Introduction and design
The Oppo F1 is a phone with a mission. It wants to trick people into thinking you spent £300 ($450, AU$550) or more on a handset when you actually only forked out £160 ($249, AU$285).
It does a good job too. Thin and with lots of metal on show, it comes across as quite a bit more expensive than the Moto G, even though it’s actually around the same price.
If you want a budget handset that people won’t instantly recognise, the Oppo F1 is a top choice. And in the UK at least, it’s much easier to get hold of than most Oppo phones techradar has reviewed to date.
How do you make something cheap seem expensive? That’s a tough one for many designers, because if you get it wrong you might end up with a phone encrusted with plastic diamonds that you couldn’t even sell on eBay.
Oppo has nailed the ‘cheap expensive’ look here, though. It’s all about putting in 20% of the effort/cost for 80% of the returns.
The prime Oppo F1 tactic is using champagne-finish gold metal for the back, but sneakily switching to plastic for the sides. You get the feel of metal, but Oppo doesn’t have to go to the trouble of cutting any ports into metal, which costs a fair bit to do right.
When I first opened up the Oppo F1 and had a close look at it, I experienced a twinge of disappointment when I realised that this was how Oppo managed to make a metal phone at this price.
However, a month on I still appreciate the feel of the metal back. Just don’t enter into this relationship expecting something that feels exactly like an iPhone 6S.
It’s not too far off, though. It has none of the chunk factor of some other good budget Android phones, and there’s a smooth curvature to the sides of the Oppo F1 that means it doesn’t feel boxy. The display is even covered with 2.5D Gorilla Glass, which is toughened and has a smoothed-off edge.
The Oppo F1 is out to deliver on a whole load of s-words: skinny, smooth, sleek. It also looks great, at least from the back – I wouldn’t have flinched if someone told me the phone cost £300/$400.
The Oppo F1 isn’t quite as pretty from the front, though – viewed face-on the handset exhibits a slight boxiness that doesn’t affect the rest of the phone. And, like the OnePlus X, it has soft keys but they don’t light up.
Still, this is one of the nicest-looking cheap handsets out there, only obviously upstaged by the OnePlus X, which costs roughly the same in the US and just £30 more in the UK, yet uses almost no visible/proddable plastic. Competing with OnePlus in the pricing stakes isn’t easy, though.
Finishing touches that help the Oppo F1 ‘fake it to make it’ include a non-removable back and a SIM card tray like you’d see in an iPhone; a lot of cheaper devices still use peel-off back covers that hide a less fancy SIM slot.
On the surface, then, the Oppo F1 can pass for a more expensive phone, but chip off that glossy top layer and we find something more familiar. The features of the F1 are ‘just right’ for this sort of cash, with Oppp not really squeezing in every extra bit of spec possible, as OnePlus manages with the OnePlus X.
In some areas this doesn’t matter too much. The Oppo F1 has 16GB of memory, which might not be enough for some of you, but then there’s also a microSD memory card slot in the SIM tray. There’s more, actually – the second slot in the tray can be used to hold either a microSD card or a second SIM card.
The Oppo F1’s display is classic mid-range fodder. It’s got a 5-inch 720p IPS LCD, pretty similar to the one on the Motorola Moto G.
This is a perfectly good screen that I get on with perfectly happily. It’s fairly sharp, goes quite bright and has decent image quality in general.
There are niggles to point out though, if you’re that way inclined. For example, you can tell it’s not the most advanced, newest generation of IPS LCD tech. You lose a bit of brightness at an angle, the display appears a teeny tiny bit recessed, and in certain lighting conditions and at certain extreme angles there’s what looks like contrast shift.
Most of the time, though, you won’t notice any of this. The only thing that did get on my wick at times was the auto brightness setting, which just doesn’t seem to be very good – I still find myself ‘going manual’ with screen brightness when the Oppo F1’s supposedly smart backlight mode doesn’t do what I need it to.
It may be starting to sound like the Oppo F1’s screen is one of its weak points. It’s not, but at around £170/$250 we are getting close to the price at which you can snag a 1080p mobile phone. Granted, most are still significantly more expensive, but the OnePlus X and Honor 5X aren’t.
This isn’t a total underdog, though. I was surprised, for example, at how loud the speaker is. It sits on the back, one of the few bits that does get a metal cut-out, and can belt out sound much louder than most sub-£200/$300 phones.
