It’s difficult to believe this is a circa-£200 phone when you take it out the box. Tested here in blue, but also available in red or black, the Elephone U2 has a premium design with a virtually full-screen IPS panel, its ultra-slim bezels and concealed selfie cameras ushering in a high screen-to-body ratio of 93%. Some impressive glasswork front and rear adds to the overall effect, and to the eye this is a good-looking mid-ranger with an incredibly low price point.
At the time of writing Elephone’s U2 is available only from Geekbuying, which ships from Hong Kong, so you do have to factor in import duty (20% of the value on the shipping paperwork), but even so it’s a cheap phone at £211.87/US$249.99. All in it’s around the same price as the £239 Moto G7, the current champion of our mid-range phones chart, and yet it has a lot more to offer.
Aside from the larger Full-HD+ display with greater screen area, this Elephone U2 is also faster than Moto G7, thanks to a 2GHz Helio P70 chip and 6GB of RAM, and it offers twice as much storage out of the box, as well as the potential for dual-SIM functionality. The cameras are higher in specification, and the front dual-lens assembly has a cool pop-up mechanism, while the fingerprint sensor is in a more convenient location falling right under your thumb.
The Moto G7 has its perks of course, and the easier availability in the UK is not to be ignored. It also includes NFC, which you won’t find on the U2 and is necessary for making mobile payments, a pure Android OS, faster charging and the inclusion of a traditional 3.5mm headphone jack. With the U2 you don’t even get an adaptor in the box, though you can buy a USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor for around £8.
Elephone U2 Design & Build
One of our favourite things about the Elephone U2 is its design. This is not a flagship phone, so you won’t find waterproofing – and actually the spec doesn’t mention any form of Gorilla Glass protection, which is mildly concerning for a primarily glass design – but if you can keep it safe no-one would ever guess this was such an affordable phone.
We tested the blue version, which is a very deep turquoise sort of colour. At the back it is designed to look as though it is refracting the light, with a high mirror-like sheen and completely curved rear, but it has cheated somewhat. Actually there’s a large black rectangular smudge running across its behind that alludes to such an effect. Sounds bad, looks pretty good, albeit a little less so under close scrutiny. The U2 gets bonus points here for managing to stay completely clear of fingerprints, an achievement in itself.
A triple-lens camera is also visible at the back, jutting out only slightly from the chassis. The 16Mp and 5Mp lenses are separated from the 2Mp depth sensor, and then there’s a two-tone flash below. It looks fancy, but the proof comes in the testing, of course.
The one thing detracting from the overall design from this angle is the phone’s metal frame, which swoops down from the top. It’s a different shade of blue and has a matte finish, so it looks out of place. When you realise why this is here, however, all is forgiven.
Part of how Elephone has been able to achieve such a high screen-to-body ratio is there is no selfie camera notch on the front of the phone. The camera itself – actually two cameras – is hidden behind the display and pops up when you launch the Camera app and switch to the front view.
The action is reasonably quiet, but with a slightly offputting high-pitched whirring. It operated flawlessly in our tests, but the same thing annoys us here as it does with all pop-up cameras: as soon as you preview a selfie the camera closes, then when you go to take another selfie it pops up again. If you’re concerned with getting the perfect selfie there is an awful lot of opening and closing and high-pitched whirring going on here.
Elephone doesn’t make any claims about how long this mechanism should last, though typically manufacturers claim at least 300,000 cycles. Neither does it suggest the U2 will automatically retract the camera should you drop the phone. It’s difficult for us to test this without risking smashing the phone, but dropped from a short height on to a sofa the assembly did not retract. Given that the mechanism is plastic and a little wobbly to the touch, this is a concern. Still, if you can be careful with it, it’s a cool feature to have.
The display itself is a standout for the Elephone. It sounds enormous at 6.26in, but actually with some very slim (3.48mm) bezels and a tall aspect ratio the U2 offers a useful amount of space for interacting with the device and watching videos, without feeling oversized. In the hand it’s just 74.9mm wide, and though it is mildly chunky by today’s standards at 10.25mm this is actually just the thickest part of the phone, and the curved rear makes it feel slimmer. At 197g it’s weighty, but not unreasonably so.
A maximum 500 nits of brightness is very good for a £200 phone, and will make visibility in direct sunlight much easier. The U2 uses an IPS display, which means you’ll also see very realistic colours and excellent viewing angles. It’s been a long time since cheap phones came with TN panels, and IPS is pretty standard these days.
One other thing worth noting about the design is the placement of the fingerprint sensor, which lies on the phone’s right edge just below the power button. This is much more convenient than rear-mounted fingerprint sensors, and we wouldn’t expect an in-display version at this price – for right-handed users in any case, though we imagine a left-handed user would get on fine simply by recording their middle finger rather than thumb. The sensor is fast and responsive, so a good choice here by Elephone.
A slot-loading SIM tray is found in the usual position toward the top of the left-edge, and this is a hybrid tray that can accept either two Nano-SIMs or a single SIM and a microSD card up to 256GB in capacity. With a very generous 128GB of storage as standard, however, we don’t imagine too many users will find this a difficult choice to make.
