Gionee certainly have a thing for thin smartphones. The last time we reviewed a Gionee device it was in fact the predecessor to today’s review topic it was the Elife S5.5, an Android smartphone which took its name from its super sleek 5.5mm thickness. With the latest addition to the Gionee fold however, the Chinese manufacturer has gone one better, creating a fresh design that is even thinner at 5.15mm – introducing our full review of the Gionee Elife S5.1.
When it comes to being thin however, Gionee now have a genuine competitor from fellow countrymen OPPO who recently announced their own skinny handset, the OPPO R5 which has a reported thickness of only 4.85mm. However, Gionee still have the upper hand for now when it comes to official recognition having already received confirmation from the Guinness Book of Records that the new Elife S5.1 is the world’s thinnest smartphone. Who knows, in a few months time we may find the title usurped by yet another contender for the thinnest of the thin title.
The effort to create a modern and competitive handset of this incredible thinness is part of a much larger attempt to continually miniaturize technology – an effort that has been continuing for quite some time. Mechanical, electrical and now digital devices get smaller as they mature and improve. The best example of course is the computer which has gone from rooms of refrigerator sized machines to something we now slip into our pockets. Being small – or indeed thin – has become a benchmark of technological advancement.
Gionee have been in existence since 2002, developing a expansive sales channel in China and a strong manufacturing base with significant focus on their own in-house R&D capability. Their efforts to show the world that they can make the world’s thinnest smartphone is in most respects an effort to market themselves as being a bleeding edge technology vendor. The Elife S5.1 is a proud proverbial flag that flies above the company HQ in Shenzhen, reminding all other players (most of whom reside in close proximity) that they have the upper hand when it comes to the latest innovative manufacturing techniques.
So ok, it’s a very, very thin smartphone. It allows Gionee to prove their point. The larger question is…. is it any good?
Don’t forget to watch our full video review of the Gionee Elife S5.1:
Gionee Elife S5.1: Hardware Overview
Before we get into the build and overall design of this skinny device, let’s have closer inspection of the hardware components that make the thing tick. Firstly let me apologize if you watched my unboxing video where I was pretty adamant that the S5.1 was powered by a Snapdragon 400, Qualcomm’s mid-tier mobile LTE capable mobile SoC that we have seen on a slew of devices including most recently the Sony Xperia C3, LG G3 S and HTC One mini 2. It’s a highly capable quad-core mobile processor that I was looking forward to using again.
As you will see in the unboxing video the retail was first in alerted us the fact that the Elife S5.1 sample we received today is instead furnished with an Octa-core MediaTek processor, namely the MT6592. Since launch at the end of last year this has become a very popular chip with Chinese smartphone vendors and could almost be dubbed the SoC that launched a thousand phone designs. Ok, not a thousand, but certainly a few hundred. Whether or not we feel aggrieved that Qualcomm has given way to Mediatek remains to be seen and will be dealt with later in the performance section of this review.
The MediaTek MT6592 is accompanied by 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, there are 8MP and 5MP cameras and plenty more going on. Check out the full specifications sheet below:
Gionee Elife S5.1: Full Specifications
- 4.8 inch AMOLED Touchscreen1280 x 720 resolution
- Mediatek MT6592 Octa-core processor
- 1.7Ghz w/Mali 450MP4 Graphics
- 1GB RAM
- 16GB Storage (no microSD card support)
- 8MP Rear Camera (auto-focus/LED Flash)
- 5MP Front Camera
- 2G / 3G (No LTE Support)
- WiFi b/g/n
- Bluetooth 4.0 / GPRS Class 12
- 139.8mm x 76.4mm x 5.15mm
- 97.7 grams
- Micro SIM
- 2,050 mAh Battery
- Available in Black, White, Pink and Green
The specifications above tell the tale of a mid-range Android smartphone; the MT6592 processor, 720p display, 1GB of RAM and 8MP rear camera – these four specific items place the Elife S5.1 somewhere below the current crop of smartphones on the market where 1080p displays, 2GB of RAM and cameras of 13MP and above are now considered pretty standard. Gionee has the upper tier tended by the larger Elife E7 which packs a Qualcomm-made LTE capable SoC, a 5.5-inch Full HD display and a 16MP rear cam.
