Making the Switch to OPPO

in General tech

I’ve had quite a few phones over the years. To name a few, in loose chronological order:

  • Nokia 6320
  • Nokia N95
  • Motorola C113
  • Nokia E63
  • iPhone 4
  • Samsung Galaxy S4
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 Edgee
  • Samsung Galaxy S8

Almost all of these were flagship – or major release phones in their time. So why would I switch to a random brand like OPPO?

In my years of owning smartphones, Samsung has been a clear favourite for me. What was once a cheap brand of phone with poor build quality has hit a boom in the past 5 years or so. I originally bought my S4 for a few key features it had; TSP hovering (“Air View”), IR blaster and of course the software it came with like Group Play, which enabled the phone to be used as a surround-sound speaker when connected to another Galaxy device by Bluetooth.

The infrared blaster was a particularly entertaining feature when used with the Galaxy Universal Remote app. Who wouldn’t want the power to control pretty much any device or appliance they walk past?

Over the years unfortunately Samsung cut down on a lot of the features I loved, which brings us to my most recent phone; the Galaxy S8. The phone doesn’t have too many extra special features like its predecessors do but it still boasts an exceptionally good build quality and some waterproofing as well. One of the areas I have noticed always falls flat in the Galaxy series though is the battery life. It’s appalling. Never lasts a full day even with all the power saving features turned on and location/NFC/Bluetooth/WiFi disabled.

These days I tend to purchase a new phone every 18 months or so. I put up with the disappointing battery for a while but the last straw was when I dropped my phone this week. The touchscreen broke and I finally decided to just go and replace it completely.

Enter: The OPPO R17 Pro.

The OPPO R17 Pro was released about three months ago here in Australia and from what I can tell of the online support available, it’s not a very well known model here yet.
I purchased this phone for about $850 after reading about the charging time and battery life; 50 minutes and almost 48 hours respectively.

The Setup

Transferring data from one Android phone to another is rarely an easy thing to do – that’s if you want it done right.

I have 80,000+ messages on my phone, a few hundred notes in S Note, 15,000 photos, a small amount of music and probably an average amount of miscellaneous app data.

I’ve been so used to whipping out Smart Switch when changing phones that I didn’t think much about how difficult the transfer would be before buying the R17 Pro. Since SmartSwitch only allows data transferĀ toĀ a Samsung phone, I ended up using the Clone Phone app that came with my new device. This worked fairly well however there were a few bits and pieces it did not handle well – and for good reason. Namely:

  • SMS and MMS
  • App data
  • App user data (e.g. Samsung Notes)

SMS

The messages were very difficult to get working. For a few years now I’ve used Textra as my app for SMS. It’s an absolutely brilliant app and handles my large amount of data with no problem, unlike the stock Samsung Messages app which is very sluggish. The issue, however, is that Textra achieves this speed by maintaining its own database of messages in addition to the system database. It makes an effort to keep the two in sync however it is not perfect. Much to my frustration, I found this out very quickly after backing up the messages with SMS Backup & Restore and then attempting to restore them to my new phone.

It took several hours to restore and the stock OPPO Messages app picked up everything without an issue. Textra didn’t. Several tens of thousands of messages were missing, multimedia was nowhere to be seen and everything was placed into the wrong order. I tried everything I could: reinstalling Textra, restarting the phone, clearing app data and cache, playing around with the the default message app settings in the phone, using the re-sync feature in Textra, nothing helped.

I really didn’t want to use the stock OPPO Messages app because it’s very buggy, doesn’t allow bulk-display of media, weirdly groups all non-contact numbers together and does a bunch of other things which are just bizarre. I’ll cover the software side of OPPO better a little later on.

Finally after retrying basically the same restore process about 12 times over the period of a day, Textra finally decided to show all my messages in the right order with MMS still attached. I don’t know why it started working but it just did. So that’s one issue down.

App Data

Losing saved games, usage metadata and other minor stuff wasn’t much of a concern for me. One piece of app data which I wasn’t able to transfer was Google Authenticator, however that is at most, just a small inconvenience to go back into all my online accounts and generate new OTP tokens.

App User Data

One of the very important pieces of app user data I had hoped to transfer over was my notes from the Samsung Notes app. It’s not that I couldn’t get the app for a non-Samsung device but rather, there is no export feature in the app if more than a few items are selected at a time. There is the option to back notes up to a Samsung account but as I promptly noticed, when opening the app on a non-Samsung device, the option to restore from Samsung Cloud is completely missing. Non-Samsung phones do not have any import option at all in this app… when even the official Windows Store app does. The notes will have to wait for now, until I can be bothered to root and transfer over the database manually.

ADB has a feature which allows backup of an app and its data, however Samsung has completely disabled the backup of this specific app. *sigh*

Just when I thought all hope was lost, I found Samsung Experience Service in the Play Store. To quote the description,

“With the Samsung Experience Service, you can sign in to Samsung apps using your Samsung account and share content through Samsung Cloud.”

