LeEco gives great performance with enough RAM in the Le S3, but the Camera leaves a bit to be desired.
LeEco made their big US debut last Fall with a couple of new smartphones. The Le Pro3 and the Le S3. The Le Pro3 is their high-end smartphone - which you can check out the review for here - with the Le S3 being their more mid-range device (think Moto G4 equivalent). The Le S3 sports a price tag of just $169, which is a pretty insane price for what you're getting - at least hardware-wise - but is it actually worth that price? Let's find out in our review.
The LeEco Le S3 sports a 5.5-inch 1920x1080 resolution IPS display with Corning's Gorilla Glass 3 protecting the display. That gives it a 74.4% screen-to-body ratio and about 401 pixels-per-inch. LeEco has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 (MSM8976 for those wondering) powering the Le S3, with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. There is no micro SD card slot available on the Le S3, which means you're stuck with the 32GB of on-board storage, unfortunately.
Camera-wise, we're looking at a 16-megapixel camera on the back, which features phase detection autofocus and has dual-LED flash. It's capable of recording 2K video at 30fps, 1080p at 30fps and 720p video at 120fps. The front-facing camera is a 8-megapixel camera, and there is no flash on the front.
There is a 3000mAh battery powering the Le S3, along with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and eUI included. There is no headphone jack, but there is a USB Type-C adapter for charging. Finally, the LeEco Le S3 comes in Gray, Gold, and Rose Gold.
In the Box
The box that the Le S3 comes in is actually fairly high-end. It's made of soft-touch material, so it looks and feels good. As soon as you open the box, you'll find the Le S3 sitting right on top. Beneath the device you'll find a pair of headphones (which look a whole lot like Apple's headphones) along with a wall adapter, a USB Type-A to Type-C cable and a 3.5mm headphone adapter for the USB-C port. Of course on the other side of the box, you'll find all of the paperwork that you'd expect to see. Including a SIM ejection tool.
LeEco kept the design of the Le S3 pretty close to their flagship Le Pro3. In fact, it's so close that most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two. What we are looking at here is an aluminum unibody design which doesn't feel as great in the hand as you'd expect. This is largely due to the fact that the device has a flat back and not a curved one. The device is also rather thick. It's about 7.5mm thick, but it does feel a bit thicker than that. It's not always a bad thing, especially since they did put a rather large battery inside here. The Le S3 isn't as slippery as some other aluminum smartphones on the market right now either. Another check for the Le S3, as the last thing you want is to have a phone that is going to slide out of your hands quite often.
There are two antenna lines on the Le S3, one at the top and another at the bottom. They aren't exactly minimal, but you get used to seeing them there. On the bottom of the device, you'll also see one on either side of the speaker holes. The backside also houses that 16-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash and fingerprint sensor with the LeEco logo and other regulatory information at the bottom. The left side of the phone has the SIM card slot - which is a dual-SIM card slot - with the right side sporting the power and volume rocker. There is an IR blaster at the top, but that's about it. Remember there is no 3.5mm headphone jack here. The bottom houses the USB-C port as well as a speaker on one side and a microphone on the other side.
The bezels on the Le S3 aren't the slimmest, but the device can still be used with one hand, which is still quite nice. The Le S3 isn't the most comfortable phone to hold, but it isn't the least comfortable. For many people, they won't have any issues holding the Le S3 in their hand and likely won't drop it either. The design of the device leaves a bit to be desired though. It looks a whole lot like most of the other smartphones coming out of Asia these days, which isn't a good thing. Being in a market that is pretty saturated, and having a smartphone that looks like a lot of others, isn't a good thing. Seeing as there isn't a whole lot to differentiate it from other devices.
A 1080p or Full HD display isn't the best looking panel in this day and age, but we have to remember that this is a mid-range smartphone and not a flagship, so it fits in perfectly on the Le S3. Having said that, there's not a whole lot to complain about with this display. Sure it's not as saturated as the displays you'd see on Samsung devices like the Galaxy S7, but for an IPS panel, it's pretty good. There are a few different display modes available for the Le S3, which includes "LeEco", Vivid, Natural and Soft. We mostly kept it on Vivid or LeEco during our review. The temperature didn't appear to be all that warm nor cool, meaning it was right in the middle.
Another nifty feature for the Le S3's display here is the ability to zoom in on the display. So if you want the text and everything else to be a bit bigger, you can do that rather easily. Now if you just want the font to be a bit bigger, that can be done fairly easily as well.
A big issue with a lot of these "cheaper" smartphones is actually the digitizer. The digitizer is what is used to register when and where you are touching the display. A lot of times a bit of lag with the digitizer will lead people to believe that the phone is slow or lagging, but it's actually something as simple as the digitizer that lives beneath the display. Luckily, that isn't an issue with the Le S3. It actually works fairly well. There's not much to complain about here with the digitizer, it responded almost instantly whenever we touched the display, as expected.
