Breaking into the crowded Indian smartphone market for any company is tough, more so for a new Chinese player. There has been a deluge of Chinese entrants to India over the past couple of years, but other than Xiaomi (and OnePlus), no one has really managed to get a significant mindshare from the Indian consumers. And Xiaomi did that with what they know best – disruptive pricing. Well, that’s precisely what LeEco (previously known as LeTV) has done with their very first offering, the Le 1s. Before they even announced the pricing, LeEco had managed to create quite a hype with their aggressive social media campaigns and fan meet ups. So is the phone all about hype and the price? We try to find out in our LeEco Le 1s review.

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Back in 2014, when Xiaomi launched the Mi3, the crowd in the presser had their jaws dropping hearing the price. It was no different two weeks back, when LeEco (pronounced as La Eco) announced that the Le 1s (pronounced as La 1s) is priced at Rs 10,999 (~$160), that’s still lesser than the 1099 RMB price in China. But how’s that a disruptive pricing? Let’s just look at what we have on offer here – a 5.5-inch Full HD display, 2.2 GHz Helio X10 Turbo processor with 3GB of RAM (yes, the same combination we saw on HTC One M9+), 32GB of internal storage, 13MP + 5MP cameras, a fingerprint scanner, an IR blaster, Dual SIM with dual 4G LTE support and USB Type-C quick charging, all enclosed in full metal unibody. With eyes closed, this has to be the most powerful and spec heavy smartphone below Rs 15,000 ‘on paper’. But does these specifications translate into raw performance? Before finding that out, let’s have a look at the design of Le 1s.

Design

LeEco has consistently churned out beautifully designed smartphones from the beginning and Le 1s follows the same design language. Full metal unibody with pretty narrow bezels on both sides. The back is flat but curves ever so lightly at the edges which helps with the gripping. We have seen quite a few metal unibody mid-range smartphones in recent times, but must say that the Le 1s has one of the most premium builds. LeEco has gone for symmetric design, which means that the USB Type-C port is flanked by speaker grilles on either sides, with just the left one being a dummy. Same with the top front of the device where the earpiece is flanked by the 5MP front camera with a wide-angle lens on the right and a proximity sensor on the left. The LED notification light is hidden on the top left corner. The bottom houses the usual three capacitive keys, which are thankfully backlit. On the back we have the 13MP camera with a single LED flash on the top left, with the secondary noise cancellation microphone next to them. Below that is the fingerprint scanner with a mirror finish to it. Although it looks good, we got fed up of cleaning up the fingerprints on it every now and then. The volume rockers and power button are placed on the right and they provide nice tactile feedback. While we love the placement of the power button, would have preferred the volume rockers on the left for better accessibility. But that’s just a nitpicking maybe! The real compromise however is the lack of microSD slot on the Le 1s. LeEco has gone with a bigger 32GB base model, but has skipped the external storage option.

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We had seen some people complaining about the phone being slippery, but on the contrary, in our usage spanning a couple of weeks, we didn’t feel the necessity to use a case. If you are new to metallic smartphones, it might take a while to get the grip (no pun intended), but the chamfered edges and the slight curve on the back makes Le 1s a delight to hold in the hands. We have got the rose gold color variant (another option being silver), and we had a few people giving a second glance when using the phone in public places. All in all, the Le 1s has to be one of the most beautiful phones with a thoughtful design in this price segment.

Display

The Full HD screen on the Le 1s has to be one of its strong points. The 5.5-inch screen has a pixel density of 403PPI, but it’s the 500 nits brightness that makes it stand apart. The screen looks gorgeous, bright and vivid, but the color reproduction is a bit off. Thankfully, LeEco provides with various display modes – Vivid, Natural, Soft and the default Letv mode, so users can choose the one to their liking. When the screen is off, the side bezels are almost invisible, and even with the screen on, they are pretty narrow to give a nice immersive experience. It was a pleasure using the screen outdoors, even under the direct sunlight. Viewing angles are excellent as well, and the overall touchscreen experience was top notch. There’s a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection on top which should be good enough to protect the screen from basic scratches.

Software

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Much like most Chinese OEMs, LeEco is still stuck with Android Lollipop 5.0.2. There is a custom skin called Eco UI (EUI) 5.5 running on top of it. The user interface is quite different from stock Android. For instance, dripping down from top brings the notification panel, but the usual quick setting panel is missing. For that, one has to click on the multitasking capacitive key which brings up a crowded screen housing quick settings like access to flashlight, camera, calculator, music controls, brightness controls and more, in addition to the multitasking windows arranged like on iOS. For some reason, LeEco doesn’t think it’s important to provide shortcut for Settings, which we have come to use to on stock Android, MIUI, CM and almost every other ROM out there. It took a while for us to get used to this new way of accessing the quick settings, and honestly, we don’t see any significant upsides in this implementation other than the long learning curve.

The EUI is quite sober in looks as compared to other Chinese ROMs like MIUI, Vibe UI, Emotion UI, Color OS and others. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It gives a professional look and feel for the icons and fonts. There are a handful of neat themes to play with if you don’t like the default look, but aren’t widely different in reality. The EUI comes with plenty of customization like app permissions, scheduling to power on and power off the device (first time we are seeing this in any device), single hand lockscreen, ability to arrange the icons in quick settings, controlling what notifications can appear on lock screen, adjusting the size and distribution of content displayed on the screen, smart enhancement of screen saturation while playing videos and changing the system font size. Oddly enough, the contacts app doesn’t support ‘Favorites’, something we saw on an Android phone for the first time.

