Every year, Samsung spends untold amounts of money on ad campaigns more concerned with bashing Apple’s iPhone than promoting its own Galaxy phones. In a two-horse race like the US phone market, that makes sense: slowing your archrival is not meaningfully different from speeding yourself up. But Apple has been selling the iPhone for a decade now, and that’s hardly prevented Samsung from selling tens of millions of phones every year. No, it’s Chinese Android manufacturers like Huawei, Xiaomi, and OnePlus that have emerged as genuine threats to Samsung’s mobile sales around the world.
Oppo is high on the list of serious Samsung rivals, and it’s making its biggest push outside of China with the unique Find X. This smartphone won’t ever be accused of being perfect, but it will also never be guilty of inciting boredom or showing a lack of ambition. The Find X is Oppo’s most memorable device, its most aggressively forward-thinking product, and the latest poster child for the speed at which Chinese companies innovate. At a price of €999 and with a heavily laden spec sheet, the Find X is audaciously positioned as a super premium flagship, and it’s being promoted in Europe and across Southeast Asia with as much enthusiasm as in Oppo’s home market. This device is a signal of future intent just as much as it is a technology showcase for the innovation Oppo is capable of today.
I just wish it was a more refined consumer product.
The Find X has one particular design highlight, which, when you first see it, incites delighted gasps and exclamations. I still remember my expletive-laden thrill upon seeing the top of this phone slide up to reveal the selfie camera and face ID system before casually sliding back down after authenticating its user. Combining that mechanical motion with a complementary on-screen animation amplified the effect and made the Find X feel instantly cohesive. Cohesive and otherworldly, because who the hell expects their phone to just open itself up like that?
Oppo is the first Android phone maker to use the same face ID tech as the iPhone, and it’s great
Sure, the Vivo Nex beat the Oppo Find X to the pop-up selfie-camera trick, but the Nex has none of the elegance of the Find X’s design. Or the same structured-light face authentication system, the sort of which we’ve only seen on the iPhone X so far. Oppo’s implementation is the same as Apple’s — albeit hidden inside the slider — and its function is at least as good, if not better. I was able to effortlessly unlock the phone in both very bright environments and pitch-black rooms, and the Find X even outdid the iPhone when it came to ID-ing me from an oblique angle. It’s possible Oppo has favored convenience over security with its face unlock, though I wasn’t able to fool it with photos, the faces of friends, or my own face with my eyes closed.
Every occasion I had to unlock the Find X or use its camera was a tiny delight. Humans just like mechanical things that work well, I guess, or maybe it was because this slider triggered memories of my PC’s CD drive sliding open before I put a game in it. Whatever the explanation for why I love it so much, Oppo’s mechanical engineering with the Find X’s slider is undeniably impressive.
As well as it may function mechanically, the whole feature still feels like a gimmick, something that exists for its novelty more than for its function. The very good face unlock system could have been accommodated in a bezel or a notch, for instance. And while you may argue the slider protects your camera lenses and privacy — both the front and rear cameras are hidden inside the phone when the slider is down — the design does expose the phone’s internals to the danger of dust and moisture ingress. I haven’t been unlucky enough to get any grit trapped inside the phone yet, but it’s a genuine hazard that more conventional smartphones don’t have to deal with.
Like all other phones in its price class, the Oppo Find X is clad in glass on both the front and back, with the rear panel getting a handsome gradient color treatment in either a purply red or a greenish blue. I’m a huge fan of the discovery of gradients by Android phone designers this year, as also exhibited on the Huawei P20 Pro and Motorola’s upcoming iPhone X clone. The Find X’s striking look gives it a distinctiveness that’s hard to find these days, which will matter to you since your options to customize the exterior with a case will be limited, at best, given how the phone extends itself.
I have to commend one especially thoughtful design detail in the Find X: the bottom edge of the phone is slightly concave instead of flat. This eliminates the baneful pinkie terror of having a rough USB-C port rubbing against your finger, and it also opens up a space in front of the bottom-firing speaker so you don’t muffle it when holding the phone. This concavity is mirrored at the top of the phone purely for the sake of design symmetry. Honestly, it’s the sort of thing that everyone should copy.
