Buying a flagship smartphone is the easiest way to get yourself direct access to a device you know is going to be good -- but you can spend a lot less and still get an excellent handset, especially if you pick one from a company like Oppo or Huawei or OnePlus that prices its phones aggressively to compete with the big guys. Taking on the mantle of the Oppo R5 -- what was the world's thinnest phone when it launched -- must be a daunting task, but its successor is worthy of your attention. The Oppo R7 is not the world's thinnest phone, but it's nonetheless very good.
What Is It?
- Display: 5.0-inch AMOLED, 1920x1080pixels (445ppi)
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 615, 4x ARM Cortex-A53 @ 1.5GHz & 4x ARM Cortex-A53 @ 1.0GHz
- Memory: 3GB
- Storage: 16GB eMMC
- Battery: 2320mAh, nonremovable
- Dimensions: 143x71x6.3mm, 148g
The $449 Oppo R7 is a midrange smartphone in specification, but not in its design. It's built around a 5-inch 1080p AMOLED display, with a thin bezel on its long edges and slightly thicker bezels top and bottom to accommodate front-facing camera, earpiece, rear-firing speaker and capacitive touch-sensitive home, back and menu buttons. That glass panel covers the entire face, so there's no embossed bezel to pick up dust. There's no news of the R7 Plus, The R7's larger 6-inch variant, yet for Australia.
The R7's specs are largely identical to the outgoing R5 -- a mid-range (but still octa-core and 64-bit) Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, 5-inch 1080p AMOLED display, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage. The super-thin body is a mere 6.3mm thick (143x71mm otherwise), and the whole thing weighs only 148 grams. It keeps all the R5, N3, Find 7 and previous Oppo phones' VOOC super-fast charging -- 5 Volts at 5 Amps, a massive 25 Watts of charging power versus Samsung's fast-charging 18 Watts or the regular Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0's 10 Watts -- to quickly fill its 2320mAh battery.
Oppo is specifically calling out the R7's '2.5D' curved glass screen edges, as well as its one-piece metal unibody construction -- which apparently allows the entire rear chassis to function as an antenna for the two 4G-capable SIM slots inside -- although it's a single slot, just double the length. The camera at the back is a 13-megapixel module, joined by an 8MP front snapper -- the best front camera specs of any Oppo phone to date, although the rotating N3's 16-megapixel camera is more detailed.
The R7 is built around ColorOS, Oppo's skin on top of Android 5.0.1 Lollipop. ColorOS brings a vaguely iOS-esque experience -- colourful landscape backgrounds, rounded icons, and a unified notification/quick settings screen that you swipe down from the screen's top. As with other Android phones, you're able to separate a home screen of widgets and commonly used apps from your regular app drawer, and create extra home screens as you desire. (Or, of course, you could use a third-party home screen launcher like Action Launcher that entirely re-jigs the way you use your phone, while maintaining your notifications and settings menu.)
What's It Good At?
For a phone with its middle-of-the-road specifications, the Oppo R7 runs smoothly and quickly for the most part; there's no perceivable lag on opening heavy apps like the phone's camera or YouTube or Chrome versus its flagship competitors. It falls behind in synthetic benchmarks, definitely -- I recorded a 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited result of roughly 8,000 versus the 20,000 of flagship competitors (albeit ones that cost twice as much) like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 -- but these numbers don't translate to the way it performs in the real world. Just about the only complaint I have about its performance is that it's quite slow to boot up from a completely powered-down state; that's not exactly a big deal if you're using it everyday and therefore keeping it switched on 24/7.
As midrange smartphones go, too -- you could get a Galaxy A5 or a last-gen iPhone 5C 8GB for the same coin -- the Oppo R7 is much better built than its competition. I could take or leave the front glass, to be honest, although the curved edge on the glass does add a bit of a premium feel, but it's the magnesium and aluminium alloy used for the rear casing that makes the R7 feel expensive. Look at the pictures -- it's very nicely put together. It's refined in the same way that the iPhone 4 felt refined when it was first unveiled -- everything is just very precisely machined and laser-cut and carefully polished.
As I've said before, the fact that the Oppo R7 comes with a pre-applied screen protector (no air bubbles!), and with a transparent slimline case in the box, is excellent. This behaviour should be applauded from Oppo, because straight out of the box you can be sure of your new phone remaining protected and scratch-free. If you want, you can go without the case and screen protector and see the Oppo R7 in its flesh as the designers intended, but despite its sturdy Gorilla Glass 3 and the 48-step polished aluminium frame I'd strongly recommend you refrain and keep the protector applied -- mine has prevented a couple of scratches in the last couple of weeks already.
