Oppo R5 review: Thin is an understatement
Miniaturization has been one of the key elements that has allowed technology to evolve over the years. Decades ago, a computer was big enough to fill a room, and today most of us carry smartphones that are more powerful than some of the computers NASA needed to put a man on the moon. If you’re new to the smartphone business, you might not remember how big and bulky these products were just a few years ago, and how companies focused on defying form factors and designs in order to make your use of a smartphone a pleasant experience.
Some of us struggle with the level of compromise that this can bring to certain products, mainly because it involves shedding weight away through the loss of certain features. A decade ago we couldn’t imagine interacting with a smartphone without a QWERTY keyboard or a stylus, and look where we are now. One of the most common themes today sure seems like it should be a contradiction, since we see that companies are focusing on giving us smartphones with bigger displays, but also on thinner and lighter hardware. If you’re an early adopter of this trend, you might have heard a story or two of how uncomfortable the early days always are, and how the experience improves over time.
Companies like Oppo have bet their reputation on the idea that a smartphone can be elegant, powerful, and affordable at the same time. The company’s “R” lineup was brought to the market with the challenge of defying thinness, and today we have the opportunity of reviewing the company’s latest and thinnest, the Oppo R5. If you’re on the ropes looking for an elegant smartphone running Android, you’ve come to the right place.
Software · Camera · Performance · Pros/Cons
Oppo R5 Review Video
Specs & Hardware
The biggest selling point for the Oppo R5 is its dimensions. It’s currently one of the thinnest smartphones in the world, if not the thinnest, at a crazy 4.85mm. Just to give you an idea, this is whopping 2mm thinner than the iPhone 6, even though that’s the only battle that it wins when it comes to dimensions. The Oppo R5 is actually a full ounce heavier than the iPhone 6 at 155g, and since this is a much bigger smartphone, its height comes to 148.9mm, and its width 74.5mm.
To state the obvious, yes, this looks like a squashed iPhone 5s in every way if you view it from a distance, but this is really one device that you have to hold in your hand to believe. The thin profile, in addition to some very small and polished chamfers gives the device a very smooth feel in the hand. When I first saw it in Singapore, I immediately thought it would suffer from bending problems, but once you hold it for a minute, you’ll notice that it actually feels very sturdy.
Other specifications include a gorgeous 5.2-inch 1080p AMOLED display at 423 PPI. On top of that screen, even if you’ll barely be able to see it, there’s a factory-placed screen protector that you should probably remember to remove once it picks up a scratch or two. That display is fully available to you as the device features capacitive navigation buttons, which won’t light up, by the way. We also have a 2.1GHz Snapdragon 615 octa-core chip (with an Adreno 405 GPU,) 2GB of RAM, 16GB of non-expandable storage, and a 2,000 mAH battery compatible with Oppo’s rapid charging technology.
Other specs include a 13-megapixel camera powered by a Sony Exmor IMX214 BSI sensor, a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter with an 83-degree wide angle lens, and an f/2.0 aperture for both. These cameras are both capable of 1080p video at 60 fps, or 720p slow motion video at 120 fps. Other basics include the FDD-LTE and TD-LTE support, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi 802.11n, and the box even includes a neat folio case as well, in addition to an adapter to connect a 3.5mm headphone plug through the phone’s Micro-USB port, since an integrated 3.5mm port was sacrificed in the sake of thinness.
Overall, the hardware package doesn’t spell a flagship smartphone by today’s Android standards, and the lack of a headphone jack can be a deal-breaker for some of you. Still, defying the odds of thinness has to bring some compromise, and this device doesn’t feel like a rushed product while you hold it in your hand.
Sadly, the rushed feeling is evident in the company’s vision of how Android should be for the end user. The R5 runs Color OS 2.0.1i, running on top of Android 4.4.4. On the positive side, this Android skin is probably one of the most customizable in the market. Oppo has decided to follow a new user interface paradigm that’s become very common in China, one where there is no separate app tray: every app that you install becomes part of an endless series of home screens that are available as needed. You could say this looks like iOS 6, mainly because of how skeuomorphic it is visually, but here you have the added benefit of being able to mix widgets with your apps.
