Redmi Note 5 Review

Two years ago, I wrote my first smartphone review, one about the Redmi Note 3 on Mi Community. Last year, I reviewed its successor, the Redmi Note 4. So lets keep up this  tradition and review the recently launched Redmi Note 5.

Huge thanks to ECS for loaning me this brand new review unit.


Summary – A Budget Phone with Great Cameras!

An improvement from the Redmi Note 4 in most aspects, especially in the camera department. Worth upgrading to.

Pros:

  • Affordable price tag
  • Clear case included
  • Beautiful 18:9 display with great viewing angles
  • Excellent performance for price
  • Rear cameras focus quickly with dual pixel autofocus
  • Insane low-light photos considering price
  • Selfie camera has plenty of details
  • Refined camera app
  • Bottom-firing speakers sound better than RMN4’s

Cons:

  • Camera protrudes even with case
  • Design getting stale
  • Battery life not as good as Redmi Note 4

Xiaomi’s Confusing Naming Scheme

Not the same as Redmi 5 Plus. Similar to Redmi Note 5 Pro, but with different set of cameras on the front and rear.

You may have noticed that I wrote a review about the Redmi 5 Plus, aka Redmi Note 5, a while ago, so why am I reviewing it again? The answer is: I am not. The device in today’s article is a different Redmi Note 5 and you can thank Xiaomi for that.

The device I reviewed earlier is known as the Redmi 5 Plus in Singapore, while India calls it the Redmi Note 5. Meanwhile, the one we will be taking a look at today is called Redmi Note 5 in Singapore, and Redmi Note 5 Pro in India. Confused?

My last point was only partially correct though, and that is a very common mistake. While the local Redmi Note 5 may look the same as the Redmi Note 5 Pro, they are different device. Don’t worry, even the official Xiaomi Lazada store got confused.

Screenshot-2018-6-11 Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 (3+32GB) Buy sell online Mobiles with cheap price Lazada Singapore

While most of the specs are the same, the front and rear cameras used on the two variants are very different.

On paper, we are getting are the superior cameras, with larger pixels and greater aperture that theoretically result in better under low-light photos. Also, our variant has dual pixel autofocus, which is allows the camera to focus really quickly.


Pricing & Variants – Very Affordable

S$299 for 32/3GB, S$349 for 64/4GB.

The Redmi Note 5 comes in 2 storage/RAM configurations in Singapore. The 32/3GB version will cost you S$299 and is only available in black and gold. Meanwhile, the 64/4GB one goes for S$349 and comes in blue, black or gold.


Design – Getting Repetitive…

Design isn’t too different from previous generations, new 18:9 display and dual camera setup on the rear.

There honestly isn’t a lot to talk about the Redmi Note 5’s design. It is very similar to the Redmi 5 Plus, with the most noticeable difference being the dual rear cameras at the top left corner, which resembles the iPhone X’s dual rear cameras.

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But like I have repeated myself in the Redmi 5 and Redmi 5 Plus review, this design is getting kind of stale at this point in time. While Xiaomi has tweaked the design slightly to improve its looks each year, it is still reminiscent of the Redmi Note 3.

On the front, we are getting an 18:9 5.99″ display, like on the Redmi 5 Plus. The front camera, flash and ambient light sensor position are mirror imaged though, the screen protector is slightly different for both devices. Just Xiaomi being Xiaomi.

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On the top we have an IR blaster for remote control and a microphone. Meanwhile, at the the bottom, you will find the single speaker grill, micro USB port, another microphone, as well as the headphone jack. Very similar to the Redmi 5 Plus.

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The rear cameras protrudes quite a bit even with the included case, so I place it down with screen facing the table most of the time. Annoying, but if it is required for the superb camera, which I will cover in a short while, the compromise is worth it.


Display – 18:9, Like Most of 2018’s Budget Phones

Similar to Redmi 5 Plus. Enable full screen gestures to make full use of the 18:9 display.

Redmi Note 5 uses an 18:9 5.99″ FHD+ IPS LCD panel, like the Redmi 5 Plus, but they are not the same panel, with colors appearing deeper on the Redmi Note 5. Redmi Note 5’s display is slightly on the cool side and viewing angles are excellent.

By default, the Redmi Note 5 uses on-screen navigation buttons. If you find that a waste of screen estate, you can enable full-screen gestures, which hides the on-screen navigation bar and uses iPhone X-like gestures for navigation instead.

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A flaw with this full screen gestures though is that you are no longer able to access one-handed mode.


Performance – New Snapdragon 636 Processor!

Very powerful processor for the price.

Powered by the Snapdragon 636 processor, the Redmi Note 5 is the most powerful Redmi device til date, scoring 1320 single-core and 4845 multi-core in Geekbench 4.0 and a whopping 117495 in AnTuTu benchmarks. Not bad for a S$349 device.

But benchmarks do not always reflect the true performance of a device, as seen from my Neffos N1 review. So how well does the Redmi Note 5 perform in real life? Very well actually.

Scrolling through MIUI is as smooth as ever, browsing social media is a very pleasant experience and light games run without issues. Even in graphic intensive games like PUBG and 王者荣耀, the Redmi Note 5 runs smoothly with little to no stutter.


Rear Camera – Is This Really a S$349 Device?!!!

Takes very impressive low-light photos for a budget phone, focuses really quickly due to dual pixel autofocus.

There are two reasons to get the Redmi Note 5 over the more affordable Redmi 5 Plus and one of them is the gaming performance, as seen earlier. The other is camera performance. On the rear, Redmi Note 5 is equipped with a pair of cameras.

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The main camera is 12MP with f/1.9 aperture, with pixel size of 1.4μm. Theoretically, this makes the Redmi Note 5’s rear camera a beast under low light. It also has dual pixel autofocus, which allows it to focus really quickly on subjects.

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In fact, it focuses so fast that you do not even see the circle icon that shows it trying to hunt for focus in the app. You can compare it to the Redmi 5, shown below. So much faster.

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Here are some photos taken with the Redmi Note 5’s rear camera. With good lighting, the Redmi Note 5 takes beautiful images with accurate colors. But this is what we have come to expect from most phones, even budget ones under S$200.

