Hot design, high value
OPPO has long been a favorite in its home country of China, frequently holding the reigns in the top 5 largest OEMs in the country. As such it’s expected that their products feature a refined look and feel, with industry setting designs and features. The OPPO R11S is one of two latest phones from the company, sporting a slightly smaller frame than the nearly identically specced OPPO R11S Plus. With a design similar to the recently released OnePlus 5T, as well as a cheaper price tag in some regions, is this worth taking a look at? Let’s find out.
OPPO sells the Black or Champagne Gold R11S for a ¥2999, while the Red version is ¥3199 in China. Sites like Oppomart sell it Internationally for around $490/€415/£365 at the time of this writing. The main model ships with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, and OPPO also sells a version with 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage for ¥3599. Both units feature the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 Octa-core SoC, which is made up of a quad-core 2.2 GHz Kryo 260 CPU, a quad-core 1.8 GHz Kryo 260 CPU, and an Adreno 512 GPU. Along the front sits a 6-inch 18:9 Super AMOLED display, sporting a resolution of 1080 x 2160 (401 pixels-per-inch density) and tiny bezels all around.
Dual nano-SIM support is available, and the second SIM slot doubles as a microSD card slot for expandable storage capability. On the front sits a 20-megapixel camera with f/2.0 lens, while the back of the phone holds dual cameras. The primary rear camera is a 1/2.8” 16-megapixel sensor with 1.12-micron pixel size and phase detection autofocus (PDAF), while the secondary camera is a 1/2.8” 20-megapixel sensor with 1.0-micron pixel size and standard contrast autofocus. Both cameras have f/1.7 lenses. Inside the aluminum unibody shell is a non-removable Li-Po 3,200mAh battery. A microUSB port with USB 2.0 speeds sits at the bottom, alongside a 3.5mm audio jack and a single speaker. The R11S measures in at 155.1mm high, 75.5mm wide, and 7.1 mm thin, with a very nice median weight of 153 grams.
In The Box
Despite already having a great price for the specs, OPPO adds in a good bit of extra value inside the box. A film screen protector is pre-installed on the phone, and a luxuriously soft padded TPU case is included, which is lined on the inside with a soft fabric to keep the phone from getting scratched, and to help absorb blows from drops. The usual manuals and SIM tray ejector tools are included, and you’ll also find a VOOC capable microUSB to USB Type-A cable that works with the included 5V/4A VOOC wall charger. A pair of white earbud headphones with 3.5mm jack at the end are included too.
2017’s biggest trend has clearly been abolishing bezels as quickly as possible, in favor of a large, tall display. OPPO is following suit on the R11S, dropping a 6-inch 18:9 (2:1) display on the front and minimizing the bezels in a way we’ve not yet seen from the company. At 401 PPI density, this is a crisp display with nary a hint of visible pixels. Other flagships may have higher pixel density, but unless you’re using a VR headset or looking extremely close at the display, you’re not going to notice much of a difference between this and a Quad-HD screen at this size. Also following trends is the adaptation of an AMOLED display; something that was in the R11 earlier this year, but isn’t necessarily common among other OPPO branded phones.
AMOLED displays are loved for their infinite contrast ratios and deep blacks, incredibly vibrant and beautiful color reproduction, ultra high motion resolution and response times, and the ability to individually light pixels to save power. White balance sits slightly on the warm side, which is generally more visually appealing than a cool (blue) screen. There’s no adjustment for color temperature, so what you see is what you get. Similarly, OPPO’s ColorOS skin only allows for font size adjustment, but not screen size (DPI) adjustment, so text and the overall user interface can’t get as small as it can on many other Android-powered phones. Attempting to adjust DPI in Developer Options breaks quite a few things, including the placement of the PIN on the unlock screen, so this should never be adjusted by the user.
