Monday , April 23 2018

An open letter to OPPO concerning ColorOS and the R11s Plus


OPPO are one of the top five smartphone manufacturers in the world but yet they are yet to break into the hearts and minds of most Australians. Tell John and Jill Q Public about an OPPO phone and you will – at least in my experience – get blank looks.

While I am far from an expert on anything to do with smartphone manufacturing I have decided to help them out with their products’ success in the western market with the following open letter to them.

Dear OPPO,
I love your hardware. Even though it always runs a mid-range processor and doesn’t have the greatest specs in the world, the builds are great. Let’s take the new R11s Plus that I have been using for the past week as an example.

The R11s Plus is big but I love a big phone so that is a big plus (pun intended). The display is huge (6.43 inches) with small bezels at the top and bottom of the phone resulting in an impressive 80.7% screen-to-body ratio. That AMOLED display, although only 1080P resolution, is extremely bright and vibrant. The display is a pleasure to use and really does make the 2k resolution display on the Pixel 2 XL look sub-par.

The camera is, well, it is above average and this is also not a bad thing. The problem is that these days we tend to compare smartphone cameras with that on the Pixel 2 devices — no one can seemingly match up to the wizardry that Google have performed with the Pixel 2 camera. The R11s Plus takes decent pictures and although the secondary camera is meant for taking better low-light pictures it does leave you a bit wanting. In saying that, it takes good pictures that can hold their own against most other smartphones out there.

The fingerprint sensor is relatively fast, although it does not seem to match the speed of the OnePlus 5T fingerprint sensor (think same hardware) but I have put that down to the higher specced Snapdragon 835 inside the 5T.

What else is there to say? The hardware, even with a mid-range processor, is damn-near perfect. That should make the phone a success shouldn’t it? That should see it fly to the top of the sales here in Australia and other western markets right? That should see it find a permanent place as my daily driver shouldn’t it?

Unfortunately not. There is a lot more to it which can be summed into a single word: software.

Speak to any techie who has used an OPPO phone and you will hear the same thing — the hardware is great but the software experience does not match. Very few come out and say it in public but I have had a lot of people agree with my previous thoughts on ColorOS.

For the R11s Plus I decided to take a different tack. My mum uses an OPPO R11 and seems to like it and considering she gifted me half of her DNA that must make her half a techie right?

For this reason I went into using the OPPO R11s Plus with an open mind. I decided to try and use it as if I had never used Android before (although I still had all the usual apps I usually use on a daily basis- I was testing the R11s Plus as a daily driver).

First let’s talk about the things I liked because yes there was some. I liked the navigation gestures. I had covered them coming to the third OnePlus 5T Oreo beta in recent weeks but had yet to use them. In OPPO’s incarnation there is really only the left and middle swipes with the right reserved for the control centre, which is very iOS (btw OPPO, Apple have updated the design of their control centre so maybe you should follow suit too) but I don’t hate the control centre. It is still functional, just different.

The ability to have the full 6.43 inches of display operational without having to incur large bezels for capacitive buttons was fantastic. Within a day or so I was used to swipe navigation and actually found myself wanting it on my Pixel 2 XL when I went back to it. It worked nearly 100% of the time, although it was finicky when the keyboard was opened. Big tick here.

Screen off gestures are great, work well — especially for fast opening of the camera.

The face unlock is quick- it’s not OnePlus 5T quick but its still quick. Is this a processor issue or is ColorOS getting in the way? Who knows but it is still nearly instantaneous in unlocking the phone after you look at it. The ability to have the phone unlock quickly after lifting to wake the device is fantastic — love it.

Some things work intermittently, such as Android Auto. At least this version works. It runs but the display will go blank and reset itself every 30 seconds or so — annoying when you are navigating using Google Maps. This is an improvement over previous ColorOS iterations though. I have friends who changed phones after their OPPO phones would not run Android Auto.

Somethings don’t change and some things get worse with the current version it seems with ColorOS. Let me list them below:

  • Accessibility. There are many apps that use Accessibility for their core functionality, including LastPass and now that it seems Google have seemingly backflipped and are going to keep allowing select apps on a case by case basis to use this it is core to many users. Unfortunately on the OPPO R11s Plus even if you turn on Accessibility for an app the software will turn it off not long after so you have to keep going into settings to turn it back on. It gets very frustrating after a while and there is no real reason for it if users are getting apps from the Play Store — as 99% of western users are.

