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By Gary F. Zeolla
By April of 2017, I had been using a Samsung Galaxy S5 smart phone for over three years. I first got it right after it came out in April 2014. But my most recent S5 was not the one I got back then. Despite the S5 claiming to be water resistant, I ruined two of them by getting them wet. The first time it was still under warranty, so I got a new one for free. But the second time, I had to pay a $100 deductible on my insurance to get a new one.
Time for a New Phone
That was 1-1/2 years ago, and that third S5 was still working just fine, except for one problem—I was running out of storage space. It eventually got to the point that I had to start uninstalling apps I had installed. I don’t understand why it would keep filling up without me adding anything to it. All I can figure is the pre-installed apps would update, expanding their sizes in the process. And the S5 had lots of bloatware preinstalled. The S5 had 16 GB of storage (ROM), nd 1GB of memory (RAM), and used Android 5.1.
With this background, I had no choice but to buy a new phone. But I knew I wanted one that was not just water resistant but waterproof. I also knew it would need to have at least 32 GB of storage and 2 GB of memory. And it would be nice if it didn’t have so much bloatware pre-installed and ran at least Android 6.0.
I waited until the Galaxy S8 came out before getting a new phone. I had no intents of getting it, as I knew it would be too expensive, upwards of $800. But I figured I might be able to find a Galaxy S7 at a cheap price once the S8 was out. Both the S7 and S8 are advertised as being water proof. The S8 has 64 GB of storage, 4 GB memory, and uses Android 7.0, while the S7 has 32 GB/ 4 GB/ Android 6.0. But even with the S8 available, the cheapest I could find a new S7 was $450 and a used one in at least good condition for about $350. That was still a bit steep for me, and I was leery about getting a used phone.
I looked around for a waterproof phone with my desired specs. I found three such phones on Amazon: a Blackview BV6000, a LESHP, and a UleFone Armor. All three have IP 86 water proofing, which I gather is rather high degree of waterproofing. All three also have 32 GB/ 3 GB/ Android 6.0, so any would fit my desired specs. The first two cost a little over $200 on Amazon, while the UleFone cost $195.
I read the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, and all three sounded about equal in terms of performance. The only thing I didn’t like is all three are made in China. But in my searching, I found the uleFone on sale on Bang Good for $146 with free shipping. I never heard of this website, but I could pay using PayPal, so that made me feel a bit more secure in ordering from them. But it is a China-based company, so it would take 7-20 days for the phone to arrive. It ended up taking 17 days to arrive from the day I ordered it.
Bang Good initially did not give me a tracking number, but I emailed them and was sent the number. The phone first left Hong Kong, then went to Geneva, Switzerland, then to New York City, then to Warrendale, PA (about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh), until it finally was delivered to my local post office at 7 am Saturday (5/13/17), then to my home later that day (I live on the outskirts of Pittsburgh). I couldn’t help but think that the phone did more traveling than I will ever do in my life!
The postman was late that day, as it was the day postmen were picking up bags of canned goods for their food drive. As a result, the phone didn’t arrive until 4:15 pm. But I immediately went to work setting it up.
Setting Up the Phone
With the S5, I started out with Verizon as my carrier, but I switched to Net10 after my two-year contract with Verizon was up. Net10 is far cheaper but worked just as well. I had the foresight to order a new Net10 SIM from Amazon for a buck. And it was good that I did as I needed it. I had a few problems getting the phone to work with Net10, but a half an hour on chat with a very helpful Net10 representative got me set up. But it was getting late in the evening until it started working.
When I set up the uleFone, once I signed into my Google account, all of my contacts and calendar entries downloaded automatically and immediately. However, my apps did not. so I had to install them one by one and then sign into apps and websites as needed. That took the rest of that evening and all of the next day. Fortunately, I had the same apps installed on my Samsung Tab S2tablet as on my phone, so I used the tablet to remind me of everything I needed to download to the phone and how to arrange the icons into folders on the home screen.
However, it wasn’t until a few days later that I realized talk, text, and email were working, but data was not working. I had been using Wi-Fi, so I hadn’t tried the data, until my dad and I got lost in Pittsburgh after attending a Pirates game, and I wanted to use the MapQuest app, but it wasn’t working.
We found our way out of Pittsburgh on our own, but the next day I was once again on chat with Net10, and again the next day. But after 2-1/2 hours, they were never able to get the data to work. All they did was give me excuses about it being too much data for the websites and apps to load that I was trying to access.
Therefore, I ordered another SIM card form Amazon, this time for Cricket. I went with Cricket as the card was only a buck, and Cricket has an inexpensive unlimited talk and text and 2.5 GB/ month data plan.
But once again, I had problems getting it to work. But that could have been avoided if I was just told I had to wait for an email with an “Activate” link before it would work. It took 2-2/2 hours for that email to arrive, during which time I was again on chat then had to borrow a phone to call support. That was very frustrating, but it has been working just fine since then.