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And one special feature on Le 1s which makes it stand out against the competition is the presence of the IR blaster. The default Remote Control app has option to control various devices like TV, Air Conditioner and projector, but the support for brands/models is pretty minimal. Sadly, LeEco has decided not to provide access to its IR to third party remote control app. But thankfully, one can manually configure it by pointing the existing remote and using the Universal Remote option. It’s pretty simple, but we can probably do a separate guide on this later.

The real selling point for LeEco in China is its strong content ecosystem. The company started as a video streaming service a decade back and has a huge repository of movies and TV shows for its Chinese audience. In India, they have teamed up with Eros and Yupp TV for the same. But sadly, that’s nowhere close to what they offer in China, and we believe LeEco needs to tied up with more content providers and bring more content in order to replicate the humongous success they have had in China over the past year or so.

Performance

So all those specs on paper and software tricks don’t mean much if the phone doesn’t perform well in real world usage. Thankfully, the Le 1s is more than a decent performer. The Helio X10 MT6795T paired with Power VR G6200 GPU and 3GB RAM could handle most tasks we threw at it. The gaming performance was good. It could handle graphic intensive games like Asphalt 8, Mortal Combat and Dead Trigger 2 with ease – not something we are used to seeing with phones in this price range. That edge-to-edge (well, almost) display paired with decent loudspeakers provided nice and immersive gaming experience. Having said that, the phone did heat up quite a bit when pushed with elongated gaming sessions, although not uncomfortable to hold.

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And a couple of issues to note here. The UI transitions when launching apps and switching between them can get a bit laggy with multiple apps running in the background. This is particularly noticeable when opening the camera and gallery apps. It’s hard to notice at first, but once you do, it’s hard to ignore those minor lags. It’s probably something to do with the heavy EUI skin. At times, we have seen the software hogging over 2.7GB of the available 3GB of RAM, and even after a restart not more than a GB of RAM is free to use. That’s heavy!

This aggressive usage of RAM is possibly responsible for random killing of background apps. We have had WhatsApp notifications not coming through a couple of times, and we realized that only after reopening the app to get a barrage of notifications. Personally, this is very irritating, and something that spoils an otherwise stable software experience. Hopefully, LeEco will be able to fix it in its future updates. On a related note, the battery performance has been stunning in our usage over the past two weeks. The 3000mAh battery can easily last through a day of medium to heavy usage, with screen on time ranging from 4 to 5 hours depending upon the usage. And not to forget, it comes with fast charging support via the USB Type-C port, which is a big deal for a non-flagship smartphone.

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The Le 1s comes with dual SIM support with both SIMs supporting 4G LTE in India (no VoLTE support though). By default, it has 32GB of internal storage, but no support for microSD slots. The phone offers the latest 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 support, something not we usually see in phones at this price point. Sadly, no support for FM Radio though. Call quality and signal reception were decent.

Camera

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Le 1s comes with a 13 megapixel sensor on the rear with Samsung ISO Cell technology and F2.0 aperture, PDAF (Phase Detection Auto Focus) and single LED flash. As good as the spec sheet reads, the actual performance of this camera was a mixed bag. In broad daylight, the camera was super quick to lock focus and capture the image. The color reproduction isn’t the best as the software tries to oversaturate some colors. But images come out sharp with details not missing out. Macros specially come out really good. But the Le 1s camera isn’t perfect. It struggles with the exposure and lens flares. Direct light in the background can really mess up the shots, but thankfully, there is an option to meddle with the Exposure, ISO and white balance, which can help to an extent. Basically, you got to be patient with the Le 1s camera, then you can take some real good pictures.

The camera UI could have been better. It uses iOS like tabs for Photo, Video, Pano and Slo-Mo, and has a shortcut on bottom right for Instagram-like filters with live view. HDR mode, night mode and other scene modes are hidden under a small hyphen. I had completely missed the existence of these modes till I was alerted by some folks on Twitter. The performance in low light mimics the daylight performance, with some stunning macros, and terrible shots involving light in the background. Interestingly, Le 1s has to be the cheapest smartphone to capture 4K videos. LeEco is using the latest H.265/HEVC codec for its 4K mp4 files which play well on newer 4K TVs, but not yet supported on most other devices and video editing software. The front camera is a 5 megapixel wide angle lens with F2.0 aperture. great for selfies, but some people will miss the beautify mode which has become a standard in most smartphones these days.

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Conclusion

So do we recommend the LeEco Le 1s at Rs 10,999? If you insist on a one word answer, then YES. But allow us to layer our answer. The Le 1s has a lot going for it other than just the price. The phone looks stunning and stands out from the rest for its near bezel-less look when the screen is off. Being made of unibody metal, it has great build quality and feels premium in every possible way. The full HD display is bright and touchscreen sensitivity is amongst the best we have seen. The Helio X10 along with 3GB of RAM make a terrific pair and deliver pretty smooth performance overall. The IR blaster and USB Type-C fast charging can be considered as bonus. But then, it’s far from perfect. The camera is below average when considered to the competition (Honor 5X and Lenovo K4 Note), there are couple of software issues waiting to be fixed, absence of Gyroscope might annoy few people and fingerprint scanner could have been more consistent.

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Being a new entrant and carrying the ‘Chinese’ tag, LeEco has a tough task at hand. There’s no doubt that they are heavily subsidizing the cost of Le 1s as it simply blows away the competition 1.5x its cost with its hardware. But we will be more interested to see how LeEco manages their content game in India, which so many people have come to love about them in China. For now, you just can’t go wrong buying the Le 1s for Rs 10,999 on Flipkart, i.e IF you manage to get one in one of those annoying flash sales.

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Raju is the founder-editor of Technology Personalized. A proud geek and an Internet freak, who is also a social networking enthusiast. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. Mail Raju PP. Follow rajupp