At every juncture of the mobile development, there has been a device that defied the trend. While Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson churned out candy bar devices, there was also the N-GAGE from Nokia which defied conventional design wisdom. My dad did not buy me one because he thought it did not look like a phone, after all. Same goes for flip phones. There were flip phones from Nokia and Samsung, but Motorola Razr stood out for lean shape and curvier aesthetics. Then there is the Nokia Communicator, which many now consider as the first inward folding mobile phone. However, when you look at smartphones over the past decade, they have all been rectangle. The only plausible difference being that one company’s rectangle is wider while other company’s rectangle is taller.
I consider the Nokia Communicator and Motorola Razr as outliers and now, there are a breed of smartphones that want to be outliers of this decade. The very first examples were the Vivo NEX and Oppo Find X, and now we have devices such as the Vivo V15 Pro and the Oppo F11 Pro. The designers at the house of Oppo and Vivo would have asked themselves how to make a rectangular smartphone different and some engineer would have said add a mechanical component. Adding a mechanical component adds the risk of early product failure but that hasn’t stopped these Chinese smartphone makers from launching products with elevating or pop-up camera mechanism.
Last month, Oppo invited me to its pre-MWC event in Barcelona where it showcased the new 10x lossless zoom for smartphones. Post that event, the company showed me the Oppo F11 Pro, the smartphone that goes on sale in India from March 15. The big attraction of the Oppo F11 Pro is the fact that this is the cheapest smartphone with an elevating selfie camera. At Rs 24,990, it is more than 50 percent cheaper than Oppo Find X, which debuted in India last year at Rs 59,990. It is mind boggling to see that Oppo is making both in-display fingerprint sensor (read: Oppo K1) and pop-up selfie camera (read: Oppo F11 Pro) accessible in a span of just one year. So, the big question, does the radical new technology justify the corners cut in other areas? Let’s find out.
Design and Display
The Oppo F11 Pro is a device that needs to be seen without the specifications table on its side. After spending good few weeks with the smartphone, I can easily say that this is one of the best designed smartphones all around in the sub-Rs 25,000 price segment. The Oppo F11 Pro, like most other smartphones in the market, uses an aluminum mid-frame while the back panel is plastic that has been textured to give it the effect of gradient finish. This is no big feat in engineering and a few technology companies have successfully fused metal and plastic for a unibody structure but what makes it really tick is the entire assembly.
The device not only feels great to touch but it also seems very well built. The overall chassis looks so rigid that it is hard to distinguish a sub-Rs 25,000 smartphone from a sub-Rs 50,000 one. Our review unit came in aurora green finish, which exhibits two colors in its gradient back design. However, I would recommend looking at the thunder black variant which changes its hue from black, blue to purple. That triple gradient finish is not as breath-taking as that of Huawei’s gradient finish on phones like the Mate 20 Pro but it still attracts a lot of attention. There were instances when people asked me what phone is it and the last time it happened was when I was reviewing the Honor View20, which also had gradient finish.
The design takes precedent not only on the back but also at the front. The Oppo F11 Pro has an all screen design that does not have a notch or hole punch cut-out at the front. What you get is a full display with only thing coming in the way is that small chin. It is small trade-off for the mid-range price that this phone is sold for. At the front, there is a 6.5-inch LCD display with Full HD+ resolution of 2340×1080 pixels, and 19.5:9 aspect ratio. The display is a bit larger than the one found on Pixel 3 XL but since it is almost all screen at the front, it matches in dimensions. The F11 Pro is also a bit heavier due to its fusion of metal and plastic and in the past six months, I never for once felt that I was carrying a big phone but with Oppo F11 Pro, I felt that every day. Apart from these aesthetics and ergonomics, the F11 Pro also has an enclosure at the top to house its elevating camera setup. The good part, in terms of design, being that it is aligned perfectly with the vertically stacked dual rear camera setup. These are small things that make or break design of a device and Oppo has not let down potential buyers in that perspective.
Hardware and Software
As I mentioned before, the Oppo F11 Pro should be seen for its design and engineering and not specifications because that is not very important. In order to reach that price of Rs 24,990 and yet do pop-up camera, Oppo has cut corners and it has done so mainly in the hardware front. Embedded inside the Oppo F11 Pro is a MediaTek Helio P70 SoC, which has an octa-core CPU with four Cortex A73 cores clocked at 2.1GHz and four Cortex A53 cores clocked at 2.0GHz. The chipset is fabricated using 12nm process which makes it more efficient than some rival mobile platforms. The CPU is paired with Mali-G72 MP3 graphics processor and our review unit, which remains a pre-production model, came with 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage. However, the company is only selling variant with 6GB RAM and 64GB storage in India.
During my two weeks with the device, I observed that the Oppo F11 Pro works well, regardless of whether you are using it for casual purpose like posting on social media or chatting with friends on WhatsApp. It also plays well with PUBG Mobile when the graphics is set to medium, and Oppo’s Game Space does add value to the gaming aspect of the device. It seems that the hardware dedicating more resources to the game so that the experience is smooth. Honestly, the LG V40 ThinQ powered by Snapdragon 845 drop more frames than the MediaTek Helio P70-powered Oppo F11 Pro.
