Every year or so, there pops up a radical device from the intriguing Chinese market. Only difference is that there have been about half a dozen of those in 2014! Starting with the Vivo Xplay 3S (world’s first 2K phone), the OPPO Find 7 (2K, 50MP capable camera), the OnePlus One (erm… do I need to say anything?), and a handful other devices including the Xiaomi Redmi 1S, Huawei Honor 6, etc., we’ve seen a lot of action from China. However, it’s usually the tier-1 brands that manage to stay in the news, for reasons good and bad. Ecoo, an infant startup from the very country, thought that ought to be changed, and started this journey with the Ecoo Focus E01. The company has a couple other models in the works, but none as radical as the Focus, for the plain reason that the Focus is arguably the world’s most affordable octa-core full HD smartphone, with prices hovering under the $150 range.
That makes for quite a deal, at least on paper: a 5.2 inch full HD display, an octa-core processor and a gig of RAM, all for (quite a bit) less than $200. The question is, though, that how well this translates into real life. And that’s what we’re here to answer in the Ecoo Focus review!
Ecoo Focus Review: Specifications[table id=172 /]
Ecoo Focus Review: Design and Build
From the outset, the Focus is a Samsung Galaxy S5 lookalike. This is something we aren’t huge fans of, since we usually favour original designs (which China’s been producing aplenty these days). Right from the overall design language, to the corrugated rear, the Ecoo Focus takes inspiration from the Galaxy S5. And this is putting it mildly, some would call it blatant plagiarism. There have been other affordable phones with more original, if not stand-out, designs this year. That’s where the Focus loses points.
Fortunately though, Ecoo haven’t cut costs on the build. The phone is extremely sturdy before you consider the price tag; and when you do, it only gets better. The Focus seems better built to us than quite a lot of other budget phones, including the Xiaomi Redmi 1S. This is despite the fact that the Focus has only a plastic frame.
There’s a little lip around the corners of the touchscreen to ensure a drop doesn’t leave you with a broken screen. While we’ve been fortunate enough to not have experienced a drop, it does seem like the Focus would live through some of those without a lot of fuss.
That was for the general look and feel of the device. Let’s get specific now. The top of the front of the Focus makes home for an earpiece, the usual set of sensors (proximity, light), besides the 2 mega-pixel front camera. The placement of all of these is pretty much identical to that on the Galaxy S5.
Below the 5.2-inch 1080p screen, you’ll find the elliptical home button (minus the fingerprint reader of course). To top off the phoney Galaxy S5 looks, Ecoo engineers also added the chamfered silver coloured edged to the button. Well done, we say!
Moving to the left edge, there’s just the volume buttons to be seen amid a whole lot of nothing. Exactly opposite, symmetrically as well as literally, sits the power/wake button on the right which is about half as long as the volume buttons’ tab. All of these (including the home button) provide tactile feedback and never leave you guessing as to whether the button press got registered or not.
The top and bottom make home for a 3.5mm audio jack and a micro USB port respectively. The latter is also joined by a mic, which the Focus seems to have just one (no secondary mic for noise cancellation)
The peculiar rear (thanks to the corrugated case) is where the phone’s 8 mega-pixel rear camera (and mono LED flash), Ecoo logo, and mono speaker grill sit ( which is a little disappointing but more on this later). The rear also has a few words of inspiration imprinted next to the regulatory logos, which reads “Aspire after breakthrough”. So there’s a poet in there somewhere in the Ecoo team, we’re confident…
Taking the rear off is fairly simple, but having long nails always helps. The cover itself is of the bendy sort, so it’s far from brittle and will live as long as you wish to keep the phone with you. Beneath that, you find the battery (rated 2450mAh), and three slots, each of which accept – a regular sized SIM, a micro SIM and a microSD card. Again, you’re left satisfied thanks to a sturdy build which is apparent even in this part of the phone. Like most other MediaTek budget phones, you find antennae in their 3D-print avatar on the Focus.
