Let’s start off by saying you should read this review. Read it all! There’s a stigma against Chinese companies like Elephone on western markets, and it needs to disappear, because the bad rep Chinese manufacturers made for themselves is mostly gone now. Naturally, there still are bad phones out there, but we need to be more open towards these companies because their products do have a lot to offer. Recently, Elephone were nice enough to send us an Elephone M2 phablet for review, and I must say that right off the bat I was impressed with what this phone has to offer for the price. You should read this review because it might act as proof that cheap phones don’t necessarily have to be bad investments. It might help you open up to other options and consider a new upgrade strategy for the years to come.
Buying a Chinese smartphone like the Elephone M2, Umi Iron Pro, Doogee F5. Xiaomi Mi4, etc has caveats and positives to them, but the main idea is that they’re much more affordable than mainstream flagships like the Galaxy Note 5, iPhone 6S, LG V10, HTC One M9 and many more. Although featuring properties pertaining to international flagships, like biometric security, OIS, near stock user experience and more, the prices that these manufacturers put on their devices are incredibly low. Bang for buck is stellar with these handsets, so what’s the catch anyway? Let’s get into the Elephone M2 review to see if there is in fact one.
The Elephone M2 is unique on the Chinese market thanks to its design. Letting go of plastic, rounded edges and back panels and of design elements that the company had previously gotten fans used to, the Elephone M2 is a wonderfully crafted, premium phone. Aluminum panels and frame go around the device’s metal unibody and there’s a glossy tempered glass finish on the back panel of the device. On the top and bottom of the rear panel of the Elephone M2, there are black glass panels. You would say it’s a design similar to Huawei’s Nexus 6P, but it’s not really. The top black panel housing the camera of the Nexus 6P is the solitary accent on the phone, whilst the Elepehone M2 uses two of these strips to create a symmetrical and in my opinion, futuristic finish to the design.
I could speak about the design of the Elephone M2 for an entire day, because I was pleasantly surprised. I had seen good design and engineering from the company before on the Elephone P5000 and Elephone P8000, but this handset tops them all. I am still surprised that there isn’t more attention directed to this flagship, as it is a hybrid between all the favorites of the year from the Android market. With a couple of subtle accents and a light body, a textured metal power button, sleek SIM tray on the side, connectors on the bottom, audio jack up top and thin bezels all around, not to mention an embedded fingerprint ID in the home button turn the Elephone M2 into a rather interesting device.
If you take the Xperia Z5 and its copper finish, its power button and glass panels, add to that the grills from the iPhone 6S on the bottom, the rectangular fingerprint sensor and thin sloped bezels of the Galaxy S6, the slippery chamfered edges and thin body of the iPhone 6 Plus and you end up with the Elephone M2 phablet. The device is light, but large and one of the things that I found annoying about its design was the finish on its edges. The buttons are great and easy to reach, but the edges of the phone are slippery af – caution if you use it without a case! I find myself constantly worrying about how I grab the phone out of its temporary sleeve of fear of it slipping out and landing on concrete.
The large size of the Elephone M2 doesn’t help with one-handed use, and there are no extra software features within that would alleviate the situation. I would say that for people with smaller hands, such as myself, phablets are not really compatible. However, I found using the phone as a daily driver surprisingly easy and pleasant. I got used to handling the phone with two hands pretty fast. Thanks to the fingerprint sensor on the front being surprisingly good, I find my way around the phone pretty easily, despite its large size.
The white antennae lines we’ve seen on iPhones and more recently on HTC’s One A9 are also there on the Elephone M2. To me, these bear absolutely no relevance and I don’t even notice them. However, I find they are great accents that create consistency for the design of the phone. The metal unibody and its flat design need a bit of accent to stand out of the crowd, and the antennae lines look pretty good atop and on the bottom. Aside from an Elephone logo, there aren’t any markings on the phone, nor are there any dents or special crevasses, which I missed.
The Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note 5 have those dents on the top and bottom of each side, making gripping and holding the phone much easier. I think adding similar design elements to the Elephone M2 would have countered the slipperiness of the sleek aluminum body a great deal. Nonetheless, the look and feel of this phone are premium and I was pleasantly impressed with the company’s craftsmanship and choices on this one. One added bonus that I think belongs here is that in the Elephone M2 box, you get two sets of screen protectors – for the display and the back glass panel of the phone. Another set of them already comes installed on the phone, mind you.