    OPPO, you’re not the only ones to suffer from this fault- Huawei do too and whether it has to do with both being strongly Chinese market focused where apps are often not from safe places such as the Play Store I’m not sure — but for the western market please leave it on. If I turn it on, I want it left on.

  • Quiet Time. When Google introduced Do Not Disturb (DND) mode it was welcomed with open arms by so many of us. A simple toggle that can be used to turn off most unimportant notifications. OPPO, your implementation, called Quiet Time, is well and truly broken. Some apps, which seem to be non-System apps, are neither silent nor quiet. All apps’ notifications still light up the display if you have that set.Overnight this is a massive annoyance. Get sent a Telegram message and it will beep through and the display will light up (if it notifies you at all). SMS messages (yes some people still use them) will be silent but the display still lights up. Some notifications follow the rules, most do not. This was confirmed with Jason who is currently reviewing the R11s.To say Quiet Mode is a red hot mess is an understatement. OPPO, you need to do something about this. It should be simple. It works perfectly in AOSP. You do not even have to change the AOSP DND, their implementation is still better than ColorOS’. Even the amateur developers on XDA have done a better job implementing it. Stop trying to change things for the sake of changing things. Not all things need to be changed.
  • Notifications. After touching on notifications in Quiet Mode I have to admit that there is nothing more broken on ColorOS than the notifications. We have touched on these before with ColorOS 3.1 on the R11.Unfortunately ColorOS 3.2 does nothing to improve the notification experience at all; in fact I think it makes it worse. There are still no notifications in the status bar. You still cannot swipe notifications away (you need to swipe and then tap delete — OPPO, stop trying to copy iOS. Even Apple allow swiping away of notifications now).So many notifications are missed because the apps’ notifications are not registered by the OS. Never have I had this from any other Android phone. So often I would open an app to send a message or email and find that there were messages waiting for me to read. The lack of notification symbols in the status bar does not help matters either.

    OPPO, if I said that Quiet Time is a red hot mess, then your notifications look like a post-nuclear wasteland in a post-apocalyptic zombie era. You can fix this easily. In AOSP it works fine, and yet once again in your effort to make ColorOS more iOS-like you have broken a very basic functionality of Android– something it has always excelled at.

  • The Launcher. In yet another attempt to make ColorOS unrecognisable from iOS the launcher is the worst launcher I have ever used. There is no app drawer (unfortunately you are not the only manufacturer that does this so you are not alone). Apps are removed and arranged just as they are on iOS. The iOS launcher has been one of the worst things about iOS for a long time and yet you copied it.

    I’ve seen launchers similar to it before but for many users who knew better we could install a third party launcher and get all the usual Android functionality and more back. We could do that on ColorOS 3.1 but in your infinite wisdom OPPO you have removed the ability to change the launcher. You can change the default keyboard but NOT the launcher. Clicking on the Nova Launcher settings and then tapping on the “set Nova as the default launcher” notification leads to where you can change it: except the problem here is that there is no option other than the OPPO launcher.

    Thus, if we want to continue using the R11s Plus we are stuck with your iOS-copied, option-bereft, widget-free launcher. Once again the AOSP launcher is just fine. Why not include this, at least as an option? The AOSP launcher includes everything we are all used to and know for a fact to be so many many times better than your launcher. Android has always been about options but unfortunately with ColorOS 3.2 we no longer have the option to choose our own launcher.

    Now OPPO, I did read somewhere that you are working on an update to re-enable this option once again. Good for you. My question is, how did this ever get this far? How did you ever let it get this far? To launch your flagship with this inadequacy is not a great look.

    **EDIT** we have been informed by OPPO that a pinching action on the homescreen brings up the widgets. I was unable to get this working on my review unit but apparently it is there. Their launcher still needs some work.

  • Messaging. Speaking of things that cannot be changed- shall I bring up the messaging app? Sure I can send messages from any SMS app I prefer, Google’s own messaging app in this case, but I don’t think I need so many popups telling me how much more stable and secure your messaging app is before it will send said message.When I receive messages, even though I had previously sent the message using the non-OPPO app and had then set that to the default messaging app to be able to do so, the messages will only come back through OPPO’s messaging app due to security once again. OPPO, this is not the wild west of apps. The Google Play Store is considered a safe place to get apps. 99.9% of us only use apps from the Play Store. We do not need this so called protection. Please give us the option to choose whatever messaging app we want.

