Selfie cameras are all the rage in smartphones, but what if you could have one phone camera that takes beautiful shots on one side, and can automatically flip to the front for your self portrait? That’s the idea with Oppo’s N3, with a camera that can shift position when you touch the screen.
Oppo is certainly doing what it can to get its name out there, and after wowing people with its excellent but high grade Blu-ray players and headphones, the mobile division is putting in the hard yards to make phones that aren’t just another “me too” concept like so many others.
The N3 definitely appears to fall under this category, at least on paper, with some interesting inclusions and features designed to draw people in who might not be down for the whole “me too” game other smartphone makers are currently playing.
With that in mind, you’ll find some familiar technology on the Oppo N3, also known as the Oppo N5206.
Under the plastic hood, you’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor, clocked at 2.3GHz with 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, and a microSD storage slot also found in the unit if you want to upgrade that storage amount considerably, with as much as 128GB able to be loaded in.
Google’s Android 4.4 runs here, the version known as “KitKat”, though Oppo does run a variation on the Android operating system known as Color OS, with this being the second generation of that platform, acting as an overlay.
Connections on the handset are fairly standard for a flagship handset, with 802.11a/b/g/n and even 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and Near-Field Communication. Mobile connectivity is catered for via 4G LTE, and just to make things a little different, there are two SIM card slots here, found in the form of a microSIM and a nanoSIM slot.
Interestingly, while you can have two SIMs running, one of the SIM slots — the nanoSIM — also takes the spot of the microSD, so if you want to upgrade the storage, you need to use a microSIM. If you use a nanoSIM, you can’t use the microSIM simply because the nanoSIM card takes up the spot of where the microSD card would go.
Depending on the type of SIM you currently have, this could make upgrades a little interesting, but is something we’ll get into in the review.
You’ll also find a camera here, and unlike most other phones featuring two cameras, Oppo’s N3 goes for one, with a 16 megapixel camera with a flash on a special rotating mechanism that is motorised, allowing you to shift its position to both the front and the back, and do so either manually with your fingers or with an electronic control mechanism.
Then there’s the display, and for that Oppo is providing a 5.5 inch In-Plane Switching touchscreen offering a resolution of 1920×1080, with a pixel clarity count of roughly 401 pixels per inch, spot on with what Apple offers in its iPhone 6 Plus.
As is the case with most smartphones, there are few buttons here, with a physical power button on the left edge, a physical volume rocker on the right edge, and a physical home button on the back with a fingerprint sensor embedded in the button. The rest of the buttons are soft buttons underneath the display, and these cater to menu, home, and back.
A notification light can be found along the bottom edge, and two open ports can be found via the microUSB port on the left edge and the 3.5mm headset jack on the right.
The battery is built into the Oppo N3, is not removable, and is rated at 3000mAh.
Big phones are a big deal at the moment, and if you’re still using a smartphone with a display that sits around the 3.5 and 4 inch mark, you’re missing out, sticking with the old and not wanting to upgrade.
Currently, 4.7 to 5 inches is the average that most people aim for, with large displays and relatively thin bezels coming together to make for a size that the average Joe can hold in their hand comfortably.
But some people are game for bigger, and that’s where larger displays and larger phones come into the picture. Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus demonstrated this last year with a 5.5 inch display noticeably bigger than the 4.7 inch offered by its iPhone 6 brother, and it’s an area Android and Windows Phones have been banging into for some time before Apple.
Now it’s Oppo’s time to shine, and in the N3, we’re seeing the company go for a 5.5 inch display, taking on the likes of Apple and LG, and even Samsung’s 5.7 inch Galaxy Note with a similarly sized machine.
Take the phone from its box and you’ll see a body made from plastic with a metal trim in a design that is definitely different. You’re probably used to the same old “screen is the phone” style that everyone has been using for yonks, and Oppo’s N3 isn’t dramatically different, but it does offer a bit up the top that isn’t like your iPhone or Galaxy smartphone.
Instead, there’s a bit of what looks like leather, only it’d not, and is separated by its own little bit of metallic trim. That’s the camera, and is one of the biggest features of the N3, which we’ll get to shortly.
For now, we’re putting the phone in our hands, with the N3 revealing a solid heft to it, which probably comes from that large plastic body surrounding the display. That said, the phone is eight grams shy of 200, and at 192g, isn’t light at all.
Most phones in this class come in at around 150, so the extra 50 grams can make this handset feel like a bit of cement in your hand or pocket.
