Elephone S3 review – can the bezel-less wonder live up to expectations ?


Elephone S3

Elephone is historically a bit of a controversive brand, because most of their products couldn’t live up to the potential and expectations. On paper their phones look always fantastic, but for various reasons like extremely delayed launch (Vowney) or underwhelming camera software (P9000) they fail to reach the expected heights. Can the company break the cycle with the new Elephone S3 ? Let’s find the answer in our Elephone S3 review.

Elephone S3 is marketed as a midrange phone with strong focus on the design and the main selling point for it is without a question the bezel-less display. In the past we have seen the word “bezel-less” thrown around frequently with phones not really worthy of the description so i have to admit my curiosity level was pretty high.

Packaging

If you are trying to produce a design phone, then you need to have some representative packaging too and Elephone did quite a good job with this one. Compact white hard plastic box with rounded edges looks and feels classy and the look is just about right with simple brand and model markings on it.

Inside the box everything is neatly arranged and sorted with proper attention to detail. Just a minor complaint can be voiced about the missing protection for the display of the phone itself, the thin film is only covering the back of the device. As for the accessories Elephone managed to pack in even the basic hard plastic see-through back cover, which is surely a welcome addition. Cheers also for the charger being with the appropriate continental plug instead of the extra reduction piece added like many other chinese brands. USB cable is not an ordinary one and the quite lengthy 1m piece serves also as a ruler. SIM tray ejector pin is a necessity and last piece of accessories is the color multi language manual.

Design and build

The first time you hold the Elephone S3 in your hands comes with a little “wow” effect, because the full metal build is of a very high quality. Unibody construction with only nanoinjected thin plastic stripes on the back is very solid and the chamfered edges makes it comfy to hold, just liked the slightly curved back. The phone is not the slimmest one around with 8.3 mm, but visually it looks and feels thinner. Official weight of 145g is a blatant lie though, because it weighs exactly 165g as documented in the picture below. Our sample was the black/grey variant, but there are also white/silver and white/gold ones available.

But the real “WOW” moment comes with the first experience after turning the phone on and the display coming to life. Elephone really did mean business with their “bezel-less” description and the bezels of the 5,2-inch display are really almost non existent. With the 2.5D curved glass the effect is really fantastic and for a while you could almost believe the display beneath the glass is curved too. Phone is looking absolutely gorgeous and you will be more inclined to give it a pass for not including any hardware capacitative buttons under the display, every control will be via the software keys in the bottom navigation bar. At least a tiny LED notification light is present above the display for the better orientation.

The usual power and volume rocker metal buttons are located on the right side, protruding a bit, but offering very good reaction and firm feel. Left side is reserved only for an ejectable SIM tray for one micro-SIM and one nano-SIM or microSD card instead of it. Headphone 3,5mm jack up to so no big surprise there. On the chin of the phone we can find two speaker grills, but only looking like a stereo sadly and the charging port is the usual microUSB variant.

Rear panel is of course non-removable and with the screwless design of the chassis the service repairs will be actually pretty tough to pull off. On the back we can find the Elephone logo in the bottom and the protruding camera lens up top along with the single LED flash and the square fingeprint sensor just below it.

Display

Elephone S3 comes with a 5,2-inch fully laminated in-cell IPS display with the FHD 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution (424 ppi). It’s protected by the Dragontrail glass and doesn’t have any protective film pre-applied like many others. Multitouch support is only up to 5 fingers so octopus users beware. Display quality is pretty good, viewing angles are great colors look vivid and while being a bit into the colder tones it still holds its ground very fairly against much tougher competition. Maximum brightness setting is okay allowing okayish sun legibility, but the minimal brightness is unnecessarily too high. Ambient light sensor is present for the adaptive brightness and mostly does the job just fine. All things considered the Elephone S3 display is quite good in the price range and combined with the bezel-less design it’s a treat to watch and use.

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Small comparison of the displays, up top : Meizu MX4, upper left : UMI Super, bottom left : Elephone S3, upper right : OnePlus 3, bottom right : Xiaomi Redmi Note 3.

Hardware

Like it or not, but the octa-core MT6753 chipset clocked at 1,3 GHz is already aging and while it still can provide enough horsepower for most of the tasks thrown at it, it’s lower midrange specs at best. Same applies for the Mali-T720MP3 GPU. Luckily at least Elephone went the 3 GB RAM route and with the optional microSD expansion only 16 GB of storage doesn’t hurt that much.

In terms of connectivity the phone offers 4G on FDD bands 1/3/7/20 and TDD bands 38/39/40/41, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS + A-GPS and OTG support. From the extras we can find for example an independent FM radio tuner inside, which is a rare dying breed these days. Li-Pol battery comes with the 2100 mAh capacity and we will take a closer look at it in an independent chapter later.

IMG_0025_result

Cameras consists of a rear 13 Mpix shooter with Sony IMX135 sensor and f/2.2 aperture and 5 Mpix unknown front sensor. While the Sony IMX135 Exmor RS CMOS sensor is certainly not bad (used for example in excellent LG G3 camera), the software side of things made me little uneasy in advance and as you will see soon in the camera chapter the worries were spot on.

