Elephone U Pro review: Absolutely gorgeous, but flawed

The popularity of Samsung’s flagships has inspired numerous companies, especially Chinese ones, to make copycat versions for profit.

But while clones might look like their gorgeous flagship counterparts on the outside, they usually bundle mid-range specs inside. This strategy allows companies with names like Doogee or UMIDIGI to sell these lookalikes for extremely affordable price tags.

These Chinese brands know very well that not everyone can afford to spend $800+ on a new and shiny flagship like the Galaxy S9. In an attempt to cater to the needs of budget-minded consumers, smartphone makers from China have flooded the market with blatant but affordable copies of the Galaxy S9/Galaxy S8. But the question is, are they really worth it?

In what follows we’re going to take a closer look at one of these copycats offered by Elephone. The device is called the U Pro and it’s currently up for grabs for around $400 (depending on configuration and retailer), which is half of what the Galaxy S9 costs.

For the last few years, Elephone has built a reputation for building phones with designs inspired by iconic smartphone models. Its S8 model, for example, was an obvious tribute to the super popular Galaxy S8 flagship.

Well, in 2018 Elephone is offering its next-gen flagship under a different name. Instead of the continuing to replicate Samsung’s naming scheme, the Chinese brand has opted to rebrand. So this year, instead of the Elephone S9, customers will be able to grab the Elephone U Pro instead.

So, should customers consider the Elephone U Pro or simply skip this inviting offer? Continue reading below to find out more about this exquisite Galaxy S9 rip-off.

Design and display

As you pull the Elephone U Pro out of its box, you can’t help but be amazed. The phone looks extremely sleek. Just like the Galaxy S8/S9, the U Pro it’s a metal/glass sandwich. Elephone did a remarkable job of recreating not just the razor-thin bezels, but also the iconic dual curves of the screen.

Indeed, even to the trained eye, telling the difference between the U Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S9 will not be an easy task to accomplish.

Elephone has included a gorgeous 5.99-inch AMOLED display with 1080 x 2160 resolution.  And thanks to the tall 18:9 aspect ratio, the phone slips comfortably in hand. The only problem is that the back, being made of glass, it’s quite slippery, so it’s highly recommended that you use this device in concert with a protective case.

Another drawback is that, albeit being super sleek, the back is a magnet for fingerprints. That’s why using a case with the phone becomes essential. On the other hand, one can’t help by being impress by how gorgeous the back is. It’s reminiscent of the HTC U11 with its unique back metal finish that changes as light hits it. Given that the Elephone U Pro’s rear is highly reflective, it can also be used as a mirror.

Anyway, the back is also home to the main dual-camera setup. Underneath it, sits the fingerprint scanner.

The arrangement is one of the best I’ve seen so far. Elephone has designed the scanner as a seamless extension of the dual-camera setup and the result I have to say looks quite pleasing to the eye. And easily surpasses the setup we’ve seen on last year’s Galaxy S8.

On the other side of the coin, the fingerprint scanner on the U Pro is not nearly as good as the one on other phones I’ve tried. It’s very fast and at often times it failed to authenticate me.

The Elephone logo is placed at the bottom, and looking below you’ll notice the USB Type-C port (sorry folks, no 3.5mm headphone jack) and the two speaker grilles, which are surprisingly loud. The power and volume rocker are placed on the right side, while the left part is devoid of any buttons. At the top, you’ll find the SIM slot.

Unlike Elephone’s older models, the U Pro does not have a physical home button. Instead, it relies on on-screen navigation buttons, which aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Fortunately, Elephone also included here iPhone-style gestures for navigation. Basically, you’ll be able to go Back, Home or access the multi-app window easily via swipes. Bonus, you free up more screen real estate by removing these buttons at the bottom.

While the gestures are a nice idea, they don’t always work as intended. For example, when you’re in an app and have to perform the back gesture, you’ll most likely swipe through the active app which might trigger an unwanted action. Use the nav gestures enough, and it becomes annoying.

Elephone U Pro next to the OnePlus 5T

Anyway back to the beautiful AMOLED display, Elephone has included an option which lets you regulate color temperature. There’s also an adaptive brightness feature that can optimize brightness levels for available light.  What’s more, the U Pro also includes a Night Light feature which tints the screen to amber. This makes it easier to look at the screen or read in dim light.

Android’s Ambient Display is available here too. This offers a more efficient means of interacting with your Android notification system while your device is locked. Since the feature is now baked into Android, we’re left wondering why more OEMs don’t include it.