Moving to low lighting conditions though, this is when things get unbelievable. Photos turn out a tad bit over saturated, but are well focused, with plenty of details and the sky actually looks black, not overexposed like on similarly priced devices.

However, that does not mean that the Redmi Note 5’s rear camera can compete with modern flagship device’s camera under low light. At night, the Redmi Note 5 still struggles with moving objects, especially smaller ones like this flower.

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Meanwhile, its 5MP secondary camera is used mainly for depth sensing, allowing for beautiful bokeh photos, like the ones you see below. It is not perfect at detecting edges though, especially when it gets dark or when the subject is to complex.

While the Redmi Note 5’s rear camera setup is still no fight for modern day flagship devices, it is leaps and bounds better than what we have ever seen on any budget device.

As for videos, the Redmi Note 5 can record up to 1080p. There is electronic image stabilization and it does quite a good job, though I have seen better. Like with photos, the Redmi Note 5 focuses really fast in videos, so they look very good.

At night though, you will see a lot of noise and a lot of details are lost, but colors still look good. I would say that the video is just barely usable. Hence, if you need to record videos at night, you might still want to pay more for flagship devices.


Selfie Camera – Bokeh on Selfies!

Finally getting bokeh selfies on a Redmi device!

On the front of the Redmi Note 5 we have a 13MP selfie camera with f/2.0 aperture. Pictures turn out pretty good for a S$349 device, with plenty of details but colors tend to be a little washed out, like most smartphone selfie cameras I have used.

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What is a selfie camera without Beautify? On the Redmi Note 5, AI is used to determine the best beauty profile. This results in selfies that hides most of your facial imperfections, yet without the “unnatural” look that haunts previous versions of Beautify.

Also, through the use of AI, Xiaomi brings portrait mode to the front camera. The edge detection is pretty commendable considering that there is no secondary camera. But it has difficulties detecting small objects, like earphone cables.

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Audio – An Improvement Over Its Predecessor

Audio from headphone jack sounds great, bottom-firing speaker is a huge improvement from the Redmi Note 4.

Listening with my JBL Synchros S300i headphones, I compared the Redmi Note 5’s headphone jack output to the Redmi 5’s. Redmi Note 5 had less emphasis on bass while the highs it produced had less distortion compared to the Redmi 5.

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I found listening to Redmi 5 to be more lively and magical, while the Redmi Note 5 sounded more natural. Despite their differences, I will say that both sound very good when you put them against other phones in the same price range.

As for the bottom-firing speakers, both can get quite loud, but clarity is quite a bit better on the Redmi 5. But compared to Redmi Note 4’s bottom-firing speaker, the Redmi Note 5’s is just so much cleaner and louder. Big improvements.


Battery Life – 1.5 Days of Regular Usage

Very long endurance, though not as long as its predecessor.

When the Redmi Note 3 launched, its huge 4000mAh battery made it an endurance beast. Then, with a less power hungry processor and a slightly larger 4100mAh battery, the Redmi Note 4 had even better battery life than its predecessor.

Then, Xiaomi went back to a 4000mAh battery on the Redmi Note 5. The Redmi 5 Plus that I reviewed earlier also had a 4000mAh battery, but its endurance wasn’t as impressive as I had hope. So how is the endurance of the Redmi Note 5?

Unfortunately, not as good as the Redmi Note 4. I only had time to conduct a single light to moderate usage test and on a single charge, the Redmi Note 5 lasted for 2 full days with 5h sot.

  • Total time 1d 14h 33min
  • Screen-on time 5h
  • 1h 3min 王者荣耀
  • 40min Soul Knights
  • 45min Facebook
  • 53min music
  • >2h hotspot

Most people will spend more time on their phone than I did during the test, so on regular usage, the Redmi Note 5 should last about 1.5 days, similar to the Redmi 5 Plus. It is very good for a smartphone, but Redmi Note 4’s battery life was better.


Software – New Camera App Layout

MIUI stays mostly untouched, except for new camera app.

Redmi Note 5 runs MIUI 9.5 on top of Android 8.1 Oreo. Xiaomi likes to keep the software experience universal across their device, so the features you will find here is mostly the same as what you would find on other Xiaomi devices.

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One notable change though is the camera app. Instead of a menu for the different modes, you now get to switch between modes with a swipe, like on iOS. Xiaomi also replaced the old color filters with new ones, while removing all the effect filters.

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MIUI is very feature-packed, yet it doesn’t feel too bloated. All of the features in MIUI are very well implemented and only features that will add convenience, like currency converter, are included in MIUI. No gimmicky features, minimal bloatware.


Conclusion – Camera Phone on Budget!

If you are on a tight budget and need a phone with good camera, the Redmi Note 5 is your best option right now.

In recent years, budget devices are getting so good that you can find ones that perform exceptionally well in various aspects: build quality (Neffos N1), performance (Redmi Note 3) and battery life (Redmi Note 4). But camera wasn’t one of them.

Until now. As one of the costliest part of a smartphone, camera is often the factor that separates budget devices from premium devices. Redmi Note 5 is trying to change that and while its camera is still not up there yet, it is very close.

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If you are currently using a Redmi Note 4, should you get a Redmi Note 5? Yes! Unlike moving from a Redmi Note 3 to Note 4, the improvements brought by the Redmi Note 5 is pretty drastic and it is better than its predecessor in almost every way.

OPPO R15 Unboxing

For years, OPPO’s R series was known for its premium metal design, superb selfie camera and VOOC fast charging. But this year, OPPO is changing things up a bit, opting for a glass back on the R15 and R15 Pro, with a metal frame around the devices.

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Is OPPO R15 the R11s successor we were waiting for? Is it worth S$749? With a new competitor in town, will OPPO be able to hold onto its crown in the premium mid-range smartphone market? All of this will be answered in my full review.

But before I spend two weeks testing the R15, here is my unboxing and first impression of the all new OPPO R15.


Unboxing – Very OPPO, As Usual

If you have unboxed an OPPO R series device from the past 3-4 years, you already know what to expect in the box of the R15. As usual, we get a clear case inside the box. A screen protector has also been pre-applied on the front and back of the device.

