Pop-up camera phone is a beautiful hassle: Oppo Find X review
There are people in the world who enjoy looking stylish, even at the expense of basic practicality or functionality. This is why tiny two-seater sports cars exist, or why hipsters like skinny jeans when relaxed fit pants are so much more comfortable.
The Oppo Find X is for people like that. It is a smartphone that manages to stand out in a crowded market lacking in innovation. It’s a collection of ingenious ideas and state-of-the-art tech, combined into a sleek and gorgeous package.
It’s also, sadly, a hassle to use for casual smartphone users.
Almost truly bezel-less
Ever since Xiaomi introduced the Mi Mix in late 2016, the smartphone industry has been throwing around the term “bezel-less”. But almost two years in, no phone -- not the Mi Mix with its noticeable chin or the iPhone X with its notch -- are truly bezel-less. The Oppo Find X still has a bit of chin bezel (around 3.4mm), but it’s the smallest one in all of Android. And since it has no notch up top, that’s enough to make the Find X the most bezel-less phone yet.
Here’s how the Find X avoided the notch: Oppo built a tiny sliver of an earpiece above the phone’s display that’s virtually unnoticeable unless one is purposely looking for it; it discarded the proximity sensor in favour of software that uses AI to figure out when to turn off the screen during phone calls. And the showpiece feature: The selfie camera is located in a motorised, elevating module that is hidden behind the display panel when not in use.
The idea of using a pop-up module also recently used by Vivo in its (almost) bezel-less phone, the Nex, but that handset only used it for the selfie camera. Oppo took it several steps further by putting the front and back cameras on there, including a front-facing infrared camera used for 3D facial recognition like Apple’s Face ID.
And just like Apple, Oppo is so confident in its face scanning tech that it got rid of the fingerprint reader entirely -- something no other Android phone has dared try yet. Users must use facial scanning or old fashioned PIN input to unlock the Find X.
There’s good and bad news to this radical idea of shoving all the crucial sensors and unlock mechanism into a pop-up panel.
The good is that the Find X’s 3D facial scanning seems legit. I was unable to fool it with life-sized photos or videos of my face, and the Find X has an animoji rip-off that mimicked my facial movements well enough. Alipay trusts Oppo’s system enough that it allows Find X users to use their face as payment verification.
The bad news? Almost every other app that allow fingerprint verification don’t accept the Find X’s facial scanning as a real form of verification -- including the Google Play Store, Last Pass, or HSBC apps. Oppo reps say they are currently working on getting support, but you’ll have to manually type a PIN every time.
If you’re worried about the pop-up mechanism slowing things down -- that’s only half true. In general, I found the camera to be fully elevated and ready to shoot in about half a second, which is roughly the same time other phones need to boot up their camera apps. Unlocking the Find X, however, is slower than phones with a fingerprint reader, because you have to wait for the module to slide up and then scan your face.
But will it last?
For me, the big concern is durability. The pop-up module has to elevate every single time I unlock the phone, take a photo, or scan a QR code. Think about how many times you do either of those actions -- that’s at least 100 times a day, easy. Use the Find X for three months, and the motorised module would have slid up and down close to 10,000 times already.
Oppo says it’s tested the Find X’s mechanism 300,000 times for endurance, but motorised moving parts, no matter how well built, are more susceptible to damage and wear and tear than non-moving parts.
The rest of the hardware design and specs are absolutely top notch: Snapdragon 845; 8GB of RAM; and a killer 6.4-inch curved OLED display sourced from Samsung. In fact, the Find X’s screen has the same curved sides and rounded corners of the Galaxy S9’s screen, making for an aesthetically pleasing look. (I love the way images seem to slide off the edges of the screen!) The glass back has this gradient finish that shimmers either purple or blue -- depending on which colour you chose -- on either side. The whole device resembles a piece of jewellery.
The Find X’s cameras are also surprisingly good considering they’re all crammed into a thin, moving module. Photos come out crisp and vibrant during day, of course. But even at night, the Find X’s larger-than-usual 1.22-micron image pixel size and camera software do wonders. There’s little noise, and the shutter speed remains fast. The selfie camera is a 25-megapixel shooter and gets the job done.
Chinese Android skins, for some reason, all share similar traits: no app drawer; iOS-style “squircle” (square with rounded corners) icons; iOS-style system-wide search menu that’s activated by swiping down; and heavy battery optimisation that result in delayed push notifications. All of these things go against what Google designed for Android, and the delayed notifications are particularly annoying, because who cares about better battery life if I can’t get WhatsApp or WeChat messages on time? But that’s been an issue with the Chinese versions of Huawei and Xiaomi phones for years, and it’s also true on the Find X.
I was able to find a workaround for the delayed notification issue -- it involves diving into settings, changing battery optimisation priorities, and then locking crucial apps in the phone’s dock -- but that’s only because I have experience dealing with quirky Chinese Android skins. The average user who buys the Find X will wonder why their WhatsApp messages sometimes arrive hours late.
There are other software quirks such as the music widget not always showing up on the lockscreen, requiring the user to unlock the phone just to skip or fast-forward a track. These are all things that Google has designed to work flawlessly on Android, but Chinese Android skins alter so much they end up breaking simple things.
At least the battery life on the Find X is amazing: Even the heaviest of users will get a full day of use on a single charge.
Might be worth the hassle
The Oppo Find X’s reliance on a motorised moving part and software quirks is trouble that I wouldn’t have to put up with on, say, a OnePlus 6. But throughout my week of testing the device, I kept getting curious gazes and queries from random strangers on the street. On the train, I can feel eyes drawn to Find X’s huge, notch-less, vibrant screen; one night at dinner, a stranger the next table over said “whoa, what is that?” when he saw the camera side up.
This is a phone that attracts attention and stands out from the crowd. Factor in its reasonable US$750-ish price tag, and the Find X will have no shortage of buyers… if you can put up with the quirks.