Unihertz Jelly Star Review: There’s nothing like this gorgeous tiny Android phone

Have you ever missed the old days around the turn of the century when smartphones were designed to fit in your hand and actually be usable with that hand? In 2004, the i-mate JAM was the talk of the town in the tech world for being small and powerful. That was one of my favorite smartphones ever. Don’t you wish there were some modern smartphones that weren’t giant slabs of the touchscreen but could still run all the latest software? I do. You can still get dumb-phones that are designed for ergonomics and usability, but the choices are slim when it comes to high-end Android or Apple smartphones. Thank goodness for the Unihertz Jelly Star! This phone is actually comfortably usable with one hand due to its jelly bean shape and small screen while also being very capable in all smartphone functions (as well as a few that are no longer possible on certain other flagship phones.)

Unihertz Jelly Star

8.50 / 10

The Jelly Star may be the only fully functional Android phone that fits entirely in the palm of your hand while actually being quite usable.

SPECIFICATIONS
  • Dimensions: 95.1 × 49.6 × 18.7mm
  • Screen Size: 3 inch, 480 × 854 pixels
  • Operating System: Android 13
  • Brand: Unihertz
  • BATTERY: 2000 mAh battery
  • CAMERAS: 48MP rear AF, 8MP front FF
  • PROCESSOR: Helio G99 Octa-Core 2.0-2.2GHz
  • CHARGING: 10 Watt
  • Weight: 116 g
  • Bands: 2G GSM (Band 2/3/5/8) 3G WCDMA (Band 1/2/4/5/6/8/19) 3G CDMA2000 (Band BC0/BC1), 4G FDD-LTE (Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/18/19/20/25/26/28A/28B/66) 4G TDD-LTE (Band 34/38/39/40/41)
  • NFC: Yes
  • Sensors: Fingerprint (back-Mounted), G-Sensor, Compass Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light Sensor
  • Wireless Charging: No
  • Infrared Port: Yes
  • 3.5mm Headphone Jack: Yes
  • FM Radio: Yes
  • Memory: 8GB + 256GB UFS 2.2 + MicroSD expansion
PROS
  • Extremely small & pocket friendly
  • One-handed usability (a single thumb can reach everything comfortably)
  • Beautiful clear body with bright LED notification lights
  • Can do just about everything a full sized Android 13 phone can do
  • MicroSD card storage expansion support
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • Infrared port for universal remote control
  • Front facing camera outputs RAW
  • 48MP camera with RAW output
  • Ergonomic to hold
CONS
  • Small screen may make some apps difficult to use/read
  • Speaker audio quality isn’t great
  • Only 1 rear camera
  • No 5G network support
Unihertz Jelly Star

Pricing and Availability

The Unihertz Jelly Star is now available to purchase. You can place your order using the links given above. This compact smartphone is available in the US and Canada, the EU, the UK, Asia, the Middle East, and most major markets across the globe. You can also choose between two colors; red or blue.

What’s in the box

The small box is well packed and includes the Unihertz Jelly Star, USB C data/charging cable, AC USB adapter, and a lanyard. Mine included an extra AC USB adapter separately outside the box, but that was an accident since this is an unreleased early model. I like that a lanyard is included, but I wasn’t able to figure out how to attach it as the lanyard thread is too big for any of the holes in the phone. It turns out Unihertz will make a case for the phone that the lanyard will attach to, but the case does not exist yet at the time of this review.

Design

  • Gorgeous jelly bean design with transparent plastic and bright LED notification lights
  • Extremely ergonomic; unbelievably comfortable to hold in one hand
  • Extremely small and pocket friendly

I love the clear plastic casing that shows off the internals while also having a gorgeous red tint. This phone looks very unique! You can see a little metal pill-shaped extrusion that houses the camera, flashlight, and fingerprint sensor. The capacitive fingerprint sensor works great; much better than some of the new in-display fingerprint sensors. I quick touch of that spot on the back will instantly unlock the phone. It’s super easy to feel for too since the raised piece and capacitive sensor have a distinct feel. You don’t have to look for the fingerprint sensor location like you do with those hidden in-display sensors that most modern flagship phones have.

On the right edge, the red button at the top is the power/sleep button. You can double press it to launch the camera right away. The black button below that is a programmable hardware button. Yes, you heard that right! I LOVE seeing this! Back in the turn of the century almost all smartphones had programmable hardware buttons (and more than one in many cases). Why are these so good? Well, with hardware buttons you can actually feel their locations without having to look at the device. You can locate them with your fingers. By having the buttons programmable, you can choose the function or functions that you want the hardware button to carry out. This is a HUGE factor in improving ease of use.