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Below the device, you will find 3 other accessories: VOOC fast charging Micro USB cable and wall adapter, plus a pair of earphones. These are no ordinary cable or quick charge wall adapter – you will need them in order to fast charge the R15.

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As always, the VOOC cable is coiled up really nicely, held in place by 2 clips. This shows OPPO’s attention to details and is something many smartphone manufacturers should learn. It is small things like this that gives users a great first impression.


First Impression – Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Design

As mentioned earlier, the R15 has a glass back unlike its recent predecessors, which all boasts beautifully crafted metal bodies. It is hard to deny that the R15 isn’t beautiful from the rear, with an eye-catching purple gradient design. (Also available in red)

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But the move to glass comes with compromises. Glass adds bulk to the device and without curves on the side, the OPPO R15 feels thick compared to its predecessors. If OPPO had followed what Vivo did with the X21, the R15 would feel a lot nicer.

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Next, the front of the device looks just like almost every other smartphone of this price range in 2018; It has a notch on top, with tiny bezels on the side and a short bottom chin.

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If I had replaced the image above with one of the Vivo X21, I believe most people would not even notice that it isn’t an R15.

Rear Cameras

Both the R11 and R11s had a dual camera setup on its rear, so it isn’t surprising that the R15 has it too. The primary camera houses a 16MP IMX519 sensor, which is supposedly better than the R11 and R11’s IMX398 under low light due to larger pixels.

Meanwhile, the secondary camera is unfortunately now a 5MP shooter with f/2.2 aperture, used mainly for depth sensing. I wish OPPO had used the same secondary camera as on the costlier R15 Pro, which is 20MP with an f/1.7 aperture.

You will understand why I say that once you read my full review, but meanwhile, here are some photos taken with the OPPO R15’s rear camera. Some of them are taken on portrait mode, which adds bokeh effect and color filters.

For portrait mode, you get automatically zoomed in, so subjects appear nearer than they actually are, thus you don’t have to get too close to your subject. However, I do notice that the R15 has some difficulties focusing on near objects on portrait mode.

Front Camera

On the front of the R15 we have a single 20MP selfie camera with f/2.0 aperture. Yes, the resolution is very high for a front-facing camera, but what really caught my attention is its ability to reproduce colors that are more accurate than most other phones.

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Most phones I have used recently tend to produce images that are a little washed out, which is very noticeable when you have a dark background. Hence, the R15’s selfie camera could potentially be one of the best you can get right now.

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Like the rear cameras, the selfie camera on the R15 is capable of taking bokeh photos. Despite not having a secondary camera for depth sensing, the results of the bokeh seems to be really impressive, with very accurate edge detection. Nice!

One of OPPO’s most popular selfie feature is AI Beautify and through AI, the R15 selects the best beautification profile for you. It works really well, as you can see in the 2 images above. You can hardly see the pimples I got from going outfield 2 days ago.

Software

OPPO R15 runs on ColorOS 5.0. Having experienced Color OS for multiple generations, I must say that it has gotten a lot better over the years, with the latest version 5.0 feeling the most refined in terms of design and implementation of features.

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If you ask me right now: In what way is the OPPO R15 better than the similarly priced Vivo X21? I can confidently reply that ColorOS is just much more polished than FunTouch OS. In fact, I might even go as far as saying that it feels nicer than MIUI.

I will go into more details in my full review.


Conclusion – Promising, But What About the R15 Pro?

For now, the OPPO R15 looks very promising. But when you take a look at its sibling, the R15 Pro, which only costs S$150 more, you will wonder why the difference between both devices is so huge. Is there any reason to get the R15 then?

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Unlike the R15 Pro, R15 does not have NFC or ingress protection, and is powered by MediaTek’s Helio P60 processor instead of Snapdragon 660. Also, as mentioned earlier, it uses an inferior 5MP f/2.2 secondary rear camera, vs 20MP f/1.7 on the R15 Pro.

I will try to get my hands on a R15 Pro review unit in the next few weeks. But for now, I will be working on my OPPO R15 and Redmi Note 5 review, both coming very soon, so stay tuned!

Vivo X21 Review

Without a doubt, in-display fingerprint scanner is going to be one of this year’s hottest smartphone trend. Vivo’s X21 is the first phone to receive this new technology, and we can expect to see a lot more phones with it in the near future.

But there is a lot more to the Vivo X21 than its in-display fingerprint scanner and even without it, the X21 is one excellent device. Without further ado, here is my review of the Vivo X21. Huge thanks to Vivo Singapore for lending me the review unit.


Summary – The New King of Premium Mid-Rangers

Vivo X21 is a beautiful premium mid-range device that gets a lot of things right. While not perfect, I really enjoyed my time with it and I am sure you will too.

Pros:

  • Eye-catching design, great feel in hand
  • Case, screen protector & earphones included
  • Large 6.28″ 19:9 Super AMOLED display
  • UI and most games run smoothly without a hitch
  • Fun and easy-to-use camera app
  • Very respectable camera performance for price
  • Great sounding bottom firing speaker
  • Face unlock works well, even in low light
  • Supports fast charging with included wall adapter

Cons:

  • Still using Micro USB
  • Limited app support for split screen
  • No NFC and wireless charging despite glass back
  • In-display fingerprint scanner slow, difficult to set up

Others:

  • UI is better now, but still has room for improvement
  • Battery lasts through a day of moderate usage

Variants & Pricing – Reasonable

Compared to competing products in the same category, the Vivo X21 is reasonably priced at S$799. It is only available in Black at the moment, with 128GB ROM and 6GB RAM.

In Singapore, the 128/6GB Vivo X21 will cost you S$799 off-contract. This places it between rival OPPO’s R15 (S$749) and R15 Pro (S$899), both also with 128GB ROM and 6GB RAM, so I would say that the X21 is priced reasonably.

In case 128GB of storage is not enough for you, the Vivo X21 is also expandable via a Micro SD card up to 256GB. The SIM tray is a hybrid one, accepting either 2 nano SIM cards or one nano SIM card plus a Micro SD card.

