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Chinese brand LeEco has quickly made a name for itself in the smartphone world, having entered the sector in earnest back in 2015.
We saw the firm reveal the first USB Type-C handsets in the form of the LeTV Le 1 range, followed by the second-generation devices, dropping headphone jacks before Apple. On paper, these smartphones seem to pack great specs into an affordable package, evoking Xiaomi in many ways.
What about real-world usage though? We reviewed the once-Takealot-exclusive LeEco Le 2.
AN IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER
Our first review unit issued questionable adult ads in the notification tray, which seems to stem from the preinstalled file manager. We then ran an antivirus test, which categorised the file manager as malware (and classed the preinstalled UC Browser as adware). Upon mailing Takealot about the anomaly, the online retailer pulled the handset.
Subsequent antivirus scans didn’t yield anything however, but local distributor Pinnacle, using a separate device, ran scans with three antivirus programs. The result? Two out of the three apps classed the file manager as a threat.
The LeEco Le 2 has a rather serious notification issue that needs sorting before you buy it
False positives can definitely be a thing though, so we asked for a second review unit. We eventually came across a questionable ad in the dropdown menu again.
As a result, we don’t feel confident enough to recommend the LeEco Le 2 until the issue has been fully resolved. We still thought the smartphone would be worth reviewing, as the device seems to offer plenty of bang for a sub-R4000 device.
It feels like a well-built piece of kit
The first thing you’ll notice about the Le 2 is just how solid the entire package feels. You’ve got a solid metal rim ringing the edges, with several antenna strips cutting through it. There’s a rear cover, complete with fingerprint scanner, that doesn’t feel 100% metal or plastic — I’m leaning towards metal. As for the front? There are decently sized bezels at the top and bottom but, otherwise, you’ve got no branding here.
As for inputs and outputs, the bottom plays host to a USB Type-C port (used for audio as well) and a single speaker (there’s a second speaker grille but no actual speaker behind it), while the left side features a SIM tray and the right side features volume keys and a power button. The IR blaster occupies the top of the phone, being a sensible location of course.
All in all, it spars with the Redmi Note 3 in terms of aesthetic appeal, I’d say, which is no small feat at all.
Performance and software
The LeEco Le 2 is probably the most powerful smartphone you can buy for under R4000, packing an octacore Snapdragon 652 chip (four A72 cores and four A53 cores) that compares very favourably to the Snapdragon 810 (although we would’ve liked microSD expansion). Throw in 3GB of RAM and you’re able to quickly multitask several apps, launch games and fire up the camera in no time flat.
Gaming is a suitable test for any device, as I always say, and the Le 2 handled pretty much everything I threw at it. We were able to play Leo’s Fortune, Oceanhorn, Ridiculous Fishing, Gunman Taco Truck, Evoland and Drifting School Bus with little slowdown to be had. So those wanting to play the latest mobile sensation or emulated titles will be in good stead over here.
As for the actual take on Android, you’ve got a rather garish implementation that, while not quite reaching Galaxy S4 levels, definitely gets close.
For one, activating the dropdown menu and choosing the “settings” field doesn’t actually serve as a shortcut to all settings. In a rather weird bug, tapping the “settings” option transports you to the notification settings menu, and tapping the back arrow in the top left simply takes you back to the homescreen. Every time. You’ll need to visit the settings shortcut on one of the homescreens instead. This was the case for both review units that we had.
The LeEco Le 2 has some fast hardware for the price, but the Android theme is straight out of 2012 in some ways
LeEco’s Android skin also eschews the traditional multitasking screen in favour of a very packed menu. The bottom half of this screen is taken up with current running apps and RAM count (as you’d expect), but the top half sees LeEco place quick-toggle settings here. It looks like a very weird mishmash of Apple’s Control Centre and a typical multitasking menu on Android.
It’s an interesting move, with the Control Centre-style quick toggles being a sensible addition. However, I can’t help but feel that the other quick settings (such as WiFi, Bluetooth etc) should’ve stayed in the dropdown menu. For instance, if you’re playing a game or browsing through an app, and you’d like to toggle WiFi or change a song, you can’t activate the dropdown menu and quickly do it. Nope, you’ll have to hit the multitasking menu for a much less seamless experience, kicking you out of the app. It smacks of a change for the sake of making a change, rather than a decision with the user in mind.
Another software-related downside is the fact that questionable apps are installed on the device though. The past few years have seen a decline in the sheer number of useless/redundant apps on phones and, while the Le 2 adheres to this, we’ve still got a second browser, that dodgy file manager, a second app store (9Apps) and the UC News app. This is aside from the usual (and useful) suspects, such as a music and video player and preinstalled gallery app.
