I want a 6”, 18:9, 2160 x 1080, AMOLED screen, the latest dual camera, facial recognition, fast charging and I don’t want to mortgage the kids for it. Hell, maybe I want even more like a 6.43” screen!
This is the kind of thinking Joe and Jane Average are doing these days when hunting for a phone. The action is coming thick and fast in the sub-$800 segment where more innovation is being packed into affordable packages like OPPO’s amazing R11s and R11s Plus.
The R11 (GadgetGuy review here) released mid last year has already become Australia’s top-selling mid-range phones primarily because it packs a dual camera, 5.5” AMOLED screen and flagship features into a $599 price. If I were not a brand snob, it may well been in my pocket.
Are the 6” R11s or 6.43” R11 Plus more of the same? Well yes and no. Under the bonnet, many of the components remain the same as the R11 – that is good because it is one of the most accomplished pieces of mid-range hardware I have used.
But on the outside, it sports a new 18:9 screen (Univisium movie format) that Apple, Samsung, LG et al. have adopted instead of the older, wider 16:9 TV format. It makes the larger handset more pocketable and manageable fitting a larger screen into the same space as the 5.5” R11.
This review is for the R11s – the Plus is bigger, has 6GB RAM and a 4,000mAH battery.
Initial impressions are very iPhone X with a full screen, imperceptible side bezels and very small top and bottom bezels. In fact, the R11s shares the same Samsung pedigree OLED screen, a very good dual camera and features like facial recognition. Its Colour OS 3.2 user interface is very Applesque – swiping up to bring up a quick setting panel and swiping down to bring up the notification panel.
All the R11s is missing is the IP rating, NFC and wireless charging to make it a flagship contender!
I think OPPO is so successful precisely because it gives an Apple-like experience on a lemonade budget. I know many who have swapped from iPhone to OPPO and without exception appreciate the quality first, and that they paid about 50% of the cost.
That wonderful AMOLED screen
Perhaps the most evident thing is the very high 80% screen-to-body ratio (85.8% on Plus). To do this, the fingerprint scanner has been moved to the back (like LG G6), and the back, home and recent apps buttons are soft – part of the screen.
It uses a Samsung sourced, 6.01” (6.43” Plus), 18:9, Diamond Pentile (two green to each red and blue pixel) AMOLED screen with a 2160 x 1080 resolution. Just because the screen is from Samsung does not mean it has the same performance characteristics as the Galaxy or iPhone.
But Samsung AMOLED does mean black blacks, punchy colours, good daylight readability and VR capable.
I found the screen bright (441 nits – like the Galaxy S8) but the reflective factory installed screen protector, reduced its daylight readability a tad. Colours seemed accurate under office lighting but were a little washed out in daylight.
There is no option for colour adjustment (sRGB, Cinema, Vivid etc.) which is more a feature of the Colour OS UI than the OLED screen capability.
All day and night battery
It has a 3,200 mAh battery (4,000mAh on the Plus) that gave me over 24 hours of heavy testing use. It is rated for 15 hours continuous video playback and gets an endurance score of 77 hours (typical use).
VOOC fast charging is cunning – it has two 1600 mAh batteries that work in parallel to provide 3,200mAh. VOOC has 2 x 2A chargers, so it effectively charges in half the time. In tests, it reached 50% charge in under 30 minutes and a full charge in 90 minutes. OPPO claim a 5-minute charge gives two hours talk time.
Be aware that VOCC requires a special green USB cable with two voltage channels. If you use a normal 5V/2A charger and cable, it will take twice as long.
The Qualcomm 14nm, Snapdragon 660 was designed to bring flagship-class performance to the mid-range segment. It has an Adreno 512 GPU, Wi-Fi AC 2×2 MIMO up to 867 Mb/s, Bluetooth 5, and an X12 LTE modem (600/150 Mb/s and 3CA). OPPO and siblings OnePlus and Vivo (BBK) all use this processor. Rumour has it that BBK bought most of the production and the chip is in short supply.
The Spectra Image processor supports hybrid autofocus, dual rear camera setups (up to 16MP for each imaging sensor), dual photodiode autofocus, smooth optical zoom, and EIS for video.
It has been around since mid-2017 and is considered the currently best performing mid-range processor – it will be replaced in 2018 by the 10nm Snapdragon 670 that has NFC and USB 3.1 as well.
The R11s has 4GB of LPDR4 memory (6GB Plus), 64GB of storage, microSD up to 256GB and OTG Support to 2TB.
In all, it offers a 20% faster CPU and 30% faster GPU than its predecessor while using less power. The message I want you to take away is that you don’t need the Snapdragon 835 flagship SoC to get flagship performance.
Colour OS 3.2 User Interface and Android 7.1
ColorOS 3.2 also includes AI learning, which claims to learn from user behaviour to better optimise the phone. This is supposed to make your most-used apps start-up faster and provide better overall resource management.
I use a Samsung Galaxy device, and I have grown used to its Grace UI. When I use Pure Android, I have to relearn that interface – Colour OS is no different in that respect.