My initial assessment of the Elephone U Pro was pretty optimistic. The exterior was extremely sleek, the AMOLED display was gorgeous and the software tweaks a bonus. And then I started using the phone every day as my main phone…

Performance and battery

While many smartphones launched by the obscure Chinese brands rely on MediaTek chipsets, the Elephone U Pro does not. Instead, it offers a mid-range 2.2GHz Snapdragon 660 chipset.

Even if I wasn’t expecting a stellar performance, I was anticipating the Elephone U Pro would prove quite agreeable to use.

Unfortunately, that was not always the case. Even if the phone comes equipped with 6GB of RAM on board (a version with 4GB of RAM is also available). Despite the plentiful amount RAM, it kept freezing on me while I was playing games. Even more frustratingly, the camera froze while I was trying to focus and shoot a subject, on more than one occasion.

Overall, the interface is pretty fluid, yes. But start doing something more intensive like quickly switching between apps and you’ll soon notice a slight stutter.

Even as the Elephone U Pro relies on a pretty decent 3,550 mAh battery, battery life is pretty average. If you’re the type who is always playing games on your phone, you’re going to be disappointed to see that battery levels drop pretty fast.

The phone is better suited for non-gamers. With standard usage, you can easily go through a day without having to pop in for an additional recharge. I’d get about 30% left at the end of the day, if I only used the phone for chatting, checking the web/email and making a few phone calls.

On the bright side, the phone supports Qualcomm’s quick-charging technology, so it juices itself back up quite fast.

Another thing I’ve noticed: the phone gets hot. It gets hot while playing games and it gets hot while charging. It doesn’t always happen, mind you, although, I expect this problem to become more pronounced over time.

Photography

Like the majority of Chinese phones launching these days, the Elephone U Pro also comes boasting a dual-camera setup on the back. And it’s a proper one even, with two 13-megapixel sensors for bokeh shots.

According to Elephone, one lens is for RGB color information, while the second is monochrome for capturing brightness and detail.

The description sounds good on paper, but in real life, the Elephone U Pro’s camera turned out to be disappointing. In good lighting, I was able to capture some decent bokeh shots. Although it took some effort to take them.

Even in scenarios where there was adequate light, the camera had a hard time telling the difference between an object in close proximity and one that was farther away. When it did focus correctly, half the times the blurred edges weren’t that clearly placed which resulted in some weird-looking shots.

The phone was randomly extremely slow to focus and even froze up a few times as I was trying to shoot. Once I even got an error saying the device “Can’t connect to the camera” and I couldn’t get rid of it issue until I rebooted the phone.

In low-light situations, things get a lot worse. Results turned out to be spectacularly grainy and the colors were washed out.

Yes, Elephone tries to offer quite a few options in its default camera app. You can adjust things like ISO and white balance. There’s also an OptiZoom option which you can use to zoom in on a subject. But the results are cosmeticized automatically and look really bizarre.

Bottom line, I can’t recommend this phone if your main reason for buying it is to be able to shoot great pictures with it.

Software

Elephone U Pro makes up for some of its shortcoming in the software department, as it comes pre-installed with a pretty stock-looking version of Android 8.0 Oreo.

The phone features the complete suite of Google’s apps and luckily, Elephone has abstained from including unnecessary apps on board. There’s an app drawer you can access by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.

Given that the U Pro was made in the image of the Galaxy S8/S9, we aren’t surprised that Elephone has also replicated some of Samsung’s software gimmicks. Like the ability to pin app shortcuts to the edges of the screen.

The phone also lets you change the way your home screen and app icons look by switching to a different theme in the pre-installed theme app. You can also change the order and look of the on-screen nav keys.

The device is set to get a Face Unlock feature in a future update, although you can enable the option now by using Android’s Smart Lock feature.

Overall the software experience is a pleasant one. The phone is not too bloated and includes enough neat features to keep most customers satisfied.

Conclusion

Before I go ahead and state my conclusion I should point out an important aspect. Like many Chinese phones, the Elephone U Pro isn’t meant for the US market. As such, it does not support LTE bands, so it won’t work on the country’s major networks. If you’re in Europe like me, the phone works just fine.

So basically for customers in the US, the Elephone U Pro could only find a purpose as a gaming device or YouTube video player. But if you travel a lot, the phone might be a useful purchase.

Now comes the hard question: Is the Elephone U Pro a worthy buy?

I really want to recommend this phone because it’s so damn gorgeous. But I can’t wholeheartedly do so.

Yes, the device is super sleek and is offered at a bargain when compared to the Galaxy S9. It also comes with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box and packs some neat software tricks.

While all this is nice and peachy, I can’t get over the freezing issues and that the camera is average at best. To top it all, the device has a tendency to overheat, which I find a bit disconcerting.

But if you want to try and see how it feels like to own a premium-looking phone, the Elephone U Pro might be for you.

Get the Elephone U Pro