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Hands on: LeEco Le S3

The LeEco’s dirt cheap Le S3 is the midrange phone to beat for 2016

LeEco’s $250 Le S3 aims to dethrone the Moto G4 Plus as the most powerful budget phone.

LeEco is making its big push into North America, and while a big part of that push is an ultra-high end device at an affordable price (the Le Pro 3), the second part of its smartphone strategy is a more mid-range device that comes at an even more affordable price.

The Le S3 was unveiled by LeEco as one of the two major devices to hit the U.S. starting on November 2, and while it’s targeted at the budget market, it has decidedly top-notch specs.

Sharp design

The first thing you’ll notice about the Le S3 is its design, and it’s a very pretty phone indeed. The device boasts an aluminum unibody look similar to that of the HTC 10 and almost identical to the more powerful Le Pro 3. It also has a 5.5-inch screen, and while the screen is certainly phablet-sized, the phone is actually pretty compact considering the thin bezels on the sides. The slim bezels and the metal body give the phone a nice, premium look.

LeEco has come out with a serious contender for the U.S. market.

The Le S3 is also relatively thin at 7.5mm — the same width as the Le Pro 3. For reference, the iPhone 7 is hair thinner at 7.1mm thick. However the phone has rather blocky, sharp edges, which make it look a little thicker than it actually is. Thankfully, it feels comfortable in your hands despite those edges.

The Le S3 comes in gray, gold, and rose gold finishes.

Solid mid-range specs and display

Since the Le S3 is targeted at the mid-range market, don’t expect to find the same high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor inside the Le S3 as the Le Pro 3. Instead, you’ll get a Snapdragon 652 chip – which is still a very decent processor.

For day to day use, the phone still feels very snappy and quick, although it’s likely that will degrade more over time than the more powerful Le Pro 3. It’s also important to note that those looking for a more powerful experience to last them as long as possible should think about shelling out the extra cash for a more powerful phone. However, the processing seemed solid during our brief hands on time.

While the processor is mid-range, the rest of the phone’s specs really aren’t. The device still offers a cool 3GB of RAM, which is only a little less than the 4GB found on the Le Pro 3, as well as 32GB of storage, which should be plenty for most, especially those that use a lot of cloud storage.

Related: LeEco wants to woo Americans with the affordable, feature-packed Le S3

The display on the phone is 1080p, and although that’s definitely in the mid-range category, it doesn’t look bad at all. It’s likely that the resolution was cut a little to help keep costs down, and we’re not complaining about that decision. The colors are relatively vibrant on the device, and we never found ourselves wishing the display was much better, although hardcore display snobs might feel differently.

Battery and camera

When it comes to battery life, the Le S3 continues on the tradition of quality. While it certainly doesn’t have the same 4,070mAh battery found in the Le Pro 3, it does have a still-hefty 3,000mAh battery, which should easily last you throughout the day, especially considering the somewhat low-resolution display.

Related: LeEco introduces 4K HDR TV lineup, featuring the 85-inch, $5,000 uMax85

We couldn’t really put that battery to the test to see how well it performed, but we’ll update you when we get a better look at the phone.

The camera was quite impressive during our hands on time, especially for a mid-range device. It boasts a 16-megapixel sensor that was easily able to handle the low-light conditions of the event hall that we tested it in. The colors seemed very vibrant and pronounced without seeming too fake, which was refreshing to see on a device of this price. Flip the phone around, and you’ll find an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, which was also quite good, and more than enough for all the selfies you’re going to take with it.

The camera bears further testing, but our first impressions were positive.

Software loaded up with LeEco services

The hardware on this phone is all well and good, but it’s the software that truly sets LeEco phones apart from other Android devices on the market. While the phone does run Android 6.0 Marshmallow, LeEco uses its own interface on top of Android to push the company’s apps and services.

For example, while a swipe left on stock Android phones conjures Google Now — which gives you information like recent news and events from your calendar — if you do the same on the Le S3, you’ll instead be greeted with LeEco’s LeView, which is basically its version of Google Now. Not only that, but in place of an app drawer button, the phone has a “Live” button, which gives you access to live and recorded TV. It’s certainly a strange place to put a shortcut to a TV app, but TV is a central part of LeEco’s business model, so it does make some sense.

LeEco Le S3 Hands On
Christian de Looper/Digital Trends

Overall, the user interface on the phone isn’t bad, but it’s probably best for those looking to really dive into LeEco’s ecosystem. If not, you’re going to get frustrated with the amount of content and the number of services being pushed down your throat.

Conclusion

The best thing about this phone has nothing to do with the hardware or the software – it’s the price of the Le S3. The phone isn’t as good as the Le Pro 3, but it comes $150 cheaper with a price tag of $250 – which isn’t bad at all. LeEco is also offering a $100 rebate, which drives the price down to a mere $150. It’s not as much of a steal as the $400 Le Pro 3 is, with its Snapdragon 821 and 4GB of RAM, but if $250 is your cut off point, this is still a very decent smartphone.

Related: Every phone, TV, car, and streaming service LeEco announced at its first big U.S. event

LeEco has come out with a serious contender for the U.S. market – in fact, we can think of few phones that beat it for the price. The only one that comes close is Lenovo’s Moto G4 Plus, which is also $250, but may not be quite as powerful. We would hold off to buy until our full review comes out, but if you’re looking for a new phone in this price range to pull the trigger on, the LeEco Le S3 might be the phone for you.

Highs

  • Nice Design
  • Great specs for the price
  • Decent Camera
  • Good battery life

Lows

  • A little blocky
  • Pushes LeEco’s services a little much