itel S23 4G review: The new “budget phone” king?

itel S23 4G is taking up the challenge of being a great budget phone in the PH market. The question is, is it worthy enough?

Transsion’s TECNO is making waves in the flagship market as a serious competitor in the premium market after the release of its Phantom X2 Series together with the Phantom V Fold which got so many rave reviews from international press due to its impressive price-to-specs ratio. 

Then there’s INFINIX, the mid-range choice for power users on a budget, leaving consumers with so many options for so little cash (at least under the 10K mark). The first two sub-brands we mentioned are also making rounds with their affordable Spark Go / 10 Series and Hot 30 Series respectively. 

On the other hand, the extreme entry-level Itel aims to provide even more value by providing decent offerings under the 5K pesos mark— great examples like the Itel Vision 3 and 5 are hallmarks of a growing trend of cheap phones getting better through time. 

The newly introduced S23 4G has a lot of promising features and value for money we all expect for less than a fraction of the price. Given that along the line, we may notice some cost-cutting decisions Itel has in store for us, but the S23 4G surprised us in a way.

You can safely say that you own an S23 for under Php4,000. While this isn’t an S23 from Samsung, this is still a bang-for-buck device.

Box, packaging, and design

Looking at the box and packaging, we noticed a revamp to its color scheme. Gone is the eyesore-inducing red that dominates the whole box in favor of a more muted red with white that looks pleasing and cleaner looking than those of the Vision 3 from last year for example. The 8GB RAM + 128GB ROM is highlighted in an indigo colorway to catch your attention from a distance. 

The main specs are highlighted on the back with some usual technical stuff printed on the bottom. 

Opening the box, the device itself welcomes us complete with a full-colored plastic wrap that’s nice to look at and a breath of fresh air in a sea of monochrome and two-tone plastic wrap design. But hey, it’s just wrapping after all. 

Lifting the phone shows a plastic divider (that’s rare and within this price point, manufacturers often settle for cheaper materials and opening methods, that’s a surprise for sure), and under that are the manual, a hard case (not jelly) which is again, surprising for the price.

There’s also an earphone jack included as well. Sure, this will not match the earphones included inside select vivo, LG, and Sony devices— it’s better than nothing though.

The 10W charging brick and Type-A to Type-C cable are nothing special but will suffice. 

Moving on to the Itel S23 4G, we quickly noticed the gorgeous back design resembling a Huawei device. The Mystery White colorway (that’s how they call it, according to Itel) is easy on the eyes and creates a somewhat marble effect even though it’s entirely made of plastic. 

The camera has a slight bump that houses the two camera modules and it’s safe to say that we are deeply impressed by the looks of this device.

The display is just fine

Beneath its pre-applied plastic screen protector, we are treated to a large 6.6” HD+ display – despite its 720p resolution, the colors are rich and there isn’t any visible pixelation, signaling that Itel used a good LCD panel for this one. 

The bezels ultimately give away its budget status, but it’s not a bad thing at all. But wait, the Itel S23 4G has another trick up its sleeve: it has a 90Hz refresh rate, something that’s a rarity within this super budget range.

Talking about its user experience, watching videos via YouTube is just passable, with nothing to write home about. It maxes out at 720p during our Costa Rica 4K test, and the colors are quite muted and dim, but not to the point that it is unwatchable. The S23 4G isn’t even pushing past its 720p panel; we are satisfied with that. Netflix is not advisable to watch here, as it only has Widevine L3 certification, meaning no HD-quality streams.

The phone has some heft to it, and its slippery plastic back isn’t helping that much because it is a smudge magnet. It is made from plastic all around the area, and for its price, we can’t ask for more. The glass front however which also houses that selfie camera via a water drop notch is just okay, we aren’t even sure if they use some type of glass from Corning or Panda, etc.

Outdoor usage is almost impossible as it isn’t bright enough even with max brightness and auto mode toggled on.

Audio, battery life, and charging

Relying on its single down-firing speakers, the Itel S23 4G’s audio output is alright. It may be tin-like and silent versus phones with a single speaker, but it does the job. No Dolby Atmos or something like that, and you may be better off using the provided earphones instead.

The jack output is also so-so: weak mids, almost silent lows, and crashing highs. If you’re planning to transform this device into your own budget music player, remember that you should not expect Sony Walkman levels of greatness here. It gets the job done, with no if’s or but’s.

As for its battery, the S23 4G’s 5,000mAh capacity is enough to get you through the day with moderate usage. But with intense multitasking, gaming, and video consumption, expect to charge in the afternoon because the Unisoc Tiger T606 chipset inside consumes a lot of power, with its outdated 12-nanometer process, even with the 1.61GHz clock speed– boy, it drank a lot of juice out of this device.

