The Cubot X20 Pro is a physically impressive budget smartphone that isn’t without flaws
Excellent FHD+ 6.3in display
Superb build quality
Vanilla Android 9
Triple camera setup is rubbish
No NFC, fingerprint reader or 5GHz Wi-Fi
Cubot is one of several small Chinese mobile phone makers whose name may not be familiar to the average Brit but which offers some attractive devices at extremely tempting prices. However, many of these Chinese phones can’t be purchased directly in the UK.
While the likes of Xiaomi, Oppo and Honor have all become readily available in recent years, if you fancy a phone from one of the lesser-known Chinese manufacturers like Cubot, Doogee, Elephone or Ulefone then you will need to buy direct from a Chinese retailer like Gearbest. You may also need to pay a hefty import charge when it arrives at UK customs.
Clearly, buying a smartphone sight unseen from China is a little riskier than picking one up from a UK-based mobile network or tech retailer. But is it a risk worth taking?
The Cubot X20 Pro does, however, have a total of three rear cameras; consisting of a regular 12MP camera, an 8MP wide-angle sensor and a 20MP depth-sensing unit. There’s also a 13MP camera on the front of the phone, embedded in a teardrop notch.
Both are decent budget handsets, but in some important areas, the X20 Pro has them both beat. Most obviously, neither the Motorola or Sony phones have a Full HD screen or more than 32GB of built-in storage.
The Cubot’s solidity also comes at a small price. Weighing in at an iPhone 11 Pro-esque 192g, the X20 Pro is very heavy, even for a phone with a 6.3in screen. You won’t be able to hold it in one hand for too long before your arm starts to ache. The rest of the phone’s dimensions, however, are parr for the course at 157 x 75 x 8.3mm.
The layout is entirely conventional. On the bottom, there are two grilles (only one hides a speaker) flanking a USB Type-C charging port. On the right, a pair of metal buttons control power and volume. Above the screen, embedded inside a ‘waterdrop’ cutout, you’ll find the 13MP selfie camera. Opposite the volume rocker is a SIM card slot which will take either two 4G SIMs or a SIM and a MicroSD storage card. There’s no 3.5mm audio jack.
Audio quality through the solitary loudspeaker isn’t too bad. There’s plenty of volume, but the sound is rather brittle and lacking in bass. Flip the X20 Pro over and you'll find a rather Apple-looking square camera arrangement that houses three lenses and an LED flash.
The contrast ratio is also very good at 1,490:1. I would be hard-pressed to criticise the Cubot X20 Pro’s screen, even if it was found on a phone costing £500 or more. If I had to be critical, I’d say the colours are perhaps a little on the cool side, but I can live with that.
According to Cubot, the display takes up 92.8% of the phone’s frontage. Usually, I’d go along with that but the press images on Cubot’s website show the bezels as being even thinner than they actually are. Slightly misleading press images are not uncommon with smaller Chinese OEMs.
What does let the screen down is the software. Sadly, the X20 Pro only has Level 3 Widevine DRM which means video streams from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video will only play at 480p resolution. Switch between a 1080p web rip of Blade Runner 2049 and a 480p Netflix stream and the difference is discernible.
In real-world usage, the X20 can easily handle games like Shadowgun Legends, Real Racing 3, PUBG Mobile and Modern Combat 5 – with the graphics details turned up to maximum – without any problems. Unusually at this sort of price, the X20 Pro has a whopping 128GB of storage which is handy if you plan on installing a number of large games. The four games I installed for testing took up nearly 6GB.
With a 4,000mAh battery, you’d expect the X20 to perform well. Granted there’s no fast charging option and no wireless charging to speak of, but when subjected to the Expert Reviews standard battery test, the X20’s battery lasted for 13 hours.
The X20 Pro runs Android 9 with no pre-baked bloatware aside from an FM radio. Sadly, as Cubot is a small Chinese manufacturer, I wouldn’t expect an eventual upgrade to Android 10. It’s better to assume that you’ll be stuck with version 9.0 for the lifetime of the handset and be grateful for any security patches that may come your way. For reference, the latest patch on my X20 Pro was dated 5 August 2019.
However, the X20 Pro is missing a few features. To start with, there’s no fingerprint scanner, which is a serious omission especially as the Moto G6 Plus and L3 each have one. Checking my own phone, I see that I have more than a dozen apps that use biometrics to authorise access. Not having that facility would be a deal-breaker for me.
Of course, you can use face unlock and it seems secure enough but reliability falls off when lights get dim, forcing you to resort to a PIN code or pattern. There’s no NFC chip either, though at this price that’s not such a shock and the Wi-Fi modem is 2.4GHz 802.11n only.
The X20’s microphone also lacks any sort of noise cancellation which does have an effect on call quality. Everything is fine if there’s not much background noise but make a call outside on a windy day or in a loud bar and you’ll notice the absence.
Shots of static subjects in broad daylight look decent enough though colour accuracy really isn’t the best and turning the HDR or AI functions on seemed to have little effect. I’d have liked the autofocus to be faster and more accurate too.
Sadly, as soon as the lights dims, visual noise becomes very noticeable and colour balance goes out of the window. The digital zoom is best avoided as is the wide-angle feature. Distortion towards the edges of wide-angle shots is laughably bad.
The 13MP selfie cam does a decent enough job when the light is good but again performance trails off as the light fails. Video shot a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and 30fps looked alright while the focus wasn’t hunting for lock, which it often was.
On the positive side, the camera settings menu does offer a decent selection of 'Pro' manual settings for those who want to get more creative and a plethora of filters for the more casual snapper.
I’m sure a software update could cure most of the problems I encountered but most small Chinese phone makers often fail to fully optimise their camera software, which is a shame. The failings of the cameras spoil the X20 Pro like a dead fly floating in a bowl of hearty soup.