What is the UMI Hammer S?

The Hammer S the latest low-cost Android _phone_ from Chinese maker UMI. It offers a Mediatek MT6735 quad-core chipset, 5.5-inch 720p HD screen, 2GB RAM, 16GB internal memory, a Sony-made 13 megapixel rear camera, fingerprint scanner, USB Type C and Android 5.1.

All of this is contained within a part metal, part plastic casing which calls to mind the design of the vastly more expensive iPhone 6S. The UMI Hammer S retails for around $140 / £90 from retailers such as Pandawill.

UMI Hammer S – Design

Over the past few years we've seen a real trend developing for smartphones made partly or even entirely with metal casings.

There's no doubt that a metal body offers a more premium feel when compared to cheaper plastic, and this ethos is now trickling down to the budget end of the spectrum. The UMI Hammer S is somewhere in the middle, as it has a metal chassis with a removable plastic back plate.

The frame gives the unit quite a bit of heft, increasing the overall weight to 168g – not excessive in the phablet arena, but still pretty chunky, especially when compared to the all-plastic Xiaomi Redmi Note 2.

It's clear that the designers at UMI took a lot of inspiration from Apple's iPhone 6 when creating this handset. The bottom edge even has the same style speaker grille, and the rounded edges give off a similar vibe.

Related: Best cheap phones 2015

UMI Hammer S

From the back however the Hammer S sets itself apart, with a central camera, LED flash and fingerprint scanner. The volume rocker and power button are both located on the right-hand side of the device, with the top edge housing the 3.5mm headphone socket and IR blaster.

Charging and data transfer takes place via the USB Type C connection on the bottom edge, making this one of the first low-cost phones to use the new standard.

The budget UMI Hammer S fingerprint scanner is an impressive addition at this price point. Sitting in the phone’s home button it lets you set the Hammer S to only unlock once its holder has proven their identity. I found the scanner works well and the device unlocks quickly with a single touch.

UMI Hammer S – Display

The Hammer S has a 720p HD 5.5 LCD screen, which offers a pixel density of around 294 ppi. The quality of the screen is surprisingly decent for a _phone_ costing as little as this, with brightness and contrast both being excellent.

In fact, for sheer punch it rivals the Samsung Galaxy S6's AMOLED panel. Viewing angles are also rock-steady and very impressive, and it's only the low resolution which gives any real cause for complaint.

With such a large screen, a full HD resolution would have made more sense – it's possible to pick out individual pixels on the panel, making text and images appear jagged or ill-defined.

UMI Hammer S

UMI Hammer S – Software

In terms of software, the UMI Hammer S is running Android 5.1 with UMI's own UI modifications sitting on the top. It's a fairly stock interface, with subtle changes – a different app drawer logo being about as drastic as it gets. However, Google Now is totally absent – as are all of Google's core Apps – unless you choose to install them from the Play store yourself.

If you do it's possible to load up the Google Now launcher which places the virtual assistant on the left-hand home screen, effectively turning the device into something more akin to a Nexus phone. I did this at the earliest possible opportunity and found it offered a much more agreeable experience.

In terms of unique software, the UMI Hammer S comes with a SuperCleaner app which allows you to free up RAM by shutting down apps, control what apps boot at start-up and clean out junk files that are no longer needed. There's also an app that lets you to turn the Hammer S into a remote control – all thanks to the handy IR blaster on the top edge.

Another unique feature is "Smart Wake" gesture commands which activate certain elements of the phone while it's sleeping. For example, tracing a "C" on the screen will boot up the camera, while an "M" will start the music player.

Double-tapping the screen to wake the phone is also supported. However, if you have a security lock in place – such as the fingerprint scanner – these shortcuts will wake the screen but do nothing else.

UMI Hammer S – Performance

Powered by Mediatek MT6735 quad-core chipset clocked at 1.5GHz, the Hammer S has reasonable power for a phone in its price band. The 2GB of RAM is generous as well – the same amount that ships inside Google's new Nexus 5X, in fact.

General performance is decent, with the phone being swift to respond to user input and quick to open and toggle between applications.

In terms of benchmarks, the Hammer S is given a multi-core score of 1,346 in Geekbench, which places it slightly behind the 2015 model of the Moto G, which scores around 1600. AnTuTu Benchmark returns a score of 20,061, which again places it slightly behind the Moto G 2015.

UMI Hammer S

The benchmarks might paint a dismal picture but during everyday use the Hammer S feels nippy and lag-free, and it's only when playing graphically intense 3D games that the lack of processing grunt becomes truly apparent. Titles like Hitman Sniper and Real Racing 3 are playable but suffer from sluggish frame rates.

UMI Hammer S – Camera

The Hammer S comes equipped with a 13-megapixel Sony IMX179 camera on the rear and a 2-megapixel front-facing snapper.

The rear camera's megapixel count may be impressive, but the images it produces fall short of the quality you'd see on leading Android handsets. Photos lack detail when you zoom in close, and low-light shooting is plagued with fuzziness and noise.

UMI Hammer S 2

Image quality isn't as good on the Hammer as S as it is on the Moto G

The camera is also a little slow to boot up and takes longer than I'd like to focus and capture shots. A HDR mode is included, as is a "gesture capture" feature which will automatically snap a photo when a 'V for Victory' sign is detected – a common gesture seen in selfies.

It's not exactly the kind of feature I'd add to my all-time wish list, but I’m sure some will find it useful. There's also a 'live photo' mode which mimics the GIF-like functionality seen in Apple's recent iPhone 6S.

UMI Hammer S – Battery

With a roomy 3200mAh battery, the Hammer S offers above-average stamina. During my review period I managed to get almost two days out of the single charge, sticking to a reasonably average usage pattern. The pattern included checking emails, taking photos, browsing the web and playing a few games each day.

Keeping the screen active naturally reduces the battery life, but even if you really pushed the phone, it's still perfectly possible to get an entire day of use before it needs charging. The ability to swap out the battery also means you can carry a spare with you for those times when you're away from a charging point for a few days.

UMI Hammer S

Should I buy the UMI Hammer S?

Purchasing a phone from China isn't without its risks, and the Hammer S is no exception. What you'll be getting is a device which has been rooted and flashed with an English-language ROM by the retailer, and also lacks any kind of Google applications out of the box.

Such aspects aren't reasons to avoid laying down your cash, but they can cause issues – a rooted device won't play nice with certain security-conscious apps, such as mobile banking services. If you're savvy you can un-root the phone, but that might be beyond casual users.

With with caveat out of the way, there's plenty of reasons to recommend the Hammer S. The design and build quality are uncharacteristically good for a phone as cheap as this, and the presence of a fingerprint scanner and USB Type C elevates the phone above its budget rivals.

Despite the rather lackluster benchmark results, the Hammer S feels quick and responsive – although serious gamers will be disappointed with its lack of processing muscle.

Verdict

Cheap, well-made and packing in some features which you don't normally find in low-cost phones, the UMI Hammer S is well worth a look – although it's underpowered when compared to similarly-priced rivals, like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2.

Thanks to Pandawill for supplying the UMI Hammer S used in this review.

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