“The N3 is packed with innovations, but is that enough to entice you? We try to find that out in this review”
Chinese brand OPPO has been present in India for about an year, but it has been making enough noise about its devices. While its debut offering, the N1 had a unique swivel camera, the brand was also the first to launch a smartphone with an eye-popping 2K resolution in India (the Find 7). Then it kicked off the year 2015 with the R5, which has the USP of a wafer-thin body. And now, the brand has brought the N1's successor, the N3 (unboxing | first impressions), which takes innovation to a new level with features such as motorised swivel camera.
But there's more to OPPO N3 than its innovative features, so let's check out the device in detail in this review.
|In a hurry? Take a visual tour of the capabilities of the OPPO N3|
While the phablets, as a category, might have garnered the attention of smartphone manufacturers in the recent months, OPPO is among the first brands who boarded the large-screen bandwagon. In fact, the N1, with its gargantuan 5.9-inch display, was closer to a tablet than a smartphone. The Chinese company couldn't possibly go any bigger when it came to the display panel on its successor, the N3, and instead chose to reduce its screen size. We’re glad it did so – since now it’s easier to handle with its 5.5-inch display.
The OPPO N3 has also made subtle changes in the design language, while improving the highlighting aspects of its previous iteration. Along with the display panel at the front, a separate portion on the top featuring a leather texture, will grab your attention. That’s where you’ll find the earpiece, and you can rotate it to bring the camera to the front. Thanks to a motor, the camera module can be automatically rotated up to 206 degrees, unlike earlier, where you had to move it manually.
Below the display panel, you’ll find the standard three-row capacitive navigation keys. At the chin of the OPPO N3, you’ll find an arc-like frame. This houses an LED to indicate about missed notifications, and the company has dubbed the feature as Skyline 2.0. It blinks for missed notifications and you’ll be able to see it irrespective of the fact whether the device is kept on a table facing up or down. It’s quite interesting and prominent, though we’d have appreciated an option to change the default white colour for notifications from different apps.
The port placement on the OPPO N3 is also unusual – the micro-USB port is available on the left spine along with the power button, while the headphone socket is present on the right alongside the volume keys. The bottom hosts the speaker grille and a microphone. The problem with this placement is that while charging the phone, you will not be able to use it comfortably. Similarly, it’s difficult to plug in earphones if the handset is placed in the pocket.
The unibody smartphone sports a matte finish at the back. It’s relatively minimal since the camera unit can be considered as a separate unit and you’ll only notice the OPPO logo here. In the middle, there’s a fingerprint scanner, allowing you to lock / unlock the smartphone with your fingers (up to five people can register their fingerprints). Instead of using swipes, the OPPO N3 utilises a button, pressing which awakens the device from slumber and you can authenticate yourself with a simple click. The sensor is surrounded by a silver frame and it also acts as a touch-sensitive 'O-Touch' panel. Similar to its predecessor, it allows you to scroll through webpages or images.
Thanks to a slight curve at the rear, the device fits well in the hands, though it’s still unwieldy and difficult to use if you just want to operate it with a single hand. We also didn’t find it comfortable enough to keep it in the pocket because of its big footprint. For its size, the OPPO N3 is among the heaviest options with its weight of 192g and it’s also quite thick with its waist measuring 8.7mm. Overall, while the phone looks premium with elements like an aluminium band running along its edges and feels quite solid, even with the use of plastic, it’ll not please everyone with its handling.
Though the Find 7 from the brand’s stable offered a superb resolution of 2K pixels, it has stuck to a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels for the N3. However, the display size has also reduced from the 5.9-inches on the N1 to 5.5-inches, which helps it to offer a rich pixel density of 403ppi. The IPS display panel offers sharp text and lovely colours with wide viewing angles.
However, the brightness is on the lower side, which means that taking the OPPO N3 outside required it to be set at the maximum level to read the text. Protecting the display panel is a layer of third-gen Corning Gorilla Glass.
While most manufacturers play with Android OS to customise its looks and features, Chinese brands take it to the next level by changing the usual actions too. The OPPO N3 is no different, and it comes with the latest iteration of the brand's custom layer called Color OS, which is based on Android 4.4.4 KitKat.
