Review

OPPO Reno Z review: Master of some

It’s not often that I have trouble expressing my opinion about a device, but the OPPO Reno Z is quite interesting. OPPO took what it had in the Reno series and removed or switched around things until it reached a mid-range price point, and the result is the Reno Z. It has a less powerful processor, less RAM, fewer cameras on the back, and it does away with the intriguing motorized camera of the rest of the Reno family. Nonetheless, it’s a very compelling device for its price point. Let’s take a deeper look at why.

Specs

CPU MediaTek Helio P90 (octa-core, two Cortex-A75 cores, six Cortex-A55 cores)
GPU PowerVR GM 9446
Body 157.3mmx74.9mmx9.1mm (6.19x2.95x0.36in), 186g (6.56oz)
Display 6.4 inches, 1080x2340, 19.5:9, 402.7ppi, AMOLED
Camera 48MP with Quad Bayer technology + 5MP depth sensor; Front - 32MP
Video 4K - 30fps, Front - 1080p - 30fps
Aperture f/1.7, Front - f/2.0
Storage 128GB
RAM 4GB
Battery 4,035mAh, 20W VOOC 3.0 fast charging
Material Glass and metal
Price €319-€359/£269

Design

I have to mention before I get started that I always put a protective case on my phones, so I don’t really get to enjoy their original design all that much. With that being said, I absolutely love that the rear of the Reno Z is almost entirely flat. The fact that OPPO managed to keep the two rear cameras, including that big 48MP sensor, flush with the rest of the back is not just beautiful, it feels awesome. In fact, almost the entire rear panel is free of protrusions with the exception of the O-Dot and the circle around the LED flash. I feel like the design would have benefited from having the flash module being flush with the back as well, but it is a very minor protrusion, so it’s not a big deal.

Aside from that, the rear is bisected by a line in the middle housing the OPPO logo and the aforementioned O-Dot and LED flash, giving the phone a very symmetrical design. While I still wish I got the Aurora Purple version, I do like the reflective sheen of the rear glass.

Moving on to the edges of the phone, the right side houses the power button, which has a nice green highlight in the middle, giving it a little more personality. The volume rocker is on the left side of the phone, as is the SIM card tray, which doesn’t include a slot for microSD cards, unfortunately. With that being said, the onboard 128GB of storage are more than enough for my usage, so I’m ok with that absence.

The bottom of the phone has the down-firing speaker, a USB Type-C port for charging - which supports VOOC 3.0 charging technology at 20W - and a headphone jack, in addition to a microphone. Along the top edge, there’s a single microphone for video recording.

Over at the front, there’s a reasonably-sized 6.4-inch AMOLED display in the 19.5:9 aspect ratio, with a resolution of 2340x1080. It has fairly small bezels all around, and the waterdrop notch is minimal enough that I don’t really notice it anymore. Above the camera housed in the notch is the earpiece which doubles as a speaker.

If you’ve noticed that there’s no fingerprint sensor anywhere on the device, it’s because it’s under the display, a welcome addition for a mid-range phone like this. It’s not incredibly fast or accurate, but it feels reasonably within the expectations, and I don’t find it significantly less accurate than the traditional sensor on my Nokia 7.1.

Display and sound

Both the display and speakers on the OPPO Reno Z were surprisingly good for me. The AMOLED display has bright vivid colors, and of course, being an AMOLED, it offers true blacks, which is always nice. I was surprised at how bright the display can get, and outdoor visibility was never an issue for me. I tend to bear with some discomfort in exchange for extra battery life, so I managed to use the phone outdoors at around half the maximum brightness, which isn’t bad at all. It can also get dim enough to be used comfortably enough in pitch-black environments.

The only issue I noticed with the display is that there’s an ever-so-slight discoloration towards the bottom corners of the screen when looking at dark colors. I’ve mentioned something like this in my review of the Red Magic 3, and if I said it was barely noticeable there, it’s even less so here. I don’t feel like it’s a significant issue at all during regular use, but I mention it because you may have different standards than me.

