Review: Elephone S7 Android Smartphone

December 13, 2016 - Written By Alexander Maxham

The Elephone S7 sports a curved display, and some rather impressive specs for under $300

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. But Elephone is betting that their S7 is going to stand out, a bit more than look like the Galaxy S7 Edge from Samsung. The Elephone S7 Edge looks very similar to the Galaxy S7, although the curved display isn’t as curved as the Galaxy S7 Edge’s. It’s much cheaper than Samsung’s offering, and still just as high-end, sans the Quad HD display. But is it worth the money? That’s what many people are asking, since there’s no doubt that the Elephone S7 is a great looking device, but can it live up to the hype.

Specs

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The Elephone S7 is still a high-end device, but it’s sporting a MediaTek Helio X20 processor. That’s not a particularly famous processor in the Western part of the world. But it is a deca-core processor, and has been used in plenty of Meizu flagships this year. Additionally, it has the Mali-T880 GPU, and a 5.5-inch 1080p display. There’s 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (there are lower specced variants with 2GB or 3GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of storage, but our particular model is 4GB RAM and 64GB storage). There’s a 3000mAh battery inside that is non-removable and it is running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

There’s a 16-megapixel sensor around the backside of the Elephone S7, with a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter. Unfortunately there’s no laser autofocus or phase detection autofocus here. We’ll have to talk more about those omissions in the camera section further down.

In the Box

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There’s not much in the box, but it does look rather reminiscent of the packaging that Samsung used for the Galaxy S7 Edge. It’s a rather plain box, with the “Elephone S7” on the front, and it appears to be in the color of the model you have inside. For example, ours was the blue color and that’s what we have on the front. Underneath the phone, you’ll find the USB Type-A to micro USB cable, wall adapter and paperwork for the Elephone S7. And that’s about it. There’s not much inside this box, which isn’t too surprising. Remember this phone has high-end specs and only costs about $250 USD.

Hardware & Build Quality

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As we mentioned already, the Elephone S7 looks very similar to the Galaxy S7 Edge from Samsung. With its curved display and even having a curved backside. But it feels a bit thicker, likely due to the curved display being a bit less curved than the Galaxy S7 Edge. The Elephone S7 measures 7.6mm thick while the Galaxy S7 Edge is 7.7mm thick. Now feeling a bit thicker is actually a good thing, as it makes the phone a bit more comfortable in the hand. It’s tough to argue that the Elephone S7 is one of the more comfortable smartphones to come out this year. And that’s no small feat, given how many great smartphones have come across our desk this year.

The build quality is top notch here, and in fact, it’s a pretty nice surprise given the price point that the Elephone S7 is sitting at. We’re looking at a glass back and an aluminum frame. Elephone has opted to stick with a micro USB port here on the S7, which is located on the bottom with the speaker to the right and a microphone on the left. Up at the top there is the 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a nice thing to see on smartphones these days, with many OEM’s opting to get rid of it. The left side houses the SIM card and micro SD card tray, with the right side having the volume rocker and the power button beneath it.

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Now the back of the device is very clean. We have that 16-megapixel shooter in the upper-left-hand corner with the flash next to it, and Elephone’s logo and regulatory information at the bottom of the device. Including the “Designed by Elephone Assembled in China.” It looks really nice and clean like this. There’s no fingerprint sensor on the backside, as that is on the front with the physical home button. But before we jump to the front, it’s important to note that the glass here on the back scratches up very, very easily. The Elephone S7 has really only been in my pocket or on my desk (besides being in my hands) and you can see some scratches on the back of the device. They appear to be mostly towards the bottom of the device, but still a bit sad to see these scratches appear so quickly. The good thing is, that since this is a darker color, they are a bit harder to see. So it at least has that going for it.

The front of the Elephone S7 has that physical home button, like we mentioned already, but that’s the only button there. And that’s because Elephone has built in the back and recents button into the home button, much like Meizu has done. So you touch the button once, and you go back. Press the button and you go home, press and hold and you bring up recents. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it is preferred over having capacitive buttons or even on screen buttons in addition to the physical home button. Then we have that display, which literally has no side bezels. And that’s largely due to the curved display. Of course, at the top you’ll find the earpiece, camera and an array of sensors.

