Of the past few years there's been a rise of smartphone manufacturers seeking to one-up the other when it comes to offering flagship phone power in a more affordable package. In past years, that was offered by the likes of Honor and OnePlus. But, with Huawei's current situation hampering competitive smartphones for the western market and OnePlus getting more expensive, the torch has been passed to upcoming brands like Realme and Redmi.

Realme originally started as an off-shoot of Oppo and that means it uses a lot of the same hardware technology and virtually identical software. But more importantly, it often means making high-end capabilities available for a much lower price than Oppo's flagships. Sure, there might be some trade-offs, but the X3 SuperZoom is still an enticing proposition.

The X3 comes equipped with a fast refresh-rate display, periscope zoom camera, and a powerful processor - all wrapped up in a device which won't cost the earth. It's essentially the follow up to the X2 Pro, with a few bits refined. Is it a winner?

Understated looks

  • Dimensions: 163.8 x 75.8 x 8.9mm / Weight: 202g
  • Glass front and back, plastic frame
  • Water resistant, but no IP rating

At arm's length it wasn't initially apparent where Realme had made cutbacks in order to keep the build costs down with the X3 SuperZoom. Both the front and back are covered in glass, with the rear featuring a multi-layer finish similar to what you might expect from a more expensive flagship.

Our test unit is Arctic White, which not only reflects a subtle coloured gradient in the right light, but also has a soft matte frosted finish, similar to the green OnePlus 8. It's smooth to the touch and feels fantastic in the hand because the curved edges help it sit well in the palm.

While this matte finish does make fingerprint smudges less defined, it's doesn't completely resist them. Instead, they become blotches, and are a little harder to clean off than they would be from a shiny, glossy piece of glass. 

The front is covered in a mostly flat piece of glass. There aren't any display curves, which is not only cost effective, but we think is actually better for day-to-day use and viewing. There's less chance of accidental touches, or distortion of light and colour near the screen's edges.

It's when you look up and around the edges around the sides of the phone that you start to see some cost-cutting. Firstly, the frame is made from plastic. There's no high-end aluminium or steel here, which is no surprise.

There's also a physical fingerprint sensor built into the power button on the side - which hasn't been massively reliable in our testing - rather than an in-screen fingerprint scanner, as we've become accustomed to using. Thankfully, there is a camera based facial recognition option to fall back on if necessary. It's also worth noting, the click and feedback from that button when pressed isn't pleasant - it feels spongy and weak. 

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The X3 is not an especially small or slim phone, but it's not too big or bulky. Thanks to the shape of the back and the relatively slim, rounded edges, it feels comfy when held in the one hand, while the skinny bezels all the way around the display help it look expansive. Granted, the bottom bezel is chunkier than the other parts of the display's frame, but it still has an almost edge-to-edge look to it, and it completely dominates that front surface area.

Although it hasn't got an official IP-rated certification, Realme has said that its phone has got some water-resistance. Components are protected inside by using silicone gel around all the holes and ports, and also gaps around the SIM slot and around the internal battery are filled with a waterproof foam ring. That means it should comfortably survive being caught in the rain.

Fast refresh

  • 6.6-inch FHD+ LCD panel
  • 2400 x 1080 resolution
  • 20:9 aspect ratio
  • 120Hz refresh
  • Dual punch-hole front camera

We've seen an increasing number of phones tout fast refresh-rate screens, as devices try to improve on the feel of smoothness and speed in their user interfaces, and make gaming more responsive. Like many of the current crop of displays, the Realme X3 SuperZoom features a 120Hz panel, which means a maximum frame rate of 120 frames per second.

Of course, there's not much in the way of movie or gaming content that's anywhere close to that really, and so Realme is using similar motion smoothing technology to Oppo and OnePlus to upscale 30fps footage to seem smoother. In daily use, that smoothness shows in general interactions, making it pleasant to use and work with. 

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At Full HD+ resolution, Realme's 6.6-inch panel isn't the sharpest we've ever seen, but we don't see that being an issue at all. It's difficult to distinguish between individual pixels being with the naked eye, so text and details look smooth and crisp from arm's length.

The panel is really vibrant, bright and has high contrast. It's only when looking at a completely black image side-by-side next to an AMOLED phone that you'll see this is an LCD screen. The blacks aren't as inky and dark, but for an LCD panel they are really dark. However, we've spotted some 'haloing' (outer glow) around white text on dark backgrounds.

Watching movies on this screen is a joy, especially when you pinch zoom out and fill that entire front space, killing off any of the virtual black bars that appear the sides. Playing games is great thanks to those fast animations and the colour vibrancy. However, those often don't fill the screen in the same way, so you end up with one side of the image filling the screen to the rounded corners, and the other being cut-off with virtual right angles. It's hardly symmetry in motion, and makes the game look quite off centre. 