The overall footprint of the Ecoo Focus is extremely acceptable, and it also makes the phone usable in one hand. It is only slightly longer and slightly wider than the Xiaomi Mi 4 which has a 5-inch screen. So yeah, we’ve probably said this before, but Ecoo have done a decent job with the build on the Focus.
Ecoo Focus Review: Display
Most other 1080p phones cost north of the $200 mark. Ecoo claim that the 5.2-inch panel on the Focus comes from LG, and while it’s hard to ascertain the level of truth in that claim, we can assure you that it is a decent panel. That said, you’re probably better off with a 720p display, for the MT6592 isn’t the best at driving a 1080p display. However, if you don’t ask for more than 2-3 apps running in the background at any given time, you probably can afford a 1080p/MT6592 combo, which the Focus happens to be as well.
The 5.2-inch screen means that there’s a pixel density of 423 ppi, well above the discernable limit of 300 pixels as famously declared by Apple bosses. However, the screen isn’t as vibrant say as the Xiaomi Mi 4, and the high number of pixels take a toll on the overall brightness of the unit. Fortunately, it is bright enough to be used in outdoors in direct sunlight.
If there’s a couple of things that I could change on the Focus’ display, they’d certainly be a panel which is more vibrant, and one that doesn’t suffer from backlight bleeding. Speaking of backlight bleeding, lower half of the display does suffer from that, with the amount being just shy of what you would call substantial. Nonetheless, it’s been a while since we’ve encountered a phone display with backlight bleeding of this magnitude. Although it certainly doesn’t affect the viewing experience on a light background, the lack of proper quality control shows when there’s a darker scene, with blacks bearing the most of the brunt.
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Again, that’s something we would say when we’re unaware of the price. At just $150 it is hard to complain, but then we’re human!
Ecoo Focus Review: Performance
The MT6592 is known as the world’s first octa-core mobile SoC. To accomplish that feat, MediaTek probably missed a couple tricks which could make the experience better. Paired with 1GB of RAM, the Focus makes for a decent entry-level to mid-range device. But like we’ve mentioned before, the Focus is at its best when you’re not using more than 2-3 apps at one time. Fire up a couple more and things start changing face, for the worse in most cases.
We tried running Asphalt Overdrive on the Focus, and it handled the game very well with hardly any stutters or loss in frames. That said, the short stint with the game did leave the device a few % down on the battery tank.
Performance of the Focus isn’t very different from other MT6592, or for that matter, MT6582 powered phones. It’s only when the app is designed to take advantage of the flurry of cores that you see the level of performance that you would otherwise expect. So, in very clear terms, the MT6592 SoC is far from a flagship chip and is more of one that sits between entry-level and mid-range.
Benchmarks though, tell a completely different story. Scores on the AnTuTu platform are close to Snapdragon 800 territorry, but there’s quite some difference between real life performance between the two SoCs as a lot of our readers might already know. Take a look at the scores in the pictures below.
Ecoo Focus Review: Camera
Affordable phones from China like this one have a very interesting and desirable quality in their cameras: they’re macro kings. The Focus is no different, and although focus (as in, camera tech) isn’t as fast as you would’ve liked (tbh it’s pretty slow…), it focuses sharply and sometimes on objects that are perilously close to the phone. This results in an awesome macro with a lovely background defocus effect, aka bokeh. However, like menioned before, focus is pretty slow, agonizingly so at times.
The sensor itself does a very respectable job nonetheless in producing some quality pictures. It’s only an 8 mega-pixel sensor, so you don’t nearly get the number of pixels that you usually see in a smartphone of today; but it does the job nonetheless. You only need to have patience as a virtue.
Take a look at some pictures and judge for yourself.
In a nutshell, the camera on the Focus is quite a capable sensor. Not too many pixels, but an able performer nonetheless.
