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Le who? This Chinese company wants to take over the U.S. with its phones, TVs, and more

leeco lecoming to leamerica 2016 letv one pro
The first Android smartphone to use the latest and greatest processor from Qualcomm wasn’t made by Samsung or LG — No, that honor belonged to the Letv Max Pro, a stunning metal phone from an unknown Chinese brand. It was one of the highlights of CES 2016, and the Chinese company took advantage of the buzz to declare its intention to bring smartphones, a selection of televisions, and its content platform to the U.S. in 2016. There were very few firm details at the time, but after spending some time with the awesome Le Max Pro, it was hard not to get excited about Letv’s plans.

There’s little doubt of LeEco is intent on trampling into the U.S. with a giant, powerful smartphone.

Digital Trends caught up with Letv’s social and brand manager Will Park a few months later to see the second smartphone the company intends to bring to America, plus the cool Le Super Bike, and discuss how the official launch is progressing. It was enlightening — but the future of the company is still undecided.

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What did we learn? First, the company’s not called Letv anymore. Now it’s LeEco, a name that combines part of the Chinese phrase from which the Letv name is derived and eco as in ecosystem. The company announced this change in January when the firm launched in India. Second, plans are moving along for America, but we got the impression decisions and strategy regarding the task are a work-in-progress.

The biggest takeaway is that the Le Max Pro may not see store shelves at all. Instead, the first widely available LeEco phone could be the second generation Le Max Pro phone and the Le 1 Pro, which we got the chance to see. It’s like a slightly smaller Max Pro, with a 5.5-inch 1440p screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, and a 13-megapixel camera. The body shares a similar design, along with a style reminiscent of the iPhone and various Huawei devices. There’s no fingerprint sensor, either, and the version we saw was still wearing the Letv brand name. While boasting competitive specs at the moment, the Le 1 Pro will start aging after the summer, and may end up coming out at a very good price. We’ll have to wait and see.

Second-gen Le Max Pro may be the flagship device

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why would the Le Max Pro miss its chance to shine in the U.S.? Park told Digital Trends the company wants to build awareness of the LeEco brand through roadshow-style parties and events where people will get the chance to try and perhaps win LeEco phones in return for focus-group feedback. The Le Max Pro is likely to be the star device on display at these regional events. By the time these are all complete, and LeEco has its strategy nailed down, Park said the second-generation Max Pro should be ready for sale.

When questioned whether the Le Max Pro we’ve already seen would end up as a pre-launch smartphone calling card, only to be immediately succeeded by the Max Pro 2, Park was noncommittal. The timeframes discussed continue to suggest a late 2016 launch for LeEco, something echoed by Park, who said LeEco was definitely pushing for this year. However, if it’s after October, the Le Max Pro — as powerful and massive as it is now — will no longer have the same cache, and LeEco seems to be a company that really wants to have a mighty machine on its books to entice buyers.

This isn’t a terrible thing. We’re always pleased to get the chance to buy completely up-to-date phones, plus there’s some more good news — LeEco’s not waiting until its digital content platform is ready for the U.S. before coming in and selling smartphones. Waiting would make a 2016 release date highly optimistic. LeEco is like Netflix, offering licensed movies and TV (plus games and a lot more) in China; making deals for the same kind of thing in the U.S. takes a lot of time, and LeEco doesn’t intend to wait around.

We also learned more about how we’ll be able to buy LeEco phones. If you’re fixated on buying through a carrier, you won’t see them on any lists early on, because first they’ll be offered SIM-free  and unconnected through the online LeMall website, and potentially through other online stores and retail outlets as well. Prices are still to be discussed, but the Le Max Pro is less than $350 in China, and the first run released in February sold out in just a couple of seconds.

There’s little doubt of LeEco is intent on trampling into the U.S. with a giant, powerful smartphone and various other bits of cool tech, and winning lots of fans. How many fans it wins, and whether they’ll be normal people rather than phone geeks, remains to be seen. We still have some months to wait before it happens, but LeEco’s definitely le coming, so you best get le ready.

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