Elephone U Pro Review

Pros

  • Amazing 18:9 AMOLED display
  • Near-stock Android Oreo
  • Wireless and quick-charging

Cons

  • No waterproofing
  • Camera is average at best

Key Features

  • Review Price: £280
  • 18:9 ratio 5.99-inch AMOLED screen
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chipset
  • 4GB/6GB RAM, 64GB/128GB storage
  • MicroSD support
  • Dual 13-megapixel camera setup
  • 3550mAh battery
  • Wireless and quick-charging support

What is the Elephone U Pro?

Chinese firm Elephone has something of a reputation for cloning the work of other hardware makers, and has already mimicked the look of the Galaxy S7 and Xiaomi Mi Mix with its previous models. As so it does with the its new model, the U Pro.

The firm’s aim has always been to offer a premium look at a budget price, and while the U Pro continues this trend, it also marks a significant shift in philosophy. Granted, it’s a dead ringer for the Galaxy S8, but it comes with such an impressive feature list that it feels like the manufacturer is finally moving away from offering cheap rip-offs , offering buyers solid specs as well as eye-catching looks at an incredible price.  

The Elephone U Pro packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, wireless charging and an almost entirely stock version of Android Oreo – the latest version of Google’s mobile OS. The base model (4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage) costs around £280, while the premium edition (6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage) is approximately £330. Both can be ordered from GearBest.

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Elephone U Pro – Design

While comparisons between the Elephone U Pro and the Galaxy S8 are inevitable, you have to hand it to the Chinese firm – it has created a remarkable tribute to Samsung’s best-selling device.

From the front it’s almost indistinguishable from the real deal, and Elephone has even managed to include a curved screen that dips away neatly at the corners, just like on the S8. This gives the entire device a pebble-like feel, making it very comfortable to use.

Around the edges you’ll notice a metal frame, with the power button and volume rocker both located on the right-hand side. On the bottom is a USB Type-C port and a mono speaker, while the top edge is home to the SIM tray; this also accepts a microSD card, if you wish to expand your storage. There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, but an adapter is included in the box that allows you to use the USB Type-C port for audio.

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Elephone U Pro

The back of the device is clad in Gorilla Glass 4 and sports an alluring metallic finish that changes as light hits it. The effect is stunning, further adding to the premium feel of the handset.

The Elephone logo is also found on the rear, along with the dual 13-megapixel camera setup and fingerprint scanner. All in all, the U Pro is a seriously impressive device that could easily be mistaken for the more expensive S8 – not only in terms of looks, but also in build quality and heft.

It’s worth noting that there’s no water- or dust-resistance on offer here, which is pretty par for the course with low-cost Chinese phones.

Elephone U Pro – Display

Turn the handset on, and things get better. Elephone has bucked yet another trend by equipping the U Pro with a punchy, 5.99-inch AMOLED panel (protected by Gorilla Glass 5, no less), which looks incredible from any angle. With an aspect ratio of 18:9 it’s tall and thin – which is the trend these days – and has a minimal bezel.

It even has lovely rounded corners, which tie in perfectly with the pebble-like shape of the bodywork – at least from a design perspective.

Elephone U Pro

Android’s Ambient Display, which flashes up notifications even when the phone’s screen is asleep, works brilliantly here thanks to the use of AMOLED tech. While the panel on the Galaxy S8 has better colour replication and is noticeably brighter, the fact that a phone maker famous for its budget offerings has managed to replicate the enviable “Infinity Display” so faithfully is pretty incredible.

Elephone U Pro – Software

Like many other Chinese handset makers, Elephone has traditionally used stripped-down versions of the Android OS in its phones, giving a close-to “stock” feel that isn’t a million miles away from what you get on devices such as the Nexus 5X and Moto G series.

With the welcome step up to Android 8.0 – also known as Oreo – the company has maintained this position, but thankfully it’s removed some of the minor tweaks made on older handsets. These include gimmicky gesture controls that involved tracing letters on-screen to open certain apps.

