Friday, 18 September 2015 12:15

Poppo down to OPPO for maximum bang for minimum buck (review)

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OPPO has produced the R7 Plus - a 6” phablet (phone/tablet) that at A$599 makes it very, very, hard to consider any other smartphone in the mid-market class, except perhaps for its regular 5” sized, $449, R7 sibling.

Let’s get the declarations out of the way first. I was OPPO’s guest for a headquarters and factory inspection in Shenzhen/Dongguan and part of the international media contingent for its sponsorship announcement of FC Barcelona in Beijing. I saw the R7 and Plus being made and was suitably impressed with the quality and commitment. OPPO goes to great lengths to make devices that the market wants, at prices they are happy to pay.

The R7 got my tick of approval in the mass-market (<$499) segment in a recent ITWire review and I stand by the conclusion “A damned good phone for the price, certainly punching well above its mass-market level weight.”

The R7 Plus, to me at that time, was simply a larger R7 – same specifications, slightly better camera – but I was wrong because the larger screen in what is essentially, still a small body, makes this a perfect phone to use. It is big, but not overly so, and certainly very pocketable. Because it costs $599 it will be reviewed in the mid-market bracket - $500-799.

To put this in perspective:

  • R7 is a 5”, HD, phone and is 143 x 71 x 6.3 and has a 66.7% screen to body ratio.
  • R7 Plus has a 6”, HD screen and is 158 x 82.3 x 7.75 and has an even higher 76.6% screen to body ratio
  • The iPhone 6S Plus has a 5.5” HD screen and is 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3mm and 67.7% screen to body ratio
  • The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has a 5.7” QHD screen and is 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6 and a 75.9% screen to body ratio

As I like to point out in all smartphone reviews – comparisons beyond basic specifications are odious because iOS, Android and soon Windows 10 Mobile may do similar things, but are very different ecosystems.

Out of the Box

The phone is well-built, and oozes quality with a matt gold, magnesium-aluminium alloy back and sides, and a white, almost bezel-less front. This mid-market device looks like it costs much more - you would be happy to find under the Christmas tree.

The elegant and retail styled box contains the phone, a VOOC USB charger (5V x 4A) and a micro-USB to full USB VOOC cable with green connectors to denote it is a VOOC compatible (it will also charge from any USB source). It also has quality buds and a microphone.

You can insert one or two Nano-sims in the sim carrier or a single Nano-sim and up to a 128GB microSD card. Both sims support LTE bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28 and 40 – heaps for Australia and operate essentially as two phones in one. It supports Cat 4 LTE – 150/50 Mbps speeds.

After turning it on for the first time it runs through set up screens, it is optional to sign in to Google services, and after a few minutes, you are ready to go.

It uses the latest Android 5.x Lollipop. OPPO is committed to providing 5.x and 6.x updates. It does not have a recent apps (app draw) soft key – still using the older menu soft key for Chinese app compatibility. It is coming in the next Colour OS update.

Colour OS 2.1 provides many OPPO tuned and custom developed apps – including mail, contacts, messages, calendar, camera and more. I will not comment on the relative merits of pure Android – OPPO’s Colour OS does fine thanks.

The screen

Only after I had started to use the device did I exclaim, “I love that big screen”. It is the first and last impression, and that real estate makes this smartphone so special.

The screen itself is 1920 x 1080, HD, 367 pixel per inch and covered in Gorilla Glass 3. Being AMOLED, it does a great job when compared to the other AMOLED screens – for example the exquisite Samsung QHD (2K), and my everyday use - 5” HD, Lumia 930. AMOLED is the way to go – the IPS HD screen used on the iPhone 6 Plus simply does not look as good.

It is capable - as is characteristic of good AMOLED screens - of perfect blacks (0.00 cds/m2) and high whites. It is easily sunlight readable.

Under the bonnet

It is a sealed unit – as are many phones now. That helps to make them thinner and more robust – as evidenced by the extensive torture tests I saw at OPPO’s QA lab.

The R7 Plus has a Qualcomm MSM8939 Snapdragon 615, octa-core (eight) comprising Quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 and quad-core, 1.0GHz Cortex-A53. It has plenty of grunt and is aided by 3GB RAM and 32GB storage (expandable via microSD in single SIM use). OPPO have tuned the processor for performance when needed and economy when not – a good reworking of Qualcomm’s big.LITTLE processor philosophy. I noticed no lag at all.