We've already discussed Color OS quite a few times, but this time around, with v2.0, the brand has changed the basic things too – the default homescreen offers a dedicated screen for playing music along with placing all the apps on the screen itself since there's no app launcher unlike previous offerings. To bring the notification panel down you can slide from the top, which also shows an expandable bar for quick toggles.
You can also add a dedicated 'photo space' on the homescreen and in case you don't like the look-and-feel of the OS, then you can change that with a click using the Theme Store .
Just like the Find 7 and N1 Mini, the device offers support for a number of gestures. Even when the handset is on sleep mode, you can use gestures like double tap to wake up the phablet, draw an 'O' to access the camera app and so on. You can also choose to open the apps of your liking using the available list of gestures. There's support for gestures when the phone is on too, such as double tapping on homescreen to lock it or capturing a screenshot. The OPPO N3 can also recognise air gestures that allows you to navigate photos by waving your palm. The device also has a dedicated gesture panel, which is available when you swipe from the bottom of the screen and this allows you to create your own gestures and assign actions to them.
There are a few options for smart calling too, letting you automatically answer calls when you bring the phone near to the ear.
While there aren't many preloaded apps on the OPPO N3, it does come with a swiss army knife-like suite in the form of a Security Center. This offers a number of options such RAM cleanup, the ability to encrypt apps, data manager, and permission monitor among other things. The permission manager is good for those who are privy about their data and want to control what all the installed apps can access. App encryption is another useful option to to password-protect your apps so that no one can access those, and it can also work along with the fingerprint scanner. What that means is you can select titles that can only be opened when authenticated with your fingerprints.
Without a doubt, the rotatable camera unit of the OPPO N3 is its calling card and hence it’s paramount to gauge its capabilities. In terms of core specs, the phablet boasts impressive credentials as it comes equipped with a 16-megapixel snapper with optics from Schneider Kreuznach. The camera features 1/2.3” sensor and also gets assistance from a dual-LED flash to shoot in low-light conditions. The camera module can be rotated in any direction to shoot the subject from any angle, but you can also automate the rotation.
Now you may ask what’s the use of motorised swivel camera. Well, think how stable your vertical and horizontal panoramas can be since you can keep the OPPO N3 at just one position and let it work the magic itself. This is really helpful if you want a complete view of the scenery or click picture of a big monument. The best part is that this rotation can be controlled by the camera interface itself or the O-Touch panel.
The camera app available with the smartphone comes with a number of modes such as HDR, Ultra HD, Normal, Macro, etc. neatly tucked in a right sidebar. The Expert mode lets you manipulate exposure, ISO, white balance and more. You can also download more modes through the 'add apps' option, where you can find the ability to save images as RAW files, etc.
The images seem impressive with ample amount of details and colour variance, be it for landscape photography or close ups. However, we were disappointed with the HDR mode of the phablet, since it overexposes some areas and thus spoils the image, instead of enhancing the same. If you are a stickler for details, then you can also capture images in Ultra HD mode, which captures multiple images and stitches them together to offer a single image of 32MP or 64MP size. It offers you more details, though we didn’t find this mode much beneficial over the normal mode. We have already reviewed the OPPO N3’s camera, but you can also take a dekko at the images clicked with it right here.
One odd thing we felt about the phone is that it can record videos in maximum 1080p resolution, as compared to rival flagships that offer an option to capture in 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. To sum up, the OPPO N3 offers one of the best shooters out there, though the swivel motorised camera isn’t useful for everyone and might feel gimmicky to some. However, if you are a selfie aficionado, then you’ll love the device since the same 16MP can be rotated to work as the secondary snapper.
Sitting at the top of the OPPO’s portfolio, the N3 sports powerful hardware. Its muscle power comes from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC, a quad-core processor purring at 2.5GHz. The chipset is clubbed with 2GB of RAM. While the device boasts loaded internals, it’s a notch below today’s flagships which draw power from latest-gen processors and 3GB RAM, not to mention the fact that many boast 64-bit architecture. In our usage though, the hardware delivers zippy performance, be it while doing basic navigation or playing games. Thanks to the Adreno 330 GPU, the experience of running heavy games such as Badland and Riptide GP2 was awesome and smooth rendering of graphics added to the fun.
