Oppo F21 Pro: Weaving new fibers of style
Smartphone users in Pakistan looking at devices in the mid-range segment have been spoiled for choice in recent years. Options are now available at almost all points of the range with devices promising high performance, a powerful camera and a full array of features.
In such a competitive market segment, where the widest range of smartphone users exists, how can smartphones stand out?
Device-manufacturer Oppo is one of the major players in this segment and its ‘F’ series is its flagship contender for this range. The smartphone maker has consistently developed devices that tantalize and excite consumers looking for attractive options in the mid-range segment.
Oppo’s latest offering, the F21 Pro, is a compelling continuation of that tradition of providing users with a solidly stable device that performs everyday tasks with consummate ease and tries to tackle some of the high-performance curve balls thrown at it.
Where this made-in-Pakistan device excels, however, is in adding a host of intriguing and well-thought-out layers in almost every department, particularly in core areas of style, in-hand-feel, camera, display and feature usability.
What makes Oppo F21 Pro different?
Any time a new mobile device is launched, the first question we all ask is the same: what does this do that others do not?
Sure it is the same candy bar shape with a camera bump on the back and a cursory reading of the specifications will have you scratching your head to find differentiation factors.
But from the moment we held the device in our hands, we knew that this is not something we have experienced before.
The hard and cold brushed aluminium sides, the soft and welcoming fibreglass vegan leather back and the smooth glass on the front with the tasteful color combination of the Sunset Orange transported us to the world of premium phones.
When we started digging into the features offered by the phone, we found some very useful functions. Of course, we felt there were some features which we thought that the device could do without and a few things that we missed.
Among the unique features available, the most obvious is the plush fibreglass Leatherback, a microscope camera, expandable RAM – a first for a phone in this segment, and a newly developed selfie camera based on the Sony IMX709 sensor.
Let’s break it down further to understand the device better:
Design and Display
The review variant which Samaa Digital received carried a finish which Oppo has dubbed “Sunset Orange”.
Holding the device for the first time and running your fingers over that textured back, it is hard to believe that this is ‘vegan’ leather or even fibreglass. The softness and precise cushioning of the leatherback go completely against the established image of what fibreglass is.
If anything, it makes you wonder how will it feel if the manufacturers sourced real leather – something which Pakistan is known for the world over and which contributes a major chunk of its export revenue.
It is a shame how this fibreglass leatherback is only available in the Sunset Orange variant and not in any of the other color variants of the phone.
The device fits comfortably in your palm. Its median screen size of 6.43-inches means that it is neither too big for small hands nor too small for large hands.
The flat-edge design and aluminium frame provide a sleek and minimalistic outlook to the phone. It is only 7.54 mm thick and weighs 175 g⁵. What is staggering, however, is how the other color variant of the phone, Cosmic Black, is 5 mm thinner – 7.49 mm – than the Sunset Orange version but still weighs the same.
Turning on the device brings to life the FullHD+ AMOLED screen. The hole punch is cut out towards the left edge of the screen, which may be a little odd to adjust after multiple generations of having the camera in the centre.
The screen has a 90Hz refresh rate with a 180Hz touch sampling rate which makes the experience of using it a little smoother and more responsive, even with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection.
Its 600 nits peak brightness may look a little too dim. But once in hand, it does not make you feel muted.
Overall, it presents a revolutionary change in design when compared with other Oppo F series devices.
Performance and battery
Under the hood, Oppo has installed Qualcomm SM6225 Snapdragon 680 4G chipset. This is a step short of the 5G variant installed in international models.
This processer has been fabbed on the same 6nm node as its siblings. However, it uses Kryo 265 CPU cores, which are presumably the upgraded versions of the Kryo 260 cores used in Snapdragon 662 (an 11 nm chip).
Apart from that, the device comes with 8GB of RAM. While this may appear standard at this point, what is unique in this price range, however, is that this is expandable by up to 5GB. This means that a device with just 8GB of RAM can be upgraded to a device with 13GB, provided additional storage is available.
Doing this will greatly improve the speed of day-to-day operations and the capacity to run larger and more resource-hungry apps.
The F21 Pro supports the latest user interface developed by Oppo, ColorOS v12.1. It operates on the back of the latest Android release – version 12. This is the first device by Oppo in the country which comes shipped with this version of ColorOS.
