Featured Review: Leagoo Elite 1

Leagoo might be a name you've never heard of before, but that doesn't mean they haven't been at the smartphone game for a while.  Even still they're a smaller Chinese manufacturer of Android phones, and that means if you haven't been looking for them it's possible you never knew they existed.  The Elite 1 is one of many smartphones Leagoo announced and released in Fall 2015, and it's going to kick off our reviews of the company's devices.

Specs

The Leagoo Elite 1 sits firmly in the mid-range specification list, with a price tag of around $180.  For this price you're getting a phone that measures 143.8mm high by 69.5mm wide by 7.5mm thin, all while weighing 136 grams and featuring a stainless steel metal frame.  The 5-inch JDI IPS LCD screen up front sports a 1080p resolution and PPI count of 441.  The rear camera is a fourth-generation 1/3.06-inch Sony 16-megapixel sensor with f/2.0 lens and dual-LED flash, while the front is a 13-megapixel third generation Sony sensor with f/2.4 77-degree angle lens and a single-LED flash.  Inside is a 1.3GHz Octa-core MediaTek MT6735 processor, Mali-T720 MP3 GPU and 3GB of RAM as well.  32GB of storage gives some rather roomy space for apps and media, and if that's not enough there's a microSD card slot inside of the rather unique dual-SIM card tray.  Last but not least is the 2,400mAh battery inside, Android 5.1, 4G LTE connectivity and a fingerprint scanner too.  The Elite 1 is available in Midnight Black, Dazzling White and Champagne Gold colors.

In the Box

The Leagoo Elite 1 comes in a pretty simple white box, although the repeating circle pattern gives it a tad bit of extra flair upon closer inspection.  Opening the box reveals a wealth of value that's not often seen in phones of this price and build quality.  Aside from the phone you'll find a product manual, quick start guide, SIM eject tool, microUSB cable and wall charger.  In addition, two screen protectors are included as are a pair of headphones and a USB OTG cable for plugging USB storage sticks into your phone while on the go.  It's an incredible package that has more value than most high-end phones even bother with, which is incredibly nice to see at any price range.

Display

As far as LCD displays go this is a pretty fantastic one, and even more so when considering the competition in this price category.  Aside from the slightly cool hue that the screen has by default, which can easily be adjusted in the MiraVision section of the display settings, all the other measurements of a good display are here.  Good black levels for an IPS panel, excellent brightness, high degrees of color accuracy with a saturation rate that's just right, and of course great viewing angles with no obvious light bleed from the edges.  There's some slight black level loss at angles but nothing too horrendous, and no real obvious color shifting either.  Even the refresh rate is excellent, with only super high contrasting colors causing any noticeable trailing.

Resolution is of course excellent considering the super high 441 pixels-per-inch count, and everything is super sharp and crisp.  Good digitizers are one in a million in this price range it seems, and Leagoo has struck gold with this one.  Touch responsiveness is right up there with phones in the next price bracket, and definitely better than most in the sub-$200 price range.  I found almost no touch errors when using it, although there seems to be a spot of low sensitivity around the lower left section of the screen around where the A is on a QWERTY keyboard like Fleksy.  Still the occasional mess-up didn't cause me much frustration and was again considerably better than many others in this price range.

Hardware and Build

At $180 the Elite 1 falls squarely into the middle of the mid-range category, and it's obvious in the build.  Most phones cheaper than this are made solely of plastic, and many more expensive are either all metal or glass, and this one falls somewhere in-between the two.  An all stainless steel metal frame reinforces the build of the device and makes it feel solid, and the glass front and back make it feel more premium than a plastic phone would feel.  Design wise this looks incredibly similar to an iPhone 4 generation phone, aside from the more unique chamfers done to the edge of the metal including the raised part of the front glass that keeps it from being flush with the metal frame.  This means that back will sit flat on the frame and glass evenly, but if you put the phone face down it's going to rest completely on that Gorilla Glass 3 instead.  Dropping it will likely not bode well because of this, so you'll probably want to get a case to protect it.

