LeEco Le S3 review: The budget phone that leaves you wanting more

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LeEco has had the spotlight on them a lot lately, particularly because of its aggressive expansion. They’re offering a wide range of products in completely different industries: bikes, TVs, smartphones and even virtual reality. The company might be strapped for cash, but they’re creating some good quality products. We’ve already taken a look at its higher-end smartphone, the LeEco Le Pro 3, but now we’re breaking down its budget handset — the LeEco Le S3.

If you’re looking for a budget phone, be sure to follow along as we show you what the Le S3 is all about.

Design

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As far as design goes, LeEco didn’t put much work into it. What you’re getting here is essentially the same style body as its bigger brother, the Le Pro 3. So, what are the differences between the two phones? Well, the differentiating factors come down to the hardware, which we’ll touch on in a moment.

On the Le S3, you get a 5.5-inch display, so you’re getting a tad bit of a larger phone; however, the overall form factor is pretty slim, so it’s really not too large in the hand. In the hand, it feels really good. It’s easy to grip and feels like a quality phone with its aluminum construction.

Around the front, you have an 8-megapixel camera and the traditional earpiece speaker. At the bottom of the phone below the display is all your navigational controls — Recent Apps, Home and Back. They’re very responsive capacative buttons, and while I miss the traditional “click” of a physical home button, the feedback they give isn’t bad.

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Around the back, you have a 16-megapixel camera, LED flash and a fingerprint scanner sitting directly below it. The fingerprint scanner doesn’t actually serve as a clickable home or power button as some manufacturers are doing — it’s purely just a fingerprint scanner.

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On the side, you have a volume rocker with a power button directly below it. And then on the other side is a SIM card tray with no available card slot for storage expansion.

Finally, at the bottom, you’ll notice some big changes. There’s no 3.5mm audio jack. Instead, you get a dual-speaker grille setup with the USB Type-C port sitting in-between. To remedy this, LeEco does include a 3.5mm audio jack to Type-C adapter, as most companies are doing right now.

All in all, the LeEco Le S3 is nearly an exact replica of the Le Pro 3. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but could make it difficult for people to differentiate between the two.

Hardware

 LeEco Le S3
AnnouncedOctober 19, 2016
ReleaseFall 2016
Display5.5-inch (1920x1080) IPS LCD
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 652
RAM3GB
Storage32GB
Rear Camera16MP with dual-LED flash, phase detection autofocus
Front Camera8MP
Battery3000mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB Type-C with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0
SoundBottom-facing speakers
SoftwareAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow with eUI 5.8
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.1, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, fingerprint
Measurements151.4 x 74.2 x 7.5mm
Weight153g
ColorsGold, Gray, Rose Gold

Performance

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Overall, you’ll find the LeEco Le S3 to be a great experience for your day-to-day tasks. It’s equipped with a large 5.5-inch (1920 x 1080) LCD display, which is perfect if you’re looking to get a good amount of media consumption out of it. Colors look great and it’s comfortable to hold, so catching up on your favorite TV series won’t be a problem. It has excellent viewing angles as well, though brightness levels aren’t great itself. In sunlight, there’s definitely a glare there even at maximum brightness that makes it difficult to see, but it’s a small complaint.

Other than that, you get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Unfortunately, there’s no microSD card slot, so all you get is that 32GB. Overall, the package here runs just fine. It’ll be able to handle most any task. If you get into some of the more demanding games, such as Need for Speed, there is a noticeable drop in performance and you’ll most definitely see some lag; however, it doesn’t necessarily make the game unplayable. In other words, the Snapdragon 652 processor is able to hold its own quite well.

One of the premium features of this smartphone would have to be sound. Not only can it get very loud, the audio is crisp, clear and free of any extra static, even at maximum volume levels.

And quite honestly, anything you throw at this phone, it’ll be able to handle it. It keeps things running smoothly, response times are snappy and there’s hardly any lag or noticeable frame drops, at least when you’re not playing graphic-intensive games. At $250, it’s hard to complain.

Battery

The battery you get is actually fairly standard — a non-removable 3,000mAh unit. That said, battery is pretty standard and is going to be what you make it. You’ll get a full days use out of it at standard use without any issues. If you start doing anything heavier, well, you’ll lose juice pretty fast. It’s truly a your mileage will vary type of thing. But, as a person who primarily uses their phone for calling and texting, I was able to get a full days use out of it without a hitch.

