Gionee Elife E7 Review: Exceptional hardware, not so great UI

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The Elife E7 is probably the most ambitious of all Gionee products so far – featuring top of the line hardware components and a custom-made camera module. It might be too soon to say it is the coming of age product from the relatively new brand but after using the smartphone for a fortnight, it certainly feels like that.

The unibody design looks and feels premium with the use of good quality plastic. There are no creaking sounds even when the phone is squeezed tightly, which is always a good sign. There are no rattling noises either when it is shaken hard. The design seems somewhat inspired by the Lumia 1520 from the rear, with a big lens that slightly protrudes. The front is dominated by the huge 5.5-inch 1080p display with thin bezels on either side. The display is protected with Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3. The traditional three menu capacitive buttons are present below the display.

The only shortcoming that bugs me is the use of glossy plastic, which has a tendency to get smudged easily. For such a large surface area, the smudges annoy me to no limit, especially knowing that it could have been avoided by using a matte finish, which would have also looked more premium. If I were to nitpick, the power button could have also been placed on the side rather than its existing position on the top, which is difficult to reach given the dimensions of the phone. However, you can set the display to power on by double tapping it, just like the LG G2 and some of Nokia’s Lumia smartphones.

Both the issues become non-consequential, however, when you get to using the Elife E7. The core hardware with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 processor combined with 2GB RAM in the 16GB version is powerful enough to take care of processor intensive tasks like gaming and multitasking. The 32GB variant of the phone comes with 3GB of RAM, which I believe is an overkill but it doesn’t really hurt. I used the 16GB variant that had about 10GB of available space, which might bother some considering there is no expandable microSD card slot. Those users might want to opt for the 32GB variant.

Gionee-ELIFE-E7-2The 16-megapixel camera on the rear is the best camera on a sub-Rs 30,000 Android smartphone I have come across. Photographs shot with the rear camera have good details, clarity and colors are closer to reality. Even under low-light conditions, the photos are better than what most smartphones in its price segment can provide. A part of it can be attributed to the 1/2.3-inch sensor with large 1.34µm pixels.

Even the front 8-megapixel camera is a treat to use, especially for selfies. Gionee claims that the front camera is the same as the rear camera on the iPhone 5. While I won’t go that far in my praise for the front camera, it again is the best front-facing camera I have seen on any smartphone. It supports auto-focus and the colors again are quite close to real. If the lighting is adequate, the photos have good details too.

Gionee wants to differentiate its products from other Android smartphones and has an extensive UI layer on top of Android, which it calls Amigo. The UI promises many features including one that would give you details of SMS shared in the past when someone calls you, offer multiple SMS inbox based on whether they are spam, from your contacts or from your bank/carrier and so on. And then there were some more.

However, most of the features don’t work in the Indian version of Amigo. In its current implementation, all it seems to do is offer an iPhone like homepage menu where you cannot add widgets, which might turn off many users. What bugs me the most is the UI’s tendency to change how some app icons look, which makes it difficult to immediately spot Twitter or Google Navigation. To access Google Now, you’d have to keep the Google Search icon handy on the homescreen.

While it is easy to overcome most of these quirks by installing a third-party launcher like Nova, the extensive UI changes means that you are unlikely to get timely (or probably any) future Android update. The Elife E7 is currently running on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.

Gionee-ELIFE-E7-3If the Android version doesn’t bother you, the Gionee Elife E7 dazzles as a phone. Its 2,500mAh battery regularly lasted me for an entire day. On certain days when my usage was exceptionally high, charging the phone for 30 minutes in between would make it last longer than what I have experienced on phones with similar specifications. The in-call voice quality is crisp as well, which can be attributed to the three noise cancellation mics on the phone. However, the GPS takes a few minutes to get a fix. In case you plan to use the GPS for navigation, it would be ideal to turn your navigation app about five minutes before you intend to start using it.

Eventually, it all boils down to whether the Gionee Elife E7 is a good buy or not. In terms of hardware and camera performance, you cannot do better than the Elife E7 at this price. The Elife E7 16GB is available for slightly above Rs 25,000 and the 32GB variant for under Rs 28,000, which is much cheaper than the corresponding versions of the Google Nexus 5. However, if you don’t use the camera much and are concerned about getting the latest Android version, then the Elife E7 is not the smartphone for you.