Review: Oppo N1 Mini
3.9Overall Score
Price (RRP): $539 Manufacturer: Oppo

Do you like selfies but are sick of the one or two megapixel cameras smartphones are coming with? Oppo’s answer to this is an interesting one, putting the 13 megapixel rear camera on a hinge and making it work both sides. Is it a success?

Features

Sitting in the mid-range, the N1 Mini offers up a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.6GHz paired with 2GB RAM and working alongside 16GB storage. Unfortunately, there’s no way of improving on this storage, with only the storage inside and no microSD slot.

Google’s Android 4.3 runs here, though with a very different version, the modified “ColorOS” which takes most of its core from Google’s Android, even though it’s not technically the same as Android with an overlay on top.

Connections are relatively standard with nothing special to speak of, relying on 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, Near-Field Communication, GPS, and of course a microUSB charge and data transfer port, with 4G using a Category 4 compliant modem capable of achieving download speeds of up to 150Mbps and uploads of up to 50Mbps depending on the network you’re using.

Cameras are interesting, though, with a lone 13 megapixel camera with flash sitting on the back on a special hinged section. Thanks to that hinge, this section — the camera section — can be rotated and used as a front-facing camera, providing 13 megapixel images and Full HD videos on either the front or the back, just not at the same time.

This sits underneath a 5 inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) touchscreen display, protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 and running the high-definition friendly resolution of 1280×720.

With this combination of specs, the Oppo N1 Mini runs a pixel clarity of 294 pixels per inch, roughly 30 pixels below the Retina HD resolution of the 4.7 inch iPhone 6.

Few buttons exist on the phone, and there are just as many ports, with two physical buttons — the power button on the left edge and the volume rocker on the right — while the ports are handled by the 3.5mm headset jack and microUSB ports at the very bottom of the handset, while a microSIM slot can be found on the right, used and handled by a SIM ejector pin tool.

There are the typical three Android soft buttons here, but unlike most handsets, these aren’t built into the software, with printed-on and backlit soft buttons provided for menu, home, and back.

The battery for the Oppo N1 Mini is rated for 2140mAh.

Performance

You might have heard the name Oppo before from its high-end Blu-ray players and just-as-high-end audio devices, but media playback isn’t all the company wants to be recognised for. No, it’s also getting into phones, proving to the world that it has what it takes to be another Samsung with not just another phone, but something different.

In fact, a recent launch to the Australian market boasted four specific products that have arrived, and we’re checking one of them right now, with the Oppo N1 Mini, a unique proposition that seems to cater to people who love taking photos, whether they’re taking something in front of them or taking photos of themselves.

That proposition is a mid-range just over $500 smartphone with a 13 megapixel camera that can rotate and take pictures both behind and in front of the phone.

Aesthetics of the Oppo N1 Mini are reasonably minimalist, but it’s clear this isn’t the same touchscreen phone as everything else, with the 5 inch screen taking up the majority of the front, but the hinge camera providing a noticeable top white chunk of the frame, a design feature that will move the speaker to the back if you decide to take a selfie at the time.

There’s also two metallic gold lines surrounding the Oppo N1 Mini, which give the phone a unique look, but one that won’t be for everyone. It’s not for this reviewer, but we’re sure there are people who won’t be turned off by the metallic showing this handset offers.

It also doesn’t feel bad in the hands, though it’s clear this is a plastic handset, with a slightly slippery finish that is comfortable to hold.

Switch the display on and you’ll see a relatively bright display gazing back at you, offering up 720p, which is clear enough, though not on the same par as any of the high-ranking screens we’re seeing on other top 5 inch handsets.

Oppo’s take on Android is also a little different, with a custom version of Android used instead of regular old stock Android with an overlay on top.

For Oppo, this special version means the icons are pretty cheerful and bright, with lots of colours, and yet a reasonably minimalist take on the apps.

As usual, there are multiple homescreens and menus, as well as a shortcut dock you can change whenever you want — you can even move the menu icon and shortcut — and because it’s a custom take on Android, there are things you might not see coming.

Things like gesture shortcuts, with a quick swipe from the top left of the screen revealing a gesture panel for you to make drawings and gestures to quickly load apps you’ve linked up at another time.

You can even do this when the phone is off, provided you switch the setting on, making it possible not just to tap twice to switch the phone on, but draw a circle on an otherwise off handset (standby, technically) to load the camera.

Support for the O-Click tool is also there, which may or may not be included in the box, but provides a small Bluetooth remote for taking photos, and can be left on the key ring.

Live weather support is also here for the theme of the handset, showing animated seasons based on the weather, though like all live wallpapers, this will of course have an effect on the battery life.

Over to the performance, and while it’s not the most high-end chipset out there, Qualcomm’s quad-core Snapdragon 400 does an admirable job, its pairing with 2GB RAM revealing few slowdowns in most of the phone operations, though you might see some here and there.

Mobile speeds are a little less impressive, and while it might have been Telstra, we found speeds ranging from 19 to 48Mbps on this handset.

Technically, Oppo is delivering a Category 4 LTE modem here, so it’s possible we were seeing an issue from Telstra’s end, but it’s worth noting that speeds should be sufficient for most people.

Then there’s the camera, and while the specs suggest it will be excellent, it’s a little hit and miss here.

On screen, images shot with the Oppo N1 Mini’s 13 megapixel camera look lovely, with solid detail in daylight and crisp vibrant colours, but get those photos back to a computer and you can see where the images start to buckle.

