Oppo F1 Plus review


Pop quiz: Which phone company launched big and small versions of its gorgeous, all-metal, flagship smartphone? It’s most likely you’ll say, “Apple,” but in this case, you’d be wrong. We’re talking about Oppo and its flagship twins the F1 and the F1 Plus. Oppo isn’t terribly subtle about the mimicry, either, because its F1 Plus could very well be the doppelganger of Apple’s iPhone 6S Plus.

Although the world really doesn’t need another iPhone imitator, we’re prepared to forgive the F1 Plus its visual sins if the rest of the package is great. We’ve spent some time with the phone, to see if it’s more than just another wannabe iPhone.

Design

What have we got? Slick, curvy sides, a 2.5D sheet of glass over a 5.5-inch display, and a slightly raised camera lens in the top left corner on the back. There’s a fingerprint sensor inside the home button on the front, and a pair of antenna breaks top-and-tail along the smooth, metal rear panel. The F1 Plus is gorgeous, slim, lightweight, and very well made. However, it’s derivative as hell, and that’s going to put people off.

It’s a shame, because it’s a joy to hold. The phone measures 6.6mm thick, weighs146 grams, and the rounded sides sit in your hand comfortably. The sleep/wake key and the volume buttons are perfectly placed for my hand and require almost no readjustment to press them. The perfect button placement is terribly unusual on a phone with a 5.5-inch display. That metal rear panel has a pleasing texture too, and the phone isn’t as slippery as it looks.

Oppo may not be the best-known smartphone brand, but we have absolutely no concerns over build quality or sturdiness. There are no creaks from the body, no flex, and no worrying gaps where parts join together. We’ve used several Oppo phones over the past months, and each has been up to the same high standard. Buy the F1 Plus, and you’ll wonder how such quality is possible for the low price.

Related: Oppo’s new budget phone costs $200, but promises good photos

That’s right, a low price. Despite the obvious iPhone comparisons in design, this phablet doesn’t come with an Apple price tag. The F1 Plus can be purchased for around 300 British pounds.

Performance and screen

What’s the catch? After all, that’s cheap for any good-looking smartphone, regardless of the specifications. Let’s take a look at the inner workings, which is where corners are traditionally cut. The 5.5-inch screen has a 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution, which is in-line with the iPhone 6S Plus, the OnePlus 3, and Huawei P9, but less than flagships from LG and Samsung. However, Oppo has chosen a stunning AMOLED panel that looks beautiful, so the screen isn’t the weak link.

Inside, there’s 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage space, a MicroSD card slot, and the option of using the same slot for a second SIM card if you’d prefer. There’s nothing wrong with any of those specs either. If there’s a downside to the phone’s specs, then it may be the MediaTek processor inside, which although reliable, often has problems when playing the latest and most graphically intensive games.

Buy the F1 Plus and you’ll wonder how such quality is possible for the low price.

Running an AnTuTu benchmark test returned a score of 51,710, less than half that achieved by the OnePlus 3, the LG G5, and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. Geekbench 3 gave a 3,333 multi-core score, and 3DMark turned up 342, which hinted the F1 Plus would have the guts for games.

Playing Danmaku Unlimited on Hard mode with the HD graphics was excellent, without any slowdown or touchscreen inaccuracy to hamper progress through the bullet-hell shooter. Crossy Road was similarly excellent. Riptide GP2 suffered more, and the app repeatedly crashed with the graphics and shadow detail maxed out. Mid-level shadows and the graphics at around 80 percent resulted in a frame rate drop and the phone getting warm to the touch.

A Qualcomm Snapdragon chip like the ones found in most Android flagships would undoubtedly improve the F1 Plus’s gaming performance, but overall, the experience is good, which suggests the MediaTek chip has been optimized inside the phone. It’s definitely more than adequate for everyday use and casual gaming.

Oppo’s fingerprint sensor is inside the home button, which actually functions as a button as well just like the one on Apple’s iPhone. It promises to unlock the phone in just 0.2 of a second. While we didn’t time its reaction speed, we can confirm it’s really, really fast. The sensor is also very accurate and steadfastly refused to give a false reading, or require more than a single touch. We love the ability to press the home button and go straight to the home screen from a black lock screen in double fast time. Annoyingly, although there’s a fingerprint sensor, the F1 Plus doesn’t have NFC so can’t be used with Android Pay.

Cameras

Oppo’s gone contrary with the cameras on the F1 Plus. On the front is a whopping 16-megapixel ISOCELL lens with an f/2.0 aperture, while the rear camera has 13 megapixels and an f/2.2 aperture. That’s right, you’ll take higher resolution pictures with the front cam than the rear. Like the smaller Oppo F1, the F1 Plus is billed as the narcissist’s dream.

Related: The next Oppo phone may end camera shake, and fully charge in 15 minutes

The front camera certainly lets in plenty of light, but oddly the image it produces isn’t that impressive, and selfies appear more washed out than those shot with lesser front cams. There’s an effective beauty mode that compensates for the errors slightly. It uses two adjustable settings to change skin tone and smooth out lines.

