The Oppo N1 isn't a phone you'd expect to see sold in markets like the United States. It's eccentric and, frankly, kind of weird. A rear touchpad panel? A swiveling camera? A 5.9" display? Official CyanogenMod support from the factory? It has "niche" written all over it (not literally, but that would be kind of funny, I suppose). As such, the N1's appeal in western markets is likely to be limited to the enthusiast audience, an audience Android Police has long entertained.
The Oppo N1 is, indeed, the first smartphone ever to be sold with CyanogenMod pre-installed as an option. The CyanogenMod edition of the N1 went on sale Christmas Eve, and while it looks no different from its skinned counterpart, marks a huge milestone in the custom ROM saga, a veritable "first" in the industry.
For that, I give huge credit to Cyanogen Inc. - what they've accomplished is legitimately impressive. They've passed Google's CTS / CDD testing, and will be shipping not just the first phone with factory support for a custom ROM, but a custom ROM licensed for Google Apps usage, including the Play Store. No one else has done this before, and for that first, the CyanogenMod team deserves a communal pat on the back. It's a big deal, not just for them, but for the custom software community at large. Good job, guys.
But, I'm here to review a phone, not wax poetic about the achievements of Team Douche.
To be honest, I've had a hard time really liking the N1, as opposed to just being able to live with it. I think CyanogenMod would have been better off debuting on the company's earlier release, the Find 5. From a hardware perspective, it's a simpler, more wide-appeal kind of handset. And given its age, Oppo probably could have given the CM version a fairly steep discount. The N1 just doesn't feel right as the sort of phone I'd want to use every day, and for a multitude of reasons. With that said, let's get down to brass tacks.
Oppo N1: Specifications
- Price: $599 unlocked in the US ($649 for 32GB model)
- Processor: 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600
- GPU: Adreno 320
- Network compatibility: Penta-band HSPA+
- Operating system: CyanogenMod (based on Android 4.3)
- Display: 5.9" IPS-LCD 1920x1080 (373 DPI)
- Memory: 2GB RAM / 16 or 32GB internal storage
- Cameras: 13MP rear with swivel action
- Battery: 3610mAh, non-removable
- Wireless: Wi-Fi A/B/G/N, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0
- Ports / expandable storage: MicroUSB / none
- Thickness: 9mm
- Weight: 213g
- CyanogenMod on the N1 is, for me, vastly better than Oppo's own skin. It looks pretty much like stock Android, has a few neat features, and makes using the N1 a lot more bearable.
- Battery life seems pretty outstanding, by and large.
- The display is quite nice - great viewing angles, extremely sharp, and solid color reproduction. There seems to have been no expense spared in providing an excellent visual experience on the N1.
- The rotating camera is legitimately nifty, if you can find a use for it. There really aren't any drawbacks to it, either, aside from needing to rotate it if you want a front-facing shot.
- It feels like a very solid, well-built phone. I'd hope so, since the thing weighs nearly half a pound.
The Not So Good
- The amount of time it takes the display to warm up before turning on is regrettable. I've not seen a device with such a bad case of this issue since Samsung's early Super AMOLED displays. It is legitimately annoying.
- The capacitive touch navigation buttons have extremely slow response time, inadequate haptic feedback, poor backlighting, and small touch targets. They simply suck. There is nothing nice to say about them, and it makes using the phone maddening at times.
- Latency on the touchscreen seems slightly higher than I'm used to, which can make interacting with the N1 feel awkward, but this may just be software lag - I'm not sure.
- The rear touchpad is totally useless - inaccurate, lame functionality, difficult to use. I'm not sure what Oppo's engineers were thinking, it's such a half-baked idea.
- No LTE on a device that costs $600. In winter of 2013. I'm sorry, but being in the US at least, where all 4 big carriers have LTE at this point, buying the N1 just doesn't make sense unless you're a diehard CM fan.
Design and build quality
The N1 continues on in Oppo's admittedly still-young design tradition: long, clean lines with little chrome or other visual fuss. If I had to compare it a piece of furniture, the N1 is the white cloth-covered couch with stainless steel legs you'd find at Ikea. It is unapologetically modern and minimalist. While it doesn't have the sharp edges or flashy aluminum of the HTC One, it also doesn't have the flimsy-yet-familiar feel of, say, Samsung's Galaxy S4. It's somewhere right in the middle - which is probably a good thing. The N1 is a decidedly inoffensive object from an aesthetic perspective, and apart from its size, most people I've spoken to like the look of it.
