Are Premium Mid-Range Smartphones Still Worth It?

Very often, I see people commenting that premium mid-range smartphones, like the OPPO R15, are overpriced. Is that true or is there more to it? Is there any reason to pay more for it, versus getting a budget smartphone like the Redmi Note 5?

To find out, I will be comparing the OPPO R15 to Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 5, both of which I had reviewed recently. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow a review unit for each device at the same time, so why not use this opportunity to compare them?


Design – Pay More for Better Craftsmanship

The first difference you would notice when placing both devices side by side would be their design. Both are pretty good looking devices in their own ways, but one is clearly superior, in terms of material choice, attention to details and craftsmanship.

Of course, the device I am talking about is the OPPO R15. On its rear is glass and if you get the Nebula Purple or Rouge Red models, shining light on it will cause it to appear as a different shade of purple and red respectively. It looks amazing.

Holding the glass and display together is a metal frame, which is almost as reflective as the glass. While I wish there was some kind of sharp curve in the middle to make the R15 feel thinner, I cannot deny that it looks and feels really high quality.

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Redmi Note 5 may have a metal body, but it isn’t anything too impressive. I have seen nicer looking metal smartphones that feel more exquisite in hand, OPPO R11s for example. Compared to the R11s, the Redmi Note 5’s design feels primitive.

Moving to the front, we can see another key difference in design. Redmi Note 5 has pretty small bezels compared to its predecessors, but the OPPO R15’s notch-style display allows it to reduce its bezels even further and fit in more screen.

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While the dimensions of the two devices are very similar, OPPO R15 is able to fit a slightly larger display. Not only do you get more space to work with, the higher screen-to-body ratio gives the R15 a more futuristic and premium look.


Display – OLED vs IPS LCD

Speaking of display, the R15 uses a 6.28″ 19:9 AMOLED panel, while the Redmi Note 5 is equipped with a 5.99″ IPS LCD panel. Both are very good displays, though the usual AMOLED vs IPS LCD argument still stands. (e.g. AMOLED over-saturated)

However, if I were to choose between one of them, I would pick OPPO R15’s AMOLED display. Being AMOLED allows it to have an always-on display, only lighting up part of the display to show the clock whenever the phone is in standby.

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That may not sound like much, but once you use it, you can’t live without it. Many of us have the bad habit of picking up our phone to check the time every few minutes. With always-on display, you do not have to do so anymore to check time.


Performance – OPPO R15 is Better, But Redmi Note 5 Offers Greater Bang-for-the-Buck

Both devices are powered by a Snapdragon 6xx series processor, 660 on the OPPO R15 and 636 on the Redmi Note 5. In Benchmarks, both do very well, but the R15 has a bit of a lead.

In actual usage, both handle most tasks well, but graphic intensive games run smoother on the R15. If you are truly into gaming though, neither is probably what you are looking for as both of them can’t match the performance of a flagship device.

If you are on a tight budget, the Redmi Note 5 is not a bad option. But if you are an avid smartphone gamer and are willing to spend S$749 on an OPPO R15, why not get a similarly priced flagship killer instead, like the OnePlus 6?


Rear Cameras – Closing the Gap

In the past, one of the reasons why one would pay more for premium mid-range devices is for better cameras, but that may not be the case anymore. The affordable Redmi Note 5 packs a pair of cameras on its rear that takes marvelous photos, even at night.

Below are a few images shot for comparison. In most cases, both devices do an equally excellent job, with the differences mainly in the color reproduction. Even at night, both still perform very well. A year ago, the difference would have been huge.

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Redmi Note 5

Both devices have a secondary camera on the rear for depth perception, allowing you to capture photos with bokeh effect. Additionally, OPPO R15 automatically zooms in whenever you are in portrait mode, allowing you to get “closer” to your subject.

Both are not perfect at detecting the edges of objects, but are not too bad for smartphone cameras. However, the R15 does have issues focusing on near objects in portrait mode, persistently focusing on the background instead. Annoying.

