Review

Review of the Elephone Vowney: Phones need more than high specs

The Elephone Vowney was poised to come in a Windows 10 variant but unfortunately that fell through, with Elephone revealing that a series of different issues stopped them from proceeding. Nevertheless we've managed to get a hold of the Android variation.

Design

The Elephone Vowney is available in black, grey and gold-tone and measures in at 76.8 x 153 x 8.9mm, although the rear camera protrudes out a further couple of milimeters. Starting from the top of the phone's face, in the center is a speaker with the front-facing camera to the left of it, and to the left of that is the proximity sensor. At the bottom we find a notification light only - the Vowney doesn't have any capacitive buttons and only has on-screen buttons.

Around the sides we have a 3.5mm headphone jack which, based on the way it's designed, constantly looks like it wants to break. Just from daily use for a few weeks in plugging my headphones in and out I've had the paint flake off, and at least a slight bit of the plastic break off as well. To the left side there are two pin-release trays for a micro-SD card and a SIM, and on the right side is a volume rocker with the on/off button directly under it. On the bottom we have two speaker grills flanking a micro-USB port in the middle. It's worth mentioning that the phone only has one loudspeaker: one of the grills is just for show.

On the rear panel we have a dual-tone flash located to the left of the rear camera, and directly under that is a fingerprint scanner. On the bottom third of the phone is a chrome Elephone logo.

The phone has a polished gold-tone bezel that wraps around the entire face of the phone, but it's made of a soft plastic that takes damage extremely easy. I dropped it onto soft wood from about two feet and it took a nice bite out of the bezel. I'll cover this issue later on in the review, but it's worth emphasizing how terrible things like this are when it comes to designing arguably expensive electronics. If a 50c nail clipper can be made completely of a metal alloy, there's no reason why we should be seeing plastic gold-toned bezels on several hundred dollar electronics.

Overall the design isn't that nice with the front being 'too much' and the rear being 'too little' in terms of individual and overall detail.

Display

The Elephone Vowney has a 5.5" display with a 1440p resolution, meaning it clocks in at 538ppi. Coupled with Mediatek's MiraVision tech, the display ends up looking really, really good with the colors being as deep and as vibrant as you'd expect them to be. The screen brightness is extremely overpowering - like most Chinese smartphones - so you'd most likely have it set to half way at most.

The 1440p display is great to look at - going back and forth from a 1080p display shows the 1440p looking a lot sharper. I can't tell if it's some sort of inherent bias that's making me think this way, but I'd like to think it's not, and that the screen actually does look that much better with the extra pixels.

What's worth mentioning is that the battery is more than capable to put up with the high-res display so you end up getting a solid day's battery out of it without noticing that much of a hit.

Performance

The Elephone Vowney has the Helio X10 - also known as the Mediatek MT6795 - which is clocked in at 1.85 GHz. It's another of Mediatek's octo-core SoCs which turn cores on as the load increases, and likewise turn them off (and downclock them) as the load reduces. Ultimately, when idling, the phone will only have one core running on as low as 403 MHz, meaning that battery life is conserved fairly well.

It's far from the Snapdragon 820 when the GPU is taken into consideration, but outside of that it's a pretty capable SoC that is able to drive the 1440p display without any problems. I'll cover the issues I have with the SoC later on in the review, but it's worth mentioning that it does throttle down when you need it the most.

Among some of the other specs the Vowney features, it has 4 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage, NFC, a rear fingerprint reader, dual-tone flash, a notification light, and dual-SIM support. A full list of specs is available on the Elephone website here.

Benchmarks

The Elephone Vowney's benchmark results are as follows:

AnTuTu v6.0.1: 46376

Geekbench 3: 838 (Single-core), 1693 (Multi-core)

Vellamo: 1387 (Metal), 2100 (Multi-core)

Gaming

I played a lot of Pocket Mortys and Asphalt 8 and the phone was more than capable for the two games. The one game I had issues with was Shadow Fight 2 which seemed to cause the phone to overheat and throttle down, meaning after just a few minutes of gameplay you'd experience unplayable framerates. I don't know if this is because Shadow Fight 2 is being rendered at pure 1440p rather than just an upscaled 1080p, or if it's because Shadow Fight 2 is just not optimized for whatever reason, but what I know for certain is that I'm getting problems that I really shouldn't be getting, and I'm going to blame the Vowney for it.

Android OS

The Android OS has been completely smooth and consistent throughout, which was fairly refreshing: I was wondering whether or not the 1440p display would have been overkill but Elephone tuned it flawlessly and it came out smoother than butter.

I've also been able to utilize the full 4 GB of RAM and have things sitting in the background for hours and hours, only to return quickly without any issues and right back into the state that I left the app in.

The OS does have a few issues here and there, specifically with random battery drain, but I think it has more to do with Mediatek's on-going battery calibration issues rather than some sort of Elephone-specific problem.

Battery

The Vowney's battery is naturally a bit bigger to compensate for the 1440p display and this works quite well. I get a full day's usage out of the phone without problems. Specifically testing battery usage, I used AnTuTu's battery testing feature which shuffled a combination of 3D game simulation and browser simulation, video (with audio) simulation and it took forty-five minutes to drop from 100% to 90%, and one hour to drop from 60% to 50% (see this discharge profile to understand why it was tested at two different levels of battery capacity).

Camera

This is one of the better parts of the phone: I managed to snap up some pretty great shots with the 21MP rear shooter. Most of the photos turned out crisp, clear and quite promising for this sensor. The only real letdown was in long-distance low-light shots, which you can see in the photos of Sydney's harbour. This issue doesn't necessarily extend to close-distance low-light shots, which you can see in the Chinese New Year celebration photo.

Build quality

Eerily reminiscent of the P7000, the Vowney not only shares the similar gold-toned design but it also seems to have carried on with it a lot of the build quality issues. This includes the plastic bezel mentioned earlier, and the build quality is also very present in the headphone socket: after somewhat minor use with a lot of care being taken, I've managed to every so slightly chip it. It feels like it's going to break if I apply the smallest amount of pressure, which isn't a good feeling. The paint around it has already flaked off as well.

Final thoughts

The Vowney was a nice idea when it was conceptualized, but the execution wasn't as good as it should have been. The camera was pretty good, and the 1440p display looked great, but the poor optimization in games (à la throttling) and the sub-par design and build choices took a lot away from a lot of what this phone had to offer.

It's not a bad phone at all if you use your phone for reading or web browsing, but perhaps it's worth staying away from it if you're a fan of gaming.

 

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