Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Oppo R11s explorations

To those unfamiliar with the R11s I recommend starting at this page: https://www.oppo.com/au/smartphone-r11s/ for a general advertising tilt. If I can say a single phrase which summarises this post its this:
no matter how good the hardware is, it's only as good (or bad) as the software.
Oppo (and their sister company OnePlus) make some great hardware ... OnePlus makes great phones, Oppo sometimes does.

Some time ago (2016) I bought an Oppo F1 and its been my daily driver since then (and actually still is). While I'd had a number of Android tablets (and used a few iPhones and iPads too) before getting it my daily driver until the F1 was my Nokia E-72, which still works and is still me "spare sim" phone that I have on every day for my "other" sim, as well as literally being the better bluetooth capable MP3 playing device that I connect to my stereo or speakers. A fairly amazing service from a 2009 phone, but I digress.

The R11s is basically a OnePlus 5T with a slightly down spec processor and a bit less RAM (both system and storage) and a different "OS Skin" over Android, which costs less. You can compare them over here on GSMArena (link). To the spec cognoscenti it would seem that the F1 would be substantially left in the dust by either of these two, and if you're a phone gamers maybe that would be true. However I'm not, I'm the kind of person who uses my phone as
  • a phone (you know, calls, SMS ... I know wild strange shit right?)
  • a camera that's not only always with me, but capable (read this post to see how good my Nokia E-72 was), and the F1 has proven very capable, even more so because it has the ability to capture RAW (tons on my blog about that, but this post is well worth reading)
  • a portable computer with my files, documents on the SD card or access to shared files by Dropbox
  • a computer with access to internet communications tools like WhatsApp, Skype and of course email
  • my home internet box (yep, I regularly WiFi hotspot my phones data to run my homes internet, me being single if I'm not home then nothing in my home needs to be accessing the internet). This has simplified things and saved me money. I'd say this is about the biggest change to how I work overall in the change from the E-72 to the F1
The focus of this post however will be on the phone as a camera and the differences in usage between the F1 and the R11s



Questions that I sought to answer are; does the R11s have a better camera (which, spoilers, is a yes and no thing, but for me no), does it have any improvements in usage experience to justify its expense (again, no) and aside from "I like the colour better" (I never did like the white face of the F1), is it a better device.

So ... lets go there.

The good

Security: what I sought was basically the inclusion of fingerprint unlock, meaning my phone can be protected from unauthorised access while being simple to get at. My F1 required a PIN or a Pattern (lacking any fingerprint sensor), so that's handy. However in practice I normally leave my phone unlocked because 1) I live alone 2) I live in a rural area where theft is about as common as snow (its a sub tropical area) 3) when I go somewhere (say international travel) I can engage the PIN or Pattern Unlock - so its really no big deal to me and I can get at the camera without unlocking the phone.

What I experienced was that while it was quick you had to hold the phone in a particular way to ensure orientation of the finger to the sensor and have multiple fingers in the system if you happen to ever use the phone with more than one hand (say your right hand). If the phone is on the desk beside you you have to pick it up or use a PIN anyway .... So in conclusion its actually more of a pain in my usage than any advantage.


Fast Charging: the VOOC charging is fantastic and if I'm home briefly (even 10 minutes) I can plug it in for a bit and get a substantial hit from the charge (a far better %age than with my F1 in the same time). So when (rarely) I'm using the phone so much during the day and not able to get any source of charge that would be handy. ... IFF I have the VOOC charger and cable with me (which I usually don't). Next, because the battery is about 50% greater capacity compared to the F1 it means it takes 50% longer to charge it with a normal charger (you know, like the USB one in my car for starters) or a portable battery bank. 

Recently, when I was on holiday in Prague the F1 lasted all day, taking some great shots during the day as well as post processing them (loving that RAW for post processing) and uploading to Farcebook (via wifi at the pub, for my friends who were interested) and Maps Navigation and GPS on all the time (to find those pubs)...

Some example shots:
pano



museum interiors (with a little Snapseed)



and something to wet my whistle at lunch


(as well as processing the many images I took in RAW on my Panasonic GF-1 camera and uploading them too  ...)

But to take advantage of VOOC you must not only use a VOOC compatible charger but the VOOC compatible cable, cos they're different 



The original F1 cable (left) is just a regular high current type Micro USB type while the VOOC one is a variant of that which uses its different physical shape (length) to ensure that you don't fry a regular phone if its charged with the VOOC system. Thoughtful.

