Highlight – It's not just a smartphone, it's an entire smart ecosystem.
Formerly known as LeTV in China, LeEco begun using the new name in January this year and started with a huge new year's resolution: enter the US smartphone market. Many Chinese OEMs have stuck to the shores of China, often not expanding beyond the borders of India or other countries that border China. LeEco marks the first truly massive brand to begin sales of their devices on US shores, and they're doing it in a huge way. Not only is LeEco starting off by discounting their first two US phones by $100, but they're also doing some major Black Friday sales for their phones and TVs as well. It's clear that LeEco is ready to jump into the US market in a huge way, but is this the right phone for the job? Let's take a look.
LeEco is packing a lot into a phone that isn't priced particularly high, as many China-based manufacturers tend to do in order to set themselves apart from the larger worldwide brand names. Sporting a 5.5-inch 1080p LTPS display, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. There's no microSD card support here, and the US model only supports a single nano-SIM card. Qualcomm's latest processing package, the Snapdragon 821, powers the experience and runs alongside an Adreno 530 GPU. A 4,070mAh non-removable battery sits behind the unibody metal back, and back here you'll also find a 16-megapixel camera with Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) and an f/2.0 lens.
One thing to note is the lack of a 3.5mm audio port, something LeEco started in the industry some time ago, and instead everything is routed through the single USB Type-C port on the bottom of the phone. LeEco's own eUI 5.8 skin runs atop Android 6.0 Marshmallow and has been redesigned from the ground up to best support the expectations of US customers. LeEco's design shines here, as the Le Pro3 holds the honor of being the smallest phone with this size battery on the market, as the phone measures 151.4mm high, 73.9mm wide and 7.5mm thin, as well as weighing a solid 176 grams. LeEco's pricing here in the US technically is $399 for the phone, however at launch the company has been offering a $100 instant rebate as well as LeEco rewards for unlimited photo and video storage. LeEco is discounting the phone even further for Black Friday 2016 too, which is impressive to say the least.
In The Box
LeEco is going all out with its phone, and it's not just stopping at great pricing for the specs delivered. Inside the box you'll of course find the phone up top, and underneath a slew of goodies. A gel-type clear TPU case is included for basic protection out of the box, and you'll also find the usual set of manuals and SIM tray ejector tool. LeEco's wall charger supports Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0, and they also include a USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable for connecting to existing devices like laptops and other computers. Since there's no 3.5mm audio jack here LeEco includes a USB Type-C to 3.5mm audio adapter in the box, and as a bonus a rather snazzy set of USB Type-C HD earbuds are included too. This is one insanely valued package for the price, especially if you're getting it at the discounted rate.
LeEco is a proponent of inexpensive displays and devices as a whole, and the display on the Le Pro3 reflects that. Utilizing a different material on its TFT glass layer, the Low Temperature Poly-Silicon (LTPS) display on the LeEco Le Pro3 differentiates itself from the IPS pack by trying to be more energy efficient in many ways. Normally these types of displays feature a higher pixel density as a quad-HD display at 5.5-inches would, but LeEco decided that 1080p resolution is good enough for such a display. This is definitely the case in daily use, as you'll be hard pressed to find any big resolution differences with the naked eye between this and a quad-HD panel at the same size unless you're looking very closely. Lower resolution hurts VR quality too, as you'll see far more pixels on a 1080p display than you would on a quad-HD one.
The display overall looks quite good and only hinges just a tad on the cool side for white balance. This is one of those things where it's really only noticeable when comparing it to other displays, and in general most won't find it offensive at all. Color accuracy as a result suffers just a tad, but again it's nothing you'd notice unless you were looking for it. Saturation and contrast are good without being overbearing, and those wanting higher of each can change this setting under display properties, which offers four different color modes: LeEco, Vivid, Natural and Soft, the last of which is also called blue light filter on other phones. Refresh/persistence rate is also great, and you'll notice no ghosting while scrolling between high contrast objects.