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At the moment, it is only available in black here in Singapore. I hope Vivo will bring in the red and white versions. Most of the accessories you will need come with the X21, including a pre-applied screen protector, case and earphones.


Design – Calling it Magnificent is an Understatement

A glass phone that feels thin!

You may have noticed that many phones this year are ditching metal uni-body for a glass back. The Vivo X21 is one of them, featuring a glass back that is curved at the sides, with a metal frame around the device that is equally reflective.

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The metal frame curves at a steep angle in the middle, which creates an illusion that makes the phone feel thinner in the hand. We have seen the same trick on OPPO’s R11s, which unfortunately was excluded from OPPO’s latest device, the R15.

With the steep curves around the center of the metal frame, you also get a better grip. This is especially important for a phone with a glass back; you don’t want to drop it. But if you are still concerned about breaking it, put on the included case.

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On the top, we have a headphone jack (hooray!) and a microphone. At the bottom, we have a single speaker grill, a Micro USB port, as well as a SIM tray. A little disappointing to see Micro USB on a device that costs close to S$800 in 2018.

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The left side of the X21 is completely empty, while the power and volume buttons sit on the right side, as usual. Now, to most exciting yet controversial aspect of the design: the display in front.

Why controversial? Like almost every other non-budget smartphones in 2018, the X21 has a notch on top, with tiny side bezels and a small chin below the 19:9 6.28″ display. Place it beside an Honor 10 or OnePlus 6 and have fun guessing which is which.

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Despite being “Black” according to Vivo’s website, the X21 looks more grayish under sunlight, especially with its reflective properties. Overall, I am very impressed by the design of the X21 and I am sure you will too when you use it.


Display – Not(ch) Bad Eh?

It has a notch, but there is nothing else to complain about.

Love Samsung’s smartphone displays? Then you will love this display too. The Vivo X21 uses a 19:9 6.28″ FHD+ Super AMOLED display. This display is very bright and a little over-saturated, with excellent viewing angles. A nice display.

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As you may expect from AMOLED technology, blacks are super deep as only required portions are lit up. Vivo uses this to show a fingerprint icon for the in-display fingerprint scanner when the screen is off. If only Vivo added always-on display…

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Vivo knows that the notch might obstruct certain buttons in some games, so they have something called “Safe Area Display”, which is basically running the games in 16:9, avoiding the notch. This can be disabled in the settings app.

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Performance – Good Enough for its Intended Audience

The Snapdragon 660 processor inside is good enough for most users but the most hardcore gamers. This phone ain’t designed for hardcore gamers anyways.

As a premium mid-range device, the Vivo X21 isn’t meant for hardcore mobile gaming. That said, with a Snapdragon 660 processor and 6GB of RAM, scrolling through the UI is butter smooth and most games run without a hitch.

Even on graphic-intensive games like PUBG Mobile and 王者荣耀, with graphics on balance and frame rate at medium in PUBG Mobile, the Vivo X21 did not stutter. Even when there is a lot of action going on, the X21 held up well.

Hence, it is no surprise that the Vivo X21 performed well in benchmarks, scoring 1615 (single-core)/ 5673 (multi-core) on Geekbench 4 and 129404 on AnTuTu.


Rear Camera – That Bokeh Mode

Capable of taking stunning bokeh photos and selfies Capable of 4K video recording, but you will want to record in 1080p for better stabilization.

On the rear, the Vivo X21 is equipped with a pair of cameras: a 12MP dual pixel main camera with f/1.8 aperture and a 5MP secondary camera with f/2.4 aperture for depth sensing.

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Under sunlight and artificial lighting, the X21’s rear cameras produce stunning photos with pretty accurate colors and plenty of details. With a 5MP sensor for depth sensing, the X21 is not only capable of bokeh, but does it surprisingly well.

You can also use the rear camera to take selfies, with face beauty (beautify) and bokeh effect. With a few taps in the camera settings, you can use your palm to activate the camera shutter, which makes taking selfie with the rear camera a lot easier.

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I (shamelessly) used the Vivo X21 to take a couple of photos for an upcoming review and the photos look so good! I shall not reveal too much but here is one of them. Look at that bokeh. Breathtaking! Tempted to get a X21 after I return this review unit.

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At night, the X21 is capable of taking good looking images that are still worthy to be posted on Instagram, but there is quite a bit of noise and the lost in detail is quite apparent.

Vivo X21 is capable of shooting up to 4K videos at 30fps. Don’t get too excited though. While colors do look good, 4K videos turn out blurry due to bad stabilization (if there is even stabilization). Will not recommend using it without a tripod.

On the other hand, 1080p videos turn out to be a lot more stable, even as I walked faster. This results in footage that looks much nicer, so you will want to shoot in 1080p most of the time.


Front Camera – AR Stickers!

For a front camera, the Vivo X21’s selfie shooter is very good, but the rear camera produces much better selfies. Ladies will love the AR sticker function.

Similar to the rear, the front of the Vivo X21 houses a 12MP dual pixel camera, but this time with an aperture of f/2.0. Selfies turn out a little soft with poor dynamic range, but compared to the competition it is already among the best

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The front facing camera on the Vivo X21 is capable of bokeh mode and it works well too, even without a secondary depth sensing camera. But whenever possible, I would still use the rear camera for selfies as the image quality is just much better.

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One thing I really enjoyed about the selfie camera is the AR Sticker mode, similar to what you get on Snapchat. While it is also available on the rear camera, it is a lot more fun when you can see yourself in the display.  My sister is addicted to it!


Audio – Great Speakers, Decent Headphone Output

Bottom-firing speaker severely lacks bass, but vocals sound good. Meanwhile, listening via headphones, the X21 emphasizes too much on bass, crippling the mids.

Listening with my 1MORE 1M301, the X21 emphasizes a little too much on bass, overshadowing and even losing quite a bit of details in the mids. While I do not get the “silent headphone jack” problem like on the V7+, it doesn’t sound as good as Redmi 5.

