Whenever a new brand launches in the market, the first thing that comes to my mind is “oh no, yet another company that’s come to make a quick buck.” Most of the “brands” usually shop for their smartphones in the streets of Shenzhen in China, haggle on the price, get their branding slapped on it and launch it as their own product. And when they run out of stocks, they repeat the same process and launch a new model. So that’s what exactly was going in my mind when Gionee invited me to visit their manufacturing facility near Shenzhen and meet its president who’d introduce me to their latest flagship smartphone, the Elife E6.
Before accepting the invitation I dug around about the company, asking friends who had spent enough time in Shenzhen with most manufacturers while consulting Indian brands about their product portfolios. All of them had the same thing to say – go, check it out and you’d be pleasantly surprised.
Turns out Gionee is one of the top smartphone manufacturers out of China that has partnerships with some of the best names in the component industry. “We only partner with the best names in the industry. For chipsets we have MediaTek and Qualcomm, Au Optronics and Samsung for display and Sony or Samsung for the camera module,” William Lu, president, Gionee tells me. And that shows in the Elife E6, Gionee’s latest smartphone that will launch in India later this month.
Right from the word go, the phone impresses. Heck, it could easily pass for a smartphone from any of the tier one brands. Gionee’s chief designer draws his inspiration from Apple and that shows in the Elife E6, which has straight lines and a flat back. The front appears like a slab of glass when the display is turned off. The white variant uses glossy plastic, which according to the designer makes it look like ceramic from a distance. The black one has a muted matte finish as glossy black looks plasticky, he tells me. So what if the phone is indeed made of plastic, it feels like premium plastic, unlike what we see from the world’s largest smartphone vendor.
The Elife E6 has a non-removable back and uses a One Glass Solution for the display where the touchscreen and protective glass are fused into one layer that makes the assembly thinner and elements on the screen also appear to be closer. This is the same technology that Apple introduced in the iPhone 5. The result is a sleek 7.7mm thin phone with a 5-inch full HD 1080p display.
Unlike most “Chinese” phones, the Elife E6 has a single micro SIM card slot and the SIM card tray is inspired by the iPhone, which has become sort of a standard these days with brands like LG, Sony, Nokia and HTC implementing it too. There is a 13-megapixel camera with an LED flash on the rear and a 5-megapixel camera on the front. Even though the software was still not final I was surprised by the quality of the camera. While not exactly iPhone 5 quality, the Elife E6 seems to be very close to it and miles ahead of the 13-megapixel camera on the Micromax Canvas 4.
Like most respectable smartphones these days, the Elife E6 comes with a noise cancelation mic for calls and the speaker assembly on the bottom bears an uncanny resemblance to the iPhone 5. I’m willing to let that pass till the time the audio quality is fine, which unfortunately I couldn’t check during the brief time I spent with the device. Other hardware specs include a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 31GB of internal storage and a 2,020mAh battery. There is no microSD card slot.
The Elife E6 runs on Android Jelly Bean 4.2 with a heavily customized ROM that Gionee calls Amigo. The software is still under development though it feels very iOS like with no app drawer and just pages of icons. But this is the China version and the Indian version could be a bit different, I am told. In China, Gionee will provide weekly OTA updates for its Amigo OS that will add new features. I am not sure if that will happen in India as well.
One key feature that I am really looking forward to is a hardcoded battery saving utility that the company claims will manage apps better than most Android smartphones. Lu tells me the solution has been developed in-house and it manages when apps running in the background should connect to the Internet rather than all of them connecting all the time, which drains battery. He claims that the Elife E6 would not see a significant drop in battery overnight, unlike other Android smartphones.
Gionee will launch the Elife E6 sometime later this month or early September. I will revisit this smartphone closer to launch for a thorough review.
Photographs: Ashish Bhatia
Disclosure: Gionee sponsored my travel and stay in China.