Wiko upulse Review – Nasty Budget Device? Nah.

The brand Wiko is not an unfamiliar name in the budget smartphone market, as their line-up only consists of phones that costs under RM1000 while having features that are found in smartphones that costs more. In this review we will be taking a look at the Wiko upulse, which is one of the 3 latest devices that Wiko is offering. Priced at RM799, its job is to replace the uFeel Fab (read our review of the uFeel Fab here) while offering more bang for your buck for the same price. So, does the new device makes it better? Let’s find out.

Unboxing

All Wiko devices features similar unboxing experience, and the Upulse is no difference. The packaging that came with the Upulse is pretty much the same as other Wiko devices, with Wiko’s own Bleen colour theme with the image of the phone at the front. Lifting up the top cover and the phone is nicely presented towards the right of the packaging. Underneath the phone is where the usual bells and whistles that came with other Wiko devices, which includes a clear soft case, a screen protector and some documentations. The rest of the accessories are located in the box towards the left – including a USB wall adapter, a microUSB cable and a pair of earphones.

Design

To start off, the design of the Wiko upulse is pretty welcoming. It may not have the nicest curves or most exquisite materials, but at this price point, it is pretty nice. It is simple, no-nonsense elegant design. Despite it having a 5.5-inch display, the 77.5-mm width of the device allows it to fit in your hand nicely. The overall design utilizes Wiko’s latest design language, with very little difference from other Wiko devices. With that said, the design doesn’t make it stand out among its rivals, but it is a step up from it’s predecessor.

The materials used for the Wiko upulse is alright, and rather surprisingly, the phone does feel rather premium in your hand. The front consists of a smooth-feeling glass with slight curved edges to give it a premium look and feel, which is a step up from the ufeel Fab and even the Harry that we’ve reviewed previously. It really looks like a more premium device or even a mid-range device, rather than a smartphone that only costs RM799. The 2.5D curved edges on all 4 sides adds to the premium touch. The removable back cover which goes over all 4 sides of the upulse does feel like it is metal, and the brushed aluminium back, which is the same as the Harry, does make it look good, but feels a little cheap. The size and the use of materials all adds up to 160-grams, which is pretty reasonable. It is a upside advantage over the uFeel Fab.

Under the glass on the front is mainly dominated by a 5.5-inch display. The bezels on both sides are adequate enough to not cause any accidental input. Since the display takes up most of the space, the rest of the front panel is pretty plain, apart from the 8-megapixel front-facing camera, an earpiece, a couple of sensors and a front-facing flash on the top. Since this phone utilises on-screen Android navigation controls, the only thing that can be found at the bottom is the Wiko branding.

The volume controls and power button are conveniently located on the right of the device. The Wiko upulse still features a removable back cover, which explains the non-existence of the SIM card tray. The 3.5-mm external audio output jack is located on the top, and the microUSB port stays at the bottom of the device, next to the microphone.

The 13-megapixel rear-facing camera sensor sits at the usual spot on the top at the centre, followed by a single-LED flash below it. The upulse also gets a fingerprint reader below the LED flash, and it is round in shape and has a matte surface. The back of the device finishes off with a Wiko logo and rear-facing speakers.

Like most other Wiko devices, you can remove the back cover on the upulse. The cover can be quite hard to remove, but you’ll only remove the cover when you need to swap the cards. There are 3 slots – 2 microSIM slots for the dual-SIM functionality and a standalone microSD card for storage expansion – something we have not seen even in the flagship smartphone market. The microSD card slot will take cards up to 128GB.

Our upulse review unit comes in a very lovely Black, but you can also get the upulse in Gold, Cherry Red and Wiko’s signature Deep Bleen.

Wiko upulse Exterior Photos

Specs and Performance

Underneath the body packs a setup that we’ve seen a few times before in other Wiko products, and it does not sound crazy at all. Powering the upulse is a MTK-based 1.3GHz processor with 4-cores, which is the same processor found in past Wiko devices that we’ve reviewed (except the uFeel Prime). While it isn’t fancy or class-leading, it gets the job done at a budget device. Along with that, Wiko included 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage.

