Hands on: Gionee Elife S7

Gionee decides the Elife S7 is slim enough, packs on a little muscle mass

Gionee isn’t chasing the “world’s thinnest smartphone” crown anymore, and is instead concentrating on making the best device possible wrapped up inside a still super-slim 5.5mm chassis.

Grabbing headlines by building the “world’s thinnest smartphone” on several different occasions has worked out well in the past for Gionee. But the Chinese firm has decided it’s no longer worth pursuing the title, and is instead striving to make the best smartphone it can, inside the slimmest chassis possible. It may not be a complete strategy change, but it shows Gionee is maturing, and wants to prove it can make a great all-round phone without the need for a hook.

Just because it’s not a sub-5mm chassis doesn’t mean Gionee hasn’t tried with the S7; it’s quite the opposite.

The result is the Elife S7, and it’s such a big deal for Gionee, it launched the device at an event during Mobile World Congress — a first and therefore special occasion for the firm, and one which had been promised to the Gionee team in return for their hard work. The S7 measures 5.5mm thick, returning to the still very thin profile of the Elife S5.5 from last year. Just because it’s not a sub-5mm chassis doesn’t mean Gionee hasn’t tried with the S7; it’s quite the opposite. This promises to be its most accomplished device yet.

Gionee’s phones have always been beautifully made, and the Elife S7 is no exception. The body has a delicate, precise track running around the edge. Think of it like the profile of a railroad track seen from the side, and you’ll have the right idea of the shape. This gives the phone character, and a considerably more grippy feel than the slippery and super-light Elife S5.1. The aluminum magnesium alloy body is sandwiched between two pieces of Gorilla Glass 3. Yes, it’s a terrible fingerprint magnet, but it does look great.

When Gionee made the Elife S5.5, the 13-megapixel camera had to be placed inside a raised section, and while the fashion seems to be headed this way in other phones at the moment (the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S6 for example), Gionee has worked with Sony to make the world’s thinnest (they just had to get the title in there somewhere) 13-megapixel sensor, so it sits flush with the body.

Gionee Elife S7

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The camera’s packed with features, from a new facial-recognition mode and depth-of-field adjustment, to gesture controls and an advanced low-light setting. Other Elife S series phones have suffered from annoyingly slow shutter speeds, so the entire app has been given an overhaul, and it’s now one of the fastest there is. Gionee pushed the camera very hard during the launch event, and it appears to be a huge improvement during our limited test.

Gionee has also given its problematic Amigo UI an upgrade, taking it to version 3.0, adding a new look, and new features such as a mode where a picture can be used to create a unique color setting for the UI. Flicking through the Android 5.0 OS showed it was smooth and speedy, but we’ll have to get deeper into it before passing judgement. The S7 also addresses cooling issues experienced on the S5.1, and the redesign spreads heat around the body, rather than keeping it on one place. Gionee’s data showed a drastic reduction in core temperatures.

Yes, it’s a terrible fingerprint magnet, but it does look great.

MediaTek provides the power with the MT6752, an octa-core, 64-bit 1.7GHz processor with 2GB of RAM, and that’s a serious upgrade over the S5.1. The battery has a capacity of 2,750mAh, and is expected to last two days before needing a recharge, plus a battery saver mode extends the last 10 percent of power for up to 33 hours.

Returning to the design, Gionee is beginning to carve out a neat design language of its own. While the glass front and rear may recall older iPhones and Sony’s Xperia hardware, the S7 is distinctively a Gionee device. Only this time it looks even better, and the addition of a cool Maldives Blue color to the black and white options is most welcome.

Gionee’s launching the Elife S7 in April, and it’ll be sold in parts of Europe and Asia. What’s more, it’ll be coming to the U.S. a couple of months later, but under the Blu Products brand rather than Gionee’s name. The price has been set at 400 euros, which is around $450 unlocked. We’ve had mixed feelings about Gionee’s phones in the past, but first impressions of the S7 are great.

Highs

  • Sleek metal chassis
  • Feature-packed camera
  • Android Lollipop and new UI
  • Claimed two-day battery life

Lows

  • Limited availability announced
  • UI improvements unproven
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