Below are two videos recorded at the same time, one taken with the OPPO R15 and the other with the Redmi Note 5. OPPO R15’s video has quite a bit of over-sharpening and dynamic range is bad. For video recording, I would pick the Redmi Note 5.

There seems to be some form of electronic image stabilization on the R15, but it doesn’t do a very good job so the video is still shaky and the jello effect that it causes is very nauseating. Meanwhile, the EIS on the R15 works pretty well.

Overall, I would say that both rear camera setups are good in their own ways and I wouldn’t say one is clearly better than the other. If you use your smartphone mainly for photography, then I would say the Redmi Note 5 is a better deal for you.


Front Camera – All About That Dynamic Range

One area that most front facing camera on today’s smartphones struggle is dynamic range. Very often, you will get selfies that are overexposed even in environments with great lighting, resulting in bright photos with very dull colors.

Redmi Note 5’s selfie camera is no different, so you will definitely have to edit the photo before posting it onto Instagram. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue on the OPPO R15 and it can take selfies with pleasant looking colors with it.


Software – Both are Among the Best

Both Xiaomi and OPPO uses a custom Android skin on their phones, MIUI and ColorOS respectively. MIUI has a really long history and with a huge user base, it is one of the most featured packed and refined Android skins out there.

 

ColorOS is no slouch either, with a UI that is easy to use, yet is still plenty capable. On the surface, it has less features than MIUI. But once you use it, you will know that there are actually a lot of handy small features that are hidden in the settings app.

However, I do have to point out that MIUI has quite a bit of advertisement in it, from ad banner in the music app to the browser’s “recommendations”. Xiaomi doesn’t profit much from selling phones, so I guess this is a way they are making up for it.

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Meanwhile, ColorOS on the OPPO R15 doesn’t have such a thing. We do get “hot apps” recommendations and even an OPPO app store on the new OPPO Find X though. Hopefully OPPO will continue to keep the R15’s software ad free.

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OPPO Find X


Accessories – What Else is Inside the Box?

A free clear case is included with both devices, but only the R15 come with a screen protector pre-applied. As usual, you also get the charging cable (Micro USB) and wall adapter in the box.

Also included in the R15’s box is a pair of in-ear headphones, something Xiaomi left out to reduce the cost. If you already have a good pair of earphones, which most people probably do, the absence of one on the Redmi Note 5 doesn’t matter.

But what does matter is the lack of fast charging on the Redmi Note 5’s included wall adapter. Redmi Note 5 supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0, but you will have to purchase a wall adapter that supports that separately.

Meanwhile, the charger that comes with the R15 supports OPPO’s VOOC fast charging. VOOC has been around for years, but it is still one of the best fast charging solutions today. To use it, you will need both the included wall adapter and cable.

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After Sale Services – When Something Fails

The warranty that Xiaomi provides for their phones is pretty standard: repair of defects is free 1 year for the phone and 6 months for battery and accessories. Meanwhile, OPPO offers 2 years warranty for the device, and 1 year for battery and accessories.

Screenshot_2018-08-06 OPPO Phone Warranty Policy
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Xiaomi

Xiaomi’s service center at The Central is one of the most dreaded place for me for two reasons: the store is hidden at an obscure corner of the mall and the people there can be rude from my experience. I avoid going there whenever possible.

Meanwhile, OPPO has 2 service centers in Singapore: one in their Suntec City store and the other in their Jurong Point store. I have never sent an OPPO device for repair, but I go to the Suntec City store frequently and the people there are really friendly.

You might be thinking that all of these doesn’t matter because you are always careful with your phone. But accidents do happen sometimes and when it does happen to you, just hope that your smartphone is made by OPPO and not Xiaomi.


Conclusion – Are Premium Mid-Rangers Overpriced?

Whether premium mid-rangers like the OPPO R15 are overpriced will depend on what  you value in a smartphone. If performance or camera is what you are after, then yes, you can definitely find something that does those better for the same price or less.

