​Oppo F1s review: 2016 has another King of the Best Value phones

Great handling, features and a giveaway, $348 price help us overlook some camera and power issues

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Oppo F1s
  • Oppo F1s
  • Oppo F1s
  • Oppo F1s
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Good free case
  • 3-day battery
  • Fast fingerprint unlock
  • Looks good and well built
  • Strong vibrator

Cons

  • Camera can be slow and noisy
  • Video performance is poor
  • Slow processing shows in power apps

Bottom Line

At under $350 the F1s is a steal. It has features we'd like to see on top-end phones like fast fingerprint unlocking, free case and a three day battery life. Just beware of the camera performance and processing delay with power apps.

Would you buy this?

This phone has appeared in our Top Rated Android Phones in 2016 list and Best budget smartphones 2016 list.

[Edit: Since publishing, Oppo has advised that Australia won't be getting the Dual SIM variant of the F1s. However, we expect it to be available on grey import. We've knocked the value score down a little, but everything else we have said still stands]

The last phone we reviewed was the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. That costs a staggering $1,000 more than this Oppo phone and yet when we switched over to it the overwhelming sense was of relief. Here’s why…

Something strange is happening in the phone world. The newer players are getting into the market by offering amazing features and extras with their phones for a fraction of what the old-guard is charging. Alcatel’s Idol 4S cost $599 and comes with free VR goggles. Huawei’s P9 came with a stunning Leica camera setup and great screen for $799, Motorola’s G4 Plus wowed us with its full functionality and $399 price tag. Those are just some examples.

Now here’s the Oppo F1s which has an RRP of just $348 and can already be had for $335. The first two things we notice are that it’s really well built and that it comes with a decent, silicon case. The case is very similar to the Incipio case we reviewed for the Samsung Galaxy S7 so that’s another $25 value right there. Not only that but it makes the phone instantly more drop-resistant and easier to hold – very refreshing having been struggling with the delicate-looking and slippery Note 7 whose lack of bezel makes basic usage an annoying chore.

Key specs

5.5in, 720 x 1280, 267ppi IPS LCD screen, 32,3GB RAM; 1.5GHz Octa-core MediaTek MT6750 CPU plus Mali-T860 MP2 GPU, 16/13MP cameras, Android 5.1 with Color OS 3, 3,075mAh battery, Fingerprint readers, microSD slot (shared), [Edit: removed Dual NanoSIM], 155 x 76 x 7mm, 160g.

Handling

We’ve been living with this phone for a week and frankly, having tested pretty much every other phone on the market, this one handles like all other Android phones for the most part. There are some exceptions.

Firstly, the fingerprint unlock is one of the fastest we’ve seen. No matter which angle we placed our thumb on the sensor it opened instantly. Oppo put the time at just 0.22s and we’ll take their word for it. To us it’s as fast as the P9 and you’ll be off and away faster than someone trying to use the Note 7’s fingerprint reader or Iris scanner.

In general usage there are no issues: swiping between screens and opening apps is generally instantaneous. People might have concerns about the low-resolution screen, but we rarely did. Low-res screens make icons and text bigger for the most part. The F1s’ is bright and vibrant and few people will find it limiting under general usage. However, some certainly will find it limiting in some circumstances – photos can look soft compared to rivals although this is down to resolution more than anything else. It’s noticeably behind the AMOLED screens we’ve seen with the P9 and Note 7 recently but you have to have spent time with those screens to know about that.

The processors aren’t the most powerful. It struggles a bit with Pokemon Go in that loading times can a bit longer compared to other phones but once it’s up and running its fine. It struggled holding on to our location more than any other phone but in Pokemon Go this just means free movement.

Power users may find it wanting if they require serious processing power or gaming, but for casual users it’s, again, fine.

Using it as a phone brought up no issues with clear and crisp audio coming out at both ends. The speaker phone was sufficiaently loud and distinct.

One thing that stood out was the vibrate feature which seems to be one of the most powerful on the market – many phones that we’ve tested lately can vibrate in our pockets for ages without us noticing. We can even hear this vibrate from a distance.

As for simply holding the phone, it’s comfortable in our hands and looks good with its enamel-like coating - it doesn't look cheap at all. With the case on it’s even more comfortable to hold and feels very secure.

Color OS

Read more: ​Huawei P9 review: lifting photography to another level... sometimes.

Having a separate operating system lying on top of Android usually splits the field. We’ve certainly seen some horror-show overlays in our time – where vendors dump all kinds of marketing rubbish and mediocre-apps on us when raw Android would have been much better. While Color OS has a few foibles there are some good features here.

