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Elephone U3H smartphone

The best budget smartphone you’ve never heard of

21:9 Hero
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

Elephone has thrown the gauntlet to the rest of the smartphone community with its outstanding U3H smartphone. Yes this phone has its flaws but compared to its sheer value for money, they are mere details.

Pros

  • Exceptional value for money
  • 8GB/256GB combo is unique
  • 48-megapixel camera sensor
  • Compact design
  • Massive screen

Cons

  • There’s no status lights
  • Gets covered with fingerprints quite quickly
  • Battery capacity could be better
  • Unlikely to ever find a suitable casing
  • No earphone connector
  • Not able to take two SIM and one microSD card at the same time

Amongst the myriad of smaller Chinese smartphone vendors that have surfaced over the past decade, few have demonstrated an ability to innovate better than Elephone, both in terms of features and value for money. After the rugged Soldier smartphone that our sister publication, TechRadar, reviewed in 2019, meet the U3H, the company’s current flagship smartphone (non-rugged), one that’s jam-packed with characteristics you wouldn’t expect to see on such a device.

Price

The sample was provided by online retailer Gearbest where the U3H is on sale for $199.99 excluding delivery and any potential taxes with shipping available to most territories worldwide. 

Camera Sensors

(Image credit: Future)

Specs

While the system-on-chip used by the U3H is solidly mainstream (i.e. midrange), the memory and the onboard storage isn’t. Elephone chose the Mediatek Helio P70 which uses four arm A73 and four arm A53 cores, with a dedicated AI accelerator and arm’s Mali-G72 MP3 GPU. Launched in 2019, it remains a popular choice for price-sensitive markets looking for high-end features without the sticker shock.

Spec Sheet

Here are the full specs of the Elephone U3H:

CPU: Mediatek Helio P70

GPU: Mali-G72 MP3 GPU

RAM: 8GB LPDDR4x

Storage: 256GB

Screen size: 6.53-inch

Resolution: 1080 x 2340 FHD+

Weight: 187g

Dimensions: 78 mm x 163 mm x 8.7 mm

Rear camera:  Sony IMX586 Exmor RS 48MP, 5MP depth sensor

Front camera: Sony IMX576 24MP

OS: Android 9

Battery: 3500mAH

Alongside the P70 are 8GB LPDDR4x system memory and 256GB of eMMC 5.1 onboard storage. Let’s pause for a moment and have a thought about these numbers. That’s the sort of storage and memory capacities you’d find in flagship smartphones like the Huawei P30 Pro or the Honor 20 Pro, models that are far more expensive than the U3H.

The rest of the specification isn’t too shabby as well; there’s a 48-megapixel rear camera sensor, the Sony IMX586 Exmor RS, the same component found in the likes of the OnePlus 8 or the aforementioned Honor 20 Pro. There’s a 5-megapixel depth sensor next to it plus a 24-megapixel front facing snapper, the Sony IMX576.

The display is a 6.53" 1080x2340 FHD+ punch-hole full screen with a 3500mAH battery (fed by a 10W charger), 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (albeit v4.2), NFC, wireless charging and a stock version of Android 9.0.

(Image credit: Future)

Design

There’s not much that separates the U3H from the dozens of identikit smartphones on the market. It has a punch hole design, a big screen and both its rear and its front are fingerprint magnets (which is why you’d probably want the blueish grey version - Breathing Crystal - or the purple one - Lumia Purple - rather than the back one). Elephone says most of the body is glass but we’ve got doubts; we don’t know whether there’s any scratch resistant technology used (Corning Gorilla Glass or something else).

(Image credit: Future)

The two camera sensors are on an island at the back of the device; we’re not a big fan of that approach as they bear the shock when falling flat on any surface especially as finding a case for the U3H can be problematic. Elephone designers opted for a rounded back with none of the 2.5D nonsense on the front facia. 

USB-C Port

(Image credit: Future)

There’s no audio connector and the infrared range sensor and the light sensor are hidden at the top and bottom of the screen respectively. A rear fingerprint sensor, a type-C connector (USB 2.0), the power button and a volume rocker are also visible. As expected, there’s also only one speaker located next to the USB connector and the SIM tray can take either one SIM card plus a microSD one or two SIM cards.

In Use

(Image credit: Future)

In use

With a 92% screen-to-body ratio, the U3H seems deceptively portable despite its large display but still retains a fairly sizable “chin”. At the time of writing, the latest firmware was dated 28th March 2020 with a December 5, 2019 Android 9 security patch level. The phone comes with no extra apps other than Google Mobile services and Mediatek’s own (FM Radio, Cell Broadcast and SIM Toolkit).

Benchmarks

This is how the Elephone U3H performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Geekbench: 295 (single core); 1390 (multi core); 1202 (compute)

PCMark (Work 2.0): 8119

Passmark: 4638

3DMark Slingshot: 2131

3DMark Slingshot Extreme OGL: 1277

3DMark Slingshot Extreme Vulkan: 1229

Synthetic benchmarks (e.g. GeekBench and PC Mark) showed that the U3H is a moderately fast smartphone, roughly equivalent to a handset powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 66x SoC. A RAM copy test reached a staggering 50Gbps while the onboard storage had read/write speeds of 392MBps/220MBps, not far from what you’d expect from an entry level business laptop.

We never encountered any noticeable lag during our short subjective business-focused test. Just don’t expect it to be a gaming monster, it simply isn’t because of its relatively weak GPU performance combined with a very high screen resolution. Casual gaming should not be an issue though.

Like most smaller Chinese smartphone manufacturers, there’s also a definite chance that this smartphone will never get any updates to the next Android iteration (in the case of the U3H, to Android 10). Note that it does offer face unlock and a digital well-being and parental control suite.

Verdict

The U3H is a thoroughly enjoyable smartphone, one that has its idiosyncrasies but on the whole, does provide with the sort of experience that someone spending $200 on a phone will NOT expect. Elephone somehow manage to deliver a fantastic phone at a fraction of what others would charge.

8GB RAM and 256GB ROM at this price with a full HD display, a reasonably powerful system-on-chip, a full range of wireless features plus a trio of camera sensors totalling 77 megapixels help make the U3H one of the best value smartphones ever with very little prospect of ever topping that.

Instead, businesses should look forward to a complementary accessory, a mobile docking station that can use the memory, storage, compute and connectivity capabilities of the phone to transform into an Android laptop thanks to the desktop mode in Android 9. That’s not far from what Samsung Dex is but in a more versatile form factor.

Our only real issue with the phone is that there’s no status lights to inform the user of vital information at a glance (e.g. missed calls? Is the phone charging?).

The Verdict
4.5

out of 5

Elephone U3H

Elephone has thrown the gauntlet to the rest of the smartphone community with its outstanding U3H smartphone. Yes this phone has its flaws but compared to its sheer value for money, they are mere details.