Elephone S7 full review

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Elephone's S7 is a sub-£200 phone with a lot going for it - not least its gorgeous design - and in some respects it even bests its namesake Samsung Galaxy S7. But this is a decent mid-range phone in its own right, and not just another Galaxy S7 copycat. Also see: Best phones

The Elephone S7 is available in several versions, so you'll have to double-check which you are buying before you go ahead. We reviewed the blue model with a Helio X20 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, which ships free from TomTop's Chinese warehouse for £177.11 ($215.99) at the time of writing. Because you are buying from China you may be asked to pay import duty upon its arrival to the UK, which you will need to factor into the total cost. (Read our advice on buying Chinese tech for more.)

Packages usually come via DHL, which charges 20 percent of the value written on the shipping paperwork, plus an £11 admin fee. In this case then, assuming the full value is on the paperwork, that would work out around £46 and take the total cost up to around £222. That's still fantastic value for a phone with such a pleasing design and decent specifications.

Alternatively, if you're happy to buy the black version instead, you can get it shipped from the EU warehouse. Assuming you will pay import duty on the full value of the phone when bought from China then buying from Europe will work out cheaper, at £192.94 ($235.29). You won't have the hassle of paying any fees before you can receive your item, but you do miss out on the opportunity to own the blue model, which is a real looker.

The S7 also comes in green and gold colour options, and in variations with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage or 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. We're told there is also a version of the Elephone S7 with a 5.2- rather than 5.5in screen.

Finally, a top end option has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, but an upgraded processor in the form of the Helio X25. It is similar to the X20 but runs at a higher clock speed. This model is available for £188.59 ($229.99) from TomTop.

With every version available under £200, you would likely be on a tight budget to opt for anything other than the top model. That said, those who aren't too bothered by performance might be happy with one of the lower models, and as all support microSD up to 128GB you needn't worry too much about the storage differences. Also see: Best Android phones 2017

Elephone S7

Elephone S7 review: Design and build

One of the best things about this phone is its design. To be quite honest, knowing there were 5.2- and 5.5in versions we had to get out a ruler to check we were actually holding the 5.5in model. This is a large-screen phablet, yet it feels much smaller with its minimal bezels to the left and right, curved edges on the front and rear, and ultra-thin 7.6mm chassis.

At 175g it has the weight of a standard phablet, but its petite dimensions make the Elephone S7 one of few phones of this size we can comfortably use in a single hand.

That's not even the best bit, though. With its mirror finish light bounces off this phone like a jewel, with what looks like beams of light running right across its surface. It is absolutely stunning - particularly in blue - and that is something we never thought we'd say about a plastic phone.

Though its rear panel is designed to look like the glass panel on the back of the Galaxy S7, it's actually a glass front and plastic rear, which meet in the middle around a thin metal frame.

In the hand the plastic rear makes it feel a little cheaper than what we've come to expect from mid-range Chinese phones, where metal is now the norm, but we like the smooth, albeit slippery, surface. Our only real concern is that it seems to scratch fairly easily, even just sitting on our desk. Meanwhile, the age-old problem of fingerprints isn't overly noticeable. Also see: Best Chinese phones

Elephone S7

The 5.5in JDI fully laminated in-cell display is jet black in standby, creating a gorgeous contrast against the blue frame. When switched on it's equally appealing, with a sharp full-HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. Colours are good, as are viewing angles.

Usually when we look at phone screens we comment on their brightness, but with the Elephone S7 it's not how bright it can go that impresses, but how dull it can go. You can reduce the brightness all the way down to 1 nit to eliminate night-time glare; there's also a blue-light filter to protect your eyes.

The layout is standard, with volume and power buttons on the right side, a SIM tray on the left, headphone jack up top and Micro-USB port and speaker grilles below. Although there are two, it appears to be a mono speaker inside. 

Elephone S7

Exactly like on the Galaxy S7 below the screen is a Home button that builds in a fast fingerprint scanner, which uses a self-learning mechanism to operate in just 0.1 seconds. We're not so keen on the fact it is the only button here, though you can activate an onscreen navigation bar in the Settings. As standard you tap the Home button to go back, press it to go home, long-press it to open the Recents menu, or press it twice to access a shortcut key. By default this will open the Settings menu.

We were intrigued to see the Elephone S7 advertised with an iris scanner as an alternative to the fingerprint scanner for security. The preinstalled software includes Smart Lock, which can be activated once you have set up a screen lock and allows you to add trusted devices and places, and set up face-, voice- or body detection. Whenever the Elephone detects any of these things, the phone stays unlocked. See all phone reviews

Here in the UK when we think of the S7 we think of Samsung's finest. Elephone's S7 has many similarities, but it's not in quite the same category. Nevertheless, it's a good-looking mid-range phone with some very decent specifications and a more affordable price tag.

Elephone S7 review: Core hardware and performance

The Elephone S7 is a deca-core smartphone with the Helio X20 processor inside, also known as the MediaTek MT6797M. This processor is paired with 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM and 64GB - at least in this instance - plus the Mali-T880 GPU.

Performance is very good for a mid-range phone, but in line with other smartphones using the same processor, such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 and Vernee Apollo Lite. (We'll also be reviewing the Meizu MX6 within the coming days.)