This is exactly what I needed. Perhaps it would make the Import option available in Notes. But when I installed it on my new OPPO and attempted to sign-in using the newly displayed Samsung Account option in Settings, I was met with a completely blank screen. Looking through logs, I found that it was not going to work due to a library which isĀ only present on TouchWiz. The 1-star reviews on Google Play make sense now. Notes will have to wait.

The Phone

General Build Quality

The OPPO R17 Pro features decent quality hardware and doesn’t at all feel like the cheap Chinese hardware the company has a reputation for manufacturing.

It’s sturdy and looks good. TheĀ iridescent glass on the back of the phone is a nice touch.

The vibration motor in this phone is very disappointing, however, and certainly does not live up to its price tag; it feels and sounds like a broken LEGO Stepper Motor which is running low on battery power.

Source: OPPO

 

Software

While I’m used to TouchWiz on Samsung phones, the OPPO comes with ColorOS.

This firmware has potential. It’s not buggy but on the other hand, the user experience is not quite there yet. While I understand that the phone itself has a 1080×2340 resolution, this is no justification for the ridiculously huge app icons on the homescreen. There is no clear way to change the size or spacing of these except for installing a new launcher – which I did straight away.

OPPO has included some great features in their software. Here are a few:

  • Call recording support (with a third-party app)
  • More mobile hotspot features
  • Native app cloning
  • Intelligent security features, such as warnings that pop up when using a banking app with a third-party keyboard
  • Exact network speed indicator in status bar

The Gallery app that is included with the device is okay but doesn’t offer a lot of the features Samsung Gallery does. Specifically, I’ll miss being able to use the Favourites feature, or the intelligent object search within photos. Due to the aforementioned library issue, it is not possible to simply install the Samsung Gallery app on this device. Shame.

The software in general runs very smoothly and feels quite stable to use. In summary, there is a lot more customization offered than with TouchWiz.

This is where the admissions end; in most other ways, ColorOS is the worst Android ROM I have ever used. One of the things which makes this software especially painful to use, is the lack of notification icons on the status bar. If the phone is locked and a notification is received, it will vibrate and show the notification on the lockscreen. If the phone is awake, a banner will appear at the top of the screen for a few seconds. However… if you fail to notice that bar before it disappears, there is absolutely no way to know you have a notification.

This results in me constantly swiping down from the status bar every few minutes to check whether there are any notifications. You’d think this is a bug but no. This is a behavior introduced intentionally by OPPO, and I can’t think of any reasonable explanation for it. Given the lack of LED lights on this phone, that results in a very frustrating day-to-day experience. See this article for more background surrounding this specific behavior.

Another thing I should mention is that OPPO doesn’t seem to have the dualsim functionality quite right yet. I have tried the phone with two SIMs in and it mostly works as expected, however one thing which struck me as unusual is that mobile data has been limited to one SIM only. Even if one of the two inserted SIMs is disabled within settings, the phone will refuse to allow use of mobile data on the other. So if you want to switch between two of your data services with any kind of convenience, you’re out of luck.

ColorOs UI.
Source: OPPO

 

 

Hardware Features

I stated previously that the phone has a nice design. There are also some hardware features which I find to be a lot better so far than the S8.

This is the first phone I’ve seen which has a fingerprint sensor underneath the LCD. In addition to this being visually appealing, it also makes it infinitely easier to scan a fingerprint right the first time. On the S8, it was always a little awkward to scan fingerprints on the back of the device.

The camera notch up the top is more of a ‘droplet’ shape than the iPhone or other phones have. This is pretty stylish. The front and back cameras themselves seem to have quite a decent quality to them. The absence of a ‘smart’ button like Bixby, is refreshing. Let’s face it – hardly anyone uses it.

The phone does not have a headphone jack. This may not be ideal for some, but my headphones are wireless anyway.

There is no MicroSD slot in this device, though its internal storage capacity is 128GB which is more than enough for my purposes.

Finally, this is a dual-SIM phone. I didn’t even know this until I had purchased and unboxed it. The employee who sold it to me at JB HiFi didn’t know either as it’s not stated anywhere on the box or the store’s website.

There are plenty of other details I could go into regarding the hardware but the rest is all fairly normal and as you would expect.

R17 Pro front and back
Source: OPPO

Conclusion

This is a very good phone for the price and has some potential. I would recommend flashing stock Android to it if possible, as ColorOS isn’t quite there.

If you’re frustrated with the battery life of your device, don’t take display resolution too seriously and don’t mind having a slightly larger phone than something like the S8, this is the phone for you. Just don’t drop it, because I don’t imagine the front glass or display is cheap to replace. But hey, it comes boxed with a free silicone case.