iTel S16 review – The misunderstood budget smartphone

If you’ve been searching for a budget smartphone, you’ve probably come across the iTel S16 and some of the rather scathing reviews that have been making the rounds.  I finally got my hands on the phone, and I have an opinion; it’s not the devil most people assume it is, and I’ll tell you why I think so.

Before I do that, let’s go through the basics of the device.

If you’d rather just hear my final opinion, skip to the ‘should you buy the iTel S16’ segment at the end of this review.

iTel S16 – What’s in the box

iTel S16 - what's in the box
You get a 5W charger, a USB cable, an earphone, and a clear TPU case (not shown here).
There’s no SIM ejector tool because the iTel S16 comes with a removable back.

Inside the S16’s packaging, you get the phone itself, a 5W (not a fast charger) charging brick, one USB cable, an earphone, and a clear TPU case. The phone comes plastered with a thin screen protector, and there’s no SIM ejector tool since it has a removable cover.

iTel S16 – Design and build quality

A plastic build that works

Full back view of the iTel S16
Plastic looks good on the iTel S16 and overall the phone looks and feels solid

Like many other smartphones in the iTel lineup, the S16 spots an all-plastic build. I’ve said a lot of things about plastic builds on many other phones, but on the S16, plastic looks and feels great.

Simple and elegant

iTel S16 side view
The iTel S16 has that elegantly sophisticated look ,all thanks to its minimalist design.

What iTel has managed to do is keep everything simple. There’s no vainly bold design cues, no awkwardly placed camera bump, no shiny back, or any of that glitzy stuff. It’s the simple, plain, tried, and trusted smartphone configuration, and for this phone, simplicity is sophistication.

Of course, plastic is more prone to scratches and everyday wear and tear, so the iTel S16 will age faster than something with a glass and metal chassis, but then again, no glass back means the iTel S16 will handle falls better.

iTel S16 teardrop notch
The iTel S16 has a beautifully placed teardrop notch that complements the overall design of the phone

On the front of the iTel S16 is a 5.99-inch display interrupted up top by a teardrop notch.

Thick bezels that fit the overall design of the phone

Sideways on the right, you’ll find a solid clicking volume rocker and a less solid power button. There are bezels, and they’re quite noticeable, and if you look down, there’s a massive chin too. But, everything fits with the overall design language of this phone.

iTel S16 – Specs and performance

Processor, RAM and storage

The iTel S16 ships with just 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, all powered by a 1.3GHz quad-core Spreadtrum chipset. It’s all mediocre in the specs department, and, if I’m being honest, this mediocrity is palpable from the get-go.

There were visible lags and stutters as I set up the phone for the first time, and even after setting up, the lags persisted. The phone feels slow to use all round, and it doesn’t help that it comes with an insane amount of bloatware. Disabling these extra apps seemed to take performance up one step.

1GB of RAM

1GB of RAM in 2020 is almost a sacrilege, and the iTel S16 multitasking abilities bear all the brunt for this rather ill-advised move. Make no mistake; this phone won’t open 50 tabs at once without dipping in performance. There’s a noticeable stutter whenever you open an extra tab. On standby, with all apps closed, the phone has only about 500MB of RAM to work with; system processes gobble up the rest.

AnTuTu Benchmark

Screenshot of iTel S16 AnTuTu Benchmark scores
The iTel S16 scores very low on the AnTuTu Benchmark, but no surprises here.

On the AnTuTu benchmark, the Itel S16 scored a measly 36,309 points, which is expected given its low tier hardware.

iTel S16 – Camera quality

Good in well-lit conditions

Image of the iTel S16 AI Triple Camera
The iTel S16 comes with an 8MP main camera, 2MP macro, 0.3MP depth sensor.

The camera setup on the iTel S16 takes fairly decent photos provided you shoot in well-lit conditions. In darker settings – as would be indoor environments or at night – picture quality drops from okayish to poor. But that’s no surprise; the triple camera system on the S16 is comprised of an 8MP primary shooter with a mediocre aperture size of F3.0.

