The tech world had a bit of a moment when OnePlus finally announced its mid-ranger, the Nord. The OnePlus hype train is chugging along just fine and so far,― going by the reviews online ― it seems like it was all worth it.
But the bigger picture here is not the Nord. It’s the fact that OnePlus created a mid-ranger after years of defending its stance that a premium smartphone is the only way to deliver a better experience. But the world is going through a pandemic. Budgets are lower and hands are reaching for pockets less, which naturally leads to slower sales of premium devices. The Nord has appeared at just the right time.
But while the western hemisphere is just waking up to what a good mid-ranger should be, buyers in India have been getting the royal treatment for years. We have had great mid-segment smartphones for quite a while, and in the past couple of years, even budget smartphones have started coming dangerously close to their more expensive peers.
What is a mid-range smartphone in India today?
The last time I used a great mid-range device, it was the Nokia 8.1 (Review). It featured mid-range internals, but more importantly, looked the part in that premium-looking Iron finish that was exclusive to that particular phone.
But that’s really where it ended for me. The Redmis and Pocos will always get you better hardware at the lowest possible price tag. But do they look the part? Not really! And that’s why the mid-range is the mid-range. You get the performance (sort of), and a hint of finesse (sort of).
The Nord may have the horsepower, but it’s chunky (8.2 mm), heavy (184 grams) and certainly does not look as good as the Reno 4 Pro. The Nord is “Pretty much everything you could ask for”, but Oppo’s Reno “gets you something better” even though it’s not the king of the hill. So, what does it get you, apart from this inordinately long backgrounder? Read on to find out.
Design and Display
Place the Oppo Reno 4 Pro alongside any other phone in the sub-35K range and you will notice three details about its design that stand out. Firstly, there’s that frosted back that’s not really glass but plastic, there’s a skinny frame (also made of polycarbonate) that’s sandwiched between said frosted back and the Gorilla glass-covered display on the front. And then, you notice that lovely curved edge AMOLED display, that honestly feels out of place in the mid-range.
Pick it up, and it feels abnormally thin at 7.7 mm and also abnormally light. But at the same time, it feels solid. And since it’s mostly plastic, my heart would not skip a beat if it fell down.
The Reno 4 feels premium, almost like the glass back you get on a OnePlus 8 Pro (Review). However, it’s either slippery or grippy depending on whether you have dry hands or moist ones. I loved the hand feel of the phone, because despite its size, it did not feel like a phone with a 6.5-inch display.
It felt more like a Samsung Galaxy S10e (the smallest premium flagship we have) because of the thin bezels that tightly wrap around that taller 20:9 aspect ratio display. This also means that it’s almost there when it comes to casual one-handed use and software features like the ‘Icon Pull-Down Gesture’ help with reaching home screen icons at the very top.
And after the super-smudgy Redmi Note 9 (Review) (also plastic) this smartphone felt like a dream. It’s hard to get any smudges on it thanks to that matte finish on the back. Despite coming with a typical transparent TPU case, I did not feel the need to slap it on; the ‘glasstic’ back felt like it could take a beating and a week later, it held up quite well with just one scratch on the shiny camera island.
The display is vibrant and saturated at the default settings, so I switched it to the ‘Gentle Screen Colour Mode’ for more realistic colour reproduction. Yes, it’s curved, but not by much, so it pretty much gets you that thin-bezel look on the sides and does not interfere with video playback. Like most OLED displays, there’s a slight red tint to it when viewed at angle, but it did not bother me in day-to-day use.
Oppo claims 1100 nits of peak brightness and it held up well when used indoors and outdoors, with no problems whatsoever. Sadly, it does not support HDR10 or 10+ content like on the OnePlus Nord, but it does get DC dimming (or ‘Low-brightness flicker free comfort’ in Oppo-speak) that reduces fatigue when viewing the display at low brightness settings.
Software and Performance
This good-looking AMOLED display also features a 90Hz refresh rate (with 180Hz touch sampling), making it the only curved AMOLED panel of this type on a smartphone in this segment. While I enjoyed all of that high-refresh goodness while browsing through the phone and built-in apps, it did not feel buttery-smooth when scrolling through third-party apps like Twitter, the Google Feed or anything else that combines photos, text and auto-play videos. Last I remember, the OnePlus Nord review by The Verge also pointed out a similar problem, and that was with a Snapdragon 765 chipset paired with a hefty 12 GB of RAM.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G inside the Reno 4 Pro may feel out of place given our appetite for power and performance-hungry budget smartphones, but it’s more than enough to power through games no matter what you throw at it. I tested out Call of Duty: Mobile at ‘Very High’ graphic quality and frame rate, and it ran flawlessly. I also tried Asphalt 9: Legends, blazing through the new New York track at high quality with no problems. It’s indeed quite impressive that a smartphone this slim did not melt in my hands despite an hour of gaming on a not-so-fast internet connection. The phone did warm up, but did not get hot enough for me to take a break. Something to note here is that the heat was felt more on the display side (front) of the phone, than on the plastic back.
