Phone

Cool smartphone comes with compromises

In the past year, the screen notch has become the standard design feature in smartphones.

This cut-out at the top of the display holds the front camera, earpiece speaker and other sensors - an accommodation for screens that are stretched to the edges for a near-bezel-less facade.

But there is more than one way to build a bezel-less smartphone. Oppo's latest Find X smartphone shows how it is done in the coolest way possible.

Swipe up on its bezel-less and highly saturated Oled screen and a module - housing both the phone's front and rear cameras, as well as a 3D face scanner - emerges from within its glossy glass-clad body with a smooth, mechanised flourish.

It is as close as it gets to an all-screen smartphone. The Find X has the highest screen-to-body ratio in the market at around 87 per cent, compared with the iPhone X's 83 per cent.

The sliding mechanism works seamlessly, taking just a second or less to unlock the phone. It has to because you might otherwise miss out on a great photo opportunity. And because the phone relies on the 3D face scanner in the module to unlock it, there is no fingerprint sensor, though entering a PIN works.

This face scanner is a step up from the typical facial unlock feature on Android smartphones.

It is comparable with the iPhone X's Face ID feature. A close-up photo of my face did not fool it. It works in the dark and under bright sunlight. And just like Face ID, it rejects me if my eyes are closed.

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $1,199

    PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (Quad-core 2.8GHz, quad-core 1.7GHz)

    DISPLAY: 6.4-inch, Amoled, 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 401 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: ColorOS 5.1 (Android 8.1)

    MEMORY: 128GB, 8GB RAM

    REAR CAMERA: 16MP (f/2.0) and 20MP (f/2.0)

    FRONT CAMERA: 25MP (f/2.0)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,730mAh


    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Because some people unlock their phone so often - my record is 159 times a day - I have doubts whether the Find X's motor can handle the eventual wear and tear.

Oppo says the module's mechanism can last more than 300,000 times or around five years, assuming it is used 150 times a day.

Dust may also gum up the works. After just a day of usage, there were particles trapped between the pop-up module and the external chassis. Waterproofing is obviously out of the question too.

On the bright side, it is near-impossible for malware to commandeer the selfie camera for nefarious purposes without you being aware because the camera physically pops up when used.

But overall, there are too many compromises that make this cool feature impractical for me.

The phone's all-glass build is too slippery for its own good. It has a tendency to slide off when the surface is even a bit uneven.

It did fall from a pool deck chair during my testing, though the Gorilla Glass 5 back survived unscathed.

This is problematic as I do not know of a protective case that works with the pop-up module.

It is a pity because I really like its glass back. The rear edges of my Glacier Blue version are slightly curved and have a lighter, bluish shade compared with the middle. From afar, this gradient effect, together with its polished appearance, reminds me of a precious stone.

The other deal-breaker for me is the lack of NFC (near-field communication) functionality. For a forward-looking, premium smartphone, it seems strange that this feature, required for mobile payments, is missing.

Like many smartphones, its dual rear cameras can recognise up to 20 scenes and optimise the settings for the best image.

The resulting photos look very good in well-lit conditions. The cameras also perform better than expected in low light, though a steady hand is a must.

The Find X runs Oppo's custom ColorOS interface, based on Android 8.1. There is a fair amount of bloat from Oppo's own system apps, but it runs smoothly enough. I did find the notifications a tad annoying because an extra step is required to swipe them away, compared with stock Android.

But I like its security and privacy features, especially how easy it is to see the permissions you have given to installed apps. A Kids Space feature lets you restrict the amount of time spent on selected apps as well as prevent apps from sending chargeable SMS messages.

Battery life is excellent at 13 hours and 40 minutes for video playback, but I found it depleting faster than expected for typical usage - perhaps because of the motorised module. I had to charge it daily.

My review set, which comes with 256GB of internal storage and a fast-charging feature, does not have a local release date yet. But you can buy the near-identical 128GB model at $1,199 in stores now.

• Verdict: Part of me believes there has to be a more elegant solution than the Find X's motorised camera, but I am still fascinated by its novelty. It is an ambitious, but, ultimately, flawed bezel-less smartphone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline 'Cool smartphone comes with compromises'. Print Edition | Subscribe