Elephone P9000 Lite review: An affordable but generic Android phablet

elephone-p9000-lite-header.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Impressive design, packaging and build quality
  • Excellent display
  • USB-C connectivity
  • Solid battery life
  • 32GB of storage
  • Good everyday performance for the price
  • Close-to-stock Android 6.0

Cons

  • No gyroscope, NFC or fingerprint scanner
  • Mediocre main and secondary cameras
  • MicroSD card slot takes up space for second SIM card
  • Poor audio quality via speaker
  • No notification light

Here in the UK, even the likes of Xiaomi and Huawei struggle for consumer recognition and pronunciation. This begs the question: is it worth considering the even more left-field Chinese brands? There are plenty of them, including UMi, Ulefone, Bluboo, Cubot and Elephone. And no, I haven't made any of those up.

All these obscure OEMs offer superficially enticing value for money even when you factor in the country-specific import duty the delivery company will demand before they hand over your phone. In my case that was £25 for the £143 ($189.99) Elephone P9000 Lite. But you are still buying a grey import blind, and as for after-sales support, well...

To be honest, I expected to be writing about the P9000 proper rather than the Lite version, but something got lost in translation. The P9000 will set you back $219.99, the major differences being a better camera, a fingerprint scanner and an NFC chip. Camera module apart, the two devices look identical.

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The Elephone P9000 Lite's styling is wholly generic and somewhat iPhone-like.

Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

Get the 9000 Lite out of its box and I defy you not to be just a little impressed. Granted, the styling is generic but the aluminium frame and finely textured -- albeit plastic -- back gives the device a high-end feel. The power and volume buttons don't let the side down either. They have a well-machined action and are perfectly placed just below the halfway line on the right-hand side.

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The slight lip between fascia and frame is reminiscent of Sony's Xperia Z3.

Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

The left side has a multi-function button that with a long press mutes the device, but which can also be set to launch any app with a short press. I set mine to launch Google Maps and quickly found it to be a very handy feature.

If I had to pick an aesthetic quibble it's the slight lip between the fascia and the frame edge, redolent of the similar design cue on the Sony Xperia Z3. At least the slight inset of the screen keeps it safely off the surface when placed face-down.

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Physically the P9000 Lite measures 73.2mm wide by 148.4mm deep by by 7.3mm thick, and weighs 145 grams. That's not at all bad for a 5.5-incher. In fact, the P9000 is one of smallest and lightest phablets on the market -- it's only a tad larger than Samsung's Galaxy S7 with its 5.1-inch screen.

The LG-made 5.5-inch 1,080-by-1,920 (401ppi) IPS screen takes up a healthy 76 percent of the fascia (Elephone claims 82 percent, but I'm not sure how they arrived at that figure). For comparison, the iPhone 6S's 5.5-inch panel takes up 68 percent.

The display is a cracker. Bright, colourful, boasting excellent levels of contrast and very robust viewing angles, this LTPS (Low Temperature PolySilicon) display could happily grace a phone costing twice as much. At this price I expect to see some light bleed with a black wallpaper, but not a bit of it.

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The quality of the 5.5-inch FHD-resolution IPS screen belies the P9000 Lite's affordable price.

Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

What the screen lacks is anything in the way of the hardened glass made by the likes of Corning or Asahi. That could raise longevity issues for the perennially careless, so some sort of case or screen protector (one comes pre-applied) is probably in order. There's no waterproofing of any sort either.

It's a shame the single speaker (the other grille you can see, to the left of the USB port, is the mic cover) doesn't match the quality of screen. It throws out plenty of volume, but the sound is raucous and rather grating. It's some recompense that when I plugged in my reference Sennheiser headphones the P9000 sounded very composed indeed.

Wired connectivity is via a USB-C port and an appropriate cable comes in the box along with a two-prong 2-amp charger. Unlike the 9000 model, the Lite does not support Qi wireless charging, but you do get MediaTek's Pump Express fast-charging tech. The bundled charger can charge the Lite's battery in around three hours. The fast charger can apparently cut that in half.

Many people consider MediaTek SoCs to be rather less than the full shilling, but that's really not the case these days. Granted if you want absolute power in a smartphone not much can hold a candle to Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 component, but if we're talking about SoCs priced for budget and mid-range devices then MediaTek's offerings can often be the better option.

The new-ish Helio P10, the least powerful and cheapest SoC in MediaTek's Helio lineup, uses a genuine octa-core setup. The 28nm chip packs eight Cortex-A53 cores with a maximum clock speed of 1.95GHz. Taking care of the graphics is a Mali T860 GPU and there's an impressive-at-the-price 4GB of RAM.

The Elephone P9000 Lite delivered the following benchmark results:

AnTuTu
45,370

Geekbench 3
3198 (multi core), 814 (single core)

These benchmarks show that the P9000 Lite gives a pretty good account of itself for a lower-tier device. And if you're into mobile gaming, it also easily runs the likes of Modern Warfare 5: Blackout, Real Racing 3, Dead Trigger 2, Asphalt 8 and World of Tanks Blitz. Be aware, though, that it does get a little warm when playing graphically demanding titles.

Packing a generous 32GB of storage (or just over 26GB after Android 6.0 has parked its tanks on the lawn) and with space for a 128GB MicroSD card, finding room for your media files and games won't be a problem. It's worth pointing out that using a memory card means dumping the second SIM card. It's a case of one or the other, but not both.