So how can you fix this OPPO?
OPPO, we’re telling you this because we love what you’re doing in hardware and we want your software to match. We want our FCB branded OPPOs to have software we’re equally proud to show off and promote. So here’s how we think you can improve.

How about having a little chat with another Shenzhen-based company that should be very familiar to you, OnePlus? They use very similar hardware (with slightly higher specs) and yet their ROM is basically a custom ROM. AOSP with some amazing tweaks.

They have the face unlock that is faster. They will soon have the navigation gestures in their stable channel too. Their notifications are not broken. Their launcher is full of functionality and great options and if you don’t like it you can change it. They have a half decent do not disturb mode (which uses a sliding button though) that could use some work but at least functions as it should. Accessibility is not broken. It works with every single app. The entire OS is faster, smoother and works as Google intended it to without breaking anything.

Have a little chat with them and share software ideas. It is obvious there is some form of collaboration there anyway given the design of the phones and now the new navigation gestures. If you were to release an R11s Plus with a skin more along the lines of OxygenOS by OnePlus I have no doubt that your sales in Australia, Europe and other western countries would skyrocket.

Project Spectrum, your attempt to bring AOSP to your phones, was a step in the right direction. How about reviving that and giving your users the option of a different OS? So many Android users want it. This is something I could really get behind. OnePlus has different ROM’s for the international market and the Chinese market (OxygenOS and HydrogenOS). They are now based off the same tree but are still different in the end- they are designed for local preferences.

This would make a lot of users sit up and take notice. People want a lightly/non-skinned Android phone that is around the mid-range price mark. It is a phone I could easily recommend to anyone and everyone. OPPO, take notice of what your fellow Shenzhen company is doing with their software. It is about time you brought your software up to par with your spectacular hardware and design — if you do, I’ll be front of the line to buy the next phone you release.

Best regards and intentions,
Scott “AOSP” Plowman.

Scott Plowman   Associate Editor

Scott is our modding guru - he has his finger on the pulse of all things ‘moddable’, pointing us towards all the cutting edge mods hacks that are available. When he’s not gymming it up, or scanning the heck out of Nexus devices, you'll find him on the Ausdroid Podcast.

Outside of Ausdroid, Scott's a health care professional and lecturer at a well known Victorian university.

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22 Comments on "An open letter to OPPO concerning ColorOS and the R11s Plus"

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Tom
Valued Guest

Priority list for 90% plus of users:
1. Speed
2. Screen
3. Camera
4. Cost
.
.
.
.
.
98. Accessibility
99. Notifications
100. Quiet time
100000001+ launcher

who gives a rats about this crap?

Shane
Valued Guest
Shane

Couldn’t agree more. Color OS is a mess and I can’t wait to walk away from it. Chances are, I’ll go Nokia next time. Looks like they’ll release some great mid priced Android One phones in 2018.

Yianni
Valued Guest
Yianni
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Scott. What you’re describing is a fairly similar experience with an Oppo R9s Plus I had received at launch as a “long term review and report back” unit from Oppo. I had many detailed conversations with an Oppo representative about the flawed notification implementation in ColorOS, or should I say the lack of notifications showing up unless the app was opened, or when they did show up there were issues with the notification actually displaying on the lockscreen, or the screen not turning on at times also, even though all these settings were… Read more »
Ty Quinn
Valued Guest
Ty Quinn

“When I receive messages, even though I had previously sent the app using the non-OPPO app and had then set that to the default messaging app to be able to do so, the apps will only come back through your messaging app”

Say what?

Ausdroid Reader

Not one of Scott’s better sentences, however, it makes a little bit more sense if you change the first appearance of “app” to “message”.

Ausdroid Director

Valid Point. Have amended his review to make it make a bit more sense.

Ausdroid Reader

Yeah, as an owner of an R9s, I have to be just another one to say hardware good ColorOS really bad . Keen to try a OnePlus next time

Ausdroid Reader

Following this review I would not touch it. Why didn’t you mention it doesn’t cover B28 which has 3000 transmitters round Australia? 4000mah not enough battery for that size phone.

