Elephone S3 Review – Performs Above its Price Point

Positives
  • Beautiful Vivid Display
  • Capable of great photos
  • No bloatware - Clean UI
  • Great price for what you get
  • Dual SIM
  • MicroSD card slot
  • Fingerprint reader
Negatives
  • Barely all day battery life
  • Camera works best in manual mode
  • Poor low light photos
  • Likely won't get Android updates

If you’re looking for a sleek stylish Smartphone that won’t break the bank there are a lot of options out there. Knowing which Chinese Smartphone manufacturer you can trust is getting harder and harder with many devices looking sexy yet letting you down when it comes to performance. High of the great review of the Elephone P9000 we were excited to see if this Shenzhen Smarpthone maker was capable of delivering a solid follow up device with the Bezeless S3.

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Unboxing

In a clean white box you’ll find the 5.2 inch Elephone S3, it comes with a plastic bumper, PSU & cable with a ‘neat’ measuring tape feature. The packaging feels premium and if you’re getting it delivered in the mail the S3 won’t be running around the box, which can happen if you buy from the wrong company.

Design – One Sexy Smartphone

No two ways about it, this is one good looking phone, but it isn’t bezeless but it’s probably the thinnest frame you can get a way with with out having the phone fall apart. With phones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge curving the display to get rid of the bezel, it’s a bit of a cheat to put in 2.5D glass and a really thin frame and claim to be bezelless.

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Having said that the phone looks good and the very, very thin frame that we have actually has the same issue as the S7 because of the 2.5D glass. The reflection on the edge can actually get in the way of what you’re seeing on the display. This isn’t a problem native to the S3, it’s actually any phone that has 2.5D glass, the only difference here is that because the bezel is so thin the glare is found on the viewable part of the screen. Now, this isn’t a big issue and to be honest it’s a design aesthetic that’s very hot right now. Some people love it, others like myself yearn for the days when the glass was flat and the frame came all the way up to protect the screen.

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One thing that I very much liked about the phone is that even though it had very thin bezels there was never any interference from the other parts of my hand when using it. In the past phones with very thin bezels suffered from the inability to distinguish an accidental press along the side of the device and an actual tap.

In hand the Elephone S3 feels good, the 145 grams it touts isn’t light but it does give the phone a substantial premium feeling, and by comparison it isn’t that heavy when you consider that it’s all metal. The very thin frame of the S3 actually gives it the same footprint as the 4.7 inch iPhone 6 but offering a 5.2 inch display.

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On the back the 13MP camera featuring a Sony sensor sticks out with the single tone flash and finger print reader right below. The finger print reader can actually act as a navigation key, which we’ll write more about later. You’ll find the Elephone logo which looks a bit like an Elephant (love it!). The edges have a been shaved off which makes the phone feel very smooth and round in hand. Though not so smooth that we feel like the phone might go flying out of our hand at any moment.

On the top we have a 3.5mm headphone jack, the bottom has the Micro USB port and the bottom firing speaker. The right hand side of the handset hold the power button and volume rocker, the left hand side the a 4G capable dual SIM card slot where one can be used as a MicroSD for expansion.

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It’s a shame that Elephone didn’t offer hardware buttons, the way the bezel on the top and the bottom cut across the phone it almost begs for that space to become useful.

Hardware

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For $149 you can’t fault the hardware on the Elephone S3, it’s all metal with a good enough OctaCore MediaTek processor a substantial 3GB of RAM and a 13MP camera using a Sony sensor.