Similarly the new taller 2:1 aspect ratio means that apps designed for 16:9 content will either be displayed with bars on top and bottom, or can be scaled to fit the whole screen. This will crop the left and right sides of scaled apps, but for the most part this doesn’t cause any issues in our testing. OPPO utilizes some very handy gestures that automatically turn the screen on when you lift up the phone, and if this is utilized along with the facial recognition technology, makes picking up and unlocking the phone a seamless, touchless experience. There is no "always-on screen" functionality on the R11S. Unique to the R11S is the ability to not just hide the on-screen navigation bar and virtual buttons, but to completely replace them with gestures instead. This is something we’ve seen hinted at for years, but for whatever reason isn’t widely adopted by Android manufacturers.
OPPO’s new navigation gestures are a thing of brilliance, and will have you wondering why in the world it took so long to get these integrated into our lives. Instead of the usual three button back/home/overview layout on the bottom, swiping up from the bottom bezel in the same physical locations will perform the same task. Locations can be reversed, but by default swiping up from the right navigates back, swiping up from the middle goes to the home screen, and swiping up from the left opens the Control Center. Swiping up and holding from the middle will open Overview, allowing you to easily multi-task by simply swiping.
Hardware and Build
OPPO’s design is unmistakably similar to the OnePlus 5T, but it is 1mm shorter and .2mm thinner than the 5T, so it’s not entirely identical. OPPO also features a gorgeous red fade on the top and bottom of the front of the red model phone, giving the illusion that the bezels slowly fade into the display. The other colors don’t have this fade, but they all feature the same near bezel-less design and incredibly thin metal build too. This thin metal build is only spoiled by the camera hump around back, which is at least protected by a raised metal ring around the glass. Still this is an annoyance when placing on a flat surface, as the phone will wobble significantly if touched.
The rest of the back is flat, and even the fingerprint sensor is barely recessed into the frame. This makes it difficult to find sometimes, as even the unusual elongated circular shape is tougher to find without an obvious indentation. The antenna lines are kept at the top and bottom of the phone, and overall the back feels incredibly solid and sturdy. The separated volume buttons are on the left side, while the right side holds the smooth power button and SIM/microSD card tray. Along the top and bottom edges is a unique indentation that doesn’t appear to serve any specific purpose, but looks cool and keeps the top and bottom edges flat. You’ll find a single speaker, 3.5mm audio jack and a microUSB 2.0 port on the bottom, of which seems to be a strange inclusion for a phone that’s new to the end of 2017.
Performance, Battery Life and Benchmarks
Qualcomm has so vastly improved the Snapdragon 600 series of processors that you’d likely never know this was a “mid-range” SoC unless told so. Performance on the phone is perfect in every way, and I never noticed a time where it felt like this had anything less than the fastest processor on the market. This speed is certainly aided by the fact that the phone only has a 1080p+ resolution screen, which keeps the processor from stressing as much as it would on a quad-HD display. This also keeps video and gaming performance high, as again it doesn’t have to push as many pixels as higher resolution screens would. Loading and switching between apps is super fast, and I never found myself waiting an inordinately long time for this to happen. OPPO also features a game acceleration mode that’s enabled out of the box, helping games and other intense apps run better at the expense of battery life, as well as providing options to limit notifications, navigation mistouches/swipes and keeping brightness from auto adjusting.
Multi-tasking needs some serious work, but probably not in the area that you might expect. Much like a number of other Chinese OEMs out there, OPPO has built in quite a few extra battery saving features that keep apps from running in the background or automatically starting up with the phone. These are pretty easy to turn off, and for the most part you’ll find said options in the battery section of the settings menu. For the rest of the tweaking you’ll need to head over to the Phone Manager app and mess with some settings in here. Any messaging or email app you use should be added to the Startup Manager section, although this isn’t necessary so long as you open the apps regularly anyway. The real trick is to lock them in memory though, otherwise only the last handful of apps will be allowed to continually run in the background, but even this isn't a catch all. I would still find apps getting killed in the background, and plenty of times where I missed notifications for long periods of time because I hadn't re-opened the app.
