Elephone has been known for having some pretty interesting phones, and a few have some amazing designs. Some of which would make users in the West a bit jealous, even though they are a Chinese manufacturer. The Elephone S3 is a somewhat small smartphone, with a pretty familiar design. But it throws in something that most other smartphones don't have, and that's a bezel-less display - at least on the left and right side. But the question here is having a bezel-less display enough to warrant spending $179 on the Elephone S3? Or does the S3 just fall flat? Let's dive into the full review and find out for ourselves.
The Elephone S3 is what many in the West would consider a "mid-range" smartphone. But the spec sheet looks fairly familiar, for those in Asia. We have a 5.2-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution display which nets you 424 pixels per inch, this is powered by the MediaTek MT6753 octa-core processor which features 8 cores clocked at 1.3GHz, paired with the Mali T-720 GPU and 3GB of RAM. Elephone has included 16GB of internal storage. There is a micro SD card slot, which Elephone quotes as supporting up to 128GB. However, it should support SanDisk's 200GB and their recently announced, 256GB micro SD cards.
Elephone has sourced the camera here from Sony, and it's their IMX135 sensor, which is a 13-megapixel sensor. The front-facing camera is a 5-megapixel shooter and both record in 1080p. The rear-facing camera has flash, with both cameras featuring auto-focus and touch focus. For connectivity, we have WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, GPS, A-GPS, as well as an accelerometer for sensors. The Elephone S3 is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, currently the latest version of Android, and is powered by a non-removable 2100mAh battery.
This is a dual SIM smartphone, again something that is popular over in Asia and other developing countries. We're looking at a nano and a micro SIM card slot, which is located on the left side of the phone. Bands supported by both SIM card slots include:
GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900
WCDMA 900, 1900, 2100
TD-SCDMA B34, B39
FDD-LTE B1, B3, B7, B20
TDD-LTE B38, B39, B40, B41
In the Box
Elephone's packaging here is actually fairly minimal. It's a small box, that's made of plastic, and you have the phone sitting right on top. Beneath the phone sits a hard plastic case for the Elephone S3, along with a Quick Start Guide, with your wall adapter and micro USB to USB Type-A cable. Nothing too special inside the box, but it is nice to see that Elephone does include a case to go with this phone. Seeing as it's not a popular smartphone, and finding a case may be a bit tricky.
Looking at the Elephone S3, you'll think that it looks pretty familiar. And it does look a whole lot like the OnePlus 3 that was just announced last month. Albeit, a bit smaller since this does have a 5.2-inch display versus the OnePlus 3's 5.5-inch panel. That's not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as both smartphones have a pretty fantastic build. The Elephone S3 is made of metal, and it definitely has that metal feel. Due to it being made of metal, the smartphone does feel a bit heavier than most other smartphones in that size. The back of the Elephone S3 is slightly curved. This is to make it feel more natural in the hand, which it really does feel quite natural. I like the feel of the device, as it's not too big and not too small, it does work really well for one-handed use.
Elephone has all of the usual design choices here, which includes using a camera bump, as well as the speaker grille at the bottom and of course on-screen buttons. So the bottom houses the speaker grille, along with the micro USB port - unfortunately there is no USB Type-C connector here - with the left side featuring the SIM/micro SD card slot and the right side having the power button and volume rocker. The power button is in the perfect position. It's right where my finger would be, making it easy to turn the phone on and off without much of a hassle. My only complaint here is that it should have a different texture compared to the volume rocker, so your finger can tell what button it is. Some phones have a textured power button with the volume rocker being flat, and it does make a pretty big difference.
The front of the Elephone S3 looks really nice. It's sporting that 5.2-inch bezel-less display, which looks even better when you power it on. Elephone is using on-screen buttons here, but they did keep the trend that we are seeing out of Asia lately, which is using a menu button instead of a recents. Meaning that you are going to be long-pressing the home button to get into recents instead of simply pressing a recents button. Not the end of the world, and it is pretty easy to get used to. There is a LED notification light at the top of the display, along with the earpiece and front-facing camera.