Oppo has also gone to incredible lengths in order to provide users with a bevy of free online options for wallpapers, themes, lock screens, widgets, and even camera modes that aren’t available by default. In addition to this, the skin also includes various transition options for the home screen, much like what we see on LG’s current Android skin. Some benefits come in the form of gestures, where you can slide up from any bottom corner and have the user interface shrink to that specific corner and provide you with better one-handed usability. Other gestures include a slide from the bottom center, which will reveal Oppo’s global gesture board. This will allow you to draw shortcuts, like an “O” to launch the camera, or a “V” to launch the flashlight. You can also create gestures of your own, though I still debate how usable this feature can be. The company continues its partnership with Swipe as the default keyboard for Color OS, something which many of you might celebrate. I’m not a big fan of Swype, but I do prefer this over a proprietary attempt by Oppo.
Another positive note about Color OS is that even though this version is merely an evolution to Oppo’s offerings on the Find 7 lineup, it does a much better job at storage management. Out of the box the operating system and skins will only leave you with 11.04GB of available storage, a big toll for a product without expandable storage. The positive change, though, is that you’ll notice that the OS dynamically allocates storage to your needs now, whereas in the past, what was allocated for the OS was fixed and separate from the available storage you had for apps.
If you’re after customizability, Oppo’s Color OS goes above and beyond to give you that experience. Sadly, that’s not necessarily a good thing, and most of our negative points with the UI can be found in how the device handles the operating system. You can read more about this in our Performance section.
The big hump at the top of the Oppo R5 hides its 13-megapixel camera with its Sony Exmor IMX214 BSI sensor. The device also includes a 5-megapixel front facing shooter with an 83-degree wide angle lens, and f/2.0 aperture on both cameras. Oppo boasts about the image processing power of its new “Pure Image 2.0” processing, and this primary camera is packed with a bevy of shooting modes, even though only basics are available by default. These shooting modes include Normal, Ultra-HD, Colorful Night, Slow Shutter, Expert Mode, Beautify, HDR, Panorama, Audio Photo, GIF, Double Exposure, Raw, Super Macro and After Focus. A number of those are self-explanatory, but there are some unusual ones here, too. Ultra HD allows you to take 50-megapixel photos, even though these are stitched together; Audio Photo allows you to add music; Double exposure allows you to duplicate an object twice in a photo; and After Focus allows you to take the shot and fix it later, just as a Lytro camera can.
In the case of the front-facing camera, thins are good, but not really great, as you’ll find lack of detail in the shots, or you might even find the beauty modes to be overbearing.
The resulting photos are good in daylight, and features like super macro are useful in most cases, as long as lighting is adequate. HDR use over daylight can leave your photos without contrast, though, so we wouldn’t recommend it.
You could say that night photos are also decent on this device, and this is where HDR can become very useful, as long as you can keep the device steady. The LED flash included can serve for both direct light and fill light, and results are often good, even though we all know how this can take a toll on color accuracy.
Video modes include options for 1080p video, 720p, 480p, HDR, and even slow motion. The camera does a very good job when filming, and also quickly adjusts to changes in lighting conditions. My only complaint is with its audio capture, which sometimes gives the speaker some trouble to reproduce.
My main complaint with Color OS is that sadly, all this sea of options is obscured by how the device handles the user interface. Color OS is clearly tough on the R5’s internals, and lag becomes very noticeable even after you close all the running applications. Whether you’re trying to do basics like launching an application, or sliding down from the notification tray, you’ll sometimes question if you did touch the icon because of how long it can take to respond. We assume these problems may have to do with bugs in Color OS, especially because we’ve also experienced crashes with the launcher every now and then. We’ve reached out to Oppo about this, and also because a separate bug won’t allow you to swap Swipe as your default keyboard in our review unit. Oppo has confirmed that a software update is being prepared to iron-out these issues.
