Oppo Find 7a review: the flagship that’s not a flagship
Within China, native phone manufacturer Oppo is a well-known and respected brand. Elsewhere, it’s presence isn’t nearly as domineering or demanding of attention.
However, that hasn’t stopped the Chinese maker from turning heads around the world. Oppo first grabbed the attention of many with the Find 5, followed by the N1, a highly regarded phone amongst the tech enthusiasts in which comes in a Cyanogenmod flavor. Just months later, the company announced two new smartphones, the Find 7 and Find 7a.
On paper, these two smartphones look rather impressive. The latter of the two is actually the lower-end model, but we use the term “lower-end” loosely, as it’s still evenly matched with Sony’s, HTC’s, and Samsung’s best.
That said, mountains of past devices have taught us that specifications are not always all-important. So we spent the last three weeks, give or take, using the Oppo Find 7a to see if its monster specs make it the killer phone it’s meant to be.
Does it hold its own? Is it worth the asking price? Or should you wait for the upcoming Find 7? Here’s our take on the Oppo Find 7a.
Specs & Hardware
From how tightly the battery door snaps on to how solid the phone feels in the hand and its distinct heft, the Find 7a is a specimen in build quality. No squeaking occurs when gripping the hardware; there are no visible gaps in the seams; the power and standby buttons provide just enough tactile feedback; and the battery door doesn’t just pop off – it’s removed by pressing a tiny release button on the bottom corner of the right edge. The Oppo Find 7a is exactly what we’re talking about when we say plastic phones don’t have to look or feel cheap.
Granted, it’s no beauty either. Its design is bland and understated beside a beauty like the One M8. Instead, it looks like a larger, more squared Nexus 5 in an elephant gray, sans the giant image sensor around back.
The physical footprint of the Find 7a is nothing to gloss over either. It’s 152.6mm tall, 75mm wide, and 9.2mm thick. For comparison, it’s 6.2mm taller and 4.4mm wider than the One M8, yet 0.2mm thinner. At 170g, it also weighs 10g more than the One M8. These dimensions, paired with the 5.5-inch display and capacitive navigation buttons, definitely make handling the phone tricky, especially one-handed.
One of the standout features of its design is the Skyline Notification, a slim and subtle notification LED which spans roughly half the width of the face of the device, below the screen. It pulses a subtle blue when there are pending notifications. We would have preferred a multicolored LED, but the oscillating blue works just as well.
Where the outside of the Find 7a is a bit drab, the story on the inside is a lot more action-packed and exciting. It comes with topnotch specifications: a 2.3GHz quad-core Krait 400 CPU and Adreno 330 GPU to make the Snapdragon 801 SoC, 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM with a card slot with support for up to 128GB microSDXC cards, 13-megapixel primary camera, 5-megapixel front camera, and a 2,800mAh removable battery.
One particularly compelling feature to compliment the modest battery is what Oppo calls Rapid Charge, not to be mistaken with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0. The Find 7a, while it still charges like normal with a typical 1A power block, comes with a unique power brick which outputs a staggering 4.5A.
Also included are the important connectivity options: Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi b/g/n (sorry, no 802.11 ac), NFC, and varying LTE support in different markets.
The display on the Find 7a is something of a spectacle. It isn’t however, the best smartphone display we’ve seen. It errs on the cool side, but colors are still quite vibrant. Black levels are relatively dark, yet not quite the inky black we perfer. Viewing angles are great and the display gets both extremely bright and dark, both of which are helpful in their own right.
Frankly, we really like the hardware of the Find 7a. While it has some respectable specifications and a gorgeous display, it’s not the best looking phone around. Still, it’s built incredibly well, even if it is made of plastic. That plastic, we feel, may not be the most resilient, however. While shooting the video review, a sudden gust of wind toppled the phone onto a piece of concrete a few inches away. The phone was left with a few, tiny scars on the backside.
No less, we’re entirely impressed by the fit and finish Oppo is capable of. It’s a very nice piece of kit we wouldn’t mind carrying every day.
The story of the Find 7a’s software isn’t quite so cheery.
Out of the box, the Find 7a is running Android 4.3, Jelly Bean. Most other 2014 flagships (and even mid-rangers) are shipping with KitKat already, so Jelly Bean isn’t exactly what we were hoping to see driving the user experience on one of Oppo’s 2014 flagships.
