You probably won’t have heard of LeEco – not least because they’ve recently re-branded from LeTV. However you’d also be forgiven for not hearing of them either! LeEco (formerly LeTV) are a predominantly Chinese-based manufacturer of technology and mobile peripherals.
Overview & Specifications
As mentioned, LeEco (as they’re now known) are a very well-known and respected Chinese technology company with a recent offering for both US and Indian markets. LeEco have one of China’s largest online video platforms and this thread is evident in their technology products.
As this device isn’t readily available from the usual sources in the UK, we resorted to importing from the ever reliable HonorBuy. If you’re after any smartphones of tablets destined to Eastern markets only, give them a shot – we’ve never had any issues importing via their transparent service.
Onto the device, and we’ve got some fairly compelling mid-range specifications here:
- MediaTek Helio x10 chipset @ 2.2Ghz with PowerVR G6200 GPU
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB internal storage (16GB available)
- 5.5″ 1080p display (403 ppi)
- 7.5mm metal body in Gold (available in Silver also)
- 13MP Rear camera with PDAF & 5MP front facing camera
- 4K Video recording capable
- Dual SIM with dual 4G standby
- Fingerprint scanner
- Non-removable 3000 mAh battery with 3A fast charging
- Wifi 802.11 b/g/n, USB Type-C port, Bluetooth 4.0, 3.5mm audio jack
- OS: Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
So, not too shabby at all really there. A very svelte device with a larger battery, and some commanding storage. The Helio x10 chip has also proven itself in the mid-range as a decent option.
Hardware & Performance
Taking our “bleeding edge” tinted glasses off for just a second and it’s plain to see that the majority of smartphone consumers are looking for a functional, good-looking device for a good price. The latter of these is becoming an increasingly saturated battle ground with many device manufacturers offering compelling mid and low-end products. When smartphones with “functional” use can be purchased from just £100 at the low-end, the battle for that £150-£250 prince point has intensified that little bit more.
Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony and Microsoft all have mid-range offerings, whilst other brands who might be less well-known to many consumers such Honor, all live off their mid-range product performance. LeTV/LeEco on the other hand are not a brand many, if in fact any, outside the tech enthusiast circle, will be aware of. They have only been in the smartphone game for around a year, despite having a healthy technology offering in China.
Their LeTV Le 1S (pronounced as “ell ee teevee” by some, although we’ve heard “luhtev” and even “lay teevee” – take your pick) bares all the hallmarks of both previous flagship devices from other manufacturers, as well as joining the growing trend of premium build quality at the mid-range market segment.
A fully metallic back-face and chamfered edge design, accented with a striking two-tone Gold finish on our model wraps around the 5.5″ 1080p display and immediately conjures images of a cross between the Apple iPhone 5 and 6 design aesthetics.
Staying with the backside of the device, and one of the stand out hardware features, the fingerprint scanner, sits proudly above a subtle LeTV brand. Above them sit the rear 13MP camera, flash, and a pinhole microphone. To the bottom of the device we find the antenna strips, speaker grills (only one operates) and the USB Type-C port for charging. On the left hand side is the dual SIM card slot, also metallic, seamlessly placed, and to the right hand side are the volume rocker and power button. To the top sees another set of antenna strips, a 3.5mm headphone jack despite it’s 7.5mm depth (paying attention Apple!?) and the IR blaster. Finally, on the front side of the device, above the 5.5″ display sits the ear piece, light sensor and the front facing 5MP camera.
The feel in hand is very nice. Not overly angular thanks to the chamfered edge, but feeling sufficiently bulky in both weight and hand print to feel substantial. One handed use isn’t going to be an issue width-wise, however the device is relatively tall, mirroring the OnePlus 2 for example, whilst being a few millimetres shorted than the Galaxy Note 5, and a full 7mm shorter than the Apple iPhone 6S Plus. It’s not a particularly grippy device either. The metallic back means that resting the device on your fingers whilst operating the screen or the capacitive home, back and menu buttons, can be precarious for any but the large-handed. We’ve come close to dropping this a number of times in a less than firm grip whilst operating.
Whilst gripping the device, the functionality of the physical buttons come into question; blocked cut outs of the edge is how we’d describe them. Whilst easily found with the finger when holding conventionally, they are perhaps a little close to the chamfered edge which can cause a little confusion upon first touch. The volume rocker is a good size, but is perhaps a little too high on the device for those holding the LeTV Le 1S
The 1080p display is simply passable. Good viewing angles, an acceptable indoor brightness level and pretty good colour reproduction mean the LeTV Le 1S achieves its primary goal of being a good media consumption device. However, outdoor use due to the unfortunately low maximum brightness is hit and miss, and the auto-brightness settings are lacklustre at best in terms of their polling rate. Still, overall not a bad package for a mid-range device, although there are better.
