We’ve made the argument before that cheap Android devices are better than the flagships, so we decided to put that theory to the test by trying out the $170 LeTV Le1.
Sure, you’re taking a risk by getting a phone from a relatively unknown manufacturer, but if you can get a solid phone for only $170, it could definitely be worth it.
And while this phone does have some good aspects, it certainly isn’t perfect. Let’s take a look at everything it has to offer. At the end of this review, we’ll be giving ours away to one lucky reader! Be sure to watch the review video for some bonus entries in the competition.
- Alternate names: X600, LE1, S1, LeEco
- Price: $170 at MiniDeal, $200 at Oppomart
- Screen: 5.5″ Full HD (1920px x 1080px) IPS with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
- Dimensions: 147.8mm x 74.2mm x 9.5mm (5.82in x 2.92in x 0.37in)
- Weight: 170g (6oz)
- Processor: 2.0Ghz Octa-core 64-bit MediaTek Helio X10 (MT6795)
- RAM: 3GB
- Storage: 16GB
- Cameras: 13MP rear-facing, 5MP front-facing
- Speakers: Single speaker along the bottom
- Battery: 3,000mAh
- Operating System: EUI, a skinned version of Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
- Extras: Physical mute switch, LED notification light, IR blaster
- Color: White
The LeTV One is a strange device in terms of design. The front and sides have a quality, premium feel, but the back is made a smudgy fingerprint-loving plastic that feels like something from an old Samsung device.
Along the front, you get three capacitive buttons — Recents, Home, and Back — that only glow when you touch them. Then, of course, there’s the 5.5″ 1080p display that is actually gorgeous and gets relatively bright.
At the top of the front, you’ll find the LED notification light (which isn’t customizable without a third-party app), the front-facing camera, and of course, the earpiece.
The sides of the phone are chamfered iPhone-like metal that feels really well cut. The buttons are clicky and solid, which is saying a lot for a sub-$200 phone. There’s the power button on the right along with the dual micro-SIM card slot, the IR blaster and headphone jack along the top, a volume rocker and mute switch along the left, the USB Type-C charger at the bottom, and a single speaker (though it looks deceitfully like two speakers).
That mute switch is another iPhone-like aspect of this device, but I like it. As someone who always keeps their phone on silent, I like knowing that my phone won’t unsilence itself unless I slide this (very stiff, difficult to move) switch.
On both sides of the USB port are little holes that look like speakers, but don’t be mistaken, only the one on the left (as shown above) is actually a speaker.
That being said, it is a very powerful speaker that produced probably the loudest sound I’ve ever heard from such a tiny speaker. It doesn’t beat the dual front-facing speakers on the Nexus 6P (our review), but it’s still seriously loud.
The LeTV Le1 uses the same Sony Exmor IMX214 camera that can be found in the OnePlus One, which we have found can take some pretty good photos.
The interface has been pretty heavily modified from stock Android, though, in LeTV’s EUI. It looks much more iOS-like (shocker), and allows you to swipe between slow motion, video, photo, and panorama modes. You can always swipe up from the bottom to change effect modes or tap the settings button in the top left to adjust things like the ISO.
All-in-all, it has very competent front and back shooters that won’t disappoint.
EUI, the Android skin for this phone, is very iPhone-like — there’s no getting around that. Instead of having an app drawer where all your apps are hidden, they’re all just out on your homescreen. If you slide all the way to the left on the homescreen, you access a Blinkfeed-style news feed, except that it’s all in Chinese. That’s an issue we’ll discuss in the Language section.
Pull down from the notification bar, and the notification panel will blur out your current background (much like on the iPhone). At the bottom you’ll have options to clear all your notifications or manage the options for the notifications that are there, which admittedly is a pretty nice feature to avoid annoying notifications.
The Recents menu (accessed by pressing the square capacitive key) has also been heavily modified and is now the Control Center. Here, you’ll have access to a bunch of tools like the camera, the calculator, and the flashlight, as well as music controls, WiFi and Bluetooth toggles, and the ability to switch through recent apps.
There’s a feature to kill all your background apps at once (which you shouldn’t do) by tapping the broom at the bottom, but it also has a neat feature that allows you “lock” certain apps so that they don’t get cleared. This could be useful if you have a set number of apps you use often, but you don’t want any others running in the background. Just swipe down on any of the app images in the Recents view to lock them.
When turning on the device, a swipe up will push away the lockscreen, and if you have a PIN set, it puts a small PIN pad off to the right that’s actually very convenient. You can also access the camera by tapping in the lower right corner and swiping up.
The Settings app also has quite a thick skin, but it has some nice customization options for changing the Control Center, the theme, and a bit more. You even have access to a bunch of app settings here, though it seems only for built-in apps.
Installing The Google Play Store
One of the biggest caveats of this device is that it doesn’t ship with the Google Play Store installed. Instead, you get LeTV’s Chinese app store. No thank you.