LCD panels never have great black levels when compared to other technologies out there, and as such the panel here is no different. You'll notice some black level shifting when tilting the phone, and blacks are generally gray instead of actually being black. Brightness is never an issue with LCD displays normally, and that's definitely the case here with the Le Pro 3, which features an excellent range of brightness both in dark rooms for easier night-time reading, and in direct sunlight where the contrast automatically adjusts to help make things more visible. LeEco also adjusts the contrast and video processing by default when watching videos to give a more pleasant feel, but honestly I couldn't tell the difference between the mode being on or off when switching back and forth.
Hardware and Build
LeEco has long been a proponent of metal unibody phones, and the overall design feels familiar if you've ever used or seen a LeEco or LeTV phone. There's definitely a level of refinement here over some other units from the company, and as a whole this one feels a lot more sleek and svelte than the company's devices last year. The LeEco Le Pro3 is one seriously well built phone with a strong unibody design that feels incredibly solid all the way around. From the brushed metal back to the fine edges where the glass meets, there's no doubting the quality construction and design put into this phone. The back of the phone has a slight curve to all four edges, which continue to the sides of the phone where it features chamfered front and back lines to help blend the curves in a classier way.
On the right you'll find the power button just above the mid-point of the phone, with the volume rockers residing higher and closer to the top. On top you'll only find a noise-cancelling microphone and IR blaster, no 3.5mm audio jack here at all. The left side holds the single nano-SIM tray, while the bottom of the phone features a centered USB Type-C port flanked by speaker grilles, although only the right grille is actually a speaker. On the front sits a 5.5-inch panel, discussed above, with some rather odd looking black bezels around it. These black bezels hide themselves when the screen is off, but become terribly apparent while on and unfortunately gives it a cheaper feeling than if they were the same color as the rest of the face of the phone. This is particularly apparent on our champagne gold review unit. Below the screen sits three capacitive touch buttons: overview/multi-tasking on the left, back on the right, and a home button in the middle which looks like LeEco's logo instead of a house or circle icon.
Above the screen sits a pair of sensors as well as the front-facing camera, and the speaker grille here actually acts like a front-facing speaker to deliver stereo sound. Around back you'll find the rounded square camera lens centered horizontally, but situated near the top of the phone just below the antenna lines. To its right is a dual-LED flash array, and below is a rounded square fingerprint scanner with a gorgeous mirror finish. The downside to this finish is that it attracts fingerprints, a quality that makes sense for the reader but doesn't look so great until it's wiped clean. Despite being slightly heavier than average on paper the phone feels light and agile. Included in the box is a clear TPU case to protect the phone, something that's great since metal doesn't exactly make the phone easy to hold in colder weather. This TPU style case feels like rubber and adds significant grip to the phone, and as a bonus helps keep the metal from getting scratched without ruining the look or feel of the device.
Performance, Multi-tasking and VR
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821 SoC is nothing short of a beast, and since the LeEco Le Pro3 is powered by it, you can expect performance on this phone to be nothing short of the best there is. Every day performance is super responsive and snappy. Apps open near instantaneously with little to no load times, and moving between apps is as fast as can be. 3D games are essentially perfect on this device, with even the most demanding of games running smooth as butter. Having only a 1080p display helps things a lot, and keeps that GPU more than adequate for these sorts of titles, and on top of this LeEco features a performance mode that's automatically triggered when entering demanding 3D titles. This boost performance at the expense of battery life, and allows the phone to heat up a bit more than it otherwise would be able to.
LeEco's mult-tasking screen is quite different from other OEMs on the market, something we'll cover more in the software section, but know that it looks unique in many aspects. A horizontal row of thumbnails with the accompanying icon below is shown in the bottom third of the screen, giving you a quick and easy way to move between apps. Since this doesn't take up the entire screen like you would see on some other iOS-like Android skins on the market, a lot more of these thumbnails can be fit on screen at once. This gives LeEco phones an advantage that OEMs like Xiaomi or Huawei don't have with their interfaces, although it's going to be up to preference as to whether one prefers the stock Android interface of a vertically scrolling 3D carousel instead of this. Either way this interface is great and doesn't hurt multi-tasking in any way.
Benchmarks are interesting, because in some areas the LeEco Le Pro3 smokes the competition, while it falls behind in other benchmarks. All in all this makes it about what we would expect from a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 821 powered device though, so that's a good thing. Check out all the benchmarks below.
