Dispatch: Oppo’s Australian launch

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Before this week I’d barely heard of Oppo, to be perfectly honest.

Sure, I’d seen a few YouTube videos regarding their flagship phone (MKBHD’s video on the Find 7 springs to mind), and I’d read brief snippets of info from other tech blogs, but I’d never actually endeavoured to find out more about the Chinese electronics manufacturer.

Apparently I wasn’t alone though, and to my surprise on Tuesday I attended an early morning event, or soft-launch as Oppo described it, which would mark the manufacturers first real steps into the Western market.

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With a crystal-clear view from Sydney Tower, the handsets, which range from mid-tier to flagship, reflected the clearing, cloudy sky. On small tables a dozen of each phone were available to mess around with.

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As with any creatively bankrupt marketing department, the first phone I saw, the N1 mini, was being heralded as the ‘selfie-phone’. Though, admittedly, the gimmick in question for this handset was pretty interesting. See, most phones have a two cameras, one for landscape shots, and another for self-profiles, whereas the N1 Mini includes a single camera which can rotate 195-degrees. This is actually a smart move, with the same camera quality available for both shooting styles. In terms of software, included is an equally self-aware set of tools that likely shouldn’t exist, such as a “beautify” mode, which allegedly twists reality to give you clear skin and a thin figure. A GIF-making option is pretty cool, as is the 4K-capable video sensor and 13-megapixel photo resolution. A 720p screen, measuring in at 5″, is the N1 Mini’s main offering, though I found the quality of this component to be a bit lacking, at least with my review unit, which features a brown discolouration at the bottom of the screen. The physical buttons are also a little annoying, being a bit too sensitive for my taste. Also, the phone comes with 16GB of storage, though no SD card slot, which is a bummer. Overall it isn’t too bad though, especially considering its outright price-tag of $539.

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Next up is the Find 7, which appears to be the company’s big shot at the competition of Apple and Samsung. With a huge 5.5″ screen, and a crazy 538ppi pixel density inside the 2K screen, it did look pretty fine, though I wouldn’t have minded stylus-support. The device also features Gorilla Glass 3,  a Quad-core, 2.5GHz processor, as well as 3GB RAM. I didn’t get as much time with this phone, though it did feel premium in the hand, especially compared to the Samsung Galaxy s5. At the same time I wonder whether the custom software, which did feel a little heavy on first impression, will slow the whole thing down. The phone comes with a much nicer 32GB of storage, as well as a microSD card slot, so it’s a decent package, coming in at $719. Another option, the Find 7a, is similar to Oppo’s hero device, though has a slower processor, less storage (16GB, though still expandable), and a smaller battery. It comes in at $629, though I wonder whether the $90 saving is worth these setbacks.

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Finally, another budget phone appeared, with the Neo 5, which sells for $219. As the price would suggest, the phone is pretty basic, though still features a 4.5″ screen (480×854), 4G, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad-core processor which hits 1.2Ghz. The available storage is slim, with just 4GB included, so remember to pick up an SD card if you’re thinking of buying this device. It could be a nice competitor to, say, an iPod touch, especially with the price of SD cards at this time, though at the same time I don’t expect it to be very speedy, especially considering Oppo’s skin.

In general, each device runs on a skin which Oppo calls Color OS. While it isn’t offensive, it still does slow down each device if compared to a pure-Google OS. My review unit N1 Mini picked up quite a bit of speed when I installed the Google keyboard and homescreen, though user modification shouldn’t be required, even if it is easy to go through. While I’m sure the skin pleases someone making the device, in general it adds very little for the end-user, and often introduces quite a cluttered, confusing UI. The Settings menu alone is incredibly poorly organised, with a seemingly random distribution of options. If you want a cheap phone for, say, Cyanogenmod, maybe these devices will be great, but at the price currently offered, if you want to just buy a phone and use it, I find it hard to recommend these devices. Sure, they often boast great hardware, but the software gets in the way. \

Saying that, this is Oppo’s first move into the Western market, and with this initial move they’ll obviously take baby steps. With that in mind, I’m looking forward to more Oppo announcements, since more competition is a good thing in the Android space. Though, still, I’m not exactly amazed by what the company showed on Tuesday.

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