Oppo’s ColorOS is no OxygenOS, and is not as optimised for the 90Hz display either, but it is quite customisable out of the box. My favourite feature is the ability to tweak the icons down to the shape and size of your choice, and I love the built-in static and live wallpapers. And because this is an AMOLED display, there’s also a useful always-on display (AOD) feature that will constantly show the clock and notification icons even when the phone is locked. There’s also tons of stock Android apps that come pre-installed, including the Google Dialer, Contacts and Calendar apps as defaults, so you won’t be missing your Android favourites here.
Audio through the single bottom-firing speaker is crisp and loud, and it does not tear when maxed out either. The phone has Dolby Atmos support and audio delivery through the 3.5 mm headphone jack is a big plus here. Indeed, it is hard to find a smartphone in this price range with a headphone jack these days, especially one that is pencil thin.
My overall opinion about the Reno 4 Pro’s camera is that it’s decent.
Some may like the sharp and saturated photos it clicks in daylight. However, the camera has a tendency to overexpose, and does so in most lighting conditions. Whether you are outdoors in bright sunlight or indoors with regular lighting, I often ended up pulling down the exposure bar after tapping to focus, to get the exposure just right. And this is despite forcing the HDR to ‘on’ or leaving it in ‘Auto’.
The photos have a lot of detail, provided your subject is steady. It’s just that the pictures so often end up overexposed that most of it gets washed out. In bright sunlight or outdoor shots, there’s purple fringing as well.
It feels like there is some software tweaking needed here, and I have some hope given that the phone already received two updates during the review period.
That covers bright lighting, so what happens after sunset? The results get better. Shooting subjects indoors under ambient light leads to slightly softer images, especially in portrait mode. The level of detail drops quite drastically as well, but the noise is well controlled. In fact, I preferred the auto mode shots over the dedicated night mode photos, because they turned out too bright and the colours were often nowhere close to the actual scene.
The implementation of macro on this smartphone is a bit tricky. It appears to automatically switch on when you get too close to your subject. You can access the Macro camera through the ‘Pro’ mode as well. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
The ‘Macro’ mode you see when using ‘Auto’ mode is basically the output from the 48 MP camera and not the actual macro camera. To access the actual macro camera (4 cm macro) you need to get into the ‘Pro’ mode and then switch cameras by tapping on the camera selector (an icon with two trees) on the left-hand side of the camera interface. Once you are in there, you see the output from the actual macro camera, which seems a bit exaggerated. The results are better from the 48 MP camera as you can see in the image below.
Shooting video was a surprisingly good experience. Oppo’s video stabilisation is top-notch and it all works well, provided you stick to 1080p 60fps (which is also where you get most of the video features). 4K video looks good in terms of quality but gets a bit too blurry when you pan the camera around. The ‘AI Colour Portrait’ feature is wonderful, and gets you some impressive-looking video, but only at 720p at 30fps.
In the selfie department, the camera gave me great results with crisp and detailed images whether I used the regular mode or the ‘Portrait’ mode. Video was also quite nice and stable. That’s all good in daylight, but in indoor and dim lighting, things get a bit blurry. However, the photos are still usable.
I tried out the phone setting the display to automatically select the optimal refresh rate, and even ran it for a few days at 90Hz exclusively. Running it at the highest refresh rate all the time did not affect the battery life all that much, and I got a good day and a half of usage with casual use including an hour of high-intensity gaming. During the testing period, I always had it synced with the Oppo Watch.
With a fairly standard 4,000 mAh battery inside, I expected a lot less, but Oppo’s optimisations in ColorOS seems to have worked wonders here. The star of the show is indeed the SuperVOOC 65W charging system, that juices up this battery from 0-100 percent in just 36 minutes! Just like the curved edge display, the slim design, 65W charging is a highlight feature here, and there’s no other smartphone that comes close at this price.
If you know your smartphone hardware, you may have realised by now that there’s no 5G here because it packs a 720G chipset. OnePlus definitely has an edge here with Sub-6Ghz 5G bands in the Nord, but at the moment, 5G is irrelevant in India.
At Rs 34,990 for the single 8 GB RAM + 128 GB storage variant, I would pick the OnePlus 7T (Review) at Rs 34,999 over the Reno 4 Pro solely for its camera. The Snapdragon 855+ chipset in the 7T may be quick, but takes a toll on its battery life.
The OnePlus Nord is better value if your budget lies between Rs 25,000 and Rs 30,000. But for an extra 5k, the Reno 4 Pro is a worthy contender.
Go for the Oppo Reno 4 Pro, if you are looking for a sexy, slim and lightweight smartphone, with premium features like a curved edge OLED display, class-leading 65W charging that goes from 0-100 in just 36 minutes, a 3.5mm headphone jack and great all day-battery life.
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