By default, the Unihertz Jelly Star’s programmable button is set to call recording with a single press, LED light switch with a double press, and flashlight with a long press. It also works as a camera shutter button when the camera app is active (which I also love).

You’ll also see a red shiny piece on this right edge of the phone. That’s the SIM card tray and we’ll show you something awesome about that a little later. Then there’s the USB-C charging port which is also good for data transfer like loading the device with MP3 music.

The bottom edge only has some speaker holes, a microphone hole, and a little screw that must be holding everything together.

On the left edge we’ve got more of that gorgeous smooth rounded plastic along with a volume up/down toggle switch.

The top edge looks mostly barren, but there’s two holes there that put this phone above many other much more-expensive, much-larger flagship phones. The big hole is a 3.5mm headset jack which gives you a reliable audio & microphone connection to the phone. It works great with Google Assistant and FM radio apps too! The little hole is a consumer grade infrared port that lets you use the phone as a universal remote control.

The Unihertz Jelly Star is incredibly comfortable to hold in one hand. It just fits perfectly. Holding larger phones feels so awkward and cumbersome by comparison.

Above is a look at how the Jelly Star compares in size to a Xiaomi 13 Ultra on the right and a Nokia 3300 dumb phone on the left. The Jelly Star is surprisingly so much smaller and so much more powerful than the Nokia dumb phone!

There are some very bright decorative LED lights on the back inside the clear plastic. They can be set to flash while playing music, or to indicate notifications, phone calls, or you can just turn them on manually.

There’s a brightness control for the curvy lights on the back and they can be really bright, even outdoors in direct sunlight.

The display itself doesn’t get bright enough outdoors though. It can be very difficult to see in direct sunlight, so you may need to find some shade in order to use this outside.

What’s that in the picture above? Yes, that’s right! It even has a MicroSD card slot for storage expansion! This tray can be used for either two Nano SIM cards if you want two phone service activations. Or one MicroSD card and one Nano SIM card. The phone itself already has 256Gb of storage, which is a really good amount, but maybe you want to put an extra Terabyte of storage in there. No problem, get one for cheap on Amazon and pop it in.

Whenever you hear another phone manufacturer like Apple or Samsung say that there’s no room for storage expansion slots or 3.5mm headset jacks in their phones, that excuse seems very unconvincing when you see this Unihertz Jelly Star packing all of that into something much smaller than what those other guys are doing.

Camera

I kind of expected the camera to be pretty terrible on this phone since I was originally equating it with dumb phones like the Nokia 3300. It turns out that the 48 megapixel rear camera is actually not that bad! It’s not the best camera in the world, but it’s really not bad. The camera software doesn’t have many fancy bells and whistles like filters or HDR or whatnot and there’s only one camera as opposed to the array of lenses that we see on other larger phones… BUT… there’s one huge advantage for photographers in this camera software, and that’s the fact that it can output to RAW DNG format!

The RAW DNG format gives you the straight sensor data without any destructive JPG compression or processing that you normally get by default. That means you can have full control over the post-processing and we all know that 50% of good photography is in the post-processing.

With the RAW DNG files, if you copy them to a computer (I like to use the old File Transfer Protocol using the FTP server in Material Files since FTP works on everything) with a larger higher quality screen, then you can edit these files in advanced RAW photo editing software like Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, RawTherapee, Darktable, etc. You COULD install Adobe Lightroom mobile on the phone and edit the RAW files there with a similar amount of flexibility, but trying to do that on a tiny 3″ screen is going to be painful, so I highly recommend moving them to a desktop computer where you can really see the pictures. While the rear camera is technically 48 megapixels, it’s a quad-bayer sensor which really outputs to only 12 megapixels. That’s still ok though, the RAW files are nicely editable afterwards. If you zoom in by about 400%, you’ll see that the photos do tend to have a lot of noise, but again with RAW I have the ability to use a much wider variety of de-noising tools and even some AI model-based noise reduction tools that aren’t available on in-phone software. In very low-light photos, as you’ll see in the examples below, the noise gets very pronounced. In other words, you’re much better off shooting in RAW format with this phone; the JPGs are not particularly well processed with highlights being frequently blown out, but the RAW files provide quite a bit more flexibility in getting more detail out of the highlights and shadows that the normal JPGs don’t provide.

On the rear camera, sometimes the auto-focus isn’t very fast, so you have to pay attention to the AF circle indicator on the screen to make sure it finishes focusing before you move the phone. A few times, I pressed the shutter button and then walked away thinking the camera took the picture instantly (as it often does), but instead I got photos of the ground or feet because I didn’t wait for the auto-focus to finish focusing. So I’ve learned to hold steady until I see the photo show up in the little view gallery icon in the corner, that way I know the picture I wanted to take was saved.

