Smartphone manufacturers from China have been producing some pretty impressive stuff over the past couple of years, and Elephone is a more recent addition to the long list of those trying to make it outside of China. We've reviewed a number of other devices from Elephone, such as the Trunk, and cover the news of new releases often. With the Elephone M2, the Chinese company has tried to blend build, design and specs into one affordable package. With much of its specs leaning into more higher-end territory and a better build than you'd find on most Chinese smartphones, have Elephone achieved the right balance?
Under the hood of the M2 are some pretty impressive specs, keeping in mind how much the M2 costs. Elephone have put a MediaTek MT6753 at the heart of this device, which is itself an octa-core 64-bit CPU, but it's clocked at just 1.3 GHz, sadly. Backing this up is 3GB of RAM, and speaking of gigabytes there's 32GB of storage, as well as a microSD card slot for expansion. Keeping everything running is a 2,600 mAh battery, and the display is a 5.5-inch Full HD display. Despite the size of the display, the M2 is just 7.35mm thick, 155mm tall and 77mm wide. Camera-wise, there's a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera which is a Sony IMX214 sensor with an aperture of f/2.0 and there's a 5.0-megapixel front-facing camera as well. Software wise (which we'll cover in more detail further below) Android 5.1 Lollipop is running here as of writing. Elephant has a full list of specs available on their website as well.
For devices like these out of China, it can be difficult to see just what bands they support. We'll make it nice and easy and tell you that this is a GSM phone, and requires a microSIM and will not work on CDMA networks like Sprint or Verizon. Below are the GSM frequencies and LTE bands that the Elephone M2 supports:
FDD LTE Bands 1/3/7/8/20 (800/900/1800/2100/2600)
WCDMA Bands 1/5/8 (850/900/2100)
GSM Bands 2/3/5/8 (850/900/1800/1900)
There's a 5.5-inch Full HD display here, giving the Elephone M2 a resolution of 1920 x 1080, and as displays go, this isn't too bad at all. With a Full HD resolution, the M2 gets 400 pixels per inch, and it does appear to be pretty sharp overall. It's got a strange little bezel within a bezel running around the side of the display, which sort of makes it look like there's a frame within a frame inside of the device. On the unit which I had, a strange sort of 'smudge' appeared on the display, which I couldn't capture on camera, but the best way of describing it is on a page of white there would be more white than usual.
Where color reproduction is concerned, everything is pretty good here, although things do appear to be a little restrained. By that I mean that at times colors appear just a little bit muted. Still, colors are fairly vibrant and while they don't 'pop' like they would on an AMOLED display, they look good nonetheless. I actually like this fairly standard approach to color that Elephone has taken here, it ensures that the majority of users will be pleased, rather than creating something that's a little too warm or a little too cold. Where text is concerned, the story is a little bit better, with black text looking sharp on a bright white background and everything moves along from page-to-page quite smoothly. Viewing angles are good, but they could be better, as with a lot of displays there is a little color lost when viewing the M2 off-axis, but not much. There's also quite a lot of glare that goes on here as well, which is a big disappointment where sunnier climates are concerned, but it is somewhat unavoidable.
The display here is good, but it's little more than that. I hope that the strange smudge on my unit was an isolated incident, too. Color reproduction is good, and the display gets pretty bright for something at this price point. Long story short, the M2's display is better than you might imagine, but no more than that.
Design and Build
The overall look and feel is where the Elephone M2 excels, and is perhaps the best aspect of the device. It's an aluminum body that's just 7.5mm thick, and the glass around the front curves a little towards the edges and corners, although it's not all that noticeable. The M2 feels good in the hand, and for a device that both costs as little as this and is produced by, shall we say not the best Chinese manufacturer, it's exceptionally well-built. Everything feels nice and sturdy - save for the button on the fingerprint sensor, which appears to wobble quite a bit - and there's no denying that this is an impressive device to look at. The gold option that we have here is not going to please everyone, but I have to agree that this does look pretty nice, if not just a little tacky. I didn't like that the gold color carried across to the front glass of the display however, as it changes tone and looks nothing like the same shade on the rear or sides of the phone.
Speaking of sides, I have no idea why Elephone have put the power and volume buttons on the wrong side of the device. Looking at the M2 face-on, the power button is joined by a volume rocker on the left-hand side. I know a number of people that are left-handed, but I think we all know a whole lot more right-handed people. This is to say that the safe choice is to put the buttons on the right-hand side of the device, or on the back as LG have done for a few years now. Regardless, this positioning is infuriating to me, but then again I have been used to countless phones with buttons on the "right" side. Speaking of the buttons themselves, they protrude a good way out of the phone, and depress quite nicely into the M2 when pressed. These are well-made and feel nice.
