OPPO's R9s is a solid bang-for-buck midrange smartphone that keeps the price down and doesn't make too many compromises.
Outright Cost: $699
What is it?
The R9s is the latest device from upstart Chinese smartphone manufacturer OPPO. Best described paradoxically as a high-end midrange handset, the R9s is a phone that wants to look and feel premium without attracting a premium price tag. While the R9s looks a lot like an iPhone, it costs around half as much at just $699.
The first thing you'll notice about the R9s is that it looks a lot like an iPhone. While the design is more than a little derivative, this isn't exactly bad. The main difference between the two is the R9s' home button is a pill rather than a circle, and it's flanked by two capacitive buttons either side (as is the norm on many Android devices). Oh, and there's still a headphone jack.
In addition to looking like an iPhone, the OPPO R9s nails the feel too. It's a premium build without a premium price tag, but there a few small niggles you might not find on a more expensive phone. You can tell that the glass and the metal are two different elements on the R9s, whereas the join feels a little more seamless on the iPhone. As such, it almost feels like the glass juts out a bit, but it's not uncomfortable to hold or anything.
One neat little detail is OPPO's new approach to antenna bands. Rather than using two plastic strips (as found on most aluminium smartphones), the R9s has six tiny bands. Not only is this a bit more subtle, it gives the R9s a bit of its own flavour.
When it comes to performance, the R9s doesn't feel any slower than pricier phones for days day-to-day tasks. Once you start getting into games with 3D graphics, you might notice a drop in performance. Hearthstone, for example, was a stutters slightly, but this will vary from app to app.
Impressively, the R9s' fingerprint reader is both reliable and fast. Like really fast. iPhone and Pixel fast, if not faster.
In terms of battery life, the R9s comfortably lasted two days on a single charge, which is pretty damn solid. If you're a lighter user, you might even be able to get through a third day. The R9s still uses micro-USB for charging, rather than the up-and-coming USB Type-C connector. This is great news if you have a drawer full of old smartphone chargers.
The R9s' camera is fine. It's a step up from OPPO's past efforts, but it’s the biggest compromise you'll make in buying the R9s over a pricier iPhone, Pixel, or Galaxy. The camera is fast to open, shoots reasonably quickly, and actually does an alright job at night. While cheaper smartphones often struggle with low-light photography, the R9s does a capable job, a little worse to what you'd get on the iPhone 6 two or so years ago (which, in my opinion, was one of the first phones to do well with low-light photography). Of course, if movement is involved, getting a shot at night might take two or three tries, depending on the speed of objects in your shot and how shaky your hands tend to be.
At $699 outright, the R9s certainly wins on value; especially when you consider the generous 64GB of expandable storage that money buys you.
What's not so good?
At less than $700, the biggest issue with the R9s is software. OPPO's take on Android - ColorOS 3.0 - isn't amazing. Designed to ape Apple's iOS, ColorOS feels too much like imitation. Some of the icons - Settings, Calculator, Calendar, and Weather, to name a few - are almost ripped straight from the iPhone. The camera app's user interface is also awfully recognisable. While the familiarity may help ease some iPhone owners into Android phones, OPPO doesn't quite pull off the iOS visual style. As a result, ColorOS has a bit of a "knockoff iPhone being sold for $20 at a dodgy night market" kind of vibe. This is a shame, because the imitated aesthetic discredits an otherwise great piece of hardware.
Visual idiosyncrasies aside, ColorOS has a few quirks in terms of usability. There's quite a few preloaded apps you can't uninstall, there's no app drawer, and notifications and quick settings are split over two different panes. While you can address some of these issues by install a different launcher (like the Google Launcher), you're unfortunately stuck with issues like the notification split.
One odd omission is the lack of NFC. This won't be a huge deal for everyone, but it does mean you can't use the R9s for services like Android Pay.
While the R9s' screen is quite bright, it can be a little hard to read in direct sunlight. It's not impossible, just a little harder than on a pricier flagship. On a related note, the screen doesn't appear to have any oleophobic coating, which makes fingerprints and smudges a bit more noticeable.
Who's it for?
If you're after a smartphone that doesn't break the bank and doesn't make too many compromises, the R9s is a great option. The heavily modified take on Android will turn some off, but there's very little else to criticise the R9s for. The camera is good, battery life is amazing, it's nice to hold, and you get 64GB of storage.
And once again, the R9s is just $699.
If you buy the OPPO R9s, you'll make a few small compromises but save a nice chunk of cash. It's a great phone at a great price.
What else can I buy?
The iPhone SE is the cheapest way to buy a new iPhone, and starts at roughly the same price as the OPPO R9s. The catch is, the iPhone SE starts at 16GB storage, whereas the R9s starts with 64GB. If you're after a larger capacity iPhone SE, get ready to fork out a bit more.
Moto G4 Plus
The Moto G4 Plus is quite similar to the OPPO R9s in terms of size and specifications, but a little cheaper at around $500. The internals aren't quite as new, and the phone is plastic rather than metal, but it also runs a cleaner version of Android.
If you want to save even more money, it's worth taking a look at OPPO's F1s, the R9s' more affordable brother. While it's slightly less powerful, it still has a 5.5-inch screen and premium aluminium build. The only real trade off you'll make is the camera.