Daniel Tyson
Ausdroid Editor

This isn’t the actual review Mike, Jason will be delivering a full review of both hardware and well, he’ll try to follow this software review 😉

Edit: just checked and the R11S does support Band 28:

FDD-LTE: Bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/20/28
TD-LTE: Bands 38/39/40/41(2535-2655)

You can check full specs here:
http://www.oppo.com/au/smartphone-r11s?q=specs

RickO
Valued Guest
RickO

I believe all Oppo’s sold in Oz cover 28 (700Mhz) and 40. Written on the barcode sticker on my Sons R7s, my R7+ and R11s retail boxes – same frequencies as Singapore.

Russ
Valued Guest
Russ
I love BIG phones. I’ve been pretty impressed with performance of mid-range SoCs, coupled with their impressive battery life it’s great. The main downfall is most don’t have flagship quality cameras. But flagship quality from 2years ago would be close enough. I currently have a Mi Max 2 and gave my HTC U11 to my wife. All I miss is the camera. BUT I would like a large phone that I can use on a Telstra MVNO, and the Mi Max (currently on Vodafone where it’s fine) won’t do that. The R11s Plus was a definite contender. BUT the 3… Read more »
Ausdroid Reader

Just wanted to add that I share your love for Smart Launcher Pro 3 – it (or its earlier versions) have always been one of the first things I add to a new phone.

Oldmike
Valued Guest
Oldmike

The software on the oppo is a reason i would not look at one ,
I have seen people on the tube complaining about some of the issues mentioned .
It’s a pity because the hardware looks good.

RickO
Valued Guest
RickO

Actually 85.7% screen to body. I physically measured it just to check.

RickO
Valued Guest
RickO
Love your article – even though I bought the R11s Plus on release day – awesome phone. Came from exclusive Nokia – the last being the N9 (vintage 2012) – with similar Launcher and squiggley icons – to position and delete and a totally swipe UI. So stop with Apple-esk, everyone copies iPhone crap. I don’t mind if a company has a go – tries new and different things. Who needs an App Tray – most useless ornament ever to grace the home screen. I don’t have issues with notifications as you described. I don’t live in a world of… Read more »
Ausdroid Reader

Another advantage of a slimmed down, more AOSP-like OS is the ease of providing security updates. There are no downsides to this. At this stage, I’ve eliminated Huawai and OPPO from any consideration for new handsets for the lack of security and OS updates becoming available. The poor OS just reinforces that decision.

Ausdroid Reader
Tibb So

Never considered OPPO but had to remove Huawei from my list of possible new handsets since the P9 security and software update delays. Pity, I love the cameras but it isn’t worth the hassle. I’ll probably change to the S9+ when it comes out because I’m on that yearly update with Telstra for my workphone but I’ll wait for a good Nokia or Motorola phone for personal choice.

Ausdroid Reader
Tibb So

Not able to run Nova Launcher is a deal breaker no matter how good the hardware is.
If Nokia and Motorola can do great, well-priced, minimally gimped handsets, why does OPPO need anything other than basic AOSP and some hardware specific drivers? Same with Huawei. When will handset manufacturers get that most of us don’t want these silly customised ROMs? These companies (OPPO, Huawei, etc) sell a lot of phones but where do they rank for sales outside of China & India?

Ausdroid Reader
Tibb So

Also, since my Huawei P9 finally got updated to Android 7/EMUI 5.0.1, a notification has popped up a couple of times and said something like ‘System unstable due to Nova Launcher, would you like to use the system launcher instead’. Maybe this is something the Chinese manufacturers are going to push more – gotta keep those system apps sending unnecessary data back to those home servers.

Name
Valued Guest
Name

Agreed. I honestly don’t know why Oppo even bother with ColorOS. It would cost them a fair amount of money to make and maintain a custom version of Android to the extent they do. The result that it turns off so many potential customers. Vanilla android or at least a less restrictive slightly customised flavour would cost less, and Oppo could boost revenue.
Unless there’s something sinister hidden behind all that “candy” that makes it worth their while.

Ausdroid Reader

Must have NFC and support for B28 and B40. I also would look for aptX support for Bluetooth audio, but I understand that is a Qualcomm thing. The open sourced Sony bluetooth enhancements would do. These are the things missing from most budget to mid specced Chinese phones. This phone lacks NFC but it does support B28 and B40.

If I cannot use tap’n’go and get good reception in rural areas then I am going to go elsewhere.

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