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With so little room in the front, the Vivo X21 could only house a single bottom-firing speaker. Compared to the Redmi 5, its sound isn’t as vibrant and bass sounds tiny even for a smartphone, but vocals sound less constricted and more natural.


Unlocking – Face > In-Display Fingerprint Scanner

The reliability of the fingerprint scanner depends on how well you set it up, but the setup process is tedious and frustrating. Meanwhile, face unlock works surprisingly well.

A key feature of the Vivo X21, one that sets it apart from most smartphones we have today, is the in-display fingerprint scanner. Unfortunately, it is pretty slow (0.6s) and if you don’t set it up properly, it will often fail to recognize your fingerprint.

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The setup process was one of the most annoying that I have been through, rejecting scans frequently and failing after multiple rejections. For best results. you want to scan your entire thumb, but it is very difficult to do so when it keeps failing.

From my testing, the best way to set it up is to avoid scanning near your fingernail. Also, the app may ask you to press deeper, but I found that to make things worst. Instead, holding down for a longer time (about 1 whole second) seems to help.

Meanwhile, Face Unlock on the X21 is quick and works well in different lighting conditions. Turn on “raise to wake” and the device will unlock instantly when you pick it up. Sweet! This has been my default unlocking method since day 1.

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Endurance & Charging – Fast Charging!!!

Lasts through a day with moderate usage. Fast charging supported with the included wall adapter! For best results, turn of the device while charging.

Powering the Vivo X21 is a 3200mAh battery. In my test, it got through a full day on moderate usage with ease, with 23% battery remaining at the end of the day. To estimate screen-on time, I subtracted the idle duration from RF service duration.

Total duration = 15h

Screen-On Time = 5h 12min

Main usage:

  • 46min Facebook
  • 40min YouTube
  • 22min Instagram
  • 1h17min music
  • 37min Xiaomi AI
  • 36min light games (Jetpack Joyride & Connection)

With heavier usage, the Vivo X21 will require charging halfway through the day. But considering that this phone is targeted at the less tech-savvy who is unlikely to use their phones so heavily, the battery endurance of the X21 is acceptable.

In my unboxing article, I mentioned that the Vivo X21 comes with a 9V 2A wall adapter, which could be a hint that the X21 supports fast charging. And that is indeed true. To test the charging speed and power drawn, I drained the X21 to under 5% battery.

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There are 3 scenarios to consider: screen on, screen off and device off. In all 3 scenarios, my USB tester read 7.45V, but the current differed, at 1.2A, 1.6A and 1.85A respectively. Hence, to achieve max charging speed, we should power off the device.

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Next, I charged the X21, powered off, from 3% battery. After 30min, the phone was at 62% and at the 1 hour mark, it had hit 93%. So if you forgot to charge your phone the previous night, an hour’s charge should get you through the entire day.


Software – Better, Still has Room for Improvement

More enjoyable to use than previous versions, but some of the flaws from before hasn’t been addressed.

If you have read my Vivo V7+ review, you will know that I was not a fan of Vivo’s Funtouch OS as it felt unpolished at that point in time. Now that we are at version 4.0, has it gotten any better? In my opinion, yes and a little bit of no.

Some of my concerns hasn’t been addressed: the weird app naming is still here and split screen added support for a few more apps but it still isn’t as good as stock Android’s.

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However, I must say that Funtouch OS feels a lot nicer now, with more modern icons and a curvier design that matches the curved corners of the display. Navigation gestures now has a tutorial and the gesture for one-handed mode seem more responsive.

There are a couple of features in Funtouch OS 4.0 that I really like. There is a gaming mode that removes distractions and obstructions when you are gaming on your Vivo X21. You can even add some non-game apps like Facebook!

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When watching videos on YouTube and a WhatsApp message comes in, you get a tiny icon bubble instead of the normal notification bubble that blocks 1/3 of your screen. Tapping on the bubble will open WhatsApp in split screen.

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Conclusion – The X21 Doesn’t Disappoint

If you are a hardcore gamer, you will not like the X21’s Snapdragon 660 processor, but the device ain’t meant for you anyways. For everyone else, while the Vivo X21 may not sound too impressive on paper, you will really enjoy using it.

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Want to get the Vivo X21 after reading this article? You can purchase it from M1 and StarHub for S$799 off-contract or at one of Vivo Singapore’s authorized distributors, listed on their website.

Redmi Note 5 Unboxing & First Impression + Experiential Event

Yesterday, Xiaomi launched the Redmi Note 5 in Singapore, available in two storage configurations: S$299 for the 32/3GB version and S$349 for the 64/4G version. Wait a minute, haven’t we reviewed the Redmi 5 Plus aka Redmi Note 5?

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Thank Xiaomi’s confusing naming scheme for that. The local Redmi 5 Plus is known as the Redmi Note 5 in India. Meanwhile, the local Redmi Note 5, which is the device we will be taking a look at today, is called the Redmi Note 5 Pro in India.

I attended the experiential event today and got to understand the Redmi Note 5 better. At the same time, I was able to borrow a review unit to test out over the next week, so I will be unboxing the device in this article as well. Two articles in one!

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Unboxing – Another Orange Box

Perhaps to save money on packaging design, all of Xiaomi’s recent Redmi devices come in an orange box, with the device name stated on the front. Pulling off the lid, you will find a clear case and right below it is the Redmi Note 5.

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At the bottom of the box, you will find a wall adapter, a Micro USB cable, the SIM removal tool, as well as a user manual. Would have been nice if a screen protector was included.

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First Impression – The Real Redmi Note 5!

Design

The Redmi Note 5 is very similar to the Redmi 5 Plus in terms of design, with the main differences being the rear camera position (due to the new dual camera setup), as well as the position of the camera, flash and ambient light sensor on the front.

So my impression of this design is the same as my verdict for the Redmi 5 Plus’s design, at least for now: too similar to the Redmi Note 3 and 4, getting a little stale. It is not a bad design, but reusing it for more than 2 years is just being lazy.

Rear Cameras

One thing that differentiates the Redmi Note 5 from the Redmi 5 Plus is the pair of cameras on the rear. This is the first time we are seeing a dual camera setup on a Redmi device.