The reason why I clarify that the problem lies in Color OS, is because once you install a third-party launcher, you’ll notice that the lag will disappear. I’ve tested the Oppo R5 with the Google Now launcher, and my experience has dramatically improved. For the purpose of this review, we sadly have to judge the device over how our review unit performs, but our After The Buzz series will help us revisit how Oppo addressed these bugs in the future, as this is clearly not a hardware problem.
Speaking of hardware, the Oppo R5 can handle graphically intensive games decently. This is definitely not a powerhouse, and you’ll notice that in some minor stutters here and there when playing games. That said, the fact that this device lacks expandable storage is a clear indication that Oppo is targeting business and casual users, and not really the power user in most of us. Oppo touts a new Cool Element shifting design to ensure that device remains cool to the touch when handling complex graphics. Oppo doesn’t really go into detail as to how this technology works, but it does seem to do so to a certain degree. You will notice some minor heat when playing hard-core games, but this heat is concentrated at the top of the unit, helping it not affect your experience using it.
Battery life on the R5 is decent. I’ve gone through a full day with a single charge, and with moderate to heavy use during our review period. I also continue to be impressed with Oppo’s VOOC rapid charging technology. In a nutshell, compatible devices will charge 4 times faster with a VOOC rapid charger than with regular one. The new VOOC Mini has evolved to provide users with a smaller power brick, and it also now allows the USB cable to detach from it, something that can be convenient as long as you don’t lose it. I’ve gone from 20% to a crazy 90% of battery charge in less than 30 minutes, and this greatly improves the user experience in a device with a non-replaceable battery.
Call quality and data speeds are also comparable to most flagships in the market. You’ll notice that Oppo has bundled the speaker within the earpiece, so even though you’re not getting dual stereo speakers, it is a front-firing unit that can be very loud. Callers sounded very good through the earpiece, and said that we sounded very good on both a regular phone call, ans with the speaker. My only regular complaint is with the lack of a headphone jack on this device, mainly because I’m not a fan of having to charge a Bluetooth headset constantly, but your mileage may vary depending on your needs.
+ Excellent build quality, fit & finish
+ Large Super AMOLED display on a thin chassis
+ Incredibly thin and comfortable to hold
+ Bevy of software features and options
+ VOOC Rapid Charging
– Just average battery life
– Laggy software
– No 3.5mm headphone jack
– Only 16GB of non-expandable storage
Pricing and Availability
Even though the Oppo R5 was announced to be available in three colors, only silver and gold are apparently present for the retail launch. Depending on your region, the device is either on sale or available for preorder. There is only one storage option, which is 16GB, and if you’re in the UK, you’ll find this device for a very aggressive €399 price tag. The device is still not available in the US, but at the launch event, Oppo did mention that the R5 would retail everywhere else for $499, which is very competitive if you take into consideration that a 16GB iPhone 6 retails for $649.
Overall my experience with the Oppo R5 has been positive when it comes to hardware. If you’re a power user, the lack of expandable storage, a flagship processor, and a headphone jack would most likely have you looking to other Oppo options like the Find 7. In my case, as somebody who comes from 15 years of working in different management positions in enterprise, I’m the type of user this device was targeted for. I value elegance and power matched with a design that’s also comfortable to use. A display this large wouldn’t have been necessary for my needs, but given the device’s thinness, the experience was actually quite pleasant.
All this said, reliability is also important for me, and the software needs to match the level of elegance provided by the hardware. Crashes in the launcher are definitely not something a business user wants to deal with while on the go. I’m currently OK with the use of third-party solutions, but the average user targeted for this device will rarely know that third-party launchers exist. I’ll have no problem recommending this phone to my friends and family, but that will be once Oppo irons-out the software issues that are still under its control. We’ll report back on this in the next few months with our After The Buzz.