After announcing that they planned to acquire Vizio in July, Chinese tech giant LeEco launched their brand in the United States in September, with one of the highlights being the Le Pro3. In the same vein as fellow Chinese companies OnePlus (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oppo) and ZTE, LeEco is launching a high-end smartphone at an aggressively low price — $400.
LeEco was formerly called Letv, and was originally founded in China as a content distributor, similar to Netflix. Their success in China led them to invest heavily in hardware, including phones, TVs, and the promise of autonomous electric cars in the future. While the name is unfamiliar here in the United States, it’s not an unknown startup we’re dealing with. Then again, there are signs that all’s not well — LeEco CEO YT Jia recently announced he would only take a salary of 1 yuan (about 15 cents). Global Times reported that Jia sent out an internal email remarking that LeEco’s recent global expansion was outpacing resources and that some products were not performing up to expectations. Shortly after, Gizmodo spoke with a North American LeEco representative, who asserted that the United States market was one of the company’s largest priorities.
At this point, you might wonder what this has to do with a smartphone review. The concern is that the distinguishing feature of the Le Pro3 is LeEco’s ecosystem of content and services — something that depends on the health of the company. Even now, that ecosystem translates into one of the heaviest Android overlays we’ve seen on a phone yet, all for features that aren’t compelling compared to what’s already available. Despite being one of the highest performing phones on the market, that heavy overlay makes the Le Pro3 a difficult phone to recommend.
The Le Pro3 is a 5.5″ phone. It’s a bit heavier and thicker than most phones of the same size, which is hit or miss — some might not appreciate the bulk, but a big reason for that bulk is the larger battery, and the battery life on this phone is very impressive. The phone has a common premium smartphone design — unibody aluminum construction, diamond-cut edges, and rounded corners. An odd quirk was that despite being a metal phone, the back is polished so much that it ends up far more of a fingerprint magnet than any other metal phone we’ve tested. The display is protected by 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass, which has been a standard premium smartphone feature this year — you won’t be totally protected from screen damage, but it should be able to survive some drops.
The fingerprint sensor is located on the back, with the IR blaster up top and dual stereo speakers on the bottom. More noteworthy is what isn’t here — a 3.5 mm audio port, with the Le Pro3 joining the Moto Z and the iPhone 7 in axing the wired audio port. If you’ve got a favored pair of wired headphones, that means you’ll need to use a USB Type-C-to-3.5 mm adapter — LeEco includes one in the box, but it’s frustrating for anyone who hasn’t completely embraced wireless audio.
The back isn’t removable, so don’t count on a replaceable battery. This seems to be the new normal, though — we bring it up because often, companies manage to at least save the microSD card slot by using a dual-SIM slot, with the second slot acting as either a nano SIM slot or a microSD card slot. The Le Pro3 (at least the U.S. model) is only a single SIM phone, so local storage cannot be expanded. This might have to do with LeEco trying to push their cloud service subscription, which include 5 TB of storage and unlimited image and video storage.
The Le Pro3 runs on the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 SoC, the same as the Pixel XL and the Asus ZenFone 3, along with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage (this appears to be the only model being sold in the U.S.). The 821 is the fastest processor Qualcomm has in smartphones right now, making the Le Pro3 one of the best performing devices on the market — in raw numbers, anyway.
|PC Mark for Android Work||7225|
|GFXBench GL 3.1 1080p Manhattan Offscreen||1,914 frames|
|3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.1||2732|
|PC Mark for Android Work Battery Life||9 hours, 9 minutes|
These benchmark numbers, compared to top phones this year (including the two other 821 phones we mentioned above), are stellar. Despite those numbers, some apps can take longer than expected to load, especially media-heavy ones like Netflix. It’s not a slow device by any means, but in everyday use with quite a few apps running in the background, it’s not as quick as the benchmark scores would indicate. Still, it’s far and away one of the best-performing phones on the market, at least for now. The one thing that those benchmark scores do indicate is that this phone is perfect for 3D gaming and watching videos — you’re not likely to find higher fps gameplay on many other Android phones. We also noticed that the phone gets pretty warm once a few apps have been opened.
The Le Pro3 has a sharp and bright 1080p IPS display, making it good for outdoor use. Blues and greens look a little oversaturated, but generally there’s not too much to complain about. Should LeEco’s VR headset ever come to the United States, the Le Pro3 will certainly fall short of a good VR experience, as any phone with a 1080p display would.
Battery life is excellent, thanks to the huge 4,070 mAh battery. The benchmark battery life score isn’t quite as high as the Huawei Mate 8 from earlier this year, but it still indicates that this phone will outlast most other Android phones. In everyday use, I was able to consistently get a day and a half of battery life per charge. The phone is very efficient when asleep, which helps keep battery life up. The sheer size of the battery is the biggest reason, but it does need help — as we’ll get to in the software section, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that makes the phone less efficient. The phone is charged using a USB Type-C port. When I charged the phone using the included adapter and cable, the Le Pro3 went from 18 percent to 48 percent in a half hour — seems slower than fast charging on other phones, although there is simply more battery to charge here.
The phone does have an IR blaster, which a lot of premium smartphones lack now. That works with a preloaded remote control app, but it’s one that’s been tailor made to work with LeEco televisions — again, we’ll cover this more in software, but a big part of LeEco’s grand strategy is to get you using all of their products together, similar to Apple’s strategy.
Audio was a big surprise. The stereo speakers on the bottom of the phone get very loud, allowing the phone to be used easily as a speakerphone, even with a lot of background noise. The microphones are nothing special, so enough background noise could will make it more difficult for others to hear you, but the speakers are some of the most powerful we’ve heard on any smartphone.
We never experienced any problems with GPS, Wi-Fi connectivity, or LTE connectivity, but it does seem like the fingerprint scanner may have been a place where LeEco saved a bit of money in production. It’s noticeably slower at bringing the phone from sleep to wake — it’s still faster than manually waking the phone, swiping, and entering a code or pattern, but it doesn’t have the immediate response we see on most premium phones, even more inexpensive ones like the OnePlus 3.
Next: Camera, Software, and the Verdict…