Elephone M2 Review – A $179, Budget Aimed Smartphone

Posted Jan 16, 2016
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Introduction

Ever wanted to get a great smartphone with a solid design, large FHD display and a lot of performance but your wallet wasn’t making up for it? For $179 US, the M2 might just be the product you are looking for. Made by Elephone, a China based smartphone company based in Hong Kong that emphasizes a lot on the design and performance of their products, the M2 features an impressive feature list and an attractive pricing.

From the moment I started using this phone, I knew that it wasn’t just a regular smartphone device but a device that can really shake things up in the budget segment, offering some stiff competition to other brands based out of China. From the beginning and to the very end of this review, I was really impressed with this device so let’s talk about all the things that the M2 does right and all those things where the device can still offer a room for improvement in the next update.

Unboxing The Elephone M2

The Elephone M2 smartphone comes in a standard charcoal black, rectangular box which is a good touch to the design quality of the entire product. The Elephone logo is etched on the top while the name is centered at both sides of the packaging. The M2 logo is etched to the center of the top cover and at the bottom, there’s a nice little quote that says,”Keep expecting and be surprised.” True words can not be said any differently as using the device for sometime, I was definitely surprised and honestly, given Elephone’s marketing on their webpage, I was expecting the device to at least get me interested for some time, that it did pretty well.

Within the box, you can find the tray which rests the phone. A gigantic beast to begin with since we are looking at a Phablet design. The phone comes inside a protective plastic bag. Beneath the tray, we can find a USB cable and a docking charger (5V/1A). The phone comes with two front and two back, clear protective covers aside from the ones that are already on it. There’s a Quick Start Guide and the entire booklet is written in English which does explain that Elephone has kept the US and EU market in mind when designing this phone.

Last but not least, we can found an ejector pin which is used to eject the sim tray out of the phone. The accessories that come with the M2 are nothing fancy but that’s a given due to the budget aimed theme of the phone. Regardless, it should have been nice to see a pair of headphones with this phone, I guess it’s not much to ask for.

Overall, I would rate the design of this package to be a great thing and something that offers a showcase of the device that is within it.

Design, Looks and The Build Quality

The Elephone M2 comes in three color choices to select from which include Black, White and Gold. The model we received was the black design with grey metallic texture on the back and front absorbed in a full black glass metal that adds a glossy look. The phone measures 75x155x7.35mm in dimensions and measures at 165g, which include the weight of the built-in battery. The M2 is just as big as the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus and that talks a lot about its size. The phone felt and looked fabulous throughout the entire review however it does attract a lot of fingerprints on the front due to the glossy glass surface.

Actually, beginning the design segment for this review, I would like to say that I wasn’t in for such a great experience with this device. From the moment I saw the M2 on Elephone’s site, I underestimated the design but having one in the hand now shows the difference. The build quality is top-notch, something you won’t see on smartphones that come in this price range.

Featuring a metal body (aluminum alloy) that covers 85% of the phone, it feels as if you are holding a high-end phone. The entire unibody design of this phablet inspired smatphone offers a rigid feel. You can keep the phone locked with a tight grip in your hand while taking snaps off the camera, shooting selfies or while doing random or casual multi-tasking.

Diving deeper in the design, the front features front facing camera, a proximity sensor, a notification LED and the earpiece. The Elephone M2 also comes with a fingerprint sensor on the front which is integrated inside the home button. To the left of the home button is the menu button while the right side key is the back button.

To the left side of the phone, we can find the volume docker and the power switch. It’s an odd position if we compare the positioning to current generation of phones but it was easy to access and not much of a deal. Both buttons are made of a metallic design. To the right side, we can find the single SIM tray which can be removed and inserted with ease. To our surprise, this particular tray is an extended version of a regular sim tray that can support either two Micro SIMs or a single Mcro SIM along with a Micro-SD card for expanded storage.

The bottom of the phone includes the charging dock, two speaker outputs, a micrphone slot and two signal boosting antennas which do improve the cellular signals a bunch. The top side also features another set of two antennas, a microphone slot along with a 3.5mm audio-jack to support headphones/headsets.

The back of this phone is pretty reminiscent of the Nexus 6P with a metallic finish and a top/bottom section that comes with a glass panel. The camera is embedded inside the glass casing along with the flashlight and doesn’t has any sort of lift to it, giving a smooth layout to the surface of the phone.

Elephone M2 Gallery:

Display – A 5.5″ 1080P IPS Panel

The display on the M2 is a 5.5″ LCD panel that is HD compliant. Yes, the M2 rocks a resolution of 1920×1080 on its IPS display to deliver a robust experience while using the phone, offering crisp and clear detail. The pixel density of the phone is 401 PPI (Pixels Per Inch) which isn’t too shabby, it does what it’s meant to do, providing sharp display and picture quality. The brightness on the phone is a mix of good and alright. The level of brightness at maximum is good compared to some other mid-range offerings but the minimum on the phone is also a bit higher which can result in higher use of battery life.

