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Leagoo S9: The X-Rated Truth

Too many expectations, too many disappoinments

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Ever since the Mobile World Congress early this year, everyone that is aware of the Chinese smartphone world talked about it. The Leagoo S9. Leagoo is a company that is known for it’s many decent budget phones. They proudly announced to be the first to launch an Android Oreo notch phone. They even had one of the Tottenham Spurs football players promote the phone in Barcelona.

And the notch wasn’t the only awesome feature on the S9. No sir, the Leagoo S9 was announced to come with a unique dual camera set up on the rear. They published  huge advertisments telling us about the phone’s capability to take 65MP ULTRA HD shots. Now doesn’t that sound amazing? The huge announcent in Barcelona, the famous football palyers, everything hinted that this was going to be one kick-ass device. Today I will share my experiences with you after using the Leagoo S9 for two weeks. And I will be completely honest, so bare with me.

 

Leagoo S9: The X-Rated Truth

 

For starters, the Leagoo S9 arrived in the same white box I have seen Blackview and Gretel phones come in so I figure they use the same OEM for their packaging. Not that this is a problem but it doesn’t show much creativity or care for details. The phone comes with all you need and the first impression is that this is great. There is a USB-C cable, a fast charger, a simtool and there even was a free silicon bumper case that accompanied the phone. So far, so good. Then there is the phone itself of course. And again,

I can only say, at first glance this also looks great. The phone has light-breaking effects on its rear that really shimmer like crazy when it catches light.Even compared to a glass rear it still looks beautiful.  It has a nice 2.5D glass layer on top of the 5.85 inch screen that nicely fits the metal frame of the phone. It comes with a screenprotector already slapped on, so I took that off immediately. I want to review the screen, not some plastic layer right? On the right side of the screen we find a volume rocker and the on/off button and on the left there’s the sim tray. The Leagoo S9 even comes with a 3.5 mm jack so really every thing gives the impression it all good.

 

Leagoo S9: The X-Rated Truth

 

Ofcourse the 5.85 inch screen only comes with a 720 p resolution, but so have other phones that I recommended. I honestly believe when we’re talking about phones around the 150 euro marker that shouldn’t be a big deal. When I took the protective film off the front of the Leagoo S9 I faced my first dissapointment. The notch (or rather the gap where the notch is) on the protective layer was a lot smaller than the actual notch hiding underneath. Turning on the screen didn’t really make me happier. That’s when I noticed there are on-screen buttons that most of the time (except on your home screen) are placed in a deep black bar. No way to set them to transparent or remove them in favour of gesture navigation.

On top of the already rather large chin it’s anything but pleasing for the eye. It also made me wonder… So they put in a notch in order to give me more screen real estate, then they throw in a huge black bar in order to navigate this thing? Honestly, what’s the use of this notch then?  Okay, there is this little arrow that gives you the option to hide the navigation bar, cool! But as soon as you just as much as touch the screen the bar comes popping up again.

When it comes to sharpness, colour reproduction, contrast and saturation the screen is really not bad, especially if you keep in mind the phone’s price and the fact it’s 720p. only.

Then there’s the software. Leagoo has kept it simple really and the experience feels like vanilla android at first glance. Yes I know, there’s a lot first glances going on, but I’m going somewhere with this… hang on 😉 As soon as you open the phone’s settings and look for the most common things, you will find Leagoo has sort of rearranged everything. And not in a way that it’s more sentient of even in a way that would make sense. And don’t get me wrong here. I’m usually a fan of a customized Android experience as I’m a big fan of Meizu, Xiaomi and Nubia. All of them with use their own UI Skin over Android. But when it serves no use other than being different… Well I could’ve done without.

Now, I’m the last guy to complain about a UI that doesn’t suite me. After all there are many options to download a launcher off the Play Store and get it over with. But… when I have to reselect that launcher everytime I reboot the phone (no matter if I selected it to be the default in settings) than it starts to annoy me. It also annoys me when I have a lovely wallpaper selected and I return to my home screen half or more of said wallpaper has become black. The only way to get rid of this glitch, was to go to settings > wallpapers > then reselect the wallpaper. Every damned time! So even though I had several budget devices running on Android Oreo 8.1 that worked fine, I think its safe to say the software in the Leagoo S9 is a proper mess.

Then let’s go to the hardware. From the get-go I was aware of the fact the Leagoo S9 runs on the over-used Mediatek MT6750 processor clocked at 1.5Ghz coupled with 4GB of RAM. Definitely not the newest nor the fastest SoC out there. So realisticly it would be silly to expect flagship performance, and I didn’t. But this experience was worse than many other MT6750 driven phones I have tested and used in the past. Just to give you an example: When I booted the device up for the first time, I used the Google Installer. You know, the option that let’s you install your apps and settings from your old phone to the new one. I never had a problem using this feature. With the Leagoo S9 it took about twice as long as usual.  And the phone heated up to about 41 degrees Celcius!

