posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 23rd Jul 2013 23:30 UTC
IconIf you're in the market for a smartphone, odds are you're looking at an Android phone. If you're looking at an Android phone, odds are you're looking at Samsung, and if you're exotic, you may be looking at a Nexus, HTC, LG, or maybe even Sony. Few of you will be considering Oppo. I, however, did.

Oppo is a small Chinese manufacturer of DVD and Blu-Ray players, which has kind of made a name of itself as a producer of high-quality equipment, with a price tag to boot - north of a thousand dollars. They recently entered the smartphone business as well, and the Oppo Find 5 is their latest offering, unveiled earlier this year. It's been getting very positive reviews, it's a few hundred euros cheaper than the competition, and it looks amazing - so I took the plunge.


Hardware

I'm not exactly a specification junkie - as long as the damn thing works, I'm happy - but the Find 5 does not disappoint in this department. It's got the quad-core 1.5Ghz kajiggers with 2GB of RAM, all the wireless stuff, all the sensors, and everything else a modern smartphone has these days. On top of that, it has something my previous phones haven't had in a while: a customisable notification light, capable of illumination in several different colours. A small detail that I really miss on many other modern smartphones.

There's also a few things it doesn't have. These are things that do not bother me, but I know from reading the comments at OSNews and other sites that they do bother many of you: there's no removable battery, no micro SD slot, and it doesn't support LTE. So, if you run out of juice, you can't swap in a fresh battery, and your storage will be limited to either 16GB or 32GB, depending on the model you choose to buy. Lack of LTE is mostly an issue for Americans. In any case, keep these limitations in mind.

The Find 5 really has three very good arguments going for it. Three aspects of the device that make it stand out from the pack: design, build quality, and the display. These three combined create a device that many would never associate with a small Chinese manufacturer, since prejudice is abound whenever you talk about Chinese companies.

Let's start with design. Unlike many other cheaper phones from China, Oppo is not copying anyone, nor is it trying to invoke feelings of similarity with other brands like Apple or Samsung. The design of the Find 5 stands on its own, and is very restrained, elegant, and, for the lack of a better term, sharp. You can get the phone in both white and black, but I would definitely suggest going for the white one as the subtle design touches - like the narrow chin or the black side buttons - go unnoticed on the black one.

The glass of the display is true edge-to-edge - in fact, there's a third edge since it stretches all the way to the top of the device. The bezels on the two sides are very thin, further adding to the edge-to-edge feeling, and makes the phone feel smaller than it actually is. The bottom of the glass also contains the three hardware keys for Android, which I personally very much prefer to the more recent on-screen buttons which eat up a chunk of you screen.

There is a weird issue with the capacitive keys, though, that I hope CyanogenMod (more on that later) will be able to resolve. If move your finger from the screen into the capacitive button area, and then release, the capacitive button will activate. This is quite annoying when you're, say, scrolling through a list and your finger moves onto the back or home button, after which it'll activate. I'm hoping this is solvable through the Android ROM itself, because it can be rather annoying.

The second core aspect of the Find 5 that sets it apart from the rest is build quality and feel. I have rarely had the pleasure of holding a device that feels as solid, sturdy, and resilient as this one. There is no flex, there are no gaps or joints where dust can gather, none of that stuff - it really does feel like one solid block of phone.

The Find 5 consists of three major structural parts: a steel frame, the glass display, and the plastic outer shell. The steel and glass give the device its ridiculous stiffness, but also make it quite heavy compared to Samsung's plastic or the HTC One's and iPhone's aluminium. This takes a little bit of getting used to, but it does instil confidence about the device's durability.

Plastic on a phone is always hit and miss, but the Find 5's is good - it doesn't feel like plastic. It's hard to explain, but even though the plastic looks smooth, it's been sanded down ever so slightly to improve grip, giving it a very faint rough texture, not even visible. Again - you can press on the plastic all you want, but there's no bending or flexing.

This is a far cry from the slithery plastic used by Samsung.