The OS allowed the user to navigate the menus and browse the web effortlessly. However, you should not expect a stellar gaming experience at the highest settings on games such as Call of Duty (COD) and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).
The base storage offered in the device is 128 GB but it can be expanded via a memory card.
The phone also sports a 4,500mAh battery, which, by the look of things may not be enough for a full day of use. However, the optimizations of ColorOS and higher memory to complete tasks quickly easily allowed the phone to complete a day and then some without giving charging anxiety.
Whether you are a regular user or a power consumer of smartphones, low battery anxiety affects us all. So whether you are browsing on social media or playing a game, or working, the ability to plug into the provided 33W SUPERVOOC charger - which the company claims, can charge your phone from 0% to 100% in an hour.
The device also features a host of power-saving modes together with an adaptive refresh rate and other features that can help you to get the most out of the device on a single charge.
Before we go any further, there is a little spoiler for you: if you are a music lover, this phone may disappoint you as there are no stereo speakers on the device. Instead, you get one bottom-firing mono-speaker.
In general smartphone cameras have made significant strides in recent years. So much so that even mid-rangers have given industry leaders a run for their money.
Oppo, which made a mark for focusing on the camera department and led the proliferation of good cameras in the midrange segment, has worked hard to continue that tradition.
This time, Oppo worked with sensor manufacturer Sony to introduce the newly-developed 32MP IMX709 sensor. Instead of using it for the rear array, like you would forgive a lot of other camera manufacturers to do, the F21 Pro realizes well who its audience is and what they really need the most. Hence, the powerful sensor is utilized as a selfie camera and it shows.
The new sensor delivers decent-quality images even in low light. The Sony IMX709 improves cross-platform compatibility and picture processing efficiency by increasing light consumption without compromising on color information.
Towards the rear, where it supports a significant camera bump, the phone has a triple camera. It has a 64MP (f/1.7) main camera, a 2MP 30x microscope camera (f/3.3), and a 2MP (f/2.4) MONO camera with LED flash.
The rear cameras also deliver sharp images with a lot of color depth in well-lit environments. However, in slightly challenging conditions, the camera starts to struggle.
At the night, the pictures looked very grainy. In some situations, the camera struggled to maintain focus on the object. Almost impossible when zoomed in. The inclusion of the microscope camera meant that there is no ultra-wide included, which is more or less a standard today.
On the software side of the cameras, Oppo has enhanced the user experience by adding greater depth and functions in its Photo, Video, Panorama, Portrait, Night, Time-lapse and Sticker modes.
Curiously, the phone is limited to shooting video in 1080P at 30 frames per second (fps). At 720P at 30 fps, the phone manages to offer video stabilization. Video zoom or slow motion is not yet supported by the front camera.
The biggest addition, by far, was the Microlens camera. We turned the mode on expecting it to be little more than a gimmick and a marketing ploy, but it wonderfully surprised us. It did a great job of capturing the minute details of everyday objects and brought to life even the most mundane of objects with absolute clarity.
The secret to the success of the microlens camera is its flawless technical execution and the inclusion of a very thoughtful and innovative rim light around the lens which adds much-needed light for the shots.
The phone is packed to the hilt with features – including those which were erstwhile seen only on flagships. These include a super-fast in-display fingerprint scanner, facial recognition, air gestures, microSD card memory expansion slot, dual SIM (Nano), proximity sensor, optical sensor, accelerometer, gravity sensor, gyroscope, pedometer, and Bluetooth 5.1.
It even packs USB Type-C and an earphone jack to allow for high-quality media consumption and fast charging.
You no longer have to worry about water spills and splashes either as the phone is IPX4 certified, which means this phone will not get damaged by getting wet.
A new UI with new 3D style icons, better animations, localised text, improved multitasking, emoji, privacy controls, power-saving qualities, and wallpaper-based themes are some of the features that ColorOS 12 adds to the device.
The F21 Pro is a very capable device packing high-end features at a very fair price of Rs52,999.
Its’ premium look, solid build quality, excellent battery life and unique camera feature set it apart from its competitors.
There are limitations to the phone, however, from the mono-speakers to slightly underwhelming cameras and the lack of an ultra-wide camera –considered a must in devices these days.
This phone is very clearly for those who simply want a good-looking phone with an exceptional user experience and reasonable performance. In that, its launch has come at the perfect time at the beginning of the spring season.