By late 2014, things in the Chinese smartphone industry had started getting monotonous. It was the usual MT6592/82 phone that launched every other day, had a mediocre camera and sucked with battery life. A change was needed quite desperately, and MediaTek delivered; if there’s a perfect use of the idiom ‘strike when the iron is still hot’, this was it. MediaTek came out with the MT6595 and variants thereof.
The Meizu MX4 was the first to sport the all-new MediaTek chip. Performance, especially graphics, was lauded and MediaTek was finally a ‘mainstream’ fabricator. However, the excitement around the MT6595 didn’t last too long after the new MT67xx series of 64-bit chips was announced. And that, it turns out, was the stuff worth waiting for.
The first few MT6732 phones impressed. One of them happens to be the Elephone P6000, which is still among my most favourite phones — certainly in the top 3 this year. The MT6732 is a quad-core 64-bit CPU, whereas the successor to that, the MT6752 has eight cores, again 64-bit.
The Ecoo Aurora was among the first phones to get the MT6752, but it first came with 2GB RAM. Ecoo took their own time in delivering the Aurora Plus, i.e., 3GB RAM version of the phone. But it happens to be quite a good one!
Ecoo E04 Plus Review: Design and build
Design, in the Chinese tech world, is a rather unique experience. Phones from OPPO, Vivo, Meizu, and up to a certain extent, even Xiaomi can look VERY different from what you get to see usually… on the other hand, devices from newcomers and very ‘Chinese’ brands such as Elephone, Umi, etc. can often have a very generic taste. Thankfully though, that’s changing, and fast!
The Ecoo Aurora doesn’t have the best looking design, or one that would stand out from the rest. The phone is of the bar form and has a bit of Samsung in it (home button). It does feel very good in the hands though, but that is a different story altogether.
Metallic edges on the sides aren’t really metal, or so it appears to me. From a couple of feet away, the edges can easily fool you into believing they’re made out of metal. Despite that, there’s a few things that work in favour of the phone.
For one, the device has a lovely heft to it. That is perhaps one major contributor to the ‘feel good’ factor of the phone. Also, the curved glass (curved on the edges) on the front gives the phone a polished look. It certainly doesn’t ‘look’ like a sub-$200 phone!
Last but not least, the rear of the phone has a woven cloth sort of a texture to it… this adds to the ‘not-so-generic’ aspect of the phone, and also provides much needed grip.
I’ve managed to drop the phone a few times (all unintentional, from a maximum height of around 4 feet) and there isn’t much on the body that tells, apart from a little blemish on the top left corner. And you have to look REALLY hard to spot that. So, I’d say, the Ecoo Aurora is pretty well put together, although you might feel otherwise on the first look.
Ecoo E04 Plus Review: Components and performance
Standard display made to look better by software
The 5.5-inch screen on the Ecoo E04 Aurora Plus is what you’re going to notice first. It is a full HD (1920 x 1080p) panel, with some decent picture quality but yet far from ground-breaking. It is one of those panels that look like a 720p display than anything else, and the resolution remains a number more than anything else.
However, the MiraVision technology that appears on these MT67xx phones seems to help quite a bit. I’ve found myself to be a sucker for greater saturation on displays, and MiraVision’s Dynamic Contrast setting helps with regards to bringing up the saturation by a bit. It can be thought of as HDR for displays.
The powerful MediaTek MT6752 needs no introduction, I believe. The SoC has appeared on some other phones in the past, such as the iOcean Rock, Siswoo Cooper i7, etc. and has proven its mettle. The octa-core 64-bit SoC feels almost as snappy as a Snapdragon 801, and to think of the price difference between devices powered by those processors (usually around $150) goes to show how good a job MediaTek have done with the MT6752.
The phone comes with 3GB of RAM, which although doesn’t provide any performance benefits as such, certainly improves the user experience when a lot of apps are being used at once. 2GB was enough at a point in time, but that was before we were presented with 3GB RAM phones.
The MT6752 + 3GB RAM combo is certainly something I can live with. My main phone is an ageing Xiaomi Mi 4, and with time, I think it’ll make a shift to one of these MT6752/MT6795 phones with 3GB RAM.
Coming back to the Ecoo, the phone is one made for multitaskers. The AOSP ROM doesn’t take up much resources, and you’re free to tinker with it as much as you please. Firing up a tonne of apps all at once isn’t a problem, unless of course they’re hardcore games.
The phone comes with 16GB of on-board storage, which is expandable via microSD. I’m not really among those that watch movies and such, but on the Ecoo I did find myself spending time on YouTube before going to bed. That is one advantage of a phablet (I’ve been a devout sub-5” smartphone supporter for a while) that one has to acknowledge!
One gripe that I have with the display, however, is that it is a bit too bright even at the lowest settings. Reading in the dark is therefore not very easy on the eyes. Also, the backlit buttons feels a bit too bright — and there’s no way to turn them off.
I’ve spoken about how well the phone manages things when multiple apps are run at once. What about performance per se? I’d say the Ecoo E04 Plus is one of the most fastest MediaTek phones I’ve used lately (and this includes the Gionee Elife S7). General usage such as UI transitions, etc., feel as snappy as say, the OnePlus One.
