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LeEco Le Max 2 review: Welcome to the age of USB-C audio

Quick take:

The Le Max 2 is the company's flagship for 2016, and builds on what we've seen with the Le Max. The screen is a more manageable 5.7 inches (from its predecessor's 6.4 inches), and a 2.15GHz Snapdragon 820 SoC ensures that you won't see any slowdowns in day-to-day usage. The 21MP camera is one of the best at recording 4K video, and you get free access to LeEco's considerable content ecosystem. However, LeEco's decision to move to USB-C audio in favor of the ubiquitous 3.5mm jack is ill-advised, as it tries to solve a problem no one had in the first place.

The good

  • Fast performance
  • Decent camera
  • Free access to LeEco's content ecosystem

The bad

  • USB-C audio
  • Average battery life
  • Slow fingerprint sensor

LeEco Le Max 2 review

The big guns

Le Max 2 Full review

LeEco burst onto the smartphone scene at the end of last year, scoring several firsts in the process. The Le Max was the first phone to offer 6GB of RAM, and the Le Max 2 and Le 2 are now the first handsets to eschew the 3.5mm audio jack in favor of USB-C audio.

In addition to hardware, LeEco is betting big on its Supertainment content platform, through which the vendor is delivering live TV, music, and on-demand video services. The services cost ₹4,900 a year, but those purchasing the Le Max 2 and Le 2 will receive a one-year subscription to LeEco's content services for free.

With the Le Max 2, LeEco dialed the size of the screen down to a more manageable 5.7 inches, making it easier to use the phone on a day-to-day basis. The design is also more polished than what I've seen on the first-generation Le Max. However, the mid-range segment has become increasingly competitive of late, with the likes of the OnePlus 3 and Mi 5 readily available. Is the Le Max 2 worthy of your attention? Time to find out.

Where's NFC?

Le Max 2 Specs

CategoryFeatures
Operating SystemAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow with EUI 5.8
Display5.7-inch Quad HD display
SoC2.15GHz Snapdragon 820
Storage32GB/64GB
RAM4GB/6GB
Rear Camera21MP camera with Sony IMX230 sensor
PDAF
Front Shooter8MP
ConnectivityDual-SIM, LTE, Bluetooth 4.2 Wi-Fi ac
ChargingUSB-C with fast charge
Battery3100mAh

About this review

I (Harish Jonnalagadda) am writing this review after using the Le Max 2 for eight days in Hyderabad, India. For the duration of the review, the phone was connected to Airtel's 4G network in Hyderabad. The handset ran EUI 5.6.0.13S — based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow — out of the box, but picked up an update to 5.8.015S, bringing the June security update and stability fixes.

LeEco Le Max 2 review

Size matters

Le Max 2 Design and display

The Le Max 2 has clean lines and chamfered edges, comprising a metal unibody construction. The front of the phone is designed to look like it doesn't have any bezels, thanks to the black borders around the edge of the screen. However, the bezels are very noticeable as soon as you switch on the display. The backlit capacitive buttons are housed at the bottom, and you'll find the power and volume rocker to the right of the screen.

On the back, you'll find antenna lines at the top and bottom, and a protruding camera sensor flanked by a dual-LED flash module to its left. The fingerprint sensor is located below the camera, and offers the ability to unlock the phone even when the screen is off, although there's usually a delay of a second before the screen switches on. The sensor itself features Qualcomm's Sense ID ultrasonic technology, which uses ultrasonic waves to map out the details of your fingerprint. However, the implementation could be better, as it usually takes a second for the sensor to recognize and authenticate the fingerprint before letting you log into the phone.

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LeEco Le Max 2 review

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LeEco Le Max 2 review

Overall, the Le Max 2 is quite heavy at 185g, and is not as comfortable to use one-handed as the OnePlus 3. The Mi 5 with its 129g weight and svelte profile is significantly better and much more ergonomic to handle. The build quality of the phone is top-notch, but there isn't any visual flair. The Letv branding at the back has given way to the newer LeEco moniker, although branding is still inconsistent as the Le 2 sports the older Letv logo.

The Le Max 2 has top-notch build quality, but it lacks visual flair.

As for the phone's display, you're getting a 5.7-inch QHD LCD panel, which offers great viewing angles and contrast levels, as well as decent visibility in bright conditions. However, colors are muted, and are nowhere near as punchy as other phones in this segment. Furthermore, the lack of 2.5D curved glass at the front lends to sharp edges.

