Review: OPPO R7
The more premium end of the mid-range market of smartphones has been relatively dormant for some time and of the devices that have been available, a good number aren’t particularly flashy or elegant, despite the price bump for specs.
Enter OPPO R7, the “style in a flash” handset the Chinese OEM is marketing as such and for a number of reasons as we found in our time with it.
- Premium metal unibody design and build
- Attractive price point
- Impressive front-facing 8MP camera
- VOOC rapid charging
- ColorOS 2.1 has its fair share of bugs
- Device slows with little effort
- Capacitive nav button arrangement makes multitasking difficult
- NFC again absent
THE DESIGN AND BUILD
OPPO has fast carved a name for itself as an OEM that’s able to bring to market handsets exuding a premium quality along with a solid build and fit in hand. Our previous encounters with the OPPO Find 7 and more recently the OPPO R5 have both yielded positive results in-hand and like those two, the R7 is no different in accomplishing an exceptional fit and finish.
Fashioned out of a piece of magnesium aluminium alloy which is a staggering 92.3 percent metallic, the metal unibody featuring on the R7 goes a far way in making the device feel as though you’re holding a true flagship smartphone. The gold review unit we managed to land our hands on adds a subdued golden tint to the frame and back of the device and it’s a shade that’s pleasing to the eye without going out of its way to draw attention to itself. That’s elegance right there.
The rear-facing 13MP camera is now sourced from Samsung instead of Sony as it was with the R5 and where it protrudes from the rear casing as it did on the last model, the camera sits far more flush on the R7 — being a thicker handset — which allows it to sit almost flat on surfaces. Towards the lower right end of the rear is a dedicated rear speaker in a place of its own, instead of occupying the earpiece as the R5’s speaker did. What still is lacking is NFC, so if its something you use, you may need to explore other avenues.
Where we had a clean break with the R5, the power/lock button has since moved back to left edge of the device with the R7, accessible by either index or middle finger in right hand, or thumb in left. Off-screen gestures like double-tap to wake do exist for those who aren’t fans either. The right of the R7 is where you’ll find the volume rocker which instead of having two separate distinct buttons, is one combined rocker with a small gap to distinguish either direction. Above the volume rocker is where R7’s interesting dual SIM/SIM and microSD tray arrangement is located, providing an option for those after a dual SIM handset, or those after extra storage — though both at the same time is out of the question. The option for microSD along with the 16GB built-in puts the R7 ahead of the R5, which has nothing to offer beyond its 16GB internal storage.
OPPO R7 adds a 3.5mm jack on the top of the handset where the R5 didn’t have previously due to its limitations in size. The bottom is where the microUSB port capable of OPPO’s VOOC flash rapid charging will juice up the R7 from 0 to 75 percent in a claimed 30 minutes, a claim we’ve found mostly holds up in practice.
When it comes to measurements and in place of the R5’s 5.2-inch 1080p display, the R7 has shrunk to a 5-inch 1080p size, while its yet to be released sibling, the R7 Plus will be a 6-inch 1080p behemoth. The reduction in display size has meant the R7 has diminished some 6mm in length to 143mm, while now being 3.5mm narrower than before at 71mm. Unlike the R5, the R7’s goal isn’t to be a titleholder for however brief the R5 held the world’s thinnest smartphone title. The R7 has filled out round the edges to 6.3mm, up from 4.85mm and that may be a significant change from the R5 but it’s still awfully slender even by flagship standards, and it’s still managed to come out at eight grams lighter at 147g. A front-facing 8MP camera is now included, up from 5MP before.
The R7 has a white façade and it’s very much take it or leave it, because you won’t find an option for a black front if that takes your fancy. There’s 2.5d glass which doesn’t offer the same curve as a Samsung edge handset, but does round out the edges into the frame so as to allow fingers to free flow across the display.