Display and viewing experience
The Elephone M2 display is no doubt my favorite part about this phone. The 5.5-inch FHD IPS panel with a 1080*1920 resolution is one of the best displays I’ve ever come across. I mean, think about the immersiveness of LED-backlit displays on the iPhone and add the bright, crisp colors of a Super AMOLED panel to that. The combination is what I imagine the Elephone M2 display actually is. However, it’s not that superb. The FHD resolution panel is absolutely wonderful when it comes to viewing angles, ppi pixel density, brightness and visibility as well as outdoor visibility. The display is immersive and even when the phone’s flat at eye-level, you can still see what’s displayed on the screen. In my book, that’s good enough. However, I found that there are some issues with brightness controls.
Adaptive brightness is pretty good and when at full or even 40 % of brightness levels, the Elephone M2 display looks wonderful, flawless and with accurate color reproduction. However, when you set brightness below 40 %, you’ll notice that whites turn into salmon pinks. That might not be bothersome for those who don’t use their phones at such low brightness levels, but for those who tend to stay on the bottom of the brightness scale to conserve power or just to be comfortable, it might be bothersome. I’m part of those people who don’t pull brightness higher than 10 % unless in direct sunlight. I’m comfortable with dim screens and the Elephone M2’s slightly off color reproduction stopped bothering me within an hour. Honestly, I found that the pinkish tones of whites were comforting to my eyes and ended up liking them. Nonetheless, this is not a feature – but a slight flaw that might be resolved in a future software update.
Overall, I was impressed with the Elephone M2 display because it comes with awesome viewing angles, great brightness controls and a comfortable experience. Considering that it’s not even a 10-point touchscreen but a 5-point one, I am convinced that this panel is better than many of those found on mainstream flagships. Seeing as the only flaw with it is the color accuracy on low brightness (an issue found on the OnePlus One, HTC One M7 and more), which is most likely going to get fixed in a future update, the Elephone M2 has a strong pro thanks to it.
Performance and software
I don’t think there’s a smartphone out there that is considered to be perfect. Every company has to make trade-offs and users are never 100 % satisfied. Demonstrated by OnePlus’ logo “Never settle” – Android fans are rarely completely and utterly satisfied with a smartphone experience – and that’s ok. Quirks of each phone can be perceived as trademarks and identifying traits. In the Elephone M2’s case, the one thing I found a bit dissatisfying was performance – and everything related to it. Unfortunately, Elephone made a few compromises on the hardware, which haven’t impacted the performance and user experience in a positive way.
Under the hood, the handset comes with a MediaTek6753 CPU, an octa-core 64bit processor backed by 3 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage. There’s 4G LTE included and you may use a microSD card in one of the SIM slots to gain some extra storage if needed. Android 5.1 Lollipop and Ele UI are on board the device, but since I’m a Google Now kind of girl, I didn’t really use Ele UI much. I can tell you that it’s light and pretty much stock Android. Although we’ve got all the prerequisites of seamless performance, the Elephone M2 is a bit sluggish. It takes a minute for apps to open or switch out, and the user interface feels slow at times. Gaming is flawless, though and I haven’t had any problems with the likes of Family Guy, Plants vs. Zombies 2, The Room, The Room 2, Plague, Asphalt 8, Candy Crush, that running game I hate and more.
Navigating the Elephone M2 is pretty easy, having a lot of customizability and options to choose from. Since I’m a paranoid bugger, I actually use the fingerprint sensor all the time. It doesn’t work on the first try every time, but let’s say 2 out of 3, it works. Once I got used to its routine, I figured out the position my fingers (I registered three) needed to be in for an instant reading, how much pressure I had to put on the home button’s edges for an instant reading and how long it took from the initial bad reading for the sensor to reset and read again – that time turned out to be at least 5 seconds. Although when the fingerprint reader works, it works in under a second, but when it doesn’t – it’s a real pain. Oftentimes I just skip that and enter my ridiculous PIN number. It doesn’t bother me that much, because I’m used to heavy security on my devices and would rather miss a minute than just slide to unlock.
A problem that I haven’t solved as of yet and will update this review if I do concerns data connections. Although the Elephone M2 has 3G and 4G LTE support, for me, neither of those seems to work. Until now, I haven’t managed to get a data connection going on this device. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and everything else is working just fine, but not the bands. It’s a weird issue that might be exclusively mine, I’ll report back on that if I figure it out or if I get in touch with support (which I will eventually have to do and tell you about it). Otherwise, connectivity and the user experience of the Elephone M2 were pretty balanced.