So to me in practice the VOOC brings very little to the table because (as mentioned):
  • I need the VOOC charger to charge fast (or its slower to charge because of bigger battery)
  • in my car even the VOOC cable won't fast charge because its a whole system (charger and cable)
  • at work I can't fast charge unless I buy a second charger and cable
  • travelling I cant take significant advantage of a USB Battery to charge
So in practice the only two advantages I've found with the R11 are not actually clear advantages.

Hmmm

The next thing I was interested in was the Performance of the camera (well actually it was that first, but I digress) as I'm clearly a keenly photographically oriented person.

The Camera (first analysis)

In this post (cos I don't really want to be here all day) I'll just do a quick comparison (and will probably publish more comparisons). I thought I'd start with shooting two scenes with the following cameras:

  • R11s (duh)
  • F1
  • Sony A7
because the last two are recognised widely as being good highly capable stills interchangable lens cameras (especially the last one).

The first thing that emerges when comparing the R11s to the F1 is that the angle of view (or how wide it is) is different. The R11s is less wide.

In this presentation I'm going to use the RAW file from the F1 because I've already established that in my own usage I far prefer to take "keeper shots" (which I plan) in RAW in case I need to make "improvements" to its look and feel (it takes both at the same time with no operational penalty). As Oppo have taken RAW off the R11s I can only use its JPG output (and actually I think the F1 was the first and last phone they provided with RAW I inadvertently got a "sleeper"). So lets take a look

R11s (taken with the HDR mode)


I took that image (and all subsequent images with the R11s) using its Auto HDR mode, because frankly without that they were devoid of any details in shadows (think as black as a scared squid) and flimsy highlights.

F1 (of course in RAW and using snapseed to adjust tonals)


Now this difference in width is not big by any means, both are "wide angle" I know that the F1 is 28mm equivalent and I'm guessing that the R11s is something like 30mm equivalent. I know its not 35mm equivalent because I took this shot with my Sony A7 and a 35mm f2.8 lens

Sony A7 (taken with RAW and adjusting tonals to look similar in Snapseed)


I've marked in red below pretty much where the A7 image covers in the R11s image


So since the 35mm is considered a wide angle lens I'm not going take points away from the R11s because its still wide (which is excellent for general and travel photography).

I do mention it because it has an important influence on apparent sharpness. Essentially when you capture wider every detail gets smaller on the same sensor, so as the R11s has a less wide capture, it will capture more detail, but less details because less width if you know what I mean (examine the width differences carefully between the F1 and R11s)


the F1 is a bit wider again than the R11s is to the 35mm angle of view

As well as meaning that the R11s can put less detials into its image it also means it can make easier metering decisions because there may be less variation of lighting differences in the scene.

On the subject of "light" I happen to prefer the tonals I obtained from the A7 and the F1 in that order ... the R11s rated last.

The details

For instagram and farcebook posts these differences don't matter because just like I've done here those applications will scale that image back to smaller (oh and do click on the images and open in a new tab for easy comparisons, if you're reading this on a phone please do look on a real computer)

Ok, so knowing that scaled down (you've just looked) makes no clear difference in camera (well apart from perhaps tonal ranges) lets pixel peep these at 100% (meaning one image pixel = one screen pixel).


So this shows a few things in clarity:
  • despite covering a wider amount of scenery (with less outright pixels) the F1 captures more tonal details than the R11s does (examine the subtle texture in the grass and hillside trees)
  • the R11s suffers from exactly the same JPG plastic looking pixel smudging that erodes details as I observed back years ago with the F1 (here at the bottom of the page, and this was before I'd discovered Snapseed), if the R11s had RAW it would be a big improvement right there ... it would be a "done deal" that I'd keep this phone (note the implication of conclusion) and it would be a killer camera phone. Meanwhile the A7 is a killer camera (as you'd expect). 



For the trade off in convenience and size the phone cameras are damn good, but the F1 has the edge over the R11s simply because it has RAW (and I know what more that brings to the table for an enthusiast photographer): meaning that just like the F1 the supplied (built in) software hobbles the system, but unlike the F1 the R11s can not step up to the plate because it doesn't support RAW (meaning a failure of software).

Print Sizes

Lets do another quick look at 50% which I've found is representative what you can see with close inspection of the biggest prints from the images. Which BTW is: 

  • 92.7 x 61.8 cm for the A7, 
  • 71.1 x 52.6 cm for the F1 and 
  • 78.0 x 58.5 cm for the R11s
So not any substantial difference in the print sizes from these two phones and only a little bit bigger for the A7 (think about that for what to pack on your next holiday).


So with a print nearly a meter wide if you walked up as close as you can see comfortably with your eyes this is pretty much what you'd see. Sony is clearly the winner (no surprises that landscape photographers love this camera and won't be switching to a phone any time soon) and the differences between the R11s and F1 are minor ... if you like the extra "over sharpened" look to exaggerate the posts on that shed over the better textures of the grasses and hillside trees, then the R11s is for you, but its my style baby.

