YU Yutopia review: Godly hardware let down by software
Almost one year ago, YU entered the phone market in India. Months after its first phone -- Yureka -- became available in the market, it is easy to say that YU has been one of the biggest successes in Indian phone market in 2015. It was a new brand -- although the fact that it was from Micromax helped its cause -- and yet it won the acceptance among consumers.
YU started slow. It went with a market strategy underpinned by extremely aggressive pricing. Hence, phones like the Yureka and the Yunique, both of which were priced lower thanRs.10,000. But now, a year later, the company is dreaming bigger. It not only wants to test waters in the more difficult high-end market, where being good enough is never enough, but also wants to do so with a strategy that sees the firm combining hardware and software in a way no other phone company has done so far.
The Yu Yutopia, a phone that YU's chief innovator Rahul Sharma calls the world's most powerful phone, is manifestation of the company's new strategy. It has great hardware inside it, at least on paper, truly unique software, and a fairly aggressive, if not mouth-watering, price.
The YU Yutopia looks mighty good on paper. However, after using it for over two weeks, we believe that in its case looks are deceptive. The Yutopia is YU's first high-end phone. And it feels like one. It's not a bad phone. But then neither it is great enough to deserve the title of "world's most powerful phone".
Design and build quality
YU launched the Yuphoria last year, Rahul emphasised that the company would like to keep similar design language in its future phones. The Yutopia, after the Yunique, is the proof that YU is indeed sticking to the same design language, complete with the large glass cover on the rear camera, a design feature that YU calls Saturn Ring design.One look at the Yutopia and you realise that YU is trying to create an identity for its phones, in a way HTC did for Desire phones or Motorola has done for the Moto phones. When
The Yutopia is an attractive phone and while it may not have the instant charm that phones like the OnePlus X or the Lenovo Vibe S1 sport, the design grows on you as you use it. Using an all-aluminium shell, the Yutopia has a bit of flair and character to it, which makes it somewhat distinctive. Unlike the overly rounded edges, the Yutopia has more cleaner lines and a more boxy design, somewhat similar to Lumia phones. On the back, the phone has a slightly raised camera module, topped with a large round glass cover. Under that sits the fingerprint scanner. The metal buttons -- on the right side of the phone -- and the SIM & microSD card tray on the left -- fit snugly. On the front, the screen has been topped with Gorilla Glass.
The overall build quality, polish and finish is definitely the best we have seen from an Indian phone company. And while not everyone will like the design -- some people prefer softer contours -- the Yutopia has industrial looks and more character to it than many other phones that we see in the market. Due to its relatively small screen -- 5.2 inches -- the phone also fits well in hands.
However, there are some software tweaks that help. You can select the screen mode -- for example choosing Outdoor (bright sun) bumps up the brightness automatically. The phone also allows users to tweak the display's colour temperature, so you can choose between cooler and warmer colours.
The screen in the Yutopia is not the absolute best we have seen in a phone. Devices that cost slightly more, like the Galaxy S6 or the HTC A9, have better screens. But for its price, it offers a nice enough screen that can please even the more demanding users.
While hardware is the area where the Yutopia is strong, the software lets it down. After using almost stock Android Lollipop in the Yunique, YU has gone back to CyanogenMod in the Yutopia. The reason, as Rahul explains, is because the company believes it needs to offer a tighter integration of software and services with the phone to distinguish itself. CyanogenMod allows YU to integrate services with the Yutopiain in a way that is unique to it.
The Yutopia uses CyanogenMod 12.1, which is based on Android Lollipop 5.1. Unlike the CyanogenMod of the old days, which was notable for following stock Android theme, the new CynogenMod is a different beast. It has a unique user interface with completely different icons. Not only the look of the home screen, app drawer and notification shade has been changed, CyanogenMod has also added a number of features. As noted, there are different modes available for the screen. Similarly, there are a number of options to tweak performance, including audio performance.
Then, there is the tighter integration of services. In the last one year YU has made strategic investments in apps and services. The Yutopia is the first phone where the company is putting it to good use. Instead of the default music player, in the Yutopia songs are played through Gaana music app. This means you can play your own music through Gaana or you can stream music. The integration works very well. Although, it is the basic Gaana that users get and not the premium package even though the app is the default audio player on the phone. So, ads are served through it the streaming is not in high-quality audio.
YU has also placed a new screen on the left of the Home screen. It is occupied by a service called Around YU. It allows people to access e-shopping, book a cab, flight or hotel, order food and search for train ticket status using PNR number.