As with other OPPO handsets, we see on the front a capacitive navigation button setup with the arrangement all over the place — in our opinion. The menu, home and back keys in order respectively from left to right have a reflective silver coating and offer no illumination whatsoever for night use. This does pose an issue for those getting used to the R7 at first, but habits will work their way in and soon enough it’s fairly easily to adapt to. What isn’t as easy is multitasking and we’ll cover this in the software section.
Included with the OPPO R7 is a pre-installed screen protector with no air bubbles, which was enough reason for us to leave it on. One brilliant aspect of the R5 and R7 handsets is in OPPO including a case out of the box, providing that option right away for users where an OEM case with a proper fit may otherwise be difficult to come by.
OPPO R7 doesn’t stray from the AMOLED panel we saw last on the R5 and as mentioned it has shrunken in size to a 5-inch display to make way for the OPPO R7 Plus and its gargantuan 6-inch display.
With an acceptable 1080p resolution, the R7 produces 445 pixels per inch which offers plenty sharpness when reading and viewing multimedia. The display itself like the R5 before it is flanked by a black bezel all round the lit panel which is a tad thicker than we feel it should be, though thankfully the vivid colours offered by AMOLED draws the eye away for the most part. When it comes to consuming content, this particular panel offers clean whites and pretty impressive viewing angles — both praises not typically attributed to AMOLED panels. As expected, it also offers outstanding contrast and pure blacks.
Sunlight legibility outdoors was reasonable for this type of panel, however we would say we found the auto-brightness a little slow to adjust, impacting the ease with which content can be accessed after retrieving the phone from a pocket for instance. Out under direct sunlight the R7’s underwhelming maximum brightness may not satisfy some, but we managed with what it had. These areas mind you are both areas the R5 excelled in, though it also had a larger display and smaller battery. You can see where we’re going with that one.
THE SOUND AND CALL QUALITY
OPPO R7’s dedicated speaker may have moved from the front earpiece on the last model to the back, but it’s a definite move for the better. For its price-point it’s exceptionally loud on the whole and it actually brings out lows much better than expected. We were content to set the R7 down for music playback and listen for hours with decent clarity, if only coming out slightly tinny at higher volumes. The speaker’s position did make viewing videos or playing games in-hand problematic though.
The earpiece held up well during calls, with both clear and loud output. We received few complaints from the other end and had none ourselves.
OPPO’s take on Android in ColorOS has been as it has for some time and that’ll be to the liking of some and dislike of others. With ColorOS 2.1 the review unit R7 we received new out of the box had Android 5.1.1 running beneath and with Lollipop, the white UI of ColorOS actually makes some sense, but don’t expect any wild pops of colour. OPPO stays true to the white and green that makes up its brand colours and we do admire that. This iteration of ColorOS is less bland than it has been in the past and while overall it’s more minimalistic and flat than before, in all it’s no significant leap for OPPO’s skin, given what Lollipop and Material Design has meant for the Android design language on other handsets.
All that being said, ColorOS is still one of the heaviest skins out there and deliberately goes out of its way to distance itself from a typical Android experience with a single layer launcher that does away entirely with an app drawer. That forces the homescreen to host all installed applications and while folders can be created to better organise apps, we’re not fans of this and would gladly recommend installing a third party launcher to all who aren’t either.
ColorOS packs a number of non-removable apps, some which you’ll use for their genuine functionality, while others just take up unnecessary space on the homescreen and on storage. First up is the Theme Store app which opens up an online realm of downloadable themes which change icons and wallpapers, and fairly little beyond that. A stock Google ‘Jelly Bean’ theme is a pre-installed option, but Jelly Bean icons on a device running Lollipop? Pass.
Other neat and useful apps include the flexible Backup and Restore, Security Centre and the built-in File manager apps which actually offer a great amount of control over aspects of the R7. Kingsoft Office adds a full productivity suite for document, spreadsheet, PDF and slides editing, which is great if you don’t want to use Google’s own offered in QuickOffice or Drive. There’s also support for USB OTG, once located in the ‘More’ section of the settings menu.
