(Pocket-lint) - There will always be those who clamour for the latest specs, studying all the latest flagships to ensure that when they eventually part with their hard-earned cash it goes on the device that has the top numbers. Those phones will come with the highest resolution screens, the latest processor, and the most cameras on the back.
But here's the thing: you don't necessarily need all of those things. Which, if you're looking to save a bit of cash, is where the likes of Oppo's Find X3 Neo comes in. Unlike its predecessor, the Find X2 Neo, Oppo's second-in-command phone from its Find X series has a previous flagship chip instead of a current mid-range processor. Does that make it the perfect balance of power to price?
Design & Build
- Dimensions: 159.9 x 72.5 x 7.99mm / Weight: 184 grams
- Finish options: Galactic Silver / Starlight Black
In a market filled with big-scale devices, it's always a relief - specifically for the hands - when a smartphone comes along that's noticeably more nimble. That's the Neo through and through.
The Find X3 Pro was noticeably more comfortable to hold than most of its competitors, and the Neo is smaller and therefore feels even more compact in the palm.
It's about 8mm thick, which is technically thicker than an iPhone 12, but its curved edges on the front and the back make it feel sleek and slim when you actually hold it. The camera protrusion on the back is fairly minimal too. Despite featuring four cameras, it retains that compact rectangular design of the phones that came before it, not the more heavily protruding set - like you'll see in, say, Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Captured in the right kind of light, the Find X3 Neo's shape and overall design has a minimalist quality about it. The dark blue/black model we were sent for review - that's where the Starlight Black name comes from - has an unmistakeable glittery quality to it. It also has a soft almost-grippy texture to the glass on the back, but a visual sparkle whenever it catches the light. We have a feeling you'll either love or hate this.
Still, that texture on the back means it's refreshingly non-slippery. It won't fall from your hand, it doesn't randomly slide off flat surfaces and - more crucially - struggles to pick up fingerprints. It's a great finish, whether or not you're a fan of the twinkly quality.
Display & Software
- 6.55-inch FHD+ (1440 x 1080 resolution) AMOLED display
- 90Hz refresh rate, 120Hz touch sampling rate
- 1100 nits peak brightness
We've seen more than one manufacturer opt to put a Full HD display into its phones in 2021. In fact, where QHD+ resolution used to be the norm for flagships, it now seems having that 1440p panel is reserved for only the ultimate, top tier devices.
That's the same for Oppo. The Find X3 Pro is the one with the higher resolution, 120Hz high frame-rate display. That means the Neo has the lower Full HD+ resolution and mid-level 90Hz with this one.
We find the 90Hz refresh is more than adequate for pretty much everything. In our testing we've not seen too much to suggest that 120Hz is an absolute must from any phone. In fact, even those that can push 120 frames every second have recently opted to use adaptive rates as to not waste battery life.
In reality, 90hz means that all your animations - whether they be general interface or during gaming - will be smooth and respond quickly to your gestures on screen.
As for the display's visual properties, those a decent too. Granted, you don't get the same eye-popping brightness and colours as you might from the Pro, but it's certainly not a dim screen. The Neo's smaller panel is bright and vivid, with deep blacks lending a hand to make visuals pop.
If there's any criticism it's that it seems to suffer a little with excessive contrast, most notable when the brightness is low. Some colours at these times seem a bit too dark and unnatural. Once you have your favourite show on, or you're smashing the latest levels of your favourite game, you don't particularly notice any real issues though.
Software-wise, it's practically identical to what we saw on the Pro model. Here you'll find Oppo's ColorOS 11, based on Google's Android 11, which means lots of useful and fun features. We like the customisation interface that lets you see your changes in real-time on the home screen as you pick the wallpaper or adjust the shape and design of the icons.
Other highlights include the completely customisable always-on display. There's also the Relax app that plays soothing sounds to help you get rest or fall to sleep at night - this includes nature sounds and relaxing music as well as sounds recorded in cities around the world.
As well as the same software benefits as per the Pro, the Neo experience similar quirky issues. There's some inconsistency in the way it handles notifications, in that visual alerts don't appear everywhere you'd expect. For instance, you might have icons on the always-on display and in the status bar, but not on the lock screen. It made it impossible for us to see what a notification was without opening the app and checking. It's little irks like this that hold ColorOS back a mite.
Performance & Battery
- Snapdragon 865 processor, 12GB RAM
- 256GB storage, no microSD
- 4500mAh battery capacity
- 65W Super VOOC 2.0 flash charging
As we alluded to at the beginning of this review, this phone isn't equipped with 2021's top-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. It's not got a step-down Snapdragon 700 series chipset either. Instead, Oppo opted for the last-gen top-tier option, the Snapdragon 865.
