Slapping an ‘S’ onto last year’s phone and calling it a day? It’s fast becoming a mark of shame, the digital tramp stamp that says “We’re not even trying that hard this year”.
Apple does it. Digital darling OnePlus does it (even if it went with a “T”, just to be different). A few speed upgrades here, a camera tweak there - not exactly enough to get phone geeks excited any more.
That should mean Oppo’s follow-up to the R9 falls into the same shame-faced category of just-a-little-better. But does the R9s actually shine on its own, with thoughtful tweaks that pull it out of the shadow of its predecessor?
OPPO R9S Design: No flair but no complaints either
There’s nothing to knock when it comes to looks - the R9s is slim, with a glinty, chamfered edge running around its 5.5in screen. Sure, it’s awfully reminiscent of an iPhone, but which phone isn’t nowadays?
You’ll spot the difference around back, though.Even the thick antenna lines that Apple can’t hide on the iPhone have been split into three fine lines here. It might be a small detail, but it adds to the overall elegance of the phone and means you don’t need a case or cover to hide the antenna line-scarred rear.
Move your thumb onto the home button and you’ll see how the R9s more than reminds us of the iPhone 7. It’s not actually a button, but a solid state one that hides a crazy-fast fingerprint sensor.
It’s constantly reliable, even with the moist prints that come hand-in-hand with Singapore humidity. Oppo clocks it at 0.2 seconds, but honestly, all I know is that a tap both wakes and unlocks the phone like a really light sleeper.
It was equally responsive when I was at a music festival, even though the phone was slightly wet from the rain. Sadly, the hydrophobic coating only goes as far as the home button - the rest of the phone isn’t waterproof.
OPPO R9S DISPLAY: Now, it’s clear
It might not be a match for the pin-sharp, 535ppi Galaxy S7 Edge, but the R9S is easily on par with the Retina HD display of the iPhone 7 Plus. The AMOLED screen rings in at 1080p, which translates to 401ppi.
Text can sometimes be a pain to select specifically, but emails are a breeze to power through on the sizeable screen. It’s also got punchy colours that show up well even under direct sunlight.
Oppo’s version of night mode, called Eye Protection Display, strips out blue light from the screen to make it easier on your peepers once the sun goes down. It does the job just fine, even if it’s limited to Low, Medium and High settings, rather than more individual customisations.
The R9s regularly emerged unscathed from the depths of my bag, thanks to Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5, but the back of the phone hasn’t been so lucky. You might want to slap on a protective case, then, but can save on the screen protector.
The original R9 was a true selfie-addict’s dream: the front-facing snapper had a higher resolution sensor than the one bolted to the back of the phone. That’s changed for the R9s, with both cameras getting 16MP sensors.
The 16MP Sony sensor on the rear comes with dual phase detect auto-focusing, making it easier to capture clarity in challenging light conditions. The wider f/1.7 aperture lets in more light than the R9’s f/2.0 lens, too. It might not sound like a major jump, but it’s significant enough to make a difference to your low light shots - which is where it really counts these days.
In the sunniest of conditions, the rear camera shines, producing clear sharp shots that would be hard to distinguish in a photo line-up of those turned out by flagship snappers. Colours are vibrant, bokeh turns out really nicely without much effort on my part, and there’s plenty of rich detail in every shot. It’s really hard to hate anything about it at all.
In less than optimal light conditions, the camera retained its speedy focus and turned out images fast and clear whenever I kept my hands surgeon-steady. However, there’s still some noise in darker shots - although it does a tremendous job of doing justice to night lights. The illuminated signs of a Ginza shopping strip never looked better and colours looked better than real life. Too bad it doesn’t come with OIS.
Like the R9 before it, the R9s comes with a stonking 16MP front camera with an f/2.0 aperture to help you find the light for good selfies. It also comes with a Beauty mode, as most Chinese phones do, that will smoothen your skin and give you the glow of someone who manages to squeeze in a 5km run every morning before work. Personally, I’m not a big fan of its airbrushed effect, but at least you don’t have to open up another app for your #OOTD post.
If you’re a YouTube-wannabe, the Oppo R9s shoots in 4K too. Not bad for the money, really.
Oppo R9S User experience: A splash of colour
Oppo’s custom ColorOS is built on Android 6.0, and is pretty much a no-frills experience. There’s no crazy, Oppo-branded bloatware, but also not a lot to really set it apart.
It shines at one thing - keeping operations lean in order to squeeze a seriously long time out of the battery. It automatically suspends app activity if things are running in the background - handy for some things, but annoying for others. You can disable it for individual apps, though.
When Low Power Mode kicks in, it even switches off connections, both mobile and Wi-Fi, to really stretch out that battery. I didn’t even realise until I found it strange that my phone was so silent. Don’t be thinking that your R9s is damaged - it’s just really efficient when it comes to power management.
With a Snapdragon 625 CPU and 4GB RAM keeping its insides running at optimal speed, the experience was silky smooth, albeit a little underwhelming. The R9s responded readily to my tappy demands without breaking the momentum. Need for Speed: No Limits flowed, as you’d expect from a 1080p smartphone.
It comes with 64GB storage out of the box and its dual SIM tray doubles up as a microSD card slot, expandable up to 256GB. You know what this means: load it up with all the videos you want. This phone has the battery to let you power through more than a few episodes of Westworld.
And guess what, it hasn’t forsaken the headphone jack or the microUSB port, so if you’re a fan of old school connections, you’ll be able to use your old-timey cables with this phone.
Oppo R9s Battery: Can’t stop, won’t stop
The Oppo R9s lasts and lasts. On occasion, I’ve used it for two days straight, when an iPhone 7 would have lasted through one - it’s a modern miracle by today’s smartphone standards.
It even lasted me on a four-day Japan jaunt where it was mostly on standby. The 3010mAh battery isn’t excessive by today’s standards, but it just wouldn’t quit. In fact, the reason I took so long to file this review wasn’t procrastination (not all of it anyway), but waiting for the battery to drain was taking longer than other phones.
When the battery eventually sputtered out, the Oppo R9s’ VOOC rapid charging will further set your mind at ease. It went from 18% to 93% after about 40 minutes. Even if I forget to flip the switch while charging my phone overnight, charging it in the 20 minutes I take to get ready is enough to juice it up significantly - from 24% to 60%, without a perceptible increase in body temperature. The Energiser Bunny would be jealous.
OPPO R9S VERDICT
The Oppo R9s is not going to blow your mind with bells and whistles. But maybe that’s a good thing, because most people don’t need bells and whistles, you just need a good reliable phone.
That’s what the Oppo R9s is, with the improvements made where they count the most - camera and battery life, putting it ahead of its predecessor. It performs incredibly considering the reasonable price.
The Xiaomi Mi 5 is a worthy contender, although it doesn’t have the same expandable storage, and the excellent OnePlus 3 is a smidge more expensive, but packs a more powerful Snapdragon 820 chip. In any case, both examples do not have the will to last as long as the R9s.
If battery is what counts for you, the R9s is a sure mid-range bet.