The Reno Z also leaves little to be desired in terms of sound. At first, it’s a little weird that it has a down-firing speaker paired with a front-facing one, but it works very well, and if you cover one (but not both) of the speakers with your hands, you can still hear the sound very well. That’s also because the speakers can get very loud, and that doesn’t seem to come at the cost of sound distortion, so it ends up sounding pretty good in just about any situation I’ve used it in. The phone also supports Dolby Atmos.

Camera

As mentioned in the spec list above, the OPPO Reno Z has a primary 48MP sensor on the back coupled with a 5MP camera for additional depth sensing. It’s the fairly common Sony IMX586 sensor with Quad Bayer technology, which means that, by default, you won’t be taking pictures at 48MP, and instead you’ll get 12MP, with groups of four pixels being merged into one to get more light information. You can, however, take a 48MP shot if you feel like it. What you can’t do, annoyingly, is take pictures in the 16:9 format, and you only get 1:1 and “full screen" options in addition to the 4:3 format.

Now, in general, the Reno Z takes pretty decent pictures, though they won’t exactly be blowing your mind. In all the phones I've tested so far, I always feel like some pictures lack sharpness, so I'm starting to get used to it. The phone does pack some features that I think are really good. One of them is Dazzle Color, which OPPO says is a color reconstruction technology that uses AI to “restore brightness and color information” to pictures. It actually works really well, and in almost every shot I take, it does make colors a lot more vivid and realistic.

In some situations, it may not work perfectly and color might not be restored to every part of the picture equally, but in general, it's pretty great. I took all of my pictures with Dazzle Color on. Among the samples below, the duplicate pictures are comparisons between having it on and off. The exception is the last pair of images, which is a comparison between a 12MP and a 48MP shot, with the latter resulting in a darker blue sky, but slightly sharper foliage.

The other noteworthy feature is the night mode that has started showing up in a few phones in the past year. Similarly to the way it worked in Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro last year, the night mode here requires you to stay still for about four seconds and then delivers a picture that’s much closer to real life than you’d normally get, since it gets more time to capture light. In the right situations, it’s a wonder to have this feature, and it really does make pictures seem a lot more lively than without it, even though it tends to make reds a little too harsh.

The way it works is a little tricky, though. It won’t magically grab light from pitch black environments, so you shouldn’t expect it to magically turn blackness into colors. It works well up to a certain level of brightness where it can get enough light to get more accurate colors. Because of that, in some shots, you may notice that not every part of the picture can be brightened. In the last pair of comparison shots below, you can see that while some parts of the picture got a lot brighter, the nearly black portions remained almost the same, which created a harsher contrast between the lit and non-lit areas.

Aside from that, the camera offers the usual array of features including a portrait mode that blurs the background behind an object and filters for both photos and video. It can also take photos while recording a video, though it'll be in the same resolution as the video itself. The front-facing camera is 32MP but it doesn't support features like Dazzle Color or night mode.

Performance and battery life

One of the more notable downgrades that the Reno Z has compared to the rest of the Reno family is in the chipset, with OPPO ditching Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 in favor of MediaTek’s Helio P90. This is still an octa-core chipset, but it has just two Cortex-A75 cores with a max frequency of 2.2GHz, while the other six are Cortex-A55.

In general, the phone still feels fairly fast, but you can certainly find better on higher-end phones. According to AnTuTu, the phone ranks somewhat low down the list, but that’s about what you’d expect from a mid-range phone.

In day-to-day tasks, I never felt slowed down by the processing power in the Reno Z, and it has been good enough for my usage. It isn’t fast enough to make Pokémon GO not be jittery, but playing Asphalt 9 at the “high quality” display settings worked out mostly fine, with some framerate dips here and there.

