uKit is an easy-to-use drag-and-drop website builder from Moscow-based Ucoz Media, the company behind the more developer-oriented uCoz CMS.
The service delivers all the core features you’d expect from a WYSIWYG website builder, including responsive templates, drag-and-drop content sections and page elements, a blogging system, web store and integration with a scattering of web apps and services (Ecwid, MailChimp, LiveChat, LiveAgent, SlideShare and more.)
These features don’t always have the power you’ll see elsewhere, and for instance the blog and web store are more suitable for novices and home users than demanding businesses. But uKit recognizes this in its low prices, which offer some real value.
uKit’s Premium plan, for instance (forget the name, it’s the most basic in the range), gives you unlimited pages, disk space and bandwidth, and allows building multiple websites. It doesn’t have uKit branding or any other major catches, yet costs from just $3.50 (£2.69) a month on a two-year plan, $4 if you pay annually.
The Premium+ plan adds live chat support, access to a commercial library of Premium templates and support for Goals in Google Analytics, and is priced from $7.00 (£3.08) a month.
The eCommerce plan adds uKit’s web store, with prices starting at a very low $8.40 (£6.46) a month.
uKit’s top-of-the-range Pro product includes the ability to design your own color schemes, and use custom HTML, a more basic feature which ideally we’d like to see included in all plans. Still, as it’s priced from $10.50 (£8.08) a month, many users may want to skip the more basic plans and sign up for Pro right away.
For comparison, the most basic Wix Connect Domain plan includes Wix ads and limits you to 1GB bandwidth, yet costs a relatively high £3 ($3.90) a month, while signing up for the Wix eCommerce plan lifts the price to £11 ($14.30). This does get you more features and a free domain for a year, but uKit still looks to be very competitively priced, and clearly deserves a closer look.
We’re a little tired of web hosts asking for our name, address, phone number and who-knows-what-else just for the privilege of signing up to their service, so it’s good to see uKit taking a more relaxed approach. Enter your email address, password, and the website immediately logs you in and kicks off the setup process. It couldn’t be much easier.
Website building starts by choosing a template. At first glance it seems there’s a lot to choose from, but then you realize many of them are near identical layouts with different background photos. Still, there’s enough to get by, including a selection of simple one-page sites, and we were able to preview and choose a good-looking example within a couple of minutes. If you change your mind, later, you can switch to another template without losing your content.
The setup wizard continued by prompting us for our business name, address, email, phone number, Skype name and social media links. This is used to automatically populate the various Contact fields on each template, but you can skip the step if you’re not interested.
Once the wizard was complete, it redirected us to the editor, which told us our website was ‘Loading.’ That would have been just fine, except the editor was still saying that five, ten and fifteen minutes later.
We fired off a message to support (more on that below), and received a recommendation to ‘go incognito or disable all browser extensions (first of all, adblockers.)’ We don’t remember ever reviewing another web service which couldn’t work with ad blockers, but this really did turn out to be the answer, and disabling our ad blocker for the ukit.com domain allowed us to start editing.
The uKit editor has a good-looking, clean and simple design which neatly organizes its many tools and options in a single left-hand sidebar. Page management, side building, colors, fonts, site backups and more, are all just a click or two away.
The bulk of the screen is used to preview the current page. Hovering your mouse over a page element displays a mini-toolbar telling you what it is, and listing actions you can perform on it, and left-clicking an item tells you more.
uKit pages are built from content blocks as well as individual page elements, so exploring the various toolbars reveals plenty of options. You can edit and reformat text, replace images, change background images, adjust block layouts, duplicate a block, copy it to another page, and more.
You can drag and drop most page elements within a block, but these can only be moved to approved positions (to the left of one object, above or below another.) Still, it gives you some flexibility, and the editor does a decent job of showing you where these drop points can be.
The current page is initially displayed in its desktop layout, but you can switch to tablet or mobile views in a click or two. Page blocks can be selectively hidden in the current view, and a few options are view-specific. You can set a complex high-res background for the desktop, for instance, but use something smaller and simpler for mobiles, hopefully speeding up load times.
Supported page widgets cover all the basics, including text, images, galleries, sliders, videos, maps, forms and social media buttons.
uKit gets more interesting with its Content widgets. Some of these are more advanced individual page elements (tables, a timer, a Google search box to search your site), while others combine basic widgets in useful ways to produce timelines, reviews, feature lists, site news and more.
While uKit can’t begin to compare with the extensibility of Wix, you do get integration with a few other web services and apps, including AddThis, uCalc, SlideShare, Ecwid, MailChimp, LiveChat and JivoChat. You may be able to add more by inserting some custom HTML, but this is only available in the Pro plan.
