UBIK Aim for OnePlus with their $280 UNO
Ubik is a new company with offices in China, Korea and the USA, and a big idea. It’s announced a Kickstarter project today for the UNO, a flagship-level smartphone, which is selling at $280 to backers, or $345 once the campaign ends. This isn’t exactly a new idea, but the company is hoping to grab some extra attention with their interesting promise of an “Open Source” business model.
Let’s kick it off with the handset itself; it comes with a 5.5″ 1080p IPS display complete with Gorilla Glass 3, advertised as coming with “no-bezel”. This holds out for the left and right-hand sides (apart from in one render), however the top and bottom edges more than make up for that, and may involve too much bezel for some. The overall design is mostly minimal, relying on a conspicuous metal frame around the edges of the device to add a premium feel, whilst the rear of the unit is comprised of what looks like polycarbonate, with a very large raised circle where the camera is housed. Overall, the smartphone is not attractive per se, although on balance it doesn’t do much wrong either, and so comes across as a little boring but functional.
The inside of the UNO features a 64 bit MediaTek MT6795 clocked at 2.2GHz which is “true octocore”, meaning that there are no low power cores, and that the systems spreads workload across them or turns individual cores off. The jury is still out on whether heterogeneous computing is all it’s cracked up to be on mobile devices (check out this video for a more in-depth look at multiple core performance), so overall efficiency remains to be seen, especially when compared to main rival ARM’s more widely adopted big.LITTLE architecture. A typical 3GB of RAM is available, along with a slightly disappointing 16GB of storage, although there is a Micro SD slot, with the minor caveat that it only accepts memory cards up to 64GB in size.
The front facing camera features Sony’s newest stacked CMOS 21MP sensor the IMX230, without OIS of course, with the front facer being an unspecified 5MP unit. The usual bevvy of connectivity options are available including NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi (no mention of ac) and GPS, and the smartphone is powered by a sealed-in 3100 mAh battery. The phone is aimed at the US to begin with, claiming LTE compatibility across North America, although as it is a GSM mobile phone, Verizon and Sprint customers won’t be supported (although UBIK specifically mention Verizon in the campaign – we’re not sure quite what they mean here). The device should also work across the world on other GSM networks, although compatibility will obviously depend on which signal bands are available.
UBIK are advertising their lack of ‘bloatware’, explaining that the UNO runs stock Android 5.1, which is refreshing and should make for easier software updates, although as they are a brand new company this remains to be seen. Crowd-funded devices don’t have the best history when it comes to future software support, as the companies behind the phones don’t always have the man-power to develop and test updates so this will be something for backers to keep in mind.
Where UBIK plan to stand out however, is in the aforementioned “Open Source” strategy. Essentially, the company are promising to follow the decisions of the “mayority” (sic) of their community fan-base, by setting up forums, blogs and polls to assess this demand. In its words:
“Our mission is to assign every function a price, so the community can choose what they like and build their own phone.”
It is clear that this process is directed at whatever the UNO’s successor will be, as the prototypes for this phone already exist and the company claim that they are ready to begin manufacturing it. Even so, this is a bold and thought-provoking business model from such a young start-up, and one wonders whether it will have the R&D resources to put the community’s ideas to full use. Throughout the campaign, UBIK likes to announce that its members have more than 15 years in the mobile phone business, but in the end, sustaining this practice will unfortunately take funding, and it is not clear how much profit the company will be making from each unit sold.
Let’s face it, this smartphone launch is directly in competition with the OnePlus One and Two, and not just in terms of price and specs. The campaign goes as far as calling out the ‘Invitation System’, but don’t specifically answer the question of how they expect to keep up with demand or how many units they plan to sell, and the phone itself is named the UNO…get it? If their open source model takes off and proves to be successful, then UBIK will definitely have something to shout about, but until then they don’t have the luxury of a large brand like Oppo behind them to inspire confidence. This is added to a Kickstarter campaign that unfortunately features a number of spelling and grammar mistakes despite the company’s ‘office’ in the US, and a few meaningless marketing lines like: “As of this moment, UBIK UNO is looking like the best Android Smartphone you’ll be able to buy for the foreseeable future”.
And therein lies the issue; crowd funding platforms are becoming an increasingly popular way for technology start-ups to avoid huge initial debts, and have their future customers pay for device production for them, but while this can help original ideas to be catapulted into the lime-light with minimal marketing, it also means that consumers should be wary of less well-formed business plans too. UBIK stress that the reason that they can sell their UNO at such a low price is because they haven’t spent the huge amounts of money that large firms do on marketing and advertising, but research and development, manufacturing yield, build-quality, on-going support, and customer service are all extremely important, and all of this takes money. It should be noted that cutting corners for cost purposes can result is some significant issues, and taking the relevant example, the OnePlus One still suffers from touchscreen issues, regardless of the myriad software updates that ensued (hint: it’s a hardware issue). The reason big companies can charge double what UBIK is planning to is partly because they have sunk huge amounts of money into creating reliable and sustainable manufacturing processes and support infrastructure, and once again it remains to be seen how this company plan to compete.
On the other hand, without evidence it’s never worth writing off a start-up, especially one that’s actively trying to engage with its customers more than its competitors. If you’re interested on picking up this cheap flagship, check out their Kickstarter campaign here. The project is at $27,000 pledged of its $200,000 goal with another 44 days to go, which is a great start on the first day, so hopefully things go well for the fledgling company, and they manage to start shifting completed units in time for their estimated shipping date of September. Comments are generally positive so far too, so given time and the support of enthusiasts, the company could do very well with this aggressive business plan.