At top volume there’s a hard edge to the audio, but it’s great at competing with the sounds of, say, cooking.
The Oppo F1’s custom software adds a bunch of extras too. Fiddle around in the settings menu and you can get the phone to wake with a double tap on the screen, or launch the camera when you draw an ‘O’ on the display.
I didn’t find these features necessary, as the power button sits right under my thumb naturally anyway, and my on-screen gestures tend to take a turn for the cubist under pressure, I ended up switching off the shortcuts. But it’s nice to have the option, right?
These extras are courtesy of ColorOS, the Oppo custom interface for Android. It’s not a bad UI, but it’s one of those bits of software that’s a little desperate to make its mark. Its touch is not light.
It gets rid of the apps menu, for instance, and the default look is far more angular and boxy than Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It parties like it’s Android 4.4 – a reference for the true Android nerds there.
Having used the phone on and off for more than a month, I found I like the Oppo F1 a lot more when the Google Now Launcher app pastes the default Marshmallow style over ColorOS. But ColorOS is certainly far more customisable. It employs downloadable themes, which fiddle around with how your app icons and wallpaper look.
There’s an app pre-installed on the phone that enables you to browse through the themes – and 95% seem to be intended for seven-year-olds, full of cartoony graphics that are far too complicated to work well as actual icons.
There are absolutely loads of the things, though, so there are a good few that don’t look like they were made with candy floss and an absence of taste. You can take the boxy look off the software with these themes too.
I did end up missing Marshmallow’s great new apps menu, though. Marshmallow and CyanogenMod both have terrific, fast-to-navigate app scrolls that mean there’s no real need to organise apps on your home screens. I’m a bit lazy, and so I appreciate that a lot.
With ColorOS you only have home screens, so if you’re not careful your phone will end up looking like a poorly-managed Primark.
Whether you’ll like ColorOS or not depends partly on your personality. There are a few extra app ‘tools’, like a backup app and a security app, but nothing that should sway you.
Performance and battery life
The Oppo F1’s software won’t sit well with everyone, and it doesn’t feel quite as speedy as using the Google Now Launcher, but that’s mostly because it uses some longer screen transition animations. This phone is pretty fast.
It has more power than it strictly needs, if anything. The Oppo F1 has a Snapdragon 616 CPU, a tweaked version of the Snapdragon 615 processor seen in several phones costing up to around £300/$400 over the last 18 months.
This is an eight-core processor designed to keep 1080p phones nippy, not 720p ones like this. All eight cores are Cortex-A53s, but with a team of four clocked at 1.7GHz and the others at 1.2GHz.
It’s a bit like having two of the CPUs used in the Moto G strapped together, and that’s evident in the Geekbench 3 benchmark results. The Oppo F1 scores 3030, which is terrific for a phone of this price.
The importance of those numbers can be overstated, though. The Snapdragon 616 still has a fairly humble Adreno 405 GPU, meaning graphics performance is actually not on the same level as some older phones that might score similarly in Geekbench.
Before you get too confused: you don’t need to worry about this much. While having this chipset means some games won’t let you turn on certain special graphics extras, gaming performance in general is spot on. The Oppo F1 is a surprisingly great budget games phone, matching good specs with that loud speaker.
A few other elements of the Oppo F1 are also above those of standard budget champ the Moto G. It has 3GB of RAM where we’d only expect 2GB at this price, and even the internal storage is faster than most other phones – it writes at 33MB/s and reads at 60MB/s. That’s not going to worry the Samsung Galaxy S7, of course, but it’s not bad for a pretty affordable mobile.
As I noted earlier, the feel of the phone is improved by using the Google Now Launcher UI. ColorOS isn’t slow, but it’s not as snappy as the latest version of vanilla Android either.
You might expect a dead skinny phone like the Oppo F1 to have a small battery, but the device has a perfectly decent one for the display size and resolution. It’s a 2500mAh unit, very similar to the 2470mAh pack in the Motorola Moto G.
In general use I found the Oppo F1 to be lagging just a little behind its Motorola rival in terms of stamina, though not by a huge amount. It tends to last comfortably until bed time, with up to 30% charge left, but it’s still a phone you’ll need to charge every day. It’s no two-day warrior – very few phones are.