Build quality seems to borrow from the Nokia school of industrial design, in that the N1 feels decidedly dense and solid in your hand. Like the Find 5, while the outside of the N1 is matte polycarbonate (plastic), the innards are supported by a steel frame, lending weight that, while not unexpected, is definitely more noticeable than what you'll get in something like the Galaxy Note 3 or Galaxy Mega 6.3. Oppo definitely did not endeavor to make the N1 light, as the phone weighs in at a hefty 7.5 ounces, nearly half a pound. To put that into perspective, two N1s weigh more than an entire Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, and nearly as much as an iPad Air. And despite having a display a full half-inch smaller, the N1 actually weighs just a hair more than the gargantuan Xperia Z Ultra.
The N1's mass will not be a concern for some buyers, obviously, but I personally tend to look at very heavy phones as "gravity waiting to happen." I can't recall dropping the N1 since receiving it, but I've had my share of close calls, and momentum makes for a cruel mistress when phone meets pavement.
The quality of the polycarbonate casing on the N1 seems high, though - like my old HTC One X - it does suffer to an extent from discoloration the more time it spends in your hand or your pocket. I suspect a judicious application of Simple Green and a little scrubbing could get it looking pretty good again, though I obviously can't speak to just how the N1 will patina over a period of one or two years as opposed to the month I've had it.
The hardware buttons on the N1 are pretty typical, with the kind of nice clicky action that I enjoy. The volume rocker could be a bit wider and longer, though, as when I'm taking the phone out of my pocket and attempting to turn on the display without looking, or half-looking, I often end up poking at the volume a few times before I realize the error of my ways.
The speaker, microUSB port, and 3.5mm headphone jack are positioned quite cozily along the bottom of the N1, which makes for a nice visual presentation, though I imagine a headphone with a larger-than-average connector might block the microUSB port enough such that it couldn't be used at the same time (I found this to be the case when plugging in my Grados).
The other piece of hardware that prospective N1 buyers would likely be curious about is the rotating camera module. When I spoke to Oppo about the technology used to allow the camera to rotate freely (a total of 270 degrees), they claimed stress testing had shown the mechanism and cables would endure up to 100,000 complete rotations before failing. That's almost definitely more than enough, assuming you aren't sitting around twisting it all day whenever your hands are free (admittedly, this would be an easy habit to fall into).
The action on the hinge is pretty stiff, a bit stiffer than I might personally like, but once you get the hang of it it isn't very difficult. To be doubly clear, there is no motor involved here - the hinge is completely manual - so dash any hopes you have of ultra-smooth swiveling videos, as the stiffness of the hinge introduces some inherent jerkiness when you're rotating the camera.
The only other physically noteworthy aspect of the N1 would be the touchpad on the back. The touchpad is very, very vaguely outlined with some dashed lines, and a small touch graphic in the center of the pad, apparently to make it easier to feel out. It doesn't really help in that respect, I found.
This was the only way I could get the dashed lines to expose - look closely for the border.
The N1's display is excellent. The Find 5 also had a top-notch 1080p LCD, and it seems Oppo is putting a priority on the screen experience in all its high-end phones. Colors are well-balanced, brightness is commendable, viewing angles are as good as anything you'll see, and of course sharpness is on par with any other 1080p display of comparable size.
All of this is very good news for a very big phone - what's the point of a 5.9" screen if it's got all the vibrant qualities of a concrete bunker?
I will say the display takes too long to power on, though. If the phone has been sitting turned off more than 5 minutes, the warm-up time for the LCD is just long enough to be annoying, sort of like Samsung's old Super AMOLED displays. It's not the end of the world, but it does get aggravating when it causes you to press the power button twice in mistake when the display is actually just taking a moment to turn on.
My review unit also seems to have something of a quirk, in the form of what looks to be pressure damage on the panel in the lower-right corner of the screen. Press anywhere in the region, and a liquid-like artifact appears on the screen in the affected spot. It's probably just a one-off panel defect, but I figured it was worth pointing out.