Elephone U Pro

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for assuming this was a Pixel device from a software perspective, since it’s a close match to Google’s illustrious line of handsets. The notification area is identical to that seen on Pixel phones, and to access the app drawer you swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

Swipe from left to right on the main homescreen and you’re presented with Google’s dynamic feed of information, including news stories (tailored for you based on your search history) and local weather. This feature was often missing from older Elephone models, unless you installed the Google Now launcher, so it’s nice to see it included by default this time around.

A complete suite of Google applications comes pre-installed, and Elephone has kept its own bloatware to a minimum. This means there’s little in the way of needless duplication of functionality when it comes to apps. You can change the way the homescreen and app icons look by switching to another theme in a dedicated app – but, sadly, there’s no option to download additional themes outside of the four very limited options you have from the outset.  

Given the close design ties with the aforementioned Galaxy line of phones, it’s no surprise to find that Elephone has aped one of Samsung’s most popular software ideas: the ability to pin app shortcuts to the edges of the screen. On the U Pro you can pick an activity or shortcut and bond it to either the left or right edge; a swipe from the outer edge of the display opens a shortcut menu. To be brutally honest, it’s just as superfluous as the feature on Samsung’s handset. Plus, it isn’t enabled by default; bizarrely, it’s tucked away deep in the settings menu, and we found it almost entirely by accident.

Elephone U Pro

One of the most intriguing amendments that Elephone has made to the core Android Oreo experience relates to iPhone X-style gestures that allow you to replicate the core UI commands – Back, Home and Multi-tasking – via swipes. By removing these buttons from the bottom, you free up more of the screen real estate.

It’s a nice idea, and there’s an undeniable elegance to using these effortless gestures rather than having to constantly tap buttons at the bottom of the screen. However, it doesn’t work quite as well here as it does on Apple’s hardware. For example, when you’re in an application and you perform the ‘Back’ gesture (swiping from the bottom left-hand side of the screen), you often unintentionally swipe through the active app – which feels a little clunky. It’s a neat attempt, but we soon switched back to the old-fashioned way of doing things.

With Chinese phones there’s often a fear that the manufacturers will abandon devices soon after launch – a fear that’s reinforced by the quick-fire release schedule of companies such as Elephone.

Having said that, we’ve already received an OTA software update on the U Pro since we began using it and the company is promising more functions – such as a Face Unlock feature using the front-facing 8-megapixel camera – in the near future. So it would seem Elephone has plans to continue pushing out updates for the rest of 2018, at the very least. The Face Unlock system won’t use a Kinect-style scanner to map your face as it does on the iPhone X, but OnePlus has already proven you can create a suitable substitute using just a front-facing camera. Hopefully, Elephone can do the same.

Elephone U Pro – Performance

We’ve already spoken about the amazing screen, premium design and almost stock Android 8.0 OS, but the other big news with the U Pro is the fact that Elephone has shifted from MediaTek chipsets to those produced by the infinitely more desirable Qualcomm.

Granted, we’re not talking flagship silicon here – the Snapdragon 660 beating inside the U Pro is a little more modest than the 835 seen in other leading Android phones – but it’s blisteringly fast regardless, and its inclusion means that the U Pro supports Qualcomm’s coveted quick-charging technology.

With 6GB of RAM in the premium edition of the phone, we found that the U Pro was up to pretty much any task we presented it with. 3D gaming and HD video playback were no issue, and the process of switching between applications is buttery smooth and blissfully lag-free.

Elephone U Pro

The rear-mounted fingerprint scanner is something of a disappointment, at least when compared to those that feature on big-name Android phones. It isn’t as quick to scan your print and unlock as the OnePlus 5T, and often fails to recognise your finger at the first attempt. When the Face Unlock function is deployed this issue may become less annoying, and it’s even possible that Elephone can improve the accuracy and unlock time of the scanner via an OTA update. Right now it’s merely good, not great.

Despite the presence of two grilles on the bottom of the phone, there’s only one speaker. It’s reasonably loud, and we were able to hear the phone ringing in a busy street. However, there’s a small amount of distortion when you’re listening to bass-heavy audio. If you want to use wired headphones then the bundled adapter is a must – audio quality via a set of cans is passable, but not stunning. When you’re in a call, the earpiece is perfectly adequate.

