The last Oppo phone we looked at was the thinnest in the world, the R5. The Oppo N3 is its ugly sister, being twice as thick and far chunkier even though the screen is only a touch bigger.
What the Oppo N3 lacks in style and grace, it makes up for with sheer geeky credibility. The star of the show is the camera. Not only does it have a great 16-megapixel sensor, its lens swivels around on a motorised pivot. Yep, that means it’ll take selfies, but that’s just the beginning of its motor camera potential.
For nerdier phone fans out there who want to try something really different, the Oppo N3 packs an awful lot of tech into its body. But is that worth the extra girth? One thing’s for sure, this beast of a phone isn’t for everyone.
READ MORE: Oppo R5 review
Beauty vs beast
The Oppo N3 was never going to be a normal-looking phone. It’s the successor to the Oppo N1, last year’s swivel camera oddball.
What’s new this year? All the specs have been updated, the screen’s a bit smaller and now the camera can be operated with the touchscreen, rather than just manually.
This is not a normal phone, and the Oppo N3 embraces its weirdness. Rather than trying to make its swivelly camera meld into the rest of the frame as much as possible, it features a completely different design.
With a fake leather finish rather than the smooth matt plastic used over the rest of the Oppo N3, it’s as if the phone has been given a skin transplant from a Galaxy Note 3. There’s even fake stitching around its edge for an extra attention-grabbing hit.
If an out-there design isn’t your bag, it’s time to close the case on the Oppo N3. It’s probably not for you.
Its sheer dimensions are also a bit of an issue. In the last couple of years, phones with gigantic screens have gone from being a joke to the norm, but the Oppo N3 has the large screen of today’s phones with a frame of yesteryear.
The bezels are that much bigger, the frame that bit fatter, and it results in a mobile that’s a real hand-stretcher. It may just be a couple of millimetres wider and thicker than an LG G3, but they really matter. This phone doesn’t feel all that comfortable to hold. And while the metal band around the middle adds strength, it ensures you don’t get an at all smooth feel.
Unlike the similarly-huge Nexus 6, the Oppo N3 does at least put the frequently-used back button within reach of your thumb, although the light-up soft keys are bizarrely, inexplicably dim.
READ MORE: Google Nexus 6 review
Thankfully the Oppo N3 isn’t just a selection of weird and wonky bits cobbled together. For one, the fingerprint scanner on the back is really quite good.
It works well, sits right where your index finger naturally lands when extended, and is its own button. You press it to fire-up the Oppo N3’s lock screen, after which it automatically scans your finger. As has become the norm for phone fingerprint scanners, you can teach the phone five fingerprints.
This isn’t the end of the phone’s neat hardware extras either. In the slide-out SIM tray there’s a second slot that can take either another SIM or a microSD card: you can’t knock that sort of flexibility.
The Oppo N3 also gets you some neat wireless extras. It supports ac-grade Wi-Fi, which gets you super-juiced-up Wi-Fi range and power when used with an ac-compatible router. 4G support is primed for the UK too, with all the bands we use here supported - that’s an improvement on the Oppo R5.
These days, of course, a few little hardware extras aren’t enough to court the enthusiast crowd. You need a gigantic screen, too. The Oppo N3 has a 5.5-inch IPS LCD screen, which is big but a shade smaller than the go-to geeky favourite the Galaxy Note 4 (it has a 5.7-inch display).
Resolution isn’t quite as good either. The Oppo N3 has a 1080p screen where the big boys of the phone world are starting to use QHD displays. Do you need those extra pixels? For bragging rights maybe, but we’re more than happy with the resolution on offer here given this phone costs a fair bit less than the Note 4.
Screen freaks take note, though: the LG G3 has a higher-res display and costs around the same cash, if not less.
The Oppo N3 has a pretty attractive screen, with the natural-looking colours and pure whites we’ve come to expect from an IPS LCD display. You can tell it doesn’t have remotely OLED-like blacks when you take the phone in a room with slightly dimmed lighting, but outdoors you’d be hard-pressed to notice.