While the upulse doesn’t not sound like much on paper, it surprisingly performs rather well in real-world conditions. The overall performance is rather similar to the Harry with the same specs, and does not lose out even though it has a bigger display to deal with. It has no problem handling light tasks, and you can credit the mostly-vanilla user interface. Being the trademark of MTK processors, it does suffer from random lags like the Harry, but won’t cause too much frustration. But, the quad-core 1.3GHz processor easily gets fully utilized when it comes to heavy resources. You’ll either need patience or settle for smartphone which costs more and have a better processor. The included 3GB of RAM is easily filled up as well, and it starts to tamper with lighter tasks. But despite that, we are still comfortable with how it held up.

The results obtained from Geekbench 4 speaks for themselves, with the single-core and multi-core score settled at around 531 and 1524.

802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz WiFi is standard on the upulse, along with Wi-Fi Hotspot feature. We have yet to come across any Wiko devices or other devices at this price point offer dual-band Wi-Fi yet, so you do really have to step down on your expectations. Bluetooth 4.0 and 4G LTE are also thrown in to the mix, and the upulse can be charged through the microUSB 2.0 port, which is responsible for data transfer as well.

Like the ufeel Fab, the upulse also gets a fingerprint reader that is responsible for unlocking the device and various other features. The sensor is round in shape with a matte surface at the back of the device like most other devices we’ve seen. Unfortunately, this is not the world’s most cooperative sensor. While the recipe sounds alright and you’d expect it to work very well, it performed the other way round. We do not have problems registering our fingerprints and it was fast, but when it comes to unlocking the device or apps, it failed a lot of times even though the finger position used is the same. Even when it works, there is a delay between the finger being recognised successfully and the screen turning on. On the plus side, you can also lock apps and unlocking it using only your fingerprint to prevent itchy hands, and you can customise it to do different things based on different finger prints.

Display

The whole point you would choose a Wiko upulse is due to that large 5.5-inch display, which is almost unheard of at this price. Even though we’ve seen lots of smartphones with 5.5-inch display, they usually cost a lot more, and this is what separate the upulse from most of its competitors or even recent Wiko devices. With a resolution of 720 X 1280, it may not be the sharpest or the best in its class, but at this price point, it gets the job done. With the same resolution as the Harry but in a much bigger size, the pixel density has dropped to 267 pixels-per-inch. Unless you are nit-picking, it is perfectly usable.

The display panel used is an IPS panel, which is a nice addition. This time, the panel is fully laminated to the front glass, and there are no visible gaps between the panel and the front glass, thus allowing the IPS panel to really show all of its glory. This is probably the nicest display we’ve ever seen on a Wiko device. In true IPS fashion, the colours are vivid, but with some natural taste thrown in to the mix. It has very wide viewing angles, and the overall display makes it feels like a more expensive device. We had to talk about the brightness and the sensor, as even at its maximum level, it is not as bright as other displays, and you might struggle a little when using the device under the sun. The auto-brightness feature is rather weird as well, as it constantly goes a little too dark to be used comfortably. We found ourselves sticking to manual brightness all the time.

Like other Wiko devices, the upulse comes with MiraVision, a software enhancement for the display, and can be located in the Display settings menu. There are 3 main modes – standard, vivid and user. We think that the vivid mode is the best as it makes colours pop more, while not looking too artificial. The user mode allows you to fine tune the display exactly to your liking, and the wide amount of settings available includes contrast, saturation, picture brightness, sharpness and colour temperature. You can also turn on dynamic contrast for video playback to deepen the blacks and makes the colours pop even more.

Speakers

Like the Harry, Wiko has placed the speakers on its back panel, which means that it is a rear-firing speaker. Performance is somewhat disappointing either for a mono speaker. It performs exactly the same as the Harry, with very little bass and not enough clarity. On top of that, the volume is not loud either, which is a plus to no distortion at maximum volume. Unfortunately, there are no software settings which allows you to tune it, so you had to stuck with what it had. The location of the speaker also means that it will be blocked when placed flat on any surface, with or without case.

You can always hook it up to an external audio output device via the 3.5mm audio jack or via Bluetooth to improve the experience.

Camera performance

The camera setup on the upulse is also carried over from the harry, which consists of a 13-megapixel sensor for the rear-facing camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.

As expected, the image quality that the upulse produce is just so-so. Like the Harry, it is rather a hit-and-miss. The sensor likes it when it comes to conditions with sufficient lighting. Images produced are rather good – with rather natural and well-preserved colours, and the dynamic range is rather wide. It is surprisingly sharp too, which is what impressed us. Under conditions with sufficient lighting, it can really take some rather nice photos. The HDR mode works really well at bringing up darker objects.

