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Review: Can The Oppo R9s Transcend Pricing, iPhone Lookalike Styling

New Zealand is the latest country to officially receive the Oppo R9s. Booming sales in its home country of China have pushed Oppo into a position to challenge for market leadership on a global scale. To the point where the R9s was the best selling Android phone worldwide in Q1 2017.

So what's all the fuss about?

The R9s is a mid-range phone by price, coming in at NZ$699. For that sum you get a 5.5" 1080p AMOLED screen, two 16mp cameras, Dual Phase detection autofocus, a lightning quick fingerprint sensor and an aluminium body. Inside the mid-range Snapdragon 625 is paired with a  decidedly premium 4GB RAM.

None of that will probably matter to you though, because of the polarising design work Oppo put into this device.

Suffice to say that this phone is an absolute rip-off of the iPhone industrial design. At a quick glance friends will think you have an iPhone 7 Plus in your hands, rather than something which cost less than half the price. For some I suspect this will be a selling point - perhaps the most important one. For others it will be off putting.

If you're in the latter camp don't write the R9S off though, there is an excellent smartphone hiding under the iPhone mimicry.

For a start the battery life is fantastic. I was easily able to make a full charge last two full days. Oppo's VOOC fast charging technology is impressive too, with a full charge taking less than an hour. There's a $29 car charger which supports VOOC, which for me would mean never having to plug the R9s in anywhere else.

Cameras on the Oppo are impressive - in good light easily as good as the Xperia XZ I use as my daily driver, in lower light there's a bit more of a gap but nothing which would concern me.

Whilst the R9s looks like an iPhone, it doesn't feel like one in the hand - running your finger along the rear case you can feel tiny micro ridges which aren't present on the iPhone or other premium phones made of metal. However the feel of an extra $730 in your pocket might ease that concern.

Using the Oppo is a very different experience too. As with all Chinese OEMs the app drawer is missing, in favour of an iPhone-like 'everything on the homescreen' icon layout. Personally I'm not a fan and never will be. Otherwise ColorOS - Oppo's skin - is impressively light and devoid of apps you probably won't want.

There are some clever features in ColorOS which standout. Like the screen off gesture controls. Most useful for me was the ability to drag a finger down the screen to pause or play music, you can also turn on the flashlight or launch the camera by gestures and, if there are other things you'd like the phone to launch to, you can add your own gestures.

Performance was also a strong point of Oppo's skin - not in its blazing responses, which you probably wouldn't expect from a SD625 phone, but in the way it doesn't stutter like other Android phones, mid-range or premium, are want to do. This may well be a feature of the aggressive memory management settings that Oppo utilises, but it's a pleasant surprise.

A less pleasant surprise is the presence of Android 6 on a newly launched device, and with Oppo having no track record of delivering updates to NZ customers that would concern me.

So how does the R9s stack up at the end of all that? I wasn't a fan of the iPhone wannabe look of the phone and the feel of the body wasn't great. Other than the absence of the app drawer the ColorOS skin was fine for me. At $699 I wasn't expecting a device which was going to beat out the iPhone 7 or Galaxy S8, but actually Oppo has come surprisingly close.

However the same $699 would get me a Samsung A7 2017 - a device that has a far more premium build, battery life almost on par with the R9s and a similarly performing camera. I think I'd probably trade an NFC chip, an app drawer and the better chance of updates from Samsung for the extra RAM  and storage the R9s offers over the A7.

That said, if you're in the market for a phablet sized phone in the mid-range there's very little else out there which offers the value of the Oppo R9s, and if you're a little more forgiving of its quirks you won't be disappointed in this offering.