Ecoo Focus Review: UI and Usability
Thankfully, folks at Ecoo didn’t aim to replicate the TouchWiz UI from the Galaxy S5. It’s largely stock AOSP, but with a minor tweaks here and there. This means that general transitions from screen to screen are fairly snappy. However, switching between apps, especially the resource hungry ones at those, can be a time taking experience at times. Using the GPU to render the screen at all times seems to improve this by a bit; transitions and moving from app to app feels snappier, but at the cost of battery. And that’s something you probably can’t afford on smartphone of this age (yet).
Although Ecoo left the UI untouched almost, they did take the app icons for a spin. This time, the inspiration is MIUI/iOS, with all icons having rounded edges. We’re far from fans of these cheesy UI elements, which is why Nova Launcher was installed right out of the box for a closer-to-stock Android look and feel.
For the record, the Focus also supports ‘air gesture’ controls, meaning you can wave your palm in front of the screen to interact with the phone… but only with certain apps. This includes the stock launcher, Gallery, etc., but as you would’ve guessed this feature is more of a gimmick more than anything else. To make matters worse, it works only in one direction, regardless of where you move your palm. So it is safe to say that the air gesture feature is worth giving a miss.
You can use the Scheduled Power On/Off mode on the device’s settings app to set a power on/off schedule for the Ecoo. We’re big fans of this feature, since it can really come in handy for people who don’t need to have their phone on all night. It’s funny how the well known makers don’t include this feature while almost every MediaTek powered phone from China comes with it.
Ecoo Focus Review: Battery Life
The initial few cycles on the Focus left us disappointed, returning only about 3 hours of screen on time. Screen on time, or SOT as it is informally known as, is a good metric to measure a phone’s battery life. Of course, there are a lot of other variables that aren’t apparent with this metric, but well it’s the closest to the complete picture.
Coming back to the Focus, things started getting better after 4-5 charging/discharging cycles. The phone now returns between 4 and 5 hours of SOT, depedning on the usage pattern. Please note that there were virtually no games played on the Focus during the testing period, besides a couple score minutes of Asphalt Overdrive. We did however consume a lot of video (YouTube, local files).
Most users have 3-3.5 hours of SOT on an average day is what we understand, and going by that basis, the Ecoo easily holds up for a day.
Ecoo Focus Review: Other Points to Note
Although the Ecoo Focus does have a notification LED light, it seems to work only when the phone is plugged. And by this we don’t mean that it notifies whenever an app generates a notification; it only glows red when connected to the charger. We aren’t certain if this is a hardware issue or a software bug, but we certainly hope it’s the latter.
Another thing that we’d like to mention is the speaker, which is fairly low-volume. A couple of times I managed to miss calls with the phone kept right next to me on the couch. So a worthy advice to all future owners of the Focus: always keep the phone face down if you don’t want to miss out on your calls and other notifications.
Also, running Android v4.2 Jelly Bean out of the box really doesn’t make sense in this day and age. With Lollipop becoming more popular each passing day, Ecoo will want to publish a v4.4 KitKat ROM at least, in the near future. We also had to change the IMEI to get the phone working, this might or might not be the case with other users in different countries.
Ecoo Focus Review: Verdict
- High resolution display
- Battery life
- Notification LED
- Android v4.2
If you live by the saying that the first impression is the last impression, you might not be a very happy user of the Focus. This is because you need to give the device some time, for things like the battery to get calibrated properly, and for you to get used to how it all works.
We didn’t really expect the camera to be as good as it is. Also, the ever improving battery life was a pleasant surprise. If Ecoo manage to iron out the couple of issues we mentioned before, including the largely defunct notification LED, the loudspeaker volume and backlight bleeding on the display, the Focus could very much set a benchmark for low cost, high-sih performance smartphone in the Chinese industry.
Do let us know what you think about the Focus after reading our review. Also, feel free to drop any questions/doubts that you might have about the device, we’ll try our best to have them answered.