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.
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.