But these are super large prints, and its important to consider that printing any smaller will mean the differences are less observable. However what you do need to consider it cropping. If you didn't want wide angle then you can't crop the R11s image as much as you can the processed F1 image.

Now if I was buying a new then it would be different because I couldn't get the F1 new anymore. So if I didn't have access to that phone I wouldn't know what I am missing ... so for new buyers the R11s is a great phone camera ... but for me as an owner of the F1 its not worth the switch.

Usability

One of the main issues I have with the R11s is how every good feature of the F1 is either reduced or destroyed, everything from the size (compact enough but not puny) screen colour rendition (the AMOLED screen is way too saturated and contrasty, perhaps suiting kiddies and making flat boring pictures look better, but when using your phone as an image editing and adjustment tool for in the field on the fly editing its crap because its misleading.

Here's what I rate as worse on the R11s
  • screen colour
  • off angle strange colour shifts of OLED
  • pull down menu and notifications being munged
  • settings access (from the notification blind)
  • comprehensive feature set up
  • loaded software is a step back (especially the image browser, but clock / alarm features and compass too)
  • camera functionality (they fuckking destroyed one of the core usefulnesses which is the "Expert mode" and lack of RAW)
  • included sounds
  • the clock
  • Quiet Time (lost the count down feature rendering it far less functional)
  • the forced dark colour scheme of the compass (you just can't fucking see it in daylight)
here's what they fixed on the R11s which was painful on the F1
  • the navigation buttons on the bottom of the screen
Here's a quick video explaining some of that, the background lighting is a little dark (maybe) but I tried hard to not wash out the screen colours.




(if your on a phone, you will need to click this link https://youtu.be/nXtEVUkGnCYto see that video, but as I mentioned before, you'll see all this better on a proper computer with a decent screen)

I mentioned the Expert mode that has been degraded to just a name, but lost expert features, here's an example of that:



Clearly the development team had no concept of consistency ... Color OS 2.1 is to my mind the best so far that I've tried. The R11s uses Color OS 3.2 which is an improvement on 3.1 that's for sure. Unlike some Android users I'm quite comfortable with what Color OS does (well more so 2.1) and I don't really need an app drawer (if you don't even know what that means that's a good thing) as I like that the apps just appear on the desktop, and that if you run out of space you just get another "page" of desktop. I can organise into folders myself and then I therefore customise where things are. I like that.

As I said, I'm no modder, I don't want to "root" my device and replace the dialer or replace the text messaging app, I just want to have a phone that I can use, and add apps to it as needed (like my banking, WhatsApp or whatever).

One last point on usability: the R11s is slightly larger than the F1, as you see, this small size difference means that it goes from being a on the edge of being too big for someone like me to being a bit too big. The R11s will not fit comfortably in my front jeans pocket when sitting, I ride my motorbike or drive my car. If I put it in my back pocket it sticks up too far and to my mind that makes it a greater target for theft.

Bottom Line

I went into this with high hopes (hell I bought the bloody thing to see), but a week of usage and comparison side by side has shown me that the advances just aren't there for me. I'm not significantly interested in the (barely) larger screen, as for watching a movie either screen is too small and my 10" tablet is my go to there (with excellent sound too). Same for image processing as the tablet has 2560 x 1600 screen res and looks fantastic displaying movies at 1080p. That bigger higher res screen is also great for processing images (which I find I do more on my tablet than on my computer now). So the R11s offers less when viewed as part of my present ecosystem.

I've said for a while that technology is plateauing and this comparison shows that the difference (nearly 2 years) in phones has brough very little.  If you have higher expectations (or are moving up from a F1 which you chose because you had higher expectations of camera performance) then pick another phone OR (in my view) accept that cheaper phones are quite reasonable and if your photography needs are higher >> get a real camera ;-)

However

If you (unlike me) don't expect much from your camera and just want to see your selfies looking good on your own phone and don't care what others get to see then the R11s is a great value for money phone. I'm not even sure that you'll see any significant difference on stepping up to a Samsung Galaxy S9 or iPhone 8 (I've used both) and so if you're in the market right now the R11s is a bargain when you compare it to the new stuff beside it on the shelves (*which I'm expecting to be no better or worse), myself I'm not clear if I'll sell this or keep it. I already have a second F1 as a "backup" so I'm probably able to get by for another year or two .. so who knows what the market will be like then?

That I'm seeing flagships at nearly $2000 I'm not sure it'll be any better because that drags up the bottom end.

More to come ....

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