There is one issue, though, and it comes down to something we’ve noticed a few times in the Oppo N3. Its software isn’t that well optimised. In the display end, this shows up in the auto brightness setting, which seems to be a bit slow to respond, a bit jaggedy in its changes and simply not always on the money.
We had to fiddle with the brightness slider manually a few times during testing, and you need to make sure the camera’s the right way around as the ambient light sensor’s on the reverse side of the camera lens. If the screen suddenly goes dim, that’s probably why. D’oh.
READ MORE: LG G3 review
Who can we blame for the sketchy bits? It seems down to the changes Oppo has made to Android in its custom ColorOS software. This is largely a custom UI, just like the other interfaces you’ll find on the phones of almost all the big names.
The Oppo N3 uses ColorOS 2.0, and it’s not quite the 100 per cent bug-free piece of software you might hope for. We’ve noticed a few little glitches in our testing, such as the Home button suddenly not responding for a while. We’ve seen similar little buggy bits in the Oppo R5. The software is clearly a few updates away from perfection, so be sure you’re ready to be pelted with a few software gremlins if you pick one up sooner rather than later.
ColorOS 2.0’s style is a bit off the norm too. Rather than having the usual Android arrangement of a bunch of home screens sitting on top of an apps menu where everything on the phone lives, the Oppo N3 just has home screens. You can arrange your apps into folders, but everything on the phone needs to have a spot on these screens.
This can make it a bit hard to pretty-up your home screens, and the zillions of white app icons that greet you when you first fire-up the Oppo N3 can feel like a bit of an assault. However, there are plenty of tweaks you can apply.
The Oppo N3 supports themes, and you can download plenty more using the Theme Store app that comes nailed to the phone’s lead home screen. They range from the tasteful to the frankly bizarre — there’s one where all your icons are replaced by little cat-like monsters, for example.
There are also custom gestures on hand that let you open apps with just a quick on-screen doodle.
READ MORE: Android 5.0 Lollipop review
Top of the class of 2014
Thanks to the odd little glitch, the Oppo N3 doesn’t feel quite as super-slick as it arguably should, but it certainly has enough raw power on tap to get there in the end. It has a Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.3GHz CPU, the same used in the HTC One M8, and 2GB of RAM
This processor is primed for retirement now that the Snapdragon 805 is here and the 64-bit Snapdragon 810 is about to be plugged into 2015 Android kings, but it’ll serve you pretty well into 2016 and beyond.
In the Geekbench 3 tool, it earns the Oppo N3 2797 points. That’s around 10 per cent better performance than that of the mid-range Snapdragon 615 used in the Oppo R5.
Come mid-2015, the Oppo N3 won’t look all that powerful, but as it uses such a popular chip you get the same sort of visual wizardry as last year’s flagships. That’s not always the case when other lesser-known brands are jammed in. Dead Trigger 2 looks great and runs just-about perfectly for example.
Oppo still has some work to do in liquidising bugs, but if you have the patience to wait for that to happen, we think you’ll be pretty happy with the overall performance.
READ MORE: HTC One M8 review
Johnny 5 all up in your mobile
What you can start to appreciate right now, though, is the Oppo N3’s wonderfully bizarre camera. It uses a single lens and sensor that can move from pointing back to front, and most angles in-between.
We first met this kind of phone camera design back with the Oppo N1, but this time it has a higher-end sensor and a new motorised design. You can swivel the camera around manually, use a two-finger gesture on-screen to get it moving or there’s even a special mode in the video camera section that makes it track a subject automatically.
It doesn’t do it very well, with the sort of jerky movements that make the Bourne films look like David Lean flicks, but is fun to play around with.
You can also take auto panoramas, where the Oppo N3’s lens slowly pans around making it easier to take shots without looking quite as silly as you normally do.