Flagship power?

  • Snapdragon 855 Plus processor
  • 8GB/12GB RAM (LPDDR4x)
  • 128GB/256GB UFS 3.0 storage
  • 4,200mAh battery, 30W fast-charging

The X3 may not have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor - the current top-end option at the time of this phone's launch - but it still has enough power to keep even the most demanding user happy. It's got a Snapdragon 855+ chip inside it, which is the upgraded version of the 855 that launched in late 2019 on devices like the OnePlus 7T and 7T Pro. It was more than enough then, and will be more than enough now.

If that wasn't enough, Realme has used speedy RAM and storage hardware too. It's got LPDDR4x and UFS 3.0, which - again - is OnePlus territory. Without going into too much technical detail, it essentially means your apps and games will run smooth, and anything you download and install will do so quickly. Plus, with up to 12GB RAM and 256GB storage, you get plenty of it too.

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In daily use, the X3 SuperZoom loads apps and games without an issue and responds quickly to any gesture or motion on the touchscreen. In the first few days of use, it did seem to suffer a little from animations stuttering, but after a software update that issue was fixed. Launching into any app seemed as fast and reliable as any phone we've used from the past couple of years. 

Then there's the battery. With a capacity of 4,200mAh, the X3 SuperZoom is strong enough to get through busy days without much effort. We struggled to get close to killing the battery in one day.

Most days, with fairly moderate use, a bit of gaming, some music playing, and so on, we got to bedtime with somewhere around 40 per cent battery left. On heavier usage days where we were pushing performance to test, and doing more photography, that was a little closer to 30 per cent. Either way, good innings all round.

Plus, to keep your battery anxiety at bay, there's a 30W Dart Flash Charge power adapter. This is pretty quick to top-up the power (just not up to the 65W speeds of Super Dart/Super VOOC 2.0, reserved for Oppo's higher-end models). This Dart Charge should get the X3 SuperZoom's flat battery up to 50 per cent within half an hour without an issue, and that's kind of life-saving when you're in a rush and you've forgotten to plug your phone in.

Super zoom camera kit

  • 64MP primary f/1.8 26mm camera
  • 8MP ultra-wide f/2.3 15.7mm camera
  • 8MP telephoto periscope 5x optical zoom camera
  • 2MP Macro camera
  • Dual 32MP wide and 8MP ultra-wide selfie camera

It's in the camera department where you get a stronger sniff of that Oppo aroma. As well as its 64-megapixel primary sensor - which oversamples and then pixels bins down to a 16MP output - you get a periscope zoom lens that offers 5x optical zoom. Like Oppo's Reno 10x Zoom and the Find X2 Pro, it works by organising the lens elements horizontally within the body, and then has a 90-degree prism pointing light through them to the sensor.

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The other two lenses in the quad camera setup are the 8-megapixel ultra-wide and the 2-megapixel macro lens. The former offers a much wider 15.7mm (equivalent) field of view, while the macro sensor lets you get really close-up to objects and focus. Or, at least, that's the theory.

In our experience, however, it's the camera that lets down the experience somewhat. It reads well on paper, but in daily usage and looking at real-world results, it's underwhelmed us. Most images came out looking quite hazy - initially we thought it was a dirty lens, but it didn't improve after cleaning that - especially when there was a bright light source somewhere near or within the frame. 

It's not like the X3 SuperZoom can't take good pictures though. Colours are certainly vibrant, while contrast and dynamic range is fine. Being a four camera system - along with that SuperZoom persicope camera - gives you a lot of variety to play with. So that means it's great for creativity.

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In addition to those sensors on the back, Realme opted for a dual selfie camera system on the front - and that means the ability to switch between regular and ultra-wide shots, helping you get more of the background in, or more people into the scene.

Verdict

The Realme X3 SuperZoom boasts a lot of features that you'd expect to see on a much more expensive phone. When we saw the spec list next to the asking price, it was a surprise.

Despite being good value for money, the X3 is a bit inconsistent. Camera results haven't been all that strong, despite that being a major sell of the phone, while the physical button on the side doesn't feel nice to press, and the fingerprint sensor isn't that reliable. 

Still, when you balance it all up, you do get a lot for your money. The Realme X3 SuperZoom is speedy, has a great display, and is even somewhat water-resistant. That makes it a relative bargain.

This article was first published 26 May 2020 and has been updated to reflect its full review status

Also consider

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OnePlus 8

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Ok, so this one costs a bit more as there's a "5G tax" (but that also means potentially faster connectivity) and you won't get a zoom that's quite as long - which goes to show the Realme's value. However, we prefer the OnePlus' finish.