to stock with the exception of the messaging app, the camera and some other additional apps that have been modified, but you will almost get a very recognizable stock experience from this device.

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There are additional useful toggles on the drop down notifications shade, and they even work as shortcuts to their respective settings on a long press. In addition to SIM management settings for Dual SIM, there are settings for scheduled power on/off and audio enhancements in the audio profile settings. The enhancement widens the stereo for a more rounded music experience.

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Regarding apps, the usual scenario is that all the Google apps are pre installed and that stays true here too. Additionally, a lot of third party apps like Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp, Saavn, MX Player and Times of Indio have been pre installed. Utility apps like file manager, ToDo, Sound recorder, flashlight and a colornote app have been pre installed too, but they are part of the usual set of apps on some very similar AOSP builds.

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Regarding media, you have the music player and the video player, which are completely different from the first party apps. While they support all the usual codecs, you do have options in the place, like the Play music player and the MX video player. Apart from the issue stated above with respect to the 3.5mm audio jack, we didn’t have any other problems in media playback. The FM radio app could playback and record stations in stereo, which is a requirement more than a luxury these days.

Zen specific apps include the Zen update centre for quick firmware updates over the air and the Zen mini store for a curated list of apps from the Android Play Store. Over our course of usage we did receive an update over the air and was a minor bug fix.

Battery Life

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With a 2000 mAH battery, the Zen Ultrafone 701 HD gets through a day very easily. In fact, it was much better in performance than the competition, having tested most of them. There are no fancy power saving modes or anything, as there is not much need for it. The battery life we got was more than decent on single SIM, however we did find dual SIM to be a deterrent in that aspect. Here is a graph of a typical day of usage with regular calls, heavy browsing and whatsapp, all on single SIM.

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Conclusion

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Concluding, the Zen Ultrafone 701 HD is a pretty good device. It has solid build quality, great battery life and bare bones stock software. The display is better than the competition, and the stills camera is decent but when it comes to minor hardware defects like the 3.5mm audio jack, a dead pixel on the display and a slightly blurry camera lens, we couldn’t help but wonder if it could be better on other units, as we are pretty sure they are isolated issues.

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In the end, it’s the value for money that matters most. For a lowly price of Rs. 11,999, the Zen Ultrafone 701 has all the features you need and is attractively differentiated with accessories and the hardware/software advantages noted above. If you are willing to be able to compromise with the minor annoyances in hardware, go for it.

Pros

Above average build quality
Nice display
Great battery life
Price

Cons

Average camera
Minor isolated hardware defects

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Bharadwaj is obsessed with technology and is a self taught designer who covers news, writes features, reviews, loves to take photos and produces videos. He is currently using a review unit.
You can follow him on Twitter @bharadc23 and on Google+