“Comparisons are dangerous….”
As we have mentioned in the past.
It is one thing to take pride in standing up on your own feet.
Quite another to say that you stand taller than someone else.
One thing to prove you are good.
Quite another to claim you are better.

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No, this is not a spiritual saga – it is still a gadget review. A review of a device that is very good on its own, but perhaps bit off a little more than it could chew when it compared itself with the biggest names in cell town. We are talking, of course, of the Yutopia, the latest and – yes, we might as well say it – greatest device from Micromax’s sister YU brand, which completed a year of an extremely eventful existence. As a brand, YU seemed a more geeky version of Micromax, sticking to the latter’s “good phones at surprising prices” strategy, but adding better processors and Cyanogen or stock Android to the mix. Until the Yutopia came along, the most expensive phone in the YU stable had been the Yureka Plus, priced at Rs 8,999. In fact, even the most expensive phone from the better known Micromax brand had been the first Canvas Knight, which had been priced in the range of about Rs 21,000. However, by and large both Micromax and YU have operated in the sub-Rs 15,000 price margin, never really challenging for the high-end segment of the market, be it in terms of price or specs.

The Yutopia changes that. Thoroughly.

Specs, style…and software too!

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At Rs 24,999, it costs more than the other three YU devices in the market taken together (the Yunique, the Yureka Plus and the Yuphoria). And more significantly, it comes with a spec sheet that is right up there with the best in the business – a 5.2 inch quad HD display with a 565 ppi pixel density, a 2.0 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 4 GB RAM, 32 GB storage (expandable if you give up one of the dual SIM slots to a memory card), a 21-megapixel camera (with optical image stabilization), an 8.0-megapixel front facing camera, stereo speakers, House of Marley earphones, and 4G, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connectivity, with a 3000 mAh battery to keep things ticking. That’s a spec sheet that any Android device in the world would be proud of, and most would envy. It is easily the most powerful phone to have come from an Indian brand – and perhaps the first from the country to take on flagships from better-known brands in ALL departments.

Unlike its predecessors which focused more on substance than on style, the Yutopia cuts a smart figure too (check our first impressions). The spherical, slightly raised, camera unit on the back gives it a distinct look (YU refers to it as the Saturn Rings design and says all cameras in the YU range will have it, although not all of them will jut out), and the smooth metal body of the phone is definitely classy. It is a very curve-y phone with no sharp edges and with its length of 146.6 mm width of 72.7 mm and 7.2 mm thickness, will fit most hands. And for a phone with a 5.2 inch inch display and a full metal body, it is remarkably lightweight at 159 grammes. There is a fingerprint scanner at the back, just below the camera, and YU assures us that the raised camera on the back will not pick up scratches when the phone is resting on its back, as the frame around it is very slightly raised. The volume buttons have the power/display button right in between them, which is again a YU characteristic – a trifle eccentric but something one gets used to, and the dual SIM tray is on the left. This is a unibody device. And it definitely is a looker.

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Running above all these is Cyanogen 12.1 based on Android 5.1.1 with a few of YU’s own tweaks to it. In an attempt to address the heating issues that have been the bane of the Snapdragon 810 processor, the company has come out with five performance levels, which can be tweaked as per your usage patterns – power saver, efficiency, balanced, quick and performance. And well, if you stick mostly to “balanced,” your phone will work at a pretty decent clip without reaching uncomfortable temperature levels. The default music player on the phone is the Gaana app, which comes with six months of unlimited access to the app’s library comprising millions of songs.

Then there is the Around YU feature, which is accessible with a swipe to the left from the Yutopia’s home screen (no Google Now by that method on this device – you have to access it through the Google app, and whether this is a plus or a minus really depends on how much you use Google Now). The idea of the app is simple – to allow you to access different services without having to download apps for each of them. So for instance, you can find out about shopping, food, cabs, flight timings, buses and train timings by simply swiping to the left from the home screen and entering a search term. And it is not just about seeing options – in many cases, you can actually order a cab, or food or buy something right from the service, without having to go to an app (you will have to open the browser, though). Providing this information are a number of content aggregators that Micromax has invested in. And well, honestly, we found the results to be very impressive, at least in our part of Delhi.

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It is this combination of specs, software and style that led YU to be adopting a very aggressive stance in positioning the phone, which it unabashedly called the most powerful in the world. In a high profile social networking campaign leading up to the launch, the company poked fun at the iPhone’s battery, the lack of customization options on the Galaxy S6 and the display of the OnePlus 2. It was a very bold strategy to adopt, as it positioned the device alongside those worthies, and thus also drove up user expectations.

And that is where our reference to comparisons at the very beginning comes in.

A gem…with flaws

For, seen in isolation, the Yutopia is a formidable proposition, and easily the most powerful phone to come from an Indian brand. And in terms of spec sheet muscle, it is out there with the best in the business – be it the OnePlus 2, the Moto X Style, the HTC One M9+, the Xperia Z5 or the Galaxy S6 or the LG G4, no phone can claim to be its spec sheet superior without a hefty debate.

