A sad but vocal minority of phone enthusiasts continue to lament ever-inflating phone sizes and the “good old days” of smaller screens. If any of them are willing to put their money where their mouth is, there are modern alternatives, like the dinky Unihertz Jelly 2 with its 3″ screen. While I enjoyed the previous Unihertrz Jelly Pro (which I bought for myself as a gag, but did not review for Android Police), it was a novelty I honestly couldn’t recommend. But the Jelly 2 does a half-decent job as an actual phone, elevating it beyond a mere novelty.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The dark, glossy, metallic-finish plastic Jelly 2 is a significant departure in design from the brightly colored original Jelly Pro. It’s also a bit larger in every dimension and outright chunky, though it’s probably smaller than any phone you’ve used in the last ten years. The model I was sent was a dark blue, though I’m not sure if it will be offered in other colors.
Up top are a headphone jack and an IR transmitter for universal remote control use. The left side has volume controls, the right has the power button and a customizable “shortcut button,” which is pretty handy. The USB Type-C port is also on the right, which is odd — you usually expect it on the bottom. That makes it a little more awkward to use while charging. Instead, the bottom has vents for the speakers and (I assume) the microphone. The back has the fingerprint sensor and lone 16MP camera.
The screen is just 3″ diagonally, and it’s not OLED or anything fancy like that. The 480×854 resolution display (humorously, the same resolution as the original 2009 Droid) is around 326 PPI, and I wish it was just a little sharper. Anecdotally, I found it was far too bright at night, and just a little to dim for comfortable use in bright sunlight. The backlighting was also slightly uneven on my unit, but I think these aren’t huge issues given the price. The bigger problem is that a 3″ display is just too small for some use cases. Certain sites were hard to navigate, and some apps aren’t optimized for such a small screen. Scaling down display size in the Accessibility section of Settings helps mitigate the effect of a smaller display, but then you’re left squinting to see things on a screen that could be sharper.
Typing is actually pretty difficult sometimes. I’m surprised it works as well as it does, but your error rate will go up, and unfortunately, you can’t always easily correct what you mean to type. For example, while you can rely on Gboard’s autocorrect in apps like Slack or Messages, frustration befalls the man that needs to type in a complicated Wi-Fi password — the system entry fields have no option to let you see those as you type, either. At times, you’re gonna need to pay a whole lot of attention to the keypress popups to be sure of what you’re tapping in.
The fingerprint sensor on the back was almost entirely unreliable for me. It refused to wake the phone when tapped, and when the screen was already on, it rarely worked. Unihertz tells me a fix is planned, though.
Overall build quality is fine for a plastic phone — though I still hate glossy plastic. It doesn’t creak or flex at all in either normal use or wrenching on it JerryRig-style with two hands, and the anodized aluminum accent strip around the camera and fingerprint sensor is a nice touch. The only things I don’t like are the side-mounted USB port and the red accent for the customizable button — every time I see it, I assume it is the power button, but that’s wrong.
When it comes to “extras” (or base requirements), the phone has NFC for contactless payments, a headphone jack, dual-SIM support, an LED notification light, and microSD-expandable storage — though the 128GB it has built-in should last a while. Among its few omissions are an IP rating, so maybe don’t take it out in the rain.
I’m not sure what Unihertz will include with its retail models, but my pre-production unit came with a branded 10W (5V 2A) charger and Type-C cable.
Software, performance, and battery life
The software on the Jelly 2 is mostly stock-looking Android 10 (outside some status bar derp), and I bet the company didn’t change much from whatever MediaTek provides. That’s not a bad thing, I strongly prefer stock to most low-effort customized skins, which force pointless and inconvenient tweaks simply for the sake of change, and which usually result in delayed updates. Unihertz was pretty good about updating my original Jelly Pro, so I’m looking forward to the same here.
The phone even uses Google’s apps for things like the built-in SMS and Phone apps. There are a few superfluous apps like a slightly pointless “Toolbox” and “Student mode,” but they’re not exactly bloatware in the traditional Facebook or LinkedIn pre-installed app sense so much as half-baked ideas. Either way, you can’t uninstall them.
