*This is a review of a loaned unit from Ninetology Malaysia*
It’s been awhile since I last wrote a review on Ninetology, the local Malaysian based smartphone manufacturer, with low- to mid-range Android devices ranging from smartphones to tablets. A few months ago, in Auguest 2013, I was introduced to this smartphone manufacturer and their line of U9 series devices, and even got to do a comparison review of their hero device, Ninetology U9X1 versus the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini.
Recently, mid last month, on 16 October 2013, Ninetology announced the availability of their latest in theur U9 series smartphone – the Ninetology U9R1. Marketed as a mid-range, ultra-sporty and #Sleek #Slim and #Sporty smartphone in their premium U9 series.
This 4.3″ Android smartphone packs some basic hardware and includes some interesting features for the mid-range price point. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to send a couple of weeks with this “sporty” smartphone and here’s my review.
Here’s a quick overview of the specs for the Ninetology U9R1:-
- 4.3″ IPS display (960 X 540)
- 1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor
- 4 GB internal memory (expandable microSD slot up to 32 GB) + 1 GB RAM
- Powered by Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” OS
- 8 megapixel rear camera, 2 megapixel front facing (720p) camera
- 7.8 mm thin, weighing only 107.5 grams
- 1,600 mAh non-removable battery (up to 8 hrs 3G talktime) but removable backplate
- Connectivity : Dual SIM, 3G/HSPA+ (SIM 1) & 2G/GPRS (SIM 2), WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS
- Available in 2 colours : Black / Red
For more information, check out the full technical specifications at the Ninetology U9R1 Product Page at http://www.ninetology.com/u9/products/r1/
Unboxing the Ninetology U9R1
The packaging for the U9R1 is like its previous U9 series phone (read the U9X1 review post here) which resembles a giant cigarette box. Yes, the box is truly gigantic for a smartphone.
Inside the box packaging, you’ll find that Ninetology has packed it with quite a few non-standard items. Other than the device itself, you’ll also find your standard 3-pin adapter charger, (flat) USB to microUSB sync and charge cable, standard headphones, user manuals and warranties. The additional, non-standard items include screen protector with screen wiping cloth and plastic applicator, and a phone case!
The front of the U9R1 is the 4.3″ IPS display touchscreen with a mere resolution of 960 X 540 which is not the highest definition you’ll find in smartphones today. Understandably this is a mid-range device, but other competing Dual SIM phones in this range already features a higher resolution screen, like HTC Desire 600 Dual SIM and Samsung Galaxy Grand Duos.
At the bottom, you have 3 capacitive touchscreen buttons, which in traditonal Android fashion means “Back”, “Home” and “Menu”. Other than the obvious fact that the “Home” button is in the middle, it’s interesting that Ninetology has not used the standard icons for the “Back” and “Menu” button on the sides, opting instead for tiny dots. You’ll kinda have to figure that one out yourself, which is which. This was a little annoying to me, as every device tends to place these buttons on different sides. This is the cause of many mistakes multiple times during my use of the device.
The review unit that I have is the red coloured unit, which is my favourite colour, in case you didn’t know. And the red really pops in this phone, which I love. The polycarbonate (aka plastic) build quality on the other hand seems a little cheap for my liking. It’s glossy back includes an embossed logo and branding for “Ninetology U9” which is subtle and clever. Also glossy back = fingerprint magnet.
Lookind around the sides of the device, you’ll see that it’s rather minimalistic and standard. At 7.8 mm thin, weighing only 107.5 grams, the device is indeed slim and sleek, as their tagline states. Sporty though, I don’t quite get how or why they call it that. This isn’t an “Active” or “Sporty” range of device that can withstand weather, bumps and water splashes or anything, so I’m a little baffled here.
The microUSB and 3.5 mm headphone jack is at the top, while the Power On/Off button is on the top right and volume rocker on the right side of the device. The bottom is clean of any ports and buttons, and just includes a small tiny microphone pinhole.
Remove the backplate for the phone to access the non-removable battery. You can access your 2 SIM card slots marked with SIM1 and SIM2, which supports microSIMs and the microSD slot next to it.
Considering the small, palm sized 4.3″ screen device, the phone fits nicely in my hands and is easy for single hand use, too. Design wise, the phone is comfortable to hold and use, single or dual handed use, but can feel a little cheap with its plasticky build quality, although the weight does make it feel a little more solid.
Software and Features
Some key features highlighted for the Ninetology U9R1 includes:-
- Dual SIM – Dual active standby SIMs means you can make / receive calls and SMS on both SIMs being active simultaneously
- 8MP Main Camera + 2MP FRONT Camera – Good specs for this mid-range device with an 8 MP shooter with autofocus, face detection and LED flash
- Snapdragon™ BatteryGuru – intelligent optimisation of your battery life depending on your usage
- Snapdragon 200 Processors – powerful speed and performance, compared to it’s previous devices on MediaTek processors
- 4.3” IPS Display – 170 degrees viewing angle is packed on the screen, with One Glass Solution (OGS) for lightness and clearer projection
The U9R1 runs on pretty much a vanilla Androis 4.1 OS. Vanilla means that it’s free of any phone manufacturer theme or skins or pre-installed apps and features. This is rather refreshing and does give help with improving the phone’s performance and speed.
The menu and navigation is simple with shortcuts you can slide your finger to access on the lockscreen (top left), clean app drawer and widget tabs, slide down notification centres with shortcut toggles for WiFi, Bluetooth, etc and multi-tasking windows accesible by long-pressing the “Home” button.