Using the Elephone S7 has been a breeze. The build quality really is top notch, it feels really comfortable in the hand. The S7 isn’t overly large, making it easy to actually use the device without readjusting its position in your hand. It’s also quite the looker, especially in this blue color that we have here. Now it does look a whole lot like the Galaxy S7 Edge, but I almost like the hardware here on the Elephone S7 a bit better (not the internals, but the hardware and build quality). After using other Elephone smartphones in recent months, the build quality of this smartphone has definitely surprised me, and in a good way.

Display

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Leading up to the announcement of the Elephone S7, we saw plenty of leaks about the device, and something that caught everyone’s eye was the lack of side bezels. Seeing the Elephone S7 in person confirms that there basically are no side bezels. But don’t be too excited, they are there, but due to how this display is curved, it gives the allusion of them not being here. That’s not a bad thing though, as the display looks amazing, even being at 1080p. Of course, it would look even better with a QHD panel here, but the 1080p panel that Elephone chose to use looks really good.

However, the issue I have with the panel used here is actually in regards to its digitizer, and its side bezels. Since there are basically no side bezels here, the screen does sometimes appear unresponsive when holding the phone and touching the display in certain spots. This appears to be due to the bezels, because when the phone is sitting on a table, there’s no issues at all with it registering the touches. This is something that companies building smartphones with no bezels and curved displays have to build into the software, so that users aren’t frustrated when touching a button on the display, and it doesn’t work. However, Elephone is using stock AOSP here, so there’s nothing built in for this.

The display does seem to be a bit cool, but that can be changed. Like many smartphones coming out of China, sporting basically AOSP, it has MiraVision included. This means that in the Display settings, you are able to choose from a few different picture modes. For the most part we used “Vivid” which really makes colors pop. But if you don’t like that, you can switch to creating your own custom mode. MiraVision allows you to adjust the contrast, saturation, picture brightness, sharpness and the color temperature. So you can make the display look the way you want it.

When it comes to brightness, the display just doesn’t get as dim as we’d like for it to. But on the bright side (pun intended) it does get nice and bright, making it easy to use outdoors in direct sunlight. With Adaptive Brightness, it appears to be pretty aggressive. This is a good thing, as you’ll always be able to see the display, but it can also be a bad thing as it’ll use up more battery. We’ve opted to turn it off, and just go about adjusting it manually. Which has worked out well for us, during the review period.

Performance

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Elephone tossed in MediaTek’s Helio X20 processor. For those unfamiliar with MediaTek’s processors, this is their flagship SoC. This is a deca-core processor which has four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.4GHz, four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.9GHz and two Cortex-A72 cores clocked at 2.3GHz. The reason for having three clusters of cores in the Helio X20 is to allow the phone to sleep and use even less battery life, by using the 1.4GHz cluster. While many tasks can be performed quite well with the 1.9GHz cluster, and then you have some high-speed cores for things like gaming. Proving users with the speed they want and need, while also providing some spectacular standby time (especially with Doze in Marshmallow). And that’s exactly what you get here with the Helio X20 in the Elephone S7. There’s some incredible standby time here on the Elephone S7, lasting an entire night with using just 1% or less of the battery. Which is pretty impressive, to say the least. It also runs very smooth, which is arguably more important. The phone did not stutter or slow down at all, during our testing.

The Helio X20 comes with the Mali-T880 GPU, which is not quite the best on the market, but it’s pretty darn close (without dipping into Qualcomm’s offerings). We’ve seen this GPU on many smartphones already, and it performed just as we expected. Giving us a great experience while gaming and such, which is always important. There’s also 4GB of RAM included in the Elephone S7, which is more than enough for everyday tasks. We typically had about 2GB of free RAM, while using the Elephone S7. Which means that the 3GB of RAM model is likely going to be just fine, for those looking to save a bit of cash.

Performance of the Elephone S7 may not be up to the standards of something like the Google Pixel with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 inside, but for a smartphone costing less than a third of the price, it performs really well. And could arguably be better at sipping on the battery than anything from Qualcomm right now.

