Chinese OEM realme requires no introduction but the realme XT recently sent to Android Headlines for review definitely deserves one. As a mid-range handset at the lower end of that segment, this smartphone stands out first as a beautifully designed glass and metal sandwich. That's offered up in two remarkable pearl-inspired color tones.
Several configurations for memory and hardware are made available by realme too, allowing users to get in on a great device at a wider variety of prices. For apps, media, and photography, realme has gone above and beyond to ensure a great experience for the price. That cost, by the way, is set to be placed at just ₹15,999 when it launches on October 7 in India — or just under $226.
Despite a couple of caveats that hold this device back this is an overall great device. Whether or not any of those are going to be a dealbreaker deserves a closer look. For some users, there are some issues in the camera, no wireless charging or NFC are included as part of the package. The realme XT almost certainly won't work in the U.S. There are also some discrepancies caused by ColorOS, which is still my least favorite OS overlay to-date.
One thing stands out despite all of the minor drawbacks. Despite being such a low-cost device, it's fair to say that realme XT genuinely embodies the concept behind the "Dare to Leap" slogan touted on its box. This is a great device for the money.
The staggeringly good design language is a hallmark of this phone
Aesthetically speaking, the realme XT is sensational. The realme XT comes in both a pearl white and pearl blue coloration and realme sent both for review. As the names imply, those are blue and white with pearlescent overtones. That overtone is stunning in a way that pictures simply don't do justice for.
The white variant showcases hints of purple and green with dominant hues of blue. White is mostly white but has a silver edge and the slightest hint of the same pinks and yellows found in — you guessed it — a pearl. The smoke-clear protective case that realme includes in the package doesn't take away from that either. If anything, it only deepens the effect while also darkening the tone of the colors.
Build quality isn't a letdown either. The phone features a smoothly-curved metal edge met by Gorilla Glass 5 on either panel. The colors and materials do a good job hiding fingerprints but what's really impressive is how the curve of the back panel fits in-hand. The feel of this device is every bit as good as it looks.
The only break with in-hand feel is the fact that the camera housing adds substantially to the overall thickness. That's not immediately noticeable and when it is, the raised edge can be useful in avoiding oils and debris on the camera lenses.
With that said, these handsets are a bit more slippery than average. But not so bad as to warrant concern.
The USB Type-C port at the bottom is smooth to the touch, as are the accompanying speaker grill and 3.5mm audio jack. Each port is well-made and each plugs in with a satisfying click and no wiggle even when jostled. They should last for quite some time.
The buttons are equally clicky and should last an equally long time without wearing down. Those are made of metal and are slightly over-raised from the edge but not uncomfortably so.
realme XT features a just-bright-enough display not let down by resolution
Ordinarily, when describing a display panel on any smartphone, brightness is an aspect that's worth starting from. That's the case here too and realme has ensured its realme XT is at least as bright as top competitors in its price bracket.
That means that, under most circumstances, brightness can be tuned very low for indoor use and the automatic brightness will compensate for outdoors use. But the luminance isn't quite high enough under bright sunlight to do the job and more than once I found myself struggling to read the display.
That's unfortunate because, in terms of clarity and responsiveness, the AMOLED panel in use here is excellent. Colors are crisp, edges are smooth, and pixels only show up when viewed very close up — or in photographs, in some cases.
Unlike many budget phones, realme chose a 6.4-inch Full HD (2340 x 1080) panel. That's encroached only by a dew-drop notch, giving the front of the device a 91.9-percent screen to body ratio.
The curve of the back of the device helps prevent accidental touches. Coupled with the fact that I never noticed any touch latency at all, the entire experience can only be described as significantly better than the price tag would suggest.
realme packed an in-display fingerprint reader below that panel. Throughout my review of the realme XT, that reader proved only slightly slower as the flagship device I use on a daily basis. But that wasn't a big enough difference to complain about at any length.
ColorOS 6 is still a sticking point but it's something a little different here
As implemented by realme, ColorOS 6 is far better here than in other devices I've recently used running the firmware. Make no mistake, it's still a massive sticking point since it's still a maze of settings and sub-settings when it comes to digging into that particular application. But it does offer a bit more customization and things do seem to be a bit more intuitive.
One example of that is realme's choice to allow two-way swiping in the notification bar. By swiping from right to left, users can access a deeper menu for the notification and associated app. But here, users can swipe the opposite direction to remove the notification entirely. That may seem like a small concession to users but it saves an enormous amount of time and effort over time.
Similar adjustments to ColorOS can be found throughout the operating system. Realme includes a Samsung Edge-style sidebar and Samsung-Esque theming elements too.
