(Pocket-lint) - Over the past few years we've seen Chinese smartphone manufacturers grow from strength to strength. Perhaps the biggest success story has been Huawei, along with its related Honor subsidiary brand. But while that Chinese giant has been making a name for itself in Europe, one other company has been growing phenomenally over in eastern Asia: Oppo.
While Oppo is still yet to bring its phones to traditional stores and channels in Europe or the US, the company is fast becoming one of the giants of the global smartphone scene. That said, previous Oppo devices have often felt a little lacking. With the company on the rise, however, we wanted to check out its latest flagship, the R11s, to see whether it, too, elevates its appeal.
- Bright red aluminium finish
- 155.1 x 75.5 x 7.1mm; 153 grams
The most striking element about the R11s is its colour scheme, as you can see from our eye-catching red coloured review unit. The entire metal body is finished in a red hue not too dissimilar (although perhaps darker) than the Product Red iPhone 7. Depending on ambient light, the R11s shifts between a deep and sumptuous red, to a lighter shade that's almost pink.
To ensure the finish is as seamless as possible, the antenna bands running along the insides of the edges are colour matched, as is the fingerprint sensor, along with the shiny metal chamfer around the protruding camera system.
Switch to the front of the phone and there's some subtle detailing in the bottom and top bezels. Rather than just be a plain black slab of glass sitting on a metal frame, Oppo adds a red gradient that almost makes it look like the black glass is blending into the red chassis. Sadly, the slim black band around the glass breaks what would otherwise be a tasty seamless appearance.
Apart from that, the front is dominated by a large AMOLED 6.01-inch display, with very slim bezel to top, bottom and sides. The top and bottom edges have a very slight indented groove running along them, with the latter hosting a 3.5mm jack and speaker grille. It also has the Micro-USB port, which seems a strange decision given the widespread industry shift towards Type-C.
Interestingly, there are none of the regular Android control buttons of any kind - physical or capacitive - as there's not really the space for them.
Screen: Pointing a finger at one major issue
- 6.01-inch AMOLED panel
- 1080 x 2160 resolution
- Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection
The 2017 trend in the phone market was the adoption of elongated aspect ratio displays. It started with the 18:9 screen on the LG G6, continued on with the likes of the Galaxy S8, iPhone X, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, OnePlus 5T, among others. Not to by outdone, Oppo joined the race with the R11s, and - for the most part - it's brilliantly executed.
To get the main criticism out of the way early: this screen suffers from the same fingerprint-smearing issues as the Oppo R11 and the Huawei P10 series phones. The glass seems to be completely devoid of oleophobic qualities, thus grease lingers and smears around the panel's exterior - which is annoying. After just a couple of hours' use the screen will be covered in smears, which constantly needing wiping off. It's not just an issue with the screen switched off, as these smudges tend to affect the displayed content, adding these weird rainbow-patterned streaks to an otherwise glorious view.
Moving away from that not small-scale issue, the quality of the R11s display is up there with some of the best. Being 2160 x 1080 means its not quite as sharp as the mainstream flagship Android phones - it's on par with the Honor View 10, Huawei Mate 10 Pro and others - but it's got colours and vibrancy by the bucket load. Greens, reds and blues are saturated, but not to an unpleasant level, giving you content and app screen icons that really pops on screen.
Being AMOLED also means the R11s delivers really deep inky black levels for superb contrast. The only downside here, as with most AMOLED panels, is that whites are a little bit warm, which those of you preferring a cooler/LCD-like profile may dislike.
More and more apps these days are filling the longer ratio screens without any issue, and Netflix Originals produced in 18:9 format look brilliant. It's just a shame that such a great panel can be spoiled by too many finger swipes.
Software: 'Colorified' Android Nougat
- ColorOS 3.2 operating system
- Based on Android Nougat 7.1.1
Android phones are just that: they use Google's Android operating system, which delivers a robust and familiar way to interact with the device. But not all manufacturers stick with stock, Oppo being one, with the R11s delivering the company's ColorOS software skin.
And it's this which normally gives Oppo phones some degree of criticism, given their quirks. Thankfully, things aren't as too out of whack in the R11s, but there's still room for software improvements.
Still, that's not to say there's no good to be had from the software especial. For example, the facial unlock feature functions with a raise-to-wake action, which is genuinely brilliant. On the whole though, ColorOS - now up to version 3.2 - still feels like a weird cross-over between Android and iOS. Not quite pulling together the best of either world.
If you're used to Android, you'll be confused that dragging down from the top of the screen doesn't bring you any quick access settings. Instead, you bring it up from the bottom, similar to how Control Center on an iPhone works (before iOS 11 came along anyway).
Using this control tab in the Oppo means you can toggle Airplane mode, Wi-Fi, mobile data, Quiet Time (to block all notifications), Bluetooth, portrait orientation lock, and power saver mode, flashlight, calculator, clock, camera, settings and more. You also get the usual screen brightness slider and the night shield that cuts out blue light on the display to help relax the eyes in the evening. It's possible to add, remove and re-order any of these to suit your preference.
Other Apple-inspired elements include the design of the recent apps screen, which offers up rectangle cards in a carousel that you swipe through horizontally to find a particular app, or dismiss them by swiping upwards. Even opening up the app folders presents an almost identical animation and folder view to iOS, in that you get a translucent rounded square with a blurred background and simple white text.