The weight makes it feel solid but not too heavy, although it feels semi cheap for one reason or another.  I can't quite place my finger on this but it's possible there are some hollow places here or there that could be doing it.  The right side houses four buttons in total, an elongated metal volume up and down set near the top, same shape power button below that and near the bottom a tiny circular custom button that also doubles as a hardware shutter button.  The left side houses the unique dual-SIM card tray that stacks the SIM cards instead of placing them side-by-side, and also doubles as a microSD card slot instead of a second SIM card if you wish.  On top of the phone sits a 3.5mm headset jack, and there's a microUSB port on the bottom nestled between two speaker grilles.

On the front you'll find a large rounded rectangular physical home button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner.  On the left side of that you'll find a capacitive menu button, and to the right a capacitive back button.  Above the screen sits the ear piece, camera module and front-facing LED flash for night-time selfies.  The bezels on either side of the screen seem to be nonexistent until you turn the screen on, upon which the black inset bezel is revealed.  On the back is a glass surface sitting atop a machined metal-looking material with the camera lens and dual-LED flash residing near the top left.

Performance and Memory

MediaTek has really created a good name for themselves throughout the stellar 2015 product release period, and the MT6735 octa-core processor that powers the Leagoo Elite 1 fits right into that category.  While it's not the absolute highest performer at this price range it's definitely powerful enough for essentially anything you're going to do on a phone.  The extra juice that the Mali-T720 MP3 GPU gives it to support that 1080p resolution helps too, and keeps things moving along quickly and smoothly without any noticeable lag anywhere during use.  A lot of this lag-free experience can also be attributed to the abnormally fast internal storage that Leagoo uses, with throughput speeds in excess of 3 times the average rate of speed in this price range.  Gaming is fantastic and even more intensive 3D games ran perfectly on the phone with no issue.

Multi-tasking was also excellent, although the interface holds things back a bit.  You'll need to press and hold the physical home button to bring up the multi-tasking interface, something that takes far too much effort and time in an era where a single overview button on the face would bring it up instantly.  Not only this but the interface is just plain bad and mimics Xiaomi's horrendous row of 4 app icons instead of the superior thumbnail carousel that Android has been using for years now.  Even if Leagoo didn't want to use the stock 3D carousel of app thumbnails it could have done some other configuration of thumbnails, a far superior and easier way to multi-task other than having to stare at app icons until you find the app you want.  At least the switching process is fast, and apps load instantly when called.  You'll also find that the 3GB of RAM keeps apps from closing forcefully, helping you feel like the phone is even faster that it already feels.

Benchmarks

The Leagoo Elite 1 sits at the bottom of the newest benchmark scores, but that doesn't mean it's a poor performer, just not quite up to the speed of devices many times its cost.  Check out the full suite of benchmark results below:

Phone Calls and Network

Call quality was excellent on T-Mobile US's network, although there's no official support for HD Voice calling on the carrier.  Wireless spectrum support is decent but nothing crazy, with common 2G bands for worldwide support, however the 3G and 4G LTE spectrum means you're going to run into incompatibilities with certain carriers in certain regions.  For instance here in Orlando I was able to get 3G support on T-Mobile's network, but since the phone only supports one out of 3 possible bands T-Mobile's 3G network runs on, your mileage absolutely will vary.  European customers will likely fare much better in this regard.  There's only WiFi support here for the 2.4GHz spectrum up to 802.11n speeds, so no wireless AC or 5GHz support unfortunately.  Check out the full list of supported wireless bands below:

2G bands: 850/900/1800/1900MHz

3G Bands: 900/2100MHz

4G FDD-LTE Bands: 800/1800/2100/2600MHz

Battery Life

2,400mAh isn't exactly large for a modern smartphone's battery, but the Leagoo Elite 1 seems to be able to easily get away with a smaller physical stature regardless of size comparisons.  I found that I didn't have to hold anything back when using the phone, no matter if that meant playing games, streaming music and videos, making phone calls or just texting and chatting throughout the day.  On average I got well over 4 hours of screen-on time, a measure many people use as a real-world performance metric.  In fact I found that the PCMark battery test we run on all review phones backed up this number and shows that this phone is in it for the long haul.  That's very good news especially since the battery isn't removable.