The rear fingeprint sensor is becoming a staple in the Elephone models and the one used in the S3 is quite alright. Square shaped sensor offers good recognition capability and precision, although it still requires quite some practice. Also the speed of the sensor can’t compete with the flagship models, but still i would rate it as an above average one. You can also use it for scrolling or music/video controls and most importantly it is capable of waking the phone directly without the need of waking up the screen beforehand.

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System

Elephone S3 is running more or less clean Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box and only the latest OTA update brought the option to use the slightly customized ELE launcher. Positive thing is for sure zero count of any bloatware and all the Marshmallow goodies on board including customizable gestures and extended security. Overall the system feels really smooth and everything is running without any hiccups or slowing down.

As usual with any Elephone model the first weeks are always busy with the firmware updates coming through OTA and during my testing two new updates have arrived. Although the fixes and tweaks were of a minor important it’s nice to see the care. But the question remains if Elephone will continue the software support  for S3 in a longer time frame, because they have a tendency to leave the “older” models in the dust when something new rolls out.

Benchmarks and performance

Nothing surprising have surfaced during the full benchmark gauntlet, in synthetic tests the MT6753 is performing just the same as in the bazillion previous devices and the Mali-T720MP3 is still lagging behind the current crop of GPU’s. Speed of the eMMC internal memory is quite good with slightly slower writes, but nothing out of the ordinary and certainly nothing you will notice as a user.

Gaming performance is in line with the synthetic graphic benchmarks and while you can run most of the games acceptably you will be forced to tweak the settings a bit using the Medium preset or something. Running the demanding games in Max quality is out of the range of Elephone S3 capabilities.

Battery life

So far the review has been mostly a positive and jolly one, but coming to the battery chapter there are dark clouds gathering. I was worried the second i noticed the 2100 mAh battery capacity used in the phone and sadly all the bad expectations came true. At least the battery is really the stated 2100 mAh capacity, but the results are…well…abyssmal.

It all started with a PC Mark showing 4h36m in the test and the real bomb has been dropped during the normal day usage. I managed to get a measly 2h16m SOT time during one afternoon of moderate to heavy use and the phone died really in half a day. That’s a really terrible result, but the battery woes didnt stop just there. Overnight the phone in standby can eat up 20-25 % of the battery and that’s one insane drain for sure…. I have no idea why Elephone opted to use the relatively small battery in the not-so-thin phone and the optimizations are just a nightmare.

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Connectivity and audio

Call quality and mobile reception is fine with the Elephone S3 and the Wi-Fi signal reception and sensitivity is very good bordering on excellent, so the Elephone engineers did a great job on that even with full metal body. GPS works without any hassle and as documented by the screenshot below it seems the phone even supports Glonass, although it’s not written anywhere in the official spec sheet.

Sound quality is mediocre from both the speakers and audio jack output, but for normal day usage i can fully recommend it if you are not an audiophile. The middle frequencies are a bit muffled and the bass frequencies tend to be a bit flat, but overally it’s not so bad.

Camera

After the battery debacle i prayed to the phone gods to bless the Elephone S3 at least with a good and usable camera, but seems like nobody was listening. Even though the S3 uses quite respectable Sony IMX135 sensor the optics are probably of way lesser quality, because most of the pics came out totally out of focus and blurry around the edges. Dynamic range is quite small too, but at least the colors seems to be in good shape.

But the real shocker came with beyond terrible software experience, because the camera has totally messed up automatic white balance recognition. That makes for example HDR absolutely unusable, because it uses the automatic levels. Everything on auto has a bluish/greenish tint and to get at least some acceptable results you have to toy with the settings for every single shot. Not exactly what people are searching for in a mobile phone’s point and shoot camera…

Low light performance is equally disappointing with lots of noise and a weak flash, but that’s not something the phone cameras usually excel at anyway. Selfie front cam has a tendency to overexpose the photos, but for facebook shots it’s probably just fine. Another annoying feature is the loud and frequent clicking and clacking sound tied to every focus and refocus of the camera.

Video capturing is limited to 1080p with 30 fps, coded with H.264 and stored in the 3GP format. Quality is quite mediocre, but with the bad photography performance i’m willing to cut the video shooting some slack and call it usable. Check out the sample below for better idea about that.

Full sized sample photos can be downloaded here. And before you ask, pics are taken at a nice castle Valtice in Southern Moravia, home of countless vineyards.

Elephone S3 review – Conclusion

It’s such a shame that absolutely gorgeous looking phone like Elephone S3 is just shot in the foot by horrible battery life and terrible camera software. I’m quite sure that it’s possible to fix quite some of these issues with future updates, but for now as it stands the phone is just a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an absolute stunner with great display, okay performance and everything, but the aforementioned problems are just dragging it down unnecessarily.

We would like to thank Elephone for providing the review sample and if you would be interested in buying the phone then the easiest way is to use the official store here, currently it’s available there for discounted $149.99, but soon it will rise back to the retail $179.99 (or even $199.99).

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