(Pocket-lint) - Realme - a sub-brand of Oppo - has a focus on creating smartphones you can afford quite comfortably, but with features and hardware that don't leave you wishing you'd spent more. Having announced its intention to launch in Europe, Realme's first EU phone, the Realme 3 Pro, is available to buy - and it's aiming straight at Honor's budget smartphone territory.
The 3 Pro has an attractive finish, big screen, dual camera that promises some great capabilities, and software that sets it apart from other Android manufacturers. Does all that add up to a compelling enough experience to convince British shoppers to hand over their money for one in what's an already fairly saturated market?
Attractive budget build
- Measures: 156.8 x 74.2 x 8.3mm / Weighs: 172g
- Rear-positioned fingerprint scanner
- Plastic shell with gradient design
- 3.5mm headphones jack
- Dewdrop-style notch
- Micro-USB charging
When trying to build a phone for a specific price bracket, specifically in the lower end of the smartphone world, compromises have to be made somewhere. You can't just build a phone from polished stainless steel and slap the best display in the world on the front. So to ensure it could keep the internal hardware at a decent quality and deliver good performance, Realme has opted for a plastic body.
That's not to say it looks bad though. Realme has used a similar finish to what we saw on Oppo's F11 Pro. It's glossy, so almost looks like glass, and has a two colour gradient fade, with a subtle lined pattern added for extra texture.
The shiny finish does soon pick up plenty of finger grease smudges though. That's one of the downsides to a plastic, glossy back: it's rarely - if ever - finished with any form of oleophobic protection, and so it takes no time at all to develop those oily streaks.
It's much the same on the front too, with the screen not doing a particularly good job of avoiding fingerprint marks. This is quite rare in phones and can become irksome, with rainbow refractions interfering your viewing experience. With that said, it is fairly easy to wipe off, but better oleophobic properties would have been the better solution.
Unlike the front and back, the edges all around the phone have a more matte finish, but are colour-matched either to the black/purple or blue/purple finishes on offer in the UK and wider Europe.
Buttons and ports are just about what you'd expect from any smartphone. The power button is on the right side, within easy thumb reach, while the separate volume up/down buttons are at a similar position on the left side. It's on the bottom edge where things get a bit 2015: here there's a Micro-USB port instead of Type-C. However, there is a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Full screen and a tiny notch
- 6.3-inch IPS LCD panel
- 1080 x 2340 resolution
- 19.5:9 aspect ratio
On the display side of things, it's pretty much what you'd expect from a competitively priced smartphone. It has a Full HD+ IPS panel that takes up around 84 per cent of the available front space. That's not a bad screen-to-body ratio, but current flagships offer less bezel by comparison.
That works out as a pretty high pixel density of 409 pixels-per-inch, meaning details are sharp. LCD means you don't get the punchy colours or contrast with inky blacks that you get from an OLED screen, but at this price point that makes total sense.
Like a lot of these long displays there are pluses and minuses. Being a long aspect ratio does mean that some elements within games and apps are pushed right to the edges, sometimes partly hidden. Videos shot and produced in traditional 16:9 will give you black bars on either side.
Otherwise, however, it's a very good display considering the outlay for the phone. Colours are natural, without being undersaturated, and the 6.3-inch size means there's a lot of real-estate to go around for viewing your content.
Hardware and performance
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor
- 4GB/6GB RAM / 64GB/128GB storage
While it skimped a bit on the physical build, Realme wanted to ensure the performance would be a step up - something you won't find in, say, the HTC Desire 12S - and so built in a second-tier Snapdragon 700-series processor. Specifically, this is the 10nm based Snapdragon 710, which is no slouch.
Joining it is either 4GB or 6GB of RAM, depending on whether you go with the base model that has 64GB storage or the higher model with 128GB storage.
Just quickly flicking through software interfaces and scrolling through lists and menus, the smoothness isn't quite up there with the top phones. We've noticed some slight stutter and frame-dropping with pretty much every interaction. It's not slow, by any means, just isn't anything like as smooth as what you'll see on a flagship. But when you're paying under £200 for a device, that's understandable.
