If you’re looking for a cheap Android phone, buying from China can get you much more phone for your money. The Elephone M2 is one such example, and at £104.53/$157 from Elephone Store it’s unlikely you’d find the same deal on the UK high street. We review the Elephone M2 budget Android phone.
PRICE AND UK AVAILABILITY
As we mentioned above, the Elephone M2 is available for just £104.53/$157 from Elephone Store, plus you can pick it up from various Chinese retailers including GearBest, Coolicool and Geekbuying for around the same price.
The price includes free worldwide shipping, but one thing you have to watch when shipping it to the UK is that if your parcel is picked up at customs you will have to pay import duty. Plus there are some other risks involved when you buy from abroad, such as the ease with which you can return a handset if something goes wrong. We’ve listed some facts you may want to consider in our article on buying grey-market tech.
All that said, on the whole we’ve had very good experiences with the above mentioned sites, as have many other customers all over the world.
BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN
For a circa-£100/$150 phone, the Elephone looks much better than what you might get for the same money in the UK. For a start it’s not plastic, and this metal-framed phone features a smart unibody design that adds rigidity. That does mean the 2600mAh battery is non-removable, but a tray on the phone’s right edge lets you add a microSD card or a second SIM.
The build is entirely metal, save for the glass display and two black plastic panels that sit top and bottom at the rear (the design reminds us a little of the Nexus 6P, which features one such panel at the top of its rear). These tend to be used to improve the cellular signal with metal smartphones, and we didn’t find they detracted from the design. However, on our review sample the bottom panel doesn’t run quite flush to the metal, which results in a slightly less premium feel than Elephone presumably wanted to achieve.
In other respects the build quality is good. Our ‘black’ model is more a gunmetal grey, and a gold version is also available. Despite being a phablet the M2 isn’t overly large or unwieldy, measuring 75x155x7.35mm (pretty thin for a budget phone) and weighing in at 165g. We also like the 2.5D curved glass used on the phone’s front, which makes the transition between the metal frame and glass screen feel less noticeable in the hand.
In our tests the 5.5in full-HD IPS display was sufficiently bright and clear, with a pixel pitch of 400ppi. Viewing angles are excellent and colours are good. If you’re looking for a mobile display on which to watch video, this one won’t disappoint.
The bezels to the left- and right edges of the screen are reasonably slim, though a fair amount of space is found top and bottom. This is prtly used to house the camera, speaker and sensors at the top, and back and recents touch buttons at the bottom, which sit either side of a physical home button with a fingerprint scanner built-in.
Now that’s something you won’t find in a £100/$150 UK phone. This type of biometric security is still only as secure as your password or PIN, since either can be used to bypass the fingerprint scanner, but when it works well it can be a convenient way to quickly unlock your handset without having to tap in a code.
Pleasingly the fingerprint scanner works with a touch- rather than swipe-style input method, although you do need to ensure you cover the entire home button with your thumb- or fingertip. Elephone says it works in half a second, and in our tests we found no reason to question this.
So many of the Chinese phones we review reverse the Micro-USB charging slot and headphone jack, with the former at the top and the latter at the bottom. Elephone doesn’t do this, which is nice, although it does stick the volume rocker and power button high up on the phone’s left edge. It’s something you’ll get used to, especially so if you’re a leftie, but it could be a pain if you plan to use the smartphone with a flip case.
Another thing we like is the bottom-mounted speaker grilles – when placed at the rear these can fire sound into your palm or on to a desk and muffle the audio.
HARDWARE AND PERFORMANCE
On paper you might think the Elephone M2 to be a beast in the performance stakes, given that it boasts an octa-core processor and whopping 3GB of RAM. The MediaTek MT6753 64-bit chip clocked at 1.3GHz and 450MHz ARM Mali T720 GPU won’t offer flagship-level performance, but it does compare very well to the budget competition.
We ran the M2 through our usual benchmarks and found faster performance than any UK circa-£100/$150 phone, although it was beaten by Chinese phones such as the UMI eMax and Ulefone BeTouch. We recorded 2718 points in the multi-core component of Geekbench 3 (625 single-core), which compares favourably to the 2469 of the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 sitting at the top of our budget phones chart.
