First things first - this isn’t the Oppo Find 7. That specced-up superphone with one of the highest resolution screens on the planet isn’t ready yet. Instead, this is the Find 7a, the almost-flagship teaser phone from the ambitious Chinese manufacturer.
But before you sigh in disappointment and go off to do your washing, just wait. Because the Find 7a shares much of its DNA with its forthcoming brother, from its spectacular camera to its solid build and its sub-£400 price tag. Both are part of a new breed of smartphone that cuts prices without cutting corners, a trend started by Google’s Nexus 4 and 5 and taken to new extremes by the recently announced OnePlus One. After all, when every handset has pixels and processing power to spare, price matters.
The most exciting thing about the Find 7a, though? If this is anything to go by, the Find 7 itself will be truly awesome.
Beat This: 50MP photos and 4K video
As we’ve already mentioned, the Find 7a shares one headline feature with the Find 7. Because while it might not have a 2K screen or carbon fiber back cover, it does have a 13MP Sony camera capable of shooting 50MP ‘multishot’ images and 4K video.
That’s right. The Oppo can stitch together 8160 x 6120 images out of a selection of ten shots taken in a burst. And if you’re the type to blow your smartphone snaps up and crop into them, it captures plenty of detail. Admittedly, that doesn’t always make for magically perfect photos - megapixels aren’t everything - and with image file sizes ranging from 11MB to 17MB, it’s to be used sparingly. It takes a couple of seconds too so while it’s not a gimmick, it won’t be how you take the majority of your photos.
Switch to shooting standard 13MP pics and the good news is that it’s hard to take bad photos with the Oppo. Colours are captured accurately, contrast is excellent and there isn’t too much noise. The Find 7a does a good job in low light too; pics indoors aren’t the last word in sharpness but faces come out nicely and even at night, it takes decent snaps.
The camera app itself is easy to use, with quick access to this ‘Ultra HD’ 50MP setting as well as the excellent HDR mode and options such as shooting in Raw, GIF mode and panorama. Autofocus is fast, but not quite Samsung Galaxy S5-speedy - so be prepared for the occasional blur-fest in certain conditions.
If we had to choose, in good light we’d just give the Note 3’s 13MP camera the edge, as its snaps look a touch clearer and sharper. When things get darker, the Oppo is the better bet especially if it’s people you’re photographing. Either way it’s close.
On the video front, 1080p footage is clear and smooth but the headline is the Find 7a's 4K shooting abilities - aside from the occasional judder when moving the Oppo quickly, this is impressive in use too with steadier autofocus than the Sony Xperia Z2. Now we just need a telly for 4K playback.
Waiting for 2K
It might not be 2K, but the Oppo has a seriously impressive 5.5in screen in its own right.
If you want a bigger display purely for watching movies, forget the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and get this. Nothing beats a brighter-than-bright Samsung screen for reading outdoors, but indoors we’d take the Oppo.
It’s 5.5in and full HD so slightly sharper than the Note 3’s 5.7in display, with bags of detail and smooth text. Contrast is excellent too - making for crisp, white web pages and punchy full HD movies from Google Play. Colours are on the warmer, more saturated end of the spectrum but our favourite Masterchef faces still look natural. If you’re used to Samsung screens, you may think the Oppo looks washed out - but we reckon it’s just right.
AND ON THE FIND 7: The Oppo Find 7 will land with a 2560x1440 screen. That’s 538ppi, otherwise known as the highest pixel density on the planet. We’ve seen a 2K display on a giant phone (the 6in Vivo Xplay 3S) before but never in a 5.5in size. If there’s anything worth waiting for, it’s this
A bit more battery would be nice
This is the only reason we’d hesitate to recommend the Find 7a. Big screens are always a worry when it comes to battery life, especially if you spend your two commutes a day browsing the web, listening to music, watching movies and playing games as we do. Alright, so we’ve got short attention spans.
Anyway, give it a thorough workout and the Oppo will usually need a bit of help making it to the end of the day. It’s far from terrible and standby time is decent, it’s just not as good as its obvious rival the Galaxy Note 3. We took both out snapping for an hour and a half: the Note dropped around 10%, the Oppo 20%. Watching a movie on Netflix over Wi-Fi (with the display on half brightness) means the Find 7a’s battery tumbles 30%.
So you might be plugging in the 7a more than you’d like, but Oppo is trying to help. Its claims of fast charging up to 75% in just half an hour are entirely true, so you’ll re-juice in no time. And it’s also offering spare batteries to the first customers to pre-order the Find 7a.
AND ON THE FIND 7: We can’t speculate too much on the Find 7’s battery life, but we do know the cell itself will be slightly bigger at 3000mAh. It’s still swappable and the device will (somehow) be the same weight. If stamina is key though, the non-2K Find 7a is likely to be the better choice.
ColorOS: Oppo customisation, phablet features missing
The Find 7a runs Oppo’s own ColorOS brand of Android. That might frustrate some, as it’s based on Android 4.3 rather than 4.4 KitKat, but we’ll forgive it since in general it shows Google plenty of love.
