Review: Oppo A57 Smart Phone

We mentioned Oppo’s new entry level phone a couple of months ago. And now I’ve been able to use if for a week or so. Let’s see how it went.

Features

At $328 this is definitely a budget model, but it feels pretty solid in the hand. For years I’ve struggled with trying to tell the difference between plastic and metal. These days plastics can look so similar you’d have to start scratching to be certain, and vendors tend not to like it when you do that to their products.

The case on this phone – I had the black finished model, but it’s also available in a gold finish – looks and feels like anodised aluminium. And it’s a sealed phone, too. You can’t remove the back to change the battery. So I would have been happy accepting it as metal. But I asked to be sure, and apparently it really is plastic. There is a metal chassis and I’m guessing no one will ever notice unless it gets smashed enough for the case to come apart.

So it looks and feels more like a premium phone. And it has conveniences like the ability to expand the storage from the built in 32GB by 256GB via microSD. And it has two high resolution cameras: 13 megapixels on what we would normally consider the “main” camera at the rear, while the front camera gets an astonishing 16 megapixels. (And “beautifying” effects in the app.)

And it has Corning Gorilla Glass 4 over the touch screen, supports 4G/LTE, has Bluetooth 4.1, and can use its Micro-B USB charge port as an OTG connection … albeit in Oppo’s weird, limited way (see below).

But of course there must be savings somewhere. Underneath the Gorilla Glass, the 5.2 inch display sports HD resolution – 720 by 1280 pixels – not something higher. I’m not sure how much that matters unless you have really sharp eyes and read old fashion websites which don’t reformat for mobile screens. The WiFi conforms to the 802.11n standard and works only in the 2.4GHz band.

The Bluetooth does not support NFC (Near Field Communications), but it does support tethering so you can use the phone as an access point for other devices. The phone also works as a WiFi hot spot.

The phone runs a Qualcomm MSM8940 Octa-core processor (with 3GB of RAM). That processor is, according to the Internet, otherwise known as a Snapdragon 435 processor. According to the Qualcomm spec sheet, it supports Cat 7 data downloads up to 300 megabits per second, and Cat 13 uploads to 150Mbps.

But, then, that spec sheet also says the processor supports NFC and 802.11ac dual band WiFi, neither of which the phone supports.

The phone runs Android 6.0.1, overlaid by Oppo’s ColorOS 3.0. The battery is rated at 2900mAh.

Performance

The Oppo A57 provides support for the Google Setup Nearby Device feature, so I was able to easily transfer my Google credentials across. That’s all that went over, though, so there was a lot of time after that in the Play Store finding all my essential apps and installing them.

Oppo arranges the three control buttons in the Samsung fashion: Apps to the left of Home, Return to its right. The home button is also the fingerprint scanner. And indeed, isn’t really a button as such. It’s merely a marked touch sensitive area, like that on a current model iPhone. For feedback it gives a brief buzz or vibration (not the almost real feeling click with the iPhone).

A steady hand and even a shy galah can be captured

The fingerprint feature worked properly with a couple of the banking apps I use. In addition, you can assign apps to particular fingers so that they start up automatically. I set my left thumb to invoke the camera app.

The screen delivered a colourful, bold and fairly high contrast picture, so there’s no fear that it would make things look cheap. Indeed it was pretty impressive.

I guess one can’t expect the sheer raw performance of a premium phone at $328. According to Basemark OS II the overall performance was 943, compared to 2816 for the Samsung Galaxy S7. The Basemark X 1.1 gaming performance score was 15523 versus the Samsung’s 41050. Those are performance levels of 33% and 38% respectively of an S7.

This one is cropped down to 1:1 resolution on your screen. Good focus is possible.

I don’t play performance-demanding games on phones so I can’t really judge how much that impacts on things. But it turned out that for all my general use the CPU and graphics speed was quite fast enough. Certainly not so slow as to draw attention to itself.

With regard to OTG, I noted that Oppo’s implementation is weird. That’s because for some reason it switches OTG off after ten minutes of non-use. I assume for reasons of power management. That makes it inconvenient to use because you have to dive into the settings menu to get it going again next time you want to use it. That said, it did work. I used a Lexar C20m JumpDrive to copy files to and from the A57.

Nice colour graduations on a winter rose

I had no problems with all day use of the phone in terms of battery life. It doesn’t seem to support the fast charge feature of some other Oppo phones, but charging was not unduly slow either.

The ColorOS 3.0 interface is a bit limiting. When you swipe down from the top of the screen you don’t get both shortcuts and notifications, just a full page of short cuts, and they aren’t editable. Since they didn’t include a short cut for the hotspot function – which is something I always like to have close at hand – the phone was a little less convenient to use than I’d prefer.

To get to notifications you have to swipe the shortcuts aside, so that’s another unnecessary step.

The camera software offered several useful features, including panorama shooting, a “beauty” mode and an expert mode. The latter lets you adjust things manually, such as ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, shutter speed and so on. The metadata in the resulting pictures suggests the camera has a maximum aperture of f/2.2 and a focal length of 3.46mm. Videos could be taken at 720p and 1080p resolutions. The only size changes for photos were changes in the shape of the frame.

Picture taking results were variable. Sometimes the auto focus locked on well and sharp, clean images were the result. Other times it didn’t. You can touch the screen to have the camera optimise the picture taking – focus and exposure – for that point.

Respectable geometry

There’s also a HDR mode – auto and manual supported – which did a decent job of bringing up detail in dark areas of the picture, at the cost of having to hold the camera still for longer.

Generally, the better the light the better the results. Things became noisy as the ISO auto-advanced in low light, non-flash shots. The flash, though, was fairly bright and quite usable.

Conclusion

All of which is me being picky about the camera in a phone which is a quarter of the price of the likes of Samsung Galaxy S8s and iPhones. In reality, the careful, thoughtful user should get respectable photos out of the Oppo A57 phone camera. And get respectable overall performance in most other ways as well.

And importantly, the phone looks and feels like an $800 one, so this is a budget phone you can use with few people even realising that it is a budget phone.