What is OPPO’s ColorOS over Google Android?


ColorOS is a light skin over pure Google Android OS that helps customise its smartphones in different geographic markets. It also allows it to do so much more than Google Android does.

Now you may well ask why not go with pure Google Android and be done with it. Just like Google does with its Pixel.

It is not at all fair to say that ColorOS (or realmeOS, etc.) is not Android. Like the rest (apart from Huawei that cannot use Google) – it is just a user interface.

OPPO, or its siblings realme, vivo and OnePlus have a large Chinese market where Google Mobile Services and apps are prohibited. It is no different to TCL, Alcatel, Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi, Motorola, Samsung, LG et al. that all have their own UI overlay. In other words, UI (User Interfaces) are a fact of life if you sell in China. And UI interfaces are necessary if you want to get more out of your hardware than pure Android allows.

The skin incorporates non-Google alternatives to Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, Camera, Sound, Maps, device maintenance and more things that we use Google for. Of course, genuine certified Australia models have the full Google suite.

When I first saw ColorOS 3 during an OPPO factory tour in 2016 (OPPO came to Australia in 2015), I asked why it was so Apple iOS-like.

Similar gestures, swipes, apps and even iconography. The answer was that this was what the Chinese market wanted. OPPO was Android in Apple clothing.

To a Windows Phone and later Android user, this seemed counterintuitive, and I (and other journalists on the trip) kept asking why we could not have pure Android for Australia. The answer is that it helped make OPPO one of the largest selling brands in China. And if you wanted, you could load pure Android – just navigate to the XDA Developers site, and you will find it. So, I did, and it worked! But I soon realised what was missing from pure Android.

Fast forward to now, and we are at ColorOS 7.x on Android 10 (Website here). It is a very light skin; it has user-selectable screen/gesture layouts (you can choose Android 9 or 10 home keys), and there is very little so-called ‘bloatware’ with a handful of Google app alternatives. ColorsOS is very close to pure Android and has long lost the iOS ‘copycat’ gestures and appearance.

BTW, OPPO is releasing ColorOS 8 and Android 11 initially for the Find X2 series. But with some 350 million active handsets and hundreds of models – only some of its current ColorOS 7.x/Android 10 models may get ColorOS 8.

ColorOS trial plan details

OPPO’s update policy is similar to Samsung, LG et al. Mass and mid-market devices get quarterly Google security updates for at least two years. Flagships (Find X and its Reno series) get more regular updates.

But there is a little more to ColorOS…

The latest version of ColourOS has enabled OPPO to do things with its hardware that pure Android cannot. For example (and these are based on the coming OPPO Find X2 Pro review):

  • Instead of notification LEDs that occupy valuable bezel space, OPPO has Screen Light Effects that use the edges for notifications. This is a very clever use of its wrap-around glass screen. It also has customisable Always-On-Display (AMOLED screens).
  • OPPO has developed an 01 Ultra Vision Engine. It incorporates motion estimation and smoothing (converts 24/30fps to 60/120fps), SDR to HDR conversion, and natural tone that uses the ambient light and colour temperature sensors to adjust tone to external light. Also, there is DCI-P3 calibration, colour temperature adjustment and TUV Eye care certification. Suffice to say that things look so much better on OPPO than if they ran pure Android.
  • It has its own take on Android Dark mode – let’s call it ‘stark’ dark and not so dark ‘Moonlight View’ mode to take advantage of the low power requirements of AMOLED.
  • It gives you a choice of Android home screen styles. I still prefer the old three buttons (Android 8), and I love the accessibility features (font and icon size, layouts, high contrast, etc.) that exceed stock Android offerings. You can also change icons from OPPO to stock or material design.
  • One-handed mode allows screen shrinks to the bottom left or right corner to reduce how far you have to stretch your thumb to tap on the screen.

Color OS features continued

  • A variety of screenshot and screen recording options not in pure Android.
  • Even more privacy feature such as personal information protection that provides faux empty call history, contacts, messages, and events information to apps that request them. An elegant way to stop Facebook sucking up your data.
  • A nice one is that apps cannot access the camera, microphone or other data without your explicit permission.
  • OPPO camera allows so much more than the stock app. There are so many extra features I won’t even start to list them. OK, its AI camera stuff includes Beautification, Night Mode, Scene identification, and so much more.
  • Games Booster for gamers.
  • Smart 5G auto-switches between 4/5G depending on use. This means better battery life, and it has put a lot into smart cell selection (which tower to use) as well as a far better fallback to Wi-Fi calling.

There are probably 50 more things. Don’t take my word – there are two good articles at XDA Developers – the first on Colour OS 7.1 and then the Color OS 7.2 Update.

GadgetGuy’s take

Pure Android is good, but OPPO’s ColorOS allows it to do so much more.

First, dismiss as rubbish that OPPO/realme/vivo/One Plus UIs are using a crippled form of Google Android. Every feature Android offers is right there! Think of the UI as the icing on the cake that adds much more value. Apart from Google Pixel, most other brands have a certain degree of UI or customisation of Google Android (apart from Huawei that is not allowed to use Google’s Android).

Second, OPPO and its siblings are not part of the Huawei/ZTE/China spying debate. It is easy for some outlets to sling mud or spread unfounded innuendo.

Third, If I were buying a phone, OPPO would be on my shopping list. From its amazing $299 A52 (reviewed here) right up to its Find X2 Pro (or variants). When we review a phone, it goes through over 70 tests and is objectively rated. Not like most reviewers that barely use it!

Fourth, I would go so far as to say that it is a driver in what Android needs to be. OPPO and Google closely co-operate to ensure that its advances are part of future Android releases. Perhaps when Android is perfect we won’t need additional UI layers from phone manufacturers.

And finally, GadgetGuy does not receive one cent in marketing dollars from OPPO or its siblings, and if we did, we would declare it – unlike advertising-driven media that sell their soul for a few yuán.

No, we support OPPO because it has high quality products and invests in Australia with local offices, warehousing and support. It is incredibly reliable earning it the Canstar Blue best-rated smartphone brand three years in a row.