(Pocket-lint) - Oppo is a Chinese smartphone brand that isn't especially familiar to UK customers. Yet on a global scale it was one of 2015's fastest growers. That's for one very good reason: it's been making decent phones at competitive prices, and everyone loves a bargain.
Its latest premium but affordable smartphone is the Oppo F1 Plus, which costs £299 and comes with a great set of specifications packed into a fashionable metal and glass design. It's a proven design, similar to that of the smaller-scale original Oppo F1, which we reviewed four months previous, albeit at a larger scale with a 5.5-inch screen and some spec tweaks (that we'll get into later).
The ultimate question with the F1 Plus, then, is whether or not Oppo is capable of making a mid-range phone that competes with the biggest and best out there at this price point. Can it win appeal in the UK market?
Oppo F1 Plus review: Design
Like its smaller sibling, the Oppo F1 Plus features a sleek metal chassis, but without any of the plastic trim. To the untrained eye — heck, even to the trained eye — this phone looks suspiciously like an iPhone clone. At least, it does on the back and from the bottom edge.
It has the parallel antenna bands running along the top and bottom, with a protruding round camera in the top left corner. The bottom edge features the Micro-USB port, a 3.5mm jack, plus seven holes for the loudspeaker. There's some iPhone differences, of course, including the microSD card slot, which can be used to expand the based 64GB on-board storage.
The gold-coloured metal casing on the back rounds towards the edges, where a shiny, angled chamfered edge surrounds the slightly protruding front panel — which is covered entirely in glass and comes equipped with a factory-applied screen protector.
You should definitely keep this protector on if you value a pristine display. Having foolishly removed ours, the display was scratched within a matter of days, without any unreasonable treatment. Looking at it, you'd think we'd purposefully scratched it with keys or a knife, and in all likelihood, it picked up the marks just by being in a pocket. That's kind of concerning, especially given the fact that it's advertised as having Gorilla Glass 4, but it's not uncommon: we've had an LG G5 for months that looks like it's been through the wars.
The Oppo F1 Plus also has capacitive back and recent apps soft buttons on either side of the metal-surrounded fingerprint sensor, but they're barely illuminated which makes them frustrating to see.
Oppo F1 Plus review: Screen
From a specifications viewpoint, the F1 Plus's 5.5-inch display — which boasts a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels (otherwise known as Full HD) — is plenty sharp enough for a phone that costs a whisker under £300.
Unlike plenty of other devices at similar prices and with the same screen size and resolution, Oppo has gone with an AMOLED-based panel, which means it looks great in terms of contrast and colour.
Blacks are ultra deep and colours are really vibrant, and with the ultra-slim bezel on either side it's an aesthetic treat to look at. Watching movies, videos and gaming are all a pleasure.
Oppo F1 Plus review: Software
Like all Oppo phones, the F1 Plus has the company's own custom ColorOS software, built on top of Android. That means you don't get the standard Google-designed app drawer, so instead you'll have to wrestle with app and folder placement.
On the plus side, this is the latest version of ColorOS, in v3.0, and comes with some very useful features and some which, as we alluded to with the design, will feel very familiar to iPhone users. Apps like the calculator, camera, phone dialler, weather and even the card-based multitasking screen look almost like they were directly ripped right out of iOS.
We found using the pre-installed TouchPal keyboard made it very easy to type, thanks to virtual keys being well spaced. With its plethora customisation options, including downloadable themes, fonts, adjustable keyboard size, the option to add a separate number row and gesture-based Swype-like typing, plus a lot more, it has many strings to its bow. If you don't like the default setup, it's unlikely that you'll fail in making it match your preferences.
Because the software is so unlike regular Android, many basic tasks and functions aren't accessed in the usual way. For instance, pressing and holding the home screen wallpaper doesn't take you to the usual customisation screen for adding widgets, arranging home screens or choosing wallpapers. Instead, you have to go into the settings menu. It's all a bit longer-winded, really. But if you're not an Android geek then this is unlikely to really matter.
Our advice: if you like the hardware of the Oppo smartphone, then install something like the Google Now Launcher from the Play Store which offers a much more traditional Android look and feel.
Oppo F1 Plus review: Performance
There's no two ways about it, the F1 Plus phone is fast. In fact, pretty much everything on this device is geared to be quick.
You'd be hard pushed to find a fingerprint scanner on a phone that's as zippy as the phone's front-loaded scanner. From experience, only Huawei is on par, but thanks to Oppo's lack of an onscreen animation when unlocking it seems much faster.