The main camera comes with a 12MP sensor with f/1.9 aperture. It uses dual-pixel auto focus, which previously could only be found on much costlier flagship and premium mid-range device. This allows it to focus extremely quickly.

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The secondary 5MP camera is used for depth sensing and it works with AI edge detection to take bokeh images in portrait mode. I didn’t have anyone to test it on after unboxing, so here is a photo of durian ice-cream with biscuits in portrait mode.

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In the past, Redmi devices struggled to take photos in the dark, but that may not be the case anymore. The Redmi Note 5’s main 12MP camera has large 1.4µm pixels, which allows more light to enter, theoretically resulting in better low-light photos.

The photo below was taken with the Redmi Note 5 at night. I had taken a photo of the same artwork in my Redmi Note 4 review and there was a ton of noise, even though the sun had not completely set yet. The improvement is just unbelievable.

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That said, there are limitations to this camera at night. It is unable to focus on objects moving at night, resulting in blur. From what I have seen, it has the potential to compete with some S$700 devices, but I wouldn’t compare it to modern flagships.

For videos, the Redmi Note 5 has EIS for stabilization, so videos should turn out better. Sadly, it is only able to record up to 1080p videos on the rear camera. (Already have some recordings, but I am saving it for the full review. Stay tuned for that!)

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Front Camera

Front cameras on past Redmi devices are admittedly not very good, even on the recent Redmi 5 and 5 Plus. But with the Redmi Note 5, Xiaomi opted for a 13MP sensor. How does it perform?

Like the rear camera, the front camera is also capable of bokeh, called depth effect. Since it doesn’t have a secondary depth sensor though, the bokeh is created purely by AI edge detection. From my few minutes of testing it, it did a great job.

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But what isn’t so great is the color reproduction. Images taken with the selfie camera on the Redmi Note 5 seems to be a little pale, though a little bit of editing might do the trick.

What is a selfie camera without beautify? On the Redmi Note 5, Beautify got smarter with AI, just like we have seen last year on the OPPO R11s. The image on top that I used to demonstrate portrait mode was taken with Beautify enabled.

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Performance

Redmi Note 5 is the first device to be powered by the Snapdragon 636, with 8 Kyro 260 cores. I have never used a device with it before so I do not know what to expect from it, but I will be putting it through thorough testing in my full review.

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Battery

Like the Redmi 5 Plus, the Redmi Note 5 has a 4000mAh non-removable battery. In my review, the Redmi 5 Plus didn’t do as well as its predecessors, so I hope the Redmi Note 5 will do better. Will the new processor be more efficient?

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Experiential Event – Claw Machine!

From 1st June to 3rd June 2018, spend more than S$99 at Mi Home Suntec City and you will get a chance at the claw machine! Attractive prizes are to be won, including power banks, VR headsets, smart watches and even an electric scooter!

You can also get free cotton candy too! No spending is required, but why not get yourself some really affordable Mi gadgets? The 5000mAh Mi Power Bank is going at only S$9.90!


Conclusion – Another Year, Another Redmi Note

When I tested the Redmi 5 Plus a while back, I wasn’t very impressed as it didn’t offer a lot of improvements. With the new dual rear camera setup and a better processor, is the Redmi Note 5 the Redmi Note 4 successor we have been waiting for?

Vivo X21 Unboxing & First Impression

For the last 3 years, OPPO’s R series devices dominated the premium mid-range market in Singapore. But there is a new competitor in town and it is one that OPPO should be afraid of. This new competitor is no other than Vivo and their X series.

For those that are unaware, Vivo is OPPO’s main competitor/rival back in their homeland. Both companies sell similarly specced and priced products, spend a ton of money on advertisement and open a lot of physical stores in China.

Vivo is finally bringing their premium mid-range X series to Singapore with the X21 priced at S$799, available at M1 and StarHub. In this article, we will be taking a quick look at the Vivo X21. (Full review coming soon. Stay tuned!)


Unboxing – All You Need is Included!

The box of the X21 looks exquisite. It also gets a lot of attention, but probably for the wrong reason. Vivo is the official smartphone sponsor for 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and judging from the design of the box, they are very proud of that.

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Inside the box, you will find everything you need: wall adapter and Micro USB cable, earphones, SIM removal tool, user manual and a case. A screen protector has even been applied, so you do not need to pay extra for any basic phone accessories.

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The website doesn’t say anything about fast charging, but the wall adapter supports 9V 2A, so what gives? Does the Vivo X21 support fast charging? I will leave that for my full review.

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First Impression – What OPPO’s R15 Should Have Been

With last year’s iPhones switching from metal to glass housing, many manufacturers are following suit; Vivo and OPPO are no exception. With a grayish glass back and a black metal frame, both really reflective, the X21 is one eye-catching device.

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Despite both having a glass back and metal frame, the Vivo X21 feels a lot nicer in the hand compared to OPPO’s R15. Why? The X21’s rear glass is curved at the sides and the metal frame is curved sharply in the middle, making it feel thin.

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Meanwhile, OPPO’s R15 feels light but thick, losing the appeal of its predecessors, the R11 and R11s. I may be a huge fan of OPPO, but if you were to ask me to choose between the X21 and the R15’s design, I would pick the X21 without hesitation.

Yes! The headphone jack is still here, located at the top.

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Unlike most phones I have seen, the SIM tray of the X21 is located at the bottom, so you can swap SIM cards even with the included case on. Beside it is the Micro USB port, as well as a single speaker grill. Micro USB on a S$799 2018 device? Hmm…

Now, to the front. Like most phones coming out in 2018, the X21’s display has very little bezel, and a notch. To be honest, the notch isn’t as bothersome as many reviewers paint it out to be.

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Next, the most exciting aspect of the device, but also the most disappointing one, is the in-display fingerprint scanner. The X21 is the first smartphone to have a fingerprint scanner under its display and that sounds very cool, until you use it.

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Setting up my fingerprint on the X21 was a torturous process, with many failed attempts. Unlocking the device was also slow and prone to failures with the in-display fingerprint scanner. Clearly, the technology isn’t ready for prime time yet.