In AnTuTu the Elephone M2 recorded 38,921, which is by no means awful and certainly faster than the likes of the Ulefone Paris and UMI Iron.
Its 1312ms result in SunSpider (tested in Chrome for a fair comparison) is about right for a budget Android phone, as is its scores of 12- and 4fps in the T-Rex and Manhattan parts of the GFXBench graphics test.
We’re more enthused about the amount of storage you get with the Elephone. Whereas many UK budget phones come with just 8GB (and 16GB if you’re really lucky), the M2 has 32GB. And if you don’t want to take advantage of its dual-SIM functionality then you can boost this with a microSD card.
In terms of runtime, we wouldn’t expect more than a day from the 2600mAh non-removable battery, but you may get more depending on how you use the Elephone M2.
A key reason for buying a phone from China (aside from the better value for money) is that most models are dual-SIM, which lets you manage two phone numbers from one device – handy if you want to carry one handset for work and pleasure, or you want to carry a different SIM for use abroad, or perhaps you get a better rate for calls and minutes on one network, but get free data on another.
The Elephone M2 is a dual-SIM dual-standby model.
When deciding whether to buy the Elephone M2 over a UK phone such as the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, keep in mind that this device is network-unlocked, meaning it will run on any network with which it is compatible and not only Vodafone.
You should always check the frequency bands supported by a phone before you buy to ensure it is compatible with your operator’s network . Fortunately the Elephone M2 supports all three 4G LTE bands used in the UK, 3, 7 and 20.
In other respects the Elephone M2 offers the same standard connectivity specs you’d expect from any budget Android phone, including 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS. There’s no NFC, but you do get HotKnot, which is MediaTek’s ‘sort-of’ equivalent, but only really useful if someone you know also has a smartphone based on a MediaTek processor.
The Elephone M2 is fitted with a 13Mp Sony IMX214 camera with LED flash at the rear, which is also capable of recording 1080p video, plus a 5Mp selfie camera. The Camera app is nothing fancy, you get the standard picture modes and filters, plus options to turn on Gesture shot, smile shot, anti-shake and the like.
For a budget smartphone the results are quite acceptable, but as we found you’ll probably want to leave HDR switched on at all times (you can see our test shots without HDR and then with HDR below).
Zoomed in to actual size it’s clear that a lot of detail has been lost, particularly when you attempt to examine individual bricks or text. However, the HDR image isn’t bad at this price point, with realistic colours on the whole.
The Elephone M2 runs the ELE UI, which is based on Android 5.1 Lollipop. The only additional app is an Elephone Service app that lets you send feedback to the company, and to our eyes ELE UI is very much standard Lollipop, but with a couple of extras in the form of App Permissions (not introduced in Android until Marshmallow) and Smart Wake features.
By turning on Smart Wake gestures you can quickly launch various apps from screen-off by drawing a character onscreen, although these actions aren’t customisable as they are with some Chinese phones we’ve seen. You can also double-tap the screen to wake it, although if you’re using the fingerprint scanner you’ll find pressing the home button has the same effect.
- 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6753 64-bit octa-core processor
- ARM Mali T720 450MHz GPU
- ELE UI, based on Android 5.1 Lollipop
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB storage, plus microSD support up to 128GB
- 5.5in full-HD (1920×1080, 400ppi) IPS display
- dual-SIM, dual-standby (2x Micro-SIM), supports all three UK 4G LTE bands (3, 7 & 20)
- 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
- touch-style fingerprint scanner
- 13Mp, f/2.0 Sony IMX214 rear camera with LED flash, 1080p video recording
- 5Mp front camera
- 2600mAh non-removable lithium-polymer battery, charges over Micro-USB
- available in gold or black
- performance results: Geekbench 3: 625 single-core, 2718 multi-core
- AnTuTu: 38,921
- SunSpider (in Chrome): 1312ms
- GFXBench: 12fps T-Rex, 4fps Manhattan
If you’re happy to buy from China then the metal Elephone M2 offers much better value than what you’d get for the same money in the UK, with a 5.5in full-HD screen, generous 32GB of storage, dual-SIM functionality and a fingerprint scanner. Performance is decent at this price, and the cameras are more than acceptable. A good budget buy.