It isn't the best display in this segment, but if your use case is limited to watching videos and movies from LeEco's digital content services, it is adequate. Do note that the screen is prone to scratches, and is highly reflective. There isn't any mention of Gorilla Glass (or Dragontrail), and given the scratches picked up in just over a week's worth of usage, it looks like the phone does not come with any added protection.

If you're considering the Le Max 2, a screen protector and a case is highly recommended, as getting a broken screen fixed can cost up to a third of the value of the handset.

LeEco Le Max 2 review

Bye bye 3.5mm audio

Le Max 2 Hardware

The Le Max joins the long line of phones from Chinese vendors that offer great value for money. The base variant of the phone retails for ₹22,999, and for that you get a quad-core 2.15GHz Snapdragon 820 SoC, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a 21MP camera, 8MP front shooter, Wi-Fi-AC with 2x2 MU-MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2, an IR blaster, USB-C, and a 3,100mAh battery. There's a model that offers 6GB of RAM and 64GB storage, which will be available for ₹29,999. NFC is a notable omission — a drawback, since the phone is otherwise feature-rich.

The variant we're testing is the one with 4GB of RAM, which doesn't miss a beat when it comes to multitasking or loading several apps. You're not going to see any slowdowns, lags, or stutters on the Le Max 2. The phone has a single speaker at the bottom, which delivers adequate sound. It isn't the loudest mono speaker we've seen, but it's loud enough that you won't miss hearing incoming notifications. Also included is Dolby Atmos support, and those looking to pick up the phone because of Atmos should know that the feature is mainly a marketing gimmick. You're going to need a dedicated audio setup — which includes ceiling-mounted speakers — to get true three-dimensional surround sound, and that effect just cannot be mimicked on a phone, even if you're using a pair of high-end headphones.

LeEco Le Max 2 review

Continual Digital Lossless Audio

Ditching the 3.5mm audio jack in favor of USB-C audio is a "feature" no one asked for, but it looks like it's here to stay. After LeEco, Lenovo announced that it will leverage USB-C audio in the Moto Z and Moto Z Force, getting rid of the 3.5mm jack. With USB-C, the DAC and amps are moved from the phone to the headset itself, with the digital signal routed through USB-C and then converted to an analog signal through the built-in DAC in the headset. What this means is that even if you were to use a USB-C to 3.5mm jack to connect your older audio gear, the experience is going to be terrible as the phone does not contain the necessary audio decoders.

The situation is worsened if it's a pair of budget USB-C headphones, as they're not going to have a DAC that's anywhere near as good as what's included in the phone itself, which makes moot the whole argument of "digital lossless sound." Furthermore, moving the audio circuitry to the headphones will result in the inevitable increase in prices, as has been the case with Bluetooth-enabled audio products.

Listen to music, or charge your phone. It's up to you.

LeEco says that it introduced a "revolutionary approach to mobile audio transcoding and transmission that's an audiophile's delight," and that its USB-C headphones with built-in CDLA decoders "deliver Hi-Fi audio without the prerequisite of an amp or preamp making high-fidelity audio affordable and accessible to so many more." As marketing spiel goes, that resonates with a lot of users, as LeEco is promising audiophile-grade sound without having to invest thousands of dollars in equipment.

The manufacturer's USB-C in-ear headphones retail for ₹1,999, and for the price, they offer a bright soundstage. They are lacking in detail though, as the mids are muddled and there's a noticeable amount of distortion at high volumes. Not what you'd want in a pair of earbuds designed to deliver lossless audio. Bass response is decent, and if you're to listen to bass-heavy tunes, you won't find a lot of faults with LeEco's USB-C offering. That said, the earbuds aren't the most comfortable to use for a prolonged duration.

But the biggest issue with LeEco's in-ear headphones is that they plug into the USB-C port, which is also used for charging. As such, you can either charge your phone or listen to music, but not both. Welcome to the age of digital audio folks. Let's hope it goes the way of 3D.

Stream everything

Le Max 2 Software

The Le Max 2 offers LeEco's EUI 5.8, which is based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. The phone doesn't come with any bloatware, with Yahoo Weather the only pre-installed service. As you'd expect from a Chinese vendor, the user interface is heavily customized. There isn't an app drawer, and the quick toggles have been moved from the notification shade to the recent apps menu. The button configuration sees the recent apps to the left, the home button in the middle, and the back key to the right, à la Samsung.

It's easy to get used to EUI. There's a theme engine on offer, through which you can tweak the look of the user interface. The options are limited when it comes to themes — there are a total of twelve available — but it is a quick way to alter the icons, backgrounds, and UI elements. While the software is better than what we've seen on the original Le Max, it still needs a lot of work.

