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Oppo N1 review: Real camera innovation in a swivel

Chinese smartphone manufacturer Oppo solves the issue of a weak front-facing camera with just a hinge.

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Aloysius Low
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Aloysius Low

Senior Editor

Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.

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5 min read

This review originally published November 20, 2013, on CNET's sister site CNET Asia. For full-resolution images, see the original review.

oppo01.jpg
8.2

Oppo N1

The Good

Its matte finish gives the Oppo N1 a more premium feel than its plastic chassis would suggest. The phone also has a great camera and strong battery life, and the swiveling camera is an innovative touch.

The Bad

The N1 lacks a microSD card slot, is heavy, and has no LTE. Some will find its dimensions awkwardly large.

The Bottom Line

With its swiveling camera mount and high tech specs, the Oppo N1 is easily today's most innovative smartphone that most people haven't heard of.

Announced in October, the Oppo N1 isn't your typical smartphone. For one, it's huge -- the 5.9-inch full-HD display takes up most of the space, and it comes with something you seldom see in a smartphone: a rotating 13-megapixel camera that you can flip over to take a selfie.

Design

Packing the aforementioned large display, the Oppo N1's shape reminds me of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, though the handset lacks its slightly curved display, thanks to its curved edges. And while the N1 looks like it has an edge-to-edge display like the LG G2, it's actually not the case, as you can see in our picture below.

Screenwise, I have no complaints about the 5.9-inch full-HD IPS screen of the N1. Colors were vivid and there were no color shift issues even when using the phone at awkward angles (which you normally won't). The only concern I have is that the large size of the handset doesn't really fit into your pocket all that well at times. (I had to take it out of the front pocket of my jeans when sitting down or it feels really uncomfortable.)

When the screen is turned on, the illusion of an edge-to-edge screen is shattered. Aloysius Low/CNET

The main highlight of the N1, however, has to be its rotating camera. You're able to flip it around to take selfies with the 13-megapixel camera. The dual LED flash is located next to the lens, which means it's flipped around as well, and you can also use it to light up your face (if you can stand the glare) for that self-portrait. If you're worried about breaking the camera by turning it too much, Oppo says it's been tested for 100,000 rotations, and it didn't feel fragile when I tried it.

Why put two cameras in a phone when you need just one? Aloysius Low/CNET
The N1's camera mount swivels. Aloysius Low/CNET

Other innovations built into this Android device include a rear touch panel called the O Touch that lets you scroll up, down, left, and right with your finger. This kind of makes sense, but you'll have to adjust your grip to get your finger in the right position. While it works with most apps, the scrolling didn't seem to work with Chrome when I tried it.

You can barely make out the touch panel's boundaries, but it's placed in just the right spot for your finger. Aloysius Low/CNET

Apart from these two innovations, the N1 is a pretty standard Android handset. The power and volume rockers are located on the right, while the Micro-SIM slot is found on the left. The phone uses physical touch-sensitive menu buttons, and these are located at the bottom. The back button, like with other Samsung handsets, is found on the right side, and it can be quite a stretch to reach it with one hand, if you tend to hold the phone in your left hand like I do.

Unlike what you may have come to expect from a lesser-known brand, the Oppo N1 feels more like a premium model. The smartphone maker says the N1 sports an aluminum alloy frame and has a soft-touch finish. This gives the N1 a feel not unlike that of some Nokia Lumia handsets.

The Oppo N1 is 9mm thick. Aloysius Low/CNET

Features

The Oppo N1 uses a custom operating system called Color OS that's based on Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean). Interestingly, the UI looks very similar to Xiaomi's MIUI, especially the buttons and fonts. Color OS generally handles very much like your standard Android smartphone, and there are some software tweaks such as an image enhancer that adds makeup to your selfies, as well as a theme app (like MIUI) that lets you reskin the OS to your liking.

There's also a gesture feature that's activated by swiping down from the top-left corner much in the way that you would bring down the drop-down notification menu. You can then quickly use your thumb to draw a pattern that can be set to do a whole array of things, like launching the camera, a flashlight, or an app. I found that simple gestures are the easiest to do; make it too complicated and you'll have issues trying to repeat it.

Aloysius Low/CNET

The O-Touch panel at the rear is also useful. Besides using it to scroll, you can also quickly double-tap it to launch and exit the camera app. You can also set this to work with other apps. You can also quickly take pictures of yourself by just flipping the camera around (you'll need to turn this on in the Settings menu).

The one thing that I disliked about Color OS is the keyboard. While Color OS has a wide range of supported languages, if you only need to type in English, you may get annoyed with the language switcher button located at the bottom-left corner where the number key usually is. If you have multiple keyboard languages, hitting this key will swap over to a different language, but if you have only English selected, it will just switch back to English (and there's no option to hide the key). Thankfully, you can install Google's default keyboard, which is far better.

This keyboard was not my favorite. Aloysius Low/CNET

Unlike other handsets on the market, there will be a limited edition version of the Oppo N1 that will ship with CyanogenMod installed. You can also install CyanogenMod on the handsets that come loaded with Color OS if you wish.

Connectivity-wise, the handset offers the usual: 3G, Bluetooth, NFC, and Wi-Fi, but it lacks LTE. It comes either in a 16GB or 32GB model, but has no microSD card slot for expandability. Bundled with the handset is a O-Click Bluetooth remote control keychain, which serves two purposes. When connected to the N1, it acts as a remote shutter button for the camera, and secondly, it beeps loudly if your smartphone goes out of range

You won't forget your phone with the O-Click accessory. Aloysius Low/CNET

The rotatable F2.0 13-megapixel camera is fantastic. As mentioned previously, it swivels around to let you take self-portraits and also features a built-in image signal processor Oppo calls Pure Image. Oppo also claims that the N1 is the first Android handset to feature six lenses, similar to the Nokia Lumia 1020, though lacking a built-in optical image stabilizer.

Low-light shots were well taken, however, and flash shots weren't overexposed. Colors tended to be bit warmer, but it does make the images pop. Refer to our test shots below for a closer look.

Performance

Loaded with a 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, the N1 doesn't have the latest chip, but it's not like it really needs it. Performance of the handset was smooth, and I didn't encounter any lag during the review period.

The large 3,610mAh battery easily lasted us a day and a half of moderate to heavy use, and you can probably get more out of it if you're a light user.

Voice quality was fine; I had no issues with it. However, the size of the phone does mean you may need to find the right position to get the speaker lined up with your ear. I found myself holding it a little too high at times when making calls.

Conclusion

Aloysius Low/CNET

Set for a release in early December, the Oppo N1 will cost 3,498 Chinese yuan (US $574). You'll be able to order it from Oppo's online store when it launches. That's not terribly cheap, but you'll be getting a beautiful innovative Android smartphone that's pretty unique. Given how practical and sensible the rotating camera is, I wouldn't be surprised if more manufacturers feature something similar in the future. The limited-edition version shipping with CyanogenMod will retail in December and at the same price.

Outdoor test shot. Aloysius Low/CNET
Macro test shot. Aloysius Low/CNET
Indoor test shot. Aloysius Low/CNET
Low light test shot. Aloysius Low/CNET
Indoor test shot with flash. Aloysius Low/CNET

oppo01.jpg
8.2

Oppo N1

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8
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