My adult son uses OPPO – has done since he lost his iPhone and replaced it with an R7 and he says the interface is great.
Colour OS is OPPO’s way of providing an Applesque experience without breaching copyright. Many of the gestures and in particular its camera app uses similar swipes.
But it is more than that – AI learning, customisations for WeChat, Payments, fingerprint, night mode, and a full suite of apps that allow you to avoid Google’s offerings (important in China).
Of course, in Australia, all the Google apps are loaded, and it is your choice which you use.
Oppo has implemented a very fast fingerprint recognition. R11s adds facial recognition. The system relies on Oppo’s face recognition technology to identify 128 facial features points, match them, and unlock the device in less time than it takes for the screen to come on.
Face ID worked well in good light but was variable in low light. I particularly like the “Raise to wake up” feature – the smartphone automatically identified me and was ready for use as I lifted it off the table.
Phone and audio
We often forget that the prime task is to make and receive phone calls. It supports dual-SIM (or one sim and one microSD) and Voice over LTE (Telco dependent).
As a phone, it typically had as many signal bars as a flagship. The aerials are colour coded to the phone back, and OPPO says the placement means less interference.
As a hands-free device, it is fine reaching 70dB. Callers commented on the voice quality.
As an audio device, it reaches up to 90dB on heavy metal tracks. Its single speaker is not however up to audiophile scrutiny.
Frequency response is flat and covers the spectrum from 20-20kHz – the feed via Bluetooth is clean, but the 3.5mm audio jack was not as good.
LTE is Cat 12 600/100Mb/s and covers bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/20/28/38/39/40/41 – more than most mid-range devices.
Dual camera out performs most
Damned good but still has a little way to go to knock off Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8. But I was testing a pre-release model too – I suspect that we will see firmware updates soon.
On paper, the camera specifications seem a little odd. International tech sites state it uses two 20MP, 1/2.8″, 1 µm, Sony IMX350 Exmor RS sensors and two f/1.7 lenses – a main 16MP colour (PDAF, HDR) with 2X digital zoom and a secondary a 20MP colour (AF) and a single LED flash.
I suspect that the main 16MP lens uses a Sony IMX351, 16MP, 1/3.06″ with similar specifications as the IMX350. The Qualcomm’s 660 Spectra Image processor supports 24MP (single) and 16MP (dual). It seems a little mismatched.
OPPO state that the two sensors images are ‘merged’ (via post-processing) to collect more data and synthesise a 2 µm equivalent! The 16MP is the most used lens, and the 20MP is specially designed to supplement low light and to give a bokeh effect to portraits.
OPPO seem to know what it is doing camera wise, and it seems to work well.
GadgetGuy uses a series of reference shots. All settings are on auto as that is what most use. Like other flagship cameras, the app will manage whether to use auto flash or auto HDR – good. The comparison is with the dual 12MP camera Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (GN8 shots on the right).
OPPO’s 16MP sensor has more natural colours, precise detail, and definition in the shadows than the GN8. I would put it marginally ahead, but it lacks optical image stabilisation which becomes more important with decreasing light levels where exposure time increases.
It produced a 4.4MB JPEG image, ISO 44, and 1/4332s exposure (GN8 was 4.19MB, ISO 40 and 1/4488s respectively. It marginally beat the GN8.
It is hard to take a bad shot in daylight but hold it still and don’t use digital zoom as it will induce noise.
Office light 500 lumens
Exposure time shot up to 1/50s at ISO 50. Here the GN8’s OIS takes over with a slightly crisper shot, and its HDR does a better job of capturing the fur detail. But while the GN8 has more saturated colours (e.g. red Sudoku cover) the real colour is as per the OPPO.
This test presents a real conundrum. Parts of the OPPO are way better (HDR and details and colours of the monitor and tablet), but it simply does not pick up the details of the red filing cabinet and HP laser.
OPPO selected ISO 272 and a 1/33s exposure. The GN8 selected ISO 200 and a 1/13s exposure. Both opted not to use flash.
Simply put the OPPO had more natural colours, better HDR in the highlights and worse in the lowlights. The GN8 took a more visually pleasing photo at the expense of details and introduced noise into the image.
Portrait mode – better than any anti-wrinkle cream!
OPPO has built a Portrait Lab and membership includes Russell James, a 20-year photographer for Victoria’s Secret, make-up artists, and retouching specialists. They have provided many suggestions on what makes the best portrait, and this is captured in the portrait mode of the R11s.
Also, OPPO has developed A.I. beauty recognition technology. It has set up a big selfie database that uses A.I. neural network algorithms to collect 254 facial features and analyses them over multiple dimensions including gender, age, skin texture, skin colour, expression, and physical condition.
For example, it can brighten the skin and eyes, tighten facial contour lines, remove shine, even shade and smooth skin. The A.I. beauty recognition technology has two million different beauty effects.
It works with both the rear camera and selfie camera.
Selfies: At 20MP (no AF or OIS so hold it still) it records tons of detail, good colour and contrast. There is no flash or screen fill flash, and the f/2.0 lens struggles to get enough light in low light.