Putting it side-by-side with the iPhone 6S Plus in exactly the same environment, the iPhone’s front camera produced a more realistic portrait of my face — but that’s not necessarily what we want from a selfie. The moment I’m capturing doesn’t need to be spoiled by the fact I hadn’t bothered to shave, for example. Oppo’s front cam and the beauty mode made short work of prettying up my face, abandoning realism for wrinkle and blemish-free fantasy.

Related: Oppo’s F1 Plus wants to be generation selfie’s dream phone, has a 16-megapixel front cam

How does the rear cam perform? Respectably, but little more. The f/2.2 aperture is the problem, it simply doesn’t let enough light in to take brilliant pictures, and those that do look decent still require some editing. It’s possible to improve them with a few tweaks, but not everyone is going to bother. Show it mixed conditions, or overcast days, and noise is introduced in the depths of the image. There’s an HDR mode, but the aperture doesn’t help it balance images out, and still left shots washed out where other sensors would have managed better.

Battery and software

The F1 Plus is a really slim phone, and we all know what that means: A small battery. Sure enough, it’s a 2,850mAh cell inside the phone, and that has to power Oppo’s ColorOS 3.0 user interface placed over the top of Android 5.1. Another hint the MediaTek processor has been treated with respect inside the F1 Plus is the two-day use we’d get from the battery before a recharge was required.

Even better news is the presence of Oppo’s VOOC fast charging system, which is missing from the smaller F1. Provided you use the included charger and Micro USB cable, some clever circuitry keeps the power flowing and the temperatures low, resulting in a more efficient charge. We took the F1 Plus from 2 percent to 100 percent in an hour and 11 minutes. Yes, you’ll still need to find a wall socket, but not for all that long — You can grab a 60 percent charge in just 30 minutes.

Android 5.1 is hidden underneath ColorOS, Oppo’s own interpretation of how Android should look and operate. It’s not drastically different from Google’s vision, and nowhere near as awful as that on the F1. However, there are a few key alterations that Android fans will notice. There’s no app drawer, like many Huawei and ZTE phones, and while the notification drawer still has shortcuts for brightness, Wi-Fi, and other settings, they’re accessed with a left swipe. It doesn’t add anything except another step to the process, and is completely superfluous.

Oppo was sensible and didn’t install much bloatware, but it did add the Opera browser, its own security center, sound recorder, file manager, plus a music and video player. The only exception is WPS Office, but this can be uninstalled.

Oppo loves its gestures, and you can draw shapes on the lock screen to activate certain apps. Tracing a V opens the music player, for example. The most useful of these is a double-tap to wake the lock screen, just like on LG’s smartphones.

There’s no doubt the F1 Plus would be improved by having stock Android, but that’s true of almost every Android phone with a manufacturer’s user interface over the top. However, it’s not the hateful, irritating mess that many may have experienced using the F1. The F1 Plus’ interface is a considerable improvement over the UI running on its little brother. The UI runs fast, smooth, and any alterations aren’t really that intrusive.

That doesn’t excuse Oppo for not updating the F1 Plus with Android 6.0, though, and it’s a black mark against the phone. We’re concerned that if Oppo hasn’t updated the software yet, it likely won’t do so in a timely fashion. That’s bad news in terms of security. The other problem is a bug that stops the Wi-Fi reconnecting with known networks automatically. Wi-Fi will only reconnect when you open the settings app. It’s a very annoying bug, and a potential drain on your data plan.

Warranty and network support

The Oppo F1 suffered from limited band support, meaning it can connect to 4G LTE networks in Europe or China (where it’s called the R9 Plus), but not in North America. It’s the same problem with the F1 Plus, sadly, as the all-important LTE bands 20, 13, 12, and 25 are missing, meaning it’ll mostly miss out on 4G connectivity across the four major U.S. networks.

The warranty period is a single year for the hardware and six months for the battery in the U.K., but doesn’t cover accidental damage, water damage, or anything caused by you taking the device apart.

Conclusion

We really like the Oppo F1 Plus. It’s attractive, powerful, and well built, but there’s a massive problem. No, it’s not the limited LTE band support, although that is a concern in the U.S., or even the iPhone-like style. It’s that the OnePlus 3 has come along and spoiled the party for Oppo and other cutthroat budget phone makers.

The OnePlus 3 looks sweeter, has a stronger processor, more RAM, and a better rear camera than the Oppo F1 Plus, but costs only a little more. OnePlus’s OxygenOS Android user interface is more pleasing to use than Oppo’s ColorOS too. If you want a smartphone with panache, power, and a low price, then OnePlus 3 has the F1 Plus beat. However, Oppo’s phone is lighter, more dainty to hold, and has a MicroSD card slot, plus the two phones share similarly fast charging times for the battery.

We get the impression Oppo is still searching for exactly the right formula for its smartphones. It’s so nearly there, and while the F1 Plus is our favorite Oppo device in recent times, the company has yet to give us a breakout, runaway hit that we can truly recommend. It’s a shame it looks like the iPhone, because underneath, there’s a device that deserves recognition for being a great bargain and a stride forward for Oppo.

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