With the notification shade devoid of quick toggles, all you get is a pane to view incoming notifications. Incoming notifications are displayed at the bottom of the lock screen, making it easier to access new messages when using the phone one-handed. App icons come with an unread count, similar to iOS.

The recent apps menu is more akin to Control Center on iOS, and is even called that. It gives you access to customizable quick toggles, music controls, apps running in the background, amount of RAM available, and the ability to modify the home screen backgrounds. You can prevent apps from being cleared away through a swipe down gesture, and a swipe up gesture gets rid of apps in the background.

The differentiator with LeEco's handsets is its digital content ecosystem, which is delivered through Le Live and Levidi. Le Live is where you'll find live programming from over 100 channels, with LeEco partnering with YuppTV. Easy access to TV channels is great, but the maximum resolution is 396p, which is a major letdown considering you get a QHD screen to view the content on.

Levidi is a video service that lets serves up recommendations based on your genres of interest. There's also a feature-rich IR remote utility that lets you control a variety of devices, including TVs, set-top boxes, ACs, DVD players, and the like.

LeEco Le Max 2 review

All the pixels

Le Max 2 Camera

The Le Max 2 offers a 21MP camera (last year's Sony IMX 230) with an f/2.0 lens, OIS, PDAF, and dual-LED flash. At the front, there's an 8MP shooter with an f/2.0 lens. The camera is quick to focus in daylight, but takes a tad longer to dial in on a subject in poor lighting conditions. The images look great when viewed directly on the phone, but transfer them to a decent monitor and you'll notice its tendency to overexpose shots. The camera fares significantly better in well-lit conditions, but if you're taking shots in excessively bright or low-light conditions, you're not going to be very impressed with the images you get.

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LeEco Le Max 2 camera sample

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LeEco Le Max 2 camera sample

The camera app itself is a pretty standard affair, with buttons for flash, switching between the front and rear cameras, and settings. You can swipe between Photo, Video, Slo-Mo, and Pano modes, and there's an option to choose from 9 filters (with a live preview). There's no dedicated manual mode, but you can adjust the ISO, exposure, and white balance by heading into the settings. You can also enable or disable HDR, switch to Night mode, add Beauty effects to images, and change scenes by swiping up from the bottom bar while in Photo mode.

As for selfies, the 8MP camera is more than adequate for sharing on social networks.

LeEco Le Max 2 review

Hey there USB-C

Le Max 2 Battery life

The battery life on the Le Max 2 is surprisingly decent considering the phone has a 5.7-inch QHD display and a 3,100mAh battery. I was able to make the battery last a day or more on average, with typical usage including at least two hours of browsing, an hour on social media, a few hours streaming podcasts and music, and a few YouTube videos over the course of the day.

The phone offers Quick Charge 2.0 tech, which while isn't the fastest way to charge your phone does allow you to quickly top up should you need to during the day.

LeEco Le Max 2 review

At a crossroads

Le Max 2 Bottom line

While the Le Max 2 offers decent hardware for the price, there are several trade-offs. The phone is unwieldy when compared to the likes of the OnePlus 3 and the Mi 5. Then there's the slow fingerprint sensor, and the lack of Gorilla Glass for the screen. The camera isn't great at focusing in low-light, and the lack of a 3.5mm jack is going to be a deal breaker for most.

Even if you've decided to purchase the handset, getting your hands on the Le Max 2 isn't straightforward. Most Chinese vendors have gotten rid of flash sales, but it looks like LeEco didn't get the memo. You're going to have to register and wait in line to get your hands on the Le Max 2 (or the Le 2). If the first flash sale is any indication, LeEco has adequate stock of the Le Max 2, and it's unlikely that units will be sold out in a matter of seconds.

If you're keen on the digital content services on offer and don't mind being confined to LeEco's ecosystem, the Le Max 2 offers a lot for your money. That said, the paltry resolution of the content available and the fact that you'll have to shell out ₹4,900 from next year to continue accessing Levidi and Le Live make it hard to recommend.

Should you buy it? No

LeEco's decision to go with USB-C audio is moronic. There's no tangible reason for the manufacturer to get rid of the 3.5mm jack other than to say that it was the first to do so. If you've invested in a lot of audio gear over the years, stay away from this phone. Vote with your wallets, folks.

There's just no reason to buy the Le Max 2 over the OnePlus 3. Even though the OnePlus 3 has a Full HD screen, it offers so much more for an additional ₹5,000. And you don't have to wait for an invite or a flash sale to get your hands on the phone, as it's available on general sale on Amazon India right now.