Charging the Itel S23 4G with the provided 10W charger took us a little over 2 hours to fully charge it from 0% to 100%. We just wish they include an 18W one because some of their counterparts are already offering that kind of wattage in their charger within the same price range. But hey, they need to cut corners somehow.

itelOS 8.6.0

The proprietary operating system for this device looks, feels, and functions similarly to Infinix’s XOS, and TECNO’s HiOS as they are in the same company after all. As with all Transsion software, we aren’t the biggest fans of their OS and we recommend you use Nova Launcher for a cleaner look, or Cherry’s Aurora Launcher which is more aesthetically pleasing. Niagara Launcher users may disagree with us, disagree.

The notification panel and quick functions are also borrowed from HiOS and XOS. The Peek Proof feature piqued our interest, eliminating the need to apply a Privacy glass on your phone to deter anyone from seeing your business, for example, in public transportation. We also like the fact there is minimal bloatware in our device, so that’s a plus.

We just wish there are updates to the latest Android version because it is still stuck at Android 12, but because of its budget status, we are not expecting that much.

The Itel S23 4G runs on a Unisoc Tiger T606 processor clocking in at 1.61GHz (both the two large cores and six little ones are clocked at the same speed). It has 4GB of RAM that can be expanded up to 8GB with its Virtual RAM function.

It may help with multitasking, but at the end of the day, it all depends on what SoC can handle. What’s surprising is the 128GB storage onboard which is a rarity for its price. More apps, more data, more fun.

It scored around 223,985 points on AnTuTu Lite (v9.5.9) which is more than enough to run most apps with minimal stutters and lag. Popular games such as CoDM, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, and Genshin Impact’s performance are as follows:

  • CoDM: Medium graphics / High refresh rate – It is playable at best, but there are constant frame drops and heavy lag when there are too many players close by (squad vs squad). Multiplayer is fine, but we advise turning the graphics to low instead and downloading shader preload for both modes for much smoother gameplay.
  • MLBB: High graphics / High refresh rate – Mobile Legends isn’t too demanding, as it can even run smoothly on a device with a quad-core Snapdragon 821 from many years ago. Comparing this aside, turning the graphics smooth and the refresh rate high is better for a much more manageable gameplay experience.
  • Genshin Impact: Low graphics / low refresh rate –  Even with the lowest settings, Genshin Impact struggles to run on this device, it is not advisable to play this game on the Itel S23 4G.

Even with the Game Space function, it offers little to no improvement at all, as the phone suffers from throttling within the first ten minutes of gaming.

Camera is…meh

Despite the camera island’s gorgeous looks, don’t expect Huawei-like quality with the S23 4G (or even the other S23 from Sammy. Daylight photo quality is mediocre at best, exhibiting inconsistencies in its computational power, with varied results, dark spots, and slow shutter speed resulting in multiple takes and just the right amount of patience to produce decent photos.

The 50MP rear camera also struggles with night mode as well (using the Super Night mode), producing noisy, grainy images that look like they were taken with a 2010 myPhone device. The QVGA camera isn’t helping as well, as we see no real function to it other than detecting depth.

Portrait shots produce uneven blurring effects, which are barely usable. Due to pixel binning, the 50MP camera produces 12MP photos.

The 8MP selfie camera produces similar results in terms of daylight, night mode, and portrait mode. Both video qualities on the rear and front are kind of alright, and are serviceable as best. We aren’t saying that we expect flagship quality for a budget device. If you want to get creative, those nostalgia-esque qualities can be of use to your advantage as well.

Final verdict

What we like about the itel S23 4G

  • 128GB of internal storage inside
  • Trendy design
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • Unisoc Tiger T606 inside which is more than enough for this phone class
  • 720p display better than most offerings under this class
  • Minimal bloatwares
  • Earphones and hard case inside
  • Very affordable

What we dislike about the itel S23 4G

  • Mediocre camera performance
  • 10W charging brick is so slow
  • itelOS 8.6.0 is clunky
  • No Netflix HD support

Rating

3.5/5 – Maganda na

Itel S23 4G delivers a solid entry-level device with competitive specs and value for money, if not for its mediocre camera quality and slow charging speed. Still, this solid offering will guarantee a head turn from consumers and enthusiasts alike.

Alternatives

TECNO Spark 10 – if you can shell in a little more cash, you get a better 50MP camera, an iPhone-esque design, 18W fast charger, at the cost of a slower Helio G37 chipset.

Infinix Hot 30i – Offering similar specs to itel S23 4G with a slightly better camera quality, the same Unisoc Tiger T606, but with a faster 18W charger, and an equally gorgeous back design for just Php300 more.

The itel S23 4G is officially priced at Php3,999 for its sole 4GB/128GB variant.

To see the specs for the itel S23 4G, click here: https://unboxdiaries.com/phones/itel-s23-4g/

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