The smartphone space is packed to the gills with smartphones in every shape, size, colour and specification that you can think of. They range in price from Rs 251 for the yet-to-be-seen Freedom 251 to the ridiculous Rs 90,000 plus that some iPhones demand.
This variety is courtesy of the numerous Chinese smartphone makers who’ve made their way into India, and among the more well-known of them is LeEco.
Formerly LeTV, the company has made quite a name for itself here. Their earlier offerings, particularly the Le Max, were very well received. So how does its sequel fare? Let’s find out.
Build and design: 6.5/10
At first glance, the LeEco Le Max 2 looked very pink. LeEco can call it Rose Gold if they like, but there's more rose than gold in the shade they're using.
In terms of build and design, the phone looks and feels like a slab of metal. The only real concessions to design and ergonomics are the chamfered edges. However, the front surface of the phone, while chamfered, still has sharp edges owing to the poor fit of the front glass panel in the well of the body.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the design and would go so far as to call it unpleasant. The rear camera bump is large and very ugly. Camera-module included, the device is much thicker than an iPhone 6 Plus or a Mi 5 and I would have expected the camera module to sit more flush with the body. If the Le Max 2 was as slim as the OnePlus 3 for example, the bump would have been forgivable. Also, if you take a close look at the image above, you'll notice that the part above the antenna line is a little bit depressed, it's not aligned with the back of the phone. The lower panel below the antenna line also suffers the same fate.
If you like large camera bumps however, you won’t mind the Le Max 2 in the least. The front is host to a 5.7 inch QHD display (2560x1440), camera unit, ear-piece speaker and light sensor. The notification LED and capacitive navigation buttons are very well hidden and you won’t notice them till they light up.
The bottom offers up two speaker grills and the USB Type-C port and the top only features the small dot of the IR blaster. The left of the device features the dual-slot SIM card tray and the right features the volume controls and power button. On the rear you’ll find the significant bulge of the camera module, dual-LED flash and fingerprint reader. It’s a bog-standard design that you’d find on any average smartphone these days.
When it comes to features, the phone is packed to the gills. A Snapdragon 820 SoC, 6GB RAM (there’s a 4GB variant as well), 32GB or 64GB of storage, dual-SIM support, 21MP rear camera with OIS and PDAF, 8MP front camera, 5.7 inch QHD display, and the ability to record in 4K. And no, there’s no support for a microSD card.
These are features you’d find on any other flagship, but the Le Max 2’s claim to fame is that this is the first smartphone without a 3.5mm audio jack and with CDLA (Continuous Lossless Digital Audio) technology. It’s also got an ultrasonic fingerprint reader. We’ll talk about these later in the performance section; suffice to say that if this is the vision of things to come, we don’t want it.
The phone also comes with Dolby Atmos support, but since Atmos is nothing more than a gimmick, I’m not even going to bother talking about it further.
As mentioned earlier, the 5.7 inch screen features a resolution of 2560x1440, which translates to a PPI of 515. Obviously, it’s very sharp and nigh impossible to spot a stray pixel. The panel itself uses LTPS IPS technology, where LTPS stands for Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Silicon. LTPS technology is used in many phones these days and offers lower power consumption than traditional LCD technology, hence its popularity.
Despite being an IPS panel, viewing angles aren’t that great and you’ll notice a pink cast at certain angles. The angles are good enough for personal use so that’s not much of a complaint, however.
Brightness is fair. We haven’t really managed to try the display out in bright, direct sunlight since we’re in the middle of the monsoon, but I never had issues with the brightness and legibility.
Colour rendition is good, but you’ll notice the lack of punch and colour accuracy when placed next to a OnePlus 3 or iPhone 6.
EUI 5.6, based on Android 6.0.1, runs this phone and it is by far the most pleasant and sensible custom Android skin that I’ve used. It’s not as feature-rich as OxygenOS and neither is it as gimmicky as Samsung’s TouchWiz. It’s also not as simplistic as Xiaomi’s MIUI (which is yet to embrace Android 6.0 features) and simply refines whatever stock Android has to offer.
You’ll notice the little things, like the fact that password entry happens on the left or the right of the screen, depending on whether you’re using your left hand or the right one. Notifications pop-up at the bottom of the lock-screen and are thus, easier to access on the 5.7 inch display.
The drop-down menu offers clear controls for notification management, the UI is extremely fluid and buttery smooth and as with iOS, the number of alerts are indicated on the app icon itself. All the animations are subtle and smooth and there’s nothing unnecessary or superfluous.
The multi-tasking menu gets a little getting used to as it also doubles as the quick access panel. It’s useful and very responsive and makes full use of the massive real-estate available. After all, app cards do look nice, but they don’t need to take up so much space. There are also some minor issues with design. For example, can you spot the "Undo" text in the middle screenshot above? There are small issues like this all over the place, but nothing of significance.
The OS does include Le View and Le Live app integration. The former is a video service like YouTube that also incorporates full movies from LeEco’s partners. Le Live is a kind of streaming TV app for your phone.
As someone who rarely watches TV, I found both services to be unnecessary, but I can see how they might be useful to someone who does watch TV. You get free access to both services for 5 months, but will have to pay a subscription fee of Rs 4,900 a year thereafter.
You access Le View by swiping to the left from your left-most home-screen and Le Live by tapping on the Live button on the persistent dock at the bottom of your UI. I think it would have been better if both apps were merged into one, since they both essentially serve the same purpose. They also take up important UI elements that would have been better served by Google Now or an app drawer.
Considering the hardware, we expected exceptional performance and that’s exactly what we got. The phone is buttery smooth, there’s no noticeable lag anywhere in the UI and all apps and games. What’s more, even under heavy loads, the device only got slightly warm.