The Secure folder apes the Note 7’s and allows you to store items like apps, contacts, files and other content securely without fear of anyone seeing them should you hand your phone to someone else or lose it. There’s built-in virus scanning from Avast, clean-up processes to keep things running smoothly and power saving monitors to help further boost battery life. There’s also an unusual Eye Protection mode which filters out blue light to apparently diminish eye strain and help you sleep better, which may be of interest to some.

There's a bunch of other super-niche features like smart calling which automatically dials the number you’re looking at when you hold it to your ear. Sensibly, these are all turned off by default. O-Cloud lets you back up contacts (meh) but also SMS conversations (yay!) to an Oppo cloud account.

There’s an instructions app if you get stuck and in the week we had it the OS was updated twice for minor things which is refreshingly responsive from a vendor.

Ultimately, the best thing we can say about Color OS is that it didn’t get in the way. Only the regular cleanup notifications got a bit much but that was dispatched with one button press and seemed like a useful function.

Battery

The F1s comes with a respectable 3,075mAh battery and this, combined with the low-powered components and (presumably) Oppo’s Color OS power consumption enhancements, meant that we saw up to three (count'em) days' battery life. Your mileage may vary and hard usage will drop this down to two but, either way, this is so refreshing!

Camera

Oppo says it, cough, focuses on the F1s photography abilities but they’re a mixed bag.

It’s certainly capable of decent shots and sometimes it works very well. But particularly in low light, shots can take over a second to focus and click. We missed many shots in low light but even just taking several shots at once caused lag.

Trying to capture a dandelion being blown in low light was a fruitless task due to major shutter lag and/or noise.
Trying to capture a dandelion being blown in low light was a fruitless task due to major shutter lag and/or noise.

On a dusky evening trying to shoot our daughter blowing some dandelion seeds proved a trying experience and output was haphazard in terms of focus and grain. But it wasn’t incapable in low light and we still got many decent shots. You just need to be a bit more patient than with other cameras.

In good lighting, photos could be well exposed and very sharp.
In good lighting, photos could be well exposed and very sharp.
Panoramas could look a bit distorted and the F1s wasn’t very forgiving if you moved too fast.
Panoramas could look a bit distorted and the F1s wasn’t very forgiving if you moved too fast.
The very-high resolution Selfie camera (with its adjustable Beauty mode) could produce flattering results.
The very-high resolution Selfie camera (with its adjustable Beauty mode) could produce flattering results.

However, the selfie camera is actually quite good and the Beauty mode was quite flattering. It’s a very high resolution front camera (16-megapixel) which may well appeal to some. It also makes use of screen flash to provide a soft light flash in low light. Notice though that, as with the rear camera, details in bright areas can easily blow-out and turn white.

Read more: ​Review: HTC One X9 and OPPO R9 - mid-range Android phones

Video was a bit disappointing. While 1080p is supported, the lack of image stabilization is very noticeable even when you’re standing still. It dealt with contrast changes smoothly and focusing by tapping on the screen was quick (although autofocusing was very slow). A big let down was sound though with background noise being recorded as robotic-sounding background chatter while even our own spoken audio had a machine-like resonance.

All in all the camera can be rather trying but the potential for good stills is there. Video is mediocre all round.

Other features

In addition to the silicon case the F1s also has a Dual SIM functionality – although you’ll have to choose between having a second SIM and the microSD card as the slot is shared. EDIT: Since publishing we've been told by Oppo that this is no longer the case for the Australian version]

Conclusion

We’ve really enjoyed using the F1s. Super quick unlocking with the fingerprint reader has become an important feature for us, the screen is great for all day to day tasks, even if it doesn’t impress us like other competitors. The case makes it comfortable to hold and provides reassuring drop resistance but it still lets you see the good-looking phone beneath.

Having the privacy folder is a boon and we liked the Color OS performance optimization even if it did happen a bit too regularly. Another general-usage feature is the strong vibrate which catches your attention better than anything else we’ve tested.

To have so many superlatives in a review of the cheapest phone we’ve seen is worthy of significant praise. We’ve been enormously impressed with the Alcatel Idol 4S and Moto G4 Plus lately. If it wasn’t for the haphazard camera performance, we’d say this was the best budget phone we’ve seen. Yet if you’re not fussed about a camera or slightly-delayed powerful-app usage, this really is the best budget phone we’ve tested and at a giveaway price.

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Read more on these topics: Motorola, Huawei, samsung, mobile phones, Alcatel, Moto, Phones, phone, Oppo
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