The front facing camera is only 8 megapixels, so I didn’t expect to be impressed with that either, but guess what.. it also outputs to RAW DNG format (if I turn on that setting), and OMG they’re beautifully editable in my camera raw tools. Again, the JPGs are not great with a narrow dynamic range, but being able to push the dynamic range in RAW photo editing programs makes the front facing camera much more useful.

Software

The Unihertz Jelly Star comes with Android 13 and the launcher is pretty bare-bones, which is good. A gesture navigation mode is turned on by default, but there are three back, home, task switcher capacitive buttons at the bottom of the phone in case you prefer that. I do prefer the buttons because they’re easier to use since it only requires a point and tap where-as gesture navigation requires a point, tap, move. Gesture navigation gets in the way of app navigation frequently as well especially with apps that have a side edge gesture for showing more navigation panels, so I turned off the system gesture navigation completely.

The Jelly Star includes an FM Radio app that works very nicely when a wired headset jack is plugged in. Did I mention this phone has a standard 3.5mm headset jack that has gone missing on other manufacturer flagship phones? The FM radio software nicely shows station names, lets you favorite stations for quick access, and even lets you record audio from radio stations just like the tape decks people used in the 1980’s.

The Jelly Star also includes a universal remote app that lets you use the Infrared Port to control basically anything that supports infrared remotes. I have a TV that is almost never listed in these universal remote programs, but the one on the Jelly Star actually works.

There’s a custom setting section for the LED lights on the back of the phone. You can change the brightness here and customize when the lights automatically go off. You can set them to flash with phone calls, notifications, playing music, charging, and you can even set a timed schedule to disable the lights.

Since the screen is so small, typing on a touch keyboard may be a bit frustrating. With the included Gboard, the prediction actually works very well, but I do make typos more often than I would with a larger phone. That’s ok, speech to text also works really well as does the Google Assistant voice interface. I certainly find myself using the voice recognition options more often given the small screen here.

Web browsing on a 3 inch screen certainly works, but things may be difficult to read depending on the age and quality of your eyeballs. Yes, just about all websites these days are designed to be mobile friendly and browsers always have settings to make the type bigger, so that helps a lot, but sometimes some websites disable the ability to scale font sizes on their mobile sites thinking that most screens are big enough these days. Still, Chrome also includes an option to force zooming capabilities so you can use that to help with the small type too.

Battery

Battery life is on the totally-acceptable side. The 2000 mAh battery keeps everything going for about a day or a day and a half depending on your usage. I tend to go for about 20 hours before recharging. You’re probably not going to be doom scrolling through Instagram and Tic Tok all day with this phone because it’s got such a small screen, so that will help a lot with your mental health and battery life.

Conclusion

I keep expecting there to be a big downside somewhere for this phone, but everything is surprisingly good or totally acceptable! There’s a trend towards digital minimalism these days where many people have been switching to dumb phones in order to get rid of all of the addicting apps that are designed to be time-sucks on your life and have been thought to contribute to mental health problems. (See: Gen Z FINALLY Makes A Good Call – YouTube) Yes, it’s true that managing a bunch of messaging apps and social media apps designed to keep your attention away from other things temporarily causes cognitive decline (makes you dumber) (See: How Much Time and Energy Do We Waste Toggling Between Applications? (hbr.org)), but there are a lot of really useful things that smartphones can do too. With the Unihertz Jelly Star, you can take digital minimalism literal by just making it all smaller. Sure, you can still do everything a larger Android phone can do; you can install TikTok and Instagram and Telegram and all of those other social media addiction apps, but it’s just smaller.

Honestly, I’ve kind of fallen in love with the Unihertz Jelly Star. It literally fits into the palm of my hand! All the other phones out there have huge screens that stick out too far and are very cumbersome to use while holding the device with one hand. Not only is it small and very pocket friendly, but it has some nice features that aren’t even available on $1000-$2000+ devices (headset jack, MicroSD card slot). The price is very affordable too. You might want to strongly consider the Jelly Star as a phone to switch to during times that you want to literally minimize your smartphone usage and spend more time in the real world. Personally, I love using it on bicycle rides as it fits much more comfortably into small pockets yet still handles a Garmin smartwatch connection, NFC payments, map navigation, music player, and decent photography.

Hand modeling in first photo by Mimi.

This review was first published on Unihertz Jelly Star Review: There’s nothing like this gorgeous tiny Android phone (pocketnow.com)

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