Mid-range phones are a hard sell sometimes, especially when you’re talking about a company that’s not a household brand. Nuu, aside from making me want to make a lot of Yiddish jokes, has been a bit more focused on the overseas market. The have two phones here in the US, the M3 and the X5. The M3 is decidedly low-end, at $109, but well-reviewed. The X5 has much better specs, but how do they translate to the real world?
I was surprised by how well-packaged the X5 was. I know that sounds odd, but there was an elegance to it.Opening the box revealed a fairly typical “candybar” design. The 5.5″ HD screen has capacitive buttons underneath, which is a nice throwback to old school Android sets. Below that we have the USB-Micro port. I suppose expecting USB-C is a bit much. I’m just too demanding. The right side has a power and volume button while the left has a SIM slot. Which we gotta talk about.
The SIM slot is a dual SIM job, with one slot taking a micro SIM and the other being a hybrid slot that can take a MicroSD card or nano SIM. Since I already use a nano SIM, that meant I had to give up on my MicroSD card or replace my SIM. Neither was an appealing option. More annoyingly, the hole for the SIM tray removal was so deep that the included SIM removal tool did not work. I had to break out the teeny tiny paperclips. Sorry Nuu, but that’s not cool.
In terms of specs, the X5 sports a MediaTek 8 core processor, 3 GB of RAM, and 32 GB of storage space. These are good specs for the mid-range. There’s also a surprisingly accurate fingerprint scanner, 5 MP selfie camera, and 13 MP rear camera. There is not, however, NFC. Instead there is “hotknot.” This is the first I have ever heard of this technology, and I could not find any devices to test it against.
Those cameras take solid shots, by the way. I had some issues with how light hit a few things (check out how the house below looks like it is glowing), but that was more the photographer than the camera, I think. The camera app is also very basic.
That camera app is basic because there is almost no customization on the X5. It runs stock Android and runs it pretty well. The MediaTek chip let me run most games that I tried (love those Sega Classics), and it handled most apps well. There’s no bloat on it, no value added apps at all. I did have some issues getting my Huawei Watch to pair, interestingly enough. I also want to find the person who picked the default notifications for the X5 and give them such a pinch. They managed to pick the most annoying ones possible. And you’ll want to have the notifications on, because this phone’s vibration feature is pretty subtle.
I did compare the X5 to the Honor 6X, which we reviewed back in June. The X5 has a better screen and pure Android, but the 6X had a better camera by a mile. The Honor 8 is only $10 more than the X5, but that’s a phone from 2016 (good as it is). Some of the new BLU and Moto phones have NFC, so that’s a plus if that’s a killer feature for you.
You know what’s an undersold killer feature on smartphones? Making calls. Yet that’s the one issue where the x5 falls apart. Don’t get me wrong, reception is amazing. The included headphone jack (how sad is it that I needed to note that?), speaker phone, and Bluetooth audio are all great. But you know what’s junk? Actual, unassisted audio from the earpiece of the phone. I simply had to use it with headphones if I wanted to hear the caller.
It’s that single feature that’s preventing me from recommending the X5. At $199 it’s a solid value. NFC is somewhat niche, I get that, and you have to make sacrifices with budget devices. But the ability to make a clear call should not be one of those sacrifices. It’s entirely possible that this is something Nuu can fix with updates, and I hope they can.
Note: Nuu sent me a newsletter and I wrote back asking about a possible review unit. They have exceptionally good PR people.