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.

TP-Link Neffos N1 Review

What would you expect from a smartphone in 2018: An 18:9 Display? Dual cameras on the rear? Minimal bezels? USB Type-C? TP-Link’s affordable Neffos N1 has two of them, but they are probably not the two that you are expecting.

With a 16:9 display and large chins above and below the display, is the Neffos N1 one big outdated flop or is there more to this device? Most importantly, is it worth your money? Without further ado, here is my review of the Neffos N1.


Summary – An Underrated Budget Device

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Glass screen protector included
  • Volume slider for easy muting
  • Wide-angle selfie camera
  • USB Type-C
  • Fast charging
  • Beautiful themes
  • Minimal bloatware & duplicate apps
  • Affordable price tag

Cons:

  • Ugly top and bottom chin
  • Back too slippery, easy to drop
  • Stutters and heats up while playing heavy games
  • Selfie camera poor focus

Pricing & Variants – Only Black and 64GB…

Only available in black, with 64GB of storage and 4GB RAM.

In Singapore, the Neffos N1 is priced at S$368 and is only available in one color and storage configuration: Black with 64GB ROM and 4GB RAM. 64GB is the most storage you will find on a device this price in Singapore, so no complains.

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Design – Slippery

Huge top and bottom chin. Not the most original design, but still looks really good and build quality is excellent. Slippery back, so get a case.

On the front of the Neffos N1 sits a 5.5″ 16:9 display, surrounded by relatively small side bezels but thick top and bottom chin. With bezels are getting smaller and smaller on phones, it is a little disappointing to see such thick chins on the Neffos N1.

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The Neffos N1’s button layout is similar to that of the OnePlus 5. The power button is located on the right, with a hybrid SIM tray above it. On the opposite side, we have the volume buttons, as well as the life-saving textured mute switch.

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Imagine sitting in a lecture room when suddenly, you remembered that you did not mute your phone. Instead of waking the display to turn on silent mode, which may make you look disrespectful, you can use the switch to mute the device.

On the top is a microphone and below, we have a 3.5mm audio jack (yay!), USB Type-C port (another yay!) and a speaker grill.

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Moving to the rear, you may find this design a little familiar… That’s right, the Neffos N1 looks a lot like the Huawei P10, but that isn’t a bad thing. It is bold and sleek, and the rear cameras do not protrude. I would love to see a white or red N1.

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Build quality is superb, comparable to some devices that cost twice as much. The metal is cool to the touch under air-con, though it heats up quite a bit under the sun as well. With a decent heft to it, this device feels really premium in the hand.

It is a little slippery though, so you are likely to drop it if you do not use a case. Speaking of cases, the N1 doe not come with one. Considering how rare Neffos devices are in Singapore*, you may have difficulties finding a shop that sells one.

*Sorry TP-Link, but that is the truth. 😔


Display – Good Enough, Nothing More

Still 16:9, but not a bad display.

Unlike most phones coming out in 2018, the Neffos N1 still uses a 16:9 display. While 18:9 provides more display area in apps like Facebook and Chrome, there are some apps that are still screen-optimized only for 16:9, so I shall not complain.

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This 5.5″ FHD IPS LCD display offers great viewing angles, is plenty bright and pretty sharp at 403ppi, but it is a little on the cool side and blacks are not very deep.


Performance – Benchmarks Actual Usage

Excels in benchmarks but struggle in actual usage.

Beneath the hood of the Neffos N1 is a MediaTek Helio P25 processor, with 4GB RAM. In AnTuTu and GeekBench 4, the N1’s score was similar to that of the Snapdragon 625 powered Redmi 5 Plus. Can we expect similar performance in real life?

Unfortunately, this is an example of how benchmarks do not always reflect the true performance of a device. Scrolling through the UI was smooth, but play some heavy games like PUBG Mobile (at low graphics), the amount of stutter is unbearable.

The device also heated up quite a bit while playing PUBG Mobile, with most of the heat concentrated at the top.


Rear Camera – 2x the Camera, 2x the Fun!

RGB + monochrome sensors, capable of great photos even at night. Bokeh is not perfect but fun.

The Neffos N1 has dual cameras on its rear: a 12MP RGB on the left, and a 12MP monochrome on the right. Neffos wasn’t specific about the other specs: we only know that at least one of them have f/2.0 aperture and at least one have 1.25µm pixel size.

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Neffos N1’s camera app has quite a bit of features for a budget phone. On the viewfinder screen, there is a HDR, beautify and bokeh mode toggle. Swipe left, you will see a list of modes, including a “PRO” manual mode. Swipe right for filters.

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Photos taken with the Neffos N1’s rear camera looks great under bright conditions, but that is to be expected from most phones today. The bokeh mode is really fun to use, but its edge detection isn’t perfect, often blurring out parts of the subject.

But where it really shines is at night. Zoom in on the red flower photo below and you can still see the water droplets on the petals. Also, colors stay very vibrant at night, though there is a little bit of a blue tint in all RGB images.

You might be wondering: turning a RGB photo monochrome versus taking a photo with the monochrome sensor, what is the difference? I took the same photo using the mono filter and the monochrome mode and here is what I got:

Both photos are taken under low lighting. As you can see, the image taken with the monochrome sensor is a lot brighter, with more details and less noise. So much nicer!

There is a long exposure “traffic flow” mode, but you can forget about taking photos with this mode. The cameras on the Neffos N1 are just not good enough under low light to be able to produce decent looking long exposure shots.

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HDR on the Neffos N1 does a great job at increasing dynamic range. It does increase the saturation a little, but not to the extent where it looks artificial, like many other phones do.

Proud of your Neffos N1? You can add the Neffos N1 watermark to all your photos. (Enable it in the settings of the camera app)

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Moving on to video recording, the Neffos N1 is capable of shooting up to 4K at 26.69fps. The video looks sharp with great colors and focusing doesn’t seem to be an issue. (Sorry for the portrait video. The device did not detect the orientation correctly)

N1 recorded the video in portrait. To avoid quality lost, I uploaded the video to Google Drive. Download to view it here.

Taking 720p slow motion videos require ample lighting, but under artificial lighting it still looks acceptable, despite losing focus sometimes. After taking a slow mo video, you have the flexibility of choosing which parts of the video to slow down.


Front Camera – Wide Angle Wefies!

Wide angle! Has difficulties with focus, but photo quality is acceptable when you consider its price.

With a 86° wide angle 8MP front-facing camera, you are going to have a lot of fun taking selfies and wefies with Neffos N1. It does have some issues focusing though, so pictures do not turn out very sharp. But for Instagram, the quality is good enough.

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Under artificial lighting, the focusing problem gets worst and colors do not look too pleasing (accidentally deleted the photo). As for low light photos, you can expect a lot of noise, but it is still alright considering the price of the device.

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Audio – Does Not Disappoint

Better than expected.

The single bottom-firing speaker on the Neffos N1 is pretty good for an under S$400 device. At max volume, it is similar in loudness as the Redmi 5 and the audio sounds richer.

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Comparing the headphone jack audio of the Neffos N1 to the Redmi 5 (using my JBL Synchos S300i), the N1 had less emphasis on trebles, producing sound that is more detailed and colorful, with a better balance. Not bad.


