Oppo N3: Novelties with compromises
LAST year, China phone-maker Oppo released the N1, an oddball phablet with a swivelling camera that can be pointed in both directions, letting you take both regular photos and front-facing selfies with its single 13MP shooter. Now, Oppo has released a sequel, the N3. What happened to the N2? It doesn't exist.
The N3 is a bit smaller, with a 5.5-inch display instead of the N1's 5.9-inch screen. And it's a bit more powerful - you'll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.3GHz processor inside, compared with the N1's Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.7GHz chip.
The swivelling camera gimmick is back, but it's motorised so you can operate it with the touchscreen instead of manually moving it into place.
But is the phablet any good?
Despite shrinking in overall size, the N3 is still a big phone. It weighs a hefty 192g. Compared with other phablets, like the similarly 5.5-inch LG G3, it looks and feels positively obese. It's also heavier than the LG G3, which weighs 149g.
Most of the phone has a matte plastic finish, with an aluminium band running around the edge for added stability. Unfortunately, the metal frame also makes the N3 rather uncomfortable to hold, as its thin, hard edge bites into your palm.
On the back of the phone is a fingerprint scanner. Surprisingly, it works really well and is probably second only to Apple's Touch ID scanner in speed and usability. One minor annoyance is that the fingerprint button cannot be used to wake the N3 up if you're not using fingerprint security.
Bizarrely, Oppo has stuck the headphone port on the right side of the N3. As the phablet is already quite wide, it barely fits into your pocket. Add a headphone jack sticking out the side and there's no chance of that happening.
The N3's VOOC fast charging feature is fantastic. It will charge the phone from zero to 75 per cent in just 30 minutes. After that, it tails off, and takes about an hour to get to a full charge.
Like many smartphones from Chinese companies, the N3 has two SIM card slots: one micro-SIM slot and one nano-SIM slot.
The N3 has 32GB of internal storage, and the model sold here doesn't allow you to expand its storage.
The Oppo N3 has a 5.5-inch IPS LCD display with 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution (403 ppi), putting it on a par with the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, but somewhat behind the QHD resolution of the LG G3 (538 ppi). Still, you would be hard-pressed to see any difference in clarity between the N3 and G3.
Colours are rendered naturally and the screen is very bright with great viewing angles. But its contrast levels aren't as deep as they could be.
The N3 runs on Oppo's Color OS v2.0, a heavily skinned version of the Android 4.4 KitKat operating system. It differs from stock Android mainly in the removal of the app drawer. Instead, all apps are found on separate homescreens, similar to iOS.
Color OS supports custom themes. You can customise the N3's lockscreen and homescreen too.
One handy feature of Color OS is the gesture board. Once opened with a swipe, you can perform various gestures to launch apps. For example, drawing a circle opens the camera app. You can customise which apps you want to assign to specific gestures and even create your own gestures.
There's also a separate "Gesture & motion" menu, in which the gestures are used for specific functions. For example, swiping with all three fingers across the screen will take a screenshot. The motion options are quite useful, such as raising the phone to your ear to answer a call.
Like most phablets, the N3 has a one-handed mode that shrinks the user interface, so things are within easier reach.
The N3 performs slightly worse than the G3 but still boasts a significant improvement over the N1 in a benchmark that evaluates an Android device's central processing unit, memory, data transfer and 3D graphics performance. Still, the N3 is quite a bit behind the Note 4.
The swivelling camera on the N3 has been bumped up to 16MP with an f/2.2 aperture and uses a Schneider-Kreuznach lens. It can now rotate automatically, although turning the camera manually on the N1 was never really a problem. The motorised camera can also rotate to automatically pan the camera for shots.
As for actual image quality, the N3 rivals nearly all flagship smartphones, with good detail, low graininess and natural colour reproduction. Auto-focus is also fairly fast, even in low light conditions. It's missing only optical image stabilisation.
In our video looping test, the N3 lasted just over 10 hours, about an hour less than the N1, but this was expected due to the N3's more powerful processor and smaller battery. The N3 did last significantly longer than both the G3 (a QHD resolution device) and iPhone 6 Plus.
The Oppo N3 is an interesting phablet, updating the N1 with newer components and a clever motorised camera. Unfortunately, novelties often come with compromises.
The N3 is smaller at 5.5 inches, but isn't that comfortable to hold. The design of the N3, like its oddly placed headphone port, also makes it frustrating to use. Even so, the N3's 16MP camera is rather good.
But if the N3's novelty factor doesn't interest you, there are better buys out there, such as the G3, Note 4 and Xiaomi Mi Note.