Seldom has a phone arrived in the Indian market with so much controversy. When Micromax announced its exclusive tie-up with Cyanogen (a company known for making a highly customized version of Android) and the launch of a new brand, YU, to represent it, the market had been buzzing in anticipation about what the devices under the new brand would be like. Then towards the end of the year, the Yureka was unveiled, complete with CyanogenMod, decent specs, and a surprisingly low price of Rs 8,999 (about USD 150). It goes on sale, exclusively online on Amazon India, from January 13. The big question of course, is: is it worth investing in?

Looks smart enough

We had covered the appearance of the Yureka in our first impressions of the device, but to summarise once again, it is a phone that looks smart rather than spectacular. It is definitely not a head turner but is not an eyesore by any means either. We certainly cannot see people turning their noses up at it. It is slim enough at 8.8 mm and at around 150 grammes, relatively lightweight too. The front is jet black barring a small sphere for the home button, which gets flanked by the back and theme setting buttons when you power on the display. Design is largely minimalistic – volume rocker on the left, power/display button on the right, 3.5 mm audio jack on top, and micro USB port on the base. The back has the camera with a flash on the top and a speaker grille on the lower part.

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We said it in our first impressions and we repeat the point – we really think Micromax missed out on a chance to cash in on the YU branding on the back of the device. The light blue YU logo on the greyish (moonstone grey is the official name) back does not really grab attention. In sum, the Yureka is not an ambassador of smartphone style by any means, but it is certainly a decent looking device. Yes, we have heard that it is in fact a rebranded version of another Chinese device, but honestly, we do not see how it retracts from its appearance.

Packs in the hardware

In terms of hardware, the Yureka is very well stocked for a device at its price point. That 5.5-inch display is a 1280 x 720p affair, giving it a reasonable pixel density of 267 ppi and has an oleophobic coating as well as Corning Gorilla Glass 3 to stave off smudges and scratches. Powering it is a 64-bit octa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor clocked at 1.5 Ghz, with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage, which is expandable using a memory card. There are twin cameras on the phone – a 5.0-megapixel front facing camera and a 13.0-megapixel one which has Sony’s IMX 135 CMOS sensor. The phone also supports dual SIM connectivity (both slots support micro SIM cards), and ticks off all the connectivity options that you would need: 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS.

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Making sure all this keeps working for a while is a 2500 mAh battery, which does seem a bit on the lower side, given the display size, but probably accounts for the relative slimness of the device. There have been a few complaints that the phone lacks a magnetometer compass (something we are confirming from YU at the time of writing) which could have aided it in navigation, but at this price point, we would not call it a deal breaker – the device handled navigation and geo-tagging well enough for us even without it. All in all, the hardware on the Yureka is very good for its price and a close match to that seen on the much more expensive HTC Desire 820. The closest thing to it in terms of spec-price ratio is perhaps the recently released Xiaomi Redmi Note 4G, which costs Rs 1,000 more, packs in a display of a similar size and resolution, and has a similar dual camera set up. And while that worthy is powered by a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, it compensates with a larger battery (3100 mAh). But even then, the Yureka scores in being a dual SIM device (the Redmi Note 4G is a single SIM one) and in having 16 GB storage as opposed to the 8GB onboard storage on the Note 4G (the Note 4G can support upto 64 GB of expandable memory though, as against 32 GB on the Yureka). Any way you look at it, the Yureka is offering some very decent hardware bang for not too many bucks. (Note: before you ask, we are working on a comparison between the Redmi Note 4G and the Yureka. Stay tuned!)”

The soft side: Cyanogen flavored Android

Which brings us to that aspect of the phone that has been causing all the legal uproar – the software. The Yureka runs on Cyanogen OS version 11.0-XNPH520, which is a newer version as compared to the one seen on the OnePlus One (OPO) released in India (11.0-XNPH44S – and at the time of writing, OnePlus had already released a version of its non-Cyanogen OS for the Indian OPO devices), and is based on Android 4.4.4. There are a few new themes (the most notable being a YU theme) and the phone comes bundled with a browser called YUniverse which is a version of Opera for Android, but that apart, there do not seem to be too many changes. A look at the settings however shows up some differences – the most glaring being the seeming absence of support for gestures (whether this is due to hardware limitations or a software feature, we do not know). Yes, you can double tap to wake up the device and double tap near the status bar to lock it and also slide your finger across the status bar to tweak brightness, but you cannot draw a circle to activate the camera or make a V to toggle the torch feature. There are still plenty of customization and personalization options to play around with, ranging from theme packs and icons to multiple profile settings.