OPPO’s multi-tasking Overview carousel has been turned on its side from stock Android, and closely resembles iOS in many ways. Swiping up will remove the app, and swiping down will lock it in memory, denoted by a lock icon in the top left of the thumbnail. I’m personally not a fan of the horizontal carousel, especially since calling up the Overview window is done with a swipe-up-and-hold, meaning the animation of swiping up feels disconnected from the windows moving in from the left side. There’s at least a cute little animation that looks good, but it would have made more sense to just keep it scrolling vertically instead. Split screen apps are supported, but this is the standard in Android 7.0 Nougat and beyond anyway.
Battery life is a bit difficult to judge because of the massive changes OPPO has made in the battery use logging. Instead of presenting the usual histogram that Android builds throughout the day, complete with breakdown of hardware statistics for screen on time and the like, only apps appear on the list of battery draining culprits. As such you’ll find some weird entries that don’t exactly line up with the rate of battery draining throughout the day. For instance at this time of writing my top two battery drainers were Allo and Discord. Allo shows a 13.46% battery drain with a 49 minute Keep Awake time, while Discord shows a 10.18% battery drain with a 6 second Keep Awake time. It’s difficult to understand these statistics and how they work, and there’s no good way to see the usual stats that Android users love to judge by. Regardless though, I had zero issues getting through a full days’ use, often having 30% or more battery left at the end of even a heavy use day. OPPO’s VOOC quick charging is unbelievably fast, with an incredible 20W+ charging that keeps the phone from getting hot, all while charging the phone fully in under an hour.
Wireless Connectivity and Audio
Despite only selling in a few markets, the OPPO R11S has support for some incredibly wide wireless spectrum around the world. There seems to be no support for WiFi Calling or Voice over LTE (VoLTE) out of the box, as there are no options within settings to enable or disable these features. Dual-band WiFi 2.4GHz and 5GHz are supported up to 802.11ac speeds, and Bluetooth 4.2 is available for common Bluetooth-enabled accessories. OPPO features a number of options to manage cellular and WiFi network data, with options both to automatically switch between the two depending on connection quality, as well as options to restrict apps from using cellular data if desired.
Unfortunately for me, on T-Mobile US, group MMS messaging simply would not work correctly on this phone. The problem likely lies solely with the stock messaging app, which would allow me to send group messages but not to receive them; every message would come in as an individual message from the sender, making group messaging extremely difficult to keep track of. Normally I would just switch the messaging app out, as this is a common issue with phones not made specifically for T-Mobile US, however ColorOS would not allow me to set any other text messaging app as default; it simply was not in the list of default apps to change. I tried a dozen different texting apps too, none of which showed up in the list, so it's something that's clearly being actively blocked, and made texting on this phone overly difficult.
Bluetooth 4.2 doesn’t feature the extended range of Bluetooth 5.0, and the phone doesn’t appear to support any high resolution audio codecs like aptX or LDAC, meaning you’ll be getting standard quality Bluetooth audio at best. Wired audio is a much better situation, as the 3.5mm audio jack provides active noise cancellation with supported headphone accessories, but no high-res audio support. OPPO has partnered with Dirac Research to provide a nice equalizer for use with wired headphones only, helping users easily tweak the sound if needed. The single bottom-firing speakers is pretty average in quality, only offering mono sound but at least offering clean, clear and loud audio when needed.
One of the biggest highlights of the OPPO R11S is the massive feature list offered by OPPO’s ColorOS Android skin. ColorOS has long been the most iOS-like Android skin out there, and has kept with this design and mantra despite other Chinese OEMs moving away from such design. In a way it’s charming; the OPPO R11S is basically the iPhone for folks that don’t want to be locked into Apple’s ecosystem, and in many ways that makes it the best iPhone you can buy. This design will be polarizing, there’s no doubt, as iOS’s navigational aspects are very different from Android’s in many ways, first and foremost is the notification system as a whole.