Software

Android 5.1 Lollipop powers the experience but there's plenty of modification to both the looks of Android as well as additions to its base functionality.  Just about the only thing that retains its original Android Lollipop look and feel is the notification shade, which remains almost completely unmodified.  The default launcher and all the settings menus are completely different looking though and all look as though they were designed by different teams of people.  The Launcher's default icon set is very reminiscent of Meizu's FlyMe Android skin, while the menus and settings all look closer to Xiaomi or Samsung's look.  Even stranger still are the random old iOS looking areas or Android 2.x areas, all creating a weird mishmash look that'll keep you on your toes if we're thinking positive.  There's a handful of different themes included for the launcher, but these don't change anything system-wide.

There are so many settings and features here it's a bit dizzying at first.  First up are the off-screen gestures, allowing you to draw various shapes and letters to launch any app you'd like.  In total there are 12 gestures used to launch apps or perform commands, and as a bonus Leagoo actually uses the proximity sensor on the phone to determine whether or not the phone is in your pocket before accepting commands, meaning there will be less pocket dialing and launching of apps while rubbing up against your leg.  Smart motion uses accelerometer gestures to answer phone calls by swinging your phone in your hand or flipping it over to silence.  You can also take a screenshot by dragging 3 fingers down on the screen simultaneously, or change the theme by using two fingers.

Smart Stay will keep the screen on while looking at it instead of shutting it off after a specified time like normal, and there's even additional gestures here that can be called up by waving your hand over the sensor above the screen in certain apps.  All in all there's more than enough gestures here to keep you busy for a long time to come, and thanks to the intelligent implementation of sensors these are actually more useful than annoying.  Aside from this there's also the ability to customize what long-pressing that custom button on the side does.  This action can be assigned to any app, although assigning it to camera probably makes the most sense since it doubles as a shutter button in the camera app.

Security

The large physical home button on the front doubles as a fingerprint reader, a staple of just about any good phone now toward the end of 2015 or beginning of 2016.  This uses a familiar placement to Samsung or Apple users, although personally I hate this position for a fingerprint scanner.  Overall it's only an optimal position when placed on a desk or other flat surface, as it's handy to wake the phone up and unlock in one smooth motion.  When holding the phone this placement is awkward though, as you not only have to apply pressure toward the bottom-most section of the device, but you have to contort your thumb slightly inward to reach it thanks to the phone's fairly small size.  There's no ideal placement for fingerprint scanners for every situation, so weigh the pros and cons for yourself.

Unlocking the phone via fingerprint scanner has to be done after you press the button, leaving your finger on afterward for the reader to scan your print.  In addition to this slower way of doing it the reader itself is very inaccurate despite the marketing claims of Leagoo.  It takes me several seconds of waiting for the phone to finally recognize my print on either hand, and even then I find that it can't grab my fingerprint at all angles.  It's possible that redoing my fingerprint and getting it just right could help, but I don't need to do this with other phones and don't expect to here either.  The lockscreen also becomes completely useless after activating the fingerprint unlock, as the notifications are completely gone and so are the quick shortcuts, meaning it's a simple keyguard and nothing else.

Additional security features include a built-in remote wipe functionality that's activated via text message, although you'll need to set this up before actually needing to use it in an emergency.  There's also a smart app lock feature that's designed to allow users to lock individual apps behind a passcode, which sounds great until you actually try to use it.  The problem here is that you can only use a PIN code to lock apps, not your fingerprint or pattern unlock.  This creates a weird jarring experience that's likely better left alone unless you really need to hide stuff.  Hopefully a Marshmallow update or newer build of the OS helps alleviate this oversight.

