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Letv offers iterative improvements with the media-focused Le 1s (hands-on)

The Le 1 is barely six months old, but manufacturer Letv already has a newer and better version for sale in China.

BEIJING -- You probably haven't heard of Letv (pronounced "L-E-T-V") or its Le ("luh") brand of phones, but that's not your fault. In a world where several Chinese brands like Huawei are trying to make an impact in the global market, Letv's Le is very new -- its first few phones only made their debut in April earlier this year.

The company itself isn't new though -- it's the largest online video company in China and, much like Netflix, streams a huge on-demand content library to its users on a variety of platforms. Letv's move to the smartphone market is part of the company's strategy to win more users; take for example the Le 1 Pro , which, as well as being packed with features like Harman Kardon speakers to improve viewing experience, offered buyers a free one-year subscription to the streaming service.

Now, six months after Letv unveiled its entry-level Le 1 phone, the Chinese company is announcing the next iteration. While the outward appearance of the Le 1s is very similar to the Le 1, there has been a series of improvements inside.

For one, it now uses MediaTek's Helio X10 Turbo octa-core processor, which delivered a fairly smooth experience during the time I spent with the phone, while the first Le 1 used the non-turbo version of the processor. It also packs in 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage, which offers twice the storage of the Le 1. The 13-megapixel camera's auto-focus is also a lot quicker -- Letv says it's able to lock on a target in just 0.09 seconds.

While the Le phones were one of the first to include USB Type-C connectors, the company said it heard of issues where dust could cause connectivity problems. The Le 1 sports an improved design of the Type-C port, and has also added fast charging to the Le 1s feature set. It also comes with an embedded 3,000mAh battery, and another tweak to the design is a mirror fingerprint sensor.

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Letv claims this is the world's first mirror fingerprint sensor, but couldn't tell me what the mirrored finish offers over current matte designs. It does look good, and could serve as a pimple checker in a pinch, I suppose.

Aloysius Low/CNET

I quite like the heft of the phone. It weighs 169g, a minuscule drop from the 170g Le 1. The all-metal body is comfortable to hold, and the 5.5-inch full-HD 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution display delivered an excellent display experience. Viewing angles were good too, enough so that watch videos with someone else wasn't a clumsy experience.

The Le 1s powered by Android 5.0, but running a custom skin called EUI that delivers an interface similar to iOS. Like all Chinese ROMs, instead of an app drawer, apps are all located on the home screen. Where you'd normally find the app drawer icon is instead a link that immediately loads the Letv streaming app. I tried it out, but my puny hotel Internet wasn't quite capable of streaming full-HD video smoothly. Still, there was a great deal of content (though most of it is in Mandarin), so this phone would make sense for an existing Letv customer. It's somewhat similar to what Amazon did with its Fire phones , though I found the Le 1s to be both better looking and better made.

The Le 1s will retail for 1,099 yuan in China (converting directly to about $175, £115 or AU$280), but unfortunately there's no information yet on if or when it will hit international markets. Given the company is working on bringing its online store stateside, and there are already plans in place for a US release of its Le 1 Pro (alongside content deals with US companies), don't be surprised to see the phone in the States soon.

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The Le 1s may have a 5.5-inch display like the iPhone 6S Plus, but it is actually smaller in size compared to the Apple smartphone.

Aloysius Low/CNET

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