LeEco Le Pro 3 review: A powerful, inexpensive (and confusing) phone

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LeEco is a Chinese company that is not terribly well known here in the United States. With electric vehicles, a film studio, virtual reality, and phones, LeEco has its hands dipped in a number of areas and is showing no sign of slowing down. In the world of mobile devices, the LeEco Le Pro 3 is the latest Android powerhouse that aims to take the U.S. by storm with its high end specs and suite of live streaming entertainment services — all for a price of only $399.

Does all of this translate to a phone you should run out and buy? Let’s find out.

Hit the break for our review of the LeEco Le Pro 3.

Design

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The Le Pro 3 has solid build quality and design that will probably seem very familiar. While some argue that there are only so many ways a phone these days can look, the Le Pro 3 still has quite a lot in common with phones such as the OnePlus 3 and a little bit of the HTC 10. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as all three of these phones are very attractive and feel like a premium and expensive device. But it’s worth noting that the HTC 10 is the only truly ‘expensive’ phone out of these three.

The Le Pro 3 is striking with its glossy brushed metal build in a subtle and classy gold color. The front of the device has pretty small bezels with 2.5D glass on top that curves slightly on the edges. What normally would be very smooth curves that help your fingers glide across the display is interrupted by rather sharp metal edges. If you look closely at where the glass meets the hairline metal edge, you can see an every so slight lip of metal that is surprisingly sharp to the touch. It seems like an odd design choice with no real purpose and is something I can’t help but notice and take issue with every time I’m holding the phone.

The back of the Le Pro 3 is much smoother than the front and while the metal is very glossy, there is plenty of grip and I was never worried that the phone would slip out of my hands. Right at the top is the 16 MP camera that protrudes slightly from the rest of the body, but not so much that it would cause issue although there is a little bit of rocking back and forth when using the Le Pro 3 on a table or other flat surface. Sitting below the camera is the fingerprint sensor with a mirrored appearance that adds a bit of flare to the device. The fingerprint scanner worked quickly enough, but would only recognize my finger on the first try about 50% of the time. Antenna lines break up an otherwise sleek appearance, but they do a good job of blending into the surrounding metal.

What you’ll notice right away and will no doubt be a big deciding factor in whether to purchase the Le Pro 3 is the lack of a headphone jack. The bottom of the phone has a dual speaker grill and a USB Type-C port. Nothing else. So yes, you will have to use either the included adapter for your existing headphones or connect without wires via Bluetooth. The volume rocker and power button sit on the right side of the phone and work as expected, however the buttons are pretty squishy. I do miss that satisfying sharp ‘clickyness’ found on a lot of other phones. Sitting below the display are the capacitive navigation buttons for recent apps/quick settings, home, and back.

The phone is a very comfortable size especially for my large hands and comes in at 151.4 x 73.9 x 7.5mm and 175g. It definitely has some weight to it, which is not a bad thing at all and gives the illusion of a much more expensive device.

Hardware

 LeEco Le Pro 3
AnnouncedOctober 19, 2016
ReleaseFall 2016
Display5.5-inch (1920x1080) IPS LCD
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 821
RAM4GB
Storage32GB / 64GB with microSD card slot
Rear Camera16MP with dual-LED flash, phase detection autofocus
Front Camera8MP
Battery4070mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB Type-C with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0
SoundBottom-facing speakers
SoftwareAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow with eUI 5.8
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, fingerprint
Measurements151.4 x 73.9 x 7.5mm
Weight175g
ColorsGold, Gray, Rose Gold

Performance

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The Le Pro 3 spares no expense when it comes to performance. Rocking a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 and a generous 4GB of RAM, there is nothing, at least on paper, that should get in the way of a solid and fast experience. How does this translate to real-world use? The Le Pro 3 certainly flies and never shows signs of slowing down. However, the software itself, particularly the interface animations, give an illusion of the phone running slower than it probably is. Opening and closing apps results in a smooth yet slow zooming animation that gets really tedious after only a short time using the phone. Sure, this could be tweaked by enabling developer mode or installing a third-party launcher, but since navigating through various windows and apps is the most common part of using a phone, it would have been nice to see much faster animations.