Camera

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Packaged into the LeEco Le S3 is a 16-megapixel camera. If you’ve heard the term “megapixels don’t mean everything” before, that’s completely the case with the Le S3, and not in a good way either. The phone doesn’t take good pictures, particularly in darker environments. Quality gets a little better when the lighting is perfect, but even then, colors seem washed and not nearly as good as you might expect with a 16-megaixel unit.

In the above gallery, you’ll see photos taken in varying lighting conditions. In even ideal conditions, I truly found the colors to feel washed and lacking detail. In some cases, they even felt a bit blurry.

On the other hand, LeEco has actually developed a pretty quality camera app. You get a lot of your standard options — a timer, shutter sound, picture size and so on; however, you also have more technical abilities, such as being able to adjust white balance, ISO, exposure, contrast and more. You might find similar features on other budget phones, but it’s definitely rare to see an array of camera features like this, unless you’re buying from a big manufacturer with already established software, such as Samsung or LG.

All in all, the camera is pretty subpar, despite having good software features at hand. If taking photos is a big part of what you do with a smartphone, it might be better to look at LeEco’s higher tier smartphone, the Le Pro 3.

Software

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LeEco’s software is actually the worst part of this device. You’re getting LeEco’s very own skin, EUI, on top of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. There’s quite a few features LeEco has included here. For instance, when you swipe to the right, you get LeEco’s LeView hub. This is a place for news, top videos and other entertainment. And honestly, it’s the least useful part of the LeEco experience here. I almost never used it, and when I did, it was purely an accident with my swiping direction.

You’ll also notice that the app drawer is missing in EUI. In this case, it’s not a surprise — most software out of China is missing the app drawer. Instead, all of the apps sit on the home screen, similar to what Apple does with its iOS software. Now, the frustrating part is that there’s not even an option to enable the app drawer. Instead. you’re stuck with a little button that says “Live.”

This “Live” button is actually a shortcut to the LeEco live streaming service. For some reason, LeEco thought it necessary to provide a half-baked video service to its users. The company has partnered with various TV networks and publishers to bring you this video content through LeEco’s EcoPass subscription, which is something you can purchase separately, it seems. Since the service is in beta, you’ll get a free three months pass with the purchase of the Le S3; however, it sounds like LeEco will be charging for it from the get-go in the future.

There’s really no incentive to use the live streaming service. There’s a good amount of content on there you probably have never heard of. Not only that, but the interface isn’t intuitive by any means. If you really wanted to catch up on some good video or TV content, downloading Netflix or Hulu from Google Play and signing up for a subscription there would do you far better.

Unfortunately, there’s just a lot of things here that LeEco messed with that they really shouldn’t have. A good example is the notification pane. It’s just what it says it is: a notification pane — nothing else. There’s no easy way to access Quick Settings, your brightness or even the full Settings menu from this pane because it’s purely for notifications. This is the exact opposite of almost every other Android phone out there, including Samsung’s smartphones, which many say is one of the most heavily skinned versions of Android in the industry.

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LeEco really dropped the ball here. It’s not easy to access anything. The whole experience is far from intuitive, which is very disappointing. At $250, I’d say this would be a dealbreaker for me. Yes, you get a lot of bang for your buck as far as a smartphone goes. Unfortunately, the software experience is what makes or breaks a smartphone. After all, it’s what you’ll be interacting with day-in and day-out. It’s not user-friendly in the least, which isn’t a good thing for a brand trying to make a name for itself in such a competitive market.

Closing

When it comes down to it, all the Le S3 really is is a lower-end version of the Le Pro 3. It has essentially the same body and construction, but less powerful hardware. Despite that, the Le S3 is still fast and can handle anything you need it to. It still has some shortcomings. For example, the camera could be a lot better, as it’s pretty subpar for what it is.

Still, for $250, you’re getting a truly quality product that’s difficult to complain about. At that price, LeEco is really setting the tone for what a budget phone should look like.

Buy it now: LeMall, Amazon


About the Author: Brad Ward

Brad is a tech enthusiast, writing and tinkering with all things technology since 2011. He currently bounces between the LG G3 and his beloved Moto X! His interests include reading, entrepreneurship, the gym, and of course, queso.


  • Jeena Bittenbender

    That’s really sad. Too bad they didn’t put more heart into it. I love budget phones. They power most of the world…

  • balcobomber25

    It’s very easy to download and use Google Now launcher with this phone. Also the quick settings and recent apps are all available by the left capacitive button. It takes some getting used to but once you do, it’s incredibly convenient. Also the software is customizable such as switching the buttons or long pressing to open certain apps. The camera is a huge letdown but the audio performance more than makes up for it.