During more than two weeks of usage, never did I come across any sort of stuttering or lag while usage. This goes to show just how much Chinese phones have progressed in the past one year or so!
In general, it is hard to find complaints in the performance department of this phone. Please note what’s being documented was carried out while the phone was running the stock KitKat ROM. A Lollipop ROM is out on the Ecoo website, which can be downloaded from ecoo.hk.
I don’t know if it was a fault in the unit or a standard feature, but the Ecoo E04 Plus we tested has a very, very poor audio output from the main external speaker. Also, it is a mono speaker… although the design does attempt to fool you into believing otherwise.
The volume is REALLY low. It is low enough to render the unit unusable — and this includes loudspeaker calls.
Thankfully though, the audio from the 3.5mm jack isn’t half as bad. The YouTube part was enjoyable only because of this… in all fairness, the Ecoo E04 Plus produces some lovely audio from the 3.5mm jack!
Decent battery life
I don’t know why, but my mind keeps comparing this to the OnePlus One… and that’s probably a good thing because the Ecoo E04 Plus is available invite free! (excuse me for the pun).
The device is listed to have a 3,000mAh battery. More often than not, Chinese OEMs slap a greater number on the battery sticker than the actual capacity, and that does seem to be the case on the Ecoo E04 Plus also. I’m not sure about the exact real capacity. But on the other hand, the battery life delivered by whatever size the battery is, is pretty good indeed.
Of course, as always, there’ll be the customary ‘depending on your usage’ part that’ll apply to battery life. In general, it is very easy to go through one day on the Ecoo E04 Plus on a single charge, especially if you don’t do a lot of gaming. Even with casual gaming, one day is no daunting task.
SOT (screen on time) is one of my favourite metrics to measure a phone’s battery life. On the Ecoo E04 Plus, I was returned with over 5 hours of SOT which isn’t bad by any means. 6 hours is what I would call really good, but 5 to 5 and a half hours is not far away from that.
The phone has a very good WiFi antenna. It isn’t something out of the world, but is among the better WiFi phones out there… performance for me was at par (and sometimes a little better) than the Xiaomi Mi 4.
GPS also works fine on the E04 Plus, but isn’t as impressive as the WiFi performance. During a recent visit to another city, the E04 Plus got easily outdone by the Xiaomi Mi 4. It doesn’t take a lot of time to get a GPS lock, but then it kind of ‘skips’ sections on the map when you’re on the move.
A camera that could’ve been better
I have to admit, the Ecoo E04 Plus caught me off guard. I didn’t really expect it to be as good as it is… and that’s also why I expected better camera performance from the phone. It isn’t the worst, but I think the camera app (and the underlying system) lacks some sheen.
The phone uses a 16 mega-pixel sensor (pretty sure extrapolated… from 8MP? 13MP?), and you generally expect a number as impressive looking as that to churn out some mind blowing photos. Unfortunately that isn’t the case with the E04 Plus. I mean, the photos ‘do the job’, but nothing more. Also, it suffers from a lack of sharp focus like many phones that come from its home country.
Another generic trait the camera seems to have is the ability to take some crazy macro shots. I mean, I have no clue why other mainstream phones aren’t able to take macros from as up close as these Chinese phones do. Kudos!
Take a look at a few photos taken on the phone to see how it performs
Fingerprint sensor that ACTUALLY works!
Up until now, the only Chinese phone I’ve tested that had a fingerprint sensor was the Elephone P5000. To sum it up in one word, the sensor was crap. The E04 Plus, however, has a MUCH better fingerprint sensor, which actually makes your phone not only a lot more secure, but also makes it convenient for you to unlock the screen.
I’ve had no problems with the sensor whatsoever in the prolonged use. Unwillingly, I happened to use the phone with oily hands right after a heavy meal, and the sensor still worked (although I wouldn’t recommend you doing that). There however was a little issue for a short duration once when the fingerprint reader controller seemed to stop working. A quick reboot fixed the issue, and it hasn’t reappeared since.
The entire fingerprint ‘thing’ is controlled by an app. What is cool is that the E04 Plus can learn up to 10 fingerprints, each of which can be either assigned to simply unlock the screen, or bind to an app. I usually just use my right thumb to unlock the screen (fastest way for me), but if you tend to use a particular app a lot, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to assign a finger for that app. Pretty neat!
Right after the performance, the fingerprint reader is my favourite feature of the E04 Plus!
Ecoo E04 Plus Review: ROM
The E04 Plus ships with an almost untouched vanilla Android ROM. Thankfully, Chinese OEMs have realized that is the call of the hour; heavily (and often tastelessly) modded Android ROMs do more harm than good.
The additions that come with the phone are in form of apps. This includes the aforementioned app that handles fingerprints and a smart wake app (for features such as double tap to wake, gestures, etc.).
Ecoo E04 Plus Review: Verdict
The Ecoo E04 Plus is touted as the world’s cheapest 3GB RAM phone. When there’s a ‘cheapest xyz phone’ tag associated with a device, it is usually a marketing gimmick; in this case, we’re happy to report, it isn’t.
The E04 Plus is well built, performs like a pro and offers fingerprint security — all for under $200 shipped. Now, that is a lot of smartphone for not a lot of money!
Continuous firmware updates could really make the phone a very popular one for the next one year or so.