As LeEco's first US-centric phone, the Le Pro3 sports all of the required bands to get a good LTE signal on any GSM-based carrier in the US. That means customers on AT&T, T-Mobile and any of the GSM-based MVNOs out there like Cricket or Straight Talk. Impressively enough too is the fact that LeEco has worked with US carriers to match available codecs to support HD Voice, and to make things even better T-Mobile's WiFi calling works out of the box too. These sorts of features are normally reserved for phones you buy straight from a mobile providers store or website, and it's great to see an OEM working so closely with carriers to integrate the features that can be so important to many customers. You'll also find an IR blaster up top, something that's become a bit of a unicorn in smartphones recently, and allows you to control any TV or other device that accepts a normal IR remote for input.
There's only one nano-SIM slot here, so it's clear this phone isn't built for countries where multiple SIM cards are a popular option. NFC is another incredibly important part of the wireless spectrum consideration, and it's great to see LeEco taking this into account instead of ignoring it as we still see OEMs do here and there. Full Android Pay support is here and ready to use out of the box without any additional configuration at all. Simply open the Android Pay app, select a card tied to your account, and pay at your favorite retailer. Even Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX support is here, giving you the latest generation of Bluetooth connectivity available with high quality Bluetooth audio as well.
LeEco's power management has traditionally been pretty tight, with background app restrictions and data saver modes on by default. Since many of these sorts of concerns aren't an issue here in the US as they are in some countries with much more expensive mobile data plans, LeEco has fortunately turned most of these modes off, but still allows users to manage power savings and data savings when needed. The result is some seriously excellent battery life, something that should be expected of a phone with a 4,070mAh battery. Since this battery is about 25% larger than the average phablet's battery, there's really no reason to assume the overall battery life wouldn't follow suit. I found it was never a problem to get through a full day's use, no matter what I did on the phone, and regularly saw 30% or more battery left after a long 18 hour day. For those that need a top-up on battery, the LeEco Le Pro3 supports Qualcomm's QuickCharge 3.0, meaning at least 50% battery charge in a mere 30 minutes, which is more than enough to get through the rest of any day.
There are a few weird lingering issues with task scheduling though, something that's likely still intentional at the end of the day but minimized in order to not affect user experience too much. Drilling down into the battery section of settings, you'll find a power saving management section that's got most of the entries disabled by default. There is one curiously named setting enables out of the box, however, and that's called "Align wakeup." This seems to work in conjunction with Android's native power saving Doze mode, and keeps the phone from waking up outside of the set schedule. In Android 6.0 Marshmallow Doze only works when the phone has been sitting flat on a surface for a while, and turns itself off when it detects movement from things like being placed in a pocket, bag, etc. It's likely that LeEco has made this a little more sensitive, as I noticed that when the Le Pro3 sat on a table for a while (such as when working), I would often miss emails and other messages by 10-20 minutes depending on when they came in. Turning this off solves the issue, but the setting is a bit nested and many users may never find it.
Here's where things start to get really interesting for LeEco. Earlier this year marked the first phone LeEco shipped without a 3.5mm audio jack, and it appears that model is here to stay. All-digital audio is the idea behind the madness of removing the 3.5mm audio jack, and that means either streaming music over Bluetooth with high-quality aptX support, or pushing audio through the USB Type-C port at the bottom of the phone. Included in the box is a pair of USB Type-C headphones with CDLA HD audio support, a function that's enabled by default on a supported pair of headphones such as these are. This enables higher quality audio playback, although 24-bit high-resolution audio isn't listed as supported. Still streaming over aptX or listening through the USB Type-C port produces some phenomenal quality to say the least.
Folks that have an existing audio system that need the 3.5mm jack aren't left in the dust here though, as LeEco provides a small 3-inch adapter to convert from USB Type-C to 3.5mm analog just for this purpose. This disables the HD audio function but still produces excellent sound out of the box, albeit with white noise added over the all-digital component. Not having a dedicated audio jack is a major pain though, and even though an adapter is included it means that charging while listening with a wired headset is impossible without a supported splitter. I found myself not having to listen to music a few times during the review for two reasons: the phone either ran low enough on battery to need a top-up, or I forgot my converter and couldn't listen in the car. It's great that we're moving toward an all-digital future for music, for but now it's going to be inconvenient until adapters become more prolific.
