In a world where Samsung and Apple dominate the smartphone sphere, and multi-billion dollar companies like Sony, LG, and Motorola struggle to maintain single-digit market share, it's rather easy to convince yourself that real innovation and excellence costs lots of money. And, as an extension of that thought process, that there's little reason to look outside the current crop of popular phone makers.
But you'd be wrong.
Known mostly in the United States for its Blu-ray players (yes, really), Oppo is a Chinese electronics maker that is easily ignored. I hadn't even heard of their Blu-ray players until last week (and only because I looked them up on Wikipedia).
I knew Oppo for a phone it released last year - the Finder. At the time, it was quite impressive (on paper). But as often happens with phones from smaller manufacturers, I forgot about it almost as soon as I'd heard of it. Sadly, that's just kind of the way the rapidly-evolving smartphone industry works. If you aren't making waves on a quarterly basis, it's difficult to stay relevant.
The Find 5 is their newest phone, and while Oppo has aspirations of international availability, I doubt you'll be seeing too many of these outside of Asia. And, frankly, it's easy to see why - no LTE, no brand recognition, and no carrier distribution agreements (at least in the US). The Find 5 is also rather clearly designed first and foremost with the Chinese market in mind, and hey, that makes sense.
If anything, though, the Find 5 is yet another reason to pay attention to what's happening with smartphones in China, where they're not just displacing old Nokias, but laptops and computers in general.
Oppo Find 5
- Price: Varies by market
- Processor: Quad-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064
- GPU: Adreno 320
- Network compatibility: 3G HSPA+ 21Mbps (quad-band)
- Operating system: Android 4.1.1
- Display: 5.0" IPS LCD 1920x1080 (441 DPI)
- Memory: 2GB RAM / 16GB storage (12GB usable, 32GB model available)
- Cameras: 13MP rear with hardware HDR photo and video capabilities, 1.9MP front
- Battery: 2500mAh, non-removable
- NFC: Yes
- Ports / expandable storage: microUSB / none
- Thickness: 8.9mm
- Weight: 165g
- Design and build: The Find 5 feels very solid and tightly assembled, if a little on the heavy side. It's also rather nice to look at. It's not rewriting the smartphone design 'book,' but I think it's legitimately sleek and stylish.
- Display: The 1080p display is a winner. Good colors, decent brightness, and of course, eye-melting sharpness.
- Battery life: Generally, battery life was pretty good - the Find 5 got me through the day. If you use your phone a lot, though, your mileage may vary significantly.
- Software tweaks: Oppo has 'borrowed' a lot of the good software features that Samsung and other OEMs have come up with, and the result is a pretty robust set of built-in extras. Oppo is also promising a very rapid update cycle (think weekly) for the phone's software, which should be of interest to some.
The Not So Good
- Fit and finish: While the Find 5 feels very tight and solid, there's some pretty obvious corner-cutting going on. The power / volume buttons are very hard to press, and sit very loosely. The screen scratches rather easily. The phone is also unusually heavy.
- Software issues: The Find 5's software, while feature-rich, just doesn't feel well thought out at times. The iOS-style icon backgrounds are cheesy, look terrible, and cause visual clutter. Apps sometimes crash. Things like battery history are just plain missing. The default lockscreen gesture is extremely difficult to use.
- Signal problems: The Find 5 suffers from a severe case of 'death grip' - hold it wrong (or sometimes, at all), and your bars will drop faster than you can say 'iPhone 4.'
- Battery drain under load: If you're using the phone a lot, the Find 5's battery life quickly goes from 'adequate' to 'where's my charger?' Lax power management and poorly optimized software seem to be the most likely culprits.
Design and build quality
To my eyes, the Find 5 looks oddly like something from the old Sony-Ericsson Xperia line. It is extremely minimalistic, with large, sweeping curves and a small contrasting "chin" on an otherwise uniform black glass face. And that's not a bad thing at all - the Find 5 is easily the best-looking smartphone I've seen come out of China. While its design is certainly evocative of the old SE Xperia look, it doesn't feel like a copycat, and has plenty of character of its own to spare. The issue with the design of many phones I've seen from other Chinese manufacturers (Huawei, ZTE, Meizu) is not so much that they are ugly, but that they're extremely boring and generic. The software adds to the Oppo's aesthetic distinctness, as well, though we'll get to that later.