Elephone's display here is pretty impressive. We won't claim that it's the best display ever made - we're not qualified to say that - and it's not a QHD panel, so it would be tough to justify that. But as far as 1080p panels go, there's no real complaints here with the looks of the display. Although, the panel is a bit too bright, even in the most dim setting. This may sound like a first world problem, and it probably is, but it would be nice to have it get just a bit more dim, allowing users to get just a bit more battery life out of it in dark conditions. When turning the brightness up all the way, the Elephone S3 does get plenty bright. In fact, it works really well out in direct sunlight, a good thing since it is summer time now.
The looks of the display isn't the whole story though. The digitizer is another important component to any smartphone's display panel. The digitizer is what recognizes your finger when it touches the display. For the most part, it worked fairly well here. Although there were some times where we needed to swipe down from the notification bar a few times to open the notification shade. This was especially the case with using it one-handed. Now this could be an issue with the device since it's bezel-less - and possibly part of my hand was registering a touch on the display - seeing as it wasn't an issue when using the phone with two hands. But it's still something to be aware of.
As far as performance is concerned, there's nothing to see here. The MediaTek MT6753 is a fairly popular processor in most Chinese smartphones as of late, and with good reason. It's a cheap processor that provides a good amount of power and doesn't use a ton of juice. It's an octa-core 1.3GHz processor, that is paired with the Mali-T720 GPU. Together these provide an impressive experience, both in terms of normal usage on a smartphone, but also in terms of gaming. Playing games like Riptide GP2, Gravity Switch and others, the Elephone S3 performed very well. In fact, it sometimes exceeded our expectation. Of course, the added 3GB of RAM definitely did help to make the performance of the Elephone S3 impressive.
There were no slowdowns whatsoever during our time with the Elephone S3. Something that every potential buyer will be excited to hear. The MT6753 and 3GB of RAM performed exactly as we expected, and you can see more about that in the benchmarks section further down.
Like most smartphones coming out today, the Elephone S3 does also sport a fingerprint sensor. It is located on the back of the device, just below the camera. It's in almost the perfect spot, for me, as it's where my finger normally is when holding the phone. Making it easy to unlock your phone, as well as use the fingerprint sensor to authenticate payments and app logins. Since this is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the Elephone S3's fingerprint sensor does work with all sorts of apps that support Google's Fingerprint API. Making for a pretty good reason to use the fingerprint sensor on the backside of the Elephone S3.
The fingerprint sensor is really, really good. It's very fast and also very accurate. I haven't had it misread my finger once, during my time using the device. That's something that I can't say about any other smartphone, including the LG G5 and Nexus 6P. It's just that good.
Battery Life is where the Elephone S3 seems to fall short. After using, and being spoiled by, the battery life of the Oukitel K6000 Pro, we were left wanting a bit more out of the Elephone S3. Now with a much smaller battery, it didn't really surprise us that the Elephone S3 didn't sport spectacular battery life, but it did surprise us that it didn't even last a full day. The 2100mAh battery that is inside will likely not even get you through a full day. And on top of that, there's no form of quick charging capability included in the Elephone S3. Which means you're stuck waiting for it to charge pretty slowly. But since the battery is so small, it does charge pretty quickly. Going from zero to 100% in just over an hour.
It's pretty surprising that Elephone stuck with such a small battery here on the Elephone S3, considering the Nexus 5X which has a 5.2-inch display as well, has a much larger battery - around 2700mAh.
Speaker & Sound
The speaker is found on the bottom of the phone, beside the micro USB port. It's where most speakers are found these days, so not a huge surprise. But the speaker does sound a bit "tinny". That may not bother many people, but those that are audiophiles, you definitely won't like this sound. Messing around with the sound options in Settings (Settings > Sound & Notification > Sound Enhancement) didn't change the sound much either. Speaking of the settings in there, we have BesAudEnh which will enhance the audio for the earpiece. There's also BesLoudness which does the same for the speaker, and of course BesSurround which can be turned on to give you a form of surround sound.