Operating the device is, as you’d expect, quite a fluid experience. The Helio x10 chip by MediaTek does a good job of powering through most tasks and applications with little trouble, however we did find a few games that, over a period of time, slowed down. Whether this is some compatibility issue with the CPU, or whether this was the GPU acting up is up for debate. The gaming ability of this device is unquestionably decent in the main however, so we’d suggest some applications have minor stability issues with MediaTek CPUs. During gameplay in our test applications such as Riptide GP2, gaming was smooth and glitch free throughout our session. Perhaps a software update can cure these ills as the hardware certainly seems powerful enough to deal with what is thrown at it, and then some. This isn’t particularly backed up by synthetic benchmarks scores however. Running 3D Mark’s Sling Shot 3.0 benchmark against the PowerVR G6200 CPU yielded a score of just 710 whereas previous flagship device the Galaxy S5 delivered a score of 1425 on average.
These scores aside, the LeTV Le 1S should be considered an adequately powerful device for almost all requirements.
With 3GB of RAM we would have expected the number of retained application sessions to be higher than we actually found, due in part to an over-aggressive software memory management tool. Thankfully this can be tweaked (see the software section) and once we’d spent a bit of time with the device, multi-tasking was a breeze with very few applications requiring a re-draw/re-load upon switching. Google Chrome being a notable exception to this observation.
We did find that regardless of the relatively hefty specifications, this mid-ranger suffered from the occasional lag when waking up and switching to applications early on in a usage session. We’re inclined to put this down to the version of Android (5.0.x builds of Android are notorious for being laggy and cumbersome) but can’t give a categoric guarantee as no 5.1 or 6.0 builds are available for this device as of yet.
Whilst consuming your media it would be wise to invest in a decent pair of headphones. Whilst the speaker itself is plenty loud and relatively crisp compared to many devices with bottom or rear facing speakers (even at the top end), the speaker grill is easily covered when holding the device such is the placement.
Finally, powering all of this is a 3000 mAh battery. 3000 mAh batteries became synonymous with smartphones towards the close of 2015 with many manufacturers opting for this size to offset pixel dense displays. The LeTV Le 1S is no such beast. With a 1080p display, the 3000 mAh seems a wise choice for those wanting to make the most of their smartphone throughout the majority of the day. Unfortunately battery life here is nothing short of terrible. To start with, a maximum of 2.5 hours of screen on time; the standard measurement of battery life for those wishing to utilise their phones to the full, isn’t setting any alarm bells ringing amongst it’s competitors. Couple that with the languid performance in the standby time category also, and you’ve got the perfect mix for poor battery life. Again though, we’re inclined to blame at least some of this on Android. Lollipop 5.0.x builds were nothing if not half-baked and we’d really like to see a LeTV Le 1S 6.0 build sooner rather than later to test out our theory.
The flip side of this particular coin is that the LeTV Le 1S delivers 3A fast charging, meaning that a drained battery can be given new life relatively quickly. Whilst not a fix for the battery problems; we suspect a software update would help here, it is a cushion that softens the hefty blow of battery drain.
Software & Experience
The LeTV Le 1S runs EUI (Eco User Interface) 5.5.008S out of the box which is like many of its namesakes (MIUI, Emotion UI, etc) in that it defers from the “stock” Android look and feel, instead opting for a more iOS experience on its home screen. By that, we’re referring mainly to the fact that there is no applications drawer. All applications are instead shown as individual icons on the home screens but can be organised by folders, sorted automatically or manually, with widgets being available to be added also. As this device is not a Google-certified device you won’t be installing Play Store applications from the kick off, although its very easy to install it yourself. Something to bear in mind. That lack of Google integration permeates the device and affects it’s user experience considerably.
Where the application drawer usually resides is instead a “Live” button which connects to LeTV’s video content which is, sadly, all Chinese. However it does give a great overview of why LeTV have pushed into the mobile arena to supplement their streaming offering.
A pull down from the top of the screen delivers similar functionality to stock Android builds, with notifications being shown alongside the Weather and a notifications management setting to control what is seen. No quick toggles, or settings. Instead, accessing quick toggles is bundled within the app switcher which whilst jarring at first, quickly becomes second nature and something we particularly liked during our time with the device.
Hitting the menu button on the device shows a number of quick menu options (configurable in the settings menu) a resident music widget for the built-in player, some quick toggles (again, configurable in settings), rounded off with a card style app switcher. Built into this screen also is the ability to lock applications from being cleared by the memory management system, and a clear all button to kill all running applications. Quite a departure from stock Android!
Another example of EUI’s sidestep from standard Android builds is the application management – by that we mean the way in which applications are managed by the system and how they are configurable by the end user. For example, a suite of applications are in place that assist with ensuring that applications are not killed off by the built in application management, default applications are chosen for certain uses, and that applications and services can startup with the device rather than wait to be user-launched. Whilst these applications become frequently accessed, having to edit the settings for each new critical application you install to ensure not missing notifications is a chore. Control freaks will find these settings, as well as the network management options a nice inclusion.
Moving on to the included applications, aside from the management applications already mentioned, this device does come with an abundance of Chinese bloat. LeTV, LeCloud, Live, Le App, Game Center, My LeTV, Weather, and LeMall are all installed by default, with many being unable to be uninstalled or disabled without rooting. Some of these applications, Live for example, would be a very compelling addition was it not completely Far East-centric. That’;s to be expected with a region specific device however, but the inability to remove these applications, whilst understandable based on the synergies with LeTV’s other products, is close to unforgivable for smartphone enthusiasts.