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We do not think Cyanogen fans will miss too much here, although we do suspect the OPO loyalists to speak up in favour of their heavier specced (and we must point out, more than twice as expensive) device. And as this is the ‘official’ Cyanogen phone in India at the time of writing, updates are likely to keep coming at regular intervals. YU founder Rahul Sharma had remarked that the phone, would in a sense of speaking, be in a state of constant beta as the software would keep getting updated for at least a period of two years. That is going to be SO much music to geek ears, we think.

Yureka, Yu are a smooth operator

But all the hardware and software of the world is of little use if the device on which it is plonked does not perform well. And in that department, the Yureka gives an excellent account of itself. For the stat counters, we can mention that it ran up an Antutu Benchmark score of 31,900, which is above that of the HTC One M7, the Redmi Note and the Asus ZenFone 5, and not too far behind that of the LG G3. Speaking from a general consumer’s perspective, the phone ran smoothly without a single crash, the touch experience was smooth, and before anyone asks, no, we did not have any heating problems with the device at all – it did heat up very slightly during extended photography sessions and while playing HD games like the Asphalt and FIFA series, but at no time did we feel uncomfortable holding it or feel tempted to boil eggs on it. Cyanogen ran smoothly on it – in fact, so hitch-free was our experience that we think it actually was the best we have seen in terms of pure smoothness on a sub-Rs 10,000 phone, bettering what we have seen on the Redmi Note 3G and the Asus ZenFone 5. Multiple tasks ran without any problems and the display while not being the brightest or most spectacular that we have seen was good enough for videos and browsing the Web and for extended ebook reading sessions.

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The camera has generally been an area of concern in most devices from the Micromax stable (the Canvas Knight was a notable exception), but our experience with the twin cameras on the Yureka was a relative pleasant one (you can read our review of the Yureka’s camera here). No, they are definitely not going to give sleepless nights to the point and shoot crowd, but they work very smoothly and in terms of detail and color reproduction, they are up there with the best in their category and better than some above it.

No, the Yureka experience is not perfect – the sound over the loudspeaker was not the greatest in terms of quality (although it is good on the bundled headphones), and the 2500 mAh battery is going to struggle to see you through a day of heavy use. In our battery tests which involved around 100 photo clicks, an hour of calls, an hour of playing CSR racing, couple of hours of browsing & social media, the battery lasted for around 21 hours with close to 4 hours of screen on time. All said and done, our experience with the Yureka was a very good one when you consider its price point.

Conclusion

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So at the end of it all, let us return to the question we asked at the very beginning of the review: is the Yureka worth investing in? Well, we would be the last people to insist that it is perfect. The display could have been brighter and we certainly expected better sound from the loudspeaker. The geek brigade will also complain that the device’s camera is underwhelming, that its flash is not the greatest and there are even noises being made about the absence of a magnetometer in the compass, and will keep pointing out that it does not deliver the kind of experience that the ‘other’ Cyanogen Phone, the OnePlus One (OPO), does.

However, the very fact that the Yureka has evoked comparisons with the OnePlus One, a device that costs more than twice as much as it does, shows that a coup of sorts has been pulled off. For, let’s be blunt about this: we cannot see many mainstream users having too many complaints with the performance of the Yureka. It performs all routine tasks (e-mail, browsing, social networking) smoothly, is good enough (though not exceptional) in the multimedia department, ran pretty much every app we threw at it with a degree of comfort, all this in a package that looks smart enough and is supremely affordable.

And that last point is the one that resonated the most with us. We know that there will be those who will carp long and hard about Micromax’s after sales service and its being a ‘cheap’ brand but from what we have seen, the Yureka delivers a very good performance for geeks and mainstream consumers alike on a tight budget, and takes its place alongside the likes of the Redmi Note 3G/4G and the Asus ZenFone 5 as among the best ‘affordable’ (sub-Rs 10,000) smartphones we have seen.

So should you consider investing in it?

Well, if money is tight (as it so often is) and if you want a good smartphone experience, or if you are interested in Cyanogen and have neither the bucks nor the invites for a OnePlus One, our answer can be summed up in three words:

Yes. Yu Can.


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Associate Editor

Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.