How? Well, as well as having the standard Google homescreen bar, it can also launch Google Now with a voice command (the annoyingly non-customisable Hey Snapdragon, for now) even when the screen is off. That’s a similar trick to the Moto X’s Touchless Control, and it’s one that we like.
It’s also a good choice for anyone who likes to tinker with how their Android looks and feels. There are downloadable themes for homescreens, lockscreens and icons and even the ability to customise your own gestures. You can make a double tap on the blank screen to wake or unlock the phone or launch an app, for instance. Or you can open the camera with a swipe from the bottom when asleep. Oppo’s suggestions, such as swiping up or down onscreen with two fingers to control the volume, quickly become habits too.
Where it falls down a little OS-wise is with its lack of phablet features.
Part of what Samsung does brilliantly with the Note series is make use of the extra screen space. Oppo’s own ColorOS offers plenty of customisation and gestures that you wouldn’t get had it launched with stock Android, but it doesn’t change the way you use the smartphone or create a mini tablet experience.
So unlike on the Note 3 there’s no built-in stylus and handwriting recognition. Nor can you run apps side by side or as a small window on top of what you’re doing. A few tweaks is all it would’ve taken, but they’d have been very welcome.
Screen: 5.5in 1920x1080 IPS, 403ppi (Gorilla Glass 3)
Processor: 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
OS: ColorOS (based on Android 4.3)
Camera: 13MP f/2.0 rear, 5MP front, 4K video @ 30fps
Storage: 16GB (microSD up to 128GB)
Battery: 2800mAh (swappable)
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 3G/4G, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0
Dimensions: 152.6 x 75 x 9.2mm
No Scrimping on Silicon
ColorOS might be a fairly heavy Android skin but it doesn’t slow the Find 7a down. On the contrary, the Oppo goes toe to toe with the best £500+ smartphones on performance.
That’s because it’s running on exactly the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor as nearly all of the top handsets we’ve seen so far this year. On AnTuTu it scores a blistering 36,616, one of the highest scores we’ve seen yet and higher than that of the Note 3 and One (M8) which scores 36,149.
Downloads are fast, web browsing too. In fact in a week of solid use, the Oppo’s record had just a single blemish. Asphalt 8 kept crashing and we couldn’t get it to play at all. Other intensive Android games (including Asphalt 7) worked fine though, so we can let that slide.
AND ON THE FIND 7: With 3GB of RAM on the Find 7, rather than the 2GB here, multi-tasking should be even smoother than on the 7a in the long run. But it’s not a major reason to go for the more expensive model. It’s worth noting, though, that the Find 7 will come in a 32GB model as standard, rather than 16GB like the 7a.
The Phablet you forget is a phablet
Oppo’s last handset, the N1, was a bit of an odd looker - big build, rotating camera, touch panel on the back of the phone. The Find 7a has more of a subtle design. Neat and tidy without looking cheap. See Samsung, it can be done. It’s a tall device, though.
There’s a fair amount of space wasted on the front, making it look a little retro. And the edges aren’t as painstakingly finished as they are on, say, a HTC either. But it’s solid - it takes a lot of effort to get the 7a to flex, it doesn’t creak and the screen is slathered in Gorilla Glass.
Ultimately it’s a win. The metal frame and matte, slightly textured polycarbonate covers look as understated as those on a Nexus, but with all the practicality of a Samsung. And you can remove the cover for both a swappable battery and microSD storage.
Although not especially light at 170g, the Oppo is at least designed to look light and that makes a difference. Plus, given its size, the it’s surprisingly easy to hold. It’s the phablet you forget is a phablet.
AND ON THE FIND 7: Carbon fiber and titanium sound good? The Find 7 will have similar dimensions and the same weight as the 7a but will instead come clad in these very materials. We’re more than happy with the 7a’s build but we are, of course, willing to be swayed by fancier models...
Oppo Find 7a Verdict: A for Almost
We said price matters. And the Find 7a is an insanely good value smartphone that just happens to have a big screen.
It really is close to being a game-changing device. It matches many of the specs and features we’ve seen on the best 2014 smartphones so far, and it does it in plenty of style and for a bargain price.
Its only real flaw is that it makes no real concession to its large form. Compare it to the Note 3, a device with hardware and software entirely built around the fact it has a big screen, and it falls short in this regard.
Still, Oppo wouldn’t want to leave the Find 7 with no work to do. That phone is the device that will move beyond what we’ve seen from the likes of Samsung and LG so far, in style and at a low price. The good news? It’s weeks away.
Would we wait? Yes. The Find 7 looks to be the more futureproof buy, plus the LG G3 may turn up any day with a 2K screen of its own. Not to mention the fact that the extremely similar 5.5in OnePlus One, created by an ex-Oppo exec and on its way for an almost ridiculously cheap £230, will also be here soon.
One thing’s for certain. If you’re charging over £500 for a smartphone in 2014, you’d better be doing something special.
READ MORE: Oppo Find 7 preview