LeEco is trying to make its case in the U.S., starting with inexpensive phones attached to a massive ecosystem.
We've seen LeEco phones before, mostly in Asia and India, but now the company is branching out to North America with its latest "ecophones," the Le Pro3 and Le S3. The pair of 5.5-inch phones are supposed to be a one-two punch to get U.S. consumers introduced to the LeEco brand and excited about the value it provides with devices that have really solid specs at impressive prices.
We've seen countless phones come from Chinese companies at mid-range value-oriented prices before, but LeEco is hoping to differentiate itself with software, services and an ecosystem that only a company of its size can provide. Let's take a look at the front-end smartphone hardware that brings it all together.
As the name suggests, the Le Pro3 is the higher-end of the two phones, coming in at $399 to directly compete with the likes of the OnePlus 3, Honor 8, ZTE Axon 7 and others. And unsurprisingly the Le Pro3 looks very similar hardware-wise to these other Chinese phones — the OnePlus 3 and Huawei Mate 8, in particular, come to mind when I look at this brushed metal rectangle. (The difference, in my short time using the Le Pro3, is that the OnePlus 3 seems to be better executed.)
The 5.5-inch 1080p phone has no real design flair, but is instead a simple blank vessel to carry high-end specs that look great on paper: a Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a massive 4070 mAh battery (with Quick Charge 3), a one-touch fingerprint sensor and a 16MP rear camera can all be found inside.
The metal itself is simple and coated with a high-gloss sheen that separates it from the Le S3's more raw aluminum look, and aside from the capacitive buttons below the screen nothing actually stands out about the hardware design. Unless the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack is considered standing out at this point.
The internals of the Le Pro3 are incredibly impressive, particularly for a $399 phone, but beyond that value there really isn't much to be said about the looks or feel. This isn't a phone you're going to be particularly proud to show off as much as you'll just be happy to fit in with the crowd of other metal slab phones.
At a glance, the Le S3 doesn't seem at all like a cheaper phone than the Le Pro3. It has nearly the same dimensions as the Le Pro3, the same quality of screen and a similar metal build that lacks the reflective coating of the more expensive phone but actually feels better to me. Of course LeEco cut back on the internals to hit a $249 price point — a slower Snapdragon 652 processor, along with less ram (3GB) and storage (32GB) than the Pro3. The Le S3 also has a lower-quality screen glass that isn't sculpted as nicely on the edges, and is missing other fringe features like NFC.
Despite the shortcomings when compared to the Le Pro3, the Le S3 still offers a compelling set of hardware for $249, much in the same way that the Honor 5X did earlier this year. You're getting solid internals and a much nicer build and design than most of the phones you can pick up in this price range. From that standpoint, the Le S3 is a bit more interesting than the Le Pro3 that has more competition at $399.
A common vision: The ecosystem
Though there are differences in internals and small tweaks of design between the two that lead to a solid difference in price, both the Le Pro3 and Le S3 are clearly here to accomplish the same goal: get LeEco's software and ecosystem to you as simply as possible. Both of the phones run a customized version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow that is simple, clean and heavily focused on LeEco's content.
The goal is to get you viewing LeEco's video content.
Permanently placed in the center of the home screen dock is a "Live" button that takes you directly to LeEco's live TV app. Above it, you'll find the Le, LeVidi and LeView apps to give you access to various bits of LeEco's content library. A swipe to the right on the home screen sends you to the live feed of the Le app showing you everything happening in the world of LeEco. That's A LOT of LeEco to take in, and it's all right there waiting for you to consume.
Of course you can install a new launcher, uninstall the Le series of apps and skip all of that, but that's not really what LeEco expects people to do. If you were to remove that set of apps, there isn't so much compelling about the Le Pro3 in particular ... you can get very similar internals and better external hardware for the same money in a OnePlus 3, while also getting a better overall software experience.
The hardware on offer for the money with the Le Pro3 and Le S3 is extremely impressive, but that hardware clearly isn't the end game for LeEco. We'll have to see how its apps, services and content library stack up as a true value-add to these phones that can make them appealing overall devices.