But if you care about the looks and feel of your device a lot, or if you want the flagship experience but do not need the top-of-the-line performance, I will say that it is worth paying more for a premium mid-range smartphone.

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OPPO Find X Hands On

The most exciting smartphone (yet) of 2018 is now in Singapore! By now, you probably have heard of OPPO’s latest flagship device, the Find X, and it’s retracting cameras that automatically pops up when you need them.

OPPO Singapore invited me to attend their launch event and I was able to spend some time with the Find X. In this article, I will share my first impressions and try to answer the questions you may have about the all new OPPO Find X.

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Design

OPPO shocked the world back on 1st June when they teased that the Find series is coming back after a 4 year hiatus, hinting that the new device is “futuristic”. And indeed, the OPPO Find X is nothing like what have seen before. It’s design is fabulous!

The moment I saw the OPPO Find X at the event, I was shocked. OPPO’s official images for the Find X looks amazing, but the device looks even better in real life. OPPO Find X comes in 2 eye-catching colors: Bordeaux Red and Glacier Blue.

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Like the OPPO R15 I reviewed earlier, lighting will affect how the color of the glass back appear. But unlike R15, the rear of OPPO Find X appear deep black in the middle, quickly transitioning to red or blue at the edges. This gives it a really bold look.

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OPPO said that this was done through a 3D multifaceted color process. No idea what that means, but it is really cool. Unlike the OPPO R15, the glass back of Find X is curved on the sides, making the phone feel a lot thinner in the hand.

The curves doesn’t stop there: the crescent arc from OPPO R11s is back. It prevents your hand from blocking the bottom firing speaker when you hold it horizontally. This may be a small thing, but it shows that OPPO cares a lot about their designs.

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Its SIM tray is also located at the bottom, inside the arc. OPPO has finally made the switch to USB Type-C on the Find X, but the 3.5mm headphone jack is gone, probably because OPPO has nowhere to put it. Why not place it on top? Good question.

This brings us to the second key feature of OPPO’s Find X. You may have noticed that the rear cameras are missing. They are actually hidden beneath the glass, together with the front camera setup, both which we will go into more details later.

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Whenever you need the cameras, the sliding structure will pop up quickly, and then automatically retract when you are done. Cool right? OPPO says that it can be used for over 300k times, so there is no need to worry about the mechanism failing.

With the cameras hidden, OPPO was able to achieve 93.8% screen-to-body ratio on the Find X without needing a notch. The AMOLED display is curved at the sides like Samsung’s infinity display, again helping to make the Find X feel thin.

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Overall, the OPPO Find X feels very slim in the hand and looks stunning under all lighting. It is the most elegant smartphone I have seen thus far and just the design alone can convince me to pick the Find X over any of this year’s flagship devices.


Front Camera

Using similar technology as the iPhone X, Find X’s camera is able to register your face in 3D. This is used for a couple of things, from really accurate face authentication to 3D beautify and even Omoji, OPPO’s take on Apple’s Animoji.

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Many of today’s smartphones feature facial authentication for unlocking your phone, but their reliability can be questionable. Meanwhile, being able to read your face in 3D means OPPO’s Find X is able to recognize your face a lot better.

In the camera app, you can register a 3D image of your face and adjust the level of beautification for the 3D render of your face. Whenever you take a selfie and the front camera recognizes your face, it will apply the same level of beautification.

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Lastly, we have Omojis, which is basically like Animoji where the cartoon animal or character mimics your facial expressions.

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The 25MP selfie camera does a great job, with nice colors, though there is still room for improvement in terms of dynamic range. Below are selfies taken with the Find X’s front camera. Huge thanks to Michael Josh from GadgetMatch for the wefie!


Rear Camera

On the other side of the sliding structure sits a pair of cameras (16MP + 20MP) with OIS. It can intelligently identify the type of scene for the photo you are taking, food for example, and use that to make your photo look good.

From the time I had with the Find X, I was able to take a couple of shots with it around the event location. It seems to do a pretty good job, producing pleasing colors.