Jelly Bean is just the base, though. Oppo heavily customizes Android with what it calls ColorOS, which strongly resembles another heavily customized Android ROM, MIUI, also out of China. It comes with a powerful and robust theme engine, which includes themes which change the appearance of icons, folders, the app drawer, and accent colors. Every last element throughout the UI is tweaked.
Theming, however, is only part of the story of the custom software on the Find 7a. By default, pulling down on the left side of the top edge of the display will reveal a gesture shade, where you can draw simple shapes to launch various tasks or apps. For instance, we created a shortcut for drawing the letter P which will take us directly to pocketnow.com. Some of these gestures, such as a V or O will wake the phone from standby and launch Torch or Camera, respectively.
The notification shade, which we found a bit cumbersome, also has a custom settings toggles menu, which includes settings like toggles for Wi-Fi, mobile data, sound profile, orientation lock, a kill all tasks shortcut, and a brightness slider. Pulling down will reveal even more settings toggles. We found it cumbersome due to the fact that two-finger pulls are not recognized in the notification shade, meaning you can not use a two-finger pull to expand notifications. In fact, you can’t manually expand or collapse notifications at all. They either expand automatically or they don’t. And the settings toggle expansion often happens by accident, which is a) often very jerky and b) frustrating.
The home screens and application drawer act, for the most part, as any other current Android version, save for the fact that widgets are only accessible by long-pressing the home screen, they are not in the app drawer. And the home screen has at least one additional functionality: Exclusive Spaces. There are only two to choose from: Photo space and Music space. The Photo space allows you to take pictures directly from the home screen, which is more a novelty than a truly useful feature.
That’s sort of how we feel about a lot of Oppo’s add-ons. For instance, the phone comes with an incredible amount of bloat, straight from Oppo. Sound Recorder, Flashlight, Compass, Download Manager, Kingsoft Office, System Update, User Manual, App Encryption, Data Saving, Guest Mode, Holiday Mode, Permission Monitor, Block, Gameloft Live!, Danger Dash, Green Farm 3, Kingdoms and Lords, Weather, Notes, Music, Video, Backup and restore, Lock Now, Files, Theme, O-Cloud, Power Manager and Data monitor all come pre-installed. These are in addition to the typical Google apps which come standard on most Android phones.
Like TouchWiz, the Settings application is also divided into three separate pages: General, Sound, and Display. The dedicated Menu button means the device doesn’t exactly adhere to the typical Android experience anymore. You have to long-press Menu to access the Recent Tasks menu and you must long-press Home to access Google Now.
The software definitely isn’t the worst we’ve used. That said, we would have much preferred to see the phone ship with KitKat, and we feel the software, like many other existing custom Android strains and Sense UI of yore, is filled with a bunch of frivolous features many users will never even notice.
The camera on the Find 7a is usually hit or miss. When it’s on, it’s spot-on; and when it’s off, pictures will be a blurry, noisy mess.
The UI is laid out in a way that’s easy to understand and unobtrusive. The options within the settings menu are fairly light. White balance settings are easily accessible, but no ISO or exposure controls exist. There are some helpful shooting modes, such as HDR, Ultra-HD, Slow Shutter, GIF, Panorama, and RAW, but the camera app is otherwise pretty basic.
In great lighting, the Find 7a’s camera puts out some stellar images with an impressive amount of detail. Colors are relatively accurate, white balance slightly errs on the warm side at times, and contrast is decent. Dynamic range, however, could be better.
Inside or in lower-light situations, the phone struggles. Images often turn out blurry, noisy, and lack important detail. Unlike well-lit shots, images taken indoors have a very soft focus.
Frankly, indoor and outdoor shots don’t even look like they were taken with the same camera. However, if you take a moment to steady the camera on a solid surface, the Find 7a is capable of taking some impressive low-light shots. The Slow Shutter mode allows you to take up to 32-second exposures (compared to just 4-second exposures with the Lumia 1020). But being able to keep the phone perfectly still for that long requires a handy tripod.
The most impressive part of the camera’s performance, though, is the Ultra-HD mode (previously called Super Zoom). We detailed the capabilities of Super Zoom in the above video a few weeks ago, and we’re still just as impressed with the feature – not necessarily because the pictures are amazing, but because Oppo has made it possible to take 50-megapixel images with a 13-megapixel sensor and, more often than not, they’re better than the standard 13-megapixel images. It doesn’t require an incredibly steady hand and the amount of detail, though it pales in comparison to something like PureView on the Lumia 1020, is great. Doing more with less is always praiseworthy and it certainly works to Oppo’s advantage in this case.