Start playing with the phone and you’ll find it’s an interesting little beast, with a power button at the the left edge turning on the phone and unlocking it, while a fingerprint reader with button behind it sits on the back.
This little button can be used to bring the phone back from standby, and relies on similar technology to what we’ve seen Huawei and Samsung use recently, offering a 70 percent chance that your finger will let you open the phone up.
One thing that we’ll credit Oppo with over Samsung is the easy passcode, which like Apple’s iPhone lets you type in four digits, compared to the the minimum six-character password from the Galaxy S6, making this an easier phone to unlock if your fingers aren’t up to task.
Back to the operation of the phone, and we’re using Oppo’s rather bubbly and colourful overlay to Android, the aptly named “ColorOS”, which is a little different to the versions put out by Samsung, Sony, LG, and HTC, and even offers some dedicated music and photography home screens which you can remove if you so choose.
Performance of the phone isn’t bad, and certainly on par with a lot of the phones we saw in 2014, thanks in part to the use of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor, which is exactly what’s in the LG G3, though the speed is a little different, with a 2.3GHz in the N3 compared to the 2.5 in the G3.
Is the difference dramatic?
Not really, and we found for the most part, the Oppo N3 performs very well, with few interruptions or slowdowns, as the phone allowed us to jump across apps quickly and effortless, offering up multi-tasking without any issues, and generally feeling as snappy as most of the other phones we play with.
As for usability, ColorOS reminds us of Huawei’s take on Android, which borrows a little from Apple iOS in that it turns the multiple home screens of Android into the app menus. That means there’s no independent app menu itself, and each home screen will generally feature the app shortcuts, with widgets if you choose to load them on.
That’s not necessarily our favourite configuration of Android, but at least the fact that you can move icons around with ease offers more customisation and control than Apple’s neat stacks of icons.
Oppo does go to a little bit of extra trouble for people who really like to own their operating system, customising the experience to the nth level. Menu settings that we found from a brief poking about included the ability to change how long the soft buttons light up for, what the notification light at the bottom does (which is quite large and can get irritating), fiddle with the carrier information and battery percentage display inn the top bar, and more, with a download quota controller that displays your monthly package and shows just how quickly you’re eating into your bandwidth.
And that could happen quite easily, simply because there’s a fair degree of speed offered here with the 4G modem.
Testing the Oppo N3 on Telstra’s 4GX network in Sydney, we found average speeds of between 15 and 40Mbps, though more is possible, provided the network is working well and not slowing down. For the most part, no one should have any problems with this phone, as it performs spot on like the other 4G LTE handsets that we test.
Perhaps the biggest reason to take a peek at the Oppo N3 has to be for the camera, which includes one of the more unusual cameras you’ll ever see.
It’s not that the megapixel amount is impressive in the way that Nokia’s 41 megapixel Lumia 1020 impressed us, nor is it one of those zoomable camera lenses Samsung used in both the S4 Zoom and K Zoom smartphone cameras.
Rather, this is impressive because it includes electronic rotation, with the one 16 megapixel camera used on the N3 something that you can control the position of simply by dragging your finger up and down on the screen when the camera app is loaded.
Essentially, this means if you’re finding the camera view isn’t to your liking when you’re using the rear camera, you can swipe down ever so slightly to move the camera position for you, changing what you’re looking at along the front.
Alternatively, you can do a broad swipe down and the rear camera will flip around and look square at you: voilà, this is also your selfie camera.
Yes, the N3 only has one camera, something we’ve seen Oppo try before in the N1 Mini, another model with a similar concept, albeit no electronics to control the camera.
In fact, we praised the N1 Mini for its camera, and again, we can do the same for the N3, providing a decent little shooter with a lot of options, more than that neat little gimmicky electronically controlled rotation mechanism, which in fairness most people will probably skip using because it’s so much easier to position the camera using your fingers.
Manual: it’s always faster than random electronic gimmicks.
Beyond the gimmick, you’ll find a fairly capable camera at your disposal with some rather unusual settings available to it against other phones out there.
Options include RAW file formats, an “expert mode” with ISO and exposure compensation, and even a double exposure layered photo mode.
And the images out of the camera are actually pretty good, with some strong details, good colours, and low-light imagery that looks good, with dark skies at night that won’t feel like the pixels have become stars, unlike other cameras.