This might be the most slippery phone I’ve ever reviewed
Oppo doesn’t get full marks for its industrial design, however, and a big reason for that is just how slippery the Find X is. This might be the most frictionless phone I’ve ever reviewed; I certainly can’t recall anything recent that has been quite this slippery. The Find X has managed to slip off the edge of desks, coffee tables, mouse pads, basically any flat surface I placed it on. I’ve even put it five inches away from the edge and then watched it slowly slithering its way to the abyss. This problem isn’t as pronounced when holding the phone, I haven’t dropped it (much), but it’s a pretty major issue for an all-glass device, all the same.
Coming from a Pixel 2 XL, I initially found the Find X’s display intolerably garish and oversaturated. If your point of reference is something like Samsung’s Galaxy range, you’ll be quite at home, and I did adapt over time. Still, I would have liked to have the option to tone the artificially boosted colors down a little. The Find X is a hair shorter and quite a bit narrower than the Pixel 2 XL, however it fits a whole 6.4-inch (2340 x 1080) OLED screen within its frame. That’s the advantage of having scarcely any bezels around the display — though I should also point out that the Find X screen never actually felt meaningfully larger than the Pixel’s. Many people will appreciate the absence of a notch at the top of the screen, which contributes to the clean and attractive look of the Find X.
Oppo’s Find X has made me aware of a subconscious habit I’ve developed of periodically wiping my phone down, both to eradicate fingerprint marks and to ensure a clean lens on the camera. The latter is not an issue with this phone’s design, though the former most definitely is. It’s sad to think that once Google updates its Pixel in a month’s time, we’ll be left with practically no top-tier aluminum smartphone options; it’ll be all glass all the time.
I had low expectations for the cameras on the Find X but was proven wrong by the highly competent performance of this phone. When you consider that Oppo crammed its cameras — 16-megapixel and 20-megapixel f/2 cams on the rear, 25-megapixel f/2 imager on the front — into a much shallower space than the typical smartphone’s depth, and that many of its rivals still allow themselves a camera bump, the images you get from this phone are downright impressive.
Oppo’s camera system produces consistently pleasing colors, has good enough dynamic range to rarely blow out any scenes, and it even performs decently in low light. Although it has two lenses on the back, the Find X’s system doesn’t offer a dedicated zoom lens in the way that the iPhone X or Galaxy S9 do. I would advise against trying to shoot any zoomed photos with this phone, you’re just not going to like or want to keep any of the smudged-up imagery it produces when zoomed.
Both front and rear cameras surpass expectations, but video is shaky
The selfie camera’s output is soft by default, but it has enough detail to let me churn out some good shots by amping up the contrast and sharpening. Its portrait mode is good, handling the edges of faces and hair reasonably well. Even the beautification feature, whose very existence offends me, earned my grudging respect by removing facial blemishes without destroying other detail like stubble or pores (unless you crank it up to the max) or making the subject’s skin look waxy.
You can shoot up to 240fps 1080p video with the Find X, which benefits from the same good color reproduction as the phone’s still photos. Oppo claims the phone has optical image stabilization, however I don’t see much evidence of that during video recording. The Find X is notably shakier when shooting handheld video than other recent flagships like HTC’s U11.
If I could end my review of the Oppo Find X right here, if I could just say, “it’s an Android phone and you know you’re getting a great user experience when you buy an Android device,” my final score would have been much higher. But, alas, Oppo felt the need to tinker with Android in a few fundamental and highly annoying ways. The software experience counteracts much of the goodwill earned by the Find X’s design and camera. Oppo also copied the iPhone’s gesture-based multitasking, which I approve of, but let’s talk about the bad stuff first.
The worst sin of Oppo’s ColorOS Android variant is the inability to swipe away notifications. When I get a notification and try to swipe at it, I get a couple of action icons, one of which is to dismiss the notification. By being so precious about the importance of each notification, Oppo is doubling the amount of effort I have to put into a task that I repeat dozens of times per day. This issue is compounded by the Oppo App Store, which pushes vibrating, audible notifications to my lock screen with utterly atrocious pick-up lines and literal ads to apps inside it. I understand that there’s no Google Play Store in China, which is why the Oppo App Store exists, but there’s a vast difference between offering alternative apps to Google’s and forcing them in my face with annoyingly persistent notifications.
The Find X is riddled with self-inflicted software wounds
In its effort to imitate iOS, Oppo doesn’t provide the option for an app drawer in ColorOS. So enjoy your setup time of shuffling banal apps like the Theme Store, Usage Tips, and Game Space around home screens. I’ll never understand why companies charging such vast sums of money for their phones don’t pay more attention to the experience of those same devices when they first come out of the box. Everything cohesive and beautiful about the Find X’s exterior shatters into a litany of microaggressions of bad software design once you start using the thing. China’s Android phone makers are today where Samsung was four or five years ago: at the cutting edge of hardware, but desperately out of their depth when it comes to crafting software to match.
