While the first members of the Oppo Reno5 series arrived in 2020, some did so quite late (including one on December 31) and others launched in 2021. This year we also saw the Reno6 and recently the Reno7 series. There were many launches in the A and F series as well, but we’ll try to condense the best and the worst of Oppo’s 2021 here.
Winner: Oppo Find X3 Pro
The design won a Red Dot Award, in no small part thanks to the seamless, smoothly flowing glass panel on the back. Making that one isn’t easy, getting a flat sheet of glass to conform to those curves is a process that takes 40 hours. While the glass was beautiful, the Cosmic Mocha version with vegan leather was a looker too. But really, out favorite part of the phone is the camera.
Pretty early on we caught wind that Oppo is working with Sony to develop a custom sensor for the Find X3 Pro. The preparation continued with the development of a 10-bit pipeline that captured, stored and rendered images with 10-bit color in the DCI-P3 color space.
The custom sensor turned out to be the Sony IMX766, a 1/1.56” sensor with 1.0 µm pixels and All Pixel omni-directional autofocus. This sensor was used in the wide and ultra wide cameras of the phone. Actually, it was used in several phones form Oppo, OnePlus, Realme and vivo.
Oppo launched some limited editions like the Mars Exploration Edition, but the one we want to briefly talk about here is the Kodak-inspired limited edition with a design based on the Kodak 35 camera. Also, most of Oppo’s rivals have already called dibs on a camera partner (e.g. OnePlus and Hasselblad). This officially launched as the Photographer edition.
There’s more about the Oppo Find X3 Pro that we have to mention, but that belongs to the next chapter – the future of ColorOS.
Android 12 went into its beta phase on May 18 and that very same day Oppo announced that it has a beta firmware for the Find X3 Pro. To be fair, it was a pretty barebones ROM, but it did show commitment to timely Android OS updates.
And it’s not just longevity, Oppo announced that the Find X3 series will get three years of software support, a year longer than most Oppo models. This means two years of OS updates, plus an extra year of security patches. It’s possible that the company will stretch that out to four years, depending on how internal testing goes.
There were major shifts behind the scenes for how future software will be for Oppo phones. A new company was formed, Oplus, which owns 100% of Oppo and has a majority stake in OnePlus (plus shares in Realme). This allows the two companies to share resources in developing their products.
The first major step was the joining the R&D departments of OnePlus and Oppo, that came in January. Next it was the unification of ColorOS and OxygenOS (HydrogenOS for China was already replaced with ColorOS). The two software teams were combined to work on the internals together (lead by the head of OxygenOS), but the surface parts of the software will still be customized to the needs of the different customer bases of Oppo and OnePlus.
Loser: Oppo Reno7 series
As we mentioned in the opening paragraph, Oppo has launched phones across three generations of Reno this year. And other than creating potential confusion for customers, the company hasn’t really demonstrated that the new phones have a reason to exist.
Take the Oppo Reno7 Pro 5G, for example – it’s not a bad phone by any means, but is it better than the Reno6 Pro 5G, the one with the Snapdragon chipset we mean? Having two different phones with the same name only adds further confusion, but even worse is that the answer is “no”.
Here’s the comparison. The 6-series Pro has a brighter AMOLED display, other than that they are the same (same size, same resolution, 90 Hz, HDR10+). The batteries are the same. The camera setup is mostly the same, except the Reno6 Pro has OIS on its main cam and a 2x telephoto. And it can shoot 4K video at 60 fps whereas the newer model tops out at 30 fps. The only advantage that the 7 Pro has is the wider lens and a new sensor for its selfie camera.
That only leaves the chipset – a Snapdragon 870 for the Reno6 Pro and a Dimensity 1200-Max for the Reno7 Pro. The two chips are about equal in terms of performance, so the older model holds up well.
The worst part is that this is a pointless discussion for the most most of the world since the Reno6 Pro (Snapdragon) is available in only a few regions. For example, it is available in Indonesia and the Netherlands, but not in neighboring Germany. Oppo Germany offers only the Reno6 5G and is still selling some Reno4 models. We don’t expect the availability of the Reno7 Pro to be any better, but we wouldn’t mind being pleasantly surprised.
In summary, the issue is twofold. First, the Reno6 Pro (Snapdragon) looks to be the better phone, so why bother with the 7 Pro. Second, people in most countries can’t buy either.