Selfie taken using the iTel S16
Images taken with the 8MP selfie camera come out sharp with a decent amount of bokeh. Fair to note that there’s a tendency for the beauty filter to go overboard in some scenes.

On the front, you’ll also find an 8MP shooter with an aperture size of F3.0. As was the case with the back camera, pictures taken with this front shooter look a bit good in well-lit conditions, especially with the AI beauty filter turned on. In dark conditions, picture quality drops significantly.  

Video quality

The iTel S16 can shoot HD 1280p x 720p videos at 30fps. Surprisingly the phone ships with digital image stabilization tech, so footage from video shoots appears less shaky than you’d get on competitor phones. Overall, video quality is okay but again, that only applies to well-lit conditions.

iTel S16 – Display quality

Image of the iTel S16's 5.99 inch HD Plus screen
The iTel S16’s IPS display produces clear images with the one major drawback being that they tend to be washed out

With the S16, you get a 5.99 inch HD Plus screen with an actual resolution of 1600 x 720 pixels and a screen refresh rate of 60Hz. Pixel density is a healthy 293 PPI. These are all decent specs as far as display tech is concerned, and on a scale of 1-10, I’d rate the S16’s display as a weak 6.

Images are sharp but, on the downside, they look washed out with poor vibrancy and little to no depth. Considering that this is an IPS panel on a budget phone, I’m not surprised. The only stand out feature with the screen I’d say is the screen brightness. Using this phone outdoors is not an issue.

iTel S16 – Battery capacity

The battery department is where the Itel S16 goes from okayish to very good. Onboard the phone is a 4000mAh battery that’s capable of powering the phone through a day and a half.

screenshot of the iTel S16's battery performance after approximately 8 hours of usage
Battery performance of the iTel S16 after approximately 8 hours of usage

With a screen on time of about 2 hours and a standby time of another 7 hours, the battery only dropped 23% after a full charge, leaving 77% of battery life that the phone’s battery monitor says will last another  1 day and 12 hours.

No fast charging

There’s no fast charging support for the iTel S16, and in the box, you’ll only find a 5W charging brick that plugs into the phone through a USB 2.0 port.

iTel S16 – Pricing and availability

The iTel S16 is available online on stores like Jumia and Konga and offline on authorized retail stores. Right now, the recommended retail price for the device is 30,000 Naira or $65. That’s about the cheapest price for an Android smartphone in today’s market, but as you’ve probably noticed, the pricing reflects on the capabilities of the phone.

iTel S16 – What’s not to like

A lot actually, but the most significant ones are:  

  • The iTel S16 ships with Android 10 Go, which is basically the stripped-down version of the regular Android 10 for devices (like the iTel S16) with low-tier specs. Stripped down means you don’t get the full complement of features you’d normally find on regular Android 10. I know for one that Android Go doesn’t support USB OTG by default.
  • The phone lags, and it lags a lot. Everything from opening a power-intensive app to minimizing said power-intensive app produces a stutter. It’s not a phone for heavy lifters, that’s for sure.
  • There’s no USB C. Like the decision to pack in just 1GB of RAM, the lack of USB C on a late 2020 phone is mindboggling.

Bottom line – should you buy the iTel S16?

Like I hinted at the start of this review, even with the less than exciting traits of this phone, I have a different overall opinion on the iTel S16. Is it an excellent phone? Far from that. Is it at least decent? Maybe. Should you buy it? Maybe.

You see, the thing with the iTel S16 is it was never meant to be a performance-oriented smartphone. At best, this is an entry-level Android phone, with entry-level specifications and an entry-level price to match. For just 30,000 Naira ($65), you get:

What is a fantastic build, an excellent battery, an okayish camera, and a RAM and processor that’s enough to power you through the basic everyday smartphone tasks.

It won’t run PUBG at high definition; heck, it probably won’t start PUBG at all, but what this will do is handle routine smartphone business like making calls, surfing the web, watching one or two YouTube videos with ease.

To summarize, if you’re a parent looking for a basic smartphone for your teenager or just looking for something of a standby phone that does the basics well, then this is a worthy consideration. At 30,000 Naira, it’ll be hard to find something better in the current market.

Comments are closed.