Android on the P9000 Lite is presented in almost stock form. You can even delve into the developer settings and activate the percentage indicator in the battery icon just like you can with a Nexus device. Usefully the P9000 runs Marshmallow with very little bloat -- just a torch, a radio, a basic file manager and, rather less usefully, a pedometer and a service portal.

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The UI is as close to stock Android Marshmallow as makes no odds.

Images: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

The one significant change Elephone has made to the UI is with the single capacitive button below the screen -- a setup that Elephone calls E-Touch. Tap it once and you take a step back, tap it twice and you return to the home screen. Tap and hold and the recent apps list opens. If you want the traditional Android navigation bar you can toggle it on in the Settings menu.

There are a host of other subtle additions grouped together under the Smart Assistant banner, like an option to bring the phone off standby by double-tapping the screen, launching apps by drawing on the off-screen, taking screen grabs with a three-finger swipe, flipping-to-mute and such like.

The one aggravating omission is a status light of any sort. With the screen off there is no visible sign that a message has been received, a call missed or that the device is charging. Why Elephone didn't give the P9000 Lite's fascia button the capacity to glow when something is afoot is beyond me.

While the P9000 proper has a 13MP Sony IMX258 camera at the back and an 8MP OmniVision OV8558 shooter at the front, the Lite model makes do with a f2.0 13.3MP OmniVision OM13850 main and a 5MP (again OmniVision) secondary.

If photographic excellence in an Android device is what you are after, you should be looking at something like a Samsung Galaxy S7 or the new Leica-badged Huawei P9 rather than a no-name budget device regardless of the make of the camera module.

That said, there's not a whole lot wrong with the P9000 Lite's camera. It turns around fast, is quick to focus, and both definition and colour balance are reasonable in decent light. There is an sometimes annoying tendency towards overexposure though.

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Given good light, the 13.3-megapixel main camera performs well.

Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet
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Overexposure can be a problem with the P9000 Lite's main camera.

Image: Alun Taylor/ZDNet

With nothing in the way of image stabilization, things go downhill when you take pictures indoors or as the light fades -- but no further or faster than with most other devices in this price range.

Since the Helio P10 SoC doesn't support 4K video there's no need to worry about how well that works. The HDR mode messes up the lighting and colour balance badly, and so is best avoided.

The camera interface similarly is nothing to get excited about but there is a small array of manual overrides -- ISO, exposure compensation and colour balance - if you want to get a bit artsy with your snaps.

As for the forward-facing camera, well strangely my P9000 Lite came with a 8.3MP rather than a 5MP component. It takes a pretty decent still picture, but can only shoot video up to 480p which is poor in this day and age.

I had no complaints about the performance of the non-removable 3,000mAh battery. Running a 1080p video using VLC with the brightness and volume at 50 percent drained the battery in 12 hours 15 minutes. In everyday use I easily managed a day and a half before I had to go hunting for a wall socket.

To round up the P9000 Lite's technical offering you get a decent range of 4G bands (for Europe anyway: 1/3/7/8/20/38/40), dual-band 802.11n (but not ac) wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a recording FM radio.

You don't get much in the way of sensors though -- just an accelerometer, proximity, light and orientation sensors and a magnetometer. Call quality (with active noise cancellation), signal reception (both 4G cellular and wireless) and GPS reception, were all well up to snuff. The lack of an NFC chip is a drag with Android Pay having now launched in the UK.

So, is the Elephone 9000 Lite a wise buy? For £168 all-in it's certainly a decent bit of kit -- but remember that for the same price, the 16GB 4th-generation Moto G may be a safer UK-sourced bet (although you only get half the storage and it's a significantly chunkier device).

Thanks are due to GearBest for our review handset.

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Specifications

Cellular
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Type Smartphone
Integrated Components FM radio, audio player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, GPS
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider not specified
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
SIM Card Type micro SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty dual-SIM (SIM1 and SIM2/MicroSD slots)
SIM Card Configuration Details micro SIM + micro SIM/microSD
Input Device Multi-touch
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, call timer, conference call, flight mode, vibrating alert
Sensors Ambient light sensor, digital compass, G-sensor, hall sensor
Additional Features Smart Key, E-touch
Details
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, FM radio, audio player, voice recorder, navigation
Miscellaneous
Sensors G-sensor, ambient light sensor, digital compass, hall sensor
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, FDD-LTE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE, TDD-LTE
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n
Processor
Clock Speed 2.0 GHz
Type MediaTek Helio P10
Manufacturer MediaTek
Processor Core Qty Octa-core
Display
Technology LTPS TFT
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Pixel Density (ppi) 400
Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Color Support color
Display Languages Arabic, Bulgarian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Latvian, Chinese (simplified), Lithuanian, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Chinese (traditional), Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Filipino
Features One Glass Solution
Multimedia
Graphics Accelerator Mali T860
Memory
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC - up to 128 GB
Battery
Standby Time Up to 750 Hours
Technology Lithium polymer
Header
Brand Elephone
Product Line Elephone
Model P9000 Lite
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors G-sensor, ambient light sensor, digital compass, hall sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert
Additional Features E-touch, Smart Key
RAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 32 GB
Max Supported Size 128 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC
Graphics System
Graphics Accelerator Mali T860
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 13 megapixels
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 5 Megapixel

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