That said, there are a few things Unihertz actively should change about the software. For one, the default launcher is styled like iOS to dump all your apps right on the home screen with no app drawer. I hate that. And though the launcher is easily replaced, the built-in one scales content for the small display far better than any third-party ones I tried, so I’d prefer if it were simply better or offered a handful more customization options, like an app drawer. Some of the built-in apps also suffer from stereotypical poor Chinese translations, and the Remote app for the IR sensor straight-up has Chinese mixed in with the English. Most annoyingly, although the phone works with Android 10’s new space-saving gestures, the capacitive keys aren’t disabled while that’s turned on.
I was honestly surprised by the phone’s performance. I figured a $200 phone with a two-year-old MediaTek chipset was going to be a Bad Time. I wouldn’t confuse it with a flagship or mid-range SoC, and it’s not like it was actively snappy, but I wasn’t ever really frustrated with how it felt in normal use. Perhaps the relatively fast 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage made a difference there, though one thing did bother me. Though it has 6GB of RAM, I did find it killed apps in the background just a bit more often than I liked to see.
I always love when phones have customizable hardware buttons, and the one on the Jelly 2 works fine. You can tweak what it does in the “Smart Assistant” section of Settings, but it’s pretty handy for activating the Assistant and taking screenshots.
Battery life was also unexpectedly decent. I was able to finagle around 4-5 hours of screen-on time over a day or two. While in a bigger phone I’d consider that just acceptable, I do think that’s pretty good considering that tiny phones usually fare much worse. The previous Jelly Pro had outright terrible battery life, with around an hour of screen-on time in real use.
I do wish it charged a little bit faster, though. In my testing, it peaked at around 10W (5V 2Aish), which is the same as the charger it came with. Faster charging via USB PD would have been nice, though it’s not really a deal-breaker, considering the battery itself is also relatively small.
This is a $200 phone. But even so, the camera here is pretty bad. So far as I can tell, it can’t even do HDR, and it likes to overexpose images to compensate for that. Low-light photos are also terrible and muddy. In short, this is the usual “at least it has a camera” territory you expect at this price point.
That said, you can get some good shots if you work around its issues. As they say, a good photo is more about the photographer than the camera, and a nice composition can make other issues seem less bad.
I actually like a few of these — just don’t crop or they’re all terrible.
I don’t think anyone is buying the Jelly 2 for its camera, though.
Should you buy it?
Yes — but not as your only phone, and there are specific use cases where this makes a great secondary device.
I loved taking the Jelly 2 with me on hikes. It was tiny, it didn’t seem to have any signal issues, and it was able to take okay photos in good lighting. (Though I should note: Bug spray on your hands will easily strip off the Unihertz logo on the back, and that’s why you won’t see one on my photos.) I think it makes a great side-phone for especially active folks that don’t want a better camera in their pocket, or maybe to toss in a bag for emergency-only use.
I tried using the Jelly 2 as my primary phone several times, but I’d repeatedly hit walls that prevented me from continuing, like not being able to use it on a dock in my car, and taking too long to type out responses for urgent work pings. I like the phone, but it just wasn’t practical for me all the time, and it probably isn’t practical for you, either.
The $200 price tag might be a bit expensive as a novelty, but I think the phone transcends that sort of dismissive label, even given its issues. Those with the cash to spare on a second phone who need or want something small will probably be pleased. There are specific use cases here where this phone’s size comes in handy, and I can absolutely recommend it — as a supplement to a better phone.
Buy it if:
- Size matters, and you like tiny phones.
- You want a second, small, lightweight device for activities like hiking or running.
- The lack of an IP rating isn’t a deal-breaker.
Don’t buy it if:
- Size matters, and you like bigger phones — or, at least, a phone that isn’t this small.
- You want a good camera, great performance, the latest features, or a better phone period.
Where to buy?
The Unihertz Jelly 2 is currently available through a limited-time Kickstarter ending today, though I expect it will later be sold at both Unihertz’s own storefront and Amazon, like the prior model was.