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Gionee Elife: Hands-on the Thinnest Smartphone in the World

Last week, Gionee announced the world's thinnest smartphone, the Elife S5.5. Measuring 5.5 mm, the device has to be seen to be believed, so we headed to Gionee's booth this morning to see it for ourselves. No doubt about it, this device is extremely thin and is absolutely gorgeous to boot. Packed into that super slim package is a quad-core CPU clocked to 1.7 GHz, 2 GB of RAM, a 5-inch display, a 13-megapixel camera in the back, a 5-megapixel camera up front, and a 2300 mAh battery.

 

Interestingly, the form factor of this device was not the most intriguing thing about it. While we went to check out the hardware, we were really curious about the software once we unlocked the phone. The Gionee Elife S5.5 is based on Android 4.2. That's a bit disappointing in itself, given we're already on Android 4.4, but users likely wouldn't have a clue they're running a version of Android that's two releases old. There are some serious customizations here. This goes beyond your regular UI that you see skinned on top of Android on other devices. Gionee is targeting young people with the Elife S5.5, so the company wanted to really give Android a young flavor. The end result is a UI that looks very unlike Android; it is flatter, sleeker and overall more visually appealing.

In its current form, Android isn't the best looking mobile OS out there. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it gives phone manufacturers a little bit of room to customize the Android experience without butchering Google's work too much, but we often end up with hodgepodge UIs that try to aim more for a branded experience as opposed to an improved one. With Gionee's Amigo, simple changes, like a visual representation of used and available app storage, give the OS a more polished feel.

As far as the device itself goes, the S5.5 is rather angular in the hand. The corners of the device feel a bit harsh, and while all the edges are beveled, we would have preferred if they were outright curved instead. That aside, the phone is truly beautiful; the only complaint we have is that anyone buying this phone would likely slap a case on it and completely obstruct the beauty of the device. Luckily, the S5.5 isn't just a pretty face, so the custom UI isn't going to be affected by how you choose to dress your phone.

 

The bad news is that if you're in the U.S., you're not going to get to see this device. At least not for a while. We dropped by the Gionee booth today to check out the S5.5 and talk to a rep about U.S. availability. The device is already available in China and is launching in India next month. In last week's announcement, the company said it was planning to launch in 40 countries. Unfortunately, if the U.S. is one of them, it won't get the phone this year. A Gionee rep we spoke to said it might consider tapping the U.S. market in 2015, but he made it sound like those plans aren't set in stone.

Check out all our Mobile World Congress 2014 coverage here!

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