Battery Life – Fast Charging Makes Up for Small Battery

Lasts the whole day on moderate usage. Fast charging is quite fast as long as you do not charge to full.

Powering the Neffos N1 is a 3260mAh battery. With such a small battery, how is the endurance of the Neffos N1? How fast can the Neffos N1 charge with the included fast charging wall adapter?

As I only had 2 full days to test the Neffos N1 (before going back to camp), my battery test for the Neffos N1 will be less thorough than usual. In this moderate to heavy usage test, the N1 drained from 100% to 5% in 11h, with a screen-on time of 4h 36min.

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  • Total duration: 11h
  • Screen-on time: 4h 36min
  • PUBG Mobile: 3h 25min
  • Music: 20min
  • Some photography
  • SIM card always inserted

Considering the size of the battery, the results of the test is not unexpected. With light to moderate usage though, the Neffos N1 should get you through an entire day on a single charge.

The Neffos N1 supports fast charging, but how fast is it? Using the wall adapter and Type-C cable that came in the box, the N1 went from 3% to 46% in the first 30 minutes. After an hour, the phone was at 85%. Not too shabby.

To get the Neffos N1 to 100%, you need approximately 1h 50min. But even with an hour’s worth of charging, the 80% juice should be enough to get you through the entire day.


WiFi – Is It the Fastest? Not Really

Not as impressive as TP-Link claimed on their website.

Neffos claims that the N1 is tuned by the world’s No.1 WiFi lab, so the N1 should get better WiFi speeds than the competition right? That depends on which device you are comparing it to.

For this test, I compared the WiFi speeds of the Neffos N1 to my iPhone SE, Redmi Note 4, Redmi 5 and Lenovo A7000. The N1’s speed was much faster than the Redmi 5 and A7000, but was nowhere near as fast as the iPhone SE and Redmi Note 4.

Note that the Redmi Note 4 I have is running Lineage OS.


Software – Clean, Sleek & Easy to Use

Other than lack of app drawer, very close to stock, with minimal unnecessary apps. Easy to learn.

Neffos N1 runs NFUI 7.0 on top of Android 7.1.1 out of the box. If you are a fan of stock Android, you will love NFUI. While it may not have an app drawer, it is very close to stock Android in many aspects, including the layout of the UI.

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One thing I love about NFUI is the lack of duplicate apps: Google’s Chrome, Play Music, Photos and Calendar are the only pre-installed browser, music, gallery and calendar apps on the N1. Bloatware is also minimal or can be uninstalled.

Another thing that makes NFUI one of my favorite Android skin till date is the theme engine. While you do not get to download more themes, the 7 included ones are among the best looking themes I have ever seen. Sweet!

NFUI comes with some really nifty features and they all work really well, like split screen and screen-off gestures. While NFUI may not be as feature-packed as some Android skins like MIUI and EMUI, all of the features it has are pretty well refined.

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Overall, I can confidently say that NFUI 7.0 is one of the friendliest and easiest to learn Android skin I have ever used.


Conclusion – More Than Meets the Eye

Do not let the 16:9 display mislead you. With a respectable dual camera setup on the rear, superb build quality and a fantastic UI, the Neffos N1 is an excellent device for its price. I do wish Neffos had gone with a Snapdragon processor though.

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TP-Link Neffos N1 Unboxing

You may know TP-Link for their network products, but did you know they make phones too? Today, we will be unboxing their latest mid-range smartphone, the Neffos N1, which you can purchase from TP-Link’s authorized distributors for S$368.

Huge thanks to TP-Link Singapore for loaning me this Neffos N1 review unit. All opinions below are of my own.


Unboxing – Out of Battery?!!!

The Neffos N1’s packaging is easily identifiable, with an image of the N1 printed at the front of the box. Shaking off the cover, which requires breaking 2 seals on the sides, we are greeted with the phone, sitting right on top of the box.

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Let’s put the phone aside first. There are 2 boxes of accessories. Inside the box with the SIM removal tool is a tempered glass screen protector, as well as some paperwork.

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In the second box you will find a pair of earphones (with 3.5mm connector) , a wall adapter with fast charging, as well as a USB Type-C cable. Finally we get Type-C on a budget phone!

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I do wish that a clear case was included with the N1 though. Considering how uncommon Neffos devices are in Singapore, getting a case for the N1 would be a challenge.

Back to the phone. After peeling off the sticker on the front and rear, I powered on the phone, only to get a message that the phone would be turning off in a couple of seconds. Oops! What is going on? Then I look at the battery indicator. 1%…

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That says 2 things about the Neffos N1: (1) Not even TP-Link opened the box to charge the device, so you can be very sure that the phone is completely new. (2) This device probably sat in the warehouse for a really long time.


First Impression – An Unusual 2018 Budget Phone

Display

Most phones in 2018 come with an 18:9 display, but the Neffos N1 isn’t one of them. 16:9 is not a big deal; the thing that bothers me are the top and bottom chins. With so many phones going almost bezeless, the thick chins make the N1 feel dated.

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Design

Right below the display are the back-lit navigation buttons. The left and right buttons are not fixed: you can assign either one to be the “Back” button and the other will be the “Recent” button.

Turning to the rear, we see a familiar design. Where have we seen this before? *Cough* Huawei P9 *Cough* While not the most original, the design of the Neffos N1 looks really sleek and the build quality is comparable to some over S$600 devices.

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Power button is located on the right, with the SIM tray above it. On the left we have the volume buttons and a mute switch. Having used the iPhone SE as my daily driver for 2 years, I can attest that mute switch is not just for show. It is really useful!

Front & Rear Cameras

Neffos N1 is equipped with dual 12MP cameras on the rear: one RGB and the other monochrome, similar to Huawei’s implementation. Below is a sample shot taken with the Neffos N1 with HDR on. More photos in my full review.

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The 8MP front camera of the Neffos N1 has 86° wide angle, much wider than what you get on a typical selfie camera. Sweet! Images taken with it do not seem to be very sharp, but look alright if you do not zoom in. Beautify is a little weak.

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Others

Out of the box, Neffos N1 runs NFUI 7.0 on top of Android 7.1.1 Nougat. Although it doesn’t have an app drawer, NFUI is a lot closer to stock Android than heavily modified Android skins, like MIUI and EMUI or even ColorOS.

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Bloatware is minimal and instead of building its own gallery, music and calendar app, TP-Link made Google Photos, Play Music and Calendar the default apps, basically reducing the number of duplicate apps on the Neffos N1. Sweet!

The fingerprint scanner on the rear is quite fast, but there is a little bit of delay before the screen lights up, making it feel slower. The SIM tray contains one slot for a nano SIM and a hybrid slot that accepts either a nano SIM or Micro SD card.


Conclusion

At S$368, the Neffos N1 competes with devices like the Redmi 5 Plus (64/4GB) and Honor 7x. It doesn’t have the beautiful 18:9 aspect ratio on the other 2 devices, but it tries to make up for it in other ways, build quality for example.

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I will be testing out the Neffos N1 more thoroughly in the next 2 days, before I return it back to TP-Link. There are a few areas I am really keen to test in my full review of the N1, most notably the rear camera, charging speed and WiFi performance.

Stay tuned for my full review!