Thermally, the OPPO N3 shares the same fate as most devices nowadays. 20 minutes of gaming will increase its temperature sharply, though we didn’t find the phablet getting as hot as many other smartphones, which is a good thing.
Taking care of your storage needs is 32GB of flash memory on board, which ample for most users. After accounting for the space reserved by the OS and its resources, you’ll be able to use around 25.2GB. If that doesn’t suffice for your needs, then you can expand the storage by an additional 128GB, with the use of a microSD card. The phone also supports USB OTG capabilities.
However, if you want to use the expansion slot, then you have to forgo the option of using the OPPO N3 as a dual-SIM smartphone, since the secondary slot is a hybrid slot that can either accept a SIM card or a microSD card. In terms of cellular connectivity, the phablet supports both the TDD and FDD 4G bands in India. Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth, NFC and GPS form the other wireless connectivity options available on the handset.
The OPPO N3 sports a mono speaker at the bottom of the handset which offers decent sound output. Since the phone has a hollowed-out arc at the base, your hands don’t cover the speaker area while holding it in the landscape mode, which happens on most devices with such kind of speaker placement. You can enhance the sound with the Maxx Audio app.
Fuelling the OPPO N3 is a 3,000mAh non-removable battery. In day-to-day usage, the device usually lasted almost a day with the mixed use of voice calls, 3G and navigation via GPS. However, if you’re an avid gamer, then the phone’s battery will give up in a matter of hours. As part of our battery test, the phablet was able to run a 720p video on loop for about 8 hours and 30 minutes.
The device also offers a slew of battery-saving options. With the Super Power saving mode, the OPPO N3 shuts down all non-essential options and give you a simplistic interface to offer basic functionality of calls and messages.
The N3 also offers fast charging capabilities thanks to its proprietary VOOC technology. If you charge the smartphone with its supplied charger, then it charges in no time – from 0 to 75 percent in almost 30 minutes, which is nothing short of impressive.
With the OPPO N1, the brand also introduced O-Click, a small keyfob-like accessory which acted as a Bluetooth remote. Now with the O-Click 2.0, the manufacturer has not only improved its design and usage, it has also bundled it for free with the N3. It acts as a tracker for your phone (if it’s in your vicinity), so in case you aren’t able to find it, you can make it ring. You can also use the O-Click for remotely capturing images or controlling the rotation of the camera.
The O-Click 2.0 can also notify about incoming calls or messages by flashing, which is a great option if the phone on silent mode.
Every smartphone manufacturer has made a distinct identity for its flagship offerings… Samsung offers the best-in-class features with the Galaxy S series and a phablet experience with S-Pen through the Galaxy Note range, while Sony has waterproofing capabilities along with superb hardware with the Xperia Z devices. OPPO has also managed to carve its own niche with its devices, and the N3 makes that even more evident. With the smartphone, you get top-end specifications along with numerous innovations, be it the motorised swivel camera, the O-Click, and VOOC charging among others.
However, pricing always plays a crucial role in considering a device, and that’s where things become a little difficult for the OPPO N3. With the price tag of Rs 42,999, the smartphone falls in the super-premium category where we see the likes of Samsung and Apple. Even with all its innovations, the N3 can’t compete with the Galaxy S6 (read: Galaxy S6 edge review) or iPhone 6 (review | FAQs), which are priced similarly but offer a superb experience, not to mention that they are well-known brands. In this budget, you can also look at the Moto Turbo (review), which offers a better display resolution and powerful hardware. In case you’re specifically looking for a phablet, then nothing beats the Galaxy Note 4 (review | FAQs) in this range.
Unless you want to stand out from the crowd or have some specific use cases for the swivel camera, the OPPO N3 isn’t a clear choice in its price segment, and that pretty much sums it up.
Photos by Raj Rout