While Xiaomi relies heavily on social media and flash sales to drum up attention for its smartphones, Oppo takes a relatively muted approach by partnering with local distributors to sell its phones at fixed retail prices. Oppo started selling three smartphones - the 5.9-inch N1 (flagship), the 5-inch R1 (midrange) and the 4.7-inch Find 5 Mini (entry-level) on March 7.
We've reviewed the N1 which we found to be quite impressive in terms of image quality, battery life and its unique ability to flash different ROMs. However, the lack of 4G LTE connectivity, no memory card slot, expensive price tag and limited memory space for apps were major drawbacks. How about the R1?
The R1 is quite different from the N1 in terms of its target market segment. It is specifically positioned as a midrange smartphone with dual-SIM capability, a decent set of specs such as an 8-megapixel rear camera and the standard suite of ColorOS features. Where does the Oppo R1 stand in the sea of affordable 5-inch smartphones today? Read on to find out more.
Oppo claims the design of the R1 is inspired by the pureness and shine of diamonds; it has gone through 6 months of adjustment and 13 molds of amelioration. As tedious and exquisite the craftsmanship may seem, we think Oppo took a leaf out of Sony's book.
For the most part, the R1 is undeniably similar to the Sony Xperia Z2/Z1/Z Ultra/Z with its angular stature and rear glass panel although both phone makers differ on the type of glass used. The 0.55mm Corning Gorilla Glass 3 on the R1 is polished with 42 procedures into a gleaming finish while Sony uses tempered glass with a layer of anti-shatter film for the Xperia smartphones.
As expected with any glass surface, the rear of the R1 is covered in a huge mess of fingerprints and smudges within minutes of handling it. It is exceptionally unsightly on the R1 to the extent that we kept a cleaning cloth close at hand to clean it whenever we use the phone. If you cannot tolerate the sight of fingerprints and smudges on the rear glass panel, we recommend getting a case for the R1. Even that might not be an easy task considering Oppo is still a new brand in the local retail channel, so case options can be limited - unless you buy it from an overseas e-store.
While Sony's OmiBalance design utilizes a skeleton frame made of tough glass fibre polyamide, Oppo deploys an aluminum magnesium alloy frame on the R1 which is more solid and has a premium look. Overall, the handling of the R1 is good as it is rather slim at 7.1mm and weighs 141g. In comparison, the Motorola Moto G weighs 143g and has a side profile of 6.0 ~ 11.6mm. The 158g Xiaomi Redmi is thicker at 9.9mm.
Most Android smartphones such as the Huawei Ascend P6, the Moto G and Redmi have their power button placed on the right side with the volume rocker. Oppo decided to be different by placing the power button on the left side. While we think that this isn't a deal breaker, some users might take a little time to adapt to the change..
The standard Android navigation buttons (menu, home, back) are located just below the 5-inch display. Unlike the Redmi which has no backlighting for the capacitive buttons, Oppo gives you the option to turn it on (all the time or for 6 seconds) or turn it off if you think it is unnecessary or further preserve power draw.
The R1 comes with a 5-inch 720p display which is pretty standard for a midrange phone. While it cannot compete with the recent 5-inch Android flagship smartphones in pixel density and sharpness, the R1's resolution on the screen is plenty dense enough for most usage scenarios such as web browsing, watching videos and browsing photos. The bezels around the screen are neither too thick or too thin; we found our finger can rest at the side of the screen without interfering with the navigation.
Similar to Xiaomi's MIUI OS, Oppo also took the time and effort to develop an entirely different interface on top of the Android source code. For the R1, the ColorOS V1.0.0i is based on Android 4.2.2 version. Its more recent devices such as the Find 7A, is powered by ColorOS V1.2.0i which is based on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean.
We checked with Oppo Singapore on the differences between the two versions. The company responded by saying that the newer V1.2.0i will have upgrades and customization in the dial pad user interface, graphics API, Bluetooh Smart, Wi-FI API, camera interface and email interface.
When queried on whether there are plans to standardize all Oppo smartphones to the same ColorOS versions, a company spokesperson told us that each ColorOS version is customized specifically to either enhance the user experience or rectify issues for different devices. Oppo has no plans to standardize all versions across all products. Following its current path allows further optimization efforts to improve the user experience of the ColorOS on different devices. As for a ColorOS version based on Android 4.4 KitKat, we were told that Oppo currently has plans in the pipeline for the Find 7a and Find 7.
ColorOS is developed to provide a seamless way of navigation on Oppo's phones. One of the key features of ColorOS is the use of gestures on the lock screen and home screen as shortcuts to open apps or carry out certain functions.
To start things off, screen-off gestures can be executed on the lock screen to jump straight into apps. By default, you can access the Camera app off by drawing a circle or activate the camera flash as a flashlight by drawing a V when the screen is off. There are other screen-off gestures that you can execute such as:
You can set other screen-off gestures of your own; you can choose to call Home with an upward arrow, slide left to access to Facebook and activate Google Maps by drawing a M gesture. This navigation is extended to the home screen where you access the Gesture Panel by swiping down from the top left corner of the screen.
As with screen-off gestures, you can customize your own. Our favorites include accessing Facebook by drawing a "F", WhatsApp by a "W', Instagram by an "I" and Google Hangouts by a "H". We were told by Sean Deng, Oppo's Managing Director for Singapore, that custom gestures like these enable users to jump between apps effortlessly instead of pressing Home and looking for the particular app.
For example, you might be discussing with your friends on where to go for dinner tonight on your messaging app. One of your friends suggests a particular restaurant, but you have no idea where it is. Instead of pressing the Home button and search for the web browser or Google Maps app, you can swipe down from the top left corner of your group chat window and draw the "M" gesture to access Maps. After you have figured out the location and the transport route options to the restaurant, you can press the Back button to go back straight into the group chat window.
ColorOS takes up about 5GB of storage space on the R1 that's equipped with 16GB of built-in storage, leaving about 10.28GB of available storage space for installing apps and storing multimedia content (photos and videos). The lack of a memory card slot may turn off power users, but 10GB storage space is manageable for a mid-tier phone.