Camera and media
The Elephone M2 comes with a 13 MP Sony IMX214 f2.0 aperture sensor on the rear, single-tone flash, touch autofocus, HDR, panorama and the likes. On the front, there’s a 5 MP camera for selfies. The rear camera is pretty decent, handling various lighting conditions and subjects nicely. The camera has an integrated macro mode and a pretty good manual mode to play with. You can shoot 1080p video with the rear camera, and the sounds as well as video turn out pretty nicely, usually. The sensors do struggle in low light, but the autofocus on the Elephone M2 is impressive. It’s not that fast when struggling, but it’s generally fast and accurate. I found that it gets irreparably confused when confronted with a pattern of sorts, but otherwise, the entire photography experience on the device was impressive.
For the price, the Elephone M2 camera is decent. I found that auto settings work well, but post-processing tends to ruin everything and make photos look grainy and noisy. This problem does not surface that much in optimal lighting conditions, but otherwise, the pictures will be grainy – if viewed on a large screen. If your photography primarily stays on small smartphone screens, you won’t care. For social media and the like, the photos the Elephone M2 camera produces are pretty good. Color accuracy, sharpness and depth are ok, but overexposure is a given when white stuff is around the sensor. The front camera, on the other hand, is just meh. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but for a 5 MP sensor, you can imagine that it’s pretty average. In good lighting conditions, it’ll produce great self-portraits, but that’s about it. I enjoyed playing with the rear camera much more, mostly thanks to macro mode.
The Elephone M2 overheats occasionally when recording video for an extended period of time, but it’s a negligible change in temperature. Performance might suffer, though. If you want to start taking photos after a gaming session, you’re not going to have pretty much luck getting through that task without lag and sluggishness. Overall, my camera experience with this phone was decent. You can browse through the sample photo gallery to see for yourself. My final opinion about the camera would be that if you have the time to set the shot up, you might get photos that look good on larger screens. Otherwise, the photos mainly reflect only average quality.
Battery life, price and conclusion
The Elephone M2, like many other Chinaphones out there, is filled with contradictions. Although it has a beautifully sharp display, it’s only a 5-point touchscreen. The octa-core SoC performs wonderfully with games and apps, but struggles within the user interface. The camera is outfitted with great hardware, but post-processing tends to ruin things, so you’re going to have to get the most out of the manual mode. The same goes with battery life and pricing. Although the Elephone M2 battery measures 2600 mAh, the overall autonomy of the phone is below average.
The Elephone M2 battery life without any data traffic (since that’s not working on my unit) but a lot of Wi-Fi and a fair amount of calls came down to about 4 hours of on-screen time. That’s not bad, but it’s not good either. I found that pretty much every day, I had to go to sleep with the charger by my bed. I did manage to get a day and a half out of the phone, but I had Wi-Fi off all day and didn’t do anything special on the phone aside from placing a few calls. If you want a battery life monster, Elephone has the P8000 for that. The Elephone M2 is more of a fashionable, rather than practical device. It boasts all the features you would expect in a premium smartphone, but they don’t really work as you would expect them to.
The Elephone M2 costs between $170 and $210 depending on where you buy it from. GearBest is currently selling it for $200, Everbuying is selling it for $170, CooliCool has it for $186, GeekBuying for $200 or you could go check Amazon’s Elephone M2 5.5″ 4G Smartphone IPS Capacitive 1920×1080 Android 5.1 64-bit Octa-core MTK6753 1.3GHz 3GB RAM & 32GB ROM 13.0MP offer, although it’s double the price Chinese retailers are selling it for. Aside from the $400 unit, there’s no doubt that the Elephone M2 is an affordable smartphone and that’s a very important aspect to consider when judging the flaws of the phone that I have enumerated.
The Elephone M2 is meant to offer great design and a reliable smartphone, but it’s not meant to offer you a flagship smartphone that bests every other smartphone out there. The handset is sturdy and reliable enough to become a daily driver and it’s a smaller investment than buying a flagship smartphone. The performance and features, especially the ones related to security, are enviable for the price and add value to the handset. Although camera performance, results, battery life and a sluggish UI might seem like deal-breakers, if you’re daily life does not require high-end everything, the Elephone M2 will definitely leave a good impression.
Although I was not satisfied with the camera and battery life, I have to point out that I have overall come to enjoy the Elephone M2. Its design is unique among all the other mainstream smartphones and the display is stunning. The camera, I can live with, as long as I don’t open the pictures on a high-res monitor or TV. The battery life is a bummer and I despise having to carry my charger around, but I have to go back to the design: it has turned me around and made me thoroughly enjoy this handset, despite its shortcomings.