Here is a little surprise: all the photos of the OPPO Find X above, except for the one with the bottom view (taken with Redmi 5), are taken with another OPPO Find X.


Others

Powered by the Snapdragon 845 with 8GB RAM no matter which variant you get, you can expect the OPPO Find X to be a beast when it comes to raw performance.

Super VOOC makes it’s debut on the OPPO Find X, but is only available on the 256GB model. It charges the Find X from zero to full in just 35min. Meanwhile, the 128GB variant still uses regular VOOC and charges fully from 0% in 100min.

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ColorOS 5.1 comes with a couple of new features, but something I am not happy about are the new “ads”, though they are not as blatant as on MIUI. There is now a OPPO app store, as well as a “hot” apps recommendations on the home screen.


Pricing & Availability

OPPO Find X is available in 2 variants in Singapore. The 128GB variant will go on preorder starting 1st August for S$1198, available in both colors. Meanwhile, the 256GB variant with Super VOOC will go on sale at a later date for S$1399.


Conclusion

We waited 4 long years for the successor of the Find 7 and now that it is here, I will say the wait was worthwhile. With one of the most user friendly software and incredible hardware, the OPPO Find X may just be the best phone of 2018.

OPPO R15 Review

In the past, OPPO’s R series have always been designed to be pieces of beautifully crafted artwork that looks good but also feel good in the hand. But with their latest device, the R15, it seems like OPPO is changing their priorities for the R series.

Huge thanks to OPPO Singapore for loaning me this review unit.


Summary – Unexciting Hardware, Superb Software

OPPO R15’s design isn’t refined as it could be and its hardware lacks the wow factor. But ColorOS has gotten so good, you will really enjoy using the R15.

Pros:

  • Screen protector and clear case included
  • Appealing glass back design
  • AMOLED, with always-on display (Screen Clock)
  • UI and most games run without any stutter
  • Rear cameras takes great photos, even at night
  • Superb selfie camera with pleasing colors
  • Great sounding audio from headphone jack
  • VOOC charging is very quick, even with device on
  • UI looks modern, easy to navigate
  • ColorOS 5.0 is feature packed but unobtrusive
  • Unlock with really quick with fingerprint or face

Cons:

  • Feel in hand not as good as predecessor
  • Still using Micro USB
  • Rear camera has focusing issues for near objects
  • Poor video stabilization

Others:

  • Battery lasts through a full day on moderate usage
  • Loud but harsh sounding bottom firing speaker

Pricing & Variants –

S$749 will get you an OPPO R15 with 128GB storage and 6GB RAM. Available in 3 attractive colors.

There are two phones in OPPO’s new R15 series, the regular R15 which we will be taking a look at today, as well as the R15 Pro which I will try to review soon. As you can infer from the names, R15 Pro is the better but costlier version.

R15 comes in a single 128/6GB configuration and that will cost you S$749 here in Singapore. A clear case is included and a screen protector has been pre-applied. It is available in three beautiful colors: Nebula Purple, Rouge Red and Frost White.


Design – Great Looks, Not so Great Feel

New glass back design looks beautiful, but does not feel as comfortable and thin as previous OPPO R series devices.

All R series devices we have seen in the past, with the exception of the original R1/R1s, had metal bodies. But probably influenced by Apple’s transition to glass back, OPPO opted for a glass back with metal frame on the new OPPO R15 and R15 Plus.

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The review unit I got was the Nebula Purple one, which looks like black or dark purple when there is not a lot of light around. But when you shine light at it, it changes to a lighter shade of purple and the gradient created from this is absolutely gorgeous.

The fingerprint scanner sits on the rear, above the OPPO logo. Look closer and you will realize that there is a strange outline around the fingerprint scanner, as well as the cameras. A “screen protector” has been applied on the rear too!

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But if you are a user of OPPO’s R11/R11s, you will be disappointed at how the R15 feels in the hand. Unlike on its predecessors, it seems like OPPO made no attempt to make it feel thin and sleek, so when you pick it up, it will not feel as impressive.