Plugging in a pair of earphones, and we had pretty much the same experience with audio through the speaker. It's still a bit "tinny". Not that great of an experience for most people.
We ran three benchmarks here on the Elephone S3. That included 3DMark, Geekbench 3 and AnTuTu. You can see the results in the gallery below. The scores were pretty close to other smartphones with the same internals. Leading the results to be about what we expected, overall.
Elephone has kept the software rather vanilla, here on the S3. As mentioned, we are running Android 6.0 Marshmallow here. There are a few changes that were made to the software, but very little. Making it a great smartphone for those that prefer stock Android. Elephone has included a few gestures that you can enable individually. These largely change how you turn on the phone, jump into specific apps with the screen off and such. There is also an option to schedule when the phone powers on and off, something that appears to be very popular in Asia. This means you can schedule the phone to turn off after you've gone to sleep and then turn back on just before you wake up.
While most of us are fans of stock Android, it would have been nice for Elephone to add in a few extra features, other than gestures. Doing something along the lines of what Motorola does. Meaning, adding in features that can be updated through the Google Play store or another app store, and that doesn't hold up updates. Another feature we would have liked to see, is the ability to change the softkeys. Since Elephone did use softkeys here on the S3, there's no reason why we can't change them and have a back button on the left side and swap out that menu button for a recents key, if we wanted too.
When it comes to software on cheap phones and phones out of China, one of the big questions we hear is whether it'll get updates. During our brief time with the Elephone S3, we did get two updates for the device. Which left a good impression with us, thinking that Elephone will push out updates to this device rather often. Always a good thing, in the long run.
Elephone has Sony's IMX135 sensor here, which is a 13-megapixel sensor, and it actually performs quite impressively. Obviously this won't be a better sensor than the IMX230 (their 21-megapixel sensor found in devices like the Droid Turbo), but for a mid-range camera sensor, it's pretty good. Pictures did come out pretty well, some pictures did become a little blown out, mostly when in direct sunlight. Low-light photos came out fairly decent though.
However, the camera does seem to be a bit slow. When taking a picture and pressing the shutter button, it takes a few seconds before the shutter actually takes the picture. A bit unfortunate, especially if you're trying to capture that moment. It's going to make it a bit tough to take pictures of kids or animals, seeing as those things do like to move and not hold still for a picture. Leading us to the conclusion that this camera is passable. As long as you aren't taking pictures of moving objects, you shouldn't have any issues with this camera.
Build Quality: It's amazing how good build quality can be on smartphones that are under $200. The Elephone S3 doesn't disappoint in that area.
Display: Who doesn't love a bezel-less display? Especially one that is as bright and sharp as the panel that Elephone has used here.
Software experience: While it is a bit plain, having stock Android is always a good way to go.
Battery: There's no reason why Elephone couldn't have added a larger battery inside. Luckily, since it is a small battery, it does charge up pretty fast (around 90 minutes).
Camera: While pictures do come out pretty well, having such a slow shutter is not a good look. Seeing as most people are going to be using their phone to take pictures of their kids and pets.
The Elephone S3 does check a lot of the boxes, for those looking for a new smartphone. It sports a fantastic build, somewhat decent battery life (depending on your usage, of course), and a beautiful bezel-less display as well. If you're one that doesn't use your phone a whole lot, and just need it for keeping up with email, calling and texting people, etc., then the Elephone S3 is a great phone to pick up. But if you're a heavy user, and don't want to charge your phone more than once a day, then you'll want to look elsewhere. The biggest issue for us with the Elephone S3, is sadly the battery. We're still pretty puzzled as to why it sports such a tiny battery.