The Elife S range serves a more discerning section of the consumer base that opts for a somewhat more affordable, yet classy and sleek design. It’s fair to expect the S5.1 to be priced somewhere below its slightly larger sibling, the Elife S5.5 which does indeed support a larger 5-inch Full HD display, 2GB of memory and a 13MP camera. By comparison the S5.1 is smaller and lighter and like many smaller smartphones on the market, it targets a more price conscious segment also appreciates outstanding build quality.
If you want to learn more about the full retail package of the Gionee Elife S5.1, check our unboxing video here:
Design and Build Quality
If there is one single reason to justify the creation of the Elife S5.1 it is simply to show off the manufacturing prowess of Gionee. As I covered earlier, the thinness of the S5.1 is the real head-turner, as is its weight – or lack of weight. The S5.1 is only a shade over 97 grams. Compare that to the smaller Sony Xperia Z3 Compact and the new iPhone 6, two phones considered the pinnacle of hardware design in the sub-5 inch space. Both weigh in at around 130 grams, meaning that the Elife S5.1 is almost one third lighter, a very impressive feat.
The first time you pick up the Elife S5.1, there is little doubt as to you being impressed by the build. Compared to Gionee’s first attempt at a super slim phone, the Elife S5.5, there are some subtle changes here on the S5.1, most of which is for the better. Whereas on the S5.5 we saw two gentle curved lines along the top and bottom of the device, on the S5.1 we have more simplified and squarer design with nicely rounded corners. The edges too have been improved; gone are the sharper chiseled edges that we saw on the S5.5, now replaced by attractively rounded edges that scream quality and class.
The build is centered on a polycarbonate plastic and an that curved aluminum frame. Despite being as thin as it could conceivably be, there is no sense of ‘bendgate’ going on here. Ok, so you probably could manage to bend the device if you really put your mind to it… I’m sure Mr Hilsenteger would give it his all… but why in name of sanity would anyone want to do that to such a beautifully made device? It certainly feels solid. That’s the truth of it; quite a feat for a device this this skinny.
The is one quite significant (and annoying) idiosyncrasy with the S5.1 that we also noted on the S5.5 and it revolves around the positioning of the devices power and volume buttons – both of which are on the left hand edge. This a little unusual and in fact is one issue I personally have with the design. Perhaps I am simply used to using buttons positioned on the right side, or a combination of right and left, but I am after all a right handed person, used to using the right hand thumb for matters of power and volume. For some folks this might to be a small quirk, but for me it actually detracts from the usability of the S5.1 as a phone.
The rear 8MP camera is placed on the top left corner of the rear face, and as opposed to the S5.5 which saw the lens pop out above the chassis, here we find it is snugly installed within, remaining flush with the back cover. There is a discrete Gionee logo on the rear side only (the front is free from any logos or adornments) while there are two small speaker holes on the bottom right corner. A USB 2.0 port is located centrally on the bottom edge while there is just enough room for a the headphone jack – if phones get much smaller this will no longer be the case. The back cover is non-removable as you would expect from this kind of design, the micro SIM card is inserted on the right-side edge with a small tray accessed via pin that comes included in the retail package.
In general, the build and design of the Elife S5.1 is exceptional. It really impresses and not only because it is so thin. The lightness is in contrast to most phones I have handled this year. Simply put, the whole thing screams class and will have your attention from the get go.
MediaTek Octa-Core Performance
The decision to opt for a MediaTek processor may indeed have put a dampener on proceedings for some people, but the MT692 processor is an Octa-Core processor based around eight ARM Coretex A7 cores, and should not be seen as being too inferior to comparable Qualcomm processors. The area where we see most potential difference is in the area of GPU performance as Qualcomm’s Adreno graphics technology is pretty much well ahead of the pack, with the possible exception of Nvidia. Having said that, the Elife S5.1 requires far less grunt when playing games for example, largely thanks to its 720p display which actually features less than a quarter of the pixels we see on several QHD devices such as the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4.
In everyday operation however, we did detect a little lag when using the S5.1, almost as if the transitions are just a little too much for the MediaTek chip at times. It’s not an unattractive or laggy experience in general, just every once in a while you may feel twinge or two, especially when switching from app to app but even when scrolling from screen to screen, there can be occasional stuttering if something else is happening in the background. The camera app can be a little slow to wake up from a lock screen for example, taking just a second or so to get its bearings. We tried out several games on the S5.1 and were not disappointed however, with the MediaTek processor performing admirably.
