LeEco (formerly LeTV) made a big splash in India with its debut offerings at the beginning of this year. Six months later, the company is back with its second generation of smartphones. We are of course referring to the much talked about Le 2 and Le Max 2 smartphones. The company debuted these smartphones in April and after a short wait, you can finally get them in India.
Both devices have been in the news quite a bit, not because of their specifications, but due to the fact that they are the first phones to ditch the 3.5mm headphone socket for LeEco's proprietary digital audio standard called CDLA.
Today we'll be reviewing the Le Max 2 , the successor to the Le Max (Review). Let's see how much better it has gotten, and more importantly, if it has enough merit to push past Xiaomi's Mi 5 (Review) and the OnePlus 3 (Review).
Look and feel
The Le Max 2 bears some resemblance to its predecessor from the front, but the rest of the body has an all-new design which looks and feels a lot more polished. The Rose Gold version might not suit everyone's taste but we're sure you can mask some of that by using a case. The phone gives the impression of having a bezel-less display but it does in fact have thin black borders, which are visible once the screen is on. We wish the Le Max 2 had curved or rounded glass on the front as this design leaves you with a rather sharp edge on either side.
The metal unibody is also a bit slippery, making single-handed use awkward. LeEco has gone with a more manageable display size this time. A 5.7-inch Quad HD panel is still plenty good as the pixels are dense enough to be indistinguishable to the naked eye. Gorilla Glass protection has also been confirmed to be present. We have no complaints here as colour reproduction is good along with good brightness levels and acceptable sunlight legibility. Navigation is handled by backlit capacitive buttons, and you even get a notification LED above the display.
On the left, we have a single slot for two Nano-SIM cards, while the volume and power buttons are placed on the right. The phone's storage is not expandable as there is no microSD card slot. Up on the top, we have an infrared emitter while at the bottom, we have USB Type-C port and grilles for the microphone and a mono speaker.
The back of the phone has a sizeable protrusion for the camera module, the edges of which are prone to scuffing. Our test unit already showed signs of chipped paint along the edges. There's a fingerprint sensor below the camera, which thankfully, is larger and better designed than that on the Le Max. Unlike other capacitive fingerprint sensors, the Le Max 2 uses Qualcomm's Sense ID ultrasonic fingerprint technology, which as the name suggests, uses ultrasonic sound to map your fingerprint and authenticate you. It takes a full second for it to unlock the phone, sometimes a little more. We reached out to LeEco regarding this and the company said it's most likely an isolated issue with our test unit, which may or may not be true.
In the retail box, you get the power adapter, a headphones adapter (Type-C to 3.5mm), a case, a SIM ejector tool, and a quick start guide. LeEco's Type-C headset is sold separately however; those who pick up the Le Max 2 in the first flash sale will get a pair free. Overall, the Le Max 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor in terms of design and aesthetics. It still feels a bit cumbersome despite the reduction in screen size, and is quite heavy at 185 grams.
Specifications and software
Just like most flagship phones launched this year, the Le Max 2 packs in a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC, 6GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. There's also a lower cost version with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Other features include Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac with 2-stream MU-MIMO, USB OTG, and GPS. The phone doesn't support FM radio or NFC. Keep in mind that in order to take advantage of MU-MIMO, you'll need a compatible router that supports the standard. You get 4G LTE support for both FDD and TDD LTE.
The biggest hardware feature here though is the USB Type-C audio standard which LeEco calls CDLA (Continuous Digital Lossless Audio). Developed in-house, the standard requires the Type-C port on the device and the headphones to have special circuitry to transmit and receive the digital audio signal, thereby avoiding any loss in quality.
LeEco's CDLA earbuds retail at Rs. 1,999 and there isn't any other option out there yet. JBL has announced its Reflect Aware C Type-C headphones, and other companies are undoubtedly working on their own, but it's unclear whether any of them will support the CDLA standard. We tried using LeEco's headset with a OnePlus 3 and it worked fine, although the audio wasn't as crisp as when we used it with the Le Max 2.
The earphones are good and provide a good soundstage with crisp highs and sharp vocals. High-resolution flac files sound especially good. However, without a standard 3.5mm port there's no easy way to test the difference between CDLA and analog audio, so we can't compare the two. We're also not fans of the design of these earphones. They sit on your ear and don't block any ambient noise, due to which the bass response feels muted.
Coming to the phone's software, we have a new version of EUI (5.6) based on Android Marshmallow. The Le Max 2 retains all of Android's useful features including Now on Tap, and adds some of its own flavour to the mix. It's a single-layered interface and swiping right takes you to LeView which gives you a curated YouTube playlist based on the interests you select. You can disable this page if needed. You can also customise the phone with themes and wallpapers, but there aren't many to choose from by default.