Benchmark scores place the device somewhere between the OnePlus 3 and the S7 Edge, but they hardly paint the full picture. There’s a lot of power available and the device makes full use of it. You’ll never notice any lag or stuttering, that’s for sure.
That said, the one place you will notice some lag, and plenty of it, is with the fingerprint reader. LeEco claims to use a fast, ultrasonic fingerprint reader and only the latter is true. The sensor takes a full second or more to read our fingerprint and unlock the device. We tried resetting the device multiple times and different fingers to no effect. In fact, the sensor is even slower to respond than the slower sensor on my iPhone 6 Plus.
The speaker is loud and legible and the earpiece speaker is also loud. We also never had call quality issues and the signal was strong and consistent throughout our testing, even on 3G and 4G networks.
Now that we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s talk CDLA. LeEco is very proud of the fact that theirs is the first smartphone that dumped the 3.5mm jack in favour of CDLA. Essentially, digital audio is routed through the phone’s USB Type-C port and a compatible DAC converts that signal to analogue.
Normally, a DAC would be installed within the phone itself, but the quality of that DAC would of course depend on the phone’s manufacturer. A company like Apple goes to great lengths to ensure that they’re using a high-quality DAC, which is why their audio quality is so good. It’s not just Apple that employs high quality DACs of course, but they’re the most consistent when it comes to audio quality.
The problem with a 3.5mm-only output for audio is that the audio signal is already processed and you can’t use a better DAC even if you wanted to. CDLA changes that.
The bundled headphones with the Le Max 2 have an in-built DAC and to be fair, the audio quality from the setup is leagues better than any stock headphones that we’ve tried. But here’s the kicker, an iPhone with EarPods (Apple’s stock earphones) still sounds as good. I’d also like to point out that LeEco’s CDLA headphones cost Rs 1,999 on their own.
You don’t need a DAC if your phone already has a good one built into it.
Using CDLA on the Le Max 2 was very frustrating. The audio quality was good, but the headphones weren’t exactly a snug fit for my ears and it was hard to appreciate dialogue or music in a noisy environment such as a train. On any other phone, I’d just plug-in my in-ears or a noise-cancelling set from any of a hundred different manufacturers and I’d be set. Not so with the Le Max 2. I have to either stick with the bundled earphones or carry an adapter while accepting a loss in audio quality. Worse still, not all phones or devices use USB Type-C so I can’t even use the bundled earphones on any other device.
I don’t see the point in dumping the 3.5mm jack and can’t figure out why LeEco, and others, see the benefit in it. This is change for the sake of change.
The Le Max 2 comes with a 21MP f/2.0 rear camera with OIS, PDAF and dual-LED flash. The front camera is an 8MP f/2.2 unit. As you can see from the images, colour accuracy and metering is actually spot on. The relatively large sensor (1/2.4 inch) and aperture mean that depth-of-field is also quite good.
However, zoom in even slightly and it's apparent that detail is absent. Many images, especially those in low-light, look like they've been painted on.
Focussing was fast in good light, but struggled in low light, especially with difficult subjects. Recorded video was also not bad and OIS helped to some extent.
Still, the camera isn't bad at this price and the images look great on a smartphone screen anyway.
Battery Life: 8/10
The phone comes with a rather small 3,100mAh battery. We say small only because the phone is big and heavy and phones like the OnePlus 3 and Galaxy S7 Edge offer 3,000mAh and 3,600mAh respectively in a package that’s smaller, slimmer and lighter.
PCMark put the Le Max 2’s battery at 8 hours and 12 minutes. This pales in comparison the OnePlus 3’s 9 hours 34 minutes and the S7 Edge’s 10 hours 34 minutes. Synthetic benchmarks, again, don’t paint the full picture. In daily usage, I found the phone would just go on and on and on. My usage is fairly light relative to most users I’ve seen. I spend at least 3 hours a day browsing on 4G while listening to music, watch a smattering of YouTube videos (an hour at the most) and maybe reply to a dozen or so mails. Calls and chat (Telegram and WhatsApp) is a little infrequent. I rarely, if ever, play games on the phone despite having a 100 or so of them installed.
Given that usage, my iPhone 6 Plus would die by the time I got home and every other Android phone (though I haven’t used the OnePlus 3 or Samsung S7 Edge as my daily driver) would need a recharge by evening. The Le Max 2 would almost always have power enough power even if I forgot to charge it at night. Not having to worry about battery life is something I got to really experience for the first time with this phone.
Looking at the battery usage graphs it’s very clear that the phone has a very good standby mode. It simply doesn’t drain much when not in use and that makes all the difference in the world.
If you’re a heavy user though, you will be better off with something like the OnePlus 3.
Verdict and pricing
When I look at the Le Max 2, I can’t help but wonder why it’s so large. It’s a heavy and bulky phone that offers less battery life, fewer features, less power and a less-capable camera than its competitors. And all this at a higher price as well (for the 64GB ROM/6GB RAM option).
Why is the camera bump so ugly, why is the battery so small, why couldn’t the 3.5mm jack have been integrated into the phone, why didn’t LeEco work on a better finish and why is the fingerprint sensor so slow?
The OS is pleasant, the UI is slick and fast and there’s no noticeable lag anywhere. The bundled USB Type-C headphones are better than most stock headphones and standby time is exceptional. But it’s not enough.
The one silver lining is that the 32GB ROM/4GB RAM version sells for Rs 22,999. At that price, this might just be the cheapest Snapdragon 820 toting phone on offer, and even then I’d recommend you save up the Rs 5,000 and take the OnePlus 3.