Android phone makers often borrow ideas from Apple. Oppo takes this further than its rivals. Oppo’s need to emulate Apple runs through Its phones like Blackpool through a stick of English seaside rock.
Oppo’s newest iPhone lookalike is the $800 R15 Pro. It doesn’t look much like an Apple on the outside, but fire it up and the resemblance is uncanny. Oppo even copies the notch that features at the top of the iPhone X screen.
The Oppo R15 Pro is not the first Android phone to do this. See my Huawei P20 Pro review. Yet the R15 Pro pays a more comprehensive homage to Apple than any other Android.
Oppo‘s Apple-following strategy seems to work. In the first quarter of 2018 Oppo sold more phones in China than anyone else. At the NZ launch Oppo said it is now the number four phone brand here behind Apple, Samsung and Huawei.
Being number four in New Zealand is not a big deal. Oppo says its market share is around two or three percent. While the R15 Pro is solid enough, it doesn’t look like the breakthrough phone Oppo needs. The company releases a new model roughly every six months, so it could soon have a hit on its hands.
Oppo R15 Pro
At NZ$800, the Oppo R15 Pro is less than half the price of an iPhone X. Despite similar software, that’s not the best phone to compare it with. The R15 Pro is around half the price of the Samsung Galaxy S9 which is a closer match. For 50 percent of the cost you get 95 percent of the functionality.
The R15 Pro has more rough edges that the Galaxy S9. That’s metaphorical. With earlier Oppo phones it was literal too. Older Oppo phones were quite rough in the hands. The R15 Pro is less so.
I tested a model with a polished dark purple aluminium case. There’s a bright red version as well. It’s attractive looking, but there are few 2018 handsets at this price or higher that don’t look good.
Although it doesn’t look much like an iPhone on the outside, it does when you switch the screen on. You’ll see rows of iOS style app icons.
The effect doesn’t last long because Oppo’s ColorOS operating system doesn’t always act like iOS. It has some Apple-like characteristics, but sooner or later you are back to Android.
In use the R15 Pro doesn’t work any better than any other phone running Google’s Android 8.1 Oreo software. In places it is worse.
All Android software overlays are disappointing, Oppo’s is more disappointing than most. In part that’s because there are places where it attempts to force Apple-like behaviour. In part that’s because the software is buggy compared to Samsung or Huawei Android phones.
Most of the top 2018 phones have a longer, thinner body with a 19:9 screen ratio. They also have tiny bezels, which mean the screen covers almost the entire front of the phone. The Oppo R15 Pro is no different.
It also has a Amoled screen, which is popular with 2018 phones. The display is big at 6.3 inches. It doesn’t quite hit 1080p resolution. In practice it can be a good phone for viewing videos, the speakers are louder and clearer than you might expect.
Not so powerful
The processor and graphics chip are not as powerful as those you find on more expensive phones. This is, for me, the main price compromise. If you want to play the latest games or get high video performance, go and spend more on a Huawei or Samsung. Almost every iPhone from the last three years would be more powerful.
Every phone maker emphasises camera features. At the New Zealand launch, the presenter made more of the phone’s beauty mode than the sensors and lenses. They’re not bad, but again, being half the price of a premium phone means compromise.
You get 16 and 20 megapixel lenses on the back. Oppo talks about a Sony sensor which uses a larger pixel size to do a better job in low light conditions.
There is a 20 megapixel front camera for selfies. Oppo’s beauty mode software tidies up skin blemishes. It then adds a little colour to make you look prettier. It also, this is a worry, makes people look whiter. Presumably the politics of this are different in China.
Like every other modern phone, the Oppo R15 Pro comes with software to automate picture-taking. The company says it uses AI. I doubt anything here uses machine learning or other AI techniques.
According to Oppo, the software identifies different scenes. It can detect a shot of the outdoors, a plate of food or a family pet. It only works up to a point. When it does, the camera automates settings. If it gets things wrong, the settings can be way out of whack.
Easy to use
The good news is all this makes the phone and its camera easy to use. Oppo’s photo app interface is a near carbon copy of the iOS app. The bad news is the photo filtering goes too far at times.
For some unexplained reason Oppo uses a microUSB 2.0 connector for its power supply. It’s old-school. Almost every other Android phone has moved on to the USB Type-C connector. The great thing about that now being standard is you can use someone else’s charger if you don’t have your own.
Also old-school, not in a bad way, is the 3.5mm earphone jack. Some people regard it as a must have even if many earphones now use Bluetooth. Moving to Bluetooth is something Oppo has not copied from Apple.
Not tested for this review is the NFC feature for making contactless payments. Earlier Oppo phones did not include NFC. There is a fingerprint reader on the back and the phone uses facial recognition.
At NZ$800 the Oppo R15 Pro is at the top end of the middle price band for 2018 phones. It is the same price as the Oppo R11s which appeared at the start of this year. For $100 less you can buy the Nokia 7 Plus. It has a better operating system and longer battery life.
There’s little remarkable. Nothing stands out here, but then nothing stood out with the last, more expensive, flagship Android phones from Samsung and Huawei. Nokia’s 7 Plus has the advantage of a better Android and holds the promise of better software support.
The R15 Pro gets the job done without breaking the bank. If you want more phone and a fancier camera expect to pay more. If NZ$800 is your budget limit, this is a good choice, but take a closer look at the NZ$700 Nokia 7 Plus first. That would be my choice.