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While I understand the shift to a glass design contributed to the bulk, it is possible to make it feel thinner through “illusions”, like on the Vivo X21. The R15 and X21 are similar in thickness at 7.4mm, but the X21 feels a lot thinner and sleeker.

On the top, we have a single microphone. Below, we have a headphone jack, as well as 2 speaker grills, with a Micro USB port in between. But only the left speaker grill contains the speaker, with the right one housing another microphone.

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It is rather disappointing that OPPO is still using Micro USB. On previous R series devices, I understand why they avoided switching, as USB Type-C would make the phones thicker. But the R15 isn’t trying to be thin, so why doesn’t it have Type-C?

Moving to the front, we can see that the R15 is yet another phone that uses the notch design, with tiny bezels and small bottom chin. If you do not like the notch, wait for the OPPO Find X; that is almost completely bezeless, without a notch.

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Display – Always-On Screen Clock!

6.28″ FHD+ AMOLED display looks too vibrant but overall not bad. Capable of always-on display that shows the time whenever display is off.

The R15’s 6.28″ FHD+ AMOLED display has a 19:9 ratio, with a notch at the top. The display produces very deep blacks and can get quite bright, but is very over-saturated at the same time. It may not have the most accurate colors, but it is a nice display.

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Unlike IPS LCD, AMOLED displays can light up only required parts of the display, enabling “always-on displays”, seen on phones like Galaxy S7. OPPO’s implementation of this is called Screen Clock, which shows the time when your screen is off.

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It is disabled by default, but you can enable it in the settings. Whenever you receive a message or WeChat notification, you will also see an icon below the clock. No need to turn on the display to check the time anymore. Super convenient!

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To navigate through the UI, you can either use on-screen navigation bar or swipe-up gestures. On the OPPO R15, you have 4 gesture layouts to choose from and with this, I was able to find one that I could easily get used to. Nice!

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Performance – A MTK Processor that Doesn’t Suck?

Despite being a MediaTek processor, the Helio P60 in the R15 performs really well in actual usage.

Powering the OPPO R15 is MediaTek’s Helio P60 processor, with 6GB of RAM. I have always found MediaTek processors to be inferior to their Snapdragon counterparts, but this might be the first MediaTek processor that I do not mind using.

There were 3 things about MTK processors that made me avoid them: poor gaming performance, overheating and poor battery life. Thankfully, I have experienced none of them during my 2 weeks with the OPPO R15. Lets start with the first 2.

Just like the Helio P25 processor in the Neffos N1 I reviewed recently, the Helio P60 in the OPPO R15 performs exceptionally well in benchmarks, even outperforming its Qualcomm Snapdragon equivalent (Snapdragon 660) in some cases.

But unlike the Helio P25, the Helio P60’s benchmark scores do reflect its performance during gaming, which is to say, very good. Playing 王者荣耀 and PUBG Mobile on the R15, the games ran smoothly without a hitch and the device stayed cool.


Rear Cameras – Excellent, With a Small Problem

Takes great photos day and night and is capable of bokeh shots, but has issues focusing on small, near objects. Video stabilization is a little disappointing.

OPPO equipped the R15 with a dual rear camera setup, with the primary camera is 16MP sensor with sensor size of 1.22μm and f/1.7 aperture. Meanwhile, the secondary camera is 5MP, with f/2.2 aperture, used for depth sensing in portrait mode.

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Under well-lit conditions, the R15’s rear cameras captures photos with great level of details and good dynamic range. Photos look over-saturated when viewed directly from the R15, but on a display with more accurate colors, they look a lot better.

At night, we do see a bit of noise, but colors are retained really well and photos still has plenty of details. As mentioned earlier, the OPPO R15 has a portrait mode, which lets you take bokeh photos with various color/effect filters.

In portrait mode, you are automatically zoomed in to get closer to your subject. Edge detection is not perfect, but pretty good for a smartphone. The real issue starts when you try to take a close up bokeh photo of small objects.

The above comparison illustrates what I mean. Despite numerous attempts to focus on the plant and blur the background, the R15 always ended up with the background in focus. Even the soya ice-cream shot above took me numerous tries.