Vivo V7+ Review

If you are looking for a phone that cost under S$500, you have a ton of options from various manufacturers to choose from. Some come with top of the line processors, Honor 8 Pro for example, while some have ginormous displays, like the Mi Max 2.

The phone we will be taking a look at today has a whopping 24MP front facing camera, targeted at selfie lovers. This device is none other than Vivo’s V7+, available at M1 and Singtel for S$469 off contract. Is it worth your money? Let’s find out.


Summary – Great Hardware, Unrefined Software

Pros:

  • Eye-catching design
  • Case & screen protector included
  • Dedicated Micro SD slot + 2 SIM slot
  • Beautiful 5.99″ 18:9 display
  • One of the best rear cameras under S$500
  • Impressive 24MP selfie camera

Cons:

  • Still using Micro USB
  • Low screen resolution
  • FunTouch OS 3.2 feels unpolished

Others:

  • A single charge can last a full day with moderate usage
  • Headphone jack too quiet, possibly due to faulty review unit
  • Bottom firing speaker is loud but not very good sounding
  • Performance is alright for price, can be better

Pricing & Variants – Only Black and 64GB?!!!

Only available in Black, with 64GB ROM and 4GB RAM. Case and screen protector included.

Phones these days comes in a variety of colors and storage options, but there is only one version of the Vivo V7+ you can buy, at least in Singapore: Black with 64GB storage and 4GB RAM.

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For some people, 64GB of storage is not enough, but it is the most you will find on a phone at this price point in Singapore. But for most people, it should be more than enough, especially if you store your photos and videos on Google Photos.

V7+ comes with quite a bit of accessories, including wall adapter, cable, earphones and a clear jelly case. A screen protector has also been applied, so you do not have to pay more to get the basic stuff. I wish more manufacturers would do this.


Design – Generic… But Eye-Catching!

Very familiar design, but silver accents gives it an appealing look. SIM tray has 2 nano SIM slots plus a dedicated Micro SD card slot, no need to compromise.

Looking from a distance, the Vivo V7+’s rear may remind you of the iPhone 6, OPPO R11 or even the Mi A1; it is the same old boring design used on numerous smartphones by various manufacturers in the past three years. Hmm…

But take a closer look and your will absolutely fall in love with this design. The two silver stripes forming each antenna line, as well as the silver accent line going around the sides of the phone, really stand out from the black metal housing. Beautiful!

Apart from the antenna lines, you will also find the rear camera with a single flash, Vivo’s logo and a squarish fingerprint scanner on the back. (Plus some really faint writing at the bottom) The V7+’s rear design is clean and simple.

As usual, the power and volume buttons are located on the right. To the left, we have a SIM tray. This is no regular SIM tray or hybrid SIM tray. It has two slots for nano SIM cards, plus a dedicated slot for your Micro SD card. Awesome!

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On the top sits a microphone hole. But the bottom is really packed, with a headphone jack, another microphone hole, Micro USB port and a single speaker grill. Micro USB on a device close to S$500 in 2018? A little disappointing if you ask me.

Keeping up with the latest trend, Vivo equipped the V7+ with a 5.99″ 18:9 display. Above it sits the selfie camera with a single flash, as well as the earpiece, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor and a green LED notification light.

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Display – Low Resolution, Otherwise Great

Not very sharp, but good colors and viewing angles. 18:9 screen ratio allow apps to display more content.

The 5.99″ 18:9 HD+ IPS LCD display is kind of like a 5.5″ 16:9 HD display stretched vertically. The resolution is a bit low, but it isn’t very noticeable as long as you do not pixel peep, or in layman terms, look at the screen too closely.

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Otherwise, this display is not a bad one. Colors look vibrant, with fairly deep blacks and good white balance. Viewing angles are great and the display is bright enough to be seen under sunlight. The 18:9 ratio brings a couple of advantages:

In games like 王者荣耀, you get a larger field of view, allowing you to spot further enemies. But for some games, The Fishercat for example, developers cut of the top and bottom instead, so you are actually seeing less with 18:9.

For web surfing and typing of documents, the benefits of an 18:9 screen ratio are much more obvious. With a taller display, your browser and note apps are able to display more words, which makes reading and typing a lot more convenient.

L – 18:9 (Vivo V7+), R – 16:9 (Lenovo A7000)

Vivo V7+ uses on-screen navigation bar as it doesn’t have capacitive buttons below the display. On-screen navigation bar eats up a portion of your display, which makes the shift to 18:9 a little pointless, but Vivo has a solution to that: swipe gestures.

With swipe gestures, you can swipe up from the bottom left of the display to bring up control center, bottom middle to go home and bottom right to go back. To enable it and hide the navigation bar, carry out the following steps in the Settings app:

“Navigation keys” > “Hide navigation keys and use sliding gestures”


Performance – Not Fantastic, But Good Enough

Day to day tasks run smoothly, capable of playing most graphic intensive games without any major issue.

Vivo V7+ is powered by the Snapdragon 450 processor, the same one found in the Redmi 5, with 4GB of RAM. How does it perform? I carried out a couple of benchmarks and played a couple of graphic intensive games to find out.

In Geekbench 4, V7+ scored 765 for single core and 3910 for multi-core. In AnTuTu, the V7+ also did pretty well with a score of 75047. These results are better than the Redmi 5’s, but you can find something a lot more powerful at a similar price.

But Benchmarks do not necessarily reflect real world use. How is it like to use the V7+ for day-to-day tasks and gaming? V7+’s UI was butter smooth and most games ran without any major issue. If you do not play a lot of games, this should be good enough.


Rear Camera – Full of Surprises

Produces great photos and excellent videos for its price. Has numerous useful modes, including one that interpolates 64GB photos. HDR not working properly.

V7+’s rear camera is a 16MP shooter with f/2.0 aperture. It doesn’t sound very impressive on paper, but pictures taken with it have plenty of details and true-to-life colors. For portraits, there is a beautify mode which works pretty well.

Click on image to view in full resolution

Photos tend to turn out brighter than it is in real life. The second row of photos above were shot when the sky was turning dark, but they looks as if they were taken half an hour earlier. You can see that these photos aren’t as sharp though.

Video recording max out at 1080p on the V7+, the highest resolution for the Snapdragon 450 processor. Videos are not very stable, but their quality is excellent, without over-sharpening like on other mid-range phones in this price range.

There is a HDR mode on the V7+, but I found photos without it to have a lot more accurate colors and overall, better looking. Take a look below. If not for the labeling below, most people would have guessed that the ones on the left are HDR.

L – HDR disabled, R – HDR enabled

Strangely, images taken with HDR also seem to have smaller file size every single time, unlike what we normally see on other phones. (I tested it multiple times) I have a suspicion that Vivo accidentally mixed up HDR on and off.

A really cool feature in the V7+’s camera app is “Ultra HD”, which combines multiple shots into a 64MP photo. It really works! While it is not as sharp as an actual 64MP camera, it definitely is a lot more detailed than the normal 16MP photos.

L – Ultra HD (click on image to view in full res), R – Cropped

My mind was blown by the results. With regular 16MP photos, you will never be able to crop in so much and still be able to read the words. Note that you will have to hold very still when taking 64MP photos and file size for 64MP photos is much larger.