On the other hand, the face unlock on the Vivo X21 works fabulously, detecting my face quickly in various lighting conditions. It may not be as secure as fingerprint, but I have resorted to using it over the in-display fingerprint scanner due to its speed.

As for the cameras, I want to keep most of the surprises for my full review, but I can confidently say that the Vivo X21’s cameras produces incredible photos for a under S$800 device, both front and back. Here are sample shots I took with the cameras:

The Vivo X21 runs Funtouch OS 4.0, an updated version of what we saw on the V7+ earlier this year. The layout remain almost untouched, but its design has been refined and some of my concerns were addressed. A huge improvement.


Conclusion – A Very Promising Device

Over the next few days, I will being testing out different aspects of the Vivo X21 and will be covering all of them in my full review. I am loving what I have seen thus far and have very high hopes for the Vivo X21. Stay tuned for my full review!

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Love the Vivo X21’s AR stickers!!!

 

Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 Review

Xiaomi is known for making affordable products that look and feel good, and the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is no exception. Despite only costing S$29.90, it looks better than most speakers in its price range. Should you get one?

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Design – Clean & Premium

With a metal frame all around the sides and very smooth matte plastic on the front and back, you will have a hard time guessing that this Bluetooth speaker can be yours at just under S$30.

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There are only 3 buttons on the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2: the power and volume buttons, all located on the top of the speaker. The power button also doubles as a play/pause button.

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On the bottom of the speaker, you will find a pair of rubber strips that do a decent job at providing grip so your speaker doesn’t slide around or off a table. On the back, you will find the Micro USB charging port, as well as an AUX-in port.

The width of the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is only as long as the height of a Redmi 5, so is easily pocketable. Overall, I really like how simple yet classy the device looks. My only complain would be its matte white plastic, which gets dirty really easily.


Pairing & Controls – Easy to Use

You can turn on the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 by holding on the power button. The notification LED, hidden behind the speaker grill, will flash red and blue, indicating ready to pair. Now, pair it on your phone like any other Bluetooth speaker.

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Once paired and connected, the notification light will turn solid blue and you will hear a long beep. To disconnect from the current device and play from another device, double tap the power button. To turn the speaker off, hold the power button.

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Alternatively, you can connect the speaker to your music device via a 3.5mm audio cable. It still requires the speaker to be powered on, but this might save your device some battery.

Whether you are using an iOS and some Android devices, the volume buttons on the Basic 2 can control your phone’s volume directly. Ironically, it is unable to control MIUI’s volume slider directly and uses a separate volume setting instead.

Holding the volume down buttons minimizes the volume instantly, while holding the volume up button will bring it up to max gradually. Nice touch. I do wish there was a way to skip or go to previous track using the speaker though.


Sound Quality – Very Good for Its Price

The Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is loud enough to fill a large room with music. Despite only having speaker grills on the front, audio is still very audible from the back – just a little less shiok.

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The sound it produces is also pretty good, with great balance and relatively good level of details. Bass is also respectable for a portable speaker. You can find something better if you pay more, but for a S$30 Bluetooth speaker, I am very satisfied.

Compared to the original Mi Bluetooth Speaker from years ago, the Basic 2’s produces sounds that is richer and more natural. Bass is noticeably deeper and vocals sound warmer and clearer.

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Battery Life – Exceeding Expectations

Xiaomi claims that the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is capable of up to 10hrs of battery life. From my testing, under varying volume levels (between 40-100%), I was able to achieve over 12hrs of continuous music playback via Bluetooth. Sweet!

When the battery has about 5-10 minutes of charge remaining, the device will constantly beep to inform you about it. One thing annoying is that it does it even while you are charging and still using it. (Not sure if it is safe to do so though…)

To conserve battery, the Basic 2 will automatically switch off after 10 minutes of inactivity, even if it is connected to your device.


Microphone – There is One Built In?!!!

The Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is a great way to listen to phone calls. But wouldn’t it be great if you can talk into the speaker directly? That was what the designers at Xiaomi thought, so they included a microphone in the Basic 2.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to record any audio with it due to the lack of support for Bluetooth microphone recording on Android and iOS. But testing it with my home phone, the microphone on the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 is of decent quality.


Conclusion – Worth Every Penny!

Like most of Xiaomi’s device, the Mi Bluetooth Speaker Basic 2 offers excellent build quality and performance at a very affordable pricing. It looks modern, sounds pretty good and has excellent battery life. At under S$30, what more can we ask for?

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OPPO Smartphones – UNCOVERED

Very often, people bash OPPO for selling “overpriced” products, comparing OPPO devices with similarly priced products from brands like Xiaomi and Honor. But is that really the truth, or is there more to it? Who are OPPO’s products for?

These are some of the questions that I hope to address in today’s article. Studying the smartphone industry since 2012, no brand intrigues me more than OPPO. By the end of this article, you will never see OPPO the same way again.


The Facts – The Turning Point

In order to understand how OPPO got to where it is today, we will have to take a look at one very important year: 2014, the year OPPO released their two last high-end devices, the Find 7 and N3.

In the same year, OPPO released the R5, the first phone in OPPO’s very successful R series to receive widespread attention globally. It was well known for two things: being the thinnest smartphone (not for long) and not having a headphone jack.

Also, it had one of the most bad ass commercials.

2014 was also the year OPPO’s subsidiary (stop denying!), OnePlus, released its first smartphone, the OnePlus One. The OnePlus One was in some ways similar to OPPO’s Find 7 in design and specs, but it was a lot more affordable.

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After silently abandoning its Find and N series, OPPO placed its attention on the premium mid-range R series. Despite being a relatively unknown brand in 2014, OPPO made it into the global top 5 list in 2016 and has stayed up there since.

Along the way, OPPO also introduced the A and F series. Today, the A series covers all of OPPO’s affordable budget phones. Meanwhile, the F series replaces the R series in selected markets, offering lesser specs at a slightly lower price.


The Analysis – More Than Just Coincidence

I would like to split this analysis into two parts: Why OPPO abandoned its high-end Find and N series for the premium mid-range R series and why OnePlus was formed. Through this, we will also uncover who OPPO’s R series is targeted at.

