OPPO Neo 5 review: cheap, but not nasty


WhistleOut
24 October 2014

OPPO is expanding in to the global market at a rapid pace with its most recent range of phones. The OPPO Neo 5 is the baby of the bunch, weighing in with a super-affordable price tag and toned-back hardware.

After reviewing the reasonably-priced Find 7, we were optimistic about the Neo 5. Obviously the experience would be wildly different from a premium handset to a budget one, but its bigger sibling showed us that OPPO is capable of delivering a great user experience at reduced prices. We were not disappointed.

The Neo 5 is one of the best phones in its price bracket we’ve ever used. It works relatively smoothly, has decent battery life and handles multitasking without imploding. These are all the kinds of things you look for at this end of the market, and the Neo 5 has them in spades.

Design

The Neo 5 is not a beautiful phone, but it’s not ugly or boring. Its shape and contours have been arranged with the kind of care reserved for a more-expensive mid-range phone. This is a nice touch. It’s easy to become quickly tired of a phone if it looks like it was rushed out half-baked. You don’t want to be reminded that you bought an affordable alternative every time you pull it out of your pocket, and the Neo 5 won't do that.

On the white model, the rear and side panels have a sort of pearl-esque, metallic-paint tinge to them. This necessarily good or bad in any objective sense, but it is going to make for some polarised opinions.

The bezels around the screen panel are fairly thick, but not overly so, except for down the bottom where the capacitive buttons lie.

Interestingly, OPPO has decided to go with a menu key, instead of Android’s now-default multitasking button. This is something I personally would have appreciated back when the menu button was first ditched, but now that most apps have been designed around the new layout the menu button turns out to be pretty useless most of the time.

The 4.45 inch screen makes this is a compact device. It’s a tiny bit taller than an Xperia Z3, but shorter than an iPhone 6. It’s not slippery at all. The side panels offer a surprising amount of grip considering they’re just made out of plastic. All in all it’s comfortable to hold and easy to use.

The display visuals won’t turn any heads. It has a resolution of 480x854, giving it about 220 pixels per inch (ppi). Here is where you can start criticising the Neo 5 if really want to. The comparably-priced Motorola Moto G (2nd Gen) has a 720p resolution spread out across 5 inches diagonally, giving it 294ppi. That's iPhone Retina display territory. As such images come with greater clarity on a Moto G, albeit for a higher dollar price.

That being said the Neo 5’s screen is still perfectly usable, and certainly not enough of a low-point to drop it out of the race.

User interface

The main reason you might actually consider going Moto over OPPO for your budget handset is the interface. OPPO has done well to make a system that works smoothly with an attractive aesthetic here, except that it's not really necessary.

The surprisingly-powerful quad-core 1.2GHz processor probably helps a bit, but RAM is only 1GB so we will still give credit where it’s due.

The main problem is that it’s just not better than the default Android UI used by the Moto G, which means it’s slowing down your phone for no reason.

A great example of this is the un-removable OPPO camera widget located to the right of your home screens. It was the same on the Find 7. It takes worse-quality photos than the actual camera app and takes up an entire screen. There’s no point to it, as far as we can see, yet there it is taking up valuable memory, storage space and screen real-estate.

In general the UI is fine; good, even. A good example of how a manufacturer can cut prices without affecting usability, except for a few curious idiosyncrasies.

Messages are set to pop-up over the top of any app by default, which is highly annoying; the calendar app is dreadful and has overly-aggressive reminders, and browsing is curiously slow even though there’s 4G support. OPPO would be better served in future cutting costs and going with the vanilla Android UI.

Connectivity and performance

Poor online performance is a big fault of the Neo 5. One of the main reasons you might go for this 4G handset over a Moto G, and that’s really the main phone you’re going to be comparing it with, is that the Moto G’s basic version is 3G-only.

In reality, there’s very little difference in the online experience on either phone. Despite getting upwards of 30Mb down on the Neo 5 during speed tests, it felt like a 3G phone every step of the way. Once again this is an acceptable sacrifice in this price bracket, seeing as it handled like a good 3G phone, but don’t go expecting it to blitz around the web like a top-end contender just because it says "4G" on the packaging.

Other than connectivity, the next big draw-back is the tiny 4GB of on-board storage. A few apps, an audio-book some photos are about all you’ll fit on the Neo 5. It’s not all bad. OPPO had the foresight to include a microSD slot that supports cards up to 32GB, so you can expand if you like. That’s going to be an added cost, but not enough of one to cancel out the price difference between the Neo 5 and some of its 8GB contenders. After all, chances are you’ll be buying a microSD if you go the 8GB option, anyway.

Battery

Battery life is fine. That pretty much sums it up. We never got to the end of the day fearing that we would run out of charge, but good luck making it till the next morning if you forget to plug it in.

Power-users might find themselves running out of juice before bed-time, but the greater majority of folk should be perfectly happy.

Camera

The camera is actually really good. That’s not something you expect to hear about a low-end phone, but there you have it. Obviously this is no top-tier offering, but you’d be forgiven for thinking any shots during the day or even toward evening are from a phone double the price of the Neo 5.

Unsurprisingly, once the sun goes down or you head in doors things take a turn for the grainy, but that’s to be expected.

In its defence, there’s less visual noise and colour balance problems with the Neo 5 than any of its direct competitors that we’ve used. Period. Moto G 1st gen included. If you’re on a budget, but care a lot about picture quality, then this may be the deal-maker for you.

Verdict

Any phone this cheap is going to have its problems, but the Neo 5 has surprisingly few. Yes, there are more than a handful, but you have to compare the final picture to the asking price. Once you do, the Neo 5 is cast in a favourable light.

Just keep in mind that the 4G connectivity doesn’t mean much, the on-board storage is about the size of a walnut and some of the default settings are a bit annoying.

That being said, it’s still as fast or faster than its competitors when it comes to online use, there’s a microSD slot for expanding storage, and the annoying settings can be switched off.

Then there’s that camera. They just don’t make them like this down at the bottom of the market. If you’ve been using an affordable alternative from even a year ago, the Neo 5’s shooter is going to seem like a dream to you. If you’re coming from a recently-lost and uninsured Galaxy S5 then you’re going to have a different opinion, but we all must make sacrifices in the noble pursuit of saving a buck.

All this praise being said, for my money I’d still go with a Moto G. The camera might be better on the Neo 5, but the Moto G will get Android updates more regularly and the better screen resolution is enough to sway me. Then again, if you’re a pic-snapping socialite and Android updates don’t matter to you then the Neo 5 is a perfectly acceptable choice.


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