Gionee Elife S5.1: Benchmark Comparison
|Gionee Elife S5.1 (MT6592)||Gionee Elife S5.5 (MT6592)||Sony Xperia Z2 (Snapdragon 801)||ASUS Zenfone 6 (Intel Atom Z2580)|
|GFX Bench T-Rex||12.6fps||10.9fps||26.9fps||9.1fps|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||7152||6964||18753||8041|
If we look at the benchmark scores above we can see that the Elife S5.1 holds its own against the S5.5 which is as expected, beating the larger 1080p device by a decent margin in 3DMark due it having fewer pixels to play with. In fact it also manages to compete well against the competition from Intel and its older Cloverview platform. The real difference in class is when we roll out Qualcomm’s big hitter the Snapdragon 800 which manages to score significantly higher in all benchmarks, but especially so in 3DMark where the Adreno 330 GPU really rules the roost.
720p AMOLED Display
The display used on the Gionee Elife S5.1 is nothing short of impressive. It’s a 4.8 inch AMLOED screen with a HD resolution of 1280 x 720, and it has plenty of brightness and clarity up its sleeve. The pixel density of 306ppi may not impress too much standing next to the QHD AMOLED featured on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 foe example, but the naked eye will be pretty forgiving here as the colors look vibrant and reasonably accurate, the viewing angles are solid and there is brightness here in spades.
There are many geeks out there that would perhaps feel that QHD is the new new, so we should be expecting at last 1080p displays on our mid and upper mid-range smartphones. I get this argument. I understand that as technology progresses, screens get larger, pixel counts get denser and we all happily ever after. But right now in the sub 5-inch space, there is plenty of life left in the 720p display. At 4.8 inches it looks 100% the part. You must also consider that high resolution displays also use more power, require higher performance (and therefore physically hotter) processors to drive them, plus higher resolution screens can themselves create plenty of heat, a pretty major issue when your device is only 5.1mm thick.
We noticed virtually no imperfections with the panel used on the Elife S5.1 and can report that the display is actually very impressive and a pleasure to use.
Software: Amigo 2.0
The Gionee Elife S5.1 currently uses a customized version of Google Android 4.4.2 that the company calls Amigo OS. What we have here today is the 2.0 version of Amigo OS which has been updated to Android Kit Kat but otherwise remains very similar to what we saw on the Elife S5.5 a few months ago. Like fellow Chinese vendors Xiaomi and Huawei, Gionee have elected to take a path that is clearly inspired by iOS, having no app draw but instead having all available and installed apps residing on the home screen somewhere. Having used a Xiaomi Mi3 more than any other device for the last couple of months it’s a design approach that has grown on me and one that works well.
In terms of navigation its cool that you can easily access the notifications draw with a single finger pull down from the top, while a two finger pull will bring you to one of the better quick access settings areas I have seen. This settings area offers you a quick look at how much RAM you are using (always good to know) with a small circular graph on the left side. To the right of that you will notice a small green rocket that wobbles from side to side. Press the rocket and the device will automatically purge itself from unwanted memory clutter.
Below these two icons we find an array of useful shortcuts to settings that include your Alarm, Screenshot taker, Auto-rotate switching, Audio settings, GPS, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode, WiFi, Data Connection, Guest Mode, Power Saving Options and a slider for adjusting brightness. It’s all here, and it’s all easy to access.
Even on a 4.8 inch device, it’s also good to see improved single finger access with the notifications area accessible with a drag down on any area of the screen. A two finger drag down takes you to the settings area.
As with most Android implementations, you can alter the size of the Font used throughout the OS, I personally preferred the larger Font size which just seems to fit better within the 720p display and appear closer to what Google intended, and more similar to what they use on their Nexus devices.
The OS is colorful and vibrant and the default theme (simply named the S5.1 theme) uses a very colorful design involving balloons. It is oddly captivating. There are plenty of other theme and wallpaper options, and you can program the OS to automatically rotate themes so you get a different one each day. The icons attempt to bring a kind of Zen quality to the user experience but in fact some of them are little too minimalistic and fail to convey an immediate sense of what they are. Why is the ‘Themes’ icon a rainbow with a T-Shirt? The settings icon is a grey square with a circle and a white dot… a switch perhaps? The overall look and feel of the OS is an improvement on what we first saw from Gionee a few years ago, so clearly the company is improving things as time goes on. Keep up the good work guys.