Another counteracting measure here is just how smoothly the OS works, to begin with. Realme optimized the OS significantly and that shows in how quickly navigation between apps is and how well multitasking works. Additionally, realme enables users to delete just about any app that came on the device with only a few exceptions. And that's a big deal because the other big caveat is just how realme has handled pre-installed apps.
This OS is effectively as far from stock Android as any launcher overlay on the market. It not only comes with a plethora of apps I didn't want and others that are essentially duplicates of standard apps. That included an online book and comic service as well as shopping apps. This iteration of ColorOS 6 ships with two extra folders filled with "Hot" apps and games that aren't technically installed but take up space anyway.
Overall, it just feels like more of a mess than cohesive — albeit a "better mess" than previous iterations of ColorOS. Not even system-wide dark mode help offset that.
How's the performance with realme XT?
One of the biggest drawbacks to the realme XT and ColorOS 6 — even with realme's customization of OPPO's Android 9 Pie overlay — is how redundant things are. For instance, there are two app markets installed by default. In fact, counting realme's decision to include an app called Game Center, there are three.
Performance from the realme XT is great. In fact, the inclusion of Game Center, Game Space, and two app markets may give some indication of realme's goals with this gadget and why optimizations are so well done.
Now, I tested this phone using some relatively hardware intensive games and apps. Load times weren't always spectacular but latency and lag were present during gameplay or use in precisely none of those games or apps. Realme's decision to utilize a Snapdragon 712 SoC backed by up to 8GB RAM and 128GB storage undoubtedly helped on that front.
There are versions with 4GB and 6GB RAM too and the same level of performance can't be guaranteed on those since I only tested the 8GB variant. But this phone, at very least in my experience and without hesitation, performed almost identically to a flagship.
The same Game Space software is included here too and represents the sole sticking point to performance. As with OPPO devices, the gaming-boosting software is intended to make games run better and limit interruptions. Also just like with OPPO devices, it's severely limited in terms of what titles work by default and it breaks many that can be added manually. The software is almost bad enough to recommend simply not using it.
This battery isn't impressive, but not at all bad or disappointing
This smartphone does come with OPPO's VOOC 3.0 charging to match that company's ColorOS 6 implementation. Realme claims 55-percent in 30 minutes. So I had expected that refueling the realme XT battery in my review period would be quick.
Instead, keeping in mind that this is a 4,000mAh capacity battery, it took just twenty minutes short of three hours. That's with the included charger and with the phone off. Making matters worse, keeping the phone on to charge is going to take 30 to 45 minutes more. That's likely down to software since the phone is unreleased.
That's not at all impressive. Neither is the apparent drain on the battery while on standby. There, I saw a drop of around seven percent in just four hours. Placed on standby for eight hours, it's going to drop around fourteen percent.
There are plenty of built-in battery settings that will extend that. Those put the phone into a deeper sleep when it isn't being used. There are similarly placed performance adjustments that can make things better during usage. And realme does include a standard power-saving mode. Those features were off for the duration of my realme XT review.
Impressively, despite those features being deactivated and with brightness set to an entirely unreasonable 70-percent, this phone lasted fourteen hours and fifteen minutes.
At first glance, that doesn't sound too impressive. Many phones with similar battery sizes last a bit longer. But that's including nine hours and eighteen minutes of screen-on time. I'm also only including just over two hours of gaming, over three hours of music playback — with streaming and casting — and four hours of watching videos.
That screen on time doesn't include any messaging, emails, and similar short-period activities.
Sound is a real highlight of the realme XT experience
The quality of audio from the realme XT is one of the aspects of this device that caught me entirely off guard during my review. It's just exceptionally well-balanced. Obviously, there's absolutely no bass thump to be had whatsoever. But that's too be expected from a smartphone this size and I never felt like the bass, highs, or mids were washing everything out. There's plenty of punch to every tone.
realme also includes Dolby Atmos with this phone. That only works over headphones since the single bottom-firing speaker is the only source of audio. Regardless, it's a nice feature to have and actually does make a difference during audio playback.
Interestingly, despite acting to separate noise for a more immersive experience, levels remain well-balanced over headphones too. The primary difference is that there's actually plenty of bass power too. So, if a song is playing that needs a bit of thump, that's there but not overwhelming. Conversely, if a movie is playing where the bass isn't as important to what's going on, that's subdued.
The result is an audio performance that feels refined. It's just better than what I've experienced with many other smartphones, let alone one in the sub-$300 range.
Bluetooth 5.0, meanwhile, doesn't disappoint either as it has on some mid-range handsets. Spotty, jittering connections weren't an issue at all and the solid, balanced experience translates over well — albeit without Dolby Atmos.