Inside, the Le S3 is running on the Snapdragon 652 processor, which is an octa-core SoC made up of a quad-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 cluster and a quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex-A72 cluster. That is paired with the Adreno 510 GPU and 3GB of RAM. So it's definitely a mid-range device from LeEco, but it actually performed quite well. I took the Le S3 with me to CES earlier this month, and used it quite heavily while I was in Las Vegas. The Le S3 worked out pretty well, but there were a few times where it did become quite slow. For instance, tapping on the recents button would result in it taking a few extra seconds to jump between apps and such. It wasn't anything that would be a deal breaker really, but it was definitely noticeable.
In daily usage (aka non-heavy usage), the Le S3 did perform quite well. It wasn't as speedy as some other devices, like the Le Pro3, but it was definitely speedy enough. For the most part, 3GB is plenty of RAM, but in those instances where you have plenty of apps and games open in the background, it may turn out to not be enough, and it ends up making the device a bit slow. It's unfortunate, but again it's not a deal breaker. Unless you're a heavy user, the 3GB of RAM that is included in the Le S3 is going to be more than enough for you to get by with.
LeEco has the fingerprint sensor on the backside of the Le S3, similar to the placement on the Le Pro3. It's a great place to put the sensor, and it's where most smartphones have it these days. What's interesting about the fingerprint sensor though, is the fact that it's very reflective. In fact, you could use it as a mirror, albeit a very small mirror. This means that the fingerprint sensor is going to show fingerprints. Which isn't a huge deal - especially since it doesn't affect the sensor actually recognizing your fingerprint - but it can be a bit ugly, especially if you are wanting to keep your device clean all the time. Like the majority of us do.
The fingerprint sensor worked as advertised. It was able to recognize my finger just about every time, there were a few times where it didn't recognize it, which is actually normal with fingerprint sensors these days. But the issue that we did have with the sensor was the fact that the sensor was a bit slow, actually it was more than likely the software being a bit slow. It would recognize your finger fine, but then take a little while to light up the display and unlock the device. This didn't happen all the time, mostly only when the device hadn't been used for a while, but it was still a bit aggravating.
You can actually use the fingerprint sensor with the camera on the Le S3. With the LeTouch Shutter, you can choose to use a fingerprint to open the camera from the lock screen. You can choose to use the same finger, or another one. It would be better to use a different one, otherwise every time you unlock the device, it's going to jump into the camera. You can also use the fingerprint to take a picture, as a shutter button. Which is pretty cool, but it didn't seem all that useful and we ultimately turned it off.
The trend these days with smartphones is to have the speaker at the bottom of the device. With the speaker on the right side of the charging port and the microphone on the other side. That's the case here with the Le S3 as well. Many people prefer having front-facing speakers, as the sound is closer to them, and it sounds better. But manufacturers like putting them at the bottom or on the back, for design reasons. The bottom-firing speaker on the Le S3 isn't that bad, to be honest. It gets nice and loud, and I mean loud. However, it's not HiFi or high-definition audio. And at times it can sound rather flat. If you're someone who's not big into audio, then this probably won't bother you, but those that are audiophiles, this will definitely bother you, luckily plugging in a pair of headphones gets rid of the tinny sound. But, of course, there is a caveat to that as well. Since there is no 3.5mm headphone jack on the Le S3, you'll have to settle for using the included USB-C to 3.5mm adapter.
The Le S3 is sold here in the US, which means it does indeed support T-Mobile and AT&T. Unfortunately those with Sprint and Verizon are out of luck, for now. While AT&T and T-Mobile are indeed supported here, and do have all their LTE bands supported, there is no support for VoLTE or WiFi Calling. So keep that in mind if you're looking to use the Le S3 here in the US. The bands for the Le S3 are below:
GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900
HSDPA 850, 1700, 1900, 2100
LTE Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7,8, 12, 17
We used the Le S3 extensively on T-Mobile here in the US, and it gave us service that was relatively similar to other devices on the magenta network. We saw some pretty great network speeds of around 75-100Mbps, depending on the area, which is similar to what we see on the Honor 8 on T-Mobile's network. So there's no issues with connection here. When it came to phone calls, users we called said that we sounded nice and clear and we didn't experience any dropped calls. However, HD Voice is not supported on the Le S3. So while we did sound nice and clear, it wasn't in HD, unfortunately.
With the Le S3, we did run AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench 4 on the device to see how it would fare. And it did about what we expected, given the internals. The Le S3 picked up a score of1404 in the single-core test and 2232 in multi-core on Geekbench 4. When it came to AnTuTu, the score was 75,782, which is enough to put it behind the Galaxy Note 5 from 2015. Finally, with 3D Mark it scored 564. Which is actually a fair amount higher than most other mid-range smartphones on the market right now. So it shows that the Adreno 510 GPU is really rather good.
There is a 3000mAh battery in the Le S3, and with a Snapdragon 652 processor and a Full HD display, you'd expect the battery life to be somewhat decent, and it actually is. That is largely due to the incredible standby time that the Le S3 has. It is able to sit overnight and lose just one percent of battery, or less. Which is pretty incredible. Additionally, the Le S3 does also work very efficiently when it's being used. During those long days at CES earlier this month, the Le S3 performed like a champ and never ran out of battery. Which is pretty impressive to say the least.
