Realme U1 review: A phone that offers more than just good selfies
Realme has done extremely well to make a name for itself in just six months of entering a very competitive market in India. The company started off as a sub-brand of Oppo, a name that helped it get started initially. But now it is very much its own brand and it has a handful of good smartphones to prove itself. After the success of four smartphones, Realme felt confident to launch a redesigned logo and the Realme U1, which also marked the debut of a brand new U-series in India.
The U-series aims to offer camera-centric phones while maintaining the company's philosophy of offering style and power at affordable prices for the youth. This is what the Realme U1 tries to bring. On the one hand, it is reminiscent of past Realme phones, while on the other hand it tries to stand out by offering a 25MP selfie camera. But the Realme U1 also goes beyond this by also being the first phone to run the new Helio P70 chipset. And all of this is being offered at a starting price of Rs 11,999. After spending a few days with the Realme U1, here's what I found.
If the Realme C1's design was based on the Realme 2, then the Realme U1 falls closer home to the Realme 2 Pro. There are a lot of similarities between the two phones such as the dewdrop display with a tiny droplet-style notch, and a reflective rear panel. The rear panel gets a similar translucent design as on the Realme 2 Pro. It's a 2.5D panel that offers what Realme calls a light pillar design. This essentially means you will notice refractive lines on the panel depending on the angle you hold it. This is offered in three colours - Ambitious Black, Brave Blue and Fiery Gold. Realme says the Gold colour variant will only be available around the start of 2019. Our review unit was in Fiery Gold and holding the phone in certain angles indeed shows straight lines of light bouncing off the surface, which looked really nice.
Realme says it has used 13 layers of sectional lamination to create the rear panel, which is nice to hear, but it is still a plastic panel that will attract scratches and dings after a few days. You'll likely notice this more on the black and blue colour options rather than the gold option. Once again, Realme chooses to have the display raised from the frame, which makes the overall design look less seamless.
The overall form factor of the phone is pretty tall, so it may not be easy for a lot of people to work with it with just one hand. But the phone is quite lightweight at 168 grams and easy to hold thanks to a rounded frame. The U1 comes with a single speaker grille on the bottom and microUSB port. The SIM tray on the left side of the frame can hold two Nano SIM cards and a dedicated microSD card slot (up to 256GB). The U1 also comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack.
When we reviewed the Realme 2 Pro, we were pleasantly delighted with the dewdrop-style display that offered an immersive viewing experience, made better thanks to a crisp and bright LCD panel. So, I was happy to know that the Realme U1 also offers a similar dewdrop display, which now also makes it the cheapest phone with this type of display. Much like the Realme 2 Pro, the U1 also gets a tiny curved notch on the top that houses a selfie camera, ambient and proximity sensors, and earpiece. There's a small chin on the bottom as well, but what you mostly get is a bright and vivid 6.3-inch FHD+ display. The minimal bezels all around allows the U1 to offer a 90.8 per cent screen-to-body ratio.
Given how Oppo is yet to optimise ColorOS for notched phones, the waterdrop-style notch that is used on the Realme 2 Pro and on the U1 is far less intrusive than traditional notches. So, whether it is watching videos or playing games, the tiny notch barely eats into the content, allowing for a distraction-free viewing experience. The panel that the U1 uses offers a sharp 1080p resolution with decent colour reproduction and deep blacks. The U1 also has one of the brightest displays in this segment.
Performance and software
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest USPs of the new Realme U1 is the new Helio P70 chipset that's running the show. This is the first phone to ship with the new MediaTek processor so it will be interesting to see the kind of performance it promises to deliver. We have tested a few Helio P60 phones like the Realme 1, Oppo F9 Pro and Nokia 5.1 Plus and we have been pretty happy with how they have performed for mid-range phones. The Helio P70 SoC is based on a 12nm process and promises to deliver a bump in performance and power efficiency over its predecessor.