At night, photos turn out noisy and blurry, expected, but colors are preserved really well. On a large display, these photos look kind of bad, but if you are only going to use them for Instagram, half of the low-light photos should turn out good enough.

Click on image to view in full res

I was really surprised by the quality of V7+’s videos at night, especially slow-mo videos, which even costlier phones struggle with. The V7+’s video may not be very sharp, but colors of the lights are accurate and the amount of noise is acceptable.


Front Camera – Great Selfies Even at Night?

Capable of Instagram-worthy selfies, even at night.

Under well-lit conditions, the Vivo V7+’s 24MP front facing camera can take excellent selfies, as long as you lower the exposure. The camera app loves to overexpose selfies, which helps a lot at night, but you will want to tone it down in the day.

IMG_20180325_164923

And of course, since this is a selfie-focused phone, you do get some really cool features on the selfie camera. There is a bokeh mode, Face Beauty 7.0 aka beautify and even HDR. The selfie below was taken with bokeh mode and beautify on.

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At night, the Vivo V7+’s camera struggles a little with blur. But somehow the V7+ manages to make selfies really bright without introducing too much noise and beautify still works well.

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Audio – Did I Get a Faulty Review Unit?

Headphone jack a little too quiet, might be due to faulty device. Bottom speaker loud but meh sounding. Microphone and earpiece works well.

Vivo boasts that the V7+ is equipped with the AK4376A Hi-Fi audio chip which is suppose to be pretty good, but I was very disappointed at the results I got. The level of detail is pretty good, but at its max volume, it is just 50-70% as loud as other phones.

But checking with Chester from Music Photo Life, it seems that I may have received a faulty review unit. The headphone jack of his could produce audio that is quite loud when Hi-Fi mode is enabled. I might have to retest this in the future.

The bottom firing speaker is slightly louder than the Redmi 5’s, but the sound distorts quite a bit at max volume, resulting in sound that is thrash like the Redmi Note 4’s. It is good enough for watching videos, but I would not use it for music.

Thankfully, the microphone and earpiece both do a good job, so you can enjoy your phone calls on the V7+. Voice recordings done with the V7+’s microphone sound natural with good enough volume. The earpiece is loud and clear.


Battery Life – Small Battery, Acceptable Endurance

Easily lasts through a day with moderate usage. Heavy usage will drain its battery to zero by late afternoon.

Vivo V7+ is powered by a 3225mAh battery, which isn’t a lot for a phone this size, but it keeps the device light. How is battery life on the V7+? To find out, I conducted two tests: one with moderate usage and another under more intensive workload.

Brightness is set to auto and SIM card was inserted in the phone throughout the entire test duration. There is no screen-on time indicator on the Vivo V7+, but we can subtract the phone idle duration from the “time on” of RF service to estimate SOT.

Under regular usage involving some light gaming, web and social media surfing plus some YouTube watching, the V7+ had 20% battery remaining by 10PM. Screen-on time was approximately 6h 21min, which is not bad for a 3225mAh battery.

  • Total duration 16h 19min
  • Screen-on time 6h 21min
  • 3h light gaming (The Fishercat, Royal Blade and Big Hunter)
  • 54min browser
  • 30min Facebook
  • 30min YouTube

Playing graphic-intensive games, watching some videos and leaving WiFi on the entire time, the V7+ got drained to 5% battery after 10h 11min of use, with a screen-on time of 4h 44min. The phone was down to all the way to 1% battery before 6PM.

  • Total duration 10h 11min
  • Screen-on time 4h 44min
  • 2h 21min PUBG Mobile
  • 40min OPUS: Rocket of Whispers
  • 25min YouTube

Under regular usage, the V7+ should get you through a day with a little bit of juice left. But with heavy gaming, it will struggle to last through the entire day. If that happens and you only have an hour to charge your phone, how much juice can you get?

Using the wall adapter that came in the box, which is regular 5V 2A, the V7+ charged from 1% to 52% in an hour, which should be enough to get you through the rest of the day.


Software – Feature Packed But Unrefined

Feature packed, but some features not properly implemented and the Settings app is really confusing.

Vivo V7+ runs Vivo’s own FunTouch OS 3.2, based on Android 7.1 Nougat. FunTouch is drastically different from stock android, with a ton of added features and a redesigned UI, similar to other Android skins from China, like MIUI and ColorOS.

Screenshot_20180324_221927

The default look for FunTouch OS 3.2 is colorful and fun, but if you do not like it, you can always change customize it in the i Theme app, from app icons and fonts. Bloatware is minimal and some of the pre-installed apps can be uninstalled.

Unlike stock Android, quick toggles are not found in the notification shade. Instead, they are located in the control center, similar to iOS, which appears when you swipe up from the bottom of the display. From here, you can also control recent apps.

FunTouch comes with a handful of cool and useful features, like facial recognition, the most versatile one-handed mode I have ever seen and also the S-capture feature, which lets you take screenshots of various shapes and sizes.

But after using V7+ as my daily driver for a few days, all I can say is that FunTouch is still very unrefined; many features are not well thought out and executed. Also, the Settings app is probably the most unorganized one I have ever seen.

While I love the one-handed mode, the gesture to access it is very bad. It requires swiping from one edge to the middle, and then back to the edge. The phone would register it as a regular swipe in the process and that is very annoying.

Split screen works with a very limited number of apps. Ironically, most of Vivo’s own apps do not support it – not even basic apps which you would expect it to work with, like Notes and Email. This is almost as good as not having split screen at all.

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Next, the naming of some features and phrasing of instructions can get really confusing. In FunTouch, battery usage is known as “Rank”, beautify is known as “Face Beauty” and for no reason, Vivo named some of their apps with an “i” in front.

These issues do not sound very significant, but FunTouch OS will be a lot more enjoyable to use once they are fixed. But even in its current state, FunTouch OS is not a bad Android skin, so I will not let it stop me from recommending the V7+.

Note: To use USB OTG, you have to enable it in Settings. It will disable after a short while of non-usage. It is a little troublesome, but it keeps the information in your phone safe.


Conclusion – Perfect Shot Indeed!

When discussing about how “worth it” a phone is, people often only look at specs, but specs do not always reflect how good a product is. Software, battery life and camera – all of these require real life testing before you know how good they are.

The Vivo V7+ isn’t very attractive on paper, but after using it for a couple of days, I have come to really appreciate it. It may not have the most powerful processor nor the best battery life, but its cameras are among the best in its price range.

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Redmi 5 Plus (Note 5) Review

In a recent article, I reviewed Xiaomi’s Redmi 5, one of the best smartphone you can get for under S$200 right now. As promised, I am back today with a review of its larger sibling, the Redmi 5 Plus, also known as the global Redmi Note 5.

Special thanks to ECS for loaning me this demo unit for review.


Summary – Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Pros:

  • Still very affordable
  • Case included in box
  • More screen due to 18:9 display ratio
  • Display’s colors more accurate than Redmi 5
  • Performance excellent for price
  • Improved rear camera under low-light
  • 4K video recording!!!
  • Louder and cleaner sounding bottom-firing speaker

Cons:

  • Camera now protrudes from rear
  • Low quality cable
  • Design getting stale?
  • Mediocre selfie camera
  • Battery not as good as predecessor

Pricing & Variants – Even More Affordable!