An image from the Oppo N1 Mini's camera.

Under low light is where the camera starts to really lose it, and even though you might find decent colours at night, there are plenty of pixels and noise to be found the moment you start pixel peeping.

Social networking services like Instagram and Facebook shouldn’t be too bothered, but go beyond the fence of the smartphone and you might get a little frustrated.

One important note about the N1 Mini’s rear camera is that it is also the only camera on the phone itself, with a hinge found at the top able to rotate the camera from the back to the front, providing what is, in essence, an excellent 13 megapixel rear camera as an equally excellent 13 megapixel front-facing camera.

You might look at this design and feel a touch frustrated, though. After all, how many smartphones don’t include cameras on the front?

Generally, phones without front-facing modules are budget phones, but the N1 Mini is something else altogether, and feels more like a gamble based on the premise of only needing one great camera that can choose sides and angles, rather than one great rear camera and one mediocre front camera.

For us, it’s a gamble that pays off, with an otherwise decent camera that works around town — quite literally all the way around, in fact, as you can shoot 13 megapixel images on the front, the back, and even aim the camera straight up and shoot from different angles.

The camera from the Oppo N1 Mini working on both the front (left) and the back (right).

There are also a few modes for you to shoot with, a slow shutter option, beauty mode, animated GIF, panorama, and even an Ultra HD mode that will stitch together a photo for you to use on a 4K TV. Mostly, though, we stuck with the normal mode, which offered fast shooting with virtually no lag unless it was dark, and images that were clear, vibrant, and easy on the eyes.

But not all is good for the Oppo N1 Mini, with some of the hardware letting it down in the process.

One problem is definitely there in the battery, which offers around a day for most people, and maybe a little more — maybe — but you’d be cutting it close.

A day of life isn’t fantastic, and that’s doing all the regular things of surfing the web, making phone calls, emailing, texting, playing the odd game, social networking, taking photos, and listening to music.

Also not fantastic is the lack of upgradeable memory, with the otherwise svelte design lacking a microSD slot and leaving you with 16GB of storage for the unit. We can forgive this on the $399 Google Nexus 5, but we don’t even like this hardware problem there, so on the hundred buck more N1 Mini, we’re confused, because seriously, what is the point of having a decent camera if you can’t take lots of photos and videos and expand the memory to support the oodles more?

Even the hardware-based soft buttons could be a little brighter, offering what have to be the dimmest lighting for the menu, home, and back buttons we’ve ever seen.

Our last set of complaints go to Oppo’s ColorOS, which is a version of Android that is more than just Android with an overlay, but rather Android done slightly differently. Here, the interface is bright, breezy, and certainly colourful, which you’d expect given the name, but while it’s easy on the eyes, and there are some aforementioned features which are sure to get some attention, there are also some things which kind of get in the way.

Things like the extra screens, such as the audio homescreen which appears every time you plug in a pair of headphones and not only won’t go away, but can’t be changed. If you don’t use Oppo’s media player, this homescreen is a bit of a waste, unable to be changed with the widget stuck the way it is.

There’s a camera screen that you can add, too, but it won’t stay there permanently, and you can get rid of it. However, if you do want to change what side it sits on, tough luck: it’s on the right, and no matter what you do, it is on the right. That’s all there is to it.

“Misoperation prevention” is another phrase you’ll likely become very familiar with, because when you take the phone out of your pocket and you’re slightly covering up the top of the phone, this error will pop up, which apparently has to do with the proximity sensor stopping your pocket from making phone calls. It’s a tad irritating, and the error isn’t well explained, but once you get the hang of what it’s doing, you can either switch the error off or just ignore it. Or both.

Oppo has included a Data Monitor too, which is a nice touch, but it comes switched on out of the box, so if you plan on downloading more than 300MB daily, make sure you head to its settings — it’s easily found in the app menu, more easily found than in settings — and turn it off, because if you go over the 300Mb limit on a 4G connection, it will shut you off, almost as if it was a bartender and you weren’t allowed anymore drinks from here on in.

And there are even quite a few crashes.

We had Google Play — the app store on Android — crash a few times, a bug we’ve yet to encounter in our Android travels, but it worked some of the time, also. We didn’t run into any apps that didn’t work, though we’ve heard that it can happen, and we did find some inconsistencies from other handsets, such as Google Now being present for Taiwan even though it installed in English, as well as the Google Play Music app not always showing up in the drop down notification bar when it’s being used.

Outside of the bugs and problems, Oppo’s take on Android is pretty interesting, and is one of the most obvious differentiators between it and other handsets, but it’s not perfect, and probably needs more time in the Oppo labs.

Conclusion

It might be the first Oppo we’ve had a proper play with, but it’s a good start, with the 5 inch mid-ranger offering a decent mobile experience for people who like to take selfies.

Next time, we’ll be looking for a better battery and an improved camera, but it’s not a bad start for Oppo in this country.

Review: Oppo N1 Mini
Price (RRP): $539 Manufacturer: Oppo
Comfortable in the hands; Rotating camera is a neat gimmick resulting in a decent 13 megapixel shooter on both the front and the back; Colourful version of Android with some interesting modifications, such as gesture shortcuts;
Camera isn't great in low light; No microSD slot; Mediocre battery life; Bugs aplenty;
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
3.9Overall Score
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