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LeEco Le S3 review

LeEco’s Le S3 would be the ultimate $250 phone if it weren’t for the software

LeEco Le S3
LeEco Le S3
MSRP $249.99
“LeEco’s Le S3 would’ve been a homerun if it weren’t for that pesky software.”
  • Decent camera
  • High performer
  • Nice display and design
  • Low price
  • Software is frustrating
  • Battery could be better
  • No carrier support

LeEco wants to take the U.S. smartphone market by storm. While its big entrance in the West began with the moderately well-received Le Pro 3, its strategy doesn’t rely solely on flagship phones – the company is also bringing a somewhat more modest offering to North America, called the Le S3.

At a decidedly lower price than the Le Pro 3, LeEco is positioning itself to take on a market currently fragmented by dozens of different phones, all of which have a slightly different look, feel, and spec-sheet. It’s no easy task. While the high-end phone market is largely dominated by the top players, which include the Apple iPhone series, the Samsung Galaxy S series, LG’s G series, and, to a lesser degree, the Google Nexus and Pixel phones, in the mid-range smartphone market there’s no such dominance. Could the Le S3 be the phone to break that mold?

Looks can be deceiving

If you’ve been following the LeEco U.S. saga, upon first looking at the Le S3 you’ll notice one thing – it looks almost exactly like the Le Pro 3, with a few minor differences that only a trained eye can detect. You get the same symmetrical front-facing camera and ambient light sensor on the front, the same metallic-looking fingerprint sensor on the back, and even the same hidden capacitive buttons that disappear when not in use.

Just because the phone has the same design as the high-end device, that’s not necessarily a good thing. If you read our Le Pro 3 review, you might remember that we called its look a little outdated. It has the “same old metal design,” we’ve seen over and over again. We stick by that with the Le S3. Sure, it’s not an ugly phone, and a few years ago, it might have been considered really good looking. But design tastes change, and a well-designed phone in 2013 isn’t necessarily a well-designed phone today.

LeEco Le S3
Christian de Looper/Digital Trends
Christian de Looper/Digital Trends

Still, there are a few good things to say about the design. We really like the uniqueness of the capacitive buttons, which only light up when you press them. That helps simplify the front of the device while still retaining as much screen space as possible. We also like the fact that the display panel is edge-to-edge – so while the display itself may not go from one side to the other, the panel in general does, helping the phone look a little more premium than it perhaps is.

The display is actually the same as the one found on the Le Pro 3, which sits at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels and 5.5-inches. While we found that to be perhaps not enough on the Le Pro 3, on the Le S3 it’s decidedly better because of the price point.

Like the Le S3’s higher-spec sibling, the phone is relatively nice to hold, but feels a little thick. On paper it’s quite a thin device, officially sitting at only 7.5mm thick – but the blocky edges and somewhat slab-ish design make it feel a lot thicker than it is.

It’s a real pain to lose the headphone jack, and it complicates the entire experience.

On the right side of the device, you’ll find a volume rocker and power button, which is pretty standard placement. On the bottom, you’ll get a USB-C port, a speaker grill, and a symmetrical microphone grill. Last but not least, on the left, you’ll find the SIM tray. None of this is really anything to write home about, although it is nice to see a USB-C port when many other low-priced phones are sticking with Micro USB. Notably absent from the phone is a headphone jack. It’s clear that LeEco is trying to keep up with the big players in removing the headphone jack. However, on a phone this thick, we can’t help but think that it should have remained.

It’s a real pain to lose the headphone jack, and it complicates the entire experience. Wired headphones now need an adapter to function, and wireless headphones are still hard to come by. Although Apple can kind of get away with removing it, LeEco certainly can’t.

The fingerprint sensor is a bit of a pain on this phone, just like it was on the Le Pro 3 — especially when compared to devices like the Google Pixel and Pixel XL. While it’s nice to be able to unlock our phones using only our fingerprints, the fact is that the sensor on the Le Pro 3 is extremely inaccurate. On average it took around three attempts to unlock the phone, and by that time, we may as well have just unlocked with the PIN code. Unless we were extremely careful to place our fingers directly and squarely on the sensor, it wouldn’t register correctly. LeEco needs to seriously step up its game here, and we suspect that a weak fingerprint sensor is one of the ways the company saved money on these phones.

Under the hood

Before we dive into the benchmarks on the Le S3, we should note that in day-to-day use the phone is actually very snappy. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 and 3GB of RAM seem more than capable at handling most average smartphone tasks – like calling, texting, running most apps, and browsing the web. So, if you’re really just looking for a device that can handle normal day-to-day use, then this very well could be the phone for you.

Now, the benchmarks.

  • AnTuTu: 50,128
  • Quadrant: 38,002
  • 3DMark Slingshot: 845
  • Geekbench 4: 1,443 (single core), 2,302 (multi-core)

These perhaps aren’t the most stellar benchmarks we’ve ever seen, but for the price of this phone, they’re not bad at all. The Lenovo Moto G4 Plus, for example scored 45,885 on AnTuTu, while the Huawei Honor 6X scored slightly better with 56,585. The Le S3 sits right in the middle of those two similarly priced phones.

Of course, if you’re looking for a seriously high performer you may have to save up a little more – but if you’re looking for an excellent performer in the sub-$250 price range, you may not be able to do much better than the Le S3.