Fingerprint Sensor

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The fingerprint sensor, as we’ve already noted, is located on the front of the Elephone S7. It’s located in the physical home button, which makes the phone look even similar to Samsung’s offering. But the fingerprint sensor isn’t as good as what Samsung offers. Part of this is due to the fact that the button doesn’t really move that much. So pressing it is a bit tougher, seeing as the button believes you are just touching it and not pressing it (since a touch just makes it go back, instead of home). However, in terms of actually recognizing your fingerprint, it’s spot on. I didn’t have any failed attempts at unlocking the Elephone S7, which is actually really impressive, and also becoming very common these days.

Wireless Connectivity

Like most phones coming out of Asia, that aren’t destined for the US or even North America, the Elephone S7 only provides us with 2G connectivity here in the US. We used it with T-Mobile and did indeed get 2G connectivity (which in this day and age, is super slow). There were no problems connecting, as we stuck the SIM card inside and it quickly registered on the network and we were good to go. For reference, the bands supported by the Elephone S7 are listed below.

GSM 850/900/1800/1900

WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100

FDD-LTE 700/800/850/900/1700/1800/1900/2100/2600

When it came to calls, the Elephone S7 performed as it should. Users that we called said that they could hear us fine, and we didn’t have any call drops. But remember, since the Elephone S7 isn’t meant to be sold in the US, that means there’s no support for WiFi Calling, or HD Voice. So if those are features you are wanting, you’ll want to look elsewhere. It’s understandable that the Elephone S7 isn’t supporting US bands, but still a bit unfortunate for those that want to import the device and use it in the US. Something that is becoming more and more common.

Speakers

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Elephone has placed the speaker on the bottom of the S7 here. That’s a popular position for most smartphones these days. The speaker is plenty loud, but the quality of the audio coming out of the speaker is not that great. It sounds a bit tinny, which the untrained ear probably won’t notice the difference, but it is definitely noticeable for those that have used other speakers before. With the speaker being on the bottom of the device, you can cover up the speaker and change the sound coming out of the device. However, you don’t lose all of the sound when the speaker is covered up. In fact, you lose very little, but it makes the speaker sound a bit more tinny.

Benchmarks

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We ran AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench 4 on the Elephone S7. The results of all three tests are located in the gallery below. The scores were about what we expected, given the internals that the Elephone S7 is sporting. On AnTuTu, it scored 58,187. A bit low compared to other flagships, but other devices with the MediaTek Helio X20 inside, it was about the same. That score put it near the bottom of the list, between the Xiaomi Mi 4s and the Meizu M3 Note.

When it came to 3D Mark, it scored a 689. Which is actually really good. Keep in mind that 3D Mark is mostly about gaming, so it’s really testing out the GPU which is the Mali-T880 in this case. And the results were pretty strong here. With Geekbench 4, we got scores of 1599 for single-core and 3910 for multi-core. Both tests put the Elephone S7 just below other flagships like the OnePlus 3 and the Galaxy S7 Edge.

Battery Life

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As mentioned already, the Elephone S7 sports a 3000mAh battery inside, which is fairly common for smartphones with this size display. It’s powering a 5.5-inch 1080p display, and with the MediaTek Helio X20 inside, the Elephone S7 should definitely get you through a full day, and it sure does. Remember, the biggest reason for the Helio X20 to be a deca-core processor is so that the device can use even less power in standby, when it is polling different apps for data. Mix that with Doze that is part of Android Marshmallow and you get some incredible standby time, which is what we get here with the Elephone S7. You can let the Elephone S7 sit unplugged overnight and lose just 1-2% over an 8-hour period. That’s pretty incredible, to be honest. Standby time here is no joke, but if it gets updated to Nougat, it could get even better.

Standby is only one part of the equation that equals good battery life. The other is how well the smartphone puts up with you actually using the phone. And we’re happy to report that the Elephone S7 was able to get us around 3-4 hours of on-screen time, consecutively. Now does that mean it has the best battery life? Certainly not. But it is very impressive, and battery life won’t be an issue for anyone looking to buy the Elephone S7.