When you get to use the phone for a while, you will notice that it comes with a yellowish tint from the start which is noticeable however can be removed through the internal software known as MiraVision, provided by Elephone in the M2. It can also allow other tuning such as adjusting brightness or the contrast ratio per users preference. Nevertheless, the screen is set to be a update from whatever you are upgrading in the mid range department from a year ago.

Specifications – Here’s What You Get For $179

The specifications are a key component for each smartphone and for $179, you might be expecting a regular bunch of hardware for the M2. But the M2 has surprises jam packed within it from the start. The M2 packs a octa-core, MediaTek MT6753 ARM 64-bit processor that has eight Cortex -A53 cores clocked at a frequency of 1.3 GHz. The processor ships along 3 GB of RAM and a Mali based T720-MP3 GPU clocked at 450 MHz. It packs an internal 32 GB (25 GB actual storage) of storage in addition to the ability to support Micro-SD cards with capacities of up to 128 GB. This is pretty neat stuff for a budget aimed smartphone. We are just giving you a quick glance at the specifications and to actually know what sort of impact these specifications put on the benchmarks, you’ll need to check out them in a moment.

The specifications of the Elephone M2 are listed down below:

Smartphone NameElephone M2
Dimensions75x155x7.35mm
Display5.5" IPS LCD
Resolution1920x1080 Full HD
Pixel Density400 Pixels Per Inch
Processor (CPU)MediaTek MT6753 ARM 64-bit (8 Core)
Processor Clock1.3 GHz (1300 MHz)
Graphics (GPU)Mali T720-MP3
Graphics Clock450 MHz
Camera (Rear)13 MegaPixel Sony IMX214 Exmor RS
Camera (Front)2.0 MP Camera
Storage (Internal)32 GB (25 GB Usable)
Micro-SD SlotYes (Up to 128 GB)
ConnectivityDual-Sim 2G/3G/4G (LTE)
Battery2600 mAh
Price$179.99 US

An Insight Into The Stock Software and UI

The moment I picked this phone out of its box and powered it on, I was surprised to see that I wasn’t at all greeted with a setup wizard. For some, the exclusion of the setup wizard might not be an issue but for those who like setting up some settings or preferences from a guided setup, this will be a downside. Nevertheless, users can still access the settings panel for a wide ray of customization and configuration options but I think it will be better to drop in a setup wizard in the next UI update.

Since there was no setup wizard to begin with, we landed straight to the home screen which is offered by the AOSP’s Launcher3 and known as ELE UI. The M.2 runs on Android 5.1 (Lollipop) and comes in a style that’s largely similar to stock android and that’s a good thing. There aren’t much customization options on the home screen aside from the regulars which include the ability to change wallpapers, add widgets or got to the settings panel. The homescreen includes the most basic apps such as Camera, Gallery, Play Store and Service (provided by Elephone). You can go to call, contacts, messaging and internet directly from the main screen. A Google Search bar is ideally placed on the top of the homescreen, right below the status bar.

As stated, the entire UI is close to a stock android experience and there are some nifty little changes in the OS which include a new feature called Hot Knot which works similar to NFC (although the phone doesn’t feature NFC capabilities), allowing it to share data upon touching a different device.  It seems like this could be MediaTek’s answer to NFC as a whole and works by directly contacting screens of two devices in parallel to one another. The only blow to the Hot Knot feature is that the other device also needs to be MediaTek based. The transfer of files is handled by either WiFi or Bluetooth. There are also a few profiles which can be toggled from the quick settings panel. Some of the features were pointed out nicely by XDA:

  1. Smart Wake: The M2 offers support screen off gestures. Some of these are:
    1. Double tap to wake
    2. Slide up to directly unlock
    3. Slide down to directly open camera
    4. Draw various alphabets for other shortcuts
    Surprisingly, all these gestures worked quite well and did not cause any noticeable battery drain.
    Long pressing the Home Button when screen is off turns on the flashlight. There is no setting to enable or disable for this, so my discovery for this was by accident.
  2. Proximity sensor and G-Sensor calibration built into settings app: The ROM provides easy access to calibration of these sensors, incase your sensors develop minor issues.
  3. Image Editor built into Gallery app: The Gallery app features a detailed image editor, which offers much more finer control over editing than a lot of apps on the Play Store.

