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Hands on: Ubik Uno

Design by mob rule: Ubik's Uno is quite literally the phone you asked for

For less than $350, the Ubik Uno is a bargain, but it’s next phone will be even better because you’ll have a say in its design.

A Miami-based company called Ubik wants to turn the idea that massive corporations like Samsung, Apple, and Google know best on its head, at least when it comes to the smartphone in your pocket. Ubik’s first attempt to do so is the Uno, a high-end phone that has most of the powerful specs you’d expect to see on a flagship phone from Apple or Samsung, but for the price of a mid-range phone.

Ubik already has a number of working prototypes and is ready to dive into production with the help of its Korean manufacturing partner, but it’s starting out on Kickstarter to build a community of phone lovers who want more say in the phones they use every day.

Meet the Ubik Uno

Some companies play around with user expectations, and manipulate press renders to show screens with smaller bezels, when in reality they’re just cleverly hidden. However, when Ubik says its phone has no bezels, it means that it has no bezels. A one-piece aluminum frame blends right into the 5.5-inch Full HD screen. There are bezels at the top and bottom of the phone, just like any other, but the screen is unimpeded on either side.

It strikes a lovely slim figure, and the sturdy plastic back makes for a very appealing phone overall. The plastic is a solid, navy blue with a “spun” texture that reflects the light well and makes a that’ll-never-get-old record-scratching sound when you run a fingernail across it.

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Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

A MediaTek MT6795 64-bit octa-core processor powers the phone, along with 3GB of RAM. Ubik told us that it passed on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 because of the overheating issue, adding that the MediaTek processor is more energy efficient, which suits its purposes better anyway. The Uno packs 64GB storage, so there’s no issue there, either. It’s running stock Android 5.1 Lollipop, so there’s no annoying bloatware or horrible skin on top of Google lovely OS.

The whopping 6-lens, 20-megapixel, auto-focus rear camera from Sony should take some phenomenal pictures, and it can record video in slow motion at 120fps. The camera sensor is quite big, so it bulges out a bit on the back of the thin phone, but that’s become standard practice these days. Even Apple’s iPhone 6 has a camera bulge. Meanwhile, the 8-megapixel camera on front of the phone should take some stellar selfies.

To round out the whole package, the Ubik Uno comes with a quick charger that has an LED light, so you know when it’s charged.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, ‘wow, that sounds like a really high-end phone. It must be super expensive,’ but it’s not. Ubik says the Uno will retail for $345, but it would have only cost you $280 on Kickstarter – if you got one of the first 250 phones. After that, the next 1,000 cost $300, and the rest of the preorders come in at $320.

“You’re getting a high-end phone for a great price,” Ubik’s USA Business Director Edgardo Jovet told Digital Trends.

You will design the next Ubik phone

Once Ubik ships out all its Uno phones, it’ll start chatting with the new community to learn about their experience with the device, and find out exactly what they want in the next Ubik phone. Unlike most companies that secretly survey a few thousand people about one small aspect of a phone, Ubik will send out a kind of build-your-own-phone rubric to its users. When all’s said and done, Ubik will go on to make the most popular design.

“The majority rules. We’ll make the phone the community chooses.”

“It’s more of a community,” Jovet said. “Our ultimate goal is that when the product comes out, that’s when we start talking with our community to build the next phone.”

He’s not kidding about the level of community involvement. Looking through a sample rubric that Ubik’s users will fill out, the company lists all the possible screen, processor, storage, color, camera, and other spec options that is has available, and you go from there.

Ubik will let you know if your dream phone is unrealistic — so if you want a super thin phone with a massive battery and a jumbo camera, Ubik will let you know that it isn’t physically possible to do that – and the price that it would cost for Ubik to make your design.

“The majority rules,” Jovet said. “We’ll make the phone the community chooses, and we’re open to making more than one design down the line.”

Why let the users choose?

The main criticism of democracy always seems to be that the plebeians don’t know what they want. Those in power know best, so they decide. Not so, says Ubik. In fact, the biggest companies often make the biggest mistakes.

There are some good industry examples to back up these claims. BlackBerry and Nokia chose to stick with alternative operating systems and turned their noses up at Google’s Android. Now neither company is a leader in the smartphone industry any more.

HTC thought it could rest on its laurels, but Samsung and LG caught up with superior phones. Even Apple, which hasn’t truly fallen down at all in the smartphone market, misjudged customer demand for bigger phones. International sales have increased now it makes the larger 4.7 and 5.5-inch iPhones.

“They thought they knew what the people wanted, but they were wrong,” Ubik Business Director Christian Areco said. “What would happen if BlackBerry made an Android phone when Messenger was huge? They’d still be a big player.”

“We want to be a different player in this industry,” he continued. “We don’t want to impose what we think.”

Ubik’s unique approach seems to be resonating with customers, at least on Kickstarter. The company’s campaign is already more than halfway to its $200,000 goal, and it’s still got a month left to rack up the rest. If you want to fund the Uno and get one for yourself, there are still a few $300 models left. Once those are gone, it’ll jump up to $320, but even at that price, it still looks like a bargain.

Highs

  • Flagship specs for less than $400
  • High-resolution camera
  • Sharp, bezel-free screen

Lows

  • It’s a Kickstarter campaign
  • No official carrier support