Software

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Elephone is one of the few manufacturers out of Asia that don’t mess around too much with the software experience. That’s a double-edged sword though. Not messing around with the software that much means that you’re getting stock Android, and the fanboys are happy. But that also means that there aren’t many features setting the Elephone S7 apart from other smartphones out there – a big reason why many manufacturers opt for using a customized version of Android. The Elephone S7 is running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is technically an outdated version of Android. Seeing as Android 7.x Nougat has been available since August, it’s tough to give Elephone a pass on not having Nougat on this phone already. There’s no word on when it’ll get the update, but it should be getting it relatively soon.

As I mentioned already, the Elephone S7 is running a mostly stock AOSP version of Marshmallow on-board. So you aren’t going to see many changes in the UI at all. In fact, the only changes you’ll really see are in the settings. One of them is the shortcut button. You can double-press the home button to open up an app, which you can customize which one it is. By default, the double-press opens the Settings app, which is a nice and easy way to jump into the settings. But you can also use it to open Snapchat, Twitter, or even the camera. All of which are good options. There are also a few gestures that can be enabled, like sliding three fingers down the screen to take a screenshot. Or swiping two fingers up or down on the screen to adjust the volume. Finally, if you don’t like using the one home button for everything, you can opt to turn on the navigation bar, and you’ll get the standard back, home and recents keys at the bottom of the display.

With Elephone going with a slightly curved display here, one might expect them to add in some features that take advantage of that curved display, but they didn’t. It’s also worth noting that the curve is very subtle, unlike what you get on the Galaxy S7 Edge or the Galaxy S6 Edge. So adding in features like a ticker, would be tough to really use. Also, by not doing to much with the software, Elephone is able to sell the S7 even cheaper, as they aren’t paying many software developers for working on the phone. So the stock Android approach helps keep prices down here, but we would like to see some customization with the Elephone S7.

Camera

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So we have a 16-megapixel camera here on the Elephone S7, which actually takes pictures rather well. Now it’s important to remind everyone that the Elephone S7 isn’t going to compete with the Galaxy S7, when it comes to the camera, or even many of the other flagship devices that are found in the West. Part of that is due to the software that Elephone uses, it’s very minimal and basically AOSP. And that helps keep the costs down. Nevertheless, we were pretty impressed with the camera on the Elephone S7.

We went out and took some pictures during the blizzard in the Midwest this past weekend, and got some nice pictures with the Elephone S7. Colors were pretty accurate, about as accurate as you’ll get without having a color correction sensor included. Additionally, parts of the picture were not blown out. We’ve seen this all to often with smartphones out of China that essentially just throw in a camera module and don’t work with the software at all. So that’s great to see.

The one major downside that we have with the Elephone S7’s camera is actually the shutter. It is incredibly slow. There’s a picture in the gallery below where I was attempting to take a picture of the Eufy RoboVac 11 as it was running around the house cleaning up, and it took so long to actually take the picture that by the time it snapped, the RoboVac 11 was actually out of the frame. Usually, the slow shutter is due to the low-light conditions it is in, but even in good lighting, the Elephone S7 camera was pretty slow at actually snapping the picture. Otherwise, we were pretty impressed with the camera here. Remember that the Elephone S7 is about a third of the price of most other smartphones that you’ll find in the West, so it’s a bit unfair to compare it with smartphones like the Sony Xperia XZ, LG V20, or the Google Pixel.

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The Good

Build Quality

Fingerprint sensor

Display

Curved edges, on the back and front

No bezels in sight

Battery Life

The Bad

Camera is a bit slow

Back Scratches way to easily

Rather plain software experience

Wrap Up

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The Elephone S7 has become a pretty popular device, largely due to how similar it appears to the Galaxy S7 Edge. But there’s much more inside than just the curved display, that Elephone has here. There’s that saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” and that’s definitely true here. And if it weren’t for the camera being pretty slow, I would probably say that this is a great alternative to the Galaxy S7 Edge, especially for those looking for a stock Android device. Being much cheaper, and offering stock Android on-board.

Should you buy the Elephone S7?

If you live in Asia or even Europe, the Elephone S7 is going to be a great device for you. We can’t recommend it to those in North America due to the bands that it uses. However, if you are okay with just getting 2G speeds on the Elephone S7, then go for it. It’s a great phone for doing simple tasks, but with the Helio X20 and 4GB of RAM inside, the Elephone S7 can also handle those heavier tasks that you may throw at it.

Buy the Elephone S7