Affordable pricing, 3 colors to choose from and free casing?!!! Cable a little disappointing though.

You can get the Redmi 5 Plus at S$259 for the 32/3GB version and S$299 for the 64/4GB version. Compared to its predecessor (Redmi Note 4), pricing of the 32/2GB model stayed the same, while the 64/4GB one went down by S$10. Nice!

The Redmi 5 Plus comes in 3 colors, including the sexy new blue color that I have here. The blue color looks different under various lighting, so do not be shocked if the one you are holding looks very different from the pictures shown below.

IMG_3072-min

In the Redmi 5 Plus’s box, you get the usual set of accessories, including the user manual, a cable and a wall adapter. But unlike previous Redmi devices, a clear jelly case is also included in the Redmi 5 Plus’s box, essentially saving you a few bucks.

But like the Redmi 5, the cable included is shorter and lower quality than what we got in the past. Disappointing.


Design – Getting a Little Old?

Very similar to Redmi 5, until you take a closer look. Design changed little since 2016, getting a little boring.

The design of the Redmi 5 Plus’s rear should be very familiar to Redmi Note 3 and 4 owners. Ever since switching to metal body in 2016, the design of the Redmi Note series hasn’t changed much, receiving only slight refinements each year.

This is the first year a Redmi Note device shares a similar design with its smaller sibling from the regular Redmi series. Just like the Redmi 5, the 5 Plus’s rear camera protrudes, though not as badly and it is gone once you put the clear case on.

IMG_3116-min

There are a couple of differences though, most notably the curved edges on the rear and the antenna line design.

The edges on the back of the Redmi 5 Plus are curved, just like on the Redmi Note 4, to complement the arc of your palm when you are holding it. With it, holding such a big phone is a lot more comfortable, but I feel it also reduces the level of grip.

IMG_3117-min

I praised the Redmi 5 for its new antenna line design that allowed for a one-piece frame, but we do not see that here. Instead, Xiaomi went the opposite way with the Redmi 5 Plus, adding extra cuts and lines that gives it a more complex look.

IMG_3080-min

There are a couple of smaller differences between the Redmi 5 and 5 Plus. I noticed that the power button is smaller on the larger Redmi 5 Plus. Also, Redmi 5 Plus’s SIM tray ejection hole is on the tray itself. It is separate on the Redmi 5.

IMG_3123-min

The Redmi 5 Plus’s headphone jack is on the top left, while the Redmi 5 Plus has it on the top right. Lastly, the blue color for both devices are of a different shade, with the 5 Plus’s being slightly darker, only noticeable when you have both side-by-side.


Display – An Elongated 5.5″ 16:9 Display

Same 18:9 ratio as the Redmi 5 but more accurate colors.

The Redmi 5 Plus’s 18:9 display is 5.99″ diagonally but you can think of it as a 5.5″ 16:9 screen stretched vertically. The extra screen space provides numerous benefits in games and various apps, which you can read about in my Redmi 5 review.

IMG_3095-min

Sadly, the capacitive navigation bar has been replaced by on-screen ones, eating up part of the display. Just like in my Redmi 5 review, I recommend enabling “Hide soft buttons” in the settings app, which hides the navigation bar when not in use.

Apart from both having 18:9 ratio and rounded corners, this FHD+ IPS LCD panel is quite different from the HD+ display on the Redmi 5. It isn’t as warm, so whites doesn’t appear brownish. Also, colors are less oversatuated and more true to life.


Performance – Same Processor, Better Benchmarks?!!!

Powered by the Snapdragon 625 processor, same as Redmi Note 4, but does a lot better in benchmarks. Performs well even in graphic-intensive games.

Right under the hood, the Redmi 5 Plus is powered by the Snapdragon 625. This is a 3 years old processor, the same one on last year’s Redmi Note 4. It is a good processor, but there are better options now. So why is Xiaomi still using it?

Despite sharing the same processor, the Redmi 5 Plus performed significantly better than the Redmi Note 4 in benchmarks. (Both on MIUI 9.2) Redmi 5 Plus scored 868 (single-core)/4281 (multi-core) in Geekbench 4 and 76998 on AnTuTu.

But how does the Redmi 5 Plus perform in real life? Superb to say the least. It had close to no issues playing graphic-intensive games. Even when there were many players attacking on screen in 王者荣耀, the Redmi 5 Plus did not stutter.


Rear Camera – Improved Low-Light + 4K Videos!

Redmi 5 camera plus 4K video recording and slow motion! Better low-light photos compared to Redmi Note 4.

The Redmi 5 Plus uses the same OV12A10 sensor found in the Redmi 5 and as you may expect, they perform almost identically. Compared to the Redmi Note 4, low-light photos turn out a lot better, with more detail, less noise and better colors.

From left to right: Redmi 5 Plus, Redmi 5, Redmi Note 4

The Redmi 5 Plus comes with dual-tone flash on the rear, unlike the Redmi 5 with its single flash. In terms of video capabilities, the Redmi 5 Plus can record 4K and 720p slow-mo videos, both of which are absent on the Redmi 5. Sweet!


Front Camera – Mediocre, Like the Redmi 5’s

Selfie camera has poor dynamic range and struggles in low-light, new selfie flash isn’t very useful.

Redmi 5 and 5 Plus share the same 5MP OmniVision OV5675 sensor on the front and if you read my Redmi 5 review, you will know that I am not too impressed by it. Dynamic range is poor and under low-light conditions, photos turn out too noisy.

IMG_20180317_132551

The Redmi 5 Plus has the new front facing flash for selfies too, but it doesn’t do much to improve low-light photos. If you want to take selfies with the Redmi 5 Plus, use the rear camera.

IMG_20180318_073659[1]


Audio – The Best on a Redmi Device Thus Far

Coming from an older Redmi device, you will be amazed by audio produced by the Redmi 5 Plus.

Placing the Redmi 5, Redmi 5 Plus and Redmi Note 4 side by side, with volume at max, I played a couple of songs via the bottom-firing speaker on all 3 devices. My results are as follows:

The Redmi 5 and 5 Plus are almost equally as loud, but the Redmi 5 Plus produces sound that is a little more lively. Both are leap and bounds better than the Redmi Note 4, whose bottom-firing speaker sound like thrash beside the two new phones.

The headphone jack on the Redmi 5 Plus is capable outputting audio that is louder than the Redmi 5’s and even the Redmi Note 4. Vocals are really clean and crisp on the Redmi 5 Plus, providing the best listening experience out of the three.


Battery Life – No Longer as Beastly?

Easily lasts a full day even on moderate use, but falls short of the insane 2 days battery life of its predecessor.

The Redmi 5 Plus is powered by a 4000mAh battery, 100mAh lower than last year’s Redmi Note 4. Can it beat the Redmi Note 4 in battery endurance? Unfortunately not. It seems that the Redmi 5 Plus’s battery isn’t as impressive as its predecessor.

I conducted 2 battery tests on the Redmi 5 Plus: The first is with moderate use, simulating how most people will use their phones. In the second test, I went all out and tried to drain the Redmi 5 Plus as much as I could with heavy gaming.

