For a newbie to break into the inner sanctum that makes the high-end smartphone segment, is similar to a kid trying to adjust to a new school, mid-term. There’s going to be name calling, he will get picked on by just about anyone and he can forget about sitting with the ‘cool kids’ during lunch until he proves himself worthy. Oppo finds themselves in very similar shoes. Born in 2008, Oppo has been relatively unknown to Indian audiences and just like Gionee, have to prove their mettle in order to gain acceptance. Just like Gionee, Oppo has their own R&D team which designs smartphones and they also develop software and manufacture the phones themselves, which means their products aren’t rebadged Chinese clones.
Rather than making their debut with a mainstream phone, like most do, Oppo has launched one of the flagship phones in India straight into the premium segment. The N1 will retail for Rs 39,990 and that’s a bold pricing for a relative newbie in the high-end segment. Does the N1 have a place at the cool table? Let’s find out.
Design and Build
The Oppo N1 comes beautifully packaged in what look like a cosmetic box. The plastic casing holds the phone, the charger, reading material and the in-ear phones. The charger is modular which means you can use it as a data cable as well. Along with this, Oppo also bundles the O-Click remote. This little circular button pairs with your Oppo N1 via Bluetooth and can be used to trigger the camera shutter or find your phone.
The N1 is a highly conspicuous droid and if the pale-white isn’t a dead giveaway, its sheer size will. At nearly 6-inches (5.9 to be precise) across for just the display, the N1 is humongous even for people with large hands. It’s only available in white and this means dust and grime are the phones arch nemesis. Mercifully, the matt-finished handset was still the same shade even after using it for a week.
The chrome accents and attention to detail is impeccable and we give two thumbs up to Oppo for pulling this off. The phone looks and feels incredibly premium and guarantee’s a “Hey, which phone is that?” each time you lug it out of your pocket. 213g is heavy but it doesn’t feel it due to good weight distribution. The 9mm slimness also makes up for this. The buttons and ports have been sensibly placed all around and the phone is quite ergonomic. Mind you, single handed operation is next to impossible but you don’t really feel the weight and size with two hands.
The party piece of the Oppo N1 of course is the rotating rear camera, a first of its kind. The 13MP snapper is accompanied by a dual-LED flash which can rotate 180 degrees to double up as the front camera. There’s a capacitive touchpad called O-Touch, in the back as well to perform gestures, which we’ll get into in a bit.
The Oppo N1 excels when it comes to product packaging, overall bundle, design and build with great attention to detail. 6-inches isn’t for everyone and I found it quite inconvenient especially if you wear denims all the time. Another little but crucial feature is the notification light, which is missing in the N1.
The Oppo N1 comes with a long list of features which we feel are best demonstrated on video so hit play below for a walkthrough of all the features of the N1’s Color OS. Android 4.2.2 is unrecognisable due to the heavy skinning. This isn’t much of a problem though as the UI is well designed and is very user friendly.
The Full HD IPS display top out at 377ppi, which lends it super sharp text and images. The panel delivers punchy colours and very good viewing angles. Sun light legibility is also quite good although the screen does wash out under direct sunlight. There’s also Gorilla Glass 3 for added protection.
The Oppo N1 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC, similar to the HTC One. This quad-core chipset can run up to 1.7GHz and has 2GB of RAM to help it along the way. Needless to say, the Android system and apps run very smoothly without any issues. The phone also has a very capable GPU which bodes well for demanding games. We would have liked a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 800 SoC at this price but the 600 is a fairly good alternative.
The O-Click button is a cool accessory to have especially when you’re taking group pictures. This also comes in handy for candid shots as hitting the button is near imperceptible. The O-Touch panel has a whole bunch of gestures which you can customise. The best one is the ability to launch an app by double tapping it.
Oppo gives you the choice between the stock audio and video players or their own. The custom players are visually more appealing and animations are done very well. We wish the audio player had equalizer setting though or at least a system wide approach to tweaking the audio, like the Moto G. Nevertheless, audio quality is very good and better still; the bundled earphones are something you’ll actually want to use. They’re light weight, look good and are built well. The silicone tips offer excellent isolation from ambient noise and the drivers deliver balanced sound with good detail on the highs and mids and sufficient punch in the lower end.
The Oppo N1 is excellent for media playback thanks to its gorgeous screen real estate but you’ll soon find yourself running out of space. Out of the 16GB, only 9.8GB is actually usable due to the inflated OS, which takes up a fair bit of room. Worst part is, you can’t even expand the memory so you’ll have to pick and choose what you dump in there. The other alternative is to resort to streaming as much as possible so you don’t fill up the onboard storage.
The N1 is well catered for in terms of connectivity as we have quad-band 3G, Wi-Fi ‘n’, Wi-Fi Display and Direct, NFC, GLONASS, Bluetooth v4.0 and USB OTG. Oppo also packs in a bunch of productivity apps like File Manager, Kingsoft Office, Flashlight, Sound Recorder, App encryption and a backup feature. The N1 also features a Guest Mode, which restricts access to other users and Holiday Mode, which essentially filters all incoming calls so you aren’t disturbed.
We found the earpiece volume to be a bit on the softer side during calls, as even at full volume, it was a bit tough to hear the person on the other end.
The Oppo N1 packs in a 6-element lens, 13MP shooter. The sensor has an aperture value of f/2.0 which means you can get some crazy macro shots. The UI is easy to operate eve for a novice and all the settings you’d expect are present. You can also choose between scene modes like HDR, Panorama, Beauty and Slow Shutter. Check out the camera samples below. The video mode also gets a slow-motion video mode, which is pretty cool.
The 3610mAh battery in the N1 is easily one of the highlights of the phone. We still had some 50-odd percent remaining, even after finishing our 8-hour loop test. Under normal usage, you’ll easily be able to get through two days before having to charge.
Verdict and Price in India
The Oppo N1 will cost you Rs 39,990, which is a lot for a brand that’s yet to establish themselves amongst other seasoned players. Even with all the right ingredients like a healthy spec sheet, good performance and a dependable build quality, it’s going to be a tough sell when you have flagships from the likes of Samsung, Sony and LG which are retailing for lesser. The Oppo N1 is an ambitious droid that manages to get a couple of things bang on. The build is excellent, the rotating camera is a novel idea and very practical too, Color OS adds some nifty gestures and finally, the battery life is very good.
The N1 is not without its shortcomings however. The omission of a notification LED in the front is a big pain point and the 16GB is simply too little considering the actual usable space is a lot lesser. And then there’s the sheer size. The N1 isn’t the most pocketable phone around and is quite cumbersome to live with. Having said this, we would recommend the N1 to someone who’s looking for a quirky yet capable high-end droid and doesn’t want to run with the crowd. Just not at its current asking price.
Photography: Joshua Navalkar