With a 4,035mAh battery, the OPPO Reno Z offers very good battery life. With my regular usage, which has involved watching YouTube for one to two hours a day, listening to music with Bluetooth headphones, and some texting, I easily get through two days on a single charge. If I try to fit some gaming into my schedule, that’s cut down significantly, but you should almost always be able to get through the day on a charge.

That battery also charges pretty fast thanks to OPPO's proprietary VOOC charging technology, which is up to version 3.0 on this phone and makes "trickle-charging" twice as fast as in the previous iteration. The 20W charger is pretty chunky, but it does work very fast, with my phone going from 7% to 100% in about one and a half hours.

Software

The OPPO Reno Z runs the company’s own custom software, called ColorOS, on top of Android Pie. This is version 6 of ColorOS, and though I haven’t had the chance to use previous versions, I was positively surprised by the custom skin in some ways. The software generally feels pretty smooth and packs some nice fluid animations that make the phone feel faster.

There are more functional improvements, too, though. By default, the OS follows the same navigation conventions as pure Android, with the same exact gestures that Google implemented with Pie working here. OPPO goes further though, and not only can you switch between button-based and gesture-based navigation, you can also set the position of the back button regardless of which method you’re using. You can even toggle an option that lets you hide the navigation bar at any given time, which stock Android doesn’t do. On top of that, there's an iOS-style gesture interface option if you prefer it.

Likewise, OPPO’s Night Shield mode offers many additional capabilities over Android’s dark mode, such as changing the screen to black and white, or even a “comfortable nighttime reading mode”. Other niceties include support for Miracast wireless displays, which Google doesn’t allow on stock Android, a small overlay that can be brought up from the side of the screen to take a screenshot, start recording the screen, or open certain apps. There’s also an Assistive Ball feature, which essentially lets you map the navigation bar buttons to a different number of taps on the same location, making things easier if you can’t move your fingers as easily.

On the other hand, though, OPPO’s software has a lot of shortcomings too. For one thing, a lot of Google apps can’t be disabled. For reference, my Nokia 7.1 lets me disable everything except Gboard. Here, I was forced to keep Chrome, the core Google app, YouTube, and a few more. I also constantly have trouble connecting to Wi-Fi networks that have a captive portal, since the software takes some time to open the browser to log me in, and there’s no way to make it happen manually. Another issue is that the screen seems to randomly turn on when the phone is idle, even though no notifications have arrived.

Some of OPPO’s built-in apps have frustrating limitations, too, and they also can’t be disabled. The music player doesn’t have a shuffle feature, and also no apparent way of dismissing the media playback notification without opening the app itself. The SMS app doesn’t let me expand notifications beyond the first line of text for some reason, and it also groups messages from people who are not in your contacts into a group of “Unknown sender” messages, which is kind of weird. Most of OPPO’s apps also don’t support any sort of dark theme.

Conclusion

I have some trouble expressing a strong opinion on the Reno Z because it doesn’t do anything outstandingly well, but it does a lot of things very well, and the overall experience is actually pretty great. The improvements over the stock Android software experience, camera features such as night mode, the solid battery life and performance, and the beautiful rear design make for an all-around great phone, but there’s not much about it that really stands out.

If Timi Cantisano said the OPPO Reno 10x Zoom was “a jack of all trades, master of some”, the Reno Z falls closer to the original saying in that it doesn’t quite master anything. It does, however, do a lot of things really well, and it ends up being great to use it because it never really lets you down in any major way. It nails all the basics, with some niceties thrown in for good measure, and I appreciate that. If you're looking for something in this price range, the Reno Z is definitely a valid option.

You can get the OPPO Reno Z from a number of retailers across Europe and other markets. In the UK, you can get it from Amazon for £269 SIM-free, and in other countries, it ranges from around €319 to €359 for the version with 4GB of RAM. The phone isn't officially available to buy in the United States, and retailers on Amazon are charging a whopping $528.88 for it - though in fairness, that's for the version with 8GB of RAM.

 

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