Battery goes the distance
- 4,045mAh battery
- 20W VOOC flash charging
The more impressive feature is the 4,045 mAh battery capacity, which is easily more than enough to get you through even the busiest of work days. Left in standby, it can go many days without needing to be charged. That's because, like the rest of its software, the battery optimisations are developed by Oppo and enable a lot of customisation and power management.
Ignoring all the extra power saving modes and sticking with default settings, though, we were comfortably able to push the Realme 3 Pro through a full busy day of work. Chatting on Slack, social media browsing, gaming and making calls, all without ever feeling like we'd ever run out of battery. People with very heavy usage patterns might manage to push it down to its last 20 per cent with some effort, but without being anxious of full depletion.
What's more, the Realme 3 Pro has 20W fast-charging delivered through Oppo's VOOC technology. That means heat is dissipated through the cable, ensuring you can continue to charge quickly even if you're using the phone while it's plugged in. In daily life, that means plugging it in at zero will deliver half charge in just 30 minutes. That's impressive.
- ColorOS based on Android Pie
The software, which is Oppo's ColorOS, is a highly customised version of Google's Android Pie. In the past, it has looked more like Apple's iOS than Android, but things seem to be moving away from that line of thinking. The big news for any Android fans following Oppo for the past few years is that you actually get an app drawer now, rather than just a sea of app icons strewn across multiple home screens.
Other interesting twists include the smart assistant screen that lives to the left of the main home screen, offering an overview of important information and quick actions, arranged in a grid of widgets. A lot of what's available in the software is also seen in the Reno series, and you can dig more into it in our ColorOS tips and tricks.
Dual camera for the masses
- Dual camera system
- 16MP primary camera
- 5MP depth sensor
If all you want from a camera in a smartphone is shots for sharing with friends and family, then the Realme 3 Pro's dual lens setup will more than cover your needs. Images in good light come out sharp, with natural colours and relatively even shadows and highlights. Considering the price of the phone, the results are impressive.
For instance, if you get really close to an object, it kicks into macro mode automatically, enabling you to get an in-focus shot. As we've seen in an increasing number of smartphone cameras, there's artificial intelligence (AI) involved to automatically detect what's in the scene and adjust the settings to match. It sometimes recognises things incorrectly, though, seeing wild grass and flowers as a "bouquet" or some tiny clay houses as "food", but but when it matters it tends to get the settings correct.
One thing we did notice at times is that, when focused on an object in the foreground, the processing of depth in the background left some of the objects looking a bit mushy. Like it was halfway between a nice bokeh blur, and no blur at all, and someone had smudged it with their finger. We've also spotted a subtle halo effect at times taking selfies with the front selfie cam. But this is all part and parcel of what can happen with many competitors' cameras too.
Overall, for a sub-£200 phone, the dual camera setup of the Realme is as capable as you'll find at this price point.
As sub-£200 phones go, the Realme 3 Pro gets all the basics right. For its price, the screen is fantastic, as is the battery performance, and even the cameras are very good for the budget tier.
It's not without its niggles though. The fingerprint-attracting plastic shell and screen mean it doesn't stay glossy and brand-new looking for very long, plus there's that Micro-USB port on the bottom edge, keeping it from feeling like a truly modern phone.
It doesn't offer flagship performance either, but then you wouldn't expect it to when it costs around a quarter of what you'd pay for a top-of-the-line smartphone.
All in all, what Realme has here is a real budget smartphone winner. If you don't have more than £200 to spend on a phone, and you're looking for as few compromises as possible, there's little that can outsmart it for the asking price.
This review was first published in June 2019 and has since been updated to reflect full review status.
Alternatives to consider
Moto G7 Power
The Motorola Moto G7 Power delivers an outstanding battery performance with a genuine two-day life per charge. The design isn't as premium as the more expensive Moto G7 and G7 Plus that are part of the same family, but it has a refreshed design over the G6 models, with a notched display.
Redmi Note 7
Xiaomi's budget Redmi Note 7 is similar in a lot of ways to the Realme 3 Pro. It's a nice looking phone with a big screen, tiny notch, lots of power and battery for the money. Like Oppo's ColorOS, the software isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but for the money, you're getting a winner.