By going down this route, Oppo has effectively skipped the 'almost-flagship' range and gone with a proper flagship one instead - albeit from 2020. And when you consider the Neo's screen refresh rate tops out at 90Hz and it's a Full HD+ resolution, that processor choice is more than enough to make it feel like a properly fast phone.
As you'd expect, the resulting experience is one that's quick and responsive. Because, after all, a processor which was the fastest and most powerful just a few months prior to launch hasn't suddenly just become slow and sluggish over night.
Settle into your daily routine and there's just no trouble from the Oppo phone. It loads games and apps without a care in the world. Loading screens transition quickly, graphics start sharp and remain that way while the high refresh touch sampling rate ensures that your gestures on screen result in quick animations from the display.
It's a similar situation with battery life. Having a Full HD+ display and a relatively large 4500mAh battery capacity means you can easily get through a full day with the Neo, even on really busy days. Oppo's battery optimisation is famously quite aggressive - and that means for some moderate/light users that two days on a full charge isn't out of the question. We'd often get to the end of a day with more than 40 per cent left over.
The other plus side to this battery is that it features Super VOOC 2.0 charging, which makes it possible to refill it really quickly. It uses the 65W wired flash charging tech that can completely fill the battery in around 35 minutes. It's not quite as speedy as the updated OnePlus 9 Warp Charge, but it's still fast enough to make battery anxiety a thing of the past.
- Quad rear cameras:
- Main: 50-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilisation (OIS)
- 2x optical zoom: 13MP, f/2.4
- Wide-angle: 16MP, f/2.2
- Macro: 2MP
- 32MP front-facing selfie camera
- Video: 4K up to 60fps
Like its internals, the camera makeup is of a flagship level too. Or, at least, the primary camera is. It uses the same 50-megapixel sensor as its more expensive sibling, the Find X3 Pro.
That means when you're taking photos in the '1x' mode you're going to get great-looking pictures, especially when there's good light. Shooting outside will get you sharp images with great colour and a lovely natural depth - more pronounced when shooting objects that are close to the camera.
However, the supporting act cameras just aren't quite as strong. The ultra-wide camera sometimes left us with pictures that looked a little flatter in terms of colour and depth, and it's not as strong at focussing on nearby subjects. Similarly, the overall look of those pictures was just a tad rough compared to the main camera.
As for that 2x optical zoom camera, that's similar to the ultra-wide - in that it can capture decent enough pictures, but again they lack some of that crispy vibrance you see from pictures from the primary sensor.
Still, while they're far from perfect, those additional focal lengths do at least mean the camera system is versatile. They add an extra dimension to the photography experience and will let you capture those wide landscapes or zoom in on something a little further away to good effect.
The one camera that really isn't up to scratch is the macro sensor. It's baffling that instead of equipping the system with an ultra-wide camera that can also be used for macro, Oppo utilised a 2-megapixel macro sensor - the kind we'd expect to see in a much cheaper phone.
Shots from camera's dedicated macro mode are really quite harsh. Details are lacking, there's a real lack of decent colour, and the background blur is awful looking.
In our testing we found it was better just to switch to the main camera in regular photo and get close up to a subject. If you want a tighter shot, simply crop the photo afterwards - as that way you get far better detail, colour and depth.
It's easy to see the appeal of the Find X3 Neo. It's a slim and nimble phone with great battery life, flagship speeds, and a very good main camera. The Snapdragon 865 processor inside means it's not just an over-priced mid-range device.
However, the Oppo's biggest challenge will likely be competing with other similarly priced phones. The OnePlus 9 is technically more powerful and costs less, while the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is a phone powered by the same chipset but for less money.
For many, we suspect it might come down to the battle of the cameras. And with the Neo's primary camera sensor delivering great results - not that can be said about its other cameras - it's in with a shot.
On the whole, the Oppo Find X3 Neo is a refined experience - one that offers an appealing alternative to the much bigger and much more expensive premium devices on the market.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
It may have a plastic back, but the 'Fan Edition' was one of the surprise hits of 2020 - and is still a great buy. It has a fluid and smooth display, IP68 water- and dust-resistance and similar internal hardware to the Oppo. Crucially, it's also cheaper.
If your main aim is getting the top-tier processor for as little money as possible, the OnePlus 9 is a great shout. It's not quite as nimble and thin as the Oppo, but it's got a Snapdragon 888 processor, fast charging, and great software. Also at a lower price.