The focusing problem does not stop there. At night, I found the R15 to constantly hunt for focus when recording videos and slow-mos. That said, videos do look really good when they are in focus, with very little noise and great color reproduction.

In the day, the R15’s 1080p video doesn’t have the focusing issue, with great amount of details and colors turn out really good too, but the poor stabilization means that videos turn out blur and shaky when you are moving around.


Front Camera – Fabulous Selfies!

Colors look great, not washed-out like on other devices I have used. Can also take bokeh shots.

I have used many smartphones with very high resolution or very wide angle, but they all face one common issue: poor dynamic range. Due to this, backgrounds are often overexposed or very pale looking, which makes the selfies unappealing.

This is not the case for the OPPO R15 though, as you can see from the selfies I took below. Colors look very appealing, comparable to what you will get from the rear camera. Even at night, the selfie camera of the R15 handles colors really well.

The 20MP front facing camera of R15 is also capable of bokeh effect, but it is known as Depth Effect here, not Portrait mode. It isn’t perfect; just look at how it blurs out my hair.

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Like Vivo’s X21, the OPPO R15 has AR stickers in its camera app, the quality of stickers are on par, but the quantity way less than what Vivo has to offer. It is still really fun though.

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Audio – Great Headphone Audio, Harsh Speaker

Bottom firing speaker is loud but treble sounds harsh, great for video consumption but not for music.

At max volume, the single bottom-firing speaker on the OPPO R15 is noticeably louder than the Redmi 5’s, but trebles sound a little harsh, with distortion. Great for watching YouTube videos and movies, not so much for listening to music.

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Listening to the R15 on my 1MORE 1M301, trebles seem to be less vibrant and rich as compared to using my Redmi 5, but bass seems to be slightly deeper and more impactful. Both sound really good in their respective ways, so there is no clear winner.


Endurance & Charging – VOOC!

Lasts a full day on moderate usage. VOOC is still one of the best fast charging solution available today.

In the performance portion of this review, I mentioned that poor battery life was one of the reasons I disliked MediaTek’s processors. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be an issue on the R15.

On moderate usage, the OPPO R15 got through a full day with 24% battery left by 10PM, with Screen Clock enabled. This is nothing to write home about, but it places the R15 on par with  other phones with 3450mAh battery and similar specs.

  • Total time 15h 45min
  • Screen-on time ≈4.5h
  • 1h 18min browser
  • 30min Instagram
  • 21min Facebook
  • 15min PUBG Mobile
  • 14min Camera

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Next, I tested OPPO R15’s endurance under heavy usage, playing graphic intensive games like 王者荣耀. With a total game time of more than 3.5h, the phone had hit 10% by 10PM. If you game a lot, you will have to charge the R15 during the day.

  • Total time 15h 5min
  • Screen-on time 5.5h
  • 王者荣耀 2h 16min
  • PUBG Mobile 1h 10min
  • Facebook 44min
  • Sword Man – Monster Hunter 16min
  • YouTube 11min

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One of OPPO’s most popular feature is VOOC charging, which promises 2 hours of talk time with 5 minutes of charging. But with so many fast charging technologies emerging in recent years, is VOOC still the best? Let’s find out.

I drained the R15 down to 5% battery remaining. With the device powered on but screen turned off, I charged it with the VOOC wall adapter and cable that came in the box. After 5 minutes, the phone was at 13% and at the 40min mark, it had 75% battery.

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As seen from my regular usage test, 75% battery should last you through the day. But why stop there? After an hour, the R15 hit 91% battery. It is clear that charging has slowed down at this point in time. The R15 was fully charged at after 1.5 hours.

All of these with the phone is in standby mode. Not bad!


Software – ColorOS has Grown Up!

ColorOS has a new bold and modern style. It is feature packed but unobtrusive and still as easy to use as ever. The best Android skin I have used till date.