On the other hand, things go out of hand when moving into darker or indoor with dim lighting conditions. It does its usual work by blowing up the ISO to make it work in darker conditions, but thus creating lots of noise and sometimes ruin the entire image. The exposure jumps up and down a lot as well, and sometimes can temper with the colour accuracy. And don’t expect a lot of details either as they are completely wiped away. The included night mode does slightly improve the overall image quality, but you do need steady hands as it increases the shutter time. Unless you start messing around with manual mode, the camera performance can be a disaster.

Wiko upulse Sample Photos

We may be living in 2017, but the upulse, like other Wiko devices, only records videos up to 720p (1280 X 720), using more recent MP4 format and at a steady 30 frames-per-second. While it does perform moderately well in most conditions, it is a bit of a lacklustre. Audios are recorded in stereo format, and it is rather clear, as long as you do not play it back using the included speaker. The other only option you can opt for is 480p (640 X 480) resolution.

A 8-megapixel sensor for the front-facing camera that is present on the upulse is also carried over from the higher priced ufeel Prime, and this time, there is a LED flash that goes with it. Like the rear camera, the sensor works very well in favourable conditions. Colour accuracy is pretty spot on too. In darker conditions, the LED flash helps a lot. Other modes including a panorama mode for group selfies, software beautification mode which works alight in the mid-settings and a very ambitious portrait mode. The portrait mode does not work very well, and final results often look rather fake.

Wiko has updated the camera app on the upulse, and it features a lightly different look compared to previous Wiko devices including the harry. It is still simple, straightforward and includes all the features that you’ll ever need. The toggles are still on the left with different look, and the shutter, camera toggle, mode switch and the preview is towards the right. Swiping up and now on the empty area now switch between photo and video modes, and swiping left and right toggles between front and rear facing camera. The different type of feature modes can now be accessed from the button at the top left. It does still include a professional mode with good amount of settings to play with – including saturation, exposure value, ISO, white balance, manual focus and sharpness.

Software

A reason to go for the Wiko upulse instead of other devices in this price range is due to the software that is pre-loaded. For starters we are happy to see Android 7.0 Nougat right out of the box. It is a pretty vanilla version, apart from some Wiko customisations on the lock screen, different user interface sounds and few more pre-loaded applications. We think Wiko should just stay with full vanilla Android in this case. But, overall experience is still smooth, and with mostly vanilla Android experience, it is a blast to use as well. There is a fair amount of bloatware included that we’ve never touched. There is also a feature to improve performance on the apps that are currently running by restricting background apps, but that only helps a little in the performance.

Wiko upulse User Interface

Battery life

With a larger display, Wiko also kindly included a larger battery as well. The 3000mAh battery is screwed into the device, hence it is not removable. While it has a large display to deal with, there’s not much pixel to push, so it shouldn’t temper with battery life too much. Using our usual testing methodology, the upulse returns just over 20% battery at the end of the day with slightly over 4 hours of screen on time, which is rather good. There are days where we had to plug it into a charger before the end of the day where there is extremely heavy usage involved.

The battery on the upulse is charged through a microUSB port without any form of quick-charging, and using the supplied USB adapter, you can charge the battery from 0% to around 30% in 30 minutes, and a full charge takes around 3 hours without any form of quick-charging.

Conclusion

The Wiko upulse shows us that the days of cheap nasty budget smartphones are over. It is a solid device at its price point, and even though some of the specifications may sound a little lacklustre, it is a step-up from its predecessor, and even among its rivals in that price range.

Recap:
5.5-inch IPS display, 720 X 1280 resolution, 267 pixels-per-inch
MTK-based processor, quad-core 1.3GHz processor
3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, microSD storage expansion (standalone) up to 128GB
13-megapixel rear facing camera, up to 720p video recording
8-megapixel front facing camera with LED flash
3000mAh battery

Pros Cons
Solid build quality Camera performance a little disappointing
Good use of materials Slow charging
Latest Android OS right out of the box MTK processor sounds a little old school
Display is really good Inaccuracy of fingerprint sensor
Rather good battery life Speaker performance is close to unbearable