While Android’s notification system is superior to iOS’s in most ways, combining the notification shade with the quick toggle buttons is something that can overcomplicate things for users. This isn’t a complication in that it’s confusing, rather a complication in how many swipes it takes to get something done. For instance on most Android phones, if you wish to toggle airplane mode, you’ll usually have to swipe down once from the top to bring down the notification shade, then swipe down a second time to expand the row of icons at the top just to see the airplane mode quick toggle. OPPO places an iOS-style Command Center at the bottom of the screen, so a single swipe up reveals a row of 10 icons, brightness adjustment slider and quick share options. This eliminates swipes that are needed to perform simple tasks, and also cognitively separates quick toggles with notifications.
Other unique navigational aspects include the excellent full-screen mode with navigation gestures, which was detailed in the display section, but offers unique navigation that other Android phones don’t, and keeps the virtual navigation keys from staying on screen. This both creates more room for content, as well as keeping the navigation keys from burning into the display over long periods of time. Screen off gestures can also provide a quick way to launch apps without having to first unlock the phone and find the app, and there are a little over half dozen different gestures that can be customized to launch any app on the phone. The R11S also detects when you pick up the phone from a table or your pocket and will turn the screen on as you lift it up, giving you buttonless access to the lock screen. If you enable face unlock, this will double as a way to unlock the phone without having to press or do anything at all.
Face unlock, as a whole, is a fantastic way to unlock your phone without having to interface with it at all, especially when combined with this pickup gesture. It’s not a catch-all though, as it won’t work in dark rooms, and often times I found it had difficulty unlocking if I wore certain hats or was walking/moving in any way. When it does work, however, it’s a thing of brilliance, and the quickest way to get access to the phone. The fingerprint scanner is still lightning fast though, and definitely more secure than facial recognition, so if you’re most concerned about security, the fingerprint scanner is the way to go.
Security is a central facet of ColorOS, and OPPO implements a number of additional security measures over the usual app permissions management that’s already present in Android itself. Individual apps can be encrypted behind a separate password, keeping sensitive data away from prying eyes (or thieves). OPPO’s Secure Keyboard will automatically appear over your default chosen keyboard when passwords are being input, which OPPO says keeps sensitive passwords from being leaked by 3rd parties, as we’ve seen with some recent data breaches for 3rd party keyboards. Here you’ll also find the ability to restrict apps from using floating windows (like Facebook Messenger for instance with its chat heads), and even automatic pseudo base station blocking to keep fake cell towers from getting information from impersonating your carrier.
Kids space is also found under security, but represents a slightly different kind of security than the rest of the options here. As other similarly named modes on other phones work, you can select a list of apps that are safe for your kids to use and to restrict them from others, set the duration of use so that they’re not using it for hours, and even turn off cell data so they don’t eat up your data downloading stuff or watching videos. Similarly you can also clone supported apps like WhatsApp, BBM and a scant few others that allow such a feature, letting you stay logged into more than one social media account at a time.
Much like the rest of the phone, the camera app on ColorOS looks impeccably similar to its iOS counterpart, and thankfully in most ways the photos taken from it also bear a striking resemblance to ones coming from a much more expensive phone too. Starting with the software, you’ll find a very full, feature-rich camera experience all around. There’s no shortage of modes, all of which are switched between by swiping left or right on the main interface. In total you’ll find Pano, Beauty, Photo, Video, and Timelapse make up the modes, and you can almost switch between any of the modes by pressing on the words for each mode on the bottom. This gives a faster way to switch between modes than swiping, although Pano is off-screen if you’re in the time-lapse mode, so you can’t jump between those.