As far as quality is concerned, the Find 5 is surprisingly sturdy. I wouldn't have guessed, based on the fit and finish, that this was Oppo's sophomore smartphone. I think this goes to show that making a 'solid' phone isn't necessarily difficult, but that it generally requires accepting that removable batteries are a thing of the past. Building a phone that only comes apart via screws and/or rigorous prying to feel "solid" is probably a lot easier than making one that has a removable rear cover equally rigid.
However, I wouldn't venture so far as to say the phone truly feels premium. The Find 5 has a substantial heft (165g) to it, and is within weight class shouting distance of the much-larger Galaxy Note II (183g). To put things into perspective, HTC's 5" DROID DNA weighs a svelte 142g - 23 less than the Oppo, and is essentially the same size. In fact, the Oppo is actually narrower and thinner than the DNA, but is still substantially heavier. More weight means a higher likelihood of display breakage when dropped and, at least for me, a higher chance of dropping the phone in the first place. That white plastic also has a texture that I'm not exactly a fan of - it feels like cheap smartphone plastic. It also scratches like it - I dropped the Find 5 recently and it now has some rather ugly scuffmarks on the front "chin."
To some extent, I believe this is because Oppo wanted to build the Find 5 with a certain look, and was willing to sacrifice a bit of engineering pragmatism to get there. This is equally evident when looking at the
brushed metal (correction: they're plastic) power and volume buttons, which are very nice eye-candy, but are very difficult to depress, and sit rather loosely in their fittings. The edges of the phone around the display are also unusually sharp, as well, sometimes making it uncomfortable to hold.
I was recently unfortunate enough to have the privilege of driving a new Camaro as a rental for a couple of weeks, a car that changed little from its original concept design when it went into production. The result was a vehicle with very little visibility while driving, a high curb weight, and poor cabin ergonomics. While I wouldn't say the Find 5 is deserving of such harsh criticism for its own design choices, it falls victim to the same basic problem: compromising practicality for aesthetics' sake. It's just not something you see happen on high-end phones from Motorola, HTC, or Samsung.
The Find 5's display really surprised me - in a good way. While it doesn't get unusually bright, and doesn't the best viewing angles I've ever seen, the color accuracy and sharpness impressed me. And though it's not as good as, say, the HTC One X / X+, the Find 5 will hold its own against the Nexus 4, or even the DROID DNA (which, I'd argue, has a very good display, but not by any means the best). Overall, the Find 5's 1080p IPS LCD left me very happy, and it was far better than I expected.
I'd say the only notable downfalls are the glass and the brightness. The display doesn't seem particularly scratch-resistant (my review unit has a few light scratches already), and in bright sunlight, it won't be winning any awards. The very average brightness is likely to blame for the latter.
Still, the Find 5 is probably going to outclass most of its Chinese-made rivals in this area with ease, and definitely stands up to some of the current leaders in the global smartphone space. Heck, it's a lot better than the Xperia ZL's display, another phone I'm reviewing at the moment.
The first day I had the Find 5, battery life was a disaster. After an update to the latest beta firmware, the large 2500mAh lithium ion pack has managed to get me through an entire day of light to moderate use quite reliably. This has only gotten better with further firmware updates.
Unfortunately, I found when I started putting the productivity / media consumption hammer down, my experience changed quickly. I noticed the same problem on LG's Optimus G when I reviewed it, which uses the same quad-core Snapdragon S4 APQ8064 processor. Considering phones like the Nexus 4 and DROID DNA manage to use this same chip without this issue, I'm guessing it's down to the software drawing on those powerful cores.
This is the extent of the battery information you're provided.
Whether browsing the web, dredging through email, or simply reading through my Twitter feed, any extended screen-on time I spent using the Find 5 seemed to absolutely nuke the battery. My theory on this is that Oppo simply hasn't spent enough time optimizing the efficiency of its software. The OS is taking that beefy A15-esque processor to full-crank far too often, and like the engine of a car, all the energy-saving technology in the world can't fix a bad case of leadfoot. In the Find 5's case, the OS is the one putting the pedal to metal - you're just along for the ride.
Finally, the battery is not removable, if that wasn't already clear.
Storage, wireless, and call quality
The Find 5 comes in two storage capacities: 16GB and 32GB. There is no microSD slot. You don't get all 16/32 of the advertised gee-bees. That's pretty much par for the course in a modern smartphone.
