Gionee Elife S5.5 Review: Is being bold and beautiful enough?

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It has been over a year since Gionee started its operations in India, and since then it has launched a couple of impressive smartphones including the Elife E7. The flagship device impressed us with its hardware, price-tag and performance, but was unfortunately let down by the UI. After about three months, the Chinese company launched the Elife S5.5 in India, which is touted as the ‘world’s slimmest smartphone’. But apart from that tag, which it struts like a beauty queen’s tiara, can the Elife S5.5 live up to the standard set by the Elife E7? We spent considerable time with the smartphone in the past couple of weeks trying to answer that question and here is what we found.

The first thing you will notice when you remove the Elife S5.5 out of the box is just how beautiful the device is. You will have read about the 5.5mm thickness and also seen numerous photos and videos, but nothing prepares you for when you hold the phone for the first time. It is absolutely thin and a very well built device too. Gionee has used materials like glass and magnesium alloys, and the finish product oozes premium-ness. Such is the build quality that people I showed the phone to found it hard to believe that it was made by a Chinese company.

gionee-elife-s-5-5-sim-trayThe front is dominated by a 5-inch 1080p display with very thin bezels, three capacitive buttons and a front camera. On the right, you will find a micro-SIM tray, while on the left you will find the volume rocker and the power button. The relocation of the power button to the side comes as a relief, because with phones of this size, it is not always easy to access the button on the top. This was also a grouch we had with the Elife E7, and we are happy that Gionee has changed it.

On the top and bottom are the micro-USB port and 3.5mm audio jack respectively. The rear of the device is quite plain with the camera and flash at the top, Gionee branding in the center and speaker near the bottom. The back is again made of glass and has been given a Gorilla Glass 3 protection so it doesn’t scratch easily. While the glass back gives the device a premium feel, it is as reflective as a mirror and is also susceptible to smudges. The unibody design means that the phone has a non-removable battery.

The Elife S5.5 flaunts a 5-inch full HD Super AMOLED display, which is one of the best you will find in this price range. With a pixel density of 441ppi, you won’t have to worry about any pixelation or photos looking bad either. Under direct sunlight too the display was easily visible.

gionee-elife-s-5-5-lockscreenAs far as color reproduction is concerned, blacks are deep and beautiful, but more often than not the rest suffer from over-saturation. For example, the default theme on the phone had a photo of a cityscape shot at night and the black sky looked beautiful. But when we switched to a more colorful theme, the colors were just too bright for our liking. But that’s the case with all Super AMOLED displays.

Its looks however are not the only thing worth talking about, and the smartphone is actually quite powerful with top-of-the-line specifications. It is powered by a Mediatek MT6589 octa-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz and paired with Mali 450MP4 GPU and 2GB of RAM. It may be strong on paper, but in real world the smartphone suffers a bit and Gionee’s custom Amigo UI on top of Android is one of the biggest culprits. We noticed quite a bit of lag and jerks while swiping through homescreens, or opening and shutting down apps. It could take games like Riptide GP2 or Angry Birds Go in its stride, but the overall performance wasn’t buttery smooth. The former would start smoothly and the water effects on the screen are beautiful to look at, but in between races when the action is intense there was considerable amount of lag and jerks.

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Another issue is heating. While it isn’t surprising that a phone as slim as this with all the innards crammed tends to heat up, it is the frequency and intensity that is unexpected. For example when playing Riptide, from the time it takes for you to reach from the menu to the starting line of the race, the device would be uncomfortably hot. Even talking on the phone for long hours gets a tad uncomfortable because of the heat.

The battery performance isn’t great either, with the 2,300mAh barely able to last a day. On moderate usage — involving push notifications from two email accounts, Facebook and Twitter, about an hour and half of calls and text messaging, more than half hour of gaming, and brightness at max — we could get about eight to nine hours before we had to connect the phone to the charger again. By charging the phone for 30-40 minutes in between and using the phone a bit more frugally, we could stretch the battery to last the day.

On the storage front, there is 16GB internal memory on offer, out of which only around 9GB is available for a user. This is quite less, considering there is no microSD card slot to expand the memory.

gionee-elife-s-5-5-cameraThe Elife E7 had an impressive set of cameras and much was expected from the Elife S5.5 too, but sadly it underwhelms. The photos shot from the 13-megapixel rear camera lack the punch even in daylight conditions. They are a bit dull and there is also some loss in details. In less than optimum lighting conditions, photos tend to be a bit grainy and also blurred as focusing is not up to the mark. Same is the case when recording videos too.

The camera app has a variety of options to play around with, like picture size, exposure value, ISO, white balance, self-timer, HDR, Panorama and more. Selfie lovers will really enjoy the 5-megapixel front-facing camera with a wide lens. It takes good enough shots for you to instantly share on social networks, and the wide lens means you will be able to fit more people in your photo.

gionee-elife-s-5-5-multitaskingOne of the biggest issues on an otherwise impressive Elife E7 was Gionee’s Amigo UI. Unfortunately things haven’t changed much on the Elife S5.5 either. For starters, it still runs on a dated Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with no word from the company as to when they would release Android KitKat. You again get the iPhone like interface with all the apps situated on the various homescreens, and no way of adding any widgets. As mentioned above, the UI is laggy and there are quite a few jerks when swiping across screens or opening and closing apps. The settings menu too is quite cluttered for our taste. Overall things aren’t any better than from the Elife E7.

Before we conclude, the Elife S5.5’s looks and build quality warrant another mention. It is a gorgeous device and should prove to be a lesson in designing for other big companies. On paper it is a monster of a device with an octa-core processor et al, but that power doesn’t translate to real world performance largely due to the software. If looks, beautiful display and a better than average camera is what you need, at Rs 22,999 the Elife S5.5 makes a strong case for itself. If however user experience is what matters and regular Android updates is what you want, you can opt for the Motorola Moto X instead.gionee-elife-s-5-5-360-degree