The big question surrounding this device is that MediaTek Helio P70 SoC is a chipset also found on a smartphone like the Realme 3, which starts at just Rs 8,999. Honestly, the Helio P70 is not a bad chipset, but it has been made so affordable that it now powers phones starting from Rs 8,999 and going all the way up to Rs 24,990. It is the new Snapdragon 625 of this generation, where a chip is so ubiquitous that it can be seen on both entry level devices as well as on premium mid-range phones. The real picture here is that Oppo has cut cost and it has done so in the hardware so that it can invest resources in design and the mechanical components it houses, which is technically the major hardware element here. The 4,000mAh battery also lasts longer and I could get to second day before there was a need to charge the device again. It also uses new VOOC standard to charge faster.
The Oppo F11 Pro also comes with a new software called ColorOS 6. It is among the first devices to run a UI based on Android 9 Pie. With ColorOS 6, Oppo has taken an approach that is like what Samsung did with its One UI recently. The whole user interface has been tweaked to resonate with Google’s Material Design with large white surfaces around every nook and corner. The ColorOS 6 can be described as a white canvas with black text on top of it. Apart from accent and theming elements, the ColorOS 6 also brings a gesture-based user interface that has been refined from what we saw in ColorOS 5.
A single swipe from left or right now takes you back to the last screen you were on while a swipe from the centre takes you back to the home screen. Swiping up and leaving it midway exposes the multi-tasking screen. Oppo has tried to add haptic feedback to these interfaces but in comparison to similar interface on rival platforms, it takes a bit longer to achieve those actions. They work but need a bit more of refinement. For the first time, Oppo had also added app drawer to its custom Android interface and I am a big fan of app drawer. Having an app drawer helps Android phones differentiate from iPhone, which has the fundamental design of multiple screen with apps from its very initial days. There is a smart Assistant when you slide from the left and it mimics Google hub but is not that great in application. There are, of course, apps such as Theme Store, Music Party, Clone Phone, which are Oppo’s addition, but I did not use any of them. The one app made by Oppo that I really used is Game Space because I really don’t want to be interrupted while playing games. Oppo has done a decent job but in the face of progress happening in stock Android world, I don’t see any real need for a custom interface with heavy skinning.
So far, Oppo seems to have scored high in design, and has done well in hardware segment but the real deal is the camera configuration. Oppo and other Chinese smartphone makers are pitching their devices purely on two areas: performance and camera. Oppo is, in ways, about camera and it even used to advertise Oppo camera phone big time. With the F11 Pro, you get dual rear camera setup and a single selfie camera that elevates from its enclosure.
In the case of dual rear camera setup, there is a 48-megapixel main camera paired with a 5-megapixel depth sensor. Oppo says it is using a 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor for the main camera here but it is not taking advantage of the full pixel width. The company says that in the Ultra HD mode, which is the name for 48-megapixel imaging, Oppo is using 12-megapixel sensor’s four pixels to combine them into a 48-megapixel high resolution final image. The results did not blow away my mind like Honor View20 did few months back, but it is still great for a smartphone in this segment.
There is a lot of myth among consumers when it comes to smartphone cameras and OEMs have fueled this idea of high megapixel count will result in better imagery. While it is true in some respects, it is equally important to understand how the image signal processors play with the image when you press the shutter button. Oppo is relying on MediaTek Helio P70’s native AI and ISP to process images and while they preserve details, there is a natural difference in real colors and colors produced by this camera. In broad daylight, Oppo F11 Pro takes images that are quite natural with even dynamic range and saturated colors. In the night, where you use Night Mode, the result is extremely bright but not accurate. There is clipping in the shadow area, which does not always come out well in low-light scenario. Since I am comparing the results to Pixel 3, which is the gold standard for smartphone camera, I would accept Oppo F11 Pro’s images as par for this price segment.
While the 5-megapixel camera is advertised as depth sensor, it helps with 2x zoom when you shoot in 12-megapixel mode and not 48-megapixel mode. If there is one reason to love the camera on Oppo F11 Pro then it has to be its selfie camera. In my first impressions, I wrote that the 16-megapixel shooter tends to smoothen your skin to such extent that you look much younger than your real age. It is true and when I shared a selfie from Oppo F11 Pro with few friends and family members, they were shocked and started questioning if I had done anything to my face. Yeah, blame the beauty mode, which can turn an adult into a teen. I like it.
Watch: Vivo V15 Pro First Look
While most people started buying latest iPhone, Galaxy S flagship in late 2010, there were people who stuck to their BlackBerrys and Motorola. There is a reason because they did not see a shift in the dynamics of mobile industry and rise of a new app market. But since then, the difference between phones have eroded to such an extent that you cannot tell an Oppo apart from iPhone when looked from the front. Similarly, you cannot tell two Xiaomi Redmi phones apart since they have similar design and camera setup when seen face down. If you seek differentiation, Oppo F11 Pro brings a plenty to the game.
There is gradient finish, which is common among Chinese smartphones but remains rich, nonetheless. There is a pop-up selfie camera which seems to be taken straight from science fiction movie. You can do cool things like drop the phone from a small height to your palm with the selfie camera turned on, it understands gravitational pull and automatically retracts to its enclosure. You won’t find that in any other phone priced under Rs 25,000. That is the real selling point. An experience that elevates in a way that we haven’t seen before. The closest competitor to Oppo F11 Pro is the Vivo V15 Pro, which also comes with pop-up selfie camera but has triple rear camera setup, Snapdragon 675 chipset and in-display fingerprint sensor. The Vivo V15 Pro seems better in every way and you should pick Oppo F11 Pro instead only if you cannot stretch your budget.