Micro SD Card
I have a 64 GB Micro SD card installed in the uleFone that I transferred from my S5, but it only has 7.54 GB of pictures and videos on it, so there is lots of free space still on it. But I ran into a bit of a snag with the SD card.
When I installed the card into the uleFone, the phone gave the option of formatting the card so that it could be used for extended internal storage or only as external storage. I did the former, and some of my apps automatically installed to the card rather than to the device. That left me even more free device storage. However, formatting the card deleted the pictures and videos on it. And when I put the card into my PC to put the pictures and videos back on it, the PC would no longer read it.
Therefore, I went the other way and had the uleFone format the card for external storage. But first I had to move all of the apps installed onto the card to device storage. But no matter, since it still has plenty of free space. I then put the card into my PC, copied the pics and vids to it, then put it back into the phone.
The uleFone read it as external storage just fine. But initially, I couldn’t figure out how to get the camera to save pictures and videos to the card. And with them being saved to device storage, for some reason, both MS OneDrive and Google Drive did not automatically sync new pics and vids with my PC. But after I rebooted the device, the new items synced. And I found the setting I needed under Settings/ Storage & USB/ Default write disk.
The uleFone comes with a small screwdriver. You need that to remove the two screws on one of the panels on the back (second from the top) to access the slots for the micro SD card on the left and the two SIM slots on the right. It has two SIM slots so that two different phone numbers can be used or for American and international calling.
The other snag I initially had was I couldn’t figure out how to get open apps to cascade, so that I could move between them and close them. Pushing the “Home” button only minimizes open apps to give access to the Home screen; it does not close or cascade apps. As a result, at one point, I had three dozen open apps. But the phone was still running just fine
But I finally figured it out, accidently. The apps cascaded on me, and it took me several minutes to figure out how that happened. All you have to do is to hold down the “Home” button for a couple of seconds rather than just pressing and releasing it.
The uleFone has both a front (selfie) and a back (regular) camera. The former has much lower specs than the latter (5.0MP front camera, 13.0MP back camera). The back camera takes great pictures and videos. The front camera takes good pictures, but the videos are not so good. They are in SD proportions rather than HD like the back camera takes, and they are a bit blurry with a red or green hue.
That is a problem as I take my Workout Videos using the front camera. I put the phone in a zip snack bag and tape it with duct tape to a dresser in front of my lifting platform, so I have to use the front camera to have access to the controls.
Incidentally, with my old S5, after the second time it got ruined by water, I always kept it in a zip snack bag to keep it from getting wet again. That worked, but it looked rather strange. But with this uleFone being waterproof, except when I am recording my workouts, putting it in a bag is no longer needed, which leads to the next point.
The UleFone Armor is fully ruggedized. That means in addition to being waterproof, it is shock proof and dust proof. It has “Gorilla” glass, which is supposed to resist breaking and scratches. As mentioned, it has a IP rating of 86. It is also supposed to be able to withstand drops and falls.
The uleFone is larger than my S5 was without a case on it, but smaller than the S5 was with the case. And that is an important point—with the uleFone, a case is not needed; it is in essence built into the phone. And with the Gorilla glass, a screen cover is also not needed. Those savings need to be figured into the total cost of the uleFone versus other phones.
The company claims the uleFone Armor can withstand being submersed under up to a 1.5 meters of water for 30 minutes. And they claim they put it into a dryer and spun it for 30 minutes, and it came out unscathed. Needless to say, I have not tried those tests and have no plans to do so, but it does look very sturdy. As such, I am confident that accidental drops and even drops into water should not harm it.
However, I have been wiping the phone off with a wet paper towel then drying it with a dry towel, and that has not caused any problems. But when I tried rinsing it off under the faucet, that caused the speaker to sound muffled. I can only suppose water got into the little grill over the speaker. But after it aired out for a couple of hours, it worked fine.
I then remembered reading somewhere that running water is much harder on waterproofing than standing water is. The moving water increase the pressure of the water far beyond just 1.5 meters. As such, it would be best just to wipe it off or maybe to submerse it in a few inches of water to wash it, but I will stick with the former.
The weak point is probably the same as it was for the S5, the cover over the charging port. That is where water got into my S5 and shorted out the charging port, so that the S5 would not charge. The cover on the Armor looks much more reliable, but still, I would avoid putting it under water. And of course, I will always be sure to put it back on securely.
The ruggedization makes the buttons on the side of the phone a bit hard to push, but I have found if I press them with the tip of a fingernail in the middle of them, it makes it easy to work them. However, the ruggedizing does create another problem that is a bit more problematic.
Charging and Headphone Ports
The ruggedization causes the charging and headphone ports to be more receded into the phone than is normal. That means an extra-long tip is needed on the micro USB tip of the charging cable, along with an extra-long tip on a 8mm headphone cable. Such a charging cable came with the phone, along with an extender for headphones (not headphones themselves).
