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.

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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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