Elephone S3 Quick Review — A Phone Bigger than its Price, Once Quality Assurance Issues Are Squashed
Elephone’s latest device has arrived at a very reasonable $200, trying its hand at a premium design for the price bracket. But packing a 2014 SoC and just a 2100 mAh battery, can it hold up to today’s alternate budget phones? I aimed to find out.
|Display||5.2″ IPS 1080 *1920 pixels (PPI=424)|
|Colours||Iron Gray/Champaign Gold/Silver/Rose Gold|
The official specs state 145g, I weighed the device and found it to weigh 22g more than this.
Design & Build Quality
Elephone have marketed the S3 as having zero bezel to the sides and I have to give it to them, they are very impressive bezels. I have always been an advocate for some bezel to the sides just for “gripability” — however, having had a chance to spend some time with this phone, I am happy to say I am sold on the concept and it has a great aesthetic. Only having the edge of the phone holding the display in place makes the phone appear very thin and much taller than it actually is, giving the impression of a much larger display than the 5.2” affair included, which is good for users with a preference towards using their phone one handed. A thick layer of 2.5D glass sits upon the display and while it looks and feels great it also casts a shadow on the screen below it near to the earpiece, and one of the sides depending on where your nearest light source is. The feel of the 2.5D glass far outweighs the slight distraction of the shadow. Because of the quite-thick layer, the screen curves sharply at the edges. This makes the phone easier to hold, however, given the very narrow edges. It gives a similar (but less premium) feeling to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, without an actual curve to the display, although it does distort the image at the edge giving it the appearance of a slight curve.
Unfortunately, the screen has some instantly noticeable flaws. Upon turning on the device for the first time, a single dead pixel stood out glaringly against the black of the boot animation and stayed there with a permanent green against an otherwise clear and vibrant display. The second major issue with the display is with the edge, it is apparent that the display has been pried into place during manufacturing due to small fractures in groups along the right-hand side of the display. Through these tiny cracks along the narrow bezel light constantly bleeds through, really making them stand out even in sunlight.
This minor damage concerns me as they could be potential starting points for cracks after a gentle knock at some point in the future, however, this is pure concern and I have no way of saying for sure. These two issues are the only flaws in otherwise solid build quality. I was more let down by this than I normally would be, every OEM has the occasional faulty device which is most often dealt with a return and replacement, however, I have also seen the Elephone site where when describing the S3 they had the following to say:
“In order to create the true bezel-less design, the difficulty in craftship was ignored, even if the rate of non-defective product was 10% and the product costs increased by 900%. Any impossible is worthy to become the impossibility through our efforts for giving you a perfect visual experience.”
The message that I (possibly mistakenly) took from this was that their QC would be exceptional and I would be assured an all round sturdy a non-defective product, but that simply was not the case. This was why receiving a usable-but-defective device let me down more than it would have normally, where a return and replacement would be the usual solution.
Adorning the back are the square camera, flash and fingerprint sensor. The camera protrudes just a mm while the fingerprint sensor and flash are inlaid ever so slightly. The choice to go with a square for each of these certainly highlights them against the curve of the back. On the bottom of the device, you will find 2 grills of 6 holes, with a speaker behind the right-hand one (yes, it’s that bad practice again). Between these is the micro USB port capable of charging at 2A. The sides of the device are flat and slightly chamfered at the back, and bring to mind images of other popular devices, which here is by no means a bad thing. It ultimately looks well-built and professional.The phone itself feels very solid, with the metal back not giving at all. There are no apparent rattles or movement within the unit (we have to point this out for budget phones), the power and volume buttons sit well in the unit and can be described as very “clicky” giving a definite tactile feel when pressed. On the other side of the unit lays the SIM tray which thankfully sits perfectly flush to the side of the phone. The antennae bands are flush against the unit and while they are visible they cannot be felt when running a finger down the back of the unit merging seamlessly with the sand-blasted “anodic oxidated” back.
All in all the phone looks and feels great, the small screen size coupled with the exceptionally-crafted body give off an elegance rarely seen from phones in this price bracket. But like when someone tells you not to think of something, try as I might I can’t stop noticing that single green pixel, or those flaws in the screen. I assume these defects will be a deal breaker to many of you, so keep in mind they might just creep up on your unit.
Software & UX
As far as the software is concerned, I found the entire experience to be enjoyable as the ROM is very close to the concept of stock. An outlier is Elephone’s custom launcher, which is similar in many regards to Xiaomi’s MIUI and Huawei’s EMUI, both which feature square icons and lack an app drawer does not have to be used and is not set as default, meaning upon the first boot it asks whether you wish to use Google’s Launcher3 or Ele Launcher. I’m sure that, like myself, many readers here will have a preferred custom launcher anyway; as the Google Play Store is included (a common grey area for Chinese OEMs), if I were to continue using this device I would likely never see either of these launchers again regardless. Although Ele Launcher has just enough bugs for me to want to avoid it as possible (see below).
A feature I quickly learned to appreciate was the ability to swipe left and right on the fingerprint sensor to cycle through homescreens of the Ele Launcher. Utilizing the fingerprint sensor for simple navigation is one of my favorite features from Huawei’s EMUI where it allows the opening and closing of the notification tray. Something I would love to see in future updates is the ability to scroll using just the fingerprint sensor.
Launcher aside, the phone is very lightweight when it comes to software, there are only two additional apps present on the device that could even come close to being called bloatware. The first is “ELE Xender” (14MB), which as far as I can tell is just Anmobi’s Xender app, which can be used to transfer files quickly between devices at a speed faster than Bluetooth without using WiFi or Mobile data. I am not sure the significance of the ELE at the beginning of the name and can only assume it is part of a licensing deal. The second additional app is “Service” (5.6MB) an app that brings up a contact form for Elephone and options to open their forums and website, which could be useful if you ever have a question for them but is likely going to be left unused in the vast majority of cases; nevertheeless, it’s good for filing bug reports quickly and simply (and for this you might need it). Both apps can be disabled but not uninstalled without root (if Elephone’s previous devices are anything to go by, rooting is as simple as flashing TWRP and then Super SU).
The S3 ships with the 2014 MTK6753 SoC, comparable to the Snapdragon 615 with a few minor differences, including a limitation of just 1920*1080 when recording due to the Mali T720 GPU. One benefit of a MTK processor is the inclusion of some additional features not typically found built into Snapdragon, Kirin or Exynos devices, which include scheduled Power On & Off, which lets your phone turn itself off and then back on again according to your schedule.
Finally, 3GB of RAM is adequate for all most all day-to-day usage and while it may appear to be low next to the likes of the OnePlus 3 which showcase 6GB, it is still worth remembering devices such as last year’s Samsung Galaxy S6 had the same amount of RAM. Storage is limited to just 16GB (12GB usable), however it can be expanded by an additional 128GB using the SD card slot located in the SIM tray.
For general usage, while scrolling or typing the phone runs smooth, start to perform other tasks such as entering sub-menus or apps and you will begin to see skipped frames and jumps.
The S3 is not likely to see a huge development backing, long term OTA updates or security updates, however at just $200 the device certainly does look and feel like a far more expensive phone. The combination of close-to-stock Android and smooth performance gives a very enjoyable experience; however, I was unable to shake my disappointment at the issues with the display and some of its bug. I would have expected better from Elephone, frankly. The extremely low capacity battery allows for light usage all day, but if you plan on attempting to run games or other power intensive apps (like Pokemon Go) then don’t expect it to last you past the evening.Buy an Elephone S3!