But that means I only had one of each, but I like to have two charging cables, one for in my office and one for in my bedroom, so I can charge it either during the day or at night. But I had problems finding another charging cable.
I first tried a Proxicast Premium 8mm Extra Long Tip Cable. Comparing the tip to the one that came with the phone, they looked identical, and it fit just fine into the phone. But for some reason, the Proxicast did not work, as the phone did not seem to know it was there.
I then tried a Niubee Extended Micro USB Plug Cable, and that worked. The cable is also longer than the one that came with the phone. And a nice surprise was I was sent two cables, not just one. I put the extra one with hotel stuff for my next powerlifting contest, so I won’t have to worry about forgetting it. But note, only the charging cable comes with the order, not the A/C wall adapter. But had a couple of those already, so I used one with the cable in my office and put one with my hotel stuff.
However, I have been unable to find another extender for the headphone jack. But no matter as the one that came with the phone works just fine. And I had been thinking of getting Bluetooth headphones anyway and just happened to see a pair on a “flash sale” on Amazon, so I got them: LetMet V4.1 Bluetooth Headphones Wireless - Sport Earphones. These are also waterproof, so they go nicely with the Armor phone, and they work very well.
However, these headphones come with the world’s shortest charging cable (just a few inches) and the world’s smallest instructions sheet (the size of a credit card), with the world’s smallest print on it. I needed a magnifying glass to read it, and even then, it was not easy to do. But I use a different charging cable and figured out how to use the headphones anyway.
As indicated, the overall size of the uleFone is a bit larger than my old S5 without a case (5.86” x 2.98” x 0.49” vs. 5.59” x 2.85” x 0.31”). But again, it is smaller compared to the S5 with a case. That means it fits better in my pocket than the S5 with the case.
However, the screen size is smaller (4.7” vs, 5.1”). That is due to the space taken up by the ruggedization. But I have my 8” Galaxy Tab S2 tablet for larger portable viewing and my AAC-X4 Desktop Computer with a ASUS VS247H-P 23.6- Inch 24” monitor for serious computing.
Processor and Other Features
The uleFone Armor has a 1.3 GHz octa-core processor. It runs very fast, with no bogging down, even with multiple apps open. Otherwise, the uleFone comes with standard functions like texting and email and apps like calendar, contacts, calculator, voice recorder, a generic browser (though I prefer Opera and downloaded it), and most interestingly, a FM radio app. But the radio only works with wired headphones, as the cord acts as the antenna. But that is it as far as pre-installed apps. Again, no bloatware.
The battery life is okay but not great. I can make it through an average day on one charge. I generally charge it at night w as it takes quite a while to charge, about three hours when going from single digits to a full charge.
The speaker sounds good enough for talk, which is all I ever listen to with the speaker. But is not very loud. But now that I got the Bluetooth headphones, I generally use them as they sound better and are much louder.
Finally, the uleFone Armor comes in all black or orange and black. The orange is a hunter’s orange. That is probably because being ruggedized, it is designed to be used outdoors, and if you drop an all-black phone in the woods, it might be hard to find. But the orange would be easy to see. I debated on which to get but settled on the orange, and I glad I did, as it looks very nice.
I waited until I had the UleFone for over a month to post this review in case any problems developed, but none have. And now that I got everything figured out, I am really happy with it. For just $146, it was quite a bargain.
After installing all of the same apps I had on my old phone along with a few new ones, the internal storage still has almost 16 GB of free space, so I should be okay in that regard for some time. Also, on average, I use about 1.7 GB of RAM, so I was right that I needed at least 2 GB. But with 3GB, the uleFone has more than enough for running multiple apps at once.
If the reader is interested in this phone, it is now listed on Bang Good’s site for $150, but it is out of stock, with no indication if it will ever get back into stock. But no matter, as, if you do not want to wait 2-3 weeks for it to come, you would be better off ordering it from Amazon anyway, where you can get it with Amazon Prime in two days.
Note also that Bang Good only has a three day return policy, yes three days. If I had seen that before I ordered, I might not have. But thank God it works just fine, and I am happy with it. If that had not been the case, it would have been quite a hassle to return it that quickly. Amazon has a much more generous return policy.
Pictures and Videos
Below are pictures and a video taken with the uleFone from when my dad and I went to a Pirates game. Despite us both being lifelong Pittsburgh area residents and Pirates fans, this was the first time for both of us to go to at PNC Park, so I took some pictures. The selfie is taken with the front camera, but the rest of the pictures are with the back camera, including the video. There is then a video of me lifting taken with the front camera, so the difference can be seen. The poor quality of videos taken with the front camera is the only major “con” of this phone. Click on any picture for a large image.
Video of start and finish of Pirates Perogies Race
Video of me squatting
uleFone Armor Smart Phone Review. Copyright (c) 2017 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above review was posted on this website June 7, 2017.
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