Sound

My particular unit seems to have some hardware issues with the 3.5mm headset jack port, and unfortunately that's not all that uncommon in this price range.  It's a real shame too because when I got it working for a while the sound output was phenomenal, giving clear and clean sound that rivals most phones many times more expensive than the Elite 1.  There's no advanced equalizer or anything like that here, just simple clean sound output that does a great job without needing to be messed with.  Bluetooth output was just as good too, and I had no issues when connecting with that.  The speaker grilles on the bottom of the phone hide the reality of the situation for physical speakers on the Elite 1, namely that only the left grille is actually a speaker, while the right one is a microphone.  This speaker has acceptable volume but nothing amazing, and the quality leaves quite a bit to be desired.  It's tinny and sounds small, not to mention rattles a bit at max volume.  It's fine for notifications, games and YouTube videos, but you likely won't enjoy music too much from it.

Camera

Aside from a fairly minor facelift on the main screen, the camera software here is largely what we've come to expect from phones in this price range.  That means lots of modes and settings, including auto, beauty, live photo, motion tracking, panorama and multi-angle photos.  Most of these modes work well enough, although if you want full resolution and image quality it's best to stick with auto mode.  There are definitely some enhancements to performance over many phones in this category, and I found that I was able to more quickly line up and take shots than I am able to with most phones in this price range.  That means a faster, higher frame-rate viewfinder for actually seeing the photos, as well as a quick shutter for taking the shot on time.  There's a dedicated shutter and record button for fast picture and video taking, although the icons make it difficult to see which one is which quickly.

The 16-megapixel Sony sensor on the back does a fantastic job of delivering high-quality photos in a price range where high quality doesn't usually describe the experience.  The biggest letdown is the HDR mode, which is still far too slow in both the shutter speed and processing departments to even be considered remotely useful.  Thankfully auto does a great job in most situations, although I found once or twice that the exposure levels got completely wacked out just before taking the shot, resulting in a severely under or over exposed shot.  Outside of these anomalies the shots turned out quite nicely in both bright and dim lighting and absolutely knocks the pants off the vast majority of phones in this price range.

The front facing camera is surprisingly excellent too, another thing that's not common in this price range, and the 13-megapixel Sony sensor here again does a wonderful job of making things look great.  If it's too dark a front-facing LED flash will light up the scene, and you can take those all-important selfies even late at night.  Beauty mode is way too overpowering by default, especially without the flash on, so you may want to turn this one off if possible.  Even video mode is fantastic, delivering high quality 1080p images that are worlds better than pretty much anything in this price range.  I had a few times where the video was upside down though, so it looks like there could be a bug in the camera software that's not flipping the image when it's supposed to.  Check out the sample gallery below for all the pictures, and be prepared to be amazed!

The Good

Solid Metal and glass build

Great performance

Phenomenal multi-tasking performance

Excellent screen

Fantastic camera

Long battery life

Sound output is really good

Dual SIM, microSD card slot

The Bad

Software has a mishmash look

Speaker on the body is pretty bad

My unit's 3.5mm headset jack has serious issues

Fingerprint scanner is slow and inaccurate

Weird problems with the camera software every now and then

Conclusion

Leagoo has dropped a pretty fantastic entry into the sub-$200 price range, and one that often bests many smartphones found in this range.  There are always negatives to any device, regardless of price, but when comparing it to similar devices you'll find the Leagoo Elite 1 does many things better than a lot of phones in its price bracket.  With these devices always comes the question of major updates, when and if they will come, but given the high value and generally low price it wouldn't be as painful to never receive another major version of Android as more expensive flagship phones are.  There really are no budget minded phones that ship with Android 6.0 Marshmallow just yet, and it's not expected that Google will ship the next major version of Android until near the end of the year, so there's no telling what sort of schedule Leagoo might have here for updates.  Check out the GearBest link for the Elite 1 below to get your very own if you like what you see.

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About the Author
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Nick Sutrich

Event / Reviews Editor
Nick has written for Androidheadlines since 2013, is Review Editor for the site, and has traveled to many tech events across the world. His background is as Systems Administrator and overall technology enthusiast. Nick loves to review all kind of different devices but specializes in Android smartphones, smartphone camera reviews, and all things VR, both here on the site and on our YouTube channel. He is very passionate about smartphones and the continued improvement they can bring into people’s lives and is an expert on many different types of technologies, including mobile devices, VR, and cameras. Contact him at [email protected]
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