NXT Smartphone Group Test
The smartphone competition has recently seen a shift from the flagships to the midrange market where the sales have been largely dominated by mass-market brands like Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo, to name a few. Big smartphone brands have been focusing a lot on elevating their brand image through launching expensive smartphones with premium features. While they too offer midrange products, these models are often left to play second fiddle in terms of marketing and promotions. Through their strong brand image, they portray their smartphones are superior quality, boosting sales through attractive handset subsidies from telco operators, while the other midrange brands are seen to have functional compromises.
Not anymore. 2018 sees an explosion of promotional efforts from established brands, notably Huawei and Samsung. It seems that they are feeling the heat with mass-market brands extending their market reach into the premium range, like Vivo NEX. The big brands are now coming out to offer models with premium features at midrange prices.
In this smartphone group test, we compare the latest midrange smartphone models from smartphone giants Huawei and Samsung with an established midrange brand, Oppo. We will focus on product features, performance, camera and finally, price value.
Huawei Nova 3i
The Huawei Nova series has been in the market for a few years, and while it is not unfamiliar, it never got much attention in Singapore. With the launch of Nova 3i, Huawei is aggressively targeting the midrange market. Singapore is one of the first countries to launch the device, and at a recommended price of S$398, it is the least expensive among the group test smartphones, but its features are matching in many ways and better in some.
The most striking feature of the phone must be the gradient colour on the curved glass back, a unique look first spotted on the Huawei P20 series. Consumers with a penchant for style will be delighted with its beautiful outlook. The Nova 3i has no lack of the latest most-wanted design elements, including a 19.5:9 FHD+ display that extends almost the entire front face. The arguably popular notch can also be hidden for a more conventional outlook for the opposition camp.
Offering both dual front (24MP + 2MP) and dual rear (16MP + 2MP) cameras with a total of 4 cameras, the Nova 3i comes with AI camera to intelligently optimise the setting to achieve the best shooting result for the user, for instance, increasing saturation when shooting greenery and sky. While viewing the photos on the gallery app, user can also disable the AI effect and revert to the original photo. The dual camera setup allows the production of natural-looking background blur, minimising the time and effort required to edit the photo before sharing. On top of that, Huawei’s wide aperture mode allows adjustment of background blur as well as focus area at any point in time, even after the shot is taken.
For gaming, the Nova 3i supports an AI gaming mode that boosts the graphics processor with GPU Turbo. It still could not match the flagship processors, but it is an affordable compromise. To further seal the consumer confidence, Nova 3i comes with 2 year warranty.
The Huawei Nova 3i will be the new crowd favourite as a midrange smartphone for 2018. It has all the right ticks, from design to camera features, and most importantly, price.
Samsung Galaxy A8 Star
Samsung promptly refreshes the Galaxy A8 series with the new A8 Star, adding on to the existing A8 and A8+. The main difference between the older A8 and the new A8 Star is the dual cameras: the older A8 has dual front cameras and single rear camera, while the A8 Star has single front camera and dual rear cameras. Regardless, all the A8 smartphones come with background blur modes processed for both front and back cameras. A strong factor for the A8 Star is the dual rear cameras sport 24MP and 16MP respectively, both with f/1.7 aperture, the brightest among the group test smartphones.
For contactless payment users, the A8 Star comes with NFC, which was absent for both Huawei and OPPO. Its Bluetooth chipset is also the latest 5.0, while the other contenders support only 4.2. One thing that needs to get used to is the fingerprint sensor positioning: it is just too high. In fact, the hardware button placements are forcing the user to hold the phone towards the upper part of the smartphone, which means the pinky finger is not able to support the bottom of the phone.
For consumers who feel the Galaxy S-series are out of reach, the Galaxy A-series are the closest in attaining the same user experience and eco-system of apps, but uses a midrange Snapdragon 660 processor so performance for high-end applications will be a little slower.
The Samsung A8 Star offers a balanced set of features that is neither frivolous nor extravagant. It’s a good choice for the budding executive who needs a smartphone for productivity and great camera without over-the-top effects.
OPPO has developed its smartphone camera capabilities over the years thanks to its selfie portrait camera features. It is not by accident that OPPO is one of the most popular brand for youths in China and many parts of Asia. Among the 10 top selling smartphones in 2017, OPPO occupies 3 models. The R15 is the successor of the R11 (the number 13 is skipped for superstitious reason) and is refreshed from all the earlier metal-back designs to be in line with the latest trends.
The retail price of S$749 is on the high side, especially when the processor is MediaTek Helio P60 instead of the more popular Snapdragon (though the performance is almost on par). Its heavily-skinned ColorOS 5.0, while based on Android 8.1, feels more like Apple iOS. Many of the familiar Android interactions are no longer there. For instance, the notification cards show options when swiping to the left, instead of swiping off the screen like all other Android phones do. In another example, the notification bar on top does not show notification icons, so I had to swipe down the notification drawer to see what I had missed. Other similarities to iPhones include the camera app UI, the app settings for call, contacts, messages, camera, weather are located at the main settings menu rather than at the individual apps.
Unlike Huawei, the OPPO AI camera works in the background, with the AI Scene Recognition feature capable of recognising over 120 scenes over 16 tags. When shooting normally, you wouldn’t notice the AI at work until you see the small icon on the top left corner. OPPO delivers a more balanced vibrancy that are well-exposed. It supports 3D portrait lighting, but the effects cannot be modified after the shot is taken. The front camera manages backlight and HDR with ease, though it high-handedly tweaks the exposure and beauty mode to insanely gorgeous levels, you won’t believe you look that good.
The OPPO R15 is aggressive in processing the images, making them brighter, sharper, and less noise, at the expense of fine details. When zoomed in, images appear blotchy, but nonetheless, works great for consumers who have no interest to edit photos.
The OPPO R15 maintains its strength in selfie photography, but with its escalating retail price, it is hard to justify the purchase for a level-headed consumer.
Group Test Winner
Huawei Nova 3i is the winner this round, credits to its aggressively attractive pricing. S$398 can get you a lot of features which makes you wonder if smartphones are somewhat overpriced. Although the performance is a little weaker than the others, it does not impede daily operations. Samsung’s design is clearly outdated with cumbersome button positions. As for camera, it’s a balanced score: Nova 3i offers greater shooting controls especially the ability to do post-shoot selections on the AI mode, bokeh, and focus areas. OPPO R15 delivers brighter images, while A8 Star is the most balanced among the three – not too over-processed.
|Huawei Nova 3i
|Samsung A8 Star
|Camera Features and Quality