In both tests, either WiFi or mobile data was on most (>95%) of the time. Screen brightness was set to auto, though I did turn it up whenever it was too deem to be read. Non-Bluetooth headphones were used for audio consumption, if any.

For the moderate usage test, I played light games, listened to music, watched YouTube, browsed social media and surfed the web. Personal hotspot was turned on for an hour. The Redmi 5 Plus hit 40% by 10PM, with a screen-on time of 5h 32min.

Screenshot_2018-03-16-22-06-28-179_com.miui.securitycenter[1]

  • Total time 14h 19min
  • Screen-on time 5h 32min
  • 1h music
  • 1h YouTube
  • 28min Facebook
  • 30min browser
  • 53min light games (Leap Days, The Tower AC & Knife Hit)
  • 1hr hotspot

IMG_20180317_224156[1]

Under this type of usage, the Redmi 5 Plus should get you through about 1.5 days on a single charge. While this result is not bad at all, I was expecting a lot more juice left at the end of the day, not just slightly better than the Redmi 5.

Next up, heavy usage. I played hours of battery-consuming games, mainly 王者荣耀 and The Greedy Cave. The device got charged a little when transferring files, but the amount is not very significant. It ended the day with 16% battery remaining.

Screenshot_2018-03-17-21-59-49-056_com.miui.securitycenter[1]

  • Total time 15h 13min
  • Screen-on time 7h 11min
  • 4h 7min 王者荣耀
  • 45min The Greedy Cave
  • 40min Facebook
  • Some photography and slow-mo recording

Screenshot_2018-03-17-22-00-06-670_com.miui.securitycenter[1]

With over 7 hours of SOT and close to 5 hours of heavy games, having 16% battery left is a very remarkable feat. The Redmi Note 4 performed better in my review of it last year, but the Redmi 5 Plus’s battery endurance is not far behind.


Software – Feature Packed but Unobtrusive

MIUI comes with a ton of features, most of which are really useful. No update to Oreo yet, but it has been confirmed.

Redmi 5 Plus runs MIUI 9.2 on top of Android 7.1.2 out of the box. An update is available right now, but sadly it isn’t the Oreo update. An update to Oreo has been confirmed by Mi India’s Jai Mani, but we do not know the release date at the moment.

Screenshot_1970-01-19-00-33-27-862_com.android.settings

MIUI is very feature packed compared to stock Android, or even some Android skins like OPPO’s Color OS. But most of the features in MIUI 9 are not obtrusive and can be really useful, like the security app and one-handed mode for example.

If you are coming from a device running MIUI 9 or later, everything here should be really familiar to you; features here are mostly the same as what you would find on your old device, so there is no need to relearn how to use the device.


Conclusion – A Worthy Upgrade?

At under S$300, the Redmi 5 Plus is a very compelling device to get. With an 18:9 display, powerful Snapdragon 625 processor and a pretty good camera for its price, similarly specced devices from the competition would cost a lot more.

IMG_3110-min

But if you are coming from an older Redmi device, say the Redmi Note 3 or 4, should you switch to a Redmi 5 Plus? If you charge your phone every night, yes! Other than the battery life, the Redmi 5 Plus is better in almost every way.

But if you bought the Redmi Note 4 because of its insane battery life, the Redmi 5 Plus may not be for you. It can easily get you through a full day with some battery remaining, but anything more than 1.5 days may not be possible.

Last question: Redmi 5 or 5 Plus? In my opinion, there are only 2 factors you need to: screen size and storage requirements. If you need 64GB of storage, the Redmi 5 Plus is your only option. In every other aspect, both devices perform similarly.

IMG_3104-min

Vivo V7+ Unboxing & First Impression

You may not have heard of Vivo, but they are one of the largest phone manufacturers from China. And no, they are not related to VivoCity. Recently, Vivo entered Singapore’s smartphone market, bringing two affordable devices: Y65 and V7+.

In this article, we will unbox the Vivo V7+ and take a quick look at its design, software and cameras. Huge thanks to Vivo Singapore for lending me the device to review.


Unboxing – All the Accessories You Need!

Vivo V7+ comes in rather uninspiring white box. Inside the box you will find the device, wall adapter and micro USB cable and a pair of headphones that looks a lot like Apple’s Earpods. A clear jelly case is also included in the box.

IMG_3137-min


First Impression – Looking Good

Display & Form Factor

Like most recent smartphones, the V7+ has an 18:9 display, so you will be able to see more in apps that support the 18:9 screen ratio. At 5.99″ HD+, the resolution is a little low for the size, but viewing angles are good and colors look pretty accurate.

IMG_3160-min

Similar to the Redmi 5 I tested recently, Vivo V7+ uses on-screen navigation bar, which eats up a portion of your screen. But the bottom chin here is quite a bit smaller than on the Redmi 5, so I can understand why capacitive buttons were not used.

Design

The design of the Vivo V7+ isn’t the most original we have seen, but there are some things that I really like about it. The sides are curved in a way that makes the phone feel thinner and the shiny silver accents around the device is really eye-catching.

Front & Rear Cameras

The rear camera on the Vivo V7+ is a 16MP shooter, with f/2.0 aperture and PDAF. We do not know a lot about this camera, but the photos I have taken with it looks promising. I will be testing the V7+’s rear camera more thoroughly in my full review.

Its 24MP front camera also has f/2.0 aperture. It has a selfie flash, like the Redmi 5, but this one seems a lot brighter, so bright it will hurt your eyes. The V7+’s selfie camera comes with some nifty features like portrait mode and face beauty (aka beautify).

IMG_20180322_183409[1]

Others

Vivo V7+ runs FunTouch OS 3.2 on top of Android 7.1.2 out of the box. FunTouch is similar to OPPO’s ColorOS in many ways, even sharing the same TouchPal keyboard. One thing I wish they shared was the Settings app; FunTouch’s one is a mess.

IMG_3138-min

The fingerprint scanner on the rear is relatively quick. Alternatively, you can use the face recognition to unlock your device, which is surprisingly fast too. Not sure how accurate it is, but you do not have to use it if you do not feel it is secure.

If you are someone that likes to travel, you might be interested in the Vivo V7+. It has dual SIM slots and a dedicated SD card slot, which is pretty rare. Most phones use hybrid SIM trays, accepting only a SIM card plus SD card or a second SIM card.


Conclusion

At S$469, the Vivo V7+ seems costly at first, considering its specs. But after using it for a few minutes, I notice that there are a couple of things the V7+ can do really well, things that are often neglected on more affordable phones like the Redmi 5.

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Over the next few days, I will be using the Vivo V7+ as my daily driver, putting it through different usage scenarios and tests. My review of the V7+ will be coming very soon, so stay tuned!

Redmi 5 Review

The first brand that comes to most people’s mind when thinking of budget phones would be Xiaomi’s Redmi. Since its inception in 2013, the Redmi series has been known for offering incredible specs and beautiful design at an affordable price.

In this review, we will be taking a look at the Redmi 5, successor to last year’s Redmi 4X. With a new 18:9 display, an improved design and a more powerful processor, is the Redmi 5 a worthy upgrade from the Redmi 4X? Without further ado, let’s begin.