Gestures and motion-based controls are also a feature of ColorOS, allowing screen-off gestures like drawing a ring to access the camera, or double-tap to wake, and the ability to configure more. Screen-on gestures will allow a double tap on the home key to lock, take screenshots using a three-finger slide, as well as a swipe from a bottom corner to create a small window of the display for one-handed use, and more.
ColorOS 2.1 adds a new ‘Eye Protection’ mode, which for those who know of the PC program ‘f.lux’, works to filter out blue light which can be harmful for eyes in areas of low-light. We love the initiative from OPPO and we already use f.lux on our personal computers so the change wasn’t difficult. We just wish there was an option to automatically enable and disable this mode after certain times during the day. As it stands, this mode can only be enabled or disabled manually from the quick settings panel or settings menu. ColorOS 2.1 also allows for batch app rearrangement on the homescreen which is incredibly handy for the single layer launcher. Long screenshots are now possible as well, making capturing whole pages of content possible.
The included keyboard does have a couple of dark themes to choose from which is nice and as for functionality, swype actually works rather well. We mainly took issue with the system-wide emoticons which are an eyesore that belong to 2010.
Aside from all that ColorOS 2.1 is, compared to versions before, on the OPPO R7 it isn’t particularly stable. In our time with the R7 we received two stability updates, the second which addressed Bluetooth issues with automotive Bluetooth devices but not the Bluetooth issues we were faced with when it came to the R7’s inability to maintain a successful connection with a Pebble smartwatch. In our entire time with the R7, we had one notification delivered to our Pebble, rendering it nothing more than a timepiece for the duration of the review.
Introduced in Android Lollipop is trusted devices, which is supposed to allow a paired Bluetooth device unlock the handset, but it never once worked even when our Pebble was connected and authorised as a trusted device.
Another gripe in having Bluetooth active is we couldn’t avoid the handset from reverting back to open detection to all nearby devices, despite selecting the option otherwise in wanting the R7’s Bluetooth presence hidden from anything other than devices it was paired to — for however brief it managed to sustain those connections that is.
Other bugs we encountered involved certain settings and options not appearing or failing to remain enabled, such as all apps requiring notification access, or setting a weather location as default in place of an automatic location.
OPPO’s reminder notification for upcoming calendar events is also incredibly annoying. It persistently vibrates and chimes until you’ve unlocked and dismissed the notification. This has been a similar case in previous OPPO handsets we’ve reviewed but to see it’s still present in ColorOS 2.1 with the R7, we’ve had enough of it.
When it comes to the capacitive navigation buttons, there’s no option to change the speed at which the menu button must be held to launch the recents panel, and at times felt the two or so second press inhibited productivity and made multitasking a hassle.
THE PERFORMANCE AND BATTERY LIFE
A 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 1.5GHz octa-core underneath marks a sameness with the R5 before it, but on this occasion it’s paired with a more substantial 3GB of RAM instead of 2GB. We expected the bump in the latter would allow the R7 to handle more tasks with little to no hiccups, only that wasn’t the case. We feel again that this may be attributed to the instability and/or heaviness of ColorOS 2.1 but we didn’t notice any major difference performance wise between the R7 on ColorOS 2.1 and the R5 on what we feel was a more stable ColorOS 2.0 — at time of writing. We actually felt if anything, the R7 showed more strain in ordinary tasks than the R5.
When it comes to gaming, with Adreno 405 graphics onboard, the R7 isn’t going to play nice when intense 3D titles are thrown at it. It still manages fine, provided the graphics aren’t pushed beyond what it’ll set itself at upon installation. Games like Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, which mind you was a console game at one point, was managed reasonably well with what the R7 had on offer, with dropped frames not having as negative an impact on overall gameplay than expected. It’s a similar story with fast-paced games like Asphalt 8.