I've spent quite a lot of time with the N1 using CyanogenMod, and the for the most part battery life has been excellent. One would hope so, however, given that Oppo has managed to stuff 3610mAh worth of lithium ions inside the N1, giving it one of the largest batteries on any smartphone currently available.
As such, I found I could quite reliably get 2 full days (48 hours plus) of moderate usage from the N1 if I was on Wi-Fi for at least a few hours each day. I doubt the N1 will leave all but the true phone addicts wanting for staying power, though obviously it will not satisfy everyone. That said, I've not used a phone with battery life like this since I tested the DROID MAXX. CyanogenMod probably helps out here, too, of course.
Storage, wireless, and call quality
The N1 ships in one of two storage capacities - 16GB and 32GB. Oddly, on my review phone this is partitioned in the rather annoying style that used to be prevalent on Samsung handsets, with an "internal storage" partition and an "SD card" partition. Only the internal storage partition can be used for apps, and that partition is only 3GB in size. I'm uncertain as to what exactly is going on there.
Wireless performance on the N1 has generally been solid, though I am running a pre-release build of CM on this phone so I am hesitant to give too detailed an account of any such troubles I've had, as they may be fixed in the newly-released retail build. That said, I've had a few issues with mobile data connectivity dropping on occasion, but it's been a fairly rare occurrence. Again, this could just be a bug in the build I'm running.
Call quality on the N1 has been OK, though I've found the proximity sensor for the screen is not reliable enough during voice calls - I'm constantly accidentally face-dialing somebody in a conversation, and have accidentally hung up a couple of times.
Audio and speaker
Headphone audio has been typically excellent from the N1, with no issues to report on that front. The bottom-firing external speaker is reasonably loud, but still doesn't really stack up against even the one found in the Galaxy S4 for sheer volume or quality, I found. Being a bottom-firing speaker, it's also inevitable that you'll sometimes muffle it with the palm of your hand or a stray finger. That said, it's a decent speaker that will serve you well enough in most situations.
Using the N1's camera feels a lot like using the Nexus 5's (at least on this CM build) - auto focus is too slow, and capture times seem awkwardly long. It's kind of a letdown in that regard.
The quality of the images, though, seems entirely respectable. In a world of smartphone cameras that really all sit somewhere between 3 and 5 on a 10-point image quality spectrum, the N1 probably sits pretty close to the middle of the high-end. It's not the best, but it's very far from the worst, either. I see little point in splitting hairs, so I'll stick to the major things I noticed about images.
High-lighting was pretty easy to do in some circumstances, and the N1 was far from eager to try and balance things out when it happened. This, again, sounds more like a software issue, like auto-focus and capture times. The quality, when focus is right, is very good. Sharpness is strong, and I actually think the one of the pizza came out pretty good! Considering one of the N1's major selling points is its selfie-friendly swivel, I think most people will be very satisfied with the self-portraiture possibilities.
Performance and stability
During the time I've been using the N1 with a pre-release CyanogenMod build, I've had exactly one random reboot. And that's over the course of about 3 weeks. Now a stable build is out, so it's quite likely the phone is now even more stable, not that it's been particularly unstable since I've had it.
I will say going back to a Snapdragon 600 device from a Snapdragon 800 device makes some speed differences pretty apparent. The N1 takes its time with certain tasks, like opening up Google Now, or just returning to the homescreen from an app. It doesn't feel tight and finely-tuned like the Nexus 5 does, which remains the fastest phone I've used to date. Compared to Oppo's Color OS, CM feels somewhat faster, but not by a huge margin.
The real performance drag, though, is the capacitive buttons. The response time is just awful - I should not feel latency when using capacitive touch buttons. This issue was present on both Color OS and CM, so I have to assume this is a lower-level problem either with the hardware or a driver. It makes using the phone maddening at times. The touch targets on the buttons are also tiny, and the haptic feedback can scarcely claim to be worthy of its own name, it's much too weak to be felt in many situations. The backlights for the buttons are no better, and I often found them too dim in bright sunlight.
This isn't to say the N1 is particularly slow, it's just not the kind of experience - in terms of raw performance - I'd expect after spending $600 on a phone that came out at the end of 2013.