But while the strengths of the Oppo lie in the camera and its range of features, we’re stumped by the design decisions for this phone, because it’s big, heavy, and with some remarkably silly port locations that just have us confused as to what Oppo was thinking.
Let’s start with the phone design.
Yes, Oppo has followed the basic logic of designing a phone around a screen, a 5.5 inch screen at that, but it just has a tremendous amount of framing on its top and bottom, and makes the 5.5 inch phone bigger than other phones sporting that screen size.
As a point, the LG G3 relies on a 5.5 inch display, as does the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, but while the iPhone 6 Plus damn near matches the height and width of the Oppo N3, it wins because it’s so much thinner.
On the other hand, the LG G3 is the same thickness as the Oppo, but wins against it because it has so much less bezel, and looks small in comparison, even though they’re technically the same size (though LG offers more resolution).
It’s also heavy… really heavy.
There is no way not to notice the sort of impact the Oppo N3 makes on your pocket, and in many ways, it really does feel like you’re carrying a brick. We’ve seen heavy phones in the past, and HTC’s One Max seems to be the limit at 217 grams, but Oppo’s N3 isn’t far behind at 192.
You might look at that and say “well, that’s only 20 grams heavier than the 5.5 inch Apple iPhone 6 Plus,” and you’d be right, but where as Apple seems to spread the weight, and the phone doesn’t feel tremendously heavy, the Oppo seems to. Maybe it’s the plastic, and maybe it’s the placebo effect from dealing with those huge bezels, but we can feel it, and our pockets and pants do not appreciate it.
Some might scream “well, obviously there’s a big battery adding to that weight”, and with a 3000mAh block, you’d be right, except that the Oppo N3 doesn’t last more than a day of general use. Our test has us making phone calls, taking photos, surfing the web, writing and checking mail, social networking, and listening to music, which is an average day for us.
Use the phone more, however — we call people in this category a “power user” — and you’ll barely see that full day of battery life, which is a shame given that size and overall heft.
There are other odd design elements taken along for the ride as well, such as the leather stitching around the camera.
Sorry, ahem, we mean the obviously fake leather with stitching on the camera.
Not on the rest of phone, or the back like how Samsung tried to get way with on Galaxy Note models. No, this is just a small amount of plastic leather with plastic “stitching” on the camera, as if to say the camera has a leather bit protecting it.
Which it does not, and it looks just plain odd, especially since it appears out of the blue — or white, on our review phone — and doesn’t really connect with any other design element.
The ports on the phone are equally confusing, with the side chosen as best place for Oppo to put the microUSB charge and data transfer port, with the other side used for the 3.5mm jack.
Oppo could get away with the microUSB port on one of these sides. We don’t like it, but when you charge the phone before you go to bed, chances are that you’re not going to care that the charge port isn’t at the bottom.
Headphones, on the other hand, are a bit of an issue.
You see some headphones have right-angle headphone jacks, and others have more direct straight ones, but regardless of what you have, the side-based 3.5mm headphone port on the Oppo N3 means if you decide to listen to music with headphones and then slip the phone into your pocket, that simple move to drop the phone in your pants pocket becomes a struggle between the width of the pocket and this new extra-large width of your phone because of a hardened jack protruding from the side.
As an example, of pair of earphones we’re reviewing has a direct plug in that it’s basically a straight line.
Plug this in and the N3 becomes terribly wide, and requires the phone to weave into place in your pocket, not to mention applying stress on the headphone connection when you move.
Right-angled headphone jacks, such as the sort on Beats headphones, handle this a little better, but you’re still left with a phone that is overly wide, and difficult to get into a pocket comfortably.
Part of this problem comes from the wide screen, which doesn’t help the width, but Oppo should have tested the placement of ports a little better, because the side is definitely the worst place for the headphone jack to plug in.
Even the notification light has us a little confused, simply because it’s so large and noticeable. We suppose if you wanted to be told that you have a message, a breathing light is a good way of getting your attention, but when you’re lying in bed and see this large light blinking on and off at the bottom of the phone informing you a message has come in, well, that’s the last thing you want to see.
Oppo’s latest phone may well be geared at photographers, but its weight makes it hard for someone to carry, occupying more space than other 5.5 inch smartphones, and yet also bringing more weight to the table, enough that your pants might need a belt or replacing quickly, or even both.
The gimmick is neat, that’s for sure, but one you can get over quickly, but if you like options and love taking photos, Oppo’s digital camera phone is decent enough that you’ll like what’s on offer, provided you’re good for carrying something hefty.