The brand you've never heard of is going to be everywhere soon.
While LeEco is a relative unknown in Western markets, it has a huge presence in China and India. The company is now making its foray into the U.S. with the mid-range Le Pro3 and the budget Le S3 phones, which offer enticing specs at attractive prices. Crucially, both phones eschew the traditional 3.5mm port for USB-C audio.
LeEco has ambitions that go far beyond phones, which is why the company bought TV maker Vizio earlier this year. The company also makes its own lineup of TVs, and will start selling them directly to customers in the country through its LeMall online store. The brand started out as a video streaming service and is often dubbed the "Netflix of China" even though it started investing in original programming three years before the launch of Netflix.
LeEco's diverse content portfolio is the main reason for its acquisition of Vizio, as the move gives the Chinese brand a foothold in the U.S. market for its streaming, internet TV, and cloud-based services. The acquisition allows Vizio to expand its global presence by leveraging LeEco's distribution and localised content streaming services.
LeEco isn't just into phones and TVs either. The vendor debuted an autonomous electric car called the LeSEE earlier this year, and has invested in California-based electric car maker Faraday Future. To date, these are the segments LeEco is doing business in: smartphones, smart TVs, video streaming, music streaming, live sports broadcasts, film production, cloud storage, electric cars, smart bikes, and even real estate.
Here's what you need to know about LeEco.
LeEco's first phones in the U.S. market are the Le Pro3 and the Le S3. The $399 Le Pro3 goes up against the OnePlus 3, Honor 8, ZTE Axon 7 and Moto Z Play, offering high-end internals in a brushed-metal chassis.
The $249 Le S3 has a similar metal build and premium design, but is powered by the Snapdragon 652 instead of the Snapdragon 821 in the Le Pro3. The Le Pro3 and Le S3 go on sale in the U.S. starting November 2, but if you pre-order before then, you'll get a $100 rebate on either handset.
Both phones come with the company's EUI custom ROM, which has several customizations. There isn't a traditional app drawer, and the quick toggles are accessed from the recent apps menu. EUI lets you alter the look and feel of the interface with bundled themes, and the app icons come with an unread count badge.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
Qualcomm Snapdragon 652
5.5-inch 1920x1080 (403 ppi)
5.5-inch 1920x1080 (403 ppi)
8MP, 1.4-micron pixels
Quick Charge 3.0
Quick Charge 3.0
Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Grey, Gold, Rose gold
151.4 x 73.6 x 7.37 mm
151.1 x 74 mm x 7.37 mm
LeEco is able to sell phones for ridiculously low prices as it doesn't rely on hardware to drive profits. The brand sees phones, TVs, and even cars as delivery systems for its digital content platform. To this end, the manufacturer rolled out a free hardware day in China earlier this year, where it gave away phones, TVs, and accessories for free to those buying content subscriptions. LeEco is committing to what it calls the "ecosystem era", wherein hardware is irrelevant and consumers rely on content services to derive value from a particular device.
In 2015, LeEco managed to sell a modest 3 million handsets, but is forecasting 15 million sales this year.
Le Pro3 and Le S3 hands-on
Digital content ecosystem
In China, LeEco draws over 350 million monthly users for its digital content services, with the brand offering over 10,000 TV shows and 5,000 movies. The company started out as a video streaming service, but has since branched out into music, live sports, film production, and cloud storage over the course of the last five years. All of LeEco's content services are bundled into a single package dubbed the EcoPass in the U.S. A highlight of the subscription is access to LeEco Drive, which gives you 5TB of cloud storage.
As the name suggests, LeLive delivers live TV to your phone. You can access live programming by selecting the "Live" button in the center of the home screen dock. The channels that you'll be able to view are tailored for your region, and LeEco is also planning to offer live streaming from music festivals around the world.
In the U.S., LeEco will deliver content from Showtime, MGM, Sling, Machinima, Magnolia Pictures, Mitú, Vice, Lionsgate, MGM, The Travel Channel, and Awesomeness TV. Amazon Video, Hulu, Netflix, and HBO are all missing from the platform, but with the service just getting started off, it is possible LeEco will add more partners in the coming weeks and months.
LeEco also has a video aggregation service called LeView, which offers a curated YouTube feed with a smattering of content from LeEco's partners. Then there's LeVidi, which lists all the on-demand content available.
LeEco sold 2.85 million TVs in China last year, earnings $86 million on sales of $2 billion. The brand debuted four TVs in the U.S., including the 85-inch uMax85 4K TV with HDR (HDR10 and Dolby Vision), Harman Kardon speakers, 4GB of RAM, and a 64GB SSD that lets you store content locally. The uMax85 will cost $4,999, but you can get a $1,000 rebate if you enroll in the company's LeRewards user feedback program.
Aside from the uMax 85, LeEco is launching three TVs in the 4K Super4 line: the X43 Pro, X55, and the X65. All three TVs feature Harman Kardon speakers, 3GB of RAM, 32GB SSD, and HDR. You'll be able to buy the TVs from LeMall.
Furthermore, the Vizio acquisition will allow LeEco to get its content ecosystem on the second-largest TV manufacturer in the country. With most of its ecosystem bets envisaged for the long-term, the TV business is one of few areas where LeEco is making profits right now.
Le Vision Pictures
Le Vision Pictures is the sixth-largest film distributor in China, and the production house has financed and distributed several Hollywood movies in China, including * The Expendables* franchise. The studio is now co-producing The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon. The production house has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles.
Le Music is LeEco's music streaming service. In India, the service is powered by Hungama, a local streaming provider that offers a catalog of 9.5 million songs. The catalog is much more extensive in China, where it is one of the largest streaming services available. No word as of now regarding U.S. availability, but we should know more shortly.
LeEco has invested nearly $1.35 billion in LeSports, with the venture now valued at $3.3 billion. The service has exclusive streaming rights to the Chinese Super League for two years, a three-year deal with the Major League Baseball to stream baseball games in China and Hong Kong, and live broadcast rights to the English Premier League in Hong Kong until 2019. LeSports also has broadcast rights from FIFA, UEFA, the ATP, NFL, and the NCAA.
Faraday Future and Aston Martin
LeEco is also a major investor in Faraday Future, and the platform developed by the California company for its EV will be used by LeEco in the LeSEE.
Earlier this year, LeEco partnered with Aston Martin to roll out the Internet of the Vehicle in-car infotainment system. The brand is also working with the luxury car maker over the development of the RapidE electric vehicle, which will offer a power output equivalent to 1000bhp.
While LeEco is betting big on electric vehicles, some have questioned whether the brand will be able to deliver a consumer-ready vehicle given the sheer amount of money it takes to develop a car from the ground-up. Even if there's no clear timeline as to when we'll see an electric car from LeEco, the company has done a remarkable job of vertically integrating its services in such a short period of time.