Having experienced multiple generations of ColorOS, I have seen it mature in terms of design and user interface. Each version of ColorOS improved on how a user interact with their OPPO device, but none is as drastic as the shift to ColorOS 5.0.

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OPPO R15 runs ColorOS 5.0 on top of Android 8.1.0 out of the box. ColorOS 5.0 brings a new style to the design of the UI, making it rounder, bolder and more intuitive. It also brings a couple of new features, as well as improves on some old ones.

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For example, in previous versions of ColorOS, split screen had very limited app support. On ColorOS 5.0, split screen now supports most apps including third party ones, with the exception of some OPPO-made ones like gallery and themes.

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Accessing split screen is also really easy now. Simply swipe up with three fingers on the screen or go to recent tasks, swipe up on an app and select split-screen. Look at how modern and sleek the new UI is. OPPO is really stepping up on its software design.

There is also a new smart assistant, where you can create shortcuts to your favorite apps and contacts, check the weather, as well as see the number of steps you took today. The step tracker is not part of any app and can only be accessed from here.

With ColorOS 5.0, the R15 gets access to features that are not yet available on other OPPO devices. The Screen Clock always-on display mentioned earlier is just one of them. You also get “Full Screen Multitasking”, which is a lot cooler than it sounds.

When your phone is in landscape and you are watching a video or playing games, you will see these icons appear above and below the notch. The bottom icons allow you to quickly hide banner notifications, take a screenshot or record the screen.

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Meanwhile, the icons above will alert you when you receive a message in apps like WhatsApp and WeChat. Tapping on the icons will open a pop-up window, allowing you to view/reply to messages while watching videos or playing games.

Speaking of gaming, this is not a new feature but the R15 has something called Game Acceleration, which allows for a smoother gaming experience. However, it seems like some popular games are not supported at the moment. Hmm…

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Despite being a brand from China, OPPO cares a lot about your privacy and security. On top of secure keyboard (which activates when typing passwords) and app lock, you also get really cool sounding features like “Pseudo Base Station Blocking”.

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Don’t ask me, I have no idea what that does… There is a new feature that will provide apps will empty call logs, contacts and messages, so you can prevent apps from collecting your personal information. Security freaks will love this feature.

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While we are on the topic of security, lets talk about ways to unlock the OPPO R15. The rear fingerprint scanner is super fast like previous generations, but you can also unlock the OPPO R15 with your face! It is pretty accurate and quick.

ColorOS 5.0 may have a ton of features, but many of them only appear when you need them and are easy to use. The execution of most features are very good, though there are some things that needs to be fixed, like the tiny mobile data icon.

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Still can’t find it? I couldn’t too, when I first started using the R15. It is the tiny symbol beside the words 4G on the reception bar. Why would anyone do that? Why is there a need to make it so small? @OPPO Please revert it back to the regular icon.

ColorOS 5.0 is like the smartest kid in class, but doesn’t boast about it. It is very talented and does its work really well, but you never know how good it is until you need its help.


Conclusion – Handing Spotlight Back to the Find Series

OPPO was saving its best features for the Find X, so the R15 doesn’t stand out from the crowd in terms of hardware. But ColorOS is now good enough to justify getting the R15.

OPPO didn’t put all their latest and greatest innovations into the R15, in preparation of the return of their flagship Find series. So hardware wise, there isn’t anything very outstanding about the OPPO R15 compared to the competition.

But OPPO doesn’t need flashy hardware to sell their devices. They already have a lead in 2 other areas: software and reputation.

ColorOS has matured a lot in the past few years and V5.0 is just so refined and well thought out that it delivers one of the best, if not the best, user experience that I have ever seen.

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Over the years, OPPO has built up a strong reputation globally. They are no longer the unknown China brand we know them to be back in the early days. Perhaps this why OPPO is re-entering the flagship market now – they are ready to take on Samsung.

To the most important question: Should you get one? If you are looking for a device that doesn’t require a steep learning curve, works well and costs under S$800, sure. But if you can afford it, why not get the slightly costlier R15 Pro or wait for the Find X?

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!

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.