If you have been a keen reader of the reviews I pen here from time to time of mid-range smartphones and the like then you may have noticed one recurring theme: that almost always, I find the cameras not up to scratch or I am pleasantly surprised when they actually meet even the lowest of my expectations.
This is because, for the longest time, the camera has been the one smartphone component that has not received the strict attention to detail it so deserves at that price point. Sure, the likes of Tecno and Infinix (in the local market) do try if their product catalogues and brochures are anything to go by. However, it’s one thing to assemble several desirable hardware components and squeeze them into something one can hold with one hand and it’s another to have the user seeing the results without making a lot of effort.
No one understands this so well than Oppo, the Chinese smartphone brand that is seeking to upset the status quo in the Kenyan smartphone market. The brand has slowly been making inroads in the country for the last one year. While coming close to the kind of ground covered by the likes of Tecno and Infinix soon is such an ambitious undertaking that requires all the goodwill they can get, I do not have to second-guess what they are capable of if the camera on their latest product in the Kenyan market, the F1s smartphone, is anything to go by.
The Oppo F series exists solely to ensure there are quality cameras on smartphones available to the mid-range segment of the market. At least that was the goal when the series was announced earlier in the year.
It is not hard to see where Oppo is coming from. There is definitely some serious need for affordable smartphones with good shooters both at the front and the back. Sure the likes of Samsung provide those but they are almost twice the price of what an average mid-range smartphone costs in Kenya.
Oppo F1s Specifications
|Size and weight||154.5 x 76 x 7.4 mm, 160g|
|Display||5.5-inch HD (1280 x 720 pixels) IPS TFT protected by Gorilla Glass 4 with support for wet touch input|
|Processor||Octa-core Mediatek MT6750 backed by a Mali-T860MP2|
|Memory||3GB RAM; 32GB internal storage (expandable via microSD)|
|Camera||Back: 13MP f/2.2 with PDAF;
Front: 16MP f/2.0 with Beautify 4.0 and Oppo's Pure Image Optimization Engine
|Operating System||Color OS based on Android 5.1 Lollipop|
|Network||3G, 4G LTE|
|Connectivity||microUSB, USB OTG, Bluetooth 4.0, (2.4GHz/5GHz) Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/|
|Colour options||Gold, Grey|
|Other||Nano dual-SIM, fingerprint sensor|
Having used the Oppo F1s for nearly two weeks now, I am fully convinced that it packs the cameras I want on my mid-range smartphone. But (you knew there was always going to be a but didn’t you?)…
Before the Oppo F1s becomes something that just about anyone thinking of getting a decent mid-range smartphone should get, its makers have quite some soul-searching to do.
For starters, Kshs 28,000, the device’s going price in the Kenyan market, places it on a pedestal overlooking many expectations that need to be met.
- As already stated, the 16-megapixel camera on the front does not hold back and is just so good. As is the back camera which, even though overshadowed by the focus on self-portraits, still manages to steal some thunder for itself with some decent snaps all round (day and night).
- The device’s battery life also comes out on top. A single charge can last one an entire day (of 24 hours) with moderate usage as I observed.
- When you demand more of the device, it does manage to rise up to the occasion and provide the performance expected and required of it.
- It is in the display department that things start slacking. While it is just as vibrant and clear as the next smartphone, it doesn’t do much to push the limits. Maybe, some will argue, it is because users won’t need all those extra pixels that Full HD panels provide, right? The 5.5-inch display is as expansive as anything that approaches mini-tablet territory can be. As such, it invites users to consume more content on it. Surfing, watching videos, playing games and the like. Depending on what device you are coming from or how keen you are, you won’t fail to realise that you could do with a much denser display despite Oppo’s best efforts to make you not see that.
- The software is the other frontier where, as per my interactions, Oppo could do better. The device runs Android Lollipop covered up in the colourfulness of Color OS, Oppo’s own Android overlay. Now, while Color OS does a fine job of wrapping up the dated version of Android the device runs, we still cannot run away from the fact that it is still dated and that it is there. Why does it matter that the Oppo F1s does not run the latest version of Android? Well, we all know how fast and efficient Android OEMs are when it comes to updating their flagship devices so how about some mid-ranger? This device was launched in August running an operating system from 2 years ago.
- Running Lollipop also means that the fingerprint sensor’s functionality is limited. Unlike what you will get on devices running on Marshmallow, you cannot use it to log on to apps since, well, Lollipop.
- While some (and I am one of them) will take offence that Oppo’s Color OS is a rip-off of iOS, the software that runs on Apple’s iPhones, as long as they do a fine job while they are at it, I am not complaining. It is all about usability and on that front, Oppo manages to hold up just fine, most of the time. At least on the F1s. However, I think anyone using the F1s will agree that things could definitely have been made better. Since it is software we are talking about and not some sealed components that require a lot of expertise an ordinary user may not have, this can be redeemed in future updates, if any are forthcoming anyway.
- Excellent cameras.
- Forget the inspiration it draws from elsewhere, the Oppo F1s is good-looking and feels just as it looks when you hold it. The metal finish and all, the design does not disappoint. The gold trim on the side of the device that makes up the frame is a nice touch. Holding and using the F1s feels great. Other than the cameras, the design is the next best thing about the device and it is so well done.
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- Good battery life.
- The user interface includes a one-handed mode which can be turned on by swiping up from the bottom right or left corner. This comes in handy in instances where one does not have the luxury of properly holding the device as they use it. The F1s is a 5.5-inch device, after all.
- Enough storage which makes sense if one is to take full advantage of that really good camera. A model of the F1s with even double that storage and an extra gigabyte of memory just went on sale in India the other day.
- The fingerprint sensor embedded on the F1s’ physical home button while not always on (you have to hold down the home button when the device is asleep), is convenient, fast and works as expected until it meets the limitations of the software it is meant to work with.
- The device runs a dated version of Android and Color OS, the culmination of Oppo’s customization efforts, is neither here nor there. Simply put, the software needs work, lots of it.
- The display just does not cut it for me. No, thank you. I’d say you compromise (because that display is just good enough) if you were paying less but you are not and it’s 2016.
- No form of fast-charging. While the Oppo F1s has very good battery life, once the battery runs out, you have to wait for over 2 hours for the device to be fully charged as there’s no form of accelerated charging standard in place to hasten things.
The Oppo F1s is a fine device. If you are not asking for much from your smartphone other than just a camera to show up at a friend or colleague’s wedding next Saturday then this is it. It will even go the extra mile of oozing some class when you remove it and place it on a table and for a few moments, all your friends mistake it for an iPhone 6s, not because they are drunk, hallucinating or anything but because it really does resemble it in almost every way. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, the jury is till out there. Don’t we all need some inspiration sometimes?
However, if you are going to spend nearly Kshs 30,000 (which never comes easy, by the way) on a smartphone, you may want to ask for more than a good camera and that is where the F1s fails to cover its back. For the F1s’ asking price, you can get the latest (and greatest?) flagship smartphone from Tecno, the Phantom 6 or the Phantom 6s and be left with just enough change to subscribe to a monthly data plan from either Safaricom or Airtel. From my brief interaction with the Tecno Phantom 6, it doesn’t leapfrog the F1s in the camera department and as such has an edge over Oppo’s device as it has everything one would ask of a 2016 smartphone, minus the fingerprint sensor. This should be what worries Oppo more as it seeks to conquer the Kenyan market.