The Elife E6 was a huge hit for Gionee and marked the company’s official entry into the premium smartphones category in India. Coupled with a glitzy launch affair, India finally took notice of an otherwise unknown smartphone maker trying to make a name for itself. The launch of the Elife E7 was an even grander affair and rightfully so since this is Gionee’s answer to high-end droids from big name companies but with a very affordable price tag.
Gionee is talking up the camera capabilities of the E7, as it happens to be the second Android phone in India with a 16MP primary sensor (the first being the Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom).
Design and Build
The E7 follows a completely new design philosophy compared to the E6. The monolithic design consists of a unibody, polycarbonate shell that’s available in a variety of colours. We’re not terribly fond of the glossy finish as it’s a nightmare to keep clean. Thankfully, it doesn’t attract fingerprints as much as you’d expect.
The placement of the buttons isn’t too great either as the power sits right on the top, which is inconvenient to reach considering it’s a 5.5-inch display. The phone is incredibly slim and light though and it won’t weigh you down in your pocket.
We have capacitive buttons in the front along with an 8MP front-facing camera. There are two symmetrical grills at the bottom for the speaker and microphone. Around the back, is the brand new 16MP camera sensor from OmniVision. There isn’t a Xenon flash however, which is a sad considering a you’d expect the best flash technology in a phone designed for photography.
Overall, the E7 is a well-crafted handset and has premium written all over it. The design leaves a lot to be desired however as it doesn’t really stand out in any way. Also, at 5.5-inches, it can be quite cumbersome to use.
The Elife E7 features a 5.5-inch, Full HD display. The IPS panel does a great job at delivering lively colours and sharp text. Viewing angles and sunlight legibility are also pretty good.
Like the E6, the E7 also features Gionee’s heavily customised version of Android 4.2.2, which, in a nutshell, is a complete nightmare to use. It’s hard to use it for more than a couple of days without risking losing your sanity. All apps are displayed on the home screen and the redesigned, oversized icons mean it’s hard to spot the app you’re looking for. There’s no option to have homescreen widgets here, which is really annoying. The experience is a bit smoother than it was on the E6, I’ll give it that much. But it’s terrible nonetheless.
The E7 also comes with some ‘Smart Gestures’ like tap-to-wake, smart answer, etc. These work well but we wouldn’t recommend turning on the tap-to-wake as this feature sporadically woke up the phone while still in the pocket. I would remove the phone from my pocket, only to find that I had accidentally sent gibberish text to a friend on Whatsapp. Adding a pattern lock helps but we didn’t face such an issue on the G2.
The firmware also seems a little unpolished as we experienced random slowdowns in the animation in certain parts of the settings menu or the quick dial button beside a contact name would intermittently stop working. It’s really weird but we noticed some settings would get enabled or change automatically without any input. For instance, multiple alarms would get activated, the camera resolution suddenly dropped to 5MP when it has always been on 16MP, etc.
The phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC and 2GB of RAM. The 32GB version gets 3GB of RAM. As expected, the E7 posts some impressive numbers in benchmarks.
Gionee does bundle along a boat load of apps with the E7 like a bunch of games, productivity apps, and some of their own like GioneeXender, NQ Mobile Security, Traffic Assistant, Power Manager, Amigo Paper and CharmCam.
The E7 features Gionee’s custom audio and video player. The music player has limited support for codecs as it does not support FLAC files. However, you might still want to use it as it supports DTS audio enhancements which make a huge impact on the audio. You can choose the built-in presets of tweak the setting yourself. Audio quality is good via headphones, but the loudspeaker isn’t great. At high volumes, there’s severe distortion.
The video player supports a wider selection of formats including MKV and handles 1080p very well. The DTS enhancements don’t extend to the video player, sadly. You can grab a screenshot of the video and even switch to mini mode, which lets you perform other functions while you continue watching.
Out of the 16GB, you only get 7.8GB for media files while 5.2GB is reserved for apps. There’s no way to expand the memory either. Thankfully, Gionee offers a 32GB version as well for not much more, so it doesn’t make much sense buying the 16GB version, unless you are on a really tight budget.
The E7 supports quad-band GSM and dual-band 3G frequencies. You also get Wi-Fi ‘n’, Bluetooth v4.0, GPS and NFC. There’s no mention of GLONASS support anywhere, so we assume it’s not present. There is USB Host support however so one can plug in a pen drive to access files. This worked just fine with a SanDisk 16GB dual drive.
The Elife E7 uses OmniVision’s OV16825 camera sensor. This 16MP module is packs in larger 1.34µm pixels as compared to standard camera modules. The backlighting technology is also based on the BSI-2 standard. This particular module is capable of handling 2K and 4K video up to 60fps, however, Gionee hasn’t enabled support for it in the current firmware. The interface is pretty simple and you can switch between a more general layout and a professional one for the settings. The features offered aren’t any different from what we’ve already seen. You have burst mode, HDR, Panorama and night. ‘V-sign’ mode lets you capture a still automatically when someone puts up the ‘peace’ sign. The focus speed is pretty quick but if you or your subject move even slightly, you end up with a blurry shot.
The trouble with the interface is that it’s not very intuitive. For instance, even in Auto mode, you can’t access burst mode by simply holding down the shutter. You have to manually switch to ‘Sports’ mode. Also missing are live filters. Video mode is is pretty basic as well. You can shoot up to 1080p but there’s no option for slow-motion video.
The front facing camera offers very good picture quality but sadly video recording is restricted to 720p only. Overall, the camera manages to capture incredible details and excels at macros and landscape shots. Low-light and indoor shots are also pretty good.
Gionee also throws in a CharmCam app which adds more features like beauty shot, frames, etc.
We managed to get pretty good backup time on the E7 despite its seemingly small 2500mAh battery. The phone breezed through the loop test with great ease with 20 percent battery to spare.
Verdict and Price in India
The Gionee Elife E7 is available for Rs 26,300 online for the 16B model and about Rs 27,900 for the 32GB model. With such a minor price gap, it makes sense to pick the 32GB version considering you can’t expand the storage. What’s more, the 32GB version also comes with 3GB of RAM instead of 2GB. As far as camera-centric phones are concerned, the E7 is your best bet at this price point. You also have the Sony Xperia ZR, which is still a very good camera phone for the price.
Gionee ticks most of the right boxes with the E7. You get powerful hardware and a very capable camera. The 16MP shooter is nowhere as good as Sony’s Z1 but is still better than most 13MP shooters out there. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to the firmware. It just feels unpolished and way too complicated for the average user. If Gionee can sort this out by sticking to stock Android as much as possible, then the E7 gets our recommendation.
Photography: Joshua Navalkar
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Gionee Elife E7 review: Great hardware, but custom UI is a stumbling block
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Oct 2, 2014