Dual-SIM smartphones don't get enough love in Australia, and that's a pity. I really like the fact that you can slot in a cheap, high-quota data SIM from a cut-rate MVNO like Amaysim or Vaya or Aldi Mobile, then downgrade your higher quality voice provider -- Telstra, say -- to a lesser plan and save money. You can pick which of the two slots you'd like to assign the Oppo R7's 4G radio to, which slot is prioritised for making voice calls, and which is prioritised for data. This might actually be a downside if and when Australia's carriers start moving voice calls to 4G networks -- that's VoLTE -- but for the time being you get the best of both worlds in having one SIM for fast data and one SIM for your regular number. Or you can use one of the slots for a microSD card and expandable storage.
What's It Not Good At
Battery life from a dual-SIM 4G phone with a bright AMOLED screen and a relatively small internal cell is never going to be great, and the Oppo R7 does well with the specifications it is kitted out with, but at the end of the day it's not going to be able to compete with anything with a significantly larger cell -- say the LG G4's 3000mAh removable 3000mAh battery -- or the more efficient processor of a flagship like the Galaxy S6. I recorded middling but unspectacular results from the R7, getting about 18 hours of regular use before the phone -- this is versus the 22 hours of the LG G4 I timed it directly against, and the 24-plus hours of a battery life king like the Sony Xperia Z3. You'll need to fast-charge the R7 regularly if you use it heavily; thankfully that fast charge is incredibly quick.
The Oppo R7's camera is not at all bad for a smartphone of its relatively thin design and its relatively low price, but that's not to say that it's going to compete on an even platform with the LG G4s and Samsung Galaxy S6s of this world. Its 13-megapixel, natively 4:3-ratio rear camera can take reasonably detailed photographs and there's a goodly amount of tweaking available through Oppo's default Pure Image 2.0 camera app, but overall images are somewhat flat and low-contrast. Sharpness and default exposure are just fine, but in low light you'll start to see a high level of digital noise start to creep into images. The front-facing camera, too, has a realtively high megapixel count but stumbles in low light. Fine for outdoor and everyday stuff, but just not up there with the best of the best.
While I like Oppo's ColorOS skin for the most part, it can be annoying if you're a longtime Android user and used to the layout of a stock Google ROM or a heavily altered variant like Samsung's TouchWiz. The buttons, for example, are swapped horizontally from what you'd expect them to be; this led to quite some annoyance during my first couple of days of use of the phone, and actually entirely turned a friend off using the phone altogether. Prepare to have to unlearn some of the skills and shortcuts you've acquired from your previous Android smartphones. Tradeoffs, though, come in the form of ColorOS's excellent double-tiered drop-and-drop-down quick settings menu, which integrates a flashlight, mobile hotspot, calculator and other lesser-used but desirable features.
Being a relatively thin phone, the R7's loudspeaker isn't the best out there, and it definitely isn't a patch on the more powerful miniature speakers on larger phones like the LG G4 and iPhone 6 Plus. You'll hear some distortion when you crank it up to maximum volume and play any kind of remotely bass-heavy music track, and by the same token it can sound a little harsh and unnecessarily sharp when playing a ringtone at full power (although, truth be told, it is distinctive; you always know it's your R7 that is ringing in a busy room). This isn't a big deal -- it just means you'll have to be a little more discerning with your choice of ringtone and message tones.
Should You Buy It?
The $449 Oppo R7 is a deceptive phone in a lot of ways; its affordable and attainable price tag means that it doesn't quite have the unnattainable, supposedly-good-at-everything allure of the current flagship handsets out there, but it's nonetheless good at everything that it purports to be. Its Full HD AMOLED display is good enough for everyday use, including limited or occasional use out in direct sunlight. Its battery is good enough for regular moderate daily use, although its VOOC fast charging is the real quiet achiever here. Its design is decidedly un-garish, but is very well finished and refined thanks to that much-vaunted 48-step polishing process.
I want to take the opportunity to again applaud Oppo for including a case and screen protector, as well as decent headphones and the excellent VOOC fast charger and cable, in the box with the R7. I don't know why this doesn't happen more often, and the fact that I'm making note of it really shouldn't be necessary when you remember that the R7 is literally half the price of its flagship competitors. You don't need to spend more money again on a screen protector, wait for it to arrive from eBay or whatever online store you choose to use, then put it on incorrectly and accidentally fill it with air bubbles. Every phone manufacturer should do this. Every phone manufacturer should take note of Oppo.
Mediocre camera performance and middling overall battery life shouldn't mar your opinion of the R7. Both of those are good enough. The loudspeaker is a similar situation -- you're not going to hold any rock concerts with it, but it's more than enough to tell you from across a home or office whenever you're getting a phone call or a message (or you can just use the bundled headphones). If you don't need or want the dual-SIM capabilities, the allure of the R7 is slightly less obvious, but if you download or consume a lot of media then the microSD slot can be enough of a selling point to make it worth considering.
My advice -- if you're in the market for a new phone but don't have the cash to burn on a flagship, then try out an Oppo R7 if possible (Dick Smith stocks them nationwide, now) and see whether ColorOS -- namely, that small but potentially very frustrating niggle of the switched buttons -- is to your liking. If it is, then get one. If it isn't, take a look at a third-party launcher, and consider getting the R7 anyway.