The Find X’s settings menu will forever have a big banner at the top telling you to sign in to your Oppo ID. Your contacts list will insistently advise you to sync them with Oppo Cloud Sync, which is a thing the gallery app will also suggest incessantly. I appreciate Oppo’s optimism in believing people would invest quite so much trust and faith in its unproven services, but I don’t think all this nagging to lock you into its ecosystem is constructive.
So what did Oppo do right with the Find X’s software? Well, the gesture-based multitasking is really quite nice. It’s optional, you can still use the familiar Android buttons, but I see no reason to stay attached to the old. This new stuff is superior. I’ve set it so that a swipe up from the middle gets me back to my home screen, a swipe and hold gives me the multitasking view (which is identical to the iPhone’s), and a swipe up on the left or right functions like a back button. It’s well implemented, even if it is a total rip-off of what Apple has done. You can still use third-party launchers like Nova to customize your home screen and address some of the usability issues of Oppo’s ColorOS, though you’ll lose the sweet card animations when using gestures to navigate.
I also like (some of) Oppo’s aggressive power optimizations. The company sandboxes apps and prevents third-party apps from consuming resources in the background, which results in laudably good battery life. After a full 24 hours of intensive use that includes gaming, photography, YouTube, messaging, and web browsing, I typically still have 20 percent of battery left. A lot of phones last a long time when you’re frugal with their actual use, but the Find X is reliably impressive even on busy days. What I don’t like about Oppo’s obsession with energy efficiency is that Google Photos — which I guess counts as a third-party app, in Oppo’s mind — doesn’t automatically sync in the background and requires me to open it to get it to sync up my pictures.
An epic spec sheet doesn’t translate into flawless performance on this phone
The Find X’s performance is similarly spotty. It has the Snapdragon 845 that has quickly become ubiquitous among 2018 flagship Android phones, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. The smoothness of its UI animations is imperfect, however. The Find X copies the look of the iPhone’s gestures, but not the fluidity or responsiveness. Oppo has also implemented a gaming mode on this phone, which is ostensibly supposed to reprioritize resources and ensure smooth frame rates, but I didn’t see its effects in Egg Inc., a game that doesn’t have intense 3D graphics but still managed to drop frames when I played it on the Find X.
On the audio front, Oppo has shamelessly copied Apple’s EarPods design, with the only difference being the USB-C termination. Without a headphone jack on the Find X, you’ll either be using these earbuds, Oppo’s provided dongle, or some wireless alternative. The encouraging thing is that the wannabe EarPods actually sound decent, if a little grainy. They’re not something I’d urge anyone to buy in a store, but they’re also not a weakness for this phone. They do the job. Voice calls with the Find X are super clean and clear.
No wireless charging, no fingerprint sensor, no stereo speakers, no waterproofing
I can’t quite say the same about the Find X’s loudspeaker, which never gets very loud and exhibits unevenness in the high frequencies, making human voices sound shouty and grating at higher volumes.
The absence of stereo speakers joins the absence of a fingerprint sensor, wireless charging, and waterproofing on the list of notable omissions from the Find X’s spec sheet. Each of those features is now something of a standard expectation, but such are the trade-offs for the extra slick design of this phone.
If this review leaves you with the impression that I’m ambivalent about the Oppo Find X, that’s because I am. Every good feature about this device seems to have a contradicting negative weighing against it. It’s a novel phone with a cool design, but it’s also slippery as a fish and incompatible with most cases. It has great battery life and nice multitasking gestures, but it also has the worst notification system I’ve seen in years.
Many of the Find X’s failings can be ironed out with better attention to detail and more time for refinement. The English-language Music app, for example, can stop using the French “Artiste” as a label for its artists tab. The minimum auto-brightness of the phone can also be reduced for more comfortable use in the dark. But all these follies, big and small, eventually add up to a product with more downsides than upsides. I can’t excuse that with something that costs a thousand euros and comes from a manufacturer without an international pedigree like Apple or Samsung’s.
I wish I didn’t have to conclude every review of an Android phone with the thought that the hardware shows great promise, but the software lets the whole thing down. But here I am, writing those words yet again. Building great hardware is hard, but it’s not enough.