Elephone S8 Review: Blending Low Cost With Great Design

September 22, 2017 - Written By Justin Diaz

It really can’t be stressed enough how good the screen is, especially at the cost Elephone is charging.

Elephone is a company that like many other Chinese brands out there will be mostly unknown to a majority of consumers who live outside of China, but it’s also a company that is rapidly cranking out smartphones with some of the newest technology and design features, and the S8, one of its upcoming phones, is a good display of that drive to produce a good device for consumers that further shortens the gap between low-cost phones and high-cost ones in terms of good hardware, features, and design. Elephone isn’t the first company to strive to offer consumers a great phone with top-notch features for much less than top-tier OEMs and flagships, and the S8 is certainly not the first phone on the market (once it launches) to offer some of the more interesting design elements. It is, however, a phone that does those things and it’s because of that we were eager to check it out. We’ve been spending some time with the S8 that is bound for the market in the near future to see how it stacks up. Let’s take a closer look at the Elephone S8 and see what it has to offer.

Specs

The Elephone S8 is a budget device, and because of this you won’t see things like Qualcomm’s top-tier processors or Samsung’s best display panels inside of it, but it does still come with some pretty good hardware by comparison. The Elephone S8 is running with a MediaTek Helio X25 Deca-Core processor, paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. The RAM and storage are by no means pushing the envelope in terms of cutting-edge specs, but they’re plenty enough for a device of this caliber. It’s the X25 CPU that makes this device a little more interesting as it’s MediaTek’s most powerful so far. Beyond the CPU, RAM, and storage, the S8 is equipped with a 6-inch display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440. This might not be a Super AMOLED panel, but after just a little less than a week of using it, it’s clear that this is a really nice display, but we’ll get into that more a little bit later.

For the cameras, the S8 isn’t slacking, as it comes with a 21-megapixel sensor on the back with autofocus and LED flash, and on the front, it’s using an 8-megapixel sensor for selfies and video chat. For sensors, it has a fingerprint sensor that can be used for unlocking the device, but it doesn’t have NFC so it can’t be used for mobile payments. It’s also got a proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, gravity sensor, and hall sensor, and supports Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11ac for connectivity. It has a 4,000mAh non-removable battery, and it runs on Android 7.1 Nougat for the software. Lastly, it’s using USB Type-C for the charging and data transfer port, and this is the only port on the device as there’s no port for plugging in 3.5mm headphones.

In The Box

If you’re familiar with Chinese phone brands, or if you’ve read a number of our reviews for some of the devices coming from these brands, then you may already know that there tend to be extras in the box. With the Elephone S8, there are some extras as well. You’ll find the phone, as well as a clear silicone case for protecting the device, as well as the USB Type-C charging cable and wall adapter, a SIM card ejector tool, and a USB Type-C-to-3.5mm audio adapter. So, while you don’t have a 3.5mm audio port on the device for plugging in headphones and Elephone doesn’t package in a pair of USB Type-C earbuds, you do have the adapter so you can at least plug in a pair of standard 3.5mm earbuds you may already have.

Hardware & Design

The design is one of the more noticeable and standout parts of the S8, though it’s clear that there is some inspiration here from other devices. That said, it’s not so much that borders on being nearly identical to those devices in terms of design. We’re, of course, talking about the display mostly, which features a nearly bezel-free screen on the top and sides, with a little bit of a bezel on the bottom to make room for the fingerprint sensor/home button, and the front-facing camera. Elephone isn’t the only company to incorporate this design after Xiaomi introduced the world to the original Mi MIX, and it won’t be the last, and while the S8 does not look as sleek as the Mi MIX due to the larger bottom bezel, it still looks pretty nice thanks to the big screen and the screen’s resolution. Elephone has also used a combination of a metal frame and a glass back, which makes it look somewhat premium and comfortable to hold thanks to the glass backing which doesn’t get too warm when holding it after long periods of heavy use. The use of glass is also nice because it shouldn’t scratch as easily as if Elephone had chosen to use metal all the way around, or at least it wouldn’t be as noticeable.

As mentioned above, the Elephone S8 features an almost bezel-free design for the display, and on the front, you’ll find the camera in the bottom bezel, in the right-hand corner alongside the fingerprint sensor and home button. On the bottom of the phone, you have the USB Type-C charging port, along with a single speaker that uses an NXP audio amplifier to boost the sound for things like music, movies, and more. On the right side of the frame you have the power button and volume up and down buttons, while the left side of the frame houses the SIM card tray, and then on the back in the top center you have the rear-facing camera and LED flash module, and a mostly clean back with nothing but an Elephone logo at the bottom.