The Elephone S7 recorded a very high 4237 points in the Geekbench 4 multi-core general processing benchmark (and 1597 points single-core), but its results weren't as spectacular elsewhere. We recorded 82,836 points in AnTuTu 3D, 23-, 14-, 10- and 6fps in the T-Rex, Manhattan 3.1, Manhattan and Car Chase components of the GFXBench graphics benchmark, and 25.493 in the JetStream JavaScript benchmark.

On paper, given the specs, you might think it would be a rival to flagships such as the Galaxy S7, but in reality the deca-core processor might have more cores but it isn't as powerful as Samsung's Exynos chip, and though it matches that phone's RAM in capacity it's of the slower LPDDR3 variety.

Nevertheless, it's difficult to argue with performance at this price point, and the Elephone S7 is more than capable of pretty much anything you can throw at it. Even gaming graphics, although not flagship-level, are easily playable and videos look good. Navigation and the launching of apps isn't as instantaneous as on a flagship, but neither is it slow. 

We've compared the performance of the Elephone S7 to the aforementioned phones in the chart below. To see what today's flagships are capable of (at three times the price), also see What's the fastest phone 2017?

Storage is a highlight of the Elephone S7, and not only does it (in this version) come with 64GB built-in but there's also a microSD slot that lets you add up to 128GB. Combine this with cloud storage and you'll never run out. A down side of that microSD card slot is that it occupies the same space as the second SIM slot - you can't have both at once.

Fast charging over Micro-USB is possible with a suitable charger, and the Elephone S7 can reach 50 percent in 30 minutes or 90 percent in 60 minutes (as with all phones, charging slows as the battery gets increasingly full as a safeguard). This is a 3000mAh non-removable battery, but in our experience it drains fairly rapidly even on standby. Depending on your usage you'll likely get a day, but no more - heavy users should be prepared to carry a power bank. Wireless charging and USB-C would be welcome, but their absence is not going to raise any eyebrows at under £200.

Elephone S7 review: Connectivity and extras

Elephone S7

Even now, if you want a dual-SIM phone your best option is to buy a Chinese phone. While smartphone manufacturers seem to think no-one in the Western world has a need for two SIMs, in China it would be more of a surprise to find a phone that didn't support the functionality. Also see our dual-SIM phones buying advice and Best dual-SIM phones round-up

The Elephone S7 is no exception, a dual-SIM dual-standby smartphone with a hybrid SIM slot much like those found on Xiaomi phones. It can accept either two Nano-SIMs, which are both functional for calls and texts at all times, but only one for data, or it can accept one Nano-SIM and one microSD card up to 128GB in capacity.

A key difference between this and Mi phones, however, is that this one supports all UK 4G bands, not leaving O2 customers on the 800MHz band out in the cold with only 3G connectivity to get online. (See how to tell whether a phone is supported by your network.) 

There's no NFC on this smartphone, which is necessary for Android Pay; nor is there an IR blaster, though these are becoming increasingly rare. Other connectivity bases are covered with dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and OTG.

Elephone S7 review: Cameras

Cameras are acceptable but basic on the Elephone S7, which isn't entirely unexpected. The main camera is a 13Mp, f/2.2 snapper with a single-LED flash, which means it isn't going to be much cop in low light, while there's a 5Mp selfie camera at the front.

The Camera app is disappointing, with support for real-time filters, but very little else. There's a Picture-in-picture mode and Panorama, and some options can be tweaked in the settings, but we couldn't find even an HDR mode. (And if there is one then it's not easy to find!)

The below test image was taken on an admittedly grey, rainy day, but even so the results make it look more like the world is about to end. Significant blurring is visible toward the edges, while the central part of the image is over-sharp.

Elephone S7 camera

All in all, not the best camera then. Also see: Best camera phone 

Elephone S7 review: Software

Elephone S7

The Elephone S7 runs a vanilla version of Android Marshmallow, so there are no nasty surprises in store. Google's own apps are preinstalled (including Google Play), with very few additions. Those that are here include an Elephone Service helper app, a Search app (that is not Google Search and cannot be uninstalled), a Sound Recorder and a TaskManager. You also get a Turbodownload mode that combines cellular and Wi-Fi data to speed downloads.

The one thing we struggled to get used to was the lack of a navigation bar - the single Home button is used in place of the usual three (Home, Back and Recents), with various patterns of taps and presses doing different things. As we mentioned earlier, pressing the Home button twice acts as a shortcut to an app of your choice. By default it opens the Settings menu, but you can choose any app you like on the phone.

Fortunately, you can switch on the navigation bar from the Settings menu. Once activated you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to display it, and click the triangle icon to hide it.

Gestures are supported only so far as three-finger screenshots and two-finger volume adjustments.

Read next: Best new phones

Specs

Elephone S7: Specs

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 5.5in full-HD (1920x1080) JDI fully laminated in-cell display
  • 2GHz Helio X20 (MediaTek MT6797M) deca-core processor
  • Mali-T880 GPU
  • 4GB RAM (also available with 2- or 3GB)
  • 64GB storage (also available with 16- or 32GB)
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Nano-SIM)
  • 4G FDD-LTE 800/1800/2100/2600MHz
  • 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • OTG
  • fingerprint reader
  • 13Mp, f/2.2 rear camera with LED flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • 3000mAh non-removable lithium-polymer battery
  • Micro-USB
  • 150.4x73.2x7.6mm
  • 175g