All of these modes can be used with the front or rear facing cameras, but the Expert and Portrait modes are only available with the rear facing main cameras. Expert mode is a full manual mode for folks that like to make adjustments to the auto image presented, and the options available range from white balance (2000K to 8000K), Exposure value (+/-2), ISO (22 to 3200), Shutter (1/8000th second to 16 seconds), and manual focus. Like the OnePlus 5T, OPPO packs a 16-megapixel and a 20-megapixel camera on the back, which both use the same f/1.7 28mm lens. What OPPO does differently from OnePlus is its ability to use a traditional cropped view in portrait mode, which helps crop out the background in favor of the foreground, or take in the whole shot as well. Both of these options offer the same quality amount of blurring, and both do an excellent job of separating the foreground from the background and making the subject really stand out.
Portrait mode can also be enabled on the single front-facing camera, and mostly works pretty well. So long as you’re looking straight at the camera, it does a great job of making the subject stand out nicely by blurring the background, but pictures taken from angles can tend to get a bit of the side of the face or hair a little blurrier than I would have liked. In general the front-facing camera looks excellent, and provides a crisp image in any lighting condition. OPPO offers both HDR for the front-facing camera, helping to fight overbright lighting conditions by balancing out the scene with multiple exposures, as well as offering a soft-flash for darker scenes. This soft flash consists of making the screen an off-white color and bringing up the brightness in a slow roll, presumably taking a few shots and choosing the best one automatically. This can tend to be a bit on the harsh side, although it’s less harsh than a dedicated LED flash would be.
Like the front-facing camera, the rear camera is quite good, and can certainly be considered an excellent camera for the price of the phone. There aren’t many phones that can be bought for under $500 brand new that can produce images this good, although OPPO’s close relative, OnePlus, will certainly give them a run for their money in that regard. In general the images are quality, from the good dynamic range, excellent color reproduction, and good performance under low lighting conditions. Processing is usually excellent, and OPPO doesn’t seem to be afraid to let a little noise in here and there to preserve overall detail, although lower lighting conditions tend to make things a little soft.
This last part is a little surprising given that the ISO never seems to push itself beyond 1200 or so, which normally wouldn’t produce an abundance of extra noise that needs processing out of an image. Thankfully though the times where processing is overly heavy are few, and more often than not the R11S does an impeccable job of preserving detail while eliminating noise. Images are shot quickly, and the camera launches quickly too, although there’s no support for Android’s default double-tap on the power button to instantly launch the camera. Rather you’ll need to draw a circle when the screen is off, or just launch the camera from the lockscreen or homescreen. The lack of an instant launch means the camera will naturally take longer than it really needs to, as it will instantly launch within a single second after pressing the actual icon.
Videos are about the only place where the camera feels lacking in any meaningful way, and it’s mostly down to not having very good stabilization. Taking the same video on the OnePlus 5T, for example, will net super smooth 4K video, and some phones do it even better than that. Dynamic range can be a bit lacking in some situations during video recording too, and lower light can bring a bit of a reduced framerate when the ISO jumps up higher. Overall it’s just average video recording quality at best. Check out the gallery below for all the samples taken during the review.
Killer, thin metal design
Super small bezels
Great AMOLED screen
Ultra fast VOOC charging
Above average battery life
Great photo performance from the camera
Tons of awesome features
Superb full-screen navigation gestures
Truly good pack-in case
Screen protector applied by the factory
Camera video quality can be hit or miss
User interface will definitely be a turn-off for some
Group MMS not working on T-Mobile US
Can't change some default apps
MicroUSB port instead of USB Type-C
Not IP rated for water or dust resistance
Multi-tasking RAM management closes apps too aggressively
The OPPO R11S is a stylish phone, particularly in the striking red color we have for review, and certainly checks all the right boxes for the price. A killer build, great screen, excellent battery life and tons of awesome software features are just some of the positives that make up the experience here. Some software quirks keep it from feeling more perfect, but the bright side of this is that these issues can easily be patched or changed in an update. The base performance, camera quality and overall experience are certainly solid, and the skin is pretty unique among Android phones nowadays. Full-screen navigation gestures set the R11S apart, and are a must-have feature for phones going forward. If you enjoy iOS style but don't want to be locked into Apple's limited ecosystem, this is certainly the phone to consider.