This is one solid phone, and much like the iPhone 5, it's hard to appreciate just how good it feels to hold without actually holding it. This is iPhone 5 and HTC One territory, and far outpaces whatever plastic crap Samsung is still peddling (to great success, though). This has absolutely nothing to do with the general perception of Chinese phones being cheap and crappy.

The third and final core aspect I want to address is the star of the show, the centrepiece, the feature that everyone who plays with a Find 5 will want to talk about: the display. It's a 5" 1080x1920 AH-IPS display, which comes down to an insane 443ppi. Pixel density isn't everything, but luckily, the other characteristics of the display are just as good as its density. Viewing angles are excellent, and colour reproduction and display calibration are good too. In fact, AnandTech found that the Find 5's display belongs to the very top of the current crop of smartphones displays.

The display really stands out when you choose a pure black wallpaper - you can't see where the display ends and the thin black bezel begins. It looks quite stunning, and everyone who gets his or her hands on this phone mentions just how impressed they are by the display. Like build quality, it's really one of those things you have to see for yourself.

Combine the three aspects of design, build quality, and display, and you arrive at a phone with its own identity, that stands apart from the rest; yet, it doesn't go nuts with features or whacky design flourishes. It's elegant, understated, and minimalistic, yet doesn't feel like dime a dozen like so many phones out there. For a small company, Oppo seems to have a very good eye for detail and quality, and the Find 5 is proof of that.


Unofficial Nexus device

Software-wise, the Find 5 is a bit of a different story. By default, it ships with Android 4.1.1, but sadly, Oppo does not ship stock - it uses its own skin, which is, quite frankly, absolutely horrible. I'm not going to waste any more words on it. Virtually every Android user here will flash something other than Oppo's version of Android on it, and weirdly enough, this is a crucial reason as to why the Find 5 caught my eye to begin with.

Unlike HTC, Samsung, and many of the other larger Android OEMs, Oppo actively supports the modding and ROM community. Oppo provides ways to root the Find 5, and lists officially supported alternative ROMs on the Find 5 product page. Currently, Oppo supports CyanogenMod, Paranoid Android, Pac Rom, and an AOSP ROM. On top of that, Oppo provides developers of these ROMs with phones to ensure they work properly. The end result is that there is a very active community at the Oppo forums for support and instructions.

I prefer CyanogenMod, so I'm running the CM10.1 nightlies on my Find 5. Everything works, and all aspects of the device are properly supported. CM10.1 absolutely flies on this beast of a machine, and it feels a lot faster than Oppo's own ROM. Battery life is excellent; after a day of regular usage, I'm still left with about 50% battery.

There's not much else to say about Android 4.2.2 and CM10.1 - you're all familiar with it anyway. I'm coming from Windows Phone, and the flexibility of Android and the quality of the applications compared to the meagre offerings on Microsoft's mobile operating system are a breath of fresh air.

Anywho, all this makes the Find 5 somewhat of an unofficial Nexus device. It'd be great if Google could look beyond the larger OEMs and give the next Nexus assignment to a smaller OEM, to make it clear that the company cares about more than just the big boys. An Oppo Nexus phone would be a well-deserved reward for the work Oppo is doing here.


Conclusion

Probably the biggest point in its favour is its price - it's €399 (no contract), compared to its competitors which will set you back €600-€700 without a contract, and much more with a contract (those monthly payments add up). In other words, it's roughly the same price as a Nexus 4, has better specifications, looks better (in my view), and is as close to a Nexus device as it can be.

Still, it has its shortcomings, which include the lack of an SD card slot and removable battery, and for people used to being fooled into thinking phones are cheap, the upfront cost of €399 is more than they think they're paying for their iPhone or Galaxy S4. On top of that, no carrier or regular store will sell it to you - you have to order it online.

The Find 5 ranks among the very best of smartphones out right now, but with a more attractive price tag and a community-friendly company which actively supports modding and ROMs. The choice seems simple to me.

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