When it comes to battery life, the R7 didn’t have a high bar set before it on the R5, so it’s no surprise that a smaller display and bigger 2320mAh battery would produce better results in daily usage, which is exactly the improvement the R7 needed. In a typical day on a mix of 4G LTE and WiFi, we usually managed a respectable 14-16 hours off charge with around three hours screen-on time, sometimes pushing closer to — or on rare occasions exceeding — four hours. On days where we were harsher on using apps like Maps while streaming music and web browsing, 10-12 hours off charge was our result, with two to three hours screen-on time. Our usage comprised daily of web browsing, spending time on social media, streaming music, watching the occasional YouTube video and both texting and making the odd call.
Compared to the sub-par performance of the admittedly ultra-thin R5, we’re far more impressed with the R7’s battery life. OPPO may have the brilliance of the VOOC flash charging system backing the R7 in times of need, but we rarely felt concerned about how the battery would hold up during long hours away from a power outlet. In cases where an outlet is out of reach, the included power saving features go a long way in drawing out as much of the remaining battery as possible, with plethora options to please anybody looking for the right amount of conservation.
We would note however that unlike what we experienced in ColorOS 2.0, the battery isn’t sustained as well in standby on the R7. This again could be ColorOS related, which given our above comments on the overall stability of v2.1 wouldn’t surprise us, or it could be Android 5.1, which also wouldn’t come as a shock.
When it comes to outright camera performance, OPPO are going all out in their promotion of the R7’s camera as snappy, and it is quick to focus, we’ll give it that. Phase detection autofocus, or PDAF is a technology Samsung has been using in their recent flagships, so to see it included on the 13MP Samsung sourced sensor in the R7 is a big plus, though the aperture has shrunk from f/2.0 on the R5 to f/2.2, reducing the amount of light taken in. Despite some clear improvements, the main camera didn’t impress nearly as much as the front-facing 8MP camera did, despite its even smaller f/2.4 aperture.
The interface of the camera has seen a redesign with ColorOS 2.1 on the R7. It’s far less cluttered than we’ve seen on previous OPPO handsets and it’s eerily familiar to the UI of a rival OS, the same which the OPPO drew inspiration for their single layer launcher. This is sure to rile up the Android purists and we’d be lying if it we didn’t say it irks us too.
You can swipe horizontally to switch between either still or video modes and access to the essentials like flash, alternative camera toggle and camera modes are all easily located. As part of OPPO’s brilliant Pure Image 2.0 suite, a number of add-ons can be optionally installed and removed at users’ discretion. Of those modes, there’s a few standouts like GIF mode, Ultra HD, which makes it possible to shoot 24MP or 50MP shots out of the rear camera or 16MP and 32MP shots out of the front camera, as well as Super Macro. Catering to amateur photographers, there’s RAW mode, which locks to 13MP, or there’s Expert mode which grants control over exposure, ISO, shutter speed — up to 16 seconds — autofocus and white balance. ColorOS 2.1 adds a new range of live filters in the viewfinder, but we didn’t much care for them for the purpose of our review. There’s also standard HDR and panorama modes.
As we’ve experienced in OPPO’s camera interfaces in the past, we didn’t take too well to only certain elements rotating when the handset was held in landscape. Why it is OPPO still hasn’t bothered addressing this remains a mystery, but it’s high time they did.
By introducing a minimal interface, we felt inclined to test the R7’s camera primarily as a point-and-shoot, because that’s what phones running on that other OS do best and if that’s how OPPO intends its R7 users to shoot, then why not?
With the R7 in auto or ‘Normal’ mode, colours are remarkably on point almost all the time. A native 4:3 ratio allows full use of the 13MP available and post-processing is handled well with no excessive sharpening in sight, though a general softness when zoomed would certainly warrant more of it. Phase detection autofocus certainly works its charms in the R7, but it doesn’t make up for how disappointing the camera handles dynamic range. An overwhelming number of shots out in daylight resulted in blowouts which marked the achilles heel of the R7’s camera performance.