Display

I’ll say it – the display is great on this phone. While I tend to gravitate towards devices with Full HD displays as they still look just fine to me and I am usually really happy with them, there’s no denying the beauty of a Quad HD display, and Elephone has gone all out on the S8 with not only a nearly bezel-free design but with a high-resolution panel and all for around $240. Upon powering the device and once it was loaded up to the home screen, I immediately noticed the sharp picture quality. The display has great clarity and awesome color reproduction, and while it still isn’t as good as what you’ll find on the Galaxy S8 line or the Galaxy Note 8, those who are used to and prefer Quad HD screens probably wouldn’t be complaining if this is the display panel that was available to them on their devices. Seriously, it’s that good and the fact that this phone doesn’t cost that much makes it an extremely value-oriented product.

Viewing angles are pretty good here and because the resolution was so high I never really had any issues with glare and never really needed to turn the brightness all the way up, which was a plus, though having such a big screen also helped with this. While the software is mostly stock here, there are some added benefits that Elephone has thrown in. There’s a feature in the display settings called ClearMotion, and if you’re a gamer who knows anything about PC monitors, or just someone who is interested in PC tech and PC monitors, or high-end TVs, then you probably know about the benefits of having a display that offers a fluid motion for graphics. What ClearMotion does is essentially make it so that there is no stuttering during any motion-based visuals. This will come out a lot more with mobile games, and makes things appear buttery smooth the faster the visuals are moving. This is the first time I have seen something like this in a smartphone and while it may not be the first phone to offer it, I’m glad Elephone did because it was a better user experience. The S8 also has the ability to change the color temperature of the display if you feel like things appear too warm or too cold, and this includes being able to change things between a few different presets, or manually change the color temperature to where you want it. There are also a handful of other tweaks like being able to adjust the sharpness, contrast, saturation, and there’s a blue light filter to help make it more comfortable on your eyes if you’re using the phone at night and in more poorly lit areas. Overall, a great display that never had any issues with recognizing my touch interaction and it looks pretty amazing, and not just for the price point but in general.

Performance

With a Helio X25 deca-core CPU and 4GB of RAM I expected the S8 to handle its own when it came to simple tasks, and it certainly had no problem. The real test though was seeing if it was able to handle multitasking with running multiple apps continuously and being able to play mobile games that were demanding due to graphics. Sure enough, the device did fairly well on all fronts and didn’t have any issues when using it how I normally use my everyday device. While there might be some high-end games that it has a little more trouble with running smoothly, this isn’t an issue I came up against as playing games like Never Gone, Need For Speed No Limits, and the newly released Terra Battle 2, the S8 was able to play all of those games with ease and not stutter or lag. While mobile gaming isn’t going to be the most important factor for all users, it does do a good job at showing how well the device is able to handle high-stress situations in terms of computing, as high-end 3D games are fairly demanding on the CPU and GPU. I had no issues with playing games or using multiple apps at once during my time with this phablet, and I’m a fairly heavy user of my mobile devices so I was hoping that this would have no issues with handling my everyday usage. I wasn’t disappointed. Overall, the handset is more than capable of handling any task that the average user should be able to throw at it, and heavy users should have no trouble with getting done anything that they would need their device for while using it.

Benchmarks

While benchmarks aren’t the end-all answer for how a device is going to perform, they do provide a base for what to expect. To gauge how the device might perform in real-world situations, we ran the Elephone S8 through a few different benchmarks, including AnTuTu, Geekbench 4, and 3DMark for graphics testing. If you’re interested in seeing how the phone performed during those benchmark tests, you can view the screenshots of the scores in the gallery below.

Phone Calls & Network

The Elephone S8 is an unlocked GSM device, but it is not designed for use in the U.S. market, which means it will have limited use here. That said, it should still be usable with 3G networks, even though the U.S. LTE network frequencies aren’t supported. You can view the supported networks for the S8 below.
2G: 850/900/1800/1900
3G: 900/2100
4G LTE: 800/1800/2100/FDD 2600/TDD 2600/ TDD 2300

Fingerprint Sensor

Fingerprint sensors on phones are extremely common these days and while not all phones will have them, a majority of the newly released devices do include them. As a result, many of the devices that do have fingerprint sensors will have ones that work fairly well, some better than others. The sensor used on the S8 was fast and accurate, unlocking the phone pretty quickly and I never personally experienced any problems with it not recognizing my fingerprint.

Battery Life

With a 4,000mAh battery inside, the Elephone S8 is ready to go in just about any situation and that certainly helps thanks to the size of the phone screen and the resolution of the display, though it’s worth keeping in mind that these things also help to drain the battery down a significant amount compared to if the screen was smaller and its resolution was lower. That isn’t the case though and really that’s a good thing; as mentioned earlier, the resolution of the display and the display in general used here is really nice, especially for the price point that Elephone is asking. When it comes to lasting throughout the day, the S8 didn’t have much of an issue as I was able to take it through an entire day without having to plug it in once and on average, I was able to get about seven hours of screen on time with it. Despite the big screen and powerful processor, the S8 is easily a phone that you could carry throughout the day and not have to worry about it dying on you.

