An Android phone that comes running CyanogenMod out of the box and has hardware features you won’t see on any other phone, like a rotating camera and a rear touch panel. If that sounds impressive, you can imagine how much I was looking forward to reviewing the Oppo N1. I really, really wanted to love this phone.
First, let’s talk raw specs: The most physically striking feature about this phone is the display, a 5.9-inch full HD panel that boasts a pixel density of 373 ppi. Then there’s the aforementioned 13-megapixel rotating camera — just the one, since you can flip it back and forth to take high-resolution selfies. The phone also rocks 2GB of RAM, an Adreno 320 GPU, and a Snapdragon 600 chipset.
Unfortunately, after using it as my daily device for several weeks, I can’t say it’s everything I’ve been hoping for. To understand why, you need to look at the N1 in context. This phone retails for $599 directly from OPPO Style. So what other phones can you get for $600?
- The Sony Xperia Z1 retails for $583 on Amazon. This is a phone that has a 20-megapixel camera, Adreno 330 GPU, and a Snapdragon 800 chipset – outclassing the N1 in every way while being cheaper. Read our review of the Xperia Z1.
- Samsung’s aging flagship, the Galaxy S4 retails for $592. It’s actually roughly equivalent to the N1, with a Snapdragon 600 chipset and an Adreno 320 GPU. Read our review of the Galaxy S4.
- LG’s acclaimed G2 sells for $539. Once again, a cheaper phone with a more powerful GPU/chipset combo.
- Of course, I would be remiss not to mention Google’s own excellent Nexus 5 costs $350, small change compared to the three devices above. Read our review of the Nexus 5.
So across the board, the N1 is more expensive than the flagship devices from Samsung, Sony, and LG, while offering comparatively less power.
Then again, the Oppo N1 is an underdog device by its very nature. You won’t find it in stores; this particular “limited edition” model is CyanogenMod’s first collaboration with a phone maker since its inception as a company, and is perhaps a sign of things to come. This is not a phone for everyone, nor does it try to be.
What’s In The Box
As befitting a limited edition phone, the N1 comes beautifully packaged, with lots of branded goodies:
- A simple TPU case.
- An elegant, white, flip case.
- A pair of earbuds, more beautifully packaged than most.
- A USB travel adapter.
- Two CyanogenMod stickers.
- A promising little gadget called the O-Click, which was supposed to remotely control the phone
Initial Impressions: Sheer Size and Operating System
This is a large phone. That’s the first impression I got when I first took it out of the box, but it stuck: It just feels big, like cramming it into your pocket would be an act of folly. Here it is next to the Sony Xperia Z1 and the Nexus 5:
As you can see, it positively dwarfs both – and the Z1 is not a small device. The front face of the device is dominated by the massive display, with a very thin bezel on each side. The top part houses the earpiece and a proximity sensor, as well as the 13-megapixel camera. There’s no front camera, because that whole section rotates 180 degrees, letting you take high-res selfies. Under the screen you’ll find three capacitive buttons: Menu, Home, and Back.
The bottom part of the phone houses a headphone jack, a micro USB port, and a speaker. Its right side has a volume rocker, as well as the power button. Finally, the expansive back of the phone also does something: It has a rear capacitive touch panel, which is supposed to allow you to scroll more easily through documents and use the phone one-handed. The phone’s rear panel is sealed – the battery is non-removable.
Once you get over its physical dimensions, the N1 turns out to be a very usable device. This is mainly thanks to CyanogenMod, a time-tested ROM that hews close to Android’s original vision while adding lots of little comfort features.
A key advantage of the CyanogenMod model is that it doesn’t come with any sort of skinning — it feels like a stock device. You won’t have Sense to deal with, or TouchWiz, or any other terrible customizations phone makers try to differentiate themselves with.
In day-to-day use, the phone itself effectively becomes transparent: It’s the apps that matter, and these run just fine on the N1. Thanks to its generous amount of RAM and relatively zippy processor, Gmail, Tweetings, and all of the other apps I rely on every day worked flawlessly. The one notable exception was VSCO Cam, which simply refused to start — it crashed, crashed, and crashed some more.
Another matter is DPI, or how small (or large) screen elements are. While CyanogenMod lets you adjust the size of your display font, even its smallest setting was rather large on this phone’s phablet-sized screen. And adjusting the screen size would not change the layout for many apps — even though tablet mode on most apps would feel right at home on the N1’s massive panel.
Games worked well, if not flawlessly. Playing Asphalt 8 Adrenaline on the Oppo N1 is a very enjoyable experience: The screen is massive and bright, and the graphics are sharp and responsive. The problem in this case was with the phone’s hardware buttons: I kept hitting the capacitive Home button by mistake, ejecting myself out of the game again and again.
Camera, Rear Touch Panel, O-Click
On to some of the phone’s banner features, starting with the camera. Yes, it does rotate:
That’s a neat trick; if only image quality was up to par. Here are some salad greens I shot with the N1:
This is an okay image, actually – but it doesn’t stand up to the quality I’ve seen with the Xperia Z1’s camera. If you’re really into selfies, then this camera would be great for you — and being able to rotate it to all sorts of crazy angles makes it easy to candidly take photos, too. But the resulting images will look like they were taken using a smartphone.
Next up, the rear touch panel. The phone’s custom case even comes with a recessed area in the back, to make the touch panel usable even when you have the case on… in theory:
When running CyanogenMod, the rear touch panel is disabled by default. Only after navigating to Settings > Language & Input and enabling it, was I able to use it. And even then, it really only worked in the launcher. I was able to scroll through homescreens with it, but when I tried scrolling in Chrome, it just didn’t work. And as soon as I snapped the custom case on, forget about it: The panel might as well have been disabled.
As bad as the panel was, it wasn’t as bad as the fancy O-Click keychain dongle:
This dongle has its own non-rechargeable battery, and pairs with the phone over Bluetooth. It is meant to work as a remote shutter button for the camera, and even beep if it ever got separated from the phone (so you don’t end up leaving your keys or your phone behind). In truth, it didn’t work. That is not a way to say it worked badly: It simply would not work at all — won’t even pair with the phone. This is a known issue, and CyanogenMod have an over-the-air update in the pipeline, only this review unit was not lucky enough to receive it yet.
The final tally is that out of the phone’s three banner features (rotating camera, rear touch panel, O-click), the camera is so-so, the rear touch panel is bad, and the O-click is… well, nothing, really.
Battery Life and Performance
The Oppo N1 packs an enormous 3610 mAh battery. That’s one spec where it surpasses all three phones I’ve compared it against – the Xperia Z1, the Galaxy S4, and the LG G2. Its battery life was excellent throughout the whole period I was using it, with plenty of juice left at the end of each day, even with heavy use.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the phone feels zippy and responsive in routine use. But if you’re into benchmarks, here are a couple of Antutu screenshots:
As you can see, with an Antutu score in the 26-28k range, this phone is no slouch — but it’s no hero, either (the Xperia Z1 gets around 35k).
Too Big for a Day to Day Device, Not Great Value for Money
In the end, I was much relieved to go back to my comparatively compact Xperia Z1. The Oppo N1 is a fine device: Its swiveling camera is neat, and CyanogenMod is a great take on what Android should be able to do out of the box. That said, if you’re looking to buy an Android phone in the $600 range, there are much, much better ways to spend your money.
MakeUseOf recommends: Don’t buy.
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