Summary – One Big Step Forward

Pros:

  • Sleek design brought over from Redmi Note series
  • Clear case included in the box
  • Taller display due to new 18:9 ratio
  • Improved bottom-firing speakers
  • Excellent performance for price
  • Respectable battery life
  • Better looking photos under low light
  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • Rear camera protrudes
  • Mediocre selfie camera
  • Included cable shorter than usual and feels cheap

Pricing, Variants & Accessories

Still as affordable, now with free case! Cable feels cheap though. A version with larger screen is also available.

The Redmi 5 comes in 2 storage configurations: For S$179, you get 16GB storage and 2GB RAM while S$219 gives you doubles the storage and 3GB RAM. The one I got for this review is 16/2GB, but I highly recommend getting the 32/3GB one instead.

The Redmi 5 comes in 3 colors: black, gold and blue.

If you are a fan of larger displays, there is also the Redmi 5 Plus, aka Redmi Note 5. That is also sold in Singapore, starting at S$259 for the 32/3GB version. I am trying to get one to review on a later date, but for now, we shall only look at the Redmi 5.

Unlike previous devices, Xiaomi included a free clear case with the Redmi 5 and that instantly saves you about S$10. The wall adapter is the same as those that came with last year’s devices, with a retractable earth pin that makes it compact.

However, I did notice that the included Micro USB cable is shorter than usual and its plastic housing at both ends feel cheap. It is usable, but looking at the cables included in other Xiaomi products, we know it could have been a lot better.


Design – A Classier Non-Note Redmi

Design carried over from Redmi Note series. Taller display taller phone, camera now protrudes.

For the past two years, non-Note Redmi devices had designs that were different from their Redmi Note siblings. But that is about to change this year, with both the Redmi 5 and Redmi 5 Plus (aka Redmi Note 5) sharing an almost identical design.

IMG_3050-min

If the design looks familiar, that is because it is similar to the one on the Redmi Note 3 and 4. Redmi Note series users might be a little disappointed by this, but Redmi series users will like it. This design is a lot sleeker than the Redmi 3s and 4X’s.

Build quality is on par with last year’s Redmi Note 4; that is to say, excellent for a device in its price range, but lacks the heft and cold metallic feel of costlier premium mid-range smartphones

On the front is a 5.7″ 18:9 display – sounds huge but it is just a 5.2″ 16:9 display stretched vertically. The Redmi 5 is as tall as the Redmi Note 4, but its width is similar to the Redmi 4X’s.

IMG_3037-min

Xiaomi removed the capacitive navigation keys, which is a strange move considering that there is still plenty of room in the bottom chin for it. Another questionable design is the rear camera, which now protrudes, even with the included case (very slightly).

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Not all changes are bad though. The hybrid SIM tray now faces upwards, so you can switch SIM cards while looking at the display at the same time. The antenna lines has been redesigned as well, so we now have a frame that is one solid piece.

On top, we still have the IR blaster, headphone jack and a microphone. Once again, the Micro USB port is located at the bottom of the device with a bottom-firing speaker to its right, while the left “speaker grill” houses another microphone.

You may have noticed the additional black dot above the display. (The first one from the left) That is the new selfie flash. To its right are the ambient light sensor, earpiece, front-facing camera and on the extreme right is a white notification light.

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Display – 18:9 = More Usable Screen Space!

More space for reading articles and larger view in games. Hide on-screen navigation bar for the best experience.

The 18:9 5.7″ HD+ IPS LCD on the Redmi 5 produces vibrant colors. Though not accurate, images look very pleasing on this display. It is a little on the warm side, but that can be corrected by selecting “Cool” in the settings, under “Contrast & Colors”.

As mentioned earlier, the Redmi 5’s display is basically an elongated 5.2″ 16:9 display. Reaching all 4 corners with one hand can be a bit of an issue now that the display is so tall, but if you can live with it, 18:9 offers some pretty cool advantages.

In games that support 18:9 ratio, you get a wider field of view. That can be useful in games like 王者荣耀, where you can spot enemies that are further to your left and right.

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If you surf the web, browse social media or type documents frequently, you will love the 18:9 display too. The extra screen real estate allows for more words to be displayed on the screen and the experience you get from this is truly amazing.

L – Redmi 5, R – Redmi Note 4

The Redmi 5 uses on-screen navigation buttons, which occupies a significant portion of the display. To make full use of the display, enable “Hide soft buttons” in the settings. This will hide the navigation bar. To make it appear, swipe up from below.

Sadly, not all apps support 18:9 ratio at the moment, including popular ones like Facebook Messenger Lite and Geekbench 4. In these apps, you will see ugly black bars on the top and bottom. Hope more app developers will add 18:9 support soon.

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Performance – Good Enough for Most Games

Snapdragon 450 in the Redmi 5 is able to play most graphic-intensive games with little hiccups. But if you are really into gaming, this is not for you.

The Redmi 5 is equipped with Snapdragon’s 450 processor, known to many as a lite version of the Snapdragon 625. How does it perform in benchmarks and real-world usage? Pretty well actually, even on the 2GB RAM model that I used in this review.

MIUI 9 runs really smoothly on the Redmi 5 and light games did not show any sign of stuttering. For graphic-intensive games like Asphalt 8 and 王者荣耀, you do get the occasional lag, but only when there is too much action going on.

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Fresh out of the box, Redmi 5 scored an 69807 on AnTuTu and 768 (single-core)/3521 (multi-core) on Geekbench 4. For Geekbench 4’s compute benchmark, which tests for GPU performance, the Redmi 5 scored 3125 – not too shabby.

But you know what they say about benchmarks – take it with a pinch of salt. The thing that truly matters is how a phone performs day-to-day and from what I can see, the Redmi 5 does a great job, especially when you consider how little it cost.


Rear Camera – Better Low Light Photos!

Redmi 5 can take fantastic looking pictures under good lighting. As lighting gets less desirable, noise starts to creep in but colors are maintained well.

The Redmi 5 has a 12MP rear camera with f/2.2 aperture, but what makes it special is the 1.25μm pixel size, the largest we have seen on a Redmi device. With this, we can expect Redmi 5’s camera to perform much better than its predecessors in low light.

These specs sound a little familiar. Is this the same IMX386 sensor found in the Mi Max 2? Unfortunately not. Typing *#*#64663#*#* into the dialler revealed the sensor to be OmniVision’s OV12A10, the same one used in Mi A1’s primary rear shooter.

Under bright daylight condition, Redmi 5’s rear camera performs really well, producing photos with plenty of details and relatively accurate colors. Moving into artificial lighting, photos start to lose a bit of detail, but are still pleasant looking.

Click on the images above to view it at full quality.

Under less desirable lighting, we can see noise start to really creep in, but colors are still well presented and images still look good. This is a huge improvement from previous Redmi devices, where photos often turn out unusable, decent at best.

Click on the images above to view it at full quality.

As you may expect from a phone in this price range, taking low-light photos can be a little challenging. It takes about 2 full seconds to take a photo at night and if you move away before it completes, you are guaranteed to get a blurry photo.

Xiaomi’s HDR mode gets its job done most of the time, but it tends to oversatuate images, as you can see from the image below.

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Next up, videos. It is weird that the default resolution is HD, which looks horrible. You can change it to FHD in the settings and videos will turn out a lot better. But even then, it isn’t very ideal for vlogging. What are you expecting at this price?