The 'Live' onscreen button takes you to LeLive service which lets you stream some popular TV channels. LeVidi lets you stream full-length movies from various publishers like Eros Now, Colours TV, Being Indian, etc. All these streaming services are part of LeEco's Supertainment ecosystem and are available once you sign up for a Le Cloud account. Soon, the company will also be giving users up to 5TB of free cloud storage and lossless audio streaming via Hungama, which will be available through an OTA update. All of this is part of LeEco's premium membership which is free for a year once you buy the phone. You will be able to renew this through the company's Le Mall website, although the pricing hasn't been decided yet.
The interface, while fluid, isn't the most user friendly at first since a lot of things have been moved about. For instance, the toggle switches and shortcuts to launch apps have been moved to the app switcher screen, while the notification shade is purely reserved for notifications. Some of the bundled apps include a custom music player, Infrared remote control, video player, Yahoo weather, and sound recorder. Google's suite of apps is also present. The software feels like it still needs a bit of polish as there are still remnants of Chinese writing in some of the menus. We also encountered random freezes and reboots a few times during our usage.
The Le Max 2 handles daily duties very well thanks to its snappy CPU and loads of RAM. We noticed a bit of heating during gaming and when recording 4K video but nothing too alarming. On average you have about 3.5GB of free RAM at your disposal so it's very rare that you'll encounter any major lag during usage. The interface runs smooth although it does lack the lightning fast responsiveness that Nexus devices offer. The earpiece is decently loud for taking calls when commuting, and the phone had no trouble with our 4G networks here. In terms of benchmarks, the Le Max 2 delivered 136,505 points in AnTuTu and 53fps in GFXbench, both of which are very good scores.
The video player handles 4K videos with ease and also gives you options for a pop-out window; casting it to a compatible receiver; toggling between captions, and even trimming files. LeEco has also added all the necessary video and audio codecs to support popular formats. The phone supports Dolby Atmos, which helps boost the overall soundstage. This effect is best experienced with earphones rather than on the mono speaker. The volume level for headphones is pretty good and we found that keeping the level at the halfway mark was sufficient most of the time. Audio quality is good even with the 3.5mm adapter; however higher impedance headphones don't always sound their best through it. The CDLA earphones offer better audio separation and crisper highs but due the design of the earbuds, this pair lacks good bass.(Tap to see full-sized images)
We loved the camera on the Le Max, and its successor doesn't disappoint either - well, almost. The 21-megpaixel sensor gets optical image stabilisation and a closed-loop motor for better PDAF performance. The camera is quick to lock focus when you change your frame, without needing you to tap the screen. There is some degree of shutter lag as we noticed a slight blur in some images. The bottom line is that the sensor produces well detailed landscapes and macros with neutral colours. In low light and under artificial lightning, chroma noise is well within bounds although the detail level of distant objects isn't the best. 4K and full-HD videos are good although the sensor fails to re-adjust focus when you pan, thereby forcing you to tap the screen manually. Slow-motion video is shot at 720p at 120fps, but the quality is not great.
The camera app could also use some tweaking. While it's simple and straightforward, it feels incomplete without a professional shooting mode, especially when you have a good sensor. There's panorama mode, filters and voice control. The settings menu also lets you adjust white balance, ISO and exposure, but it's not presented in the most convenient way. Plus, shutter speed and focus controls are missing. The front 8-megapixel camera captures decent selfies but do note that video recording is limited to 720p.
The phone features a 3100mAh battery which lasted us 11 hours and 53 minutes in our video loop test, which is good but we think LeEco should have tried to fit in a higher capacity battery considering the overall dimensions of the device. For normal usage, we managed to easily get past a little more than full day's worth of usage. The phone also supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0, which certainly helps speeding up the charging process.
One of the gripes we had with the Le Max was its pricing but LeEco has ensured its second generation offering is more competitive. The Le Max 2 starts at Rs. 22,999 for 4GB RAM and 32GB storage, which makes it the lowest priced Snapdragon 820-based smartphone in the market today. For those looking at it purely from a numbers point of view, it's hard to beat. Do keep in mind that the storage is non-expandable.
The version that we reviewed today costs Rs. 29,999 and for this extra money, you get 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, which makes it a direct competitor to the OnePlus 3. The LeMax 2 has a higher resolution display, plus is camera, battery life, CDLA audio and the suite of streaming services in its favour. However, the software still needs a bit of polish, the phone is heavy, there's no NFC, and you need to fight for one through silly flash sales. The fingerprint sensor isn't the most responsive either, although the company says it's an isolated issue with our unit.
We like what LeEco has done with the Le Max 2, but the price difference between the two variants feels a bit too much. Also, if you're shopping with this kind of a budget, you simply cannot ignore the OnePlus 3 which not only is more accessible but is also a very good smartphone.