LTE is a no-go on Oppo's new phone, but that makes sense given its target markets (EMEA) are just beginning to deploy 4G on any sort of wide basis. Instead, you get HSPA+ 21, which is perfectly adequate if LTE is something you're not interested in / can't get.
Of more concern is that the Find 5 suffers from a rather serious deficiency in signal strength. I found it to be extremely prone to 'death-grip' syndrome, regularly going from 5 bars to 1 or none when I held it, especially indoors (which makes sense). That effect had real-world consequences, too. I'd often notice when on a phone call that the more tightly I held the phone, the more difficult it became to hear / be heard. Similarly, data connectivity would become more reliable when I set the phone down. Whether this was a problem specific to my review unit, I can't be sure.
Left: resting on tablet, Right: being held (gently)
Update: After a second software update, call quality now seems fine - very loud, and pretty much what you'd expect of any high-end smartphone. Apparently there was some sort of software issue.
Call quality was yet another poor mark for Oppo, and truthfully, 'poor' is being generous. The Find 5 was probably the worst smartphone I've used for actually making phone calls, as it was nearly impossible to hear the person on the other line. Too quiet, too muddy, and too often interrupted by what I can only assumed were the phone's issues with signal strength. I would describe the Find 5 as near-unusable for voice conversations unless you turn on speakerphone mode. My guess is that Bluetooth headsets are basically ubiquitous in China, and cheaping out on the earpiece speaker of a smartphone is more easily overlooked. For me, though, this flaw would be serious enough to serve as a standalone reason not to buy the phone.
Sound from the Find 5's headphone jack was just as superb as every other recent Qualcomm-powered device I've tested. Qualcomm uses a great audio hub with a reasonably powerful headphone amplifier, and the sound it puts out is flat, clean, and undistorted. If you want to hear what a bad headphone jack sounds like, just plug into your Nexus 7. Oppo is also using something called "Dirac HD" for a software-based audio enhancement, though I'm not sure exactly what that does, as the effects can only be enabled in Oppo's own music player app.
The rear speaker is very loud, but it has the undeniably hollow, tinny quality of a smartphone that lacks proper insulation of the driver component. The result is that notifications have a highly sibilant, piercing quality that I personally cannot stand, causing me to leave the phone muted at basically all times. The plus side is that you could probably hear said notifications over a rock concert, and that may not bother some people.
The Find 5's 13MP rear shooter does a very good job under forgiving circumstances, and the 13MP resolution gives you a lot of crop room to play with. Detail is very sharp on close-ups - some of the best I've seen. Exposure in daylight is often too high or low (blame this on the software), though, and colors tend be on the hot side (oversaturated).
Given its resolution, the Find 5's camera has a very quick shutter (in daylight), and the responsiveness of the camera itself was good.
I maintain that it's not the sensor that truly makes a smartphone camera, it's the post-processing and software. The greatest camera in the world stinks if you can't get the exposure right, or screw up the white balance, or auto-focus is too twitchy. The Exmor RS may well be a camera worthy of lauding, and the Find 5 did get some very decent shots, but they were too hard to get. I had to play with focus points to get the exposure right, focusing in low-light was near impossible at times, and HDR mode didn't really "wow" me in terms of the results.
The Exmor RS is clearly a very good sensor, but I shouldn't have to think about using my smartphone camera - it should just work well period. While the Galaxy Note II and One X+ may produce inferior detail and struggler under low light at times, they're also much quicker to focus, adjust exposure, and generally get things right on the first shot. If you're not concerned with things like that, and you simply care about having the highest level of detail possible, the Find 5 makes a better camera, just one that's much more difficult to use.
Performance and stability
The Find 5 performs admirably when buzzing through most tasks, though at this point it's fairly obvious the whole 'experience' just isn't finished yet. Oppo warned me when reviewing the phone that it wouldn't be using the final international software, though I can only give so much leeway based on that: it becomes too easy to simply chalk up every problem, every bug, and every little inconsistency to "pre-release firmware," and let shoddy work skate by on the thin ice that excuse provides.
That said, thankfully, a new and much more stable firmware release was available shortly after I received my review unit, because the software it shipped with was utterly broken. The phone would randomly reboot for no reason, erase icons from my homescreen, and at one point powered itself off (again, no apparent cause) and refused to boot back up until I connected and then disconnected it from a power source. The whole curious case of the disappearing icons incident actually forced me to do a factory reset on the phone at one point, because the app drawer was just gone. There was no way to get it back. All I could do was get into settings (and, for some reason, my Twitter icon was spared) and initiate a wipe.