A battery that could be better

While the Le S3 is the same width as the Le Pro 3, apparently, the internal components aren’t the same size, because the battery is decidedly smaller. This phone features a 3,000mAh battery, and while that’s not bad, it could certainly be better. In contrast, the Le Pro 3’s battery sits at a hefty 4,070mAh, and when the display is exactly the same, such a huge decrease can really take a toll on the battery life.

The camera is working above its pay-grade

The camera seems to be the same shooter found on the Le Pro 3, and while on the Le Pro 3 it’s nothing special, on a sub-$250 phone, it’s really quite nice.

The rear-facing camera has a 16-megapixel sensor with phase detection autofocus and a dual-LED flash, which is perfect for those low-light situations in which you need a little more light.

In general, the colors are pretty realistic, but not as much as say, the iPhone 7 or the Google Pixel XL. That’s not to say that photos look bad – they don’t. We found that using HDR mode was especially helpful in making shots pop a little more, even if the colors look slightly faker.

The 8-megapixel front-facing camera is also a pretty nice offering on this phone, and selfie-lovers will be more than happy with what it can do.

Meet eUI – and immediately turn around

Although it’s been generally decent phone until now, the worst of the LeEco Le S3 is yet to come. The software, eUI, which stands for Ecosystem User Interface, does away with many Android standards and attempts to push LeEco’s services down your throat. Now, that may work just fine if you’re already completely plugged into the LeEco ecosystem, but LeEco is trying to enter the U.S. for the first time and 99.9 percent of its customers are going to be accessing the LeEco ecosystem solely through this phone. It simply isn’t all that enjoyable of an experience.

Le S3 is an excellent performer in the sub-$250 price range.

For example, while on a stock Android phone, if you swipe to the left you’ll be greeted with Google Now, which offers personalized news, events from your calendar, and so on. On a LeEco phone, you’ll instead be taken to LeView, which attempts to do the same thing without access to your Google account, emails, and other info. In other words, while it may have taken a while for Google Now to learn all your preferences, you’ll have to do it all again with LeEco.

Another example of the operating system falling short is that while on most Android phones you’ll get an app tray that’s accessed by pressing a button on the bottom of the screen, on this device ,you’ll instead be taken to “Live,” which is LeEco’s attempt at taking on Netflix and Hulu. In fact, LeEco has done away with the app tray altogether in favor of an iOS-style multiple home screens. That’s all well and good if you actually want to watch video on Live – but in the States, people are more likely to be plugged into Netflix or YouTube for video. Therein lies another problem – video is a big part of using mobile devices today, but it’s not that big. Apps are, by far, more important, and on the Le S3 a simple Live app would be more useful.

The phone is also stocked full of other LeEco apps, like LeVidi, which is LeEco’s second-rate YouTube competitor, and Yahoo Weather. If you’ve been keeping up with all the Yahoo-related news you’ll understand why we don’t want the Yahoo name anywhere near our phone.

All of this could be remedied if the phone was capable of running the Google Pixel launcher. Unfortunately, the Le S3 is stuck on Android 6.0, so you won’t even get access to Google’s latest launcher to replace eUI. Instead you’ll be stuck with the aging Google Now launcher. Even that, however, is infinitely better than eUI. LeEco needs to seriously simplify eUI, get rid of a number of the apps, and stop trying to shove its services down our throats.

Warranty, customer service, and software updates

LeEco offers a limited one-year warranty, which covers defects in the hardware. You can get it repaired, replaced, or refunded with the warranty. LeEco has a service partner that will repair your device. If you’re out of warranty or your issue isn’t covered, you’ll have to pay a fee for the repair. You can read the full details of what’s covered here.

LeEco also offers a thing called EcoPass, which gives you access to more content, an extended 2-year warranty on phones, unlimited cloud storage for photos, and more. You get a free, three-month trial when you buy a LeEco phone. The exact price of the service after the free period has yet to be announced.

LeEco Le S3
Christian de Looper/Digital Trends
Christian de Looper/Digital Trends

If you run into problems, you can call, email, or chat with a customer service representative. YOu’ll also have to buy the Le S3 full price online, because it’s not at carriers. You can also get it online at Target now.

As far as software updates go, LeEco has been good about issuing the security patches, but the full software version updates are taking a while. The phone still runs Android Marshmallow with the December security patch.

Our Take

Like the Le Pro 3, the LeEco Le S3 is an excellent phone that’s let down by a few key issues – software being the biggest one. You can, however, switch over to the Google Now launcher or your other launcher of choice, which helps alleviate some of the software issues.

Is there a better alternative?

With a sub-$250 price tag, you really can’t do much better than the Le S3. However, if you can’t stand eUI, we’d recommend the Moto G4 Plus with its near-to-stock Android experience. You’re also likely to get more timely software updates on the Moto G4 Plus. Another good alternative is the Honor 6X, which boasts dual-camera tech, a sleek metal build, and a much more reliable fingerprint sensor.

How long will it last?

As with any smartphone, you’ll probably want to get a case. On top of that, the phone isn’t officially waterproof at all, so keep that in mind on the day-to-day.

With regular use, the Le S3 should last at least two years, as long as it doesn’t suffer from too many drops or any plunges into water. The only worry is software updates, which may not arrive in a timely manner.

Should you buy it?

Probably not. If you’re looking for the best phone under $250, the Le S3 is a good deal. Its only real downside is software — eUI isn’t pleasant to use and LeEco is unlikely to push timely software version updates to the device. We recommend you consider the Moto G4 Plus instead for up-to-date software that’s not bogged down with pointless services. Another alternative for those who want a metal phone and don’t mind a little bit of software meddling is the Honor 6X.

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