As we noted earlier there is no 3.5mm headphone jack on the Elephone’s body. This is becoming increasingly common, much to the dismay of users, but most phone makers will bundle an adaptor that lets you plug in standard earphones to the USB-C jack. If you want to listen to music and charge the phone at the same time you can use wireless earbuds or buy a splitter cable, since wireless charging is not an option here.
Elephone U2 Core Hardware & Performance
With a mid-range Helio P70 chip and 6GB of RAM inside, the U2 is capable of decent – if not flagship – performance and will serve all but the most demanding users very well.
This is actually the MediaTek MT6771T processor, to give it its proper name, a 12nm octa-core processor clocked at 2GHz that uses four Cortex-A73 cores and four A53s. It’s integrated with an ARM Mali G72 MP3 GPU clocked at 700MHz, which can handle casual gaming and all your favourite videos.
We ran all our usual benchmarks on the U2, which we’ve compared to both the Moto G7 (our top mid-range phone) and Redmi Note 7 (our top budget phone) in the chart below. You’ll notice the Redmi Note 7 offers better performance and costs less, from £179, although we actually tested the £199 model with 4GB of RAM. Bump that up to 128GB of storage and it’s £249, so level with the Elephone U2 when you factor in import duty.
In addition to these tests we recorded 139,189 points in AnTuTu, which is very reasonable for the money.
We use Geekbench 4 to compare battery life. It’s not able to tell you how long a phone will last in the real world, but it is the easiest way to compare one phone to another by ensuring all variables are constant. The Elephone U2’s 3,250mAh should be good for a full day, but obviously expect more or less depending on how much you use it.
In Geekbench 4, then, we recorded 7 hours 17 minutes. That’s just slightly longer than the Moto G7 and Redmi Note 7, which managed 7 hours 5 minutes, and 7 hours 16 minutes, respectively, so an average score at this level, but not remarkable: the best phones will reach 11 or 12 hours in this test.
Recharging the U2 is slower, however. A 10W charger is supplied in the box, but this is a two-pin EU model so you’ll need to provide your own or an adaptor. Meanwhile, the Moto G7 supports 15W Turbo Charge, and the Redmi Note 7 Quick Charge 4 (although a 10W charger is also supplied here). To be fair 10W is not slow, but it is starting to feel that way as more and more phones build in Quick Charge support.
Elephone U2 Cameras & Photography
As we touched on above, the U2 has three cameras at the rear and two at the front, for a total of five. Two of these five are simply 2Mp depth sensors, enabling you to create basic bokeh (blurred background) effects with portraits, but you’ll find the same 16Mp, f/1.6 lens front and back, with an additional 5Mp sensor at the rear.
In good light we were impressed with the quality of the U2’s cameras, which were able to capture some very realistic colours and images that look very good from a distance. Under close scrutiny, however, the images are not sharp to the edges, and both noise and over-smoothing are visible.
In our standard shot of St Pancras (below) the camera was not able to pick out individual bricks or street-level road signs, while a lot of grain is visible on the British Library to the left. We also found our HDR shot was identical.
We found the camera app incredibly basic – too basic – with options to turn on or off the flash and HDR mode at the top, and to switch between Photo, Video, FaceBeauty and Portrait at the bottom. Even the Settings menu is sparse, filling just half the screen with options.
There are no manual options, and though you can adjust the ISO by tapping on the screen you are given no information about what setting you have actually selected. Where you do get some control in FaceBeauty and Portrait modes it’s simply on a scale of 1 to 5.
It is possible to add filters, but only after a photo has been captured, making selfies in particular difficult to compose. Here the camera also flips the selfie image, with no option in the settings to prevent this. It is one of the editing options after the photo has been captured, however, along with the possibility to add a border, crop, straighten or rotate and image, doodle or adjust the exposure.
Video, meanwhile, maxes out at 1080p, and doesn’t appear to have any stabilisation.
Elephone U2 Software
The Elephone U2 runs Android 9.0 Pie, which means it is bang up to date. As to whether or not it will get an upgrade to Android 10 Q, which should be with us in the next month, only time will tell.
It’s a mostly plain version of Android, but with the addition of Themes (and you can’t just choose a standard Android theme). You also get some extra apps here: Compass, Flashlight, Mobile broadcasts, screen and sound recorders.
There are no major surprises in the Settings menu either, though you can reorder or hide entirely the onscreen navigation buttons, or use the volume button to wake the screen. A double-tap of the fingerprint sensor can also launch an app of your choice.
Elephone U2 Conclusion
The Elephone U2 is a very good phone for a little over £200, but it does have its drawbacks. The cameras are much better on paper than they are in reality, there’s no NFC or headphone jack, and although the design is very good-looking we do worry about its fragility. Charging is also slow.
But the screen is ace, a bright and clear 6.26in panel, and performance is very good at this price point. We like the positioning of the fingerprint sensor, too, and though we have our concerns about its durability the pop-up selfie camera is undeniably cool.
The Elephone cannot quite live up to either the Moto G7 or Redmi Note 7 at the top of our mid-range- and budget phones, but it is certainly a strong contender against some very fierce competition.