The shift away from typical Android interface also means there's no app drawer, and you can't change your homescreen wallpaper or layout by long-pressing the screen. Instead, you'll have to dig into the settings, into a menu which bemusingly prioritises the magazine lockscreen feature over the almost-hidden wallpaper option. We say bemusing because - with the facial unlocking switched on - the amount of times you see your lock screen wallpaper at all is literally a nano-second each time you pick up the device.
As part of the standard software experience there are the usual collection of applications, including the Phone Manager app which lets you scan your phone and remove elements that slow it down, or might be damaging - like viruses or apps that access your personal information a little too often.
Despite its flaws, our time with ColorOS has been mostly hassle-free. It just takes some adapting to get used to it - so if you don't know Android well already, this shouldn't be too much of a bother.
Speedy and convenient
- Snapdragon 660 processor
- 4GB RAM, 64GB storage
While we've not found Oppo phones to be perfect in the past, such devices generally have at least one feature that stands out. In the R11s it's the fast and convenient facial recognition which takes that title.
Once a face is registered to the device, the phone automatically activates its raise-to-wake feature. That means there are no extra steps to getting into your phone. Just pick it up, the camera scans your face and unlocks your phone. No pressing buttons or scanning your fingerprint. It feels so fluid.
Overall performance is generally quite speedy too, thanks to the Snapdragon 660 processor that's onboard. It's not Qualcomm's most powerful chipset, but it gets through regular daily tasks like a hot knife through butter.
Even during graphically intense gaming, it doesn't show any major signs of stuttering or dropping frames like you might otherwise think. Sure, side-by-side with a more powerful device, we could notice a slight delay in loading some titles and apps, but it's not so major as to make it a massive turn-off.
Only one element of the performance stuck out as being a negative: the responsiveness of the touchscreen. Every once in a while, it wouldn't respond at all to us pressing or touching the display to launch something, or tap a particular software control. It wasn't often, but regular enough to notice it as something more than a one-off occurrence.
- 3,200mAh battery
- VOOC fast-charging
With the R11s screen size increasing compared to the earlier R11, it made sense for Oppo to increase the battery capacity too (it's up from 3,000mAh to 3,200mAh). In real-world usage, however, we couldn't notice a massive difference in battery life between the two devices.
With the combination of processor and battery, the R11s enabled us to comfortably get to the end of a full busy day without needing to plug it in. With our standard light-to-moderate use we got to half-way through a second day before hitting the sub-20 per cent panic point - which is pretty good going.
Not that there's ever a genuine panic point: with its fast-charging VOOC technology, just 30 minutes at the plug is enough to give the R11s a full day's worth of battery. It'll fully charge the phone from dead in little over an hour.
- Dual 16MP & 20MP camera
- Both f/1.7 apertures
- Front-facing 20MP camera
Despite its impressive-sounding specs, identical camera lens and sensor hardware to the OnePlus 5T, the camera performance of the R11s leaves a lot to be desired. While it's not impossible to get good shots, the Oppo really struggles when there's bright highlights or contrasting light conditions.
We found in some images that it would blow the highlights too much, making them overexposed, resulting in an image that was lacking in detail and good colour. And that was outdoors, in daylight. Given the optics, we suspect this is more to do with the processing.
Another issue we had was with blur. It didn't seem to take much hand movement for there to be some blur in the photograph. As is usual with any phone featuring a depth effect - largely used for portrait shots to blur the background for a "pro" shot - there are issues with subject outlines in the foreground being treated as part of the background, creating a whole other kind of undesirable blur. Fortunately that mode can be switched off.
Control-wise, the R11s feels similar to an iPhone: swipe through the various modes, which include time-lapse, photo, portrait, panorama and "expert", to select your weapon of choice. The last of which is where you get to adjust white balance, ISO sensitivity, exposure, shutter speed and manual focus. For shooting really close-up shots, the manual focus is essential.
When there weren't bright highlights and high contrast situations to deal with, the camera did okay. Focusing in auto mode responded fast most of the time, while the camera app remained hassle free - which is just fine for taking casual shots for sharing with friends, or on social media. Photography fans may want to look elsewhere though.
As a standalone device, the Oppo R11s is one of the best featured devices the company has produced so far.
Ignoring the "rainbow smudge" screen issue, that elongated panel is otherwise technically very good, plus having fast-charging is a real bonus. Even the ColorOS software - despite a few annoyances - is fine in its latest guise. The only area that needs real improvement is image processing from the camera(s).
The R11s has one bigger issue than all of that in the UK: availability. With Oppo still focusing predominantly on markets in east Asia, you're unlikely to find one on the store shelves of an established retailer or carrier in Europe or the US. And in those markets, there are plenty of similarly-priced alternatives.
Alternatives to consider
You'll pay more for it, but the OnePlus 5T is arguably a better purchase decision. For starters, it has a really powerful processor, and also doesn't track anywhere near as much grease on the screen. It's among the most powerful phones around, and you don't have to pay a flagship price for it.
Read the article: OnePlus 5T review
If your budget maxes out at £400, the Honor 9 is a great alternative to the R11s. You don't get the 18:9 ratio screen, but you do get a phone that punches way above its weight.
Read the full article: Honor 9 review
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
If you're after a mid-ranger from a more reputable brand, Samsung's Galaxy A5 from 2017 is surprisingly good and has few compromises. It features a similar design and feel to the more expensive S-series, and performs well in day-to-day use.
Read the full article: Samsung Galaxy A5 review