What's particularly unique to LeEco's Le Pro3 is the inclusion of a Dolby Atmos equalizer. This isn't a full customizable EQ, rather one with four presets for different scenarios: Movie, Music, Game and Voice. As a general rule of thumb you only want to use this setting for the phone's built-in speakers or a pair of headphones, as it will fight with any existing external EQs and make things sound muddy. With regular headphones though the Dolby Atmos EQ did an amazing job of helping elevate the sound quality for each scenario. What's more is that LeEco actually includes a front-facing speaker in the earpiece portion above the screen, delivering stereo audio that sounds quite a bit better than phones with just a bottom-facing speaker. This method is similar to what HTC did with the HTC 10, placing a larger driver at the bottom of the phone facing out, while a smaller one sits in the earpiece facing the user's face. Stereo front-facing speakers are always better than bottom or rear-facing speakers if for no other reason than spatial positioning, and LeEco's speakers are even quite good to boot. In general these make a great replacement for a cheaper Bluetooth speaker, although since there's not much bass going on you might not want to use these as a full replacement in every scenario. Still with video being LeEco's focus, it's great to see them recognizing the importance of front-facing speakers.
Last year when we reviewed the LeTV Le Max, we weren't exactly thrilled with the way LeTV modified Android in a way that broke many facets of the OS. This time around it seems that LeEco is more than just a name change, as the entirety of the OS found here doesn't just work considerably better than that phone, but it's actually fantastic in general. LeEco's android skin is called eUI, and the Le Pro3 is running eUI version 5.8 on top of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. While this eUI is a minor jump from the version 5.5 found on the LeTV phone we reviewed last year, the actual experience is considerably better than the 0.1 version jump presumes itself to be. Everything functions as you would expect, with apps supporting Android's deep linking properties of being able to share information with other apps, something we found broken in that previous version.
Much like other Android OEMs on the market, LeEco modifies Android's look and feel to represent their vision of smartphones, which in this case is unique in a very good way. At first you might find things a bit jarring, as pulling the notification shade down only reveals notifications, no quick toggles or ways to quickly reach settings. Instead pressing the overview/multi-tasking button on the face of the phone brings up a wholly unique and incredibly interesting screen that feels similar to iOS's control center, however it still retains plenty of unique properties over that interface. First off all the recently opened apps are found at the bottom third of the window in horizontally scrollable format, something that actually turns into quite a positive design after just a few hours of use. It's definitely weird at first, but being able to fit 4 full-view thumbnails on only a portion of the screen with the accompanying icon makes things easy to use and see.
Above this you'll find a brightness adjust slider and a row of 25 horizontally scrolling icons that represent quick access to system functions like the camera, calculator, remote control, flashlight and others. This row is split between the dedicated music control section and can be customized to fit what you want to access first, giving you quick access to 10 total icons at once without having to scroll. The music control section is something that's not common among Android skins and definitely not part of stock Android, which normally relies on the notification shade or lock screen to deliver a context-sensitive music control area.
LeEco's launcher is similar to others out there that focus on a no app drawer style, with a "LeView" section on the left-most page showing trending videos on YouTube and other selected sources. A total of 15 different categories can be selected to quickly few on this page and give users quick ways to access popular videos to kill time instead of having to navigate through a bunch of apps to do the same thing. Aside from not having an app drawer, the one weakness of this launcher is the inability to automatically sort icons by name, something that become incredibly frustrating for me within minutes of using the phone. Thankfully a dedicated Google search bar resides up top and allows quick searching as you normally would expect, including apps installed on the phone.
One of the biggest values LeEco offers over every other Android OEM on the market is its ecosystem. LeEco chose to rename itself from LeTV for many reasons, but one of which was because LeEco's products truly do live in their own ecosystem, and interact with eachother in ways that most manufacturers of multiple types of products could only dream. This doesn't just include products like TVs, cars and phones though, it also includes the software and services surrounding that software. LeEco is known as many things in its homeland of China, but one of them is the Netflix of China, and part of their expansion into the US includes bringing that important video service here as well. LeEco Live is the name of LeEco's service, and while it's not exclusively available on just LeEco's products, it's a service that comes bundled with the Le Pro3 out of the box.