All in all, the LeEco Le 2 definitely has the horsepower to provide a smooth experience (and indeed it provides a brisk experience), besting the Redmi Note 3 in this department too. But the company has a very long way to go until its Android skin becomes remotely desirable.
What about the camera?
We’ve already published a few sample photos with the Le 2, coming away rather impressed. The 16MP f/2.0 main camera isn’t going to spar with flagship phones obviously, but it’s definitely not too shabby when pitted against the Note 3.
Daytime snaps see the colours strike a great balance between saturation and accuracy, although I would’ve liked more dynamic range in general. The HDR mode definitely helps here (check the indoor shots, looking outside), but it’s not perfect and ghosting is noticeable. At least the ghosting isn’t as pronounced as Meizu’s offerings. Most snaps pack enough resolvable detail for some cropping too, so Instagram lovers will be happy. But the biggest weakness might be the unreliable autofocus for macro shots. I’m not sure if it’s due to the focal length or just the autofocus in general, but multiple shots were a must in these situations, I found.
Night time shots exceeded my expectations, as mid-range handsets tend to make their cut-price trappings known in this department. That’s not to say the Le 2 dukes it out with the Galaxy S7 or iPhone 7, as shots are definitely noisier and less detailed, but you can still produce some satisfying results.
The LeEco Le 2 offers a great photography experience, but there are better phones for video
Nevertheless, the Le 2’s main camera punches above its weight for stills, despite the autofocus niggles at times.
In the selfie department, the 8MP front-facing shooter does a great job during the day, producing relatively sharp results and being quick to focus. Bar/low light settings are disappointing however, as the phone captures enough light but leaves things a splotchy mess. This is presumably where corners were cut.
As for video recording? The phone supports 4K recording and 120fps video at 720p, but general results leave a lot to be desired. Colours are pleasantly saturated, but otherwise, the videos look heavily compressed and noisy. It’s as if I’m using a phone from 2011. Even 4K video doesn’t pass muster here, with our clips often looking like Vaseline was smeared on the lens. It doesn’t help that there’s no optical image stabilisation (OIS) to keep things less juddery.
In other words, the camera department reveals an experience of two halves, with stills being a big plus and video recording being a huge disappointment.
Living without a headphone jack
LeEco made a huge song and dance last year when it ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack, claiming that USB Type-C offered better audio. So what’s it like to live with USB Type-C only?
Fortunately, the company includes a 3.5mm adapter in the box, so you can still use your existing peripherals. And music playback sounded as good as any other smartphone on the market.
We switched to LeEco’s dedicated Type-C headphones though, and were very impressed with its noise-cancellation tech. But this wasn’t a LeEco-exclusive thing though, as the noise cancellation and quality seemed just as good on the Huawei P9. So chalk the great sound quality up to the headphones rather than the Le 2 itself.
The LeEco Le 2 packs a relatively decent 3000mAh battery, which is about par for the course on mid-range handsets nowadays. I was able to check social media feeds, listen to tracks off Google Play Music, watch a couple of YouTube videos and download/play several games and still have more than enough juice for the evening. But I didn’t feel confident that it would last until midday the next day though.
As for video playback, we did the usual (installed MX Player and played a 20 second 1080p/60fps clip on loop), keeping WiFi and mobile data on and cranking the brightness up to 100%. The result was middling, with the test kicking off at 11.36am and finishing at 4.18pm. In other words, this was under five hours, way below the average time we usually get.
Battery life isn’t the Le 2’s strength then, so don’t expect two days without significantly gimping the smartphone’s functions.
Dimensions: 74.1mm x 7.62mm x 151.1mm
Weight: 153 grams
SIM type: dual SIM (nano)
Display: 5.5-inch, 1080×1920, LCD
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 octacore processor | quad-core ARM Cortex-A72 1.8Ghz & quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 | Adreno 510 GPU | 3GB RAM (review unit)
Storage: 32GB fixed storage (review unit)
Imaging: 16MP , f/2.0 aperture, phase detection autofocus, dual-tone flash | (Front) 8MP, f/2.2 aperture
Video: 4K at 30fps, 120fps at 720p
Battery: 3000mAh fixed
Cool features: rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, no headphone jack (although that isn’t really “cool”)
OS: Android 6.0 with EUI 5.6
The LeEco Le 2 isn’t without its flaws, namely the poor video recording chops, lack of a headphone jack, mediocre battery life and heavy-handed software customisation. But it packs a quality main camera for the price, a premium design and some powerful internals. Just don’t buy it until they fix the dodgy notification issue.
Verdict: LeEco’s latest handset got into a scrap against the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, survived the match-up and lost on points. Then it turned out that it was using performance-enhancing drugs.
Score: 7 out of 10