The idea is definitely neat. YU basically doesn't want to people to install an app to order food or book a cab. Instead, it wants consumers to use the Around YU. But these are still early days for it. The implementation is still rough. The choices are limited -- the cab service is powered by Ola and Easy and shopping is all about Amazon -- and depending on your location and luck you may get good results or may end up with something disappointing.
While we like the concept of Around YU because it can be very useful for consumers, we don't like the added duplicity and complexity that CyanogenMod adds. In the Yutopia, there are two music players, two web browsers and two gallery apps. It doesn't make any sense. Although it must be added that the Yutopia is not the only phone that trips on this account. Most phones, including Samsung's high-end Galaxies, that run custom software on top of Android come with these duplicate apps.
But benchmarks are of little relevance. It is important that the phone has to work well in the day-to-day use and that is where the Yutopia falters. There is no doubt that the problem is with the software because it is full of bugs. The touch response of the phone screen seems dubious. It is not that there is something wrong with the screen hardware, but it seems the way the software processes touches, there are issues. On any other comparable -- or a high-end phone -- the touch screen accuracy would be somewhere in 90s.
This means when you touch the screen, out of 100 times on over 90 occasions the touch would be registered. On Yutopia, we would say, the rate would be somewhere around 80 per cent. And that is very perceptible in the use, particularly with the touch-screen navigation buttons. This problem immediately mars the whole experience.
Then there is a bug that affects the on-screen button's visibility when the phone is being used in landscape mode, especially with the 3D games that force landscape mode.
In terms of raw performance, we found the phone speedy although there were occasional animation lags. Functionality-wise, the phone is good and everything works well. GPS is fast and accurate. The web-browsing is good enough. The call quality is good and sound from the earpiece is crisp. Gaming is definitely enjoyable on the Yutopia because the fast hardware ensures smooth frame-rates. However, coming out of a game is frustrating experience (due to the bug with the onscreen buttons) and that kills the joy. The Yutopia has a single speaker but it is loud enough.
Talking of the sound, YU is bundling the a pair of premium Sound of Marley earphones with the Yutopia. These earphones are definitely better than what other phones come with though if you have used a better pair of headphones such as Sennheiser CX 300 or even SoundMagic PL-11, you will find the Marleys average.
The Yutopia has a finger-print scanner on the back cover. The placement is similar to what we have seen on phones like the Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X. However, the performance is not in the same league. The fingerprint scanner in the Yutopia is a hit and miss affair and not a viable method to lock and unlock the phone.
There is no doubt that the Yutopia is a phone with lots of potential. But its current software, which is buggy, makes using it difficult and affects its performance.
In imaging, the Yutopia performs admirably well. Its 21-megapixel rear camera clicks good images in all sorts of conditions, including in low light. The images clicked with the Yutopia in good light show vibrant colours. The white balance is good enough and metering is mostly spot on. The phone also deals with wide dynamic range -- lots of shadows and highlights -- in an expertly manner. The images have lots of details, although as soon as it senses low light, it goes into an overdrive to reduce noise, which also tends to reduce details. But the overall effect is nice.
The selfies taken with the front camera have lots of details until the light is good. Even in the low-light the performance is top notch. Though with all that said, we do have one gripe with the camera of the Yutopia -- its speed. The phone is fairly fast at acquiring focus but the shutter speed and shot-to-shot duration is slow, despite fast hardware.
You can check the camera samples here: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5, Image 6, Image 7, Image 8, Image 9, Image 10
The phone comes with fast charging feature. YU also ships a good quality charger that supports fast charging with this phone. The results are very good. The phone usually takes little over an hour to charge from 0 to 100 per cent.
Should you buy it
Rs.24,999 question is no. No, you should not buy the Yutopia, unless you must have access to CyanogenMod. The Yutopia is not a bad phone. It is definitely up there with the best, especially in its price range, in terms of hardware. But software lets it down. Big time.The short and definite answer to this
In the same price range, phones like HTC One A9, Motorola Moto X Style and the LG Nexus 5X are better phones than the Yutopia.
At the same time, we can't help but laud YU for the effort. The Yutpoiais YU's first high-end phone and the company has done a commendable job. Getting software right is not easy -- look at OnePlus that is still fixing Oxygen OS -- and yet YU has been brave enough to take a path that no other Indian phone maker has taken so far. Maybe the Yutopia and how it works in the real-world would prove to be a stepping stone for the YU's next -- and hopefully more mature -- high-end phone.