HDR goes some way in rectifying this, but for a handset that’s being touted as having a quality camera, we shouldn’t have had to resort to HDR nearly as much as we found ourselves doing so — and waiting for images to process as a result.
Low-light performance is managed about as well as you can expect from an average f/2.2 aperture. The sensor isn’t able to take in as much light as the R5 with f/2.0 resulting in apparent noise and colour accuracy ends up sacrificed. In a number of night scenes, we found more use shooting in the Colourful Night mode or adjusting white balance manually.
Ultra HD works brilliantly in stitching together 24MP or 50MP shots, of which we stuck to 24MP for the sake of storage space and limited hassles when uploading.
The real surprise out of the R7 is its front-facing 8MP shooter with wide-angle lens. As mentioned, it may have to make do with a small f/2.4 aperture which is almost entirely uncommon nowadays on handsets commanding the R7’s level of coin, but it more than makes up for what it lacks on paper with upfront results. That’s not to say it’s outstanding, as images tend to lack detail round the edges and noise finds its way into certain scenes, especially in low-light.
We’d definitely advise against enabling Beautify mode, which offers little variation between weak and strong levels, adding a soft focus that’s entirely unrealistic.
The OPPO R7, like many OPPO handsets before it has something a wide range of other handsets still to this day do not offer; a truly quality build, finish and fit in hand. With the R7, OPPO has proved it’s possible to craft a solid device with premium materials and still manage to make it priced well enough for the masses. This could work well in OPPO’s favour here in Australia, where the R7 will be available in all corners of the country through retailer Dick Smith. Those after an experience that resembles iOS — yes we’ve finally uttered that forbidden word — in a sleek, metal body for a fraction of the price will not have much reason to be disappointed.
Seeing as we are a site dedicated to Android however, we do take issue with how thin the line is between drawing inspiration and straight up trying to replicate aspects of UI to cater to that particular audience. A third party launcher may solve one of these attempts, but nothing can be done about the camera interface or other aspects of ColorOS’ UI, unless you’re willing to tinker with the device at your own risk.
Struggles with dynamic range and low-light performance will make the camera difficult to use as a quick point-and-shoot as it’s intended, which is a let-down given colour reproduction almost always hits the mark and phase detection autofocus works a real treat. The camera isn’t by any means bad and OPPO’s brilliant suite of add-ons broadens the possibilities, it’s just underwhelming given how the R7 is being marketed.
One real gain will be realised for selfie lovers. The front-facing 8MP camera is by all accounts great, provided there’s adequate lighting.
Battery life has improved markedly over the R5 and additions like a 3.5mm jack, microSD slot and improved rear speaker, means the R7 has the right amount of function to match its impeccable form. This is all that OPPO needed to achieve with the R7, though we’d have liked to see NFC included this time and the display isn’t quite to the outstanding level the R5 was.
For all that’s been improved with the R7, it’s hampered by stability issues currently faced with ColorOS 2.1.
OPPO has made mention to ColorOS 2.1 being its most stable release ever, but OPPO seems to be working endlessly on their skin which now makes us question the stability of its releases. Never before have we experienced as unstable an Android experience out of the box as we have in the OPPO R7 in its present state. We have complete faith that OPPO will see to ironing these issues out, if the two stability updates so far weren’t indication enough, but as it stands, the R7 still needs a fair bit of work in the software department to make it a worthy recommendation beyond its stunning build and other worthwhile improvements over its predecessor.
The OPPO R7 is available for $449 through Dick Smith retail stores nationwide or online, from Optus with plans starting at $40 per month over 24 months, as well as from OPPO’s online store. Alternatively, the OPPO R5 is still going for $599 from Dick Smith and OPPO. At time of writing, OPPO Australia has yet to release the OPPO R7 Plus.