LeEco Le S3 review: Cheap but forgettable

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MSRP: $249.00

The Good LeEco's Le S3 is fast and affordable.

The Bad The phone lacks a headphone jack and NFC, has a clunky interface and its video streaming service doesn't offer many compelling shows.

The Bottom Line The LeEco Le S3 is a decent budget phone, but the Motorola G4 Plus is better.

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6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Camera 7
  • Battery 7

Review Sections

The Le S3, the second widely available phone from Chinese phone/TV/video streaming/electronics/basically everything company LeEco, is a less expensive variant of the more powerful LePro 3. At $250 it's relatively cheap, and packs in some pretty decent hardware. But it isn't as good as the Moto G4 Plus, our current favorite for the price range. (UK and Australian details have yet to be announced but the US price converts to £200 or AU$340.)

A few things I liked:

  • Clean design: At sub-$300 you'd expect a cheap-feeling phone made out of plastic. But the S3 has a polished aluminum body and shiny metallic trimmings that give it a smart look.
  • It's fast: On paper, the S3 was much faster than other similarly priced Android phones (like the G4 Plus and Samsung Galaxy J3) in benchmark scores to popular testing apps. Day-to-day tasks like launching the camera and scrolling through sites were smooth.

Live content from the internet is accessible with this Live button in the center of your home screen.

Josh Miller/CNET

Things I didn't like:

  • Clunky interface: Just like the LePro 3, the software layer that dresses up Android needs work. Navigating around can be unintuitive, there's no app drawer (Huawei and Xiaomi do this, too) and your recent apps are merged together with quick settings in one messy page.
  • All the video stuff: LeEco's live broadcasting video service -- which sits in your home screen dash and can't be removed -- has clips you can browse from time to time. But there's nothing really there that I'd actually watch on the regular. The other Le video app and the LeView YouTube video curator don't have compelling content either.
  • Camera's meh: The phone takes good enough shots for casual pictures and social media, but they aren't as sharp as other 16-megapixel cameras. And while you can't tell on a smaller phone screen, images look a lot blurrier and muddier when zoomed in or on a computer desktop.
  • Battery life is only OK: The phone has enough battery life to last a workday without a charge and during our lab tests for continuous video playback on airplane mode, it ran 11 and a half hours. While that's decent, other rival phones lasted 13 to 16 hours.
  • No headphone jack or NFC: Unless you love dongles, it's a drag not to be able to plug in my regular headset to listen to music and calls. And without an NFC chip, you can't do things like purchase stuff with Android Pay.

The phone also doesn't have a headphone jack.

Josh Miller/CNET

Other phones you should consider for $200-$250

  • Moto G4 Plus ($250, £229 and AU$399): It's got expandable memory, is water resistant and takes sharper pictures.
  • Asus ZenFone 3 ($199, which converts to £159 and AU$269): This one has a more advanced camera that also includes laser-guided autofocus.
  • Samsung Galaxy J3 ($110-$180 depending on US carrier, £140 and AU$329): Super cheap and available through major carriers and retailers. Not as powerful as the Le S3, but it's easier to use and has a long-lasting battery.
  • The Google Nexus 5X or OnePlus 2 (prices vary): If you're willing, look into deeply discounted devices that were released in 2015. Though they may have "last year's technology," they are reliable and are still more powerful than the S3.

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