I have reviewed some OPPO smartphones a few years back, when they began “invading” the Singapore market. I was even fortunate enough to win an OPPO R5 phone in their roadshow in Dec 2014 (article here). I liked their products, be it design or functions. It took them great courage and generous marketing budget but they made it. OPPO is one of the smartphones that consumers actually look to buy.
OPPO made a very bold but spectacular move by offering a unique 2-year smartphone warranty and a 1-year free accidental repair policy. You can read more in my separate blog post here.
Fast forward to today, it has been almost 2 years since I tried an OPPO phone, so it’s time to get my hands on again on one of them to experience and see if they are worth my recommendation.
Like the Xiaomi Redmi 3S, I managed to borrow a test unit of the OPPO R9s from an associate before it is officially launched on 10 Dec. But the product is no secret: R9s is officially announced globally and you can already pre-order from Lazada at RRP S$679.
The most frequent comment when peers see me using the OPPO R9s is: it looks like an iPhone. There is no doubt about it: the fingerprint sensor is right at where iPhones are, and like Android soft keys, you can touch the fingerprint sensor to go to the home screen, or hold it to access Google Now.
Is it better for the fingerprint sensor to be in front or at the back? To me, it’s a matter of getting used to. Having it in front means I can easily unlock the phone even when the phone is facing up. But having it at the back means it’s easier to unlock when I am already holding it, without having to stretch my thumb towards the bottom of the phone.
But speaking of the fingerprint sensor, the OPPO R9s has one of the fastest recognition I have experienced. Throughout my test period, the sensor unlocks the device promptly without any lag. There is no hesitation, no delay in verifying the fingerprint. It works even faster than a normal power button.
This fast experience extends to the entire UI, another impressive feat. OPPO certainly made the right decision to use Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. I have to say that Qualcomm continues to deliver the most stable Android processor. Any other smartphone brands that use the other processor brands are doing it purely to keep the costs competitive.
The Lockscreen Magazine is one of the unique features of OPPO Color OS. Instead of a static photo lockscreen, you get to flip dozens of photos auto-synced from the Internet. However, if you always unlock with your fingerprint, you will probably not see this feature.
The rear camera on the OPPO R9s is clearly spectacular for social media posting. It seems that OPPO has pushed the exposure and the contrast level so that I don’t need to edit my Instagram photos.
The trade-off is that some scenes have overexposed details or underexposed shadows, though I can just override the exposure by shooting in Expert Mode.
The AF is not exceedingly fast compared to other premium smartphones, but it is fast enough for me not to notice any focus lag and affect my speed of shooting.
There are a few off-focus shots which are only obvious after I scrutinise it post-review because the depth of field is not that shallow for me to notice on-screen.
The field of view is not as wide as LG G5, something that I have to get used to. The advantage is that I get less distorted close up shots.
Low-light images are good enough, as you can see above. Night street shots deliver accurate colours without undesirable chroma noise.
All photos look good at full screen, but when you zoom in at 100%, image details exhibit rather aggressive noise removal, making them look somewhat like water-colour art and lacks the natural photographic quality that only purists would scorn at.
The front camera normal mode adequately captures selfie images fit for social sharing. I don’t favour the Beauty mode, which alters the white balance towards cool, while the skin tone is adjusted towards pink, favouring females than males. Interestingly, only front camera Beauty mode has the background blur feature to further isolate the subject.
How does the OPPO R9s camera compare with Samsung Galaxy S7? Samsung model remains the better camera, while the R9s is close, yet only half the retail price. And the camera app response is fast with no irritating lags, allowing me to capture fleeting moments easily.
The OPPO R9s features Dirac audio processing to improve the clarity and boost the bass response. It might not sound natural for audiophiles, but general consumers should be delighted with the added transparency in their music, even at the flat setting. However, the Dirac sound mode is only available for wired headphones.
But there is always a flip side to good things. Firstly, the OPPO Color OS uses single app drawer, like Xiaomi and iOS. The OPPO apps, like Messages, Photo, Music, Camera, have their app settings moved to the Main Setting page instead of their respective apps. There are no widgets for these OPPO apps, so I was not able to control my music, or view calendar entries, from the home screens. The home screen icon layout is also fixed and cannot be customised, unlike say ASUS ZenUI. These are small problems, just install your favourite third party launchers.
But the notification drawer cannot be changed. When I have incoming notifications or change music tracks, I have to swipe down to see the shortcut icons (which cannot be customised), then swipe right before I get to the notification list.
While the battery lasts comfortably for an entire day in office and back home, the background app management is very aggressive. The phone constantly revokes the Android Wear notification permission that I have to manually enable it once a while, the Google Photo cannot do sync in the background, I cannot receive Carousell inbox messages until I open the app to check them. And there seems to be no option to change this (even if there is, the solution is probably too obscure for even an experienced user like me to find).
Like all OPPO smartphones, the R9s features VOOC flash charge to top up the battery in no time.
Verdict and Comparison
When looking squarely at OPPO R9s and its price of S$679, one might think it seems reasonable, given the predecessor is similarly priced. However, the specs are pretty close to ASUS Zenfone 3 ZE552KL, which retails only at S$498.
Which one would I buy? OPPO R9s has 2 solid years of warranty, so that might skew you towards that. The R9s has a metal back like iPhone, and is slimmer, making it a really sleek package.
The Zenfone 3 design is glass-backed, like Samsung Galaxy. I definitely prefer the ZenUI for its extremely customisable homescreen and numerous mobile management apps to let the user take control of their battery, app permission, file cleanup. And it’s $180 cheaper.
At the end of the day, both phones are excellent in their own ways, and I am happy to recommend the OPPO R9s if you prefer the iOS “simpler” way of accessing apps (actually the ZenUI also has a single app drawer option – another plus to Zenfone 3), prefer the iPhone metal-back feel, prefer the front fingerprint sensor. If you are looking for value-for-money while achieving more flexible UI experience and a premium glass back design, Zenfone 3 seems like a better option.
If you think the ability to split the phone UI into multiple instances which lets you login to multiple Whatsapp or Facebook accounts simultaneously, you gotta go for Xiaomi smartphones, like the budget-value S$179 Redmi 3S I just reviewed.
Pre-Order OPPO R9s Gold before 10 Dec at S$679 and get a free lens kit: http://bit.ly/R9sPreOrder. Or wait for 10 Dec 2016 for its Singapore launch at all telcos with mobile contract subsidy. All OPPO smartphones purchased with Singapore authorised sellers come with 2-year warranty.
Official Product Website: http://www.oppo.com/sg/smartphone-r9s