In our usual battery test, which involves playing a Full HD film at full brightness for 90 minutes, the Oppo F1 lost 15% of its charge. That’s actually better than the 19% drop shown by the Moto G, and a very good result for any phone.
Judging by my time with the handset, the slightly lesser day-to-day stamina could be down to the auto brightness setting often cranking up the backlight more than is needed. Or maybe I just have slightly rose-tinted memories of the Moto G.
The Oppo F1 is not the first phone to offer high-quality specs for well under £200 (US$300, AU$370). Its camera hardware is pretty adept too though.
It has a 13MP rear camera, using a Samsung ISOCELL sensor and an f/2.2 lens. This is a snapper that feels fast to shoot, which helps to make it fun to use.
The F1 even has phase detection autofocus, although that sense of zip is as much to do with the lack of any significant shutter lag.
As you’d hope from a 13MP sensor, you get loads of detail when the lighting is good. My main issue with the phone is that it swings between making your photos look a bit under-optimised and over-optimised. Standard shots could do with a bit of extra dynamic range fiddling, but the HDR mode is so intense it doesn’t look 100% natural.
I am a bit of a photo snob, though, and the image quality is perfectly respectable really.
Like any phone with an average-size sensor and no optical image stabilisation, the Oppo F1 starts to struggle in lower light. It doesn’t get slow and painful to use, but the level of detail just isn’t as good as from the more expensive stabilised phones, which can afford to use lower sensitivity levels.
There’s a silver lining, though. The Oppo F1 has a pretty neat camera app that looks simple on the surface, but offers some fairly advanced extra modes. One of the more interesting ones is Slow Shutter, which enables you to use ultra-long exposures to reduce noise.
There’s also Oppo’s signature 51MP Ultra HD mode. This doesn’t radically increase detail, but it can help to reduce noise a bit.
It’s not actually the rear camera that’s designed to stand out, though. The Oppo F1 has an 8MP front-facing camera with a 1/4-inch sensor and a super-fast f/2.0 lens. This is an unusually well-speced snapper for a sub-£200/$300 phone.
Selfies look about right even in pretty ropey indoor lighting, and are genuinely better than almost all other phone cameras at this price. Other cameras that sound similar on paper are much better, though. The Nexus 6P‘s front camera is far superior, which is no great surprise given that the phone is also more expensive.
With less light to work with the Oppo F1’s selfies do start to appear a bit mushy in comparison – that’s not always a bad thing in terms of being flattering to your fine lines and stray hairs, though, and the Oppo F1 also offers a face ‘optimisation’ filter like most phones these days.
The Oppo F1 is a great mass-market phone, particularly for a brand that often capitalises on unusual features that make its handsets stand out as oddballs rather than star buys.
This mobile, on the other hand, is good value, and offers solid quality in all the main areas: screen, camera and battery life.
Selling for well under £200 (US$300, AU$370) with no ties to any networks, the Oppo F1 is a phone that people out to snag a good deal can afford.
Given its price, it feels great too. Smart use of metal and a slim frame give the F1 an air of the expensive, without the cost.
There are no real cons to the design focus either. For the most part this is a simple case of great specs at a very sensible price, with no major drawbacks. You get plenty of power, enough megapixels and the standard number of screen pixels for a budget phone.
Not everyone is going to get on with ColorOS that well. It’s one of those deliberately invasive custom interfaces that gets rid of the apps menu, uses longer screen transitions and has a more angular default look.
The fancy finish gets a bit less flash when you get up close too. It’s a nicely-made phone, but it’s worth knowing those sides are actually plastic so that your heart doesn’t sink when you open the box.
And this is a really minor one, but some of you might not like the non-lit soft keys; their sensible placement means it’s not likely to annoy most people though.
The Oppo F1 is among the most sensible handsets Oppo has made, even though at first it may seem like a shallow selfie-monster. This is a value phone in the vein of the OnePlus X, the Motorola Moto G or Honor 5X.
What makes it stand out, other than having a pretty good selfie camera, is that it looks and feels great, even if its build isn’t quite as flashy and expensive as the OnePlus X. Some of you may also want a cheaper phone that your friends haven’t heard of – there’s some appeal to that.
For the most part this is simply a very solid, affordable phone, the main drawback being that the custom ColorOS software can get messy if you get lazy, in a way that standard Android Marshmallow with its app drawer doesn’t.
First reviewed: April 2016
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