Sound

The sound quality is not the most important part to all users, but if you’re someone who enjoys games or movies a lot on their phones, then you’ll want the audio to be at least decent, and the Elephone doesn’t disappoint too much in this area. That said, it does only have one speaker and that does hurt things just a little. While the audio quality is OK, it’s not as good as I was hoping, but it’s certainly not terrible. One speaker is pretty standard for a lot of phones these days and while the audio quality of the device isn’t the best we’ve ever listened to, it is decent and that’s considering the phone comes in at a fair amount under $300. You might not be impressed if you’re an audiophile, but the average user shouldn’t have any complaints here.

Software

The software experience with the S8 was sort of a mixed bag. It’s nearly stock Android in the way that it looks but it does have some extra attention that was given to it by Elephone. There are some additional software tweaks that you won’t find in other stock Android devices, such as gestures. While something like the Pixel does have a couple of gestures that can be used with the fingerprint sensor and other Android devices can use plenty of gestures with third-party launchers like Nova, the Elephone S8 has a number of gestures built into it for unlocking the display and launching apps just by drawing something on the screen before even waking it, which is something you’ll see in a lot of Chinese brand smartphones. As mentioned earlier, it also has a number of screen enhancements that allow you to change the color temperature if you think the color is a little bit off for your liking. For the most part though, the software should feel familiar to those consumers that have used a pure Android device before, and that’s a good thing because it helps keep the device easy to get accustomed to for anyone who isn’t used to the kinds of differences that can come with Chinese phones.

Camera

Despite some of its other really excellent qualities, the Elephone S8 is lacking in the camera department, at least in some areas. The software experience is not the best as it doesn’t offer you much in the way of features, leaving you with no manual (Pro) mode for adjusting the different elements of an image like ISO, shutter speed, or exposure composition, but it does offer you things like a picture-in-picture mode, and it also has panorama and HDR options. While you might not use panorama as often, and that will vary from person to person, the HDR images are better than I expected and the overall image quality was better than I expected as well. That said, it still felt like that camera was an area where Elephone made some compromises. There were some instances where I would go to take a picture and the phone wouldn’t register when I hit the shutter button, though this only seemed to happen after I turned on options like anti-shake and zero shutter lag. After turning those back off the pictures seemed to work fine, so it seems like this might just be a software problem that needs to be corrected. It’s also worth noting that the version of the device that we reviewed is an engineer sample, so this shouldn’t be an issue that customers are seeing in the production-ready model that will be up for sale. In any case, the camera is not one of the device’s biggest strengths at least for this particular model we reviewed (though perhaps that will change a bit with the production-ready model), but it does have the ability to put out a decent image. If you’re looking to this device as your main smartphone for photos, you shouldn’t be too disappointed with the quality of pictures, so long as you aren’t looking for a whole lot of extra features from the software as it doesn’t really offer any.

The Good

Big battery that lasts a while

Excellent display size with a great resolution that makes this a really good display experience, especially for the price

Fingerprint sensor

USB Type-C

Nearly stock Android Nougat software

Gestures

Almost no bezels

Premium look and feel without a premium cost

Pretty good performance

The Bad

Camera quality was lacking

Doesn’t work with U.S. networks

Audio could have been better

The size of the device made it feel a bit heavy at times which is more noticeable when holding it for extended periods of time.

Wrap-Up

Despite having a few pitfalls, the Elephone S8 is one of the best phones from a Chinese brand that I have personally ever used. While it doesn’t have a lot of the additional features in the software that you’ll find in phones that use a heavily skinned user interface like that from Xiaomi, Meizu, Samsung, LG or others, it has a lot going for it, like the display size and resolution, and it lasts a while on a single charge so this could easily be someone’s day-to-day phone without having to worry about charging it until they go to bed.

Should you buy the Elephone S8?

Not if you’re looking for something to use as a main phone in the U.S. If you’re looking for a travel phone though, or a phone to be used as a daily driver in another country where the Elephone S8 can be used with LTE networks, then absolutely. The S8’s only real drawback for me was that it isn’t designed for use with the networks here in the U.S., which means I could never really use it as a daily device. Just about everything else though is fantastic, and it really can’t be stressed enough how good the screen is, especially at the cost that Elephone is charging for this phone. If you need a phone for international use where the LTE networks will be supported, you really can’t go wrong here.

Buy The Elephone S8