Model Elephone S3
Band 2G: GSM Band 850/900/1800/1900MHz
3G: WCDMA Band 900/1900/2100MHz
4G: FDD-LTE Band 1/3/7/20 (800/1800/2100/2600MHz)
Sim Card Dual SIM,Dual Micro SIM cards
Service Provide Unlocked
Style Bar
OS Android 5.1
CPU/GPU CPU: MTK6753 Octa Core 1.3GHz
GPU: Mali-T720
ROM 3GB RAM
RAM 16GB ROM
Display Size 5.2 Inch
Type IPS, capacitive touch screen
Resolution 1920 x1080 pixels
FM Radio Yes, earphone needed
Speaker Box Speaker
Earphone Port 3.5mm
Card Extend Micro SD card up to 128GB(not included)
Data transfer USB/Bluetooth
Mobile internet WAP/WiFi
Camera/Picture Resolution Dual Cameras,5.0MP front camera,13.0MP back camera with flashlight and auto focus
Language Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Dutch, Czech, Danish, English, French, Finnish, Filipino, Greek, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Romanian, Slovenscina, Spanish, Turkish, Thai, Vietnamese, Lithuanian, Slovenian, Bahasa Melayu, Chinese
NFC No
TV No
GPS Yes
WIFI 802.11b/g/n wireless internet
Bluetooth Bluetooth  V4.0
Sensors Gyroscope, Ambient Light Sensor, Gravity Sensor, Proximity Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor

Multi-Touch

Yes
Dimensions 141.5x69x8.3mm/5.55 x 2.71 x 0.33 inch
Net Weight (Including battery) 145g

Display

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The screen of the S3 is a beauty, it’s 5.2 inch IPS incell 3D display has an impressive contrast ration, like on the P9000 the colors seem to leap off the display. Elephones choice of wall paper is perfect and really does a perfect job at showing off what the display is capable of. When it comes to brightness we’re happy overall with it’s performance but do think that outdoor viewing in direct sunlight needs improvement.

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The display does attract a lot of finger prints and when you factor that in with the extra reflections of the 2.5D display and average viewing angles we’d think that they would have given us a few more nits of brightness to make our way through the world.
In a sleek white box you’ll find the 5.2 inch S3 a 5V/2A data cable that can handle putting through the Quick charge that the EU wall adapter can bring. The cable itself has a ruler printed on the side and Elephone’s website notes that you can do user it to do stuff like measure a baby. We’re not really sure if we’d actually use it to do that, it’s a nice touch and who knows, maybe you’ll actually need to measure something someday and it will come in handy.

Performance

If you’re looking for a Smartphone that can handle average use, things like Facebook, Chat app, Google Apps, streaming music, watching video the S3 will have no issues. You’ll be able to switch between them reasonably fast with only a stutter here or there when too many big apps open, then this is the phone for you. Large apps like games or skype can take a few moments longer that you’d like to open, while things like Twitter and Facebook were reasonable in speed. We did notice quite a few lags and stutters when we played Asphalt 3, so if graphically intensive games are your thing, I’d keep looking. If clash of clans or candy crush is more your speed, you’ll be happy with the performance (though even these games take a touch too long to open for my liking).

Taking a closer look at the benchmarks, the S3 won’t be winning any wars, but for a $149 handset this is totally acceptable.

Fingerprint Reader

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Placed in the center on the back of the handset the finger print reader works in 360 degrees meaning that you can place your finger on it from any angle. We were pleased with the performance, it worked quickly and reliably when using it to unlock the phone. However, Elephone has packed in some additional functionality so it acts as the back button, home screen navigation, camera button as well as video and music control. Though I enjoyed the additional functionality at times an accidental tap would start the music player which is pretty irritating, thankfully it didn’t happen often.

Battery – Light users only!

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Sporting only a 2100mah battery it’s not surprising that a heavy user will have to recharge before heading out for the night. If you use your phone primarily for very light messaging, music, and 30-60 minutes of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and a maybe a bit of Candy Crush you won’t be reaching for your charger. If you use a lot of maps and navigation, play more graphically intensive games and are on your phone for more than an hour of social I would want to charge my phone before leaving the office and heading out for the night.
You can check some screen shots of battery life use below to give you a better idea of screen on times and apps used.

Software

Running the latest version of Android, no bloatware combined with a clean simple launcher there is a lot to like about the Elephone S3 UI. It was smooth and never hiccuped and rarely lagged even after a week of solid use. The experience is very similar to stock Android with a bunch of add ons that don’t tamper too much with the way Google meant Android to run. Did I mention that it doesn’t have any bloatware installed, I did? It’s worth mentioning again because it impresses the pants right off of me that they can deliver such a strong hardware and software package for $199 with out adding anything on to try to monetize you.