Design wise, the Elephone M2 is a sort of mix of Huawei's P8 and well, every other metallic slate out there. The speaker and microphone grills at the bottom of the device are vertical slits, which I quite like, and the antennas are cut-out with the usual small slits as well as some larger plastic panels on the back of the device. This is an elegant design that has just enough about it to turn a few heads, but ultimately there's not much here that's all that original. I've seen a number of devices that look just like Elephone's M2, regardless this is a good-looking device and it should please the majority of users, perhaps not the gold color, though.
Elephone seems pretty proud of the fact that they have a 13.0-megapixel Sony IMX214 sensor as their rear-facing camera. For the front-facing 5.0-megapixel though, they say very little, and for good reason, really. The overall experience where the camera on the M2 is concerned is a mixed one. On the one hand, it can genuinely take good photos, on the other hand taking those photos can be a painful process if you want to make even a little change in say exposure or scene. The camera interface could definitely look better as well, with some dated icons and a cluttered interface overall.
Buried within the settings are some simple Exposure, Scene and Color settings, which are all pretty standard, and they're pretty far from subtle overall.
This makes small adjustments pretty difficult to do, but it is nice that you can at least make these adjustments at all. Compared to the likes of the OnePlus 2 however, these settings do not go nearly far enough, and they're just cumbersome to use in the first place. One thing that is a sort of workaround for this is to change where you end up touching to focus on a scene. So here's the Railway line at the foot of the village, if I were to tap-to-focus at the foreground, this is the sort of white balance and exposure I get:
This is pretty washed out, but it makes for a good example. Now, when I touch the background of the image, this is what things change to:
Of course, the first image is perhaps the better overall image, but we can see more detail in the sky in the second image, and this sort of thing applies to all sorts of images, you can touch-to-focus to also change the exposure and such, but it is at best a little over zealous. Speaking of focus, this has a decent lens for up-close shooting as well.
There's really not much else to write home about where the camera is concerned here, it's a pretty standard experience. It does however, take some excellent shots if you take your time and have a little patience. On the whole, pictures can come across a little washed out and over-exposed, and a little soft but this is definitely a good performance all-told. Taking photos is also nice and speedy with the M2, pictures are saved quickly and the software is fairly responsive. We'll let the photos do the talking here, and you can take a look at them all on Flickr by clicking the image below.
Performance and Memory
Under-the-hood of the Elephone M2 is a MediaTek MT6753 and 3GB of RAM. That MediaTek CPU is a Cortex-A53 64-bit affair with eight cores and a Mali-T720 GPU. This, along with the low clock speed of 1.3 Ghz means that this isn't the fastest device out there, but it's far from a slouch of a device. Eight processing cores, even if they're designed as low-power affairs can certainly pull their weight when pushed to, and this is what we find with the M2.
Everyday performance is pretty snappy overall, web pages load nice and quickly, apps launch smoothly and transitions rarely stutter. This is frankly to be expected of any higher-end processor these days, but it's nice to see that this doesn't disappoint. Frame rate is nice and smooth as well, and the only real thing that ends up holding the device back is the fact that the touchscreen could be a little more responsive. There are more than a few double-tap moments and we would have liked something a little smoother on the whole. Having said that, for general everyday performance, browsing the web, watching YouTube and such, the M2 will not disappoint the majority of users.
Where gaming is concerned, the MediaTek CPU here puts the M2 firmly in the middle of the pack. This isn't to say that the M2 can't handle heavy 3D games, indeed it can but it's not the smoothest experience out there. In fact, there are some frame-rate drops in a number of heavier titles, but on the whole there's not too much holding this back. You could quite easily download any game from the Play Store and be guaranteed a good time with it. The only sort of complaint here is that games could be a little more responsive here, with essentially eight different brains, we would expect a smoother overall experience. It gets the job done, but it's not the smoothest or prettiest picture out there. A middling device for games, the M2 will again, please most Android users out there, and perhaps even more demanding players.
Reviewing a Chinese smartphone has always come with the same sort of questions about what software it'll feature. Well, with the Elephone M2, it's great to be able to say that there's basically just stock Android and nothing else on here. That has both its advantages and disadvantages though. Of course, the advantage is that Android 5.1 Lollipop which is running on the review unit we have is running and looks as Google intended it to. The downside of that is this is incredibly barebones. I mean, aside from the Google Play Store and a few apps like Gmail and YouTube there's little else here, it's more than a little disturbing at times as well.
