Poptel P8 rugged smartphone
Poptel isn’t a brand name that many in the West would recognize, but within Asia it’s a popular line of phones made by Chinese manufacturer FortuneShip Group, with factories in Zunyi, India and Huizhou.
These facilities produce some nine million phones each month, an impressive figure for a company that only came into existence in 2006. The current line-up is just four designs that include the P9000 Max, P60, P10 and the P8 reviewed here.
All these devices are designed for those with active lifestyles and can handle immersion in water and dusty environments. The price of the P8 is relatively low, but does it still represent good value for money?
It’s difficult to precisely identify the design influences that Poptel blended into the P8, as it doesn’t immediately look like any other phone in particular.
To make it less like a slab of metal, plastic and glass, the designers bevelled the edges so that should it fall on a corner the impact is distributed. The corners, back and ends are constructed from glass-reinforced plastic, contrasting with metal sides, reinforcing the perception that the P8 can handle some abuse without immediately failing.
Usually, this level of protection comes with a weight penalty, but the P8 tips the scales at just 230g making it a reasonably comfortable carry.
The dominant color scheme is black, though you can get the handset with colored highlights. The review model had yellow flashes on it, and Poptel also offers green highlights, and one that’s entirely black. This could be handy if you intend to use more than one of these devices in a team situation, assuming the team doesn’t consist of more than three people.
As this is a rugged design, it might have value to those on an adventure holiday who want to leave their expensive-to-replace iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S9 at home. In that context, you want a device that fulfils all basic functions, and can handle meeting water and dust – and the P8 does meet that criteria.
The screen is 5-inches, making this a phablet to some, although the resolution of the display is just 960 x 480, which is low for such a large phone.
From a feature perspective, the P8 has an impressive selection of sensors and their associated technologies. It sports a GPS, geomagnetic sensor, gravity sensor, gyroscope, proximity sensor and light level sensing.
It also comes with 802.11ac compliant Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and can be used with Google Pay via NFC technology.
The actual phone support is mostly focused on territories outside the US, although it should work there on GSM and possibly WCDMA in some locations. The LTE channels it supports aren’t the ones normally used in North America, unfortunately.
The best aspect of this design is that for a rugged phone it isn’t overly large or heavy, but as we get into the specifications, you might conclude that those positive notes are outweighed by other less desirable features.
Cheaper phones tend to have less impressive specifications, and the P8 doesn’t diverge much from that assertion.
Therefore, you get a quad-core CPU with a maximum clock speed of 1.28GHz, just 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. Of that 16GB only about 10GB is available for the user. If you need more space for music, video, images or apps, you can add a microSD card via the SIM tray, although that means you can only mount one mobile SIM, not two.
That’s a compromise that almost all Chinese phones come with these days, and for those with both business and personal numbers, it can be a very useful option.
Along with the memory and processor, the cost-cutting axe also fell on the cameras, with only a 5MP front-facer and an 8MP snapper on the rear. Neither of these cameras is especially impressive and they have issues that we’ll cover later in this review.
The button layout is standard with the power and audio rocker both on the right side, and the card slot on the left. Poptel provided a user customizable button, and on the right is another button that we assumed could also be customized. However, the latter isn’t that flexible, it turns out, as it is there purely to fire up the camera to take a quick photo.
For all the price-sensitive parts here, there are a few features that we didn’t expect to find included. These include a fingerprint reader just below the rear camera, and the front camera can do face recognition if you prefer that type of security.
The other big selling point of the Poptel P8 is that it has IP68 certification, meaning that it can handle some water and dust immersion without immediately failing. Poptel doesn’t go beyond the minimum IP68 spec, saying that the phone will survive immersion in water to a depth of 1.2m for 30 minutes.
Our advice would be that you shouldn’t panic if the phone gets wet or dusty. But conversely, it probably isn’t prudent to explore the practical limits of its environmental protection.
To achieve IP68 both the SIM card slot and the charging port have rubber gaskets, and the one for the USB port needs to be pulled out each time you charge it.
Oddly, Poptel went with the old-style microUSB connector and not Type-C on the P8. And, because of the waterproofing, the socket is deeply embedded in the phone, requiring a long microUSB charging cable that Poptel thankfully provides in the box.
Don’t ever misplace this cable, because you can’t charge the phone with a standard lead. The other downside of this choice is that charging occurs only at 5V/1A, and therefore it can take some time to charge the phone from a flat battery.
Usage and performance
Maybe we’ve been using too many high-powered phones recently, but the P8 did feel generally unresponsive in our hands, and rather like the CPU was working on some heavy background task, permanently.
As the benchmarks revealed, the processor in this phone just doesn’t have the performance needed to drive it effectively. Some of the blame for this must be directed towards the PowerVR GE8100 GPU, which lacks punch when compared with the Mali G71 GPU that is paired with eight-core MediaTek processors.
The upshot is that if you like to game on your phone, then the P8 probably isn’t for you.
As if to underline that point, the other major weakness of this design is the screen. It isn’t a high resolution, doesn’t have a strong color palette, and is difficult to read in bright light.
And on top of that we have two incredibly mediocre cameras. Using them isn’t a good experience, as for some curious reason the refresh loop for showing a still image isn’t smooth and presents a slideshow-like update. Very off-putting.
What’s truly odd about this behavior is that if you put the camera into video mode, it is entirely smooth. This strongly suggests that still photo mode has a technical issue that could probably be quickly resolved by a good software engineer.
This lag makes taking pictures a rather haphazard exercise, as the framing of the captured image rarely matches the image which was on-screen when a snap was initiated.
There are two other aspects to the P8 that we need to mention for anyone considering a purchase. The first is that while this phone came with a relatively unadulterated version of Android Oreo 8.1 installed, when we got the phone, the latest security update was dated June 2018.
However, just before we finished our review, a new update dated October arrived, alleviating a concern we had about Android updates.
Another unconnected problem was the inclusion of a font manager app in the OS that Google immediately deactivated based on security concerns.
This probably isn’t a critical issue, but in the wake of the problems that Huawei is having in respect of compromised hardware, Chinese companies need to be squeaky clean for Western customers, and bundling a tool that Google rejects immediately as a security threat isn’t advisable.
Admittedly, Google has consigned many apps that won’t play by its rules to the bin recently. But Poptel needs to push out a new OS release and remove the offending app as part of that upgrade before some customers start to think the worst.
Our benchmarks didn’t show anything that we weren’t expecting – because while the MediaTek MT6739 is a relatively new ARM design, it isn’t one that is going to break any speed records. The CPU isn’t wonderful itself, but the real weakness, as we’ve already mentioned, is the GPU, which scores very low, especially when 3D is required.
Even at this price, it is a struggle to recommend this phone because it seems underpowered, and several times during our testing it ran out of memory.
In short, just too many cost-cutting choices have been made with the Poptel P8, and for less than £20 ($25) more you can buy another Chinese-made waterproof design with four times the storage, twice the memory, a better screen, fast charging and an eight-core processor (namely the Cubot King Kong 3).
On that basis, we just can’t see why you’d buy this instead.
- We've also highlighted the best rugged phones of 2018