The default browser allows you to signin with your Google ID and enables the usual pinch-to-zoom functions, tab browsing and offline reading. The keyboard is also quite good with autocorrect and word prediction. Although, in the first day of use, I have minor issues with single handed typing and the touchscreen didn’t recognise some inputs of letters especially at the sides. The issue wasn’t present with two thumb typing. Perhaps, it was the way the phone was angled in my hand. *shrugs*
There are some pre-installed apps on the U9R1, which are functional and useful apps, such as ThinkFree mobile (for MS Office for your mobile), QR Droid (QR code scanner), M-Warranty (online warranty registration for your Ninetology device), NQ Mobile Vault (phone security app) and even a U9R1 digital user manual.
NQ Security is an interesting pre-installed app that allows a suite of features for better mobile security on your U9R1. This app includes an Anti-Virus feature, Anti-Theft functions, Optimization to improve your phone’s performance, NQ Mobile Vault to password protect your texts, call logs, contacts, etc, Anti Spam to protect unwanted calls / messages, and Backup Contacts.
The rear camera is an 8 megapixel shooter that includes autofocus, face detection and LED flash, which is not too shabby for this mid-range device. The front camera, used for video calls is a 2 megapixel lens, which is also quite good, spec wise.
Performance wise, the Camera app is rather minimalistic. There’s little toggles and features included and shoots at a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. The right side of the screen, at almost 25% of the screen real estate is taken by a giant shutter button, as well as the thumbnail of the last picture taken a the top, and toggles for video and panorama mode at the bottom.
There’s a slider for zooming, which you can also use pinch-to-zoom gesture, and slider icon to activate more menu settings like flash, white balance, scene selection and more.
Here are some sample images taken with the camera for your view. Images are not edited or resized, so mouse-over to view the description of the photography condition, and click to view enlarged copy.
In my opinion, image quality are not great. Unless it’s a straight forward outdoor and daylight condition, indoor shots without natural lighting tend to struggle a little. Front camera is not spectacular either. This is a basic camera for regular photo taking, but if you’re looking at shooting pictures of great poster quality landscape or something, best look elsewhere.
From the Photo Gallery app, you’ll also find a basic photo editor function, which will allow you to do basic edits like crop, straighten, adjust brightness etc, as well as built in filters for those more creative ones, to produce photo effects ala Instagram.
I placed the Ninetology U9R1 through its paces as a primary device with my primary SIM card and set it up to use as a primary phone for emails, calls, texts, etc as I would with my daily smartphone.
The 1,600 mAH non-removable battery gave me an average battery life of about 15 hours+ of use on moderate use with 10% battery left, just before midnight. 1,600 mAh is not a big battery pack at all. I believe, in order to maintain the slimness of the device, Ninetology made the call of not packing a larger 2,000 mAH battery minimum.
I understand, but it’s still disappointing nonetheless.
Pricing and Availability
The Ninetology U9R1 is available at the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 799, at Ninetology Flagship Touch Point in Low Yat Plaza and all major Ninetology smartphone retailers nationwide.
I tip my hats off to the team at Ninetology Malaysia who has done quite a good job at trying to market the Ninetology brand name. You come across their billboards scattered around Klang Valley. There are also a number of events and social media engagements and blogger activities that they have organised to get their name out there, amongst the highly competitive Android smartphone market with the likes of Samsung, HTC , LG and more.
Heck, I even won a prize of a brand new Ninetology U9Z1+ recently, from their Bloggers’s Program titled “Tech Kaiju Arena” with this comparison review post of the Ninetology U9X1 versus the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini here.
While the Ninetology U9R1 is slim and sleek and quite alright for a RM 799 mid-range device, the biggest challenge is the brand recognition and distribution of the phone. While I might not be the right target market for this U9R1, I believe there is a hige market for low- to mid-range Android smartphones. Especially one that is set at this affordable price point, packing good specs and might not be as feature rich as a flagship phone, but does well with moderate use in terms of speed and performance.
Given more aggressive marketing, brand awareness and wide distribution network (perhaps Ninetology needs to get into the telco mobile plans with discounted devices), I feel the smartphone itself is worth considering as a mid-range device.
If you’re looking for a Dual SIM, mid-range Android device, there seems to be a growing market need for this, phone manufacturers are taking notice. You now have more choices to consider.
While you’re looking at the Samsungs and HTCs, you really might want to check out this Ninetology U9R1 as well.
Smart Ecology 2
In conjunction with the launch of the Ninetology U9R1 last month, Ninetology Malaysia also announced a new smartphone recycling program called Smart Ecology 2. The program allows user to support this ethical recycling program via Green Recyling Technology and donate your used devices for proper recycling, in support of Ninetology’s official partnership with the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS).
Users are rewarded with up to RM 200 rebate with every purchase of U9R1 when old or unused phones are surrendered during the purchase. Ninetology dealers nationwide will gather the phones to be sent over to the organization’s headquarters for the next step of ethical recycling.
Users are encouraged to recycle their old or unused mobile phones with this program to enjoy special rebates and discounts. Previous Ninetology models traded in will receive RM200 rebates, while other brands of phones will get a RM150 rebate for purchase of this new Ninetology U9R1 smartphone.
For more information on which phones are applicable for this offer, check out the Smart Ecology 2 page at http://www.ninetology.com/echannel/smart-ecology-2/