The OPPO Reno Z is not, by any stretch, a bad device. Set among other high-value offerings in the budget-to-midrange category, it stands out as a top contender. In fact, it's a top contender in the Android Headlines list for top value handsets. That doesn't mean it's without fault or caveats.
The majority of the problems with this handset come back to software. OPPO could ultimately choose to fix them, if and when it releases subsequent firmware or software updates. If the company makes that decision, it's going to want to start with ColorOS. The company's Android skin has come a long way over the course of several updates. It's now at a place that's much easier to familiarize with.
Irrespective of that, ColorOS 6 is still bloated and still convoluted in terms of navigation. OPPO still includes a lot of unnecessary software that most users will probably uninstall since that's not out of the question. The extra weight allows for deeper customizations and better system control. It also paves a path of seemingly endless exploration while appearing to lack focus in several key areas where it matters.
With more attention to the camera software, for instance, OPPO could have had a real competitor for the top device in its category and price range. A similar statement can be made about its gaming optimizer, Game Space, as well as aspects of this phone's connectivity.
ColorOS has improved but that doesn't feel like enough
This phone often feels like it has too much going on in terms of software. Moreover, it has too much going on in terms of being far from stock Android. ColorOS has always been one of the sticking points of OPPO's devices. With the OPPO Reno Z, ColorOS 6 isn't as bad as previous iterations. But still isn't good either.
While all of the elements of stock Android are present, they aren't the same. Many elements have been renamed too or just don't work the same. One example of that, which I found particularly annoying, is how swiping away notifications works. Instead of simply things away, getting rid of those is a two-step process.
First, a swipe is needed to load up a row of icons for interacting with a notification. Tapping on the trash can icon removes the notification. While that's a small distinction on the surface, I receive hundreds of notifications every day from emails, messages, apps, and more. So doubling the number of actions required to get rid of those means productivity suffers as a result.
There are similar small quirks throughout the UI. Each is easy enough to get used to or will be second-nature to those who have used ColorOS before. For anybody coming from a stock version of Android, it's frustrating and takes some time to learn.
Another small example is how OPPO itemizes and shows apps themselves. The default is to load up the home screens with icons. Finding the setting to switch away took some effort — it's in the display menu — but even doing that left all the icons on the screen, forcing their removal one by one. The aesthetic of the drawer is also wholly inconsistent with the rest of the OS.
…and that's setting aside the extra apps and how broken Game Space seems
Now, beyond the confusing maze of settings, OPPO offers plenty of experience customization out of the box.
There are settings to automatically turn off or on services while driving complete with auto-responses and connection controls. There are also a number of gesture-based and on-screen tools for navigating around and the stock navigations can be customized. A settings-based app that's not unlike Samsung's edge screen feature, offering quick access to apps and tools, is present too.
If there's a customization-type feature or even a security feature you can imagine, it's probably available in the settings on OPPO's Reno Z.
The problem with extras is where they act as duplicates to what's already provided by Google services. Most of Google's apps are installed by default. But there are extras included too such as the Opera Browser and a Google Discovery-style browser called Yandex. Yandex Search is here too, duplicating Google's own app.
Finally, OPPO has its own version of the Google page that's typically found with a swipe all the way to the left. Called Smart Assistant, that imitates the Google Assistant features for surfacing all of a user's important information on a single page. But it really feels like forcing users to use its own solution instead of Google's.
Other extras include a File Manager, Phone Manager, Theme Store, a "Clone Phone" tool to quickly transfer everything to the device, a Radio, Compass, Facebook, and similar utilities. Those aren't duplicates and are too be expected regardless of which OEM a user goes with.
Finally, OPPO included an app called Game Space with its Reno Z which isn't altogether bad but does appear somewhat broken. More accurately, it's possible to break other applications with Game Space. The app serves as a central hub for controlling notifications, system UI, and other aspects of the phone during gameplay. It adds titles automatically and allows users to add their own apps as Game Space titles.
I added a single game to the app during my use and it immediately broke the game. I actually had to completely uninstall and reinstall the title before it would play again.
Other games don't seem to see much by way of improvement in terms of performance with the app either. However, optimizations could become more prominent in online multiplayer titles, since there are a number of in-app features geared toward that specifically. I didn't test that particular category of titles.
The fingerprint sensor is slow and more inconsistent than it should be
The fingerprint sensor in the OPPO Reno Z fell well short of my expectations. It was inconsistent to the point of being difficult to even describe properly. And that's despite the fact that my daily driver device, a Galaxy Note 10+, features one of the most divisive fingerprint scanners on the market.
It's well known that the latter device's in-display sensor is more secure than a standard sensor but is slow. It also requires a lot of pressure on the screen and doesn't always work properly even then. Although easier to position and use, overall, the in-display scanner on the OPPOR Reno Z was less consistent and slower.
That led me to turn on a dual-security mode called Fingerprint-facial Combinational Unlock. The feature uses both. I presumed it would use either. Instead, it seems to use a combination of both to varying degrees of accuracy when the fingerprint key is pressed.
It's not clear exactly how that works, so that may not be the most secure method.
Regardless, facial recognition was almost always faster but didn't always work, to begin with. Wearing a hat, for example, threw off the face recognition. So did glasses. But it didn't do so every time. Dimly lit rooms or rooms with reflective materials facing the camera appeared to have the same effect.
The experience of using both simultaneously is jarring and I returned to using just my fingerprint. It wasn't fast but it was a better experience. However, it shouldn't be expected that "better" in this case means that it was "great," even by comparison. It wasn't. A PIN might be the best way to unlock this phone.