And we will be blunt: at its best, the Yutopia is a terrific device. The display and camera are its strongest suits – the display is easily the best we have seen at this price point and is great for viewing videos and even reading text (none of the oversaturation that we have seen in some others) and the camera is terrific when it comes to capturing detail (check the sample pictures below). And Cyanogen runs very smoothly on the powerful hardware within. Throw pretty much any task at it – be it a high definition game or run twenty apps at the same time – and it is a fair chance that the phone will handle them with ease, with zero lags. Sound quality was very good on call and loudspeaker, and well, we can see music fans liking the House of Marley Little Birds earbuds. Battery life is decent too – you will see off a day of normal use with ease.

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Note, however, that we prefixed “at its best,” when we started the previous paragraph. For alas, the Yutopia can be a tad inconsistent. And when it is in these moods that chinks start to appear in its armour. Perhaps the biggest is the fingerprint sensor at the back, which seems to be significantly slower than the one we saw on the Qiku Q Terra and even the Coolpad Note 3 and is also prone to being erratic unless you place your finger at the exact right spot. Yes, once you get the “hang” of it, it works well enough but we can see many people losing their tempers when the phone simply refuses to recognize the very fingerprint they had input into it.

Purists will also be quick to point out that the camera is more prone to inconsistency than its competitors in the same price range – yes, it scores in terms of detail but colors at times seem flat and it definitely does not handle glare too well. Around YU is a great idea but still needs polishing and needs to include more vendors – for instance, if I search for a book, I do not get an option to purchase it from Amazon, although Flipkart and Infibeam do pop up. Google Now fans might find it odd that in the Cyanogen world that prides itself on openness, there was no way to replace Around YU with Google Now, or to even customize it – the app has no settings button, so one is pretty much at its mercy, and while it does seem to learn what we like, it would have been nice to be able to tweak it to show only those options we are really interested in. It would have also been helpful if the performance levels for the battery had been easier to access (say, through a special widget) or even better if the phone itself could advise you about them when you accessed apps that would stretch the current performance level- when you want to get into a session of FIFA, you often forget to head over to the settings and tweak performance levels.

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And yes, the phone does heat up even in routine tasks – extensive photography or even a long session of Temple Run will push temperatures up. We also encountered some UI issues with the camera in our initial unit, although these were attributed to an earlier build by the company and the second unit we received functioned smoothly. Round that off with the odd lag and crash, and suddenly the Yutopia starts looking a lot more human.

Yes, it is still very good when you factor what you are getting for the price, but it looks well off the pace when compared with some of the very worthies it cocked a snook at. Comparisons are dangerous, remember?

Touching greatness

All of which makes us conclude that the Yutopia is more of a rough diamond than a finished product. To be fair, this is not the first time we have seen a high-profile product come with some eccentricities, be it unresponsive touch screens, heating issues, moody cameras or eccentric fingerprint sensors. No, the Yutopia’s sin is not to have erred (heavens, that is human), but to have claimed to be divine.

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For, while there is no doubt that the device has its flaws, there can be no denying its strengths too. For Rs 24,999, it plonks some of the best hardware around in the palm of your hand, and that too in a rather svelte design. Only the OnePlus 2 comes close to what it offers, and hey, remember how many software issues it too had? To its credit, Carl Pei and Co stuck to their task in spite of some early criticism and have steadily been ironing out the rough spots in what was otherwise a wonderful device. And that we think is the challenge that lies ahead of YU – the Yutopia is a very good device but we suspect is an update or two away from greatness. And it is delivering these updates in a timely and effective manner that is going to be the next challenge for the young brand, just as it was for OnePlus.

Should you buy it in its present form, though? Or wait for the seemingly-inevitable updates? Well, with cricket being YU founder Rahul Sharma’s favorite sport, it is only fair that we draw a cricketing simile to make matters easy. In the period from 1995 to 2005, Pakistan had a fearsome pace bowler named Shoaib Akhtar. He was easily the fastest bowler in the world, and capable of winning matches on his own. Batsmen quaked at the sight of him running in to bowl. He had just one problem – of being rather temperamental. As a result, one never really knew which Shoaib Akhtar would turn up in a match – the devastating one or the disinterested one.

The Yutopia in its first cut (we are SO sure a big update is around the corner) is like Shoaib Akhtar – at its best, it is phenomenally good, but when the errors creep in, it definitely does not do its specs justice (just as the Pakistani paceman did not do his God-given talent justice).

Which brings us back to the question: should you buy it? Well, it really depends on your patience levels. If you want something that works like clockwork right out of the box and seldom errs, then perhaps it would make sense to bide your time a little and for the Yutopia to get the updates that will help it make that grade. But if what you are looking for is a powerful phone with top of the line hardware that, barring the odd lapse into eccentricity, can mix it with the best, then go right ahead and grab the Yutopia. It is a bit like having Shoaib Akhtar in your team – well worth it if you have the patience, infuriating if you do not. Given the right attention, Akhtar could have been a much greater player. The same applies to the Yutopia.

YU has delivered a diamond, albeit a rough one. Now, it is up to them to shine it and shape it.

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Editorial Mentor

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.