This overheating thing was no stand alone situation unfortunately. Again, I’m not a noob and I get that some phones do turn a little warmer when you have been heavily gaming ot multi tasking. Heating up over 40 degrees just because I was checking my Facebook timeline was a first however. Another thing that kept occuring was when I opened an application the screen would just turn white. The end. The only way to solve this was going to the opened apps, close the app and reopen it. Another feature that Leagoo proudly announced was the S9 comes with face recognition. And it does. And yes, you probably already got it, there’s also a big BUT there! Well, actually, several buts. For starters, once activated you must understand you will only be able to use this feature 50% of the time. And thats an optimistic estimate.

As soon as the light is a little lower than your average bright daylight you can forget about the feature all together. Oh well there’s always the very well working fingerprint scanner. One of the few flawless things on the Leagoo S9. So after activating face recognition, I wanted to take some pictures. But to my suprise I couldn’t take a selfie. The phone was telling me the camera was in use by another application. It took me while till I finally found out it was the face recognition that was creating trouble in paradise. What even startled me more is that not only the front camera, but also the rear camera was affected by this. So yes, the Leagoo S9 has face ID, just don’t expect to make pictures with the phone as long as it’s activated. Verdict: Useless Feature!

What finally led me to the conclusion Leagoo’s software on the Leagoo S9 is a trainwreck, was submitting the phone to the AnTuTu benchmark. In comparison: The Umidigi S2 Lite, a phone that also comes with close to stock Android, the MT6750 SoC and 4GB of RAM scored around 68 to 69,000 points. The Leagoo S9 barely hit over 50,000 and AnTuTu proudly told me I had defeated a mere  9% of devices. NINE percent! And I think it’s also worth mentioning that it became so hot after running AnTuTu that you could basically fry an egg on the bloody thing!

 

Leagoo S9: The X-Rated Truth

 

Then last but not least: The camera’s. I’m not even sure what to write without making me sound like a hater, but when I started this reviewing thing I made a deal with myself. I always wanted to make honest reviews. Reviews that side with YOU the customer, being nice would in this case be lying. So exuse my language but this is one of the most shitty camera’s I have used in a long time. Even the 89 euro Meizu M6 takes better shots then this phone. What’s maybe worse even their own 2 year old Leagoo M8 makes better pictures than the Leagoo S9 . Seriously folks, I don’t even know where to start.

 

Leagoo S9: The X-Rated Truth

 

The colours are washed out and dull, the dynamic range is dreadful and  there is no real dual camera set-up or real bokeh effect. Instead we’re being stuck with the good old circle of fake blur again. As soon as the light goes down so does the picture quality (and I don’t mean dark or nightime, simply indoors on a slightly cloudy day will do). There is no stabilisation whatsoever and the best thing you can so is take four or five pictures of everything. That way maybe one picture will turn out halfway decent. But wait, you’ll say, didn’t they implement the 65MP ULTRA HD shot? Well yeah, they did. And it does work.. problem is it has to work with whatever the crappy camera delivers. Hence it doesn’t turn out much better than shots taken without the Ultra HD Setting.

 

Take a look at my video review on the Leagoo S9 for more camera samples:

 

In fact, basically all this setting does it artificially make sure you can zoom in without getting pixels and grain.This also means that in low light situations you can also forget about the HD mode. Simply because the original is grainy already, so all the HD Mode is then doing is enlarge the grain. So, I think it’s safe to say the Ultra HD Mode is a gimmick at best. And that’s just me being nice and not wanting to call it a marketing trick or a downright lie. Leagoo claims to be using the Sony IMX258 sensor on the S9, but every bit of software that is able to identify your hardware, does malfunction when you get to the camera.

For Example AnTuTu wasn’t able to do a decive verification, and offered the explanation that maybe the device was to new. When I tried Aida64 however it told me it wasn’t allowed to access the camera.

When I look at last years Umidigi Z Pro, also equipped with the Sony IMX258 sensor and I look at the pictures coming from the Leagoo S9. I find it very hard to believe this should be the same sensor. So, then I figured, well, maybe it’s also just the software. So I downloaded  A Better Camera, Open Camera and Bacon Camera from the Playstore. None of them was able to produce even slightly better looking results with the rear camera of the Leagoo S9. Look I don’t say this as a fact, and I have no hard evidence to proof it. But as a smartphone fanantic and a shutterbug, I have serious doubts about the camera in the Leagoo S9 being a IMX258.

 

Leagoo S9: The X-Rated Truth
Bokeh Mode or Circle of Fake? You decide…

 

So, at the end of the day: Would I recommend the Leagoo S9? Given the fact it not only runs on yesteryears MT6750 SoC and has dreadful camera’s one could think it would be a nice entry level phone for those (maybe younger people) that want to have the iPhone X look at a budget price. But even to those users I would say NO! Don’t do it. Simply because that slow processor and mediocre camera’s still let the battery heat run up to worrisome levels. And on top of that there are just to many bugs and glitches to not be annoyed by this phone.

But the good news is, there’s no need to worry. If you are looking for a notch-design phone around the $150 marker there’s plenty of choice. I personally would put my money on the Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro or the Umidigi One that’s coming out very soon. But the Leagoo S9? I would definitely skip. My rating: 5.5/10

 

 

 

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