See at Amazon

Harish Jonnalagadda
Harish Jonnalagadda

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor covering Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone manufacturers, and writes about the semiconductor industry, storage servers, and audio products. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

39 Comments
  • See, this is why I think OEMs are insane to ditch the 3.5mm jack at this point. Yes, it is an old standard, but it has long been a reliable one. There will inevitably be a replacement that will be widely adopted by users in the future, but that future isn't today. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I know. I don't understand the reasoning behind the move. And it looks like more and more manufacturers are getting on-board :\
  • I honestly don't see how this is progress...
  • It isn't.
  • And this is why I still don't understand why this is even a thing.
  • Its actually very simple. One standard is replaced with another, it happens all the time. I understand your point of view, even its somewhat outdated, reasoning from customer vallet side, but were this kind of reasoning used in the past there would never be progress made...Why introduce CD when floppy was already there in use by whole world, why introduce SSD when everybody was using HDD, heck why to introduce usb-c when everybody uses normal microusb jack. Like in everything someone has to start the trend, were it Apple, OnePlus or somebody else, someone has to be the first and that is why more and more manufacturers are following. Its normal, someday there will be another type of jack and usb-c will be obsolete. Its that simple, you as buyer have choice, buy it or not...but wheter you like it or not things are changing.
  • Of course, someone has to start it, but unlike the death of the floppy disk and CD thanks to USB thumbdrives and cloud storage, there isn't one big alternative to the headphone jack that's universally adopted by the masses yet. Lightning? It's proprietary. USB-C? Still new and not widely adopted by consumers yet, not to mention that it would mean worse audio quality until manufacturers can either integrate DACs and amps into the actual port or headphones with dedicated amps and DACs become cheaper and more widely available. Bluetooth? Not an option if you're the type who is particular about audio quality. Frankly, I think it's best if some start to adopt it, and then focus on refining it and encouraging mass adoption before fully-committing to it. It's part of the reason why you see some PCs with CD drives also having a floppy-disk drive even though CDs were starting to become the new norm. Just keep the headphone jack at least until the new standard is all ready for mass-adoption. For a standard to replace the 3.5mm jack, it would need to be able to have an integrated DAC and amp so standard headphones will be able to play audio content without a significant loss in audio fidelity, widespread adoption, ability to play very high-quality audio files without quality loss and also allowing a device to charge while playing music through headphones. Not one or the other. Basically, do what the 3.5mm jack can already do, but better and perhaps make it do more.
  • Tell that to the average Joe or Jane who buys the device only to find out later on that they can't charge the device and stream music at the same time. It's a step back for no reason at all. Posted via the Android Central App
  • ^
    | This Posted via the Android Central App
  • There are reasons, but they're not good ones:
    1) HDCP DRM copy protection! Yay! (closing the "analog loophole")
    2) Manufacturers get to sell more crap
    3) The USB-C port isn't as robust as the 3.5mm port (which also rotates), so you'll break more cables. $$$.
  • I hope that Lenovo uses the built in DAC and routes the analog signal out the type-c port. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Seriously if it's gonna block my charging the phone, then why do it in the first place?? I had to use a 3.5mm audio adapter for my Omnia II back in day, and there was no way to use my charger unless I unplugged it. No thanks! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yet Apple users will buy the iPhone 7 by the millions.
  • Sounds like the iPhone 7 will have a headphone jack after all based on layer later rumors. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Lol, nope.
  • So judging by the review notes on the screen, audio, camera,... this phone is a FAIL. Posted via the Android Central App on a Galaxy S7 Edge
  • Yeah. Much better options available if you're willing to shell out ₹30,000 for a handset.
  • Just curious if anyone has tried bluetooth headphones with this device.
  • Bluetooth devices have audio decoders built-in. They're going to sound the same across phones, provided the source material is the same. Tried it with a Jaybird X2, and I don't see a difference in audio quality from other phones with Bluetooth 4.2 and aptX.
  • Why not just make Bluetooth headphones with better specs the standard? Posted via the Android Central App
  • There would need to be a BT standard that has higher transfer speeds for higher-quality audio before it can be a standard, to my own eyes.
  • Yup - I'm not giving up my wired headphones until wireless is also LOSSLESS. AptX is still a proprietary bluetooth addon that isn't standard and is hit or miss.
  • Personally I would prefer a old school wire so I don't have to charge them Posted via the Android Central App