Front Camera – Selfie Flash? No Thanks!

A smart beautify feature and selfie flash will not make a crappy front camera take good selfies.

Beautify 3.0 on the Redmi 5’s 5MP front shooter works really well on auto mode, but I wouldn’t call the photos Instagram worthy as the quality of the camera itself is pretty meh. There is plenty of details, but dynamic range can be a little problematic.

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Another new feature of the selfie camera on the Redmi 5 is that selfie flash. Taking selfies with it in complete darkness results in a noisy, unusable image. As it isn’t very bright, using it for taking selfies in a well lit room isn’t helpful at all.

The only time where it can be a little useful is when there is a light source in front of you that isn’t too bright. In that case, the flash brighten up your face a little, but the image is still full of noise and isn’t something I would put on social media.

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Audio – Surprisingly Good Bottom-Firing Speaker

Audio from the Redmi 5’s bottom-firing speaker and audio jack is considerably better than the Redmi Note 4’s.

The bottom-firing speaker on the Redmi 5 is excellent, producing sound that is a lot clearer and cleaner than the Redmi Note 4. At max volume, it is noticeably louder than the Redmi Note 4, but not loud enough for you to start a party.

As for the audio coming out of the headphone jack, it isn’t as loud as on the Redmi Note 4, as tested on my JBL Synchros S300i. Clarity is slightly better and mids are more prominent on the Redmi 5, so overall it is better than the Redmi Note 4.

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Lastly, call quality. The earpiece is loud and clear, but the microphone is just average in my opinion. The audio it picks up is loud enough, but doesn’t sound very natural. I would say that the Redmi Note 4 does a slightly better job.


Battery Life – Enough to Last Through a Busy Day

While not as beastly as its larger sibling, Redmi 5’s battery can easily get you through a full day on a single charge, even on a day with non-stop heavy usage.

Everyone uses their phones differently, so we will be testing out 3 different scenarios in this battery test. For the first two test we put the Redmi 5 under moderate to heavy usage, simulating the smartphone usage of most people.

To keep the tests realistic, SIM was always inserted, either WiFi or mobile data was on most of the time and hundreds of WhatsApp messages were received each day. Display brightness was set to auto and only adjusted when not bright enough.

In the first test we play some light games, social media browsing, YouTube and listen to music via regular headphones. By 10PM, the phone had 22% battery left, with a screen-on time of 6h 32min. This is fairly impressive considering its 3300mAh battery.

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  • Total time 14h 50min
  • 6h 32min screen-on time
  • 1h 20min light games (Leap Day, Knife Hit & The Tower AC)
  • 40min Facebook
  • 16min Browser
  • 1h 14min YouTube
  • 41min music

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The next test is similar, but with a reasonable amount of time spent on playing graphic-intensive games. Under this type of regular usage, the phone lasted through the entire day with 27% left by 10PM, with a screen-on time of 5h 43min. Not bad.

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  • Total time 15h 52min
  • 5h 43min screen-on time
  • 1h 44min of 王者荣耀
  • 1h 3min of Facebook
  • 25min Browser
  • 20min music

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For the final test, I tried to push the Redmi 5’s battery to its limits. I played close to 4 hours of graphic intensive games, listened to music via Bluetooth headphones and watched YouTube. By 8:30PM, the Redmi 5 was down to 8% battery.

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  • Total time 13h 34min
  • 6h 20min screen-on time
  • 1h 30min Heir of Light
  • 1h 12min 王者荣耀
  • 1h 14min Alto’s Adventure
  • 19min YouTube
  • 5h 45min music via iBFree Bluetooth headphones

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While it was not be able to last past 10PM under such heavy usage, it gave me enough time to eat dinner, then return home to charge it. In Geekbench 4’s battery test, Redmi 5 scored an impressive 4738, draining from full to 1% battery in 11h 18min.

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This may not sound much compared to the Redmi Note 4 with its ginormous 4100mAh battery. But I never had to charge the Redmi 5 before reaching home at night in any of the tests and that itself is something to be proud of. Great job Redmi 5!


Software – Making Use of the 18:9 Display

A couple of features in MIUI that will make your Redmi 5 experience even better.

Out of the box, the Redmi 5 runs MIUI 9.2 on top of Android Nougat. As there too many features in MIUI to cover in a single article, let alone here, so I will only be going through those that complement the 18:9 display experience.

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First up, reaching the corners of such a tall display can be strenuous. A simple fix would be to enable one-handed mode. Swipe left/right from the home button and the screen will “shrink” to the side you swiped, making one-handed use a lot easier.

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Next, if you are going to hide the navigation bar like I have recommended above, swiping up from the bottom of the screen to make it appear can be a little troublesome. An alternative to the navigation bar is quick ball, something like iOS’s AssistiveTouch.

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Unlike the navigation bar, quick ball doesn’t have a fixed position on your screen so your entire screen can be used by the app. When not in use, you can swipe the ball to one side to hide it, freeing up your screen (almost) completely.

Lastly, we have split screen. The display is 18:9 – some would rather call it 2:1. So when you split it you are getting two squares? Not really… Unfortunately, the navigation bar cannot be hidden in split screen. Not sure if that is a bug or a “feature”.

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That said, you are getting slightly more area for each app compared to a 16:9 display, so apps will be less squashed in split screen mode. I hope Xiaomi will release an update that allow us to hide the navigation bar in split screen mode soon.


Conclusion – More Than 18:9 Display

Worth upgrading to, but DO NOT get 16GB model.

Prior to picking up this Redmi 5 from Mi Home, my impression of it was that it is just a taller Redmi 4X (or a thinner Redmi Note 4). But after a week, I have learnt that there is a more to this phone, including many subtle changes that are often overlooked.

These changes may be small, but together with a taller display, a better camera and a sleeker design, it all adds up to a much better user experience. Unless you get the 16/2GB version like me… Do not get the 16/2GB version. I repeat, DO NOT!!!

2GB of RAM is still alright in 2018, but 16GB of storage isn’t. Even with just 3 games installed and a couple of photos, my Redmi 5 is on the verge of running out of space. If you are going to use it as a daily driver, 16GB is definitely not enough.


Future Improvements

Hope to see dual rear cameras, USB Type-C and a brand new design in the next Redmi.

While I did praised the Redmi 5 a lot in this review, there are some changes I would like to see in future Redmi models.

Digital zoom was used to take the photo below. It turned out alright, but I am sure that it would have been better if the Redmi 5 had dual cameras for optical zoom. Not sure how feasible it would be for a phone at this price, but I wish the next Redmi has it.

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It is a little disappointing to see that Redmi 5 is still using Micro USB instead of USB Type-C. With so many devices now using Type-C, from laptops to SSDs, carrying a phone with Micro USB means having to bring an additional cable wherever you go.

As the leader of the budget segment, Xiaomi has a lot of influence over trends. All they have to do is release a Redmi device with Type-C and their competitors will follow suit. Looks like we still have to bear with Micro USB for another year.

Finally, the design of next year’s Redmi has to change drastically, especially for the Redmi Note series. The current style has been used on the Redmi Note series for 3 years now and people are getting tired of it. Using it again next year would be risky.

Oh, and please stop making 16GB phones.