Big studio names like Lionsgate and Showtime are among the list of content providers on LeEco Live, as well as popular TV channels like A&E, The History Channel, Machinima, the Travel Channel, Lifetime, HGTV and more. LeEco Live is accessible via the middle icon in the dedicated shortcut row of the home screen launcher. This icon is of course removable if you wish, but out of the box it provides a quick and easy way to access what could arguably become the most important part of LeEco's US strategy if their hardware division doesn't take off the same way it did in China. Right now LeEco Live is in sort of a "beta" state in the US, with the service not fully launching until early in 2017, however for the time being the above listed content partners have lots of content on LeEco Live, including tons of live broadcast and recorded content.
This means your favorite shows on HGTV or the Food Network, for instance, are available live or on-demand via the LeEco Live app, and navigating couldn't be easier. On the main screen channels are broken down into content groups representing things like drama, comedy, etc. These groups of channels can be customized to display only the ones your normally watch, with a horizontally scrolling row of icons representing each network. You can also drill down into each category to more easily see everything that's included in the list, or just search for your favorite channel or program. Once in a channel you'll be presented with whatever is broadcasting live at the moment, and recording functionality begins the moment you click on the channel. This means if you have to navigate away from the app for whatever reason, the content is automatically paused for you, resuming upon re-entering the app again.
Shows are archived for a set period of time depending on the broadcaster, and are represented with a single finger swipe up to give a visual timeline of shows for the day. Each thumbnail of a show has a the name of the show, title of the episode, time it aired and whether or not it's ready to watch from recording, aired live or upcoming. Some upcoming broadcast shows are available on-demand too, so if you're fortunate and have a favorite show on the supported list, you might even be able to watch the show before it airs. The biggest setback for the current LeEco Live app is lack of Google Cast functionality, something that will surely irk most users to say the least. LeEco's own TVs are supported for watching over the air with a simple two finger swipe up gesture, but without Google Cast functionality the list of supported TVs is slim to say the least. A 3-month trial of LeEco Live is included with the Le Pro3, however there is no official pricing on the service yet for when the full version is live.
In addition to this all of LeEco's apps seem to want an inordinate amount of permissions. Upon launching almost every LeEco branded app I was asked for several permissions, many of which didn't seem to jive with what the app did, such as asking for phone and contacts permissions on the LeEco Live app. Better explanations of the need of these permissions would help, but the apps seemed to function even if I denied the ones I didn't like them accessing. This is particularly odd because LeEco seems to be pretty tight with security and privacy for users in general, and seems great about not only keeping Android updated to the latest security patch within a month of release, but also adding in two-factor authentication with its LeCloud service out of the box.
LeEco includes full, unlimited back via its own LeCloud online storage service, something that's particularly impressive given that Google only offers unlimited photo and video backup via Google Photos with its Pixel lineup, a range of phones that costs at least twice as much as the Le Pro3. LeCloud also offers more options than Google's cloud backup, with a centralized control panel to set what needs to be backed up and what doesn't. LeCloud is built into the OS and backs up contacts, text messages, call history, gallery, notes, calendar, browser history/bookmarks/saved passwords, saved WiFi hotspots, the phone blacklist and home screen layout. Find my device can be turned on during the initial setup and offers a great way to search for your phone if it becomes lost or stolen, as well as wiping it remotely if needed. There's also a recycle bin containing deleted contacts and notes that's kept for 30 days in case you accidentally erase something important.
LeEco's camera software is pretty basic by any modern measure, but it functions well enough to get by. The layout is common among smartphones for the most part despite having a slightly different skin than many smartphones pack now. This part is actually quite refreshing, but the navigation in the app could use some work. Along the bottom you'll find a centered camera shutter button that changes function depending on what mode you're in. To its right is a set of live filters for that Instagram look without the official app, and to the left a dedicated gallery button. Above the shutter is a row of four modes that can be moved between with a swipe left or right: Slo-mo, Video, Photo and Pano. Photo also has sub-modes that can be accessed by swiping up from the shutter button, a slightly confusing gesture that's easily forgotten since there's no real indicator showing the additional modes. These modes include HDR, Night, Square, Beauty and Scene Selection.