These built-in “Le” apps as well as the Player and Music applications all link back to LeTV’s streaming services for video and music. The Music application for example has the ability to play songs from the LeTV catalogue, but often fails, no doubt due to the device’s location outside of China, and the fact that no “streaming” service has been paid for. However, the Live application shows a wall of videos (some of which are hilarious!) which do play and can be watched with only a LeTV account. You’d have to be fluent in Chinese or Japanese depending on the stream, but the power of the application is evident – if only this was updated for multi-language use and configurable.
As with many UI monikered-skins, there are even more foibles hidden. Setting a default application, for the Browser for example, will 99% of the time work, however will sometimes launch the default ‘stock’ application every now and then. Furthermore “Interruptions” (do not disturb to you and me) is baked into the device, however is ONLY accessible via a shortcut to the activity whilst using a third-party launcher. Very strange.
General use is similar to any other Android device but the inclusion of the “management” applications lends a layer of management that is either intriguing or annoying depending on which side of the customisation fence you sit.
All in all it’s a mixed bag. Some of the built-in applications have some excellent little features (Music player shutdown delay to allow drifting off to sleep, Video player with small window mode to play on top of other applications, etc) but they are too few and far between to be of any real use in general day-to-day use. No doubt an update to Lollipop 5.1.x builds would see a much better experience, and thankfully not only are there experimental builds to choose from, but stable builds are pushed to the device monthly bringing bug fixes, and increasing multi-lingual translations in applications. LeTV are akin to Xiaomi in supporting the larger global market, despite being a regional device.
Imported devices have often suffered in the optics department, even with the breakout global hit, the OnePlus One offering little in the way of crisp shots from its rear shooter. Sadly, the LeTV Le 1S does little to push the boundaries here. Colour reproduction is slightly undercooked, and noise is evident in almost all pictures regardless of lighting conditions.
The 13MP rear facing camera has phase detection auto-focus ability and can snap shots at a resolution of 4160 x 3120. Shutter speed is relatively fast (and configurable) and burst mode is as easy as holding down the touchscreen button. Some nice touches in the UI such as voice control, delayed shooting, and the usual array of control over white balance, exposure and ISO are available.
Under the photo mode there are a number of presets for HDR, Night, (elongated shutter speed), Square (3120 x 3120 photo), beauty mode as well as scene which allows more presets for sports, portrait and many more. In addition to these settings a number of pseudo-Instagram filters are available in a live display which adds a slightly different dynamic. However there is nothing here that hasn’t been seen before and in the end, it all comes down to the photo quality. You can judge for yourself above, but statement we’d use to most accurately describe the LeTV Le 1S optics is “functional, not fantastical”.
The front facing camera is very similar in description and features with similar settings, and filters available, and a similar level of quality with a lot of noise in the picture. It’s more forgivable here however in that it will provide adequate selfies and video calling footage.
Video is delivered in up to 4K @ 30fps and it isn’t too bad. There is acceptable quality, if poor stabilisation and slightly off exposure and auto-focusing also. Again, acceptable but more functional than emphatic.
The camera on the LeTV Le 1S falls short of what many will want from a device. The salient fact here is that this is not a flagship device and the footage from the optics on the LeTV Le 1S are decidedly mid-range.
What a mixed bag. On one hand, the LeTV Le 1S is one of the better ‘niche’ imports we’ve tried. It manages to deliver acceptable use for a more Western audience with their frequent update schedule and ever-increasing translation of Chinese applications, menus and settings. On the other hand it doesn’t deliver anything that’s exceptional at all.
Build quality is good, whilst not being astonishing. Sound is loud and proud, with adequate punch for the type of device it is, only let down by the mono speaker and its placement. Optics are adequate but nothing more than that. Finally, the user experience will both infuriate many whilst encouraging ‘prosumers’ to nod in begrudging acceptance of an attempt to deliver something compelling.
The package delivers as a mid-range device, despite not being meant for the European market. The LeTV Le 1S has however launched in the US and Indian markets and so far is amongst a lineup that has sold upwards of 4 million units. Not huge numbers compared to the established players, but a very respectable opening gambit from a new player in the smartphone market.
If LeTV, now LeEco, continue supporting their developers, and releasing products at this price point with a fit and finish like this, they will get there – eventually. Sadly the LeTV Le 1S doesn’t quite manage to break the mould but we’re confident that it’ll only improve with time via updates.
Speaking of price point, as that’s the REAL reason this device would even be looked at by, well, anyone, we’ve deliberately left this to one side until this point. Retailing from just £145 (minus importing duty) there is little in terms of gripes that, when weighted against this price point, aren’t eminently forgivable, if not forgettable, in daily use.
We’re very eager to see what LeEco come up with next, after their LeTV Le 1S, Le One Pro and Le Max products, whilst also eagerly anticipating Android updates that just might make this a more compelling product with the inherent bug fixes said update would bring.