Other interesting features of the UI include the “one tap” memory cleaner application which rests beneath the multi-tasking window. With a single tap, this app closes all apps and frees up some space that was being utilized under the system ram. The M2 currently runs lollipop but it is soon expected to get a stock release of Android Marshmallow (6.0), offering further enhancements to stability and performance.

Overall experience with the UI was great as it was responsive and lag-free. There were no hiccups while playing games or installing apps from Play Store. Notifications were delivered on time and the phone did pretty well in crunch mode when the battery dwindled below 15%. The battery on the M2 is a 2600mAh pack and can last up to 3-4 hours with full brightness and constant usage that include video playback, playing games, browsing the web (WiFi/4G) and multi-tasking on different apps. In standby mode, the phone can last more than 24 hours and takes over an hour for a full charge (0% to 100%). That can be an issue with the users that have used a fast charger as it will take some time to load up the M2 with enough charge to make it past your day.

Synthetic and Gaming Performance

The performance of the phone is comparable and sometimes, better than what you would expect from a mid-range phone. The games we tried out included Fallout Shelter, Real Racing 3, Clash of Clans, Dead Trigger 2 and Star Wars: Commander. All games ran pretty well and looked great on the 1080P display, the only exception in our list of games was Real Racing 3 which lagged in races with over 10 AI racers. The overall performance of the phone was measured using several synthetic benchmarks such as Antutu, 3DMark, CPU Prime, Geekbench and a lot more which can be seen below.

Elephone M2 Performance Benchmarks:

From the results we gathered, the phone packs some muscles even against high-end phones. In Antutu, it managed to score 38,869 points and in Geekbench, it was able to pull a score of 622 in single-threaded and 2797 points in multi-threaded performance. The bulk of the tasks were handled by the Octa-Core chip on the M2 while the 3 GB ram means a lag-free experience while running through the UI and different apps.

Camera and Video Quality

The camera featured on the M2 makes use of the 13 MegaPixel Sony IMX214 Exmor RS sensor that has F/2.0 aperture. The camera might not be what you get from top-end smartphone selection that 2015 has to offer but it isn’t supposed to compete with those devices at all, given its pricing. The camera quality compared to similar priced mid-range phones is a bonus for the M2. Not only the camera quality looks great, but it also offers depth and clarity in low light conditions. The rear camera comes with a flashlight to enhance imagery at night but still, the low-light shots are something this phone gets really well. The pictures are easy to take and the HDR mode further contributes to the fidelity when taking long range shots.

The front facing camera is also good however, you need to be in absolute good lightning conditions to get a decent capture. Through filters available on apps like Retrica and Instagram, you can manage to get some high-end quality shots but like stated, it all depends on the lightning. The rear camera also allows for 1080P video recording at 30 FPS. The video sample I recorded was around a minute long, focusing on buildings and the sky. Through the recording, I noticed that the mic quality was pitch perfect when heard from the phone or through a headset. The quality of the recording itself was decent but objects at a close focus appeared distorted.

Elephone M2 Camera Quality:

Conclusion – A Great and Good Looking Budget Phone

The Elephone M2 is a great budget phone which is going to be replaced by an even better budget phone, the M3 from Elephone. Sure by the time we are posting this review, Elephone has already announced the M3 that replaces the M2 with an even lower price and better specifications but this is better for consumers themselves. The Elephone M2 had nothing which we were disappointed about, it did many things great, even better than we expected and some things that it didn’t do well are definitely going to be improved in the next update that is the M3.

So starting off, I would like to thank the folks over at Elephone for arranging us a sample of the M2 as soon as we requested one. If it wasn’t for custom authorities picking up this phone as soon as it landed, we would have posted our impressions much earlier but alas, that is one of the downside when buying a smartphone from out side of your region. We did pay some hefty duties to pick this phone up but the device as a whole was worth it.

Over time, Asian Pacific phone companies have upped the game in the smartphone market. OnePlus, Xiaomi, Huawei all have seen their rise to fame, Elephone is the next contender and I’ll be dammed if they don’t get to see a wide audience selection from the US and EU in 2016. The Elephone cuts off many mid-range phones in its price range, you definitely can’t pick a device that looks and performs like M2 in the sub-$150 price range in either US or EU regions. Elephone even has several retailers based in several markets that can ship the phone free of cost. They actually have a store set up where you can purchase their phones regardless of the region you are based in. It’s one of those phone which offer a lot more for the asking price and with no questions to be asked.

The Elephone M2 is a great budget phone that adopts the design of high-end, elegant smartphones and packs a great set of hardware to feed the needs of performance hungry users. The M2 is eventually being replaced by its successor, the M3 with even better specifications at an even lower price point of just $159 US. This shows that 2016 would be marking a great road ahead for Elephone as a premium mid-range and budget-friendly phone maker.

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