Along the top of the screen you'll find dedicated buttons for entering settings, toggling flash and switching between front and rear-facing cameras. One of the biggest downsides to the software is the complete lack of any real intelligent automatic mode, as the standard auto mode does nothing special other than the usual adjusting of ISO and shutter speed to take a photo after focusing. There's no manual mode here, no manual focusing, no way to easily adjust exposure bias after focusing, no auto night mode and no auto HDR mode. Thankfully LeEco added a spot exposure mode, where you can click to focus on a point and then drag the inner ring around the screen to match the exposure of a certain point in the image to lock it there.
Camera Performance and Results
Launching the camera is a quick affair, with a launch around 2-3 seconds at max. This is greatly aided with the ability to quickly launch the camera using a specified fingerprint that's saved to the phone, so you can choose a single fingerprint that always launches the camera when pressed against the fingerprint scanner. This makes it effortless to launch the camera, and speeds up the process considerably, as you don't need to turn the screen on and swipe the camera icon to quick launch the camera, or even press the home or power button twice. In addition to this the same fingerprint will actually take a picture once in the software, meaning you can quickly launch the camera and take a picture in under 3 seconds, all without ever having to move your finger.
Focus speed is pretty average at best, and at times it can take up to 2 seconds for the camera to realize it needs to refocus before even doing so. Since this has PDAF the focus is generally quite accurate and quick once the process initiates, but this hesitation period can cause some annoyance for those used to seeing some of the blindingly fast focusing methods like some flagships this year have had. Shutter speed is usually quite fast too, especially in good light, but the camera tends to choke a bit in lower light, even as much as just being inside during the day. I found that too often the phone prioritized low ISO over a reasonable shutter speed, and thus made me take more blurry pictures than I would have liked. Without a manual mode to force the shutter to be faster, this is a problem for sure.
In addition to this overall quality really wasn't that great in most scenarios. During bright daylight things look seemingly as good as they possibly could, with tons of detail from the 16-megapixel sensor on the back, and great overall color accuracy. Once the scene gets a bit more extreme, however, such as the case is when taking shade from the sun, you'll find the dynamic range on the sensor is rather poor without HDR mode enabled. This particularly becomes a problem at night when there's any kind of light at all, as the camera seems to want to keep the lights from being overblown instead of working to balance out the scene. What I found in most darker situations were lights that are perfectly balanced but an overall scene that's far too dark to see much of anything.
The front-facing camera is pretty poor in most cases, especially in lower light, and exhibits lots of noise and overall fairly poor picture quality. There have been worse front-facing cameras on phones lately, namely the Xiaomi Mi MIX, but this isn't a great front-facing camera by any means and will certainly look like a budget phone if posting on social media. Video mode on the main camera fairs quite a bit better though, as there's full 4K support with electronic image stabilization on board, meaning you're going to get crisp, clean videos with just a bit of shake or shimmy with regular movement. This isn't quite as good as OIS in this implementation, but it's better than having no stabilization at all. Check out the gallery below for some pictures and video taken during the review period.
Great price, especially promotional
Lots of features
Lots of added value
LeEco Services are off to a good start
WiFi calling on T-Mobile
Adapters, headphones and case included in box
Good battery life
No 3.5mm audio jack
Average display at best
Any way you slice it, $399 is a great deal for what you're getting with the LeEco Le Pro3. Take that down to $299 as you'll find right now during LeEco's introductory pricing period and that value starts to border on insane, especially when you consider everything else you're getting with the phone. This isn't just a smartphone, it's an entire smart ecosystem, and one that goes hand-in-hand with LeEco's other product lines. LeEco Live is in its infancy here in the US, and when the service makes its first big rollout early next year it's likely going to be a big one, and the Le Pro3 is the easiest place to find LeEco's new service out of the box. This is a fantastic phone with a phenomenal build, great battery life, tons of features, support for many US carriers including proprietary things like WiFi calling, and a great sound chip inside too. It's definitely going to be inconvenient to have this phone if you constantly forget the 3.5mm audio jack and need it, and if you want and value a better screen and camera the OnePlus 3 will certainly be the better value at $399 for those users. If features are your thing though, and especially if you're interested in LeEco's upcoming ecosystem growth, this is a great way to jump in to what could be an amazing future.