Apps themselves run as expected and that will vary anyway depending on the app and how it’s coded and optimized. The camera is where I found most of my frustrations in terms of performance, but we’ll get to that in the dedicated section.

The display of the Le Pro 3 comes in at 5.5 inches with a resolution of 1080p, which is very acceptable even for a display of this size. We’re looking at 403 pixels per inch so you should not be seeing any individual pixels. Since the Le Pro 3 has an IPS display, there are no issues seeing the screen in broad daylight as it gets strikingly bright. The viewing angles are okay. It doesn’t take much of an off-axis view for the contrast to wash out and blacks to get bright gray. While this won’t be too much of an issue since we mostly look at our phones straight on, it was something I noticed frequently. There are several color modes in the display settings to bump up or down the colors and contrast. I found “vivid” to be the most pleasing, but everyone will have their preference.

The speakers are found on the bottom of the device and sound also comes out of the earpiece speaker when listening to media. This gives a stereo-esque experience and the quality is top notch even at maximum volume.

Battery

LeEco did not hold back with the battery on the Le Pro 3 as we are working with 4070 mAh and when paired with software optimizations of Android and anything LeEco tweaked, as well as the lower display resolution, the phone easily lasts a full day and even longer depending on the usage. I personally averaged anywhere from 3 to almost 5 hours of screen on time even with the display at more than 50% brightness. This was the result of relatively moderate use such as web browsing, YouTube streaming, and using the camera. Power users and those who enjoy playing a lot of games on their phones will certainly see shorter battery life, but nothing terribly different than most other high end phones.

The standby time is where things really shine and it’s nothing short of amazing. When I first received the device I let it sit idle for almost 7 days and when I checked the battery percentage at that time I was still at 44%. Granted, this was with very few background activities, but was very impressive nonetheless.

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It’s also worth noting is the Le Pro 3 supports Quick Charge 3.0 so if you do find yourself low on power during the day you’ll be able to get a good amount of juice in a very short amount of charging time.

Software

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The Le Pro 3 is running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow tweaked by LeEco’s own skin, which they are calling their Ecosystem User Interface (EUI). The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of an app drawer, which will no doubt disappoint a lot of users. Apps are right there on the main home screen or placed in various pre-made folders. Swiping to the left will bring up LeEco’s LeView pane instead of Google Now. It’s a dedicated screen for news, entertainment, videos, etc. I didn’t find myself using this much as there wasn’t a way to personalize the content you see.

In all honesty, I am not a fan of LeEco’s EUI. I can live without an app drawer, but there are too many interface tweaks that just didn’t make sense to me or seem intuitive. Swiping down from the top of the display will bring down the notification shade, yet you will not find the standard Android quick setting there. If you want to find those you have to tap the capacitive square button on the bottom left of the device where you’ll not only find those quick settings, but a scrolling horizontal window of your most recent apps. While this isn’t a deal breaker, it just seems odd and unnecessary to break away from what so many Android users are accustomed to. It felt to me as change for the sake of change.

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Where the app drawer button would normally be you will find the portal to LeEco’s live streaming service. The company partnered with a bunch of TV networks and channels and, when paired with LeEco’s EcoPass subscription as well as network-specific subscriptions, you can enjoy 24/7 video content right on your device. Again, this wasn’t something I took advantage of and felt like I needed on my phone. Might be great for some users, but just not for me. It’s worth mentioning that you cannot remove the Live icon from the dock, which I was very disappointed to discover. LeEco really wants you to not only buy the phone, but buy in to their host of media services.