Just as important, the normal experience of snapping with the camera is very good. It’s fast and responsive, and it is capable of taking some excellent shots. Colours are punchy and vivid, there’s plenty of detail and contrast is very good.
Clearly the lens and sensor of the Oppo N3 are a cut above most out there. You do need to use specific modes on occasion to get the best results, though. For example, Auto doesn’t cut it for really low-light conditions. Instead there’s a custom Colorful Night mode: it sounds like it’ll give your night shots day-glo colours but actually mostly boosts sensitivity and cranks up noise reduction.
There are quite a few extra modes on offer, from enthusiast ones that let you fiddle with the focus and exposure to more ‘fun’ ones that let you create double exposures and change which parts of the image are in-focus after shooting. It’s a cracking camera, all considered.
READ MORE: Stuff's Guide to Photography
It’s all me, me, me
Selfies are, as you’d hope, about ten times as detailed as those of other phones. You’ll be able to pore over every bit of dry skin, every wrinkle on your mug.
There’s a Beautify mode that lets you hide all these bits too, but at the moment it doesn’t seem to work properly, causing the preview image to go completely black. It could be the Oppo N3 telling us we’re just too ugly to beautify. But we hope not.
To give you a bit of extra photo flexibility, the Oppo N3 also comes with a little gadget called the O-click. This is a little Bluetooth key fob that uses a flat watch-style battery and can be used as a remote for the camera shutter.
It can do plenty more too — you can set it so a double press sets off the phone’s ringer (should you lose your phone), use it to control music and make the phone give you an alert when the O-click goes out of range. You could use that last one to make sure you never forget your keys.
Given how many features the Oppo N3 packs-in, we were a bit surprised to see it can’t shoot video at 4K resolution or with HDR - high dynamic range. However, with great quality video and stills on offer, it doesn’t ruin the phone’s camera by any means. It’s an odd one, but a goodie.
3000mAh of pure joy
As a phone much larger than the Oppo R5 we took a look at recently, you’d hope it’d offer much better stamina as well as a better camera. Thankfully, it does. It has a 3000mAh battery, which is roughly on-par with what you get in the 5.5-inch competition. The LG G3 has a 3100mAh battery, and a higher-res screen to boot.
You’ll get around 12 hours of constant video playback off a charge, or a day and change’s normal use. With the usual near-constant Whatsapp checks and a quick spot of gaming — maybe 15 minutes — we were at 30 per cent stamina by bed time.
That’s not too bad. However, given how chunky the Oppo N3 is, we had hoped for a little better. As-is it’s at best on-par with the middle-weight competition from last year. It’s roughly on-par with something like the Galaxy S5.
What is genuinely stand-out, though, is the charger. The Oppo N3 comes with a VOOC fast charger that gets you to 75 per cent charge from flat within a half-hour. It then tails off, taking about 90 minutes for the full whack.
The extra space in that chunky frame does seem to benefit the internal speaker more than the battery. Its sound has a bit more warmth to it than the skinnier Samsung Galaxy S5, although the sound quality isn’t flat-out better. It’s certainly not HTC One M8-grade.
The Oppo N3’s speaker sits right on the bottom, behind the curvy lower part of its metal frame. There’s just the one speaker, but at least its positioning makes it very hard to block off.
Oppo N3 verdict
The Oppo N3 is a phone for people who want features you just don’t see elsewhere. A swivelling camera, smart Bluetooth fob and ultra-fast charger aren’t normally first on the list of anyone’s smartphone priorities, but they do enrich the experience of using this phone.
If those sound like worthless gimmicks to you, it’s probably time to get your coat and head to the next smartphone station. The Oppo N3 doesn’t get any of the core phone bits totally wrong, but its ColorOS software is a bit buggy and quirky, and the phone feels downright huge.
So it’s a priorities thing. If you’re a bit bored of all of the me-too phones that imitate and evolve rather than innovate and experiment, this may be just the device to to reignite your gadget enthusiasm. Just don’t also expect your journey on the good ship Oppo to be pure smooth sailing.
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