Having mentioned the Reno6 5G, that phone is available in more regions in Europe and you can find it in India and Indonesia too. Which is neat, because it is better than the Reno7 5G. That said, the Reno7 series broke sales records in China, so it will probably do fine, plus there are hints that the availability of the new series will expand to India soon.
Winner: Oppo Find N
Small phones have all but disappeared, especially on the high end, so hearing about a new flagship with a 5.49” display raises an eyebrow. Okay, the Oppo Find N is not exactly small in terms of portability, but its cover display is easy to use one-handed. It’s not just the 5.49” diagonal, the 18:9 aspect ratio makes this feel like a regular phone from before the tall-and-narrow trend became dominant.
A trend that is really pronounced in other foldables – the cover display on the Galaxy Z Fold3 has a 25:9 aspect ratio, the Mi Mix Fold stretches that out to 27:9, the Mate X2 keeps it relatively sane at 21:9. Most apps don’t look good on such narrow displays and the top of them is basically impossible to reach with your thumb.
With its size, the Find N falls in the gap between the smaller clamshell foldables and the larger horizontal foldables, a gap it currently has to itself. But Oppo scored another win with this model.
The Flexion hinge is the other win. It’s more gentle when folding the screen, making the crease much less noticeable, as we noted in our hands-on review. Also, it closes tight, leaving no gap that is typical of current generation foldables. This both looks neater and keeps foreign objects from wiggling their way between the two halves of the display. The hinge can also stay still at any angle between 50º and 120º, which enables several modes of operation.
The Oppo Find N is not perfect, for example, the 7.1” inner display is on the small side when comparing against other horizontal foldables. But that was a deliberate trade-off by Oppo. Looking at it another way, it has 50% more surface area than a Find X3 Pro. There is no escaping that this is one thick and heavy device, though, a hair heavier than even the larger Galaxy Z Fold3.
The battery is relatively large for the size of the phone (4,500 mAh vs. 4,400 mAh for the Galaxy) and supports faster wired and wireless charging than the Samsung. The cameras aren’t cutting edge, but that’s true for almost all foldables. We’ll examine them in more detail in our full review, for now you can check out camera samples.
Ultimately, the Oppo Find N isn’t a winner here because of concrete hardware decisions but because of the overall design – the market really needs a smaller horizontal foldable. Also, reducing the crease and closing without a gap does a lot to improve the aesthetics. Our one remaining complaint (that we hope gets resolved) is that Oppo didn't announce any plans to launch this outside of China.
Winner: Oppo TWS headsets
We reviewed several TWS headsets from Oppo this year, including the Enco X, Enco W51 and Enco M31. For all of them we noted that they deliver excellent sound quality, fit comfortably and feature water resistance.
The Enco X are clearly the best of the three, though also the most expensive – not that $135/€110 is a high asking price for the hardware. The W51 are $70/€55 and the M31 are quite affordable at $26 or so.
We had a few complaints, mostly centered on the companion app, which isn’t available for iOS and doesn’t work with the M31, and the touch controls, which weren’t great. Still, True Wireless headsets are the largest segment of the wearables market and Oppo has some competitive offerings.
Loser: Oppo Watch 2
Speaking of wearables, where is the Oppo Watch 2? It launched in China first and it never got a global release like its predecessor. And now it seems that it is hard to find even in China, the online stores we checked are all sold out.
The ECG edition of the watch is available, but it is also more expensive. And, of course, you can’t buy it outside of China. Oppo is falling behind in the smartwatch market, actually, it’s barely even participating. The Oppo Band Style was nice, but it needs work.
Oppo had a good year and the company seems to have secured fourth place in terms of smartphone shipments globally. Canalys reported that in Q1 Oppo shipped 37.6 million phones, up 60% compared to the first three months of last year. Then in Q2 the company shipped 32.8 million phones, up 37%, according to IDC. In Q3 the growth was a more modest 18%, but that’s still 36.7 million units.
Considering that the pandemic is still ongoing and in 2021 the chip shortage became quite severe, growing its market share was no easy feat for Oppo.
Xiaomi is still ahead, but the gap was smaller in Q3 than in previous quarters. Also, Oppo isn’t alone in this as it is sharing R&D resources with OnePlus, which is one of the few Chinese companies that are selling phones in the US. There’s also Realme, which overtook Oppo in some regions like India, but like OnePlus, Realme is also contributing to the common hardware and software development effort.