  • Because so many people still have to deal with Bluetooth 2.0 in their cars, headphones, and other things, and vendors when they just announced Bluetooth 5.0 and because people don't want any more things to charge. I personally love BT headphones, but I'm the minority. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I like the way the piece is written. Having said that, one thing I wholeheartedly disagree with is the fact that the writer, while subtly, really makes a huge emphasis on being a bad device due to not being able to listen to music while charging, and almost makes it seem that if you do not have USB-C headphones, that you are toast... a. You should NEVER, EVER, EVER perform battery heavy activities with your phone plugged in as it sends your battery life on a one way trip to Shitsville. Putting that on the balance as a defining factor in itself is, as the author claims, moronic. Yes, there should be an alternative (magnetic charging port, Qi wireless charging maybe?) but to say that the phone is bad because you cannot do something that you shouldn't do to begin with is stupidity of the higher magnitude; b. He makes no mention at any point in time of the 3.5 mm - USB-C adapter included with the device. Granted, regular 3.5 mm headphones are not blessed with DAC or other on board electronics (at least not the cheap ones), but it isn't like you cannot use them either. The included headphones are top notch and that is what is being advertised by LeEco. I dare anyone to find a better offering out of the box of any device out there. c. Does the device really have regular glass on the screen? I have not been able to find this information anywhere, but I have had the device for as long as you guys and used it as well and for the life of me, I have not had a single scratch (not even micro scratches) on the screen as of yet. ymmv I guess... d. Membership: That one blew my mind. The yearly membership for the content is about the same as the cost for a Netflix yearly subscription. You get a year free out of it, which is more than you can say about any other phone out there. The only one getting remotely close was the Amazon Fire phone, including a year of Prime, but to my recollection, no one offers a year of free media streaming with the purchase.
  • I agree that the argument about charging and listening to music is one that's easy to solve (Bluetooth), but I don't think that charging and listening to music is considered a high intensity activity. It shouldn't use too much power because playing music is a relatively simple act, unlike say navigating in the car, where most people will plug up their phone anyway, and on a warm sunny dashboard, too. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It does take a toll on battery, particularly if you are paying other circuitry (DAC, amp, etc). Any activity on the device discharges the battery. Using the device while charging it pours the device in constant charge-discharge cycles. Battery durability is rated in charging cycles.. so your battery suffers. The only thing that the device should do while charging is charge.
  • Using the device while charging is an extremely common use case that isn't as devastating as you assume. It's certainly no worse than ONLY using your phone to game or whatever while it's running down the battery, since you've got plug it back to charge anyway, using up the charge cycles. When your battery is 100% charged, and plugged in, the juice should pass through, otherwise the manufacturer did a crappy engineering job.
  • I would say that AC reviews would be better without the "Should You Buy It" judgement. Why not stick with suggesting that there are better devices out there for the money. Making a No or Yes judgement is a bit pontific, especially if you are basing that decision on a subjective point rather than a demonstrably crappy build or software.
  • Do you even get better sound quality using usb type c? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Not really, unless you have headphones that have its own dedicated amp and DAC. R.I.P GPe program
  • Isn't a dual connector a possibility with USB-C? Dual purpose where one connection charges and the other one allows an audio connection. Makes things bulkier, yeah, but it would generally solve the issue with charging and listening at the same time or is there some limitation with USB-C that I'm not getting. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Sadly it doesn't exist.
  • Ditching the 3.5mm jack at this point in time is insane. No device manufacturer can get away with it without alienating a huge chunk of customers. Even Apple, if the rumours are true, will be walking into a **** storm of bad PR for its iPhone 7 Posted via the Android Central App
  • Hmmmm. In the quick section part at the start of the review you put the battery life in the "bad" section saying "average battery life". Yet further into the review you say that the battery life is "surprisingly decent" and lasts for a day or more. So which is it? Make your mind up. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Depends on how much he used the phone that day
  • Give me back the headphone 3.5mm jack or make another type c port for head phones with all the audio decoding inside the phone as before in the position previously as the jack. or else i will choose the previous model Letv x900 SD 810 still powerful and good 21mp camera.
  • Please quit ******* this phone it's like butter and fast like bunnies
  • "However, LeEco's decision to move to USB-C audio in favor of the ubiquitous 3.5mm jack is ill-advised, as it tries to solve a problem no one had in the first place." -- It solves a very real problem: by removing the 3.5mm jack, which is a lot bigger than what's visible on the outside, it frees up space inside the phone for other stuff. "LeEco's decision to go with USB-C audio is moronic." -- Considering this is a start of a new trend as Apple is now doing the same, maybe it's moronic to be stuck in the past and not recognize that the future (wireless) is upon us. The headphone jack and memory card slot are antiquated and bound to go away sooner or later. It just so happens that we've reached that point in time.