The Oppo R9s is a smartphone that will cost you less than $600 to buy, but that promises an experience -- camera, interface, design and build quality -- on par with a $1000-plus iPhone or Pixel or Galaxy. Can it keep that promise?
What Is It?
The Oppo R9s is a $599 smartphone running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and it's the Chinese phone company's latest entrant into a very crowded Aussie market. Sold in both gold and black variants through JB Hi-Fi as well as Oppo's telco partners Vodafone and Virgin Mobile, the R9s is built around a 5.5-inch 1080p AMOLED display and looks very much like a slimmed down, pared back iPhone 7 Plus.
The R9s is a mid-range Android phone -- it doesn't have the top-of-the-line processing power and next-level camera hardware of a Samsung Galaxy S7 or a Google Pixel or Motorola's Moto Z. Instead, it uses Qualcomm's middleweight Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor, and pairs that with a more than adequate 4GB of RAM. You've got 64GB of onboard storage as well as a microSD card slot that can take another 256GB.
Inside the phone you'll also find a comparatively sizeable 3010mAh battery -- great for a phone with the R9s' screen size. On the outside, you get that iPhone-styled curved rectangle body -- it's almost uncanny how similar it looks in its matte black to a black iPhone 7 Plus, with offset rear camera and single-piece glass front. Above its USB Type-C charging/data port is a fingerprint sensor which isn't tactile, instead only functioning to unlock the phone rather than wake it from a sleep.
What's It Good At?
The design of the Oppo R9s is certain to draw in those potential iPhone buyers There are a couple of really exciting midrange phones at the moment -- like the about-to-launch Samsung Galaxy A5 and A7 -- and the Oppo R9s is one of them. In fact, I think it's the phone to beat in this category, not just in the (clearly a little bit inspired) design but the general build quality of the phone itself. It's not perfect, it's not thousand-dollar-grade, but it's better than you'd expect. Look at the design of the antenna bands at the rear of the phone, for example: they're lovely.
There are a few extras that boost the appeal of the R9s. The fact that it's dual SIM will be a godsend for frequent travelers, for example -- although you'll have to sacrifice that extra storage space to make use of the second SIM. Having 64GB of storage is great if you're going to be downloading a lot of music or offline Netflix (or Stan) for your commute, or if you take a lot of photos that you don't intend to offload to an online storage service like Google Drive.
For a relatively cheap phone -- that is, compared to the $1200 that lots of flagship devices cost these days -- the 5.5-inch, 1920x1080pixel AMOLED display on the R9s is very good. It's nicely detailed for its compromise between resolution and screen size, and being AMOLED means that it has excellent contrast, which is the most important thing in delivering good picture quality.
Oppo's inclusion of not one but two 16-megapixel cameras -- one rear-facing, one forward-facing -- on the R9s is a testament to the fact that it knows its users want to take lots of photos. Using a good Sony IMX398 sensor, too, the R9s snaps clean images in anything but the worst lighting conditions, and the same is true of its high-resolution selfies. You'll get a better picture from a more expensive phone, sure, but for the $600 asking price I'm more than happy with the photos I captured on the R9s.
What's It Not Good At?
Being a mid-range phone means that there are some compromises inherent in the R9s' design. It's not waterproof, for example, and that's a feature that I'm increasingly coming to expect as standard in the phones that I try out. And, notably, it's a feature in the Galaxy A5 and A7 that will be the R9s' main competitors. It's also a little unrefined around the edges -- and I mean this literally, with the buttons in particular being a little bit sharp on the corners against the touch.
For the most part, the R9s operated perfectly smoothly during my time with it. Loading GoPro's Capture and Quik apps, though, which are increasingly becoming my torture test for any phone unlucky enough to be subjected to them, the Oppo R9s' midrange processing power becomes clear. It's more than capable enough for a swathe of light-duty tasks like YouTube and web browsing and Twitter, but heavier apps -- notably including Facebook, which is a bloated horrible mess of software -- take a little while longer to load than you might find on a more powerful phone.
Oppo's ColorOS 3.0 on the R9s is the most recent and refined evolution of the company's interface, and it's near shameless in the way it mimics Apple's iOS. That's not a bad thing at all -- in fact, I applaud it! -- but that consistency doesn't extend to Oppo's settings menus, which are far more labyrinthine than the home screen. You quickly learn where everything is, but it's a little more practice than other Android phones require. One other software quirk, too -- the camera is good, but there's a significant wait between clicking the shutter button and actually capturing a photo.
Also, while the fingerprint reader on my demo R9s was extremely fast -- as fast as Huawei's best on the P9 and the new Mate 9, and a damn sight faster than both the iPhone 7 and the Google Pixel that are usually my benchmarks for speed and quality -- it didn't have an amazingly high success rate at recognising my fingerprint on the first attempt every time. This happened with a few different fingers, despite a few re-enrolments, so you might find yourself tapping twice rather than once to unlock your phone. Not a huge deal, but worth keeping in mind.
Should You Buy It?
The Oppo R9s feels more expensive than it has any right to. It feels a lot -- a lot -- like an iPhone 7, both in its construction and design and the simplicity of its straightforward grid-based interface. That's a very good thing, because Apple has for a long time been an aspirational smartphone manufacturer far and ahead of the vast majority of Android also-rans. It's not all the way there yet, either in build quality or UI quality, but it's a solid 90 per cent.
And then there's the disappointing parts. It misses out on Android 7.0 Nougat, and it misses out on integrated NFC -- so no Android Pay. Oppo's iPhonesque skin might not be to your tastes, either. The front-mounted fingerprint reader is a useful convenience feature, but it didn't always work the first time throughout my couple of weeks of testing. Compare it to other mid-range phones, though, and the R9s stands out from the crowd.
It has impressively long battery life, two very capable 16-megapixel cameras, and for the most part is a capable operator for anything you could want any mid-range phone to do. And, of course, Oppo is the king of fast charging, so this is a phone you should never worry about running out of power with. As long as you're not expecting the world, the Oppo R9s should impress you from the moment you unbox it.