When it comes to pre-installed apps, Amigo 2.0 has been loaded with all the Google apps you would expect (presented in a single folder), we also find a very useful ‘Optimize’ widget which all do a similar job to the rocket mentioned earlier (clearing system memory and app caches) and interestingly the default browser is the UC Browser, a browser which attempts to go ‘Glocal’ with custom content delivery for created for different regions of the world. UC Browser would seem to be popular in India where Gionee have created a strong market presence. That would also explain the presence of apps such as Saavn which serves up modern and classic Hindi music.
There some nice touches here with the Amigo OS 2.0, I particularly like the ability to give yourself a fake call from the lock screen, allowing you to subtly escape an unwanted conversation or predicament. It looks reasonably good and performs almost as smoothly as we would like. There are some apps that perhaps we could do without but most of it is welcome; the KingSoft office suite is a solid addition for example and I also have no objection to throwing in a few free games as Gionee has done – I quite like War Heros 1943… free, ad-supported gaming fun. Nothing wrong with that.
Finally, regarding desktop transitions, Gionee has gone bonkers offering you 29 different kinds of transition. This is more than I have ever seen before and includes some really crazy ones like Tornado which actually seems to sap the life out of the graphics processor, causing the desktop to jitter more than you would want. It’s great to see that Gionee are not afraid to really pack in as many options as possible, but the MediaTek chip does. Check the video above for a closer look at some of these.
The Gionee Elife S5.1 features an 8MP rear camera that is actually capable of decent photos in the right conditions. Its autofocus is pretty fast and the camera app itself is simple, easy to use and offers plenty of room to tweak with a HDR mode that works well to eek out every bit of light. Check some of the sample shots below. The HDR does improve things in low-ish light conditions but in general a well lit scene is preferable if you want to have a chance of a really good photo.
The S5.1 offers video recording of up to 1080p. There is no hardware image stabilization but there is an anti-shaking feature which is software based and helps a little. Gionee have also developed a Charm cam app that is also available directly from the main camera app. It offers some pretty rudimentary filters and other effects which are in fact not totally usable, but do allow for some fun if you are that way inclined.
The Auto scene option in camera apps is actually pretty impressive and manages to detect what kind of environment you are in and apply the relevant scene settings. Just don’t expect miracles in difficult light settings.
Solid Battery Life
The Gionee Elife S5.1 is fitted with a 2,050mAh battery that might not stand up to scrutiny against the battery beasts that Sony are pumping out recently for example, but considering how slim the device is, you would have to say it’s doing very well indeed. In our testing full day use was no problem at all, and in our standard Laptop Mag Battery test, it managed to last 7 hours, 36 mins with medium brightness and WiFi turned on which is totally solid for a device this size.
There is also a system ‘Power Saving mode’ available if you want to stretch your battery life that bit further. It doesn’t affect the screen in the way the Samsung devices will, i.e. turning to a low brightness monochrome display, but it will limit the performance of the CPU, which may impair performance somewhat but can help you out in a tight battery situation. Useful stuff…
The Gionee Elife S5.1 has a single speaker mounted on the bottom right of the rear of the device. This can be seen by two dotted lines that act as speaker holes. Now, if you thought that being thin would help with integrated audio, allow me to disillusion you, it doesn’t.
The audio actually has a reasonable volume, but in terms of bass frequencies it’s a difficult ask. The audio here is not going to win any awards. It’s a little too tinny for any real music playback enjoyment, but can provide a soundtrack for media content and gaming with reasonable proficiency.
Gionee Elife S5.1: Conclusions
There is no doubt in my mind that the Elife S5.1 is a very well built and attractively designed Android smartphone. It is of course very thin, but there is more to this story than just thinness as we are looking at a very solid in-hand feel that speaks of quality materials and construction. The display is also real highlight of the device with a bright and vibrant AMOLED panel that really impresses.
I would also like to note that the Elife S5.1 retail package is also pretty complete, especially compared most other retail boxes that have crossed my path; your getting a USB cable and charger but also two screen protectors for the front and back of the device plus a bumper and case. An impressive bundle.
We are expecting the Elife S5.1 to land in stores in China, India and online retail channels for something in the region of $300 – although just to be clear this is more of an estimation as we it has yet to appear just yet and Gionee have declined to put a definitive price tag on it just yet. At this price range there are plenty of competing devices, but in reality few of them will be as elegantly constructed and sleekly polished as this.