Hands-on review: Try OPPO N3 and R5 smartphones for something different

A curved, protruding bottom edge makes the Oppo N3 phablet easier to grip. Photo: Hannah Francis Oppo’s Color OS with custom theme. Photo: Hannah Francis
杭州桑拿按摩

The Oppo R5’s hand-polished aluminium chassis, right, is slightly rougher than that of the iPhone 6. Photo: Hannah Francis

The ultra-slim Oppo R5, top, next to the iPhone 6. Photo: Hannah Francis

Oppo has released two new smartphones. Photo: Supplied

Chinese electronics manufacturer OPPO has traditionally dealt in top-notch BlueRay players, though more recently it has been dabbling in smartphones.

It began testing the waters in Australia last year with the Find 7, Find 7a, N1 Mini and Neo, with very little in terms of marketing and hence very little fanfare.

Initially OPPO phones were only available at its Australian website, but now you can get your hands on one and try before you buy at Allphones stores.

Now come two new devices, the N3 and R5 – charmingly different to the more popular Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy or Note, yet considerably more affordable.

Color OS

Both new handsets are fitted out with OPPO’s own Color OS. Based on the Android Kit Kat 4.4 operating system, the user experience is more or less like Android but with a bunch of playful extras.

At its heart, Color OS is all about customisation.

A wide range of theme options lets you change not just the wallpaper but the appearance of icons, too.

A suite of screen-on, screen-off, and even hands-free “air gestures” can be assigned to different functions and apps – for instance, drawing a circle on the lockscreen to launch the camera app.

Some of these gestures are a little pointless – air gestures, for instance, can be used to browse your photo album or desktop hands-free, but a finger swipe is quicker and you’ll still need to touch the screen for other functions.

In addition to the standard Google apps, the OPPO phones also come pre-installed with an OPPO-branded browser. It’s visually appealing, with a range of easy-to-navigate options including full-screen mode, “untrackable browsing” and “night mode”, which inverts to soft grey text on a black background.

The inbuilt, retro-style music player lets you spin tunes by dragging a needle onto a record. It’s cute, but the player itself has limited functionality. There are no EQ functions to tweak the sound for different musical styles, and on the lockscreen you’re restricted to stopping, starting and skipping backwards or forwards, track by track. You could also make these commands with finger gestures, but that adds little value.

Also included are Kingsoft Office, an open source app suite compatible with Microsoft Office, and messaging app WeChat.

OPPO N3

An upgraded version of the N1, which also sports a rotating camera, the dual-SIM N3 is the premium – and pricier – of OPPO’s new handsets.

I have small hands so I’ve never been a big fan of phablets, but the bottom edge of the 5.5-inch N3 has an ingeniously curved extension that balances neatly along your pinkie as you reach across the screen with your thumb.

I have trouble with this action on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus – both only marginally wider – but no such problems here.

The device’s curved, smooth plastic back also slides easily in the palm of your hand, which you’ll probably need in order to reach the on/off switch, which is awkwardly located on the top left edge.

At 16 megapixels and with f/2.2 aperture, OPPO has improved the camera specs on this model, and claims it’s the best there is for taking quality selfies. There are some great “beautify” filters but they lose a lot of definition.

Despite the iPhone 6 (rear-facing) camera only being 8 megapixels, I still find it takes better shots than the N3. .

Still, the N3’s rotating camera is great for taking panoramas, while photography nerds can switch to “expert mode” and toy with exposure, shutter speed and more.

Camera rotation can be controlled via the touch-screen, or using the included “OTOUCH” bluetooth remote. The OTOUCH also controls the music player, and has a handy Find My Phone feature – two clicks and the N3 starts crowing from where it fell down the back of the couch.

Specs

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