The Problem with High-End Devices

We know little about the fate of OPPO’s high-end Find and N series, but after so many years, many believe that OPPO will not be releasing an update for any of them. Here is a highly possible reason they were discontinued:

To stand a chance in succeeding in the high end smartphone market, one has to come out with the most impressive device, which requires huge spending on innovation. Those that did well were heftily rewarded, but most end up losing money from it.

Yes, it is just like gambling.

Considering how small OPPO was back then, and that Chinese products were often viewed as “cheap” and “low quality” back in 2014 even in China, chances of OPPO beating Samsung and other big players in the high-end market were slim.

One Price, Two Recipes

All successful smartphones in the ¥2000-¥4000 price range fall under two categories: “Flagship killers” that are equipped with specs of >S$1000 phones or premium mid-rangers that will impress you with its quality and craftsmanship.

Flagship killers appeals the most to people who cares about getting the most out of their money, at least on paper. Meanwhile, premium mid-rangers attracts people who want to flaunt their status, as well as those that are less tech savvy.

With the rapidly growing middle-class in China, more people are able to afford costlier devices. To dominate the rising ¥2000-¥4000 smartphone market, you will need to sell both type of products. And that was exactly what OPPO did.

OPPO and the R Series

OPPO was already competing in the premium mid-range segment with its R series, so they got the first part solved. Sort of. They aren’t the only ones making premium mid-range devices though. OPPO needed to stand out from the competition.

Mentioned earlier, premium mid-rangers are all about the quality and craftsmanship. Hence, they are often sold in offline stores, where people can feel the devices before purchasing. The key to selling well is creating a good first impression.

As a result, factors that shape first impressions, like design and build quality, were prioritized over others, including performance. This is why R series phones uses Snapdragon 6xx processors (or its MTK equivalent) instead of Snapdragon 8xx.

You may have noticed that designs of recent OPPO devices are a little inspired by iPhones – copycat? But think about it this way: if OPPO can take Apple’s design and make it look even better, doesn’t it prove that they can design better than Apple?

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Apple got beaten at its own game!

Alright, OPPO is capable of making devices that look and feel really good, even better than some >S$1000 devices. But was it enough to convince people that their product is better than something from a reputable brand like Samsung?

Maybe? But there was too much at stake to take the risk.

Thus, OPPO spent a lot on advertisements, sponsorship and brand ambassador. Their presence could be felt everywhere in China, with an insane number of retail shops displaying their logo and ads at subways, airports and on television.

Just from the image on the left, you can spot 3 OPPO stores.

That changed people’s perception of it from a stereotypical Chinese brand to one that is considered luxurious and highly sought after. This further establishes the R series as premium devices and helped OPPO break into markets outside of China.

The Reason for OnePlus

As you may have guessed, OPPO created OnePlus to compete in the flagship killer segment. But why did they not sell them under the OPPO branding? The answer is quite clear – flagship killer and premium mid-ranger cannot coexist under one roof.

If OnePlus’s devices were released under the OPPO branding and retain their price, it would be competing with a similarly priced R series device. OPPO would have less budget for advertising and out goes OPPO’s “premium” reputation.

On the other hand, if these flagship killers were priced higher, they would lose their appeal and competitors like Xiaomi and Honor will have an edge. Either way, one of them will suffer, so it makes sense to sell them under different brands.

Another reason for OnePlus’s existence is to break into western markets. Unlike OPPO, many people do not view OnePlus as a Chinese brand, which helps them to avoid getting stereotypes like being low quality or infected with spyware.

Perhaps this is why OPPO refused to acknowledge OnePlus as its subsidiary. As a company from China, being able to sell well in western markets, especially in the US, is a real miracle.

Unlike OPPO, OnePlus phones are mainly sold online to reduce cost. OnePlus had two experience stores, one in Beijing and the other in Shanghai, but unfortunately they both closed in 2016.

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The Prediction – What’s Next for OPPO?

With China’s smartphone growth coming to a halt last year, the latest sales figures show that OPPO’s growth also took a hit. Is OPPO’s days of glory over? What is OPPO doing about it? What else can they do? Lets take a look.

India Exclusive Realme

Just recently, OPPO partnered with Amazon India to launch the new Realme brand in India. Their first phone, the Realme 1, has not been announced, but many are saying that it is a re-branded OPPO A3. But the re-branding seems a little redundant.

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Unless… What if Realme is the OnePlus equivalent of budget OPPO phones? What if the Realme 1 is an OPPO A3 with lesser specs but with a much more affordable price?

Return to High-End Smartphones?

Next up, will OPPO ever release a high-end smartphones again? Patents and leaks point to a possible fordable smartphone from OPPO and if OPPO were to release something so cool and bizarre, chances are that it will come with high end specs.

So yes, we might be seeing a flagship-grade device from OPPO in the near future. After all, the OPPO today is no longer the OPPO we knew back in 2014. They are now one of the top 5 smartphone manufacturers; they are now recognized worldwide.

Using AI for Greater Convenience

Smartphone manufacturers are integrating artificial intelligence into certain aspects of their phones and OPPO is no exception. Last year’s R11s used AI to make beautify more natural and the new R15 uses it to identify scenes for better photos.

While “Camera Phone” may be OPPO’s tagline, their use of AI do not have to stop there. OPPO’s smartphones are well known for being reliable and easy to use, so why not use AI to further improve the way users interact with their phones?

I have a couple of ideas for that, but I am sure OPPO can come out with better ones so I will not share them here. (@OPPO but if you are interested in what I have in mind, feel free to contact me on Facebook and we will discuss there)


Conclusion – Mind Blown Yet?

What I have discussed above is only touching the surface of what OPPO has done over the past 4-5 years that brought them to where they are today, but I hope it is enough to change the way you think of OPPO and its relationship with OnePlus.

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You may have noticed that I avoided mentioning about Vivo in this article. While many believe that OPPO belongs to BBK, Vivo’s parent company, I do not find the evidence convincing enough yet. But if true, things can get a lot more complicated.