Review: LeEco's New Le Pro3 Is The Energizer Bunny of Smartphones
When I first cracked open the new LeEco Le Pro 3 from Chinese manufacturer LeEco, I was admittedly sheepish. I really wasn't looking forward to going from my Note 5 and living with yet another Android trying to be an iPhone from Asia. I have to tell you that my early assumptions were undeserved and I'm glad I took the time to get to know the Le Pro 3. Why should you consider this phone? Battery, speed and beauty all make for a very solid mid-range phone.
LeEco's flagship Le Pro 3 is their first foray into the American market and it's a solid start. There will be other products coming to the U.S. from the company who just bought Vizio for $2 billion this year, but for now this is it. Nothing to sneeze at, you're going to get a $400 phone that has the same processor inside as the much more expensive Google Pixel. You're also getting a phone which has no 3.5mm headphone jack, but they've added an extra bit to compensate and you get an IR port, which is never a bad thing.
So, let's dig into the hardware and see what awaits you. Unboxing the phone, you get a device which looks eerily similar to Honor's 5X. It's a great looking handset available in gold, with grey coming soon. The front of the phone sports a 5.5" 1080p Gorilla Glass 3 display that will show you 403 pixels per inch and it looks really good. Also on the front is your ambient light sensor, front facing camera (8 megapixels) and earpiece. On the bottom, you'll find the speakers and USB-C port. The right edge is where they placed the power button and the volume rocker. The top edge contains the IR blaster and microphone, while the back of the phone is where you'll find the fingerprint sensor, 16 megapixel rear camera and dual-LED rear flash. And though the externals are pretty darn, well, pretty, it's the internals which are envy inducing. Inside the phone beats the heart of a monster! It sports the same processor as Google's Pixel, the Snapdragon 821 CPU, paired with a seemingly inexhaustible 4070mAh battery, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.
The hardware is nicely refined with a user experience that is well worth the cost. Though users may be a bit annoyed at the fact that LeEco has chosen to go the USB-C route when it comes to audio output, eschewing the 3.5mm jack, I didn't find it be that much of an issue. Normally I'd complain because, what if I wanted to charge my phone and listen to my music at the same time and I don't have wireless headphone handy? It becomes an either, or situation. In this case though, the battery life on the Pro3 is so exceptional that worrying about using audio or power was never much of a concern. Typically I'm streaming music from my phone in the mornings on the way into work and I do this through an aux port in my car. My car stereo doesn't have Bluetooth enabled, so 3.5mm is how I get down and LeEco includes a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box for buyers.
This battery has more energy than a case of Gatorade! For today's power thirsty smartphones, and power sapping users with their selfies and constant social media checking, this handset is the thirst quencher. Many phones costing almost twice as much will only get you through a day of use, but you're going to get two solid days of use out of the LeEco Le Pro3 as you can see in the screenshot below. Now, I don't talk on the phone much so if you're the kind of person who is always on the go, constantly on the phone, your battery life may vary.
The only thing that was less than perfect, and I'm putting it that way on purpose, was the fingerprint scanner. "Less than perfect" because every now and then it didn't register my fingerprint, but it did work about 90 percent of the time. Maybe, some of those times it was me not placing my finger properly on the scanner, but I've used other Android phones recently where the scanner was near flawless, not to mention the fact that my iPad Pro rarely ever misfires.
When the Pro3 launched, it did so running Android 6.01 Marshmallow, which is great. Nougat would be better, but Android M is fine for now. It's what LeEco placed on top of Marshmallow that may have some users concerned about the experience that the Pro3 provides. Heck, it was part of what had my excitement dimmed a bit prior to trying the phone. I wasn't looking forward to an iOS clone of a skin, sitting atop Android, though I am admittedly undeterred by manufacturer skinning when done well. In this case, LeEco's EUI or Ecosystem User Interface was actually a joy to live with. Coming from other Android devices there are some "quirks" which you'll have to readjust to, and I know people generally don't like change, but there is nothing earth shattering here in my opinion.
The most glaring difference you'll encounter is the way that EUI handles notifications and quick settings access. In most other Android interfaces, your notifications and quick settings will all be accessed in the same place, that pull down shade. EUI separates the two, placing notifications only, in the pull down shade and requiring you to use the left most capacitive touch button to access an iOS Command Center-like screen which pops up from the bottom of the phone's screen, for settings. You get two customizable rows of quick settings, which can be ordered, and added or removed, via the phone's full settings menu in the Control Settings menu. Activating this feature also brings up a fast application switcher as you'll also see a list of recently opened apps at the bottom of the screen.
As is the case with many of these phones, you are going to get some bloatware on it. The app which bothers me most in terms of bloat is the Le Live app which resides at the bottom, center of the screen. When you launch the app it brings up a host of video content. That's great and all, but I don't want it residing as a fixed app sitting in the bottom of my screen like that. For me, that bottom row of apps is always precious real estate and I'm very choosy about what I put in there. The other piece of bloat that many folks may want to hide is the LeView home screen news feed. When you swipe to the right, a news aggregator comes up, but if you don't want that to be part of your homescreen setup, just tap and hold any empty space on a homescreen. Then when you're in that customization mode, just swipe to the right until you come to the LeView homescreen and click on the "eye" icon, which will hide LeView.
There are certainly some quirks that you should be aware of. Well, one really, and that is group text messaging. I ran into an interesting issue where answering texts in a group on my phone, went directly to the individual on the end user's phone. So, I'd respond to my son in a group text, but when my wife saw the response she thought I was talking to her. This, of course, was loads of fun during longer rounds of family messaging. This may be due to the fact that one of the things LeEco does is replace many of the stock Android apps with its own. Sure you can still use many of the Android versions but theirs are front and center when you're first powering up the phone. They offer their own cloud storage, photo sync, messaging app, note taking app, calendar, web browser, contact sync and find my phone. All things Google offers but like some of their competitors, LeEco wants you squarely in their ecosystem. That isn't a bad thing, per se, but the permissions that the Pro 3 asks for when you first go to open some of these apps is a bit much for me. For example, the Alarm app asks to access your photos. Why? I don't see an option to add a wallpaper to the app so I don't know why it would need that. Granted, I'm probably a bit security paranoid as I often talk to parents and students about internet safety, but other apps ask for permissions which I don't think they necessarily need.
I didn't go into detail on the camera because it is about what you would expect from a modern smartphone camera. The pictures look just fine, low light shooting is average and everything works as it should. The camera software can be a little slow, but it's probably something most users won't even notice. Everything else is great, given the price point for what you're getting. This phone, among others continues to prove that you don't need to spend laptop money to get a smartphone. Unless you really need it, and I don't think most users do. The fit and finish is very nice, even though it looks very much like a couple competitors, the software experience was not bad at all and even the misfires with the fingerprint scanner can be fixed with a future update. LeEco is definitely one to keep an eye on as they attempt to break into the U.S. market with their ecosystem of phones, TVs, bikes and whatever else they have up their sleeves.
Disclosure: LeEco provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.