Elephone couldn't help themselves however, and there are cases of some added software creeping into the settings menu, such as a pretty convoluted way of adjusting how the screen looks, and something called HotKnot for file sharing. Aside from that however, there's little to write home about, or even discuss where software is concerned here. Google Play Services does work on the M2, but there's no backup or restore features from a Google account, and aside from the Play Store and sync, there's not much else Google here. For a look at what the software has to offer, take a look at the screenshots below.
The Elephone M2 ships with a fingerprint sensor, and while it's not the best out there, it's a really nice inclusion, when it works. The problem with the fingerprint sensor here is that it seems as though Elephone need some work on their software that recognizes fingerprints, and it needs a speed boost as well. It seems incredibly finicky, and it's something that should really be a lot better than it actually is. A nice inclusion, but more of an afterthought, rather than an integral part of the overall experience.
As we do for all the phones we review here at Android Headlines, we put Elephone's M2 through a number of different benchmarks. We didn't expect the M2 to do that well, due to the Cortex-A53 cores being used here, and indeed it didn't put up that much of a fight. Having said that, this is a respectable performance, and one that I don't think Elephone or owners of the M2 should be ashamed about in any way. The benchmark results can be found below in a number of different screenshots from the phone.
Call and Sound Quality
Despite the fact that a lot of people have forgotten what a phone is actually for, people still make phone calls, a lot of them in fact. For that purpose, the Elephone M2 is indeed a decent smartphone. I sent and received a number of calls with the M2, and people talking to me from the M2 sounded crisp and clear, with little background noise going on. Taking a call on the M2 is as good as you might expect, the smaller earpiece does make it a little more difficult to find that sweet spot in your ear, but it's crisp and clear and callers are easily distinguished.
As for overall sound quality, the M2 is a bit of a mixed bag, the M2 has a single, small speaker that is your typically mediocre affair. Fine for watching a YouTube video or two here and there, but speakerphone material this isn't. To get the most out of the M2, you'll be looking at cupping your hand around the bottom of the phone to get more volume and oomph out of it. As for listening to music, the same is true of the speaker, and at louder volumes things are just quite sibilant and piercing, so this is definitely not a room-filler, but few smartphones are. Plugging in a pair of earphones or headphones and things are underwhelming again, they do pump out enough power to get loud on even some of the higher-end headphones we have lying around here, but sound quality is well, 'meh'. There's no real enhancement software for the overall reproduction of sound either, which is disappointing, but again this is just fairly standard Android stuff here.
With the 2,600 mAh battery running the show here, it's understandable that some users might be more than a little concerned with the overall battery life that the M2 can deliver. A 5.5-inch panel like this can be a hungry one, but I was pleasantly surprised with the battery life here. This is presumably down to the fact the MT6753 is made up of lower-power Cortex-A53 cores, instead of more power-hungry Cortex-A57 cores.
I was regularly able to get 2 and a half hours of screen on time with the M2, and left idle it will sip the battery. However, that's a small capacity battery, and if you do anything too intensive with the M2, that battery will drain away pretty quickly. For everyday use, the M2 will get you through the day and well into the night, but add in some HD streaming and gaming and you'll end up cutting that time back by quite a bit. How we use our phones varies from user-to-user, so the best way I can fairly describe the M2's battery life is that it is at best, mediocre with a few niceties here and there.
It's interesting to review a device like the Elephone M2, I've reviewed a number of budget-minded handsets, including the original Moto G, but this is something a little different. While most are definitely affordable, this sits somewhere in-between being a budget handset and something close to that of the high-end. With a good look and feel to it, the hardware has everything you could ask for at this price point, and it's even better-looking (depending on your outlook, of course) than some more higher-end products. The inclusion of a fingerprint sensor is nice as well, but considering how poorly it performs the majority of the time, and it becomes clear how little added value it brings to the table.
This is what makes the Elephone M2 such a strange device, it's all hardware and little else. The build of Android 5.1 Lollipop here is far, far from offensive and is perfectly useable, but it's strangely basic and there's no telling if an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow will ever hit this device, much like other Chinese devices. Now, you're the type of user that doesn't want the absolute best in a smartphone, and software niceties don't bother you then the M2 will more than likely suit you. However, if you're expecting a lot more from a smartphone than just good hardware, and admittedly quite good battery life, then there are certainly better options out there. A standard software experience that is a little hit and miss wrapped up in some fancy clothes is the best way to describe the M2.