We completed our browsing at the Page Management screen, which also impressed us with its thoughtful design and attention to detail. This isn’t just about listing the current site pages and adding more; you can also rearrange pages, duplicate them, change their titles or Title, Description and Keywords meta tags.
uKit doesn’t excel in every area. There’s no right-click or keyboard shortcut support within the editor, for instance, and uKit’s widgets aren’t as numerous or configurable as you’ll see with Wix or Weebly. But there’s still a lot of power here, well presented and easy to use, and overall the editor gets a thumbs up from us.
uKit’s media handling features begin with its serviceable Image widget. It’s not the most advanced we’ve seen – there’s no integrated editor, for instance – but it covers the basics with support for zooming, cropping and captions, and left-click actions to display the image full-screen or follow a custom link.
You’re able to upload images from your local system, or grab them from any URL. Integration with depositphotos enables buying quality stock photos, and in an unusual touch, you’re able to import images from Facebook and the Russian social networking site VK.
A smart Gallery widget enables displaying multiple images in a grid, collage or slideshow, with captions optionally displayed under the image or when your mouse hovers over it. There’s no easy way to manage your pictures once they’re set up, so for instance, you can’t drag and drop to rearrange them, but generally it performs well.
A very configurable Slider provides a professional way to display your pictures, and allows you to tweak overlays, navigation methods, animations and more.
The Video widget also provides more functionality than usual. It supports video links from YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook, and allows you to control autoplay, playing of ‘related videos’, and the display of player controls, the video title and more.
Audio integration is much more basic, with uKit providing a simple way to embed the SoundCloud track player only.
The ability to connect to LinkedIn’s SlideShare is more unusual and interesting, giving you the ability to display presentations, documents, PDFs, videos and more.
It’s also good to see a custom File option. Drag and drop this onto a page and you get a Download button with the name of your file, a description and (optionally) file size, and you can have the file simply download, open in the current or a new browser window. It’s not perfect, so for instance you can’t configure a single widget to handle multiple files (you can add multiple widgets, but then have layout restrictions), but it’s good enough for simple applications, and more than you’ll get with many competitors.
Blog and e-commerce
It’s easy to miss uKit’s blogging platform, mostly because they’ve chosen to describe it as a ‘News’ page rather than a blog. But eventually we figured it out, and were ready to create our first post.
The blog gets off to a poor start with its basic editor, which restricts post content to text, images and videos. You can’t assign tags or categories to a post to help visitors find the content they need, and you can’t give a post a custom URL.
There are also some pluses, including YaShare and AddThis integration for social media sharing, comments support via Disqus, and the ability to schedule posts to be published automatically.
The most interesting feature is the blog’s ability to import up to 50 posts from your Facebook page. You could, in theory, use the import feature to grab content from Facebook, and never create any posts in uKit at all. That may be very convenient for some people, but as a pure blogging platform, uKit is very underpowered.
The web store is also very much basics-only, for instance with payments only covered by PayPal and the expensive Wallet One, but it’s hard to expect more at these low prices, and if your needs are simple, uKit could be good enough.
While UKit’s editor is polished and intelligently-designed, the web help system feels like more of an afterthought. There’s no clear Help link from within the editor, and although there’s a Help option in the dashboard, even that only gives you another link to a web FAQ.
We clicked the FAQ link anyway, and were directed to a Russian language version. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on behind the scenes, but it seems that uKit is using simple static links, rather than paying attention to the user’s location and current language. If so, that’s amateurish and unprofessional, especially as, if uKit had done the slightest testing, it would be very easy to spot.
Fortunately, the Russian support page makes it reasonably easy to spot the problem, and once we realized English support page didn’t work, either, we found that the support page without a language option finally got us to an English-language version.
Whether it was worth all this effort is open to question. There are some good articles, but not nearly enough. The ones you get aren’t always sensibly organized or titled, making it difficult to find the answers you need. And although we had reached the English-language version of the FAQ, the localization issues hadn’t entirely disappeared, with for instance the search engine displaying a Russian error message if we entered a keyword which wasn’t found.
If the website doesn’t have the information you need, reaching out to the support team should get you an answer. It took us a while to find out how to do this, as oddly it’s hidden behind a ‘Feedback’ menu item, but eventually we figured it out and fired off a question. This time there were no problems, language or otherwise, and within an hour a friendly and helpful answer arrived telling us everything we needed to know.
uKit still has plenty of work to do on its support, then, but, overall, there should be enough to help you cope with most situations, especially if you get the live chat support available with the Premium+ plan.
Great in some areas, weak in others, uKit is difficult to score. Still, if you’re looking for a website-building bargain, it’s probably worth a look.