Now while the battery life is pretty impressive, the other half of the equation is definitely the charging time. With the Le S3 sporting the Snapdragon 652 inside, you'd expect it to support Quick Charge 3.0, and it sure does! Allowing you to charge up the Le S3 faster than you ever thought possible. We were able to charge from 0-100% in a little under two hours. That time is similar to what we've seen with other devices with around a 3000mAh battery and having Quick Charge 3.0. So no real surprises here. It's always nice to have a device that can be topped off rather quickly, before needing to head out for the evening.
Running on the Le S3, we have Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with EUI v5.8.020S and the November 1st, 2016 security patch. The security patch is rather recent, but the software as a whole is still a bit behind, with it running Marshmallow as opposed to Nougat. LeEco has announced that they will be bringing Nougat to the Le S3, but there's no word on when that update will actually be available. Hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later.
This is our first time really getting to grips with LeEco's software, known as EUI. It's a heavily skinned software that LeEco put over Marshmallow, and it actually changes a lot of the functionality. For starters, the quick toggles and settings that you would expect to see in the notification panel is actually in the recents panel. So when you go to recents, you'll find your recent apps at the bottom, above that is a brightness slider and some quick toggles. With music controls, and app shortcuts above it. To be honest, it definitely took some time to get used to seeing the quick settings and even the settings shortcut in the recents panel. There's no app drawer here on the launcher. The app drawer icon is actually replaced by LeEco's Live app. This has all sorts of TV shows, movies and other entertainment, definitely not an app drawer. It's a pretty cool app, but most people are likely going to stick to YouTube, Sling TV and such.
Where most smartphones have Google Now on the left side of the home screen, LeEco has LeView. Which is essentially the same thing. It recommends you the best videos to watch online. This is based on what you've watched already. However the recommendations aren't all that great. Some of them are spot on, while others just simply aren't. It's early for LeEco so it likely has some work to do with LeView, especially in the US, so it should get better over time. You can also check out the best videos in different categories like movies & trailers, music, entertainment, comedy and many others. It's all a way to get you to watch even more content on your device.
The software isn't much different than what you'd find on a lot of other heavily themed or skinned Android devices. And as other companies have learned, and LeEco will inevitably learn, they will need to scale it back a bit more and make it easier to use. Currently, most people would have a hard time finding out where the settings shortcut is, and the brightness slider, as well as a number of other quick settings. They aren't really hidden, but they are somewhere that no other OEM has put them before. So it's different, but it may turn out to not be a great idea for LeEco.
As mentioned earlier on in this review, we took the Le S3 to CES in Las Vegas earlier this month and we tested the camera a great deal while we were there. And the camera came up with mixed results. Some, actually the majority of the images we took at CES with the Le S3, turned out to be rather good. But there were plenty that were overblown, and some that were even blurry due to the fact that it was a bit dark (it was outside at dusk) and the shutter was slower. This is an area where most other cameras would not have struggled, but the Le S3 did struggle. As Nick found in his review of the Le Pro3, the camera was not the greatest and this camera here on the Le S3 is even lower-end, so it's not surprising to see it be a bit less sharp. But for the most part, I was impressed with the pictures it produced.
The camera app is actually pretty good. It's nice and minimal, but still has some nice features included. There are four main modes available, Slow-Mo, Video, Photo and Pano. Now when in photo mode, you do have a slew of filters that you can use like Tonal, Chrome, Gorgeous, Nature, Normal, Cold, Mono, Warm and Lomo. When in Photo mode, you'll see a small bar above it, and if you swipe up on that (or right to left if you're in landscape mode), you'll open up a few other modes. Like HDR, Night, Square, Beauty and Scene. The Square mode is mostly for Instagram, but now that Instagram lets you upload 16:9 pictures, that's not really a big feature. One feature that we are missing from the Le S3's camera is a Pro or Manual mode. Giving users the ability to set up their shot perfectly. It's missing here, and it's probably one of the only devices that will be missing it this year.
We took loads of pictures with the Le S3 during our time with the device, which you can see all of the pictures we took in the Flickr gallery below. These were all taken at 16-megapixel and in Auto. No editing has been done whatsoever to these images.
Mediocre Camera, missing a manual mode
The LeEco Le S3 isn't a perfect smartphone, but it's not meant to be. The Le S3 is a pretty decent smartphone, it checks the majority of the boxes, but it does leave a few unchecked. There's a lot to like here, but there is also a few things to dislike. After using this device as my daily driver, it's pretty hard to recommend it to anyone that is a heavy user, simply due to the processing power that it possesses and the camera.
Should you buy the LeEco Le S3?
If you're a casual user, and mostly use your phone for phone calls, texting and such, then the Le S3 is perfect for you. But if you're looking to pick up a smartphone rather cheap, and use it for playing high-end games and a smartphone that will last all day on a single charge, that's not going to happen. While the latter will, you won't be able to play many high-end games here, unfortunately.