OPPO Reno Z speakers are loud and incredibly weak
The speakers in the OPPO Reno Z may present the only problem that isn't entirely software related. They didn't live up to the expectations set by the rest of the hardware. Even its Dolby Atmos compatibility — using both earpiece and bottom-firing speaker — doesn't save it from that.
Ordinarily, that statement might point to speakers that are too quiet or which are distorted. The problem with OPPO's speakers is that they're exceptionally loud, clear, and unbalanced. Because they're so loud, when I first started testing this phone playing games I had to keep the volume just a couple of clicks above off. Any higher and I ran the risk of waking up family members in a small two-bedroom apartment.
Later on, I turned them up and tried again and they were almost annoyingly loud. There's no chance a user who has this phone turned up is going to miss a notification.
In most cases, the audio is going to be more than serviceable too. There's not a hint of distortion in the audio across movies, ringers, or games that's not meant to be there. The audio is as clean as any other smartphone. Simultaneously, Bass doesn't seem to exist in the world of the OPPO Reno Z, leading to a not-so-good experience anyway.
The bass tones are there, as shown when I listened to a few bass-specific testers. They're undistorted and clean but lack power. So they're Utterly drowned out during music playback. That lack of punch makes the speakers seem tinny, even though they don't quite match that description.
Connectivity with the OPPO Reno Z is just so-so
Despite having a solid connection on Wi-Fi and even on mobile data — although that was only AT&T 3G in my area — the OPPO Reno Z had a bad habit of disconnecting from Bluetooth entirely.
Now, I tested this handset without battery savings features activated. That gave me a good sense of battery life with heavier use for the average user. Despite that fact, this phone kept disconnecting from my Bluetooth-enabled watch whenever it was left alone for more than a few minutes.
That wasn't a consistent timeframe either. In some cases, it seemed to disconnect after a few minutes of being set down. In others, it did so after around an hour of being in my pocket. The result was messages that weren't received on the watch and other data failing to sync.
I tested the watch with other devices and it worked fine, putting the problem on the OPPO Reno Z's implementation of Bluetooth 5.0.
Presumably, that comes back to some form of battery saving that I just didn't have access to and that's not going to impact every wearable or Bluetooth device. Headphones, likely because of the media playback keeping the phone awake, didn't suffer the same issue.
At least in the U.S. on my MVNO, this phone also wouldn't send photos over MMS. That's despite fiddling with and resetting deeper settings to do with APN and networking. A phone reset didn't fix things either.
Whatever the reason, this phone didn't want to connect completely to that network. But it's unclear whether that is going to be limited to that network or the region. Other data connectivity over mobile worked almost perfectly. But not pictures.
Buy for the camera but not for the video, night mode, or zoom
The way OPPO designed the camera in the Reno Z presents something of a conundrum. Typically, the photo shooting capabilities of a smartphone make up the bulk of the review because that's how most users will utilize the hardware. Moreover, that's typically a good indication of how well the video will perform since the same sensors are used.
With the Reno Z, I was immediately taken aback by the fact that the camera will fit into both "good" and "bad" categories. The bad traits, of course, don't place it far below the competition in its own price range. But they deserve a closer look since the Reno Z doesn't quite live up to the Reno 10x Zoom. Overall, this is just designed to be a more all-around device and the camera suffers for it.
To begin with, I noticed quite a bit of pixelation in videos that were shot in the 960 frames-per-second slow motion mode. There didn't seem to be a whole lot I could do to fix that either and the anomaly happened frequently under multiple scenarios in terms of lighting, distance, and other aspects. The artifacts noted there weren't strong and most Reno Z users may not even notice. But it was strong enough that this couldn't pass as a professional shooting mode as it does on many other handsets.
Zooming in to snap photos or videos had a similar but stronger effect. In fact, the shots I captured during my test using zoom were bad enough to be comparable to much older, much cheaper phones. So zooming here won't work as it does on the more pricey flagship version. Instead, users get a somewhat annoyingly bad 2x zoom.
Last but not least, night mode with the Reno Z is touted as "Night Mode 2.0" but really might be closer to Night Mode beta. Not only does this phone not seem to capture much difference under most circumstances. In particularly bad lighting, it also doesn't seem to capture any extra detail at all. Backgrounds are washed out with black and only from up close shots seem to work well.
Summarily, the camera's night mode seems entirely too reliant on ambient lighting being relatively high. At which point the difference between the two modes is mostly in how well details are captured. The overall color saturation and accuracy, meanwhile, remain about the same between the two modes.
Are OPPO Reno Z's negatives enough to be deal-breakers?
OPPO has poured a lot of effort into making the OPPO Reno Z a worthwhile device, delivering some of the best aspects of its flagship devices in a much more affordable package. In many ways, it has accomplished that. The camera is, despite its caveats, a much better arrangement than most can offer in the price bracket.
The OPPO Reno Z performs, where things work as intended, better than expected and the display OPPO is pushing the Android experience through aligns well with that. Battery life does not disappoint, giving users days of use from a very short charging period.
Because this device is a mid-range handset, OPPO isn't able to meet that goal that completely. For those who want a great zoom, video, or slow-motion effect from their camera, this isn't the one. The same can be said for those who have difficulty adapting to changes in the underlying software for usability reasons. Smartwatch users should probably avoid this phone entirely.
The final caveat is that this handset can be a challenge to track down, to begin with. OPPO hasn't released the Reno Z in the U.S. and likely doesn't intend to. That's not surprising since the data bands don't work here as intended. Pricing varies from below $400 and near $300 to just over $499.
Whether or not any of that is going to be a dealbreaker for those considering this generally great but flawed handset will be subjective. At very least, it should be fairly easy to make a decision since where the phone is good and where it isn't are clearly definable.