Back in May, the Chinese video streaming and entertainment company Letv (pronounced L-E-T-V) debuted its first smartphone, the loftily named Le (pronounced "luh," this time) 1 Pro Superphone. The 5.5-inch device boasts premium specs, a USB Type-C port and access to Letv's catalog of movies, shows and live events.
After it was announced, 13 million people signed up to pre-order, and when its online sale launched, 100,000 units were sold in the first second. As Letv primes itself for a presence in the US with headquarters in Redwood City, California, the company plans to sell the device in the US by the end of this year.
With its smooth aluminum body and thin profile, the Le 1 Pro Superphone looks like a cross between the HTC One and the Apple iPhone 6. During my brief time with it, it felt solid and dense in my hands without feeling too weighty.
The device runs Android 5.1 Lollipop and features a 5.5-inch, 2K display. Images and text looked smooth and crisp, and the screen responded well to the touch. I was also pleased by the handset's barely there left and right bezels.
At the bottom edge is a USB Type-C port for charging and transferring data. A rarity among smartphones, the Le 1 Pro Superphone and its other two variants (more on that later) are the only handsets currently available on the market to feature the port. (The highly anticipated OnePlus 2 is rumored to have it as well.) Faster and more efficient than the usual Micro-USB ports seen on other devices, Type-C USB is also reversible, so you don't have to flip your connector cable over and over in an attempt to plug it in.
Powering the phone is a Snapdragon 810 processor from Qualcomm and a non-removable 3,000mAh battery. On the back is a 13-megapixel camera that can shoot up to 4K video. When I checked out the camera, I was struck by how similar the camera's user interface was to iOS. Its on-screen editing tools are nearly identical, and you have to employ the same swipe gesture to switch between the camera and video.
A big part of Letv's business strategy is getting users to subscribe to its video streaming services. In addition to a smart TV the company released, this smartphone is another attempt to hook people in. The device gives users a year's subscription for free, and a "live" button at the bottom of the display launches any content that is playing live at the moment. Currently, there are 100,000 shows and 5,000 movies in Letv's database -- some of which were produced by Letv itself, under its film company, LeVision Pictures.
To ready the phone for its US launch, Letv is partnering with US entertainment companies (and has recently set up an office in Hollywood) to offer movies and TV geared towards an American audience. And to take advantage of this viewing experience, the handset features a "dynamic display," which lets you adjust the colors and tone of your screen. (Think of it like an Instagram filter for the device's entire display.)
It also has a proprietary audio chip and sound technology from Dolby and Harman Kardon that promise to boost your audio experience. Other features include 4GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage (with no option to expand), and dual-SIM capabilities. When it launches in the US, a 64GB option will be available.
The Le 1 Pro Superphone has two other variants. There's the cheaper Le 1 Superphone, which has the same-sized display but offers less premium specs like a lower resolution and a less powerful processor from MediaTek. Then there is the bigger, 6.33-inch Le 1 Max Superphone, which has the same Snapdragon 810 processor.
Pricing has not been released for the US. However, Letv representatives said it will be "competitively priced." In China, the Superphone series costs from 1,499 yuan to 2,499 yuan, which converts to around $240 to $400.
Though Letv faces stiff competition from both handset manufacturers and the video streaming and distribution industry, the company hopes to carve out its own space in the US by integrating the two seamlessly. It's an uphill battle, and we won't have a clear idea of how well it can compete until pricing information is released. But from what I've seen so far, the Le 1 Superphone has decent high-end hardware and a compelling streaming service that makes it worth paying attention to.