Thankfully, there’s a simple method for installing the Google Play Store, and once I went through it, I had no problem installing or running any apps from the Play Store. Here’s the method in brief:
- Download and install the Google Installer app from here or here (You’ll have to allow installation from unknown sources for this in the Settings app, but it will prompt you to do that)
- Open Google Installer, find the Play Store, press the download button
- It will prompt you to install three other apps first — Google Play Services, Google Account Manager, and Google Services Framework — agree and continue. Install all three of those apps but press Cancel when the Play Store comes up.
- Reboot your device
- Open the Google Installer, find the Play Store again, and this time install it
When you first open the Play Store, it might seem like a very old version. Give it some time connected to the Internet to update itself to the newest version.
Also, make sure that your LeTV Le1 is running the latest software by going to Settings > System Update. Before I updated my software, it was telling me that apps weren’t compatible with my device, but that was cleared up after I updated.
It also looks like if you order it from MiniDeal, you can ask them to add the Play Store before shipping it — but we didn’t do that for our model.
While this is a Chinese phone, it does ship with English as an available language — but that doesn’t mean everything is in English.
A few times, I got notifications in Chinese that could’ve said “Your phone is about to explode!” for all I know, but I couldn’t do much but ignore them. It’s also annoying having the news feed app on the homescreen be entirely in Chinese, though that can be avoided by downloading an alternate launcher.
Likewise, if you want English language search results, be sure to change your default search engine to Google (it’s Baidu by default) or download a different browser. You’ll also probably want a different keyboard while you’re at it.
The point is, you can make this work if you only speak English, but it’s going to take more work on your part than ordering something like the Moto G, which you know will be entirely in English.
We need to talk about the biggest downside of all to this phone for me: It wouldn’t work with my network at all.
I live in France and my network is Free, which uses the Band 7 (2600Mhz) for 4G LTE, as well as Band 8 (900Mhz) and Band 1 (2100Mhz) for 3G. The LeTV Le1 is said to support all of these bands, and yet, I was unable to ever connect to data.
Strangely, I was able to make and receive calls and texts, and my phone would say if it was connected to 3G or 4G, but never was I able to open a web page or check Facebook, it would just say it was offline instantly.
Connecting to the Internet over WiFi worked just fine, however, and since I’m around WiFi 90% of the time, it didn’t hugely affect me. But that’s a major issue for a phone, and I’m hoping it’s just a problem with this specific phone — since my OnePlus One and every other phone I’ve tested worked perfectly fine on Free’s network.
I contacted their support multiple times at MiniDeal. They suggested I do a factory reset and make sure my data is turned on. I did both of those things, still nothing. I updated to the latest software, still nothing. They asked for a screen-recorded video of my issue, which I sent to them, but it’s been well over a week and I still haven’t heard back.
So, you’ve been warned. Theoretically, this phone has the bands to support most carriers around the world, but it didn’t work on my carrier at all, and support from MiniDeal is non-existent at best.
A little on the chubbier side at 9.5mm, this phone does manage to squeeze in a 3000mAh battery, which is nice, though it certainly didn’t blow me away. Battery life was average, I’d say. I could just about get through a day, but it often died before the end of the day if I was using it a lot.
It does, however, come with the new USB Type-C, which charges fully in just under two hours. It also comes with a USB Type-C to old USB Type-A (the kind that plugs into your computer) cable, but the Type-A plug is reversible.
Performance & Storage
You might expect a bit of lag from a MediaTek processor, but you won’t find it in this one. I never ran into any kind of lag, which was probably helped along by the hefty 3G of RAM here. I played through games and multitasked like there was no tomorrow, and it just kept chugging along.
Even better, it never got very hot — and that’s a problem I’ve seen in many phones that are much more expensive that this one.
The biggest downside in terms of everyday usage is going to be the storage. This phone taps out at 16GB and doesn’t have any room for a microSD card, which is sometimes a necessity. Be prepared to be crunched for space if you choose this phone.
Price & Availability
At $170, this phone is incredibly cheap for what it offers. It even beats out what I would consider one of the best cheap phones out there, the 3rd Generation Moto G, which you can currently find on Amazon for $220.
However, that $170 does mean ordering from MiniDeal rather than Amazon, which can be a dealbreaker for some. It is available in any country with free shipping, but not everyone trusts other online retailers these days.
Search around, though, and you might be able to find it on another online retailer that you prefer — but if that’s the case, the price might be higher (like the $200 LeTV One from Oppomart).
With the LeTV Le1, you’re probably not going to be doing a lot of tinkering, rooting, or installing custom ROMs. Yes, it’s possible to root, but it doesn’t have nearly the support on the XDA Developer Forums as the other larger-name devices (like the OnePlus X, which we’ve reviewed). This means you’ll have a hard time finding custom ROMs unless you know how to code and want to give it a shot yourself!
Basically, if you’re looking for a phone to root, look elsewhere. But if you just plan on leaving your phone stock anyway, then don’t worry about it.
Should You Buy It?
I’m split about this device. I’m mostly annoyed that it wouldn’t work on my network, because it’s otherwise not a bad device. Sure, installing the Play Store is a hassle, and it’s annoying that you can’t uninstall or disable the Chinese apps, but that’s a small price to pay for such a cheap yet powerful phone.
It has a nice camera, a powerful speaker, and a gorgeous screen — all for under two hundred bucks. Not bad.