This was the first time testing a Helio P70 chipset, so it was interesting to see the kind of performance it delivered. The chipset doesn't offer a major bump over the Helio P60, and in real world usage that involves loading apps and browsing social media platforms, you're unlikely to notice the difference. The clock speed has been marginally improved from 2.2GHz to 2.3GHz. It also gets the same Mali G72 chipset as its predecessor. So the performance is pretty much similar, which isn't a bad thing.
While using the Realme U1, everything felt just a touch smoother and a touch faster compared to Helio P60 phones like the Realme 1 or Nokia 5.1 Plus. I did not encounter a lot of lags or jitters while browsing through apps like Twitter or Facebook. Games like PUBG and Asphalt 9 also ran smoothly without any hiccups even with graphic setting on high, and the phone barely got warm.
Apps opened swiftly and browsing through the general UI was a fast experience. It is also partly due to Oppo's custom ColorOS skin which does not offer a lot of animations or anything that would slow down browsing experience. Of course as helpful as ColorOS is, it also comes with a few issues as well such as the inability to remove notifications by swiping.
The Realme U1 runs Android Oreo with ColorOS 5.2 on top. It's a little disappointing that Realme has not offered Android 9 Pie here, but that has been the case for even more established players in the game. Realme has been pushing out timely updates for its phones so far, so we can expect good support and possible Android 9 Pie in the near future.
What defines the U-series is the focus on cameras and so the U1 gets a big 25MP sensor on the front. The U1 is largely about offering impressive selfies, and for the most part it does a good job at it. Selfies captured in daylight are highly detailed and sharp with a good amount of exposure, which at times can get a little too much. Indoors, the selfie camera tends to use some AI help to over-sharpen selfies, which often looks unflattering.
The Realme U1 also offers dual cameras on the back that includes a 13MP + 2MP configuration, which is almost identical to the Realme 2. The primary sensor gets a f.2.2 aperture, while the secondary camera gets a f/2.2 aperture. The cameras support PDAF and LED flash but no form of stabilisation. Notably, the U1 also gets a slow-motion video mode that will also be coming to the Realme 2 Pro soon.
Photos captured from the rear camera in good lighting conditions outdoors offer a lot of detail and good colour reproduction. Photos don't look blown out or overly saturated, which is good. Photos also offer good contrast, but noise levels are on the higher side of things and there is some over sharperpening happening here as well. The cameras are below average in low-light conditions as exposure levels are low, resulting in darker images and loss of detail is evident.
Lastly, the Realme U1 ships with a 3,500mAh battery, which is similar to the Realme 2 Pro. So far, Realme phones have impressed with their batteries, whether they are in the 3,500mAh range or above 4,000mAh. After using the U1 for a week, I can say with surety that it offers a great battery life that goes beyond a full day on average to intensive usage. In fact, I feel it performance better than the Realme 2 Pro as well, and this is largely because of the Helio P70 chipset. I noticed that the battery level tends to drop a little fast on the Realme 2 Pro while playing a game like PUBG.
The Relame U1 also offers a solid standby time, so you won't notice the battery percentage drop much overnight. Whether it is streaming videos, calling or playing games, the U1 will live for a long time before you reach for the charger. You get a 10W charger with the box, which will charge the device up to 30 per cent in half an hour. Yes, the charging is slow, but at least you won't have to reach for it often.
Should you buy the Realme U1?
The Realme U1 marks the debut of a brand new series from Realme. The company has had a great start and wants to close the year on a high note with the selfie-centric U1. The phone promises a few unique features, much like past Realme phones. The 25MP selfie camera and Helio P70 chipset are the biggest highlights here, and they don't disappoint. The added bonus is that you also get a phone that looks great, with a display that is probably one of the best in this segment.
Ultimately, the Realme U1 is another winner from a brand that seems to be moving from strength to strength. The only problem as I see it is that Realme is offering a few phones that are very close to each other. This means the U1 is fighting its own brothers rather than the competition, and consumers are bound to get confused on whether to go for the U1 or the Realme 2 Pro. In my opinion,the U1 should be considered if you take a lot of selfies and a smooth all-round performance, while the Realme 2 Pro is for power users who also want good all-round cameras.