Many performance tests give different results. Let’s just say that in multi-core performance, it is well above the older yet current, Samsung Note 4, closer to the Nexus 6, and it delivers at least 66% of the Note 5 that, like the rest of the Galaxy S6 series has the fastest processor at present.

The Adreno 405 GPU is adequate – yes, it is slower than the Nexus 6 or Note 4.

It has Wi-Fi AC, dual band; Bluetooth 4.0 LE and the USB port supports host USB on the go - you can plug in a USB drive.

It has a fingerprint sensor under the camera lens and it works flawlessly. You can save up to five fingerprints.

The loudspeaker is particularly good for hands free. OPPO pride themselves on audio - “Its part of our DNA” – and in overseas tests it scores higher than all other current phones including the Note 5, S6 Edge+ and is 32% better than an iPhone 6 Plus.

The only compromises are no NFC and FM radio.

Battery

The 4100 mAh battery is huge and on my first test, I got four days of light to medium use. I expect that under heavier use this will be at least two days. The VOOC charger is amazing and delivers 20W charging. The secret to VOOC is that the battery is actually two 2050mAh units that can be charged at the same time halving the charge time – clever. It uses the VOOC charger and cable to achieve this but will work on a standard USB charger too – just takes twice as long.

You should be able to charge from 0 to 75% in 30 minutes. Five minutes charge will give two hours talk time.

One overseas review extensively tested battery life and states ‘94 hours of normal use, 18 hours straight video playback and 30 hours 3G talk time.’

The camera

Perhaps the biggest difference between the R7 and the Plus is moving the camera placement from the edge (like the iPhone) to the upper middle and adding dual LED flash. This means you do not risk putting your finger over the lens when shooting – great.

The R7 (standard) uses a 13MP Samsung ISOCELL and single flash. The Plus uses a 13MP Sony IMX278 Exmor RS image sensor, f/2.2 lens, Schneider optics, and adds laser auto-focus that is desirable on a larger phone like this. Autofocus and time to shoot is the fastest I have experienced.

Using my typical reference shots - and everything on automatic - it was reasonably close to the Note 5 and Lumia 930 - for half the price it is everything you can ask for! Shots were consistent and colour accurate. If I had one criticism I would say it has a slightly softer focus – that is really a software issue and I will let OPPO know.

The camera software is intuitive, easy to use and the expert mode offers excessive choices – set it on auto thanks. It will output in RAW and something called UltraHD mode – allegedly 24 or 50MP shots.

Video is 1080 x 30 fps. It has optical and digital image stabilisation. Results looked fine – again commensurate with what you are paying.

The front camera is 8MP with an f/2.4 aperture. Great for selfie shots and reasonably wide angle for small groups.

Conclusion

Another great phone that is without peer in the phablet section of the mid-market. I have not seen recent Chinese phablet offerings from Huawei et al so I can only compare it to the R7 and other recent handsets. It has:

  • Remarkable build quality
  • Perfectly adequate internals – very well-tuned SnapDragon 615
  • Easy to use Colour OS
  • A camera that is perfectly good – not outstanding like the Samsung 16MP on the S6 et all but remember that it is half the price
  • A huge 6” AMOLED screen in a very small body
  • Great battery life and VOOC charging is very good
  • Fingerprint sensor that works (but no NFC so it does not support Google Pay)

Would I buy it?

Yes, if you want value and do not need a pen like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 then this is it.

Asian reviews (where the phone has sold in excess of one million units in its first month) compare it more than favourably with the iPhone 6/s Plus. That is not a fair comparison. It has some very high-end specs, many of which exceed the iPhone 6/s Plus that make it the phablet of choice in the Android world for the price people are willing to pay.

You will not find such a fully featured, high quality smartphone for this price.

The hard stats

ITWire has developed new Australian paradigms for smartphone reviews to ensure that the phone is compared fairly within one of the following categories.

  • Flagship phones – Apple iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG’s G, Sony Xperia Z3/4, HTC One M9, Lenovo Moto X, and Microsoft 930 series (superseded). Huawei, OPPO, Xiaomi, ZTE and others have entrants in this category.
  • Mid- marekt – Huawei P8/Max, OPPO R7/Plus, Xiaomi, ZTE, Samsung A, LG L&F series, Moto E/G, Lumia 6XX. This may include Note/Phablets with Pen support
  • Mass market – Huawei Ascend Y/G series, OPPO N, ZTE
  • El-cheapo <A$100

At $A599 this falls into the mid-market category although its smaller 5” R7 sibling at $449 is in the mass-market category. The fall in the Aussie dollar has just pushed the Plus over the mid-market line. Note the greyed out mid-market column represents typical specifications for that category and it is judged against that. If it exceeds typical specifications it gets a + and vice versa.