Elephone U Pro – Camera

After blazing a trail in terms of design, software and internal tech, the U Pro comes down to earth with a bit of bump when it comes to photography and video.

First up, the good news – unlike a lot of cheap Chinese phones, the U Pro has a proper dual camera setup, with two 13-megapixel sensors employed to capture in-vogue bokeh effects. Elephone has gone above and beyond here, using the services of imaging specialist ArcSoft to ensure that the U Pro’s twin-camera configuration captures the best images possible. According to the manufacturer, one lens is RGB for colour information while the second is monochrome, capturing brightness and detail.

Elephone U Pro

As is often the way with such things, this boasting counts for very little when you put the phone through its paces. In good lighting, the U Pro is capable of snapping solid shots with impressive detail, although colours seem dull and lifeless when compared to the likes of the Galaxy S8, iPhone 7 or even the OnePlus 5T, which – it should be remembered – costs around £100 more than the 6GB RAM model of the U Pro.

In low-light situations, the story is considerably worse – despite the presence of the Super Night Image feature. Images are plagued with graininess and colours look nightmarish. We tested the U Pro side-by-side with the OnePlus 5T in a dimly-lit room, and the image captured by Elephone’s device was so poor it would have been hard to believe it came from a phone released in 2014, let alone 2018.

To make matters worse, the much-hyped bokeh mode is frustratingly inconsistent, despite ArcSoft’s involvement. Even in perfect situations it often struggles to tell the difference between an object that’s close to the camera and one that’s meters away, leading to some rather odd-looking compositions.

When the camera does correctly spot the distance of objects, the blurred edges aren’t as cleanly placed as we’ve seen elsewhere; even the OnePlus 5T – which, despite its dual-camera setup, uses a single camera for its bokeh effect – does a better job. On the plus side, it’s possible to edit the background blur in the U Pro’s photo app after you’ve taken the image, and there are a wide range of filters that can be applied during photo sessions.

Video recording tops out at 4K/30fps – but again, the results are a little disappointing. When recording in 4K, it’s possible to spot frame drops – presumably due to the mid-range Qualcomm chipset – and audio quality is poor. Complaining about such things on a budget phone would be foolish, but the U Pro is more expensive than Elephone’s typical devices, so it’s a real shame that it hasn’t upped its game in all areas.

Elephone U Pro – Battery life

With a 3550mAh battery, the U Pro is pretty much in line with other big-screen Android devices in 2018. This isn’t a gigantic battery by any means, but it will effortlessly get you through an entire day of use. In fact, we often found that there was plenty left in the tank by the time we went to bed in the evening.

The fact that the handset supports Qualcomm’s quick-charging standard helps when you need to top up in a hurry – the battery goes from flat to full in around 1hr 30mins. You also get wireless charging thrown in, which is pretty unique in this sector of the market (even the OnePlus 5T couldn’t manage that).

Elephone U Pro

The base model of the U Pro comes with 64GB of storage, which should be sufficient for casual users. The more expensive version doubles that to 128GB, but note that both models support expandable memory via microSD cards.

Why buy the Elephone U Pro?

Despite disappointing with its photographic prowess, the Elephone U Pro remains a good phone – especially at this price point. Sure, it’s a little more expensive than the company’s previous efforts, but that additional outlay gets you a gorgeous design, a fantastic screen, powerful internal tech, wireless charging and a pure version of Android Oreo.

If you love the look of the Galaxy S8 but can’t afford what Samsung is demanding for that phone, then this is a solid choice – you may even fool your friends into thinking you’ve shelled out for the premium option. The plus side here is that, despite being something of an imposter, the U Pro packs some impressive features that close the gap between the top and bottom ends of the smartphone market. If it had a better camera, it would come with an even higher recommendation.  

Verdict

Despite being a dead-ringer for the Galaxy S8, the Elephone U Pro is much more than a simple clone – it’s one of the better devices the company has produced.

Score


Score in detail

  • Performance 7
  • Camera 6
  • Design 8
  • Battery Life 7
  • Value 8
  • Software 8
  • Calls & Sound 7
  • Screen Quality 8