Gionee, one of the biggest smartphone brands in China, has sprung out of nowhere in India this year. We have been pretty impressed with the brand’s portfolio of mid-end smartphones that offer good design and build quality at an affordable price. The company had launched its flagship Elife E6 smartphone a couple of months ago in India to good reviews all around. Now it is taking things a notch upward with the Elife E7 with the latest hardware and a series of what it claims to be the first in the market. We had a chance to play with the smartphone at its global launch in Shanghai and here are our first impressions.
In terms of design, the Elife E7 doesn’t come across as a big departure from the E6 from the front, which in our books is a good thing. It looks like a bigger E6 with its almost edge-to-edge 5.5-inch 1080p display with a bezel of just 2.3mm on the side. The display is sharp and has good viewing angles. Gionee is not skipping on the essentials and it comes with the latest Gorilla Glass 3 protection. Apart from the display and the customary three capacitive buttons below it, there is an 8-megapixel camera on top along with an array of sensors and a noise cancellation mic.
Things get a bit different on the rear where we find the pillow curves that remind us of the recently launched Nokia Lumia 1320 and Lumia 1520. The smartphone will be available in seven colors – white, black, yellow, green, orange, pink and blue – but all of them have a glossy finish that has a tendency to get smudged with fingerprints rather quickly.
The Elife E7′s calling card, however, is its 16-megapixel camera, which the company claims has been designed for them by OmniVision. Unlike other Android smartphone makers that either go for a higher resolution camera sensor or bigger pixels, Gionee claims this camera gives the best of both worlds. The 1.34µm pixels are among the largest ones one can find on a smartphone camera, which along with other factors, give better results in low light conditions. At the moment, however, we cannot vouch for the company’s claims, which we will be able to test only when we get to spend more time with the device. One thing that is still amiss is optical image stabilization (OIS), which is very critical for low light photography. Gionee’s president, William Lu, tells us that OIS will be available in its next smartphone, which will be launched in another six months or so.
Apart from the camera hardware, Gionee has also enhanced the software to please both amateur and prosumer smartphone photographers. While there are the usual auto settings, the phone also has a regular stand-alone camera settings UI that allows one to tweak more settings while clicking photographs.
The overall UI also has many useful tweaks. While the photo gallery seems inspired by iOS 7, there are handy options like being able to club photos according to people in them on the fly and have individual albums for everyone using face detection software. Text messages from banks, airlines and others get clubbed in a separate inbox that has an option to mark all as read by touching one tab.
My favorite UI bit is the one where it gives details of all correspondence – call history and text messages – when the user gets a call from an unsaved number. There are times when one exchanges a few texts with someone but forgets to save the number and whenever that person calls one can get the history by swiping the screen once to know who’s calling.
The Elife E7 is not just about the camera. Under the hood hums a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 8974 chipset clocked at 2.2GHz. It comes in two variants – 16GB with 2GB RAM and 32GB with 3G RAM. Another variant, which will be launched early next year, runs the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 8974AC chipset clocked at 2.5GHz that also supports LTE networks. It will come in only one 32GB with 3GB RAM variant. Gionee doesn’t shy away from mentioning that the flash memory has been sourced from Samsung.
The chipset allows Gionee to have voice commands to wake up the Elife E7 from sleep mode, which we had earlier seen in the Moto X, to get a true handsfree experience. Of course, one can even double tap the display to wake up the phone, which is available on the LG G2 and a handful on Nokia Lumia smartphones. Users can even set gestures to open certain applications, which when drawn on the display will not only wake up the phone but also open it directly in that app.
Like all other Android smartphones in this category, it comes with Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity options. It has a 2,500mAh non-removable battery, which could be good enough for a day’s worth of normal usage, though we were expecting it to be bigger considering the device’s footprint. Another thing to take notice is it runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and not even Android 4.3, forget the latest Android 4.4 KitKat.
While the Elife E7 certain has a lot of things going for it, it would be interesting to see how it resonates with the Indian audience for whom the brand connect isn’t that strong, yet. Gionee is planning to launch the smartphone in India in January and the 16GB variant is expected to be priced under Rs 30,000. There is no doubt that the phone boasts pedigree hardware, it remains to be seen whether Gionee can make buyers drop that sort of money for its wares.
Photos shot with the Nokia Lumia 1020.
Disclosure: We were hosted by Gionee to attend the global launch event.