Mid-market

OPPO R7 Plus

Rating

Screen

5”+

Phablet 6”+

6”

5+

Screen type and quality

IPS

AMOLED

5+

Pixel per Inch

475+ on a 5”

367 (note that this is excellent for a 6” screen

5+

Glass (equiv)

Gorilla 3

Gorilla 3

5

Res

HD 1080p

HP 1080p

5

CPU

64-bit, 4 core+, Big/ little e.g.

Qualcomm 6XX or similar

Qualcomm MSM8939 Snapdragon 615

Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & quad-core 1.0 GHz Cortex-A53

Adreno 405

5

Memory RAM

2GB

3GB

5+

Storage

16GB

32GB

5+

MicroSD

Up to 32GB

Up to 128GB (uses sim slot 2)

USB Host for external USB drive

5+

LTE

Sufficient for local market and some global bands

Bands 1/3/5/7/8/28/40

5

Dual SIMM

It available provides 1 x 4G and 1 x 3G slot

Nano. Both provide 4G. The second can be used for microSD.

5

Telstra Blue tick rural

No

Not tested

N/A

Wi-Fi

N dual antenna

AC dual band, WiDi, hotspot

5+

NFC

Yes

No

N/A

GPS

at least GPS, GLONASS

A-GPS and GLONASS

5

Mapping software and maps

At least one free mapping system – Google or HERE

Google if not in China. HERE as well.

5

Bluetooth

3.0+

4.0 LTE

5

Sensors

G-shock

Gyroscope

Ambient light

Compass

Proximity

Accelerator

All major sensors

Distance sensor
Light sensor
G-sensor
E-compass

Accelerometer

Fingerprint (press – not swipe) lock

5+

Battery

(Assumes Micro USB or Lightning)

>2000mAh

At least a day

Removable

4100mAH Li-Po

Up to four days – amazing

Endurance rating 94 hours

5++

Fast charge and/or Qi

Option

VOOC fast charge – five minutes for two hours use

5++

Camera Rear

13MP+ >f2.2

Single flash

BSI sensor, HD record

13-megapixel, f2.2, Schneider optics, laser auto-focus, Sony Exmore IMX278. Dual LED flash.

The Pure Image 2.0+ engine supports: HDR, geo-tagging, Ultra HD, Beautify, Various Filters, Panorama, HDR, GIF, Slow Shutter, Audio Photo , Double Exposure, Super Macro, Expert Mode, RAW, Time-lapse.

1080p 30fps

5++

Camera Front

3MP+ HD

8MP, f/2.4 OmniVision OV8858, Selfie fill flash, wide angle

5

Screen to body ratio (higher better as it affects dimensions) or keyboard

65%+

76.6% - amongst the highest seen with almost zero-bezel – excellent

158.82mm

5++

Thinness

8-9mm

7.75mm

5+

Looks – highly subjective

Quality build and finishes

Extremely well built and finished – flagship standard. 91% magnesium and aluminium alloy uni-body construction

5++

Weight

>175g (or 35g per inch of screen size)

192g (well below screen to weight ratio of 210g – good)

5+

Operating system

Latest version with upgrades for at least one year e.g. all 5.x updates

Support for all 5.x updates and 6.x Marshmallow

5+

User Interface (UI) Bloatware

Does the UI add value, ability to customise

Colour OS 2.1 for Android 5.x is comprehensive and not intrusive. Everything works and many apps e.g. camera, are better than stock Google.

5

Video, Audio codecs

Most

Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
- MP4/H.264 player
- MP3/WAV/eAAC+/FLAC player
- Document viewer
- Photo/video editor

5

Options

Bids and mic

Buds and mic

5

Innovations

Standard slab

VOOC charging

Better camera placement (than on the edge)

Better camera overall

Fingerprint scanner

5+

IP or ruggedized

Option

N/A but undergoes rigorous torture testing

5

Warranty

1 year

1 year

5

Service in Australia

Yes

Yes

5

Price

$500-799+

A$599

5++

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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