Of course, half of the audio battle when it comes to audio accessories is in the quality of the headphones. That's true whether Bluetooth or wired. So how well this performs for any given user is likely going to depend on that too.
Connections worked where they worked but mobile data wasn't able to be tested
Connectivity is not something I couldn't test and can't review thoroughly with the realme XT. That's because it simply didn't work on the AT&T-based MVNO I use for testing. It would not have worked with my primary carrier — Sprint — either. The dual SIM device simply showed the 'network unavailable' icon throughout my use.
Now, this test unit did include an interesting application called ORoaming. That appears to utilize eSIM, "taking up" one of the physical SIM slots to provide service in a huge number of regions at an added cost. The app lists the U.S. as a region and it may be that it didn't work because this phone hasn't shipped yet. That also suggests it could become available at some point.
Paying for that service wouldn't necessarily make the phone worth buying in the region. That's around $5 per day at an allotment of just 300MB of high-speed data and will stack up fast.
Twenty minutes of test usage was included with the app for a trial but I was never able to get that to turn on.
I did test Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth. Both appear solid here and work as expected. This phone lacks NFC entirely and there's no wireless charging. That's worth being aware of but Wi-Fi Direct is part of the package as are VPN, Private DNS, and tethering.
Those features that do work as intended, work as well as any other handset I've used. The earpiece speaker was tested over Wi-Fi and was this phone was clear on both ends in both speaker and earpiece modes. So there shouldn't be any issues with connections on the mobile data front either. But that's something I was unfortunately unable to test as well as I'd have liked to.
This camera has its pitfalls but performs far better than expected
At under $250, a great camera is among the last things any user expects from a smartphone. But realme includes a four-camera array on the realme XT and, along with a few caveats and discrepancies, that camera genuinely delivers.
Now, most of the drawbacks to the realme XT's cameras are found in the zoom feature or in a myriad of circumstantial shortcomings. The camera's 5x zoom gets in close on things but in lower lighting — the feature works in night mode too — pixelation and graininess are immediately apparent when close in.
The macro lens mode, one of several scene modes driven by AI, captures detail exceptionally well at up to 4cm distance. But things fall apart in low light almost across the board. Night mode, dubbed "Nightscape" here, is great, as long as a steady hand is used. Any shakiness or wiggle results in a blurry, color-washed mess.
Nightscape also suffers from overall tinting, depending on which mode the AI has selected. Greenery captures turn out okay. Under a streetlamp, photos turn out slightly yellowed. While the software handles light-to-shadow and shadow-to-light transitions well, it doesn't in Nightscape mode. 5x Zoom and ultra-wide shots are available in Nightscape too. So there are at least some features to offset things.
Snapped with a steady hand, as shown in our sample gallery via Flickr, Nightscape captures are great, graininess is low and details are serviceable.
Realme offers an "Ultra 64 MP" (9216×6912) mode and a 960fps slow-motion mode too. So users can capture a much higher-degree of flat detail than would otherwise be possible in both photos and videos.
The camera is fully-loaded with filters, "Chroma Boost," HDR, panoramic mode, portrait mode, and all the other things that work as expected. So it's a great camera for the price, overall.
Should you buy realme XT?
Generally speaking, realme has built a truly great smartphone for the price here. That's for any users who don't live in the U.S. — at least for now. Not only did realme design the XT to feature a better-than-average build quality and aesthetic. The company went above expectations to optimize everything from the camera experience to memory management and performance in applications.
This isn't going to rival a $1000 smartphone or a gaming dedicated phone. That's hardly the point of the device. But its performance and how well it handles tasks aren't the issue with the realme XT.
On the camera front, the photo capabilities of this smartphone are wholly unexpected. Realme loaded that with features, modes, and quality that doesn't often exist below $400, let along $250. The 13-megapixel selfie camera performs well too.
For audio, balance is the name of the game with this smartphone.
The overwhelming majority of the caveats stem from how the software itself is presented to users.
With the notable exception of the fairly intuitive camera software, interactions are close enough to call Android. Simultaneously, it just feels overloaded and too split up to make intuitively stepping from stock Android or other overlays into ColorOS easy. The learning curve is manageable, of course. This review of the realme XT wouldn't exist otherwise.
Setting those things aside, realme has delivered with its realme XT. Realme would easily fix or improve on the bulk of the problems that I noted with the realme XT in this review with a simple software update. There's no guarantee the company will. But that's not at all outside the realm of possibility. So, if none of those caveats seems like deal-breakers, this is an easy device to recommend.