Tech Review: Oppo R11s: The Android phone for people who prefer iOS

If you’re a bit of an iOS apologist like me, the only Android devices you’ll find even halfway agreeable are the ones that closely ape the iPhone. This more or less describes Oppo’s R11s, the newest and midrange smartphone handset from a manufacturer who’ve made an art of cloning Apple’s phone for the Chinese market.
Android purists will no doubt know that the Oppo R11s isn’t exactly a new handset — it launched in China in November — but with its Australian release now underway, I can tell you a bit about what its like to use the R11s as your primary handset.

The biggest and most obvious difference from the older R11 to the R11s is in its screen, with its 18:9, 6.01 inch touchscreen display. 18:9 ratio screens are par for the course among current premium handsets but the R11s is an indicator that we may be seeing more screens of this size reaching into the midrange too. This kind of screen allows for phones with a nicer, slimmer look, pushing the bezel all the way back and filling more of the phone’s face with vision rather than buttons or edges.

As a result of this insistence on getting as close to bezel-free as possible, the R11s can really put anything on the front of the phone¬† beyond the selfie camera and thus suffers from one or two odd design quirks. Chief among these is the moving of the fingerprint scanner to the back of the phone. It’s sitting in the upper half of the rear panel, almost directly beneath the camera flash. If you’ve got big hands that can reach all the way around the phone to touch it, its weird positioning may not be an issue for you. I can’t see those with smaller hands getting much out of it.

Additionally, while the phone does feature facial recognition and face unlock technology, it’s about as far from FaceID as its possible to get. The idea is that you teach your phone to recognise your face and it uses that information to open for you and only you. The thing is, regarding their facial recognition software, Oppo themselves state that your phone “may be unlocked by someone with a similar appearance or objects shaped like you.” This begs the question, exactly how easy is it to trick the R11s into opening up? Can you just hold up a bowling ball instead of my fat head and bam, you’re in? What all this means is that if you plan to use the facial recognition then your phone simply isn’t secure. Use a password or a pin instead.

At 153g, the R11s is light in the hand and coming in at 155 x 75 x 7.11mm helps it feel large but not bulky. If I have a criticism about the phone body its that without a case it feels very slippery in my hand. Those putting a case on it right away won’t need to worry too much for but for the first few minutes I had the device out of the press kit I was afraid it was going to slip out of my hand and explode on the wood floor of my apartment. The only thing that interrupts the phone’s otherwise rather smooth lines and finish is the rear camera hump. Without a case, the phone never sat flush when I’d put it on a flat surface.

For those who want to use their phone as a digital wallet or keychain, you’ll be out of luck here. Oppo have never gotten on board with NFC tech the way their competitors have, likely due to the huge preponderance of QR codes in China. What that means for you, Australian user, is that contactless payments and services like Android Pay are out. If that’s functionality that’s important to you, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

The R11s upgrades the original’s 20MP and 16MP lenses with f/1.7 apertures which should give you a touch better performance in low light. Oppo doubles down on this with what they call AI optimisation that buffs the virtual sensor. This might be overselling the R11s’ ability a little — it was fine in low light, better than a lot of midrange handsets by a mile — but still not a patch on anything offered by the higher end makers.

It wouldn’t be a Chinese phone without a beauty mode for your selfies and the R11s is no different. Oppo’s marketing says the phone looks for 254 different facial features and tweaks them to feed you back the optimal version of your head. Keen to know if the phone could do anything with my horrendous mug, I gave it a go. The result: I still looked like the Madam Tussaud’s version of myself. You can actually tell the phone to apply different “levels” of beauty if you’re not happy with its auto-gen version, or you can opt out entirely. It’s certainly good for a laugh.

Performancewise, its no slouch, running the same Snapdrgon 660 SoC as the older model and the same 4GB of RAM. While the Snappy 660 was the top of the pile for midrange phones last year, in 2018 I imagine it’ll be quickly outpaced by newer models as the year rolls on. The only hardware that has changed is the battery, edging up to 3,205mAh the previous 3000. It’s also still using the USB Mini charger and not the USB-C port many new phones are moving to. As things stand right now the R11s runs quickly, smoothly and efficiently. I’ve seen several benchmarks that put it at the same performance as its predecessor and that shouldn’t come as a surprise — battery aside, none of the internals changed so why would performance differ?

Where more experienced Android users might find a bit of a change is in Oppo’s version of the OS. Oppo phones run a heavily modded version of Android called ColorOS that does everything it possibly can to take Android and make it look and feel like iOS. Here’s the thing though — the version of ColorOS that is running on the Australian R11s is translated from its original Chinese and to say that it’s rough is a bit of an understatement.

There’s also other holdovers of its Chinese heritage to be found in the amount of notifications provided about data privacy, data collection and the tracking of user behaviours. China, notoriously leery of these things, demands that such collections be made clear to the user. These notifications are not as full on as they were on the original R11 but they’re still there. Further, as transparent as the phone is being when it tells you certain things may be recorded while using a given app, it’s also hella creepy to know just how much of my data is being hoarded.

 

The Oppo R11s isn’t looking to surprise anyone, nor is it looking to reinvent the wheel. It seeks to comfort iPhone users finally ready to make the jump to Android after years of Apple resting on their laurels, and it sands down some of the R11’s more angular problems. It makes total sense when thought of in terms of its place in the Chinese market, but here in Australia it may be considered something of a weird kid.

Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Nice look; Nice feel; Nice screen
Lowlights: Precious little difference between last model and this one
Manufacturer: Oppo
Price: $659 outright

Review conducted on a loan handset provided by the manufacturer.