On the lighter side of things, none of my apps would sync over mobile data unless I went into each one and individually forced them to. Numerous apps simply crashed at random, though that was the least of my nuisances at that point.
To be fair to Oppo, these problems (mostly) ceased when I updated the firmware.
In terms of general speediness, the Find 5 feels slower than a Galaxy S III, Note II, or Optimus G. It also feels quicker (at times) than phones like the One X / X+ or the DROID DNA. However, once the next crop of phones like HTC, LG, and Samsung go on sale, I have a feeling the Find 5 will seem considerably slower. All that said, it's still pretty near the bleeding-edge of smartphone hardware, and is by no means going to be considered yesterday's tech a few months from now.
UI and UX
Oppo has taken its fair share of liberties in modifying Android, and with the copying of other OEMs, in the Find 5. The result is something really interesting - there are occasional flashes of brilliance here.
I seriously don't know what's up with Oppo's widgets, though. They look like some of ASUS's old motherboard utility apps, and I don't mean that in a flattering way. The clock widget and power control widget are just... terrible.
The iOS-style icon backgrounds don't help, particularly because some apps (eg, Google Apps) force an icon style on the OS without borders, which basically ruins the uniform styling Oppo is going for. Overall, Oppo's take on Android is a bit of a mess, visually. Functionally, it's a little better.
For example, Oppo has taken the excellent idea LG had on the AT&T Optimus G and implemented tabbed settings menus (General / Sound / Display / Personal). This idea makes so much sense it hurts me that only LG and Oppo are using it. Oppo also uses notification bar power controls that are very similar to LG's, in that the items on the list, and the order in which they appear, can be edited. The behavior of the notification light can be changed, and the capacitive key lights toggled on and off. You can see your mobile data consumption for the month at the bottom of the notification pull-down.
Oppo also has a really neat security option suite. There's a "Permissions" mode - when turned on, apps with permissions related to phone calls and SMS are listed in this sub menu, and unless they're set to "Allow," will give a prompt every time they attempt to access those permissions. You can also set apps to "Deny" if you don't believe they need access to a specific feature, like call logs or your contact list. It's actually pretty cool! And it seems to work.
The other security feature is "Data Saving" mode, which when enabled lists your most data-heavy apps, and allows you to freeze their data consumption when they're not actively being used. So, if you feel like Yelp shouldn't be syncing in the background when you're not actually using it, set it to 'Freeze when in background.'
Both the permissions and data saving features obviously have a bit more utility in China, where Android malware is a lot more prevalent - but they're cool nonetheless.
Unfortunately, it's not all good when it comes to the Find 5's software. You can't sort your apps in the app drawer alphabetically. The contacts app has no 'display' options, so you can't hide contacts without phone numbers, or those from accounts you don't want shown. 3rd party app compatibility is hit and miss. For example, Pandora just doesn't work (even though it lets you download it from the Play Store). Gmail crashes quite often. Smoothness is very hit and miss. The system font size can't be changed, so apps like Twitter and Facebook seem a little too 'blown up.'
Oh, and you can't even remotely read the subject line of a Gmail message from the notification bar, just look:
Most of those gripes, though, are pretty minor. Oppo's done a surprisingly good job of building and Android UI overlay that's highly functional, feature-rich, and usable. Too bad it's so ugly.
The Find 5 is a phone that surprised me. When I opened it up, I expected lackluster, uninspired software, and cheap hardware. On at least one count, I was wrong - the Find 5's software is more complete in many ways than that of even the biggest manufacturers like Sony, HTC, or LG. It may not be as pretty or visually cohesive, but those are things that come with time. I hope.
The rest of the phone, unfortunately, is decidedly hit or miss. The screen is impressive, but the glass scratches easily. The design is striking and tasteful, but the power/volume buttons are terrible, and the phone is quite heavy for its size. Battery life depends greatly on your usage pattern, and signal strength is unpredictable. Whether some of these flaws (battery life, signal) can be remedied by future software updates is difficult to say.
If you're considering the Find 5, I'd advise you to wait. Right now, the software is still evolving, and while it's possible things will get legitimately better down the line, it's also far from certain. That said, the Find 5 is the first smartphone out of China I've seen that really makes a solid effort at competing with the smartphone big boys - Oppo could be a company to watch in the next few years.