Camera

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I am a photography enthusiast and definitely fall into the group of people whose phone is their primary camera. So I was very excited to test out the photo prowess of the Le Pro 3 and for the most part I’m walking away pleased. For the main shooter we are looking at a 16 MP camera that’s capable of shooting 4k video. The camera interface is straightforward enough with most of the features buried within menus. You can choose slow-mo video, regular video, photo and panoramic modes right from the main screen. A swipe from the line above the currently selected mode, or by tapping the gear icon, will bring up more advanced settings like white balance, ISO, HDR, and various scene modes.

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In bright daylight conditions, the Le Pro 3 can produce some beautiful shots with a huge amount of crisp detail. HDR is not turned on by default or set to “auto,” and most of the time it doesn’t seem necessary. There certainly are times you will benefit from enabling HDR especially to avoid a blown out sky for example. What was a little odd, however, about using HDR is that is would tend to produce images that were very bright overall to the point of looking washed out. Also, taking pictures in HDR was much slower than I expected, especially when in low-light conditions. If the processing happened in the background I wouldn’t care so much, but after taking a lower-light HDR shot you have to wait for the camera to finish processing the image before you can do anything else. Hopefully that can be tweaked in future software updates.

Also, the camera would sometimes slow down the shutter speed in ways that didn’t make sense, even in daylight conditions. This would often result in images with motion blur as the slower shutter couldn’t compensate for normal hand shake. It wasn’t consistent enough to be a big problem, but did make me extra careful to hold the phone as absolutely still as possible just in case. That’s something I honestly should not have to worry about. See the example in the gallery of the street shot with the yellow truck.

Low light shots were a mixed bag. Sometimes I would get good results with plenty of detail, and a lot of other times the image would turn out very smudgy with an almost watercolor painting effect. This seems to be a product of aggressive noise smoothing, but ended up with producing images that you would never want to zoom in on. While I was very impressed most of the time with daylight shots, the uneven performance of low-light photos makes me hesitant to recommend this phone to anyone who cares a lot about taking pictures.

The 8 MP front camera worked well enough, but wasn’t anything to write home about. It comes with a beauty mode of strengths from 1 to 5. The default level is 3 and even that led to images that were smoothed out too much to the point of losing detail.

Closing

So where have we ended up with the LeEco Le Pro 3? In short, this is a very solid and capable phone especially when you consider the $399 price tag. The hardware is beautiful and mostly very comfortable in the hand and feels like a more expensive device. The display is very bright and crisp, the performance solid for the most part, battery life is amazing, and while a number of issues are present with the camera, you will most of the time walk away pleased with the photos it takes. But how does this all come together as a phone worth buying?

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It’s clear that the Le Pro 3 is very important for LeEco. The company is trying to expand their presence into the U.S. as well as popularize their host of media services, subscriptions and cloud storage. In a way similar to Apple’s approach, LeEco wants to sell you on a complete package that is bigger than the phone itself. The phone actually seems to act less as a standalone device and more as simply a portal into the LeEco ecosystem. This is a very important aspect to consider when deciding if this is the phone for you. If you don’t want to bother with the services LeEco offers, then honestly there are more appropriate devices with similar specs such as the OnePlus 3.

I sense this is only the beginning for LeEco and it will certainly be interesting to see where things go from here. However, since most people have not even heard of the company and the fact that buying the phone means buying into a new ecosystem, LeEco has a steep hill to climb.

Buy it now: LeEco, Best Buy, Target


About the Author: Kevin Arnold

Kevin has been obsessed with technology ever since the days of playing with commands in MS-DOS. As a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology where he studied a combination of New Media Programming and Photography, Kevin lives in New York City where he works as a photo retoucher. His first "smartphone" was the good old LG Voyager with its slide-out physical keyboard. The first Android device Kevin owned was the now-infamous HTC Thunderbolt, which he still has in a drawer somewhere. Currently rocking both the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X, Kevin has a (un)healthy obsession with phones and has owned more than he can remember. When he's not shopping for a new phone, Kevin enjoys lots of food and wine, video games, astronomy, and the Big Apple.