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The Chinese heritage of Elephone only ever pokes through when you take a deeper look at the UI, when you’re running an Over The Air (OTA) Update you’ll find the information about the update in Chinese. This isn’t a huge deal, it’s actually great that the Elephone S3 saw an update over the course of the review. What we are concerned with is Elephone’s interest in maintaining regular updates.

 

The Elephone S3 comes with Software only navigation buttons, the only thing that we would change about their set up is that when you hold down the Home Button to go to the app screen a long press doesn’t launch Google Now. You’d be able to add it in if you got the Google Now launcher, but since everything is identical except that one feature it seems a little out of place that it was removed.

A nice addition is the Turbo download feature, which is very similar to Samsung’s Download Booster. It lets you combine the power of Wi-Fi and cellular data to download large files (over 20MB). Only turn it on if you have an unlimited- or at least reasonably high data allowance on your phone tariff.

The Elephone P9000 supports several gestures, for example allowing you to for double-tap to wake the screen, and from screen-off draw a C to wake the camera, a V to launch the calculator, and use a series of swipes to control audio playback. You can also flip to mute, wake the screen with the volume button, and use a three-finger action to take a screenshot or open the recent apps menu.
All that’s really missing here is an IR blaster, yet these seem to be coming increasingly rare.

Sound

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The single speaker at the bottom of the handset is loud enough to share media and take calls. We won’t be relying on it to listen to podcasts in the morning especially since the audio itself is tinny and brassy.  Since this is a budget handset we don’t have premium features like high rez audio but we do enjoy the placement of the headphone jack.

Camera – Manual Mode Works Like a Charm

Elephone has included a 13MP sensor on the S3, the photo quality isn’t what you expect from a $199 phone, it’s actually capable of a great photo even of fast moving subjects like the skateboards we caught here.  Having said that the delay in actually taking the photo was 2 seconds, so it performed great, but it’s just not as fast acting as we would like, this is one the areas where the mid range processor is showing it’s true colors.  The auto focus is also a little slow, when you compare it to phones that are 3-4 times the price that have instant autofocus the difference is huge, but like we said, you could buy 3 or 4 Elephone S3’s for the same price.

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You can take a great photo, but you’re going to have to put the work in, manual mode is where this camera really shines. Auto has the tendency to blow out the background and there is a massive swing in exposure when you tap to focus.  This is something that reminds us of the issues HTC had over the years, it’s not like they put out a phone with a bad camera, it just wasn’t great in Auto, the S3 has the same problem.  So if you don’t mind manually playing around with the expose or tapping a few times to get the right exposure levels the reward is a very decent photo.

Here is an example of Auto versus taking the time to take a manual photo:

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This isn’t unusual to have to tweak things when taking photos, in fact it’s expected at phones at this price point.

Low light photos aren’t great at all, like most phones in this price point that’s where you can tell the difference. They are noisy and grainy, here is an indoor photo that shouldn’t have been a problem.

Elephone Low light (5)

If you want to put them head to head with one of the best low light Smartphone Cameras on the market, here are the same shots but taken with the Samsung Galaxy S7

S7 sample (5)

Samsung Galaxy S7

Price

The Elephone S3 is affordable at $199 and it’s got decent enough performance to be a steal at that price. If you’re looking to pick one up, head on over to Elephone’s website fpr $199 where you can find it in three color options, Gold, Grey and Black.

 

Rating
Design / 8
Camera / 7
Sound / 6
Performance / 6
Battery Life / 5.5
Software / 7.5
Price / 7.5
Editor's Choice / 6.5
Hardware / 7
Display / 7.5
Elephone S3

If you're looking for a great display, clean version of Android, dual SIM and you aren't a heavy user the Elephone S3 is a great option for those who are really price sensitive.

Just be warned, the chances of you getting updates to Android in a year are slim, you'll have to fiddle with the camera to get a great photo and it doesn't have very big battery life.

6.9
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