Video quality is not particularly great. Videos are washed-out, often overexposed, low on contrast, and the auto-focus is very aggressive, making the video shift focus quite a dizzying amount. Details are fine, but the video output is simply not impressive. The audio is crisp, but is poor at handling crosswinds.
Like the One M8, the front camera on the Find 7a is a 5-megapixel shooter. It is not, however, wide angle. The colors it produces are fairly accurate, but it lacks detail, even for a 5-megapixel image, and seems washed-out with low contrast. It’s not particularly impressive, but it’s definitely better than the typical front-facing camera.
We can’t help but wonder how much better this phone would perform if it came loaded with KitKat out of the box. Hopefully, that will come in due time.
Still, the Snapdragon 801 under the hood keeps the Find 7a purring along without a hitch. We were able to perform day to day tasks, such as emailing, Web browsing, and even playing light games with ease. Applications always load instantly, returning home happens without hesitation, and task switching was quick, though application closing was more aggressive than we’re used to on other high-end handsets.
With a few exceptions, there were no hiccups, stutters, or and noticeable lag. At times the home screen would seem to get bogged down, possibly from the Exclusive spaces or all the heavy customizations. In general, though, the performance was great.
Its scores in synthetic benchmarks only lend credence to its performance prowess, as does its ability to handle even the most intensive games without issue.
We had trouble testing network performance on our US model of the Find 7a. We tried multiple T-Mobile and AT&T SIMs, countless APNs, firmware updates, and factory resets to no avail. Instead, our own Editor-in-Chief Anton D. Nagy also received an international Find 7a unit and tested call quality and data speeds in Romania. He reported average call quality and a stronger-than-average signal, particularly in areas where other competing devices had trouble.
Data speeds were also up to par. The average speeds of five tests were 4.4Mbps on the downlink and 0.5Mbps for the uplink. Peak speeds were 8.10Mbps down and 1.36Mbps up.
We also had to use Anton’s data for battery metrics, since we were forced to use Wi-Fi for the duration of our time with the US model. The 2,800mAh battery is average, at best. On lighter days of usage, you can easily last well into the evening or night without needing to plug in. On heavier days, likely due to the giant, bright display, you may need a supplementary charge in the late afternoon.
Normally, we wouldn’t be happy about this sort of data, especially on such a high-end phone. However, just decent battery life on the Find 7a is no trouble, thanks to Rapid Charge (different from Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0). The power brick that comes in the box with the Find 7a supplies 4.5A output, and it can fully charge the Find 7a from completely dead in under an hour. Oppo says a 30-minute charge will give you at least 75%, and more than once we’ve fully charged in 45 minutes. It’s very impressive, and it’s a feature we wish we’d see more manufacturers use. It definitely offset any sort of battery life problems by allowing us to get a fair amount of juice in seemingly no time.
+ Beautiful display
+ Extremely fast charging via Rapid Charge
+ Stellar performance
+ Average camera performance with helpful software
+ Average call quality and data speeds
+ Relatively affordable
– Scratches and dings easily
– Bloated software
– May be too large for some
Pricing and Availability
Currently, the phone is available through oppostyle.com for $499 sans contract. It comes in two color options: White or Midnight. Both the US and international models are available, as well.
FDD-LTE Bands B1/3/7/20
TD-LTE Band B40
UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA/HSPA+/HSPA+42 (850, 900, 1900, 2100MHz)
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz)
FDD-LTE: Bands B1/4/17
UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA/HSPA+/HSPA+42 (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100MHz)
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz)
In all, we’d say Oppo hit this one out of the park … and it isn’t even its true flagship, it’s the step down from the Find 7. The Find 7a will have no trouble competing with its competitors’ flagships, such as the Xperia Z2 from Sony, Galaxy S 5 from Samsung, or the One M8 by HTC. Each have their own flair, weaknesses, and strong points.
That said, the Rapid Charge technology, Skyline Notification, Ultra-HD camera mode, build quality, display, and performance all come together to put this underdog smartphone on a level playing field with some of the market’s best handsets today.
While it isn’t quite as affordable as, say, the OnePlus One or Nexus 5, its $499 price tag is well-deserved and still a fair amount lower than the $600 to $700 asking price for various Galaxy S 5 or One M8 models.
Color us impressed by Oppo’s latest, and put us on the waiting list for the Find 7a’s big brother.