UI and features
OK, let's get this out of the way: you probably don't want me to "review" CyanogenMod. I haven't used CM since 2011 and have not closely tracked the evolution of the ROM, its features, or the many things it does better / worse than <insert other custom ROM here.> I know there are a lot of strong feelings out there about ROMs, about Cyanogen Inc., and various other things in the whole custom software community. With that in mind, I'm going to come at my review of the N1's software more with the change in experience versus Oppo's Color OS in mind.
Power on the N1 for the first time and it's a lot like any other Android phone, apart from being prompted to create a CyanogenMod account. You go through the standard motions, and once you're logged in, CM's now-trademark Trebuchet launcher pops up to greet you.
What about features specific to the Oppo N1? With the build I'm using, there are very few. CM on the N1 does support integration with Oppo's O-Click accessory (think HTC Fetch, basically), but otherwise it looks like pretty standard stuff. If you're familiar with CM, you know it has a bevy of customizable features, tools, and settings at your disposal, such as CM's built-in profile support. In my particular CM build the integrated rear touchpad on the N1 is
non-functional, though I'm not sure if it's active in the release build can apparently be activated if you can find it hiding under Language and Input Settings... because that's a great place to put it (I honestly never would have looked - thanks to our commenters for that one). Anyway, I used the touchpad in Color OS and it was truly, deeply awful. The accuracy of tracking, the unintuitiveness of having a touchpad on the back of your phone (which I accidentally engaged more than once), and the general uselessness of the thing had me happily turning it off after a single day. Good riddance, I say.
The wonderful thing about using CyanogenMod on the N1 is just that is just feels so much more familiar and uncluttered than Oppo's own Color OS, and this is exactly why enthusiasts have been clamoring for factory-supported CyanogenMod phones for years. Oftentimes, the features, flexibility, and reduced clutter make it a no-brainer over something like Samsung or LG's UI overlay, even if software features end up lost in the process. The addition of CM's own little extras typically weighs in favor of the ROM option, anyway, as the custom OS has been built from the ground up with enthusiasts and power users in mind.
That said, using CyanogenMod on the N1 is just like using it on any other phone, but that's what people want: their OS of choice on their phone of choice, without having to deal with OEM-installed software or carrier bloat. And in that sense, CyanogenMod on the N1 is quite successful. You get the comfort of a phone with a custom OS that still has a warranty and official support from the factory.
I'm not here to tell you whether or not to like CyanogenMod because, let's face it, that's a very dumb argument to have. This phone has CyanogenMod, it works more than reasonable well, and I think it makes for better overall experience on the N1 than the Color OS ROM.
I've had a lot of good things to say about the Oppo N1, so please, do not mistake a lack of enthusiasm for disdain. The thing about the N1 is that, to me, it just doesn't feel like a phone marking CyanogenMod's big commercial debut. I'm not knocking them for that, though - you take the opportunities you're presented with, and the N1 is a perfectly decent phone. But it's one that really hasn't set itself up for much success (for Cyanogen, I mean): it is a niche device targeted to a subculture within that niche. I don't think Oppo expects the CM Edition N1 to sell like hotcakes, but the whole thing still sort of comes off weird. It's like stripping out a small SUV, putting racing slicks and a number decal on it, and taking it to the track. Sure, it's a spectacle - not something you see every day, that's for sure - but it doesn't feel serious. And it definitely isn't something with broad appeal.
As with everything, though, it's about the baby steps. This is the leaping off point for Cyanogen Inc. - I prefer to think of it as a dry run more than a legitimate attempt to disrupt the market. Because of that, though, it makes it rather difficult to endorse buying the Oppo N1 CyanogenMod Edition as anything but a novelty or a show of support. You have to really, really want the first phone ever to run CyanogenMod from the factory with certification from Google. That is one hell of a niche. Otherwise, there's not really a huge reason to buy this device, unless you find yourself unable to resist the swiveling camera. It's neat and all, but it strikes me as far from a reason to go out and buy a specific phone, all other considerations be damned.
The N1 has no LTE, a somewhat dated processor, is exceptionally large and heavy, and frankly, is outclassed by devices like the Galaxy Note 3 or the Xperia Z Ultra in key areas. Its only real ace in the hole is that official CyanogenMod support, and if that's something you must have in your phone from here on out, more power to you - it's the device for you. But for everyone else? I think we're better off waiting and seeing what comes of Cyanogen's new OnePlus partnership, as I have a feeling it will be decidedly more accessible.