Then we get to the manufacturer's proprietary charging technology, VOOC. Imagine a Quick Charge-capable phone, then imagine it doesn't slow down much after 80 per cent charge. Then imagine it charges just as quickly when being used as when it's in standby, and then imagine it doesn't get overly warm doing it. You don't need to imagine any more: that's VOOC flash-charging. And it's fan-bloomin-tastic. Even when constantly streaming video the battery would charge from dead to full in just over an hour.
Using the device is generally fast and fluid too. There's very little (if any) lag or stuttering when switching between apps, swiping through homescreens or opening apps. That's mostly thanks to the Helio P10 processor inside paired with a generous 4GB of RAM. Gaming on the other hand wasn't spectacular: frame rates aren't always smooth during some fast-moving games, given the Mali-T860MP2 graphics.
Oppo F1 Plus review: Battery Life
Even with heavy use, the Oppo F1 Plus can easily make it through a full day on a single charge. That's thanks to a few things.
Firstly, there's the 1080p display which — because it doesn't contain as many pixels — doesn't use as much power as a Quad HD screen (2,560 x 1,440 pixels, as you'll find in many flagship devices these days).
Secondly, there's the software factor. Oppo ColorOS 3.0 has built-in battery-management as standard which, at times, is a little over-aggressive. It essentially kills apps from using power in the background if they haven't actually been used onscreen for a little while. Almost all the time, this is a genuinely useful feature and saves unnecessary battery drain. On the other hand it can be incredibly frustrating. And because the device runs Android 5.1 Lollipop rather than 6.0 Marshmallow, it doesn't have Google's own baked-in Doze battery saving technology which is far less aggressive and granular.
Using Strava, for example, to track a run or bike ride and having the software just kill the app within the first five minutes of exercise means most of the sessions end up not being recorded. Likewise, with an app like Pebble's program which is necessary for pushing notifications to the smartwatch, you can end up not getting any notifications at all. There is a an option within the settings to whitelist specific apps, but that doesn't work consistently, and it's a pain to access (go to settings > battery > others > select app, then toggle "freeze when in background"... talk about a faff, eh?).
Oppo F1 Plus review: Camera
As cameras go, the main 13-megapixel one on the back has some real plus points. With an f/2.2 aperture it's not the most impressive for a smartphone camera, but that opening can still let in lots of light and create great background blur.
In good daylight, images often come out sharp, with nice tones and detail. It really shines when used outdoors, although greens can be a little over-saturated. Detail is sharp, especially when you get close-up to a subject. However, it does sometimes struggle to focus.
In low-light it does struggle a little, and once lighting is less than optimal, you will notice some noise and graininess creeping in. Like a lot of phones out nowadays though, there's is a manual camera mode called "Expert Mode" which lets you adjust the shutter speed to compensate.
Although the F1 Plus's camera isn't perfect, it still has a selection of features most buyers will find really useful. You can record timelapse videos, regular videos in 1080p resolution, plus there are Panorama and the ever-more-standard "Beauty" mode — the last of which smoothes out your pores to make your skin tone rosier or fairer and all that "good" stuff (we don't like it, it's too fake). You can also choose to fire the shutter by tapping the screen, pressing the round virtual shutter button or by using your voice.
As a bonus, you can take pictures or shoot video with a number of preset filters, create GIF animations, or double-expose shots. The last of these is a lot of fun, as it gives you the creative freedom to make "ghost" photos, providing you have a very steady hand or a tripod on which to mount your phone.
The Oppo F1 Plus has its quirks and irritations, but as an overall package it's hard to be critically damning.
The F1 Plus looks and feels good, has an impressively sharp and colourful display and acts as a slick upsized brother for the original F1 model. The Plus's two key features that make the biggest difference in daily use are its superfast fingerprint recognition, and VOOC charging technology.
On the downside, Oppo ColorOS software really needs a lot of work. Its over-aggressive battery saving capabilities mean that some apps you want running in the background get killed, even when you've marked them to stay active. That kind of annoyance almost cost this handset a half star on the score sheet.
So is the Oppo F1 Plus set to win appeal in the UK market? As we said at the beginning of this review, price is a key factor. At £299 it's affordable for the mid-range, but there's a lot of competition — particularly from the likes of the OnePlus 3, which is just a tenner more, or the Vodafone Smart Platinum, which is a fiver less.