Oppo A91 REVIEW – The Un-Budget Phone
Oppo A91 REVIEW – The Un-Budget Phone
PAT PILCHER doesn’t just find bang-for-buck value with Oppo’s new phone… Instead, it’s more of a nuclear explosion of features with a very reasonable sticker price.
The budget smartphone market might not habitually make tech media headlines, but that’s where a lot of the action is happening.
Oppo’s latest is the A91, a $649 phone that doesn’t so much offer bang-for-buck value as thermonuclear explosives for your hard-earned cash.
Design-wise, my review unit is in what Oppo’s marketing folk call Blazing Blue. This is fancy pants marketing speak for a reflective sheer blue finish that is quite striking. It’s also available in Lightning Black, a high gloss piano black with highlights that’s exactly the sort of thing Darth Vader would approve of.
“Although it has a polycarbonate back with a paint job, it looks and feels premium”
The A91 manages to be both thin and light at only 7.9mm deep, and weighing in at only 172g, it is very pocketable and comfy to hold. Although it has a polycarbonate back with a paint job, it looks and feels premium. As good as this all sounds, there’s a bug in the design ointment. The rear camera bump on the A91’s left rear top makes the A91 unstable. It is an annoying oversight, but one that a growing number of phone makers are opting for. Luckily, the bundled clear silicon case fixed this problem.
The star of the show is the gorgeous AMOLED display. Most budget phones have dull-looking IPS LCD displays, where the A91’s AMOLED screen is both punchy and crisp; a 6.4-inch beast that sports a 2400×1080 resolution at 408ppi with a 60Hz refresh rate.
The screen is super bright at 430nits and being AMOLED, it offers up brilliant bright whites and solid dark on-screen blacks, which equates to an infinite contrast. In daylight conditions, readability is a non-issue. The display is under a layer of Gorilla Glass 5, and below that is another unexpected and un-budget surprise – an under-screen fingerprint reader which does an excellent job, unlocking the A91 super-fast and with little fuss. It only refused to play nice when I was making a pizza and had flour on my fingers. Much of its accuracy is due to the use of the A91’s AMOLED display to generate fill-in light. There is also Face Recognition, which is only 70-80 percent accurate because it’s dependent on environmental lighting to work it’s unlocking magic.
“In daylight conditions, readability is a non-issue”
Under its hood, the A91 packs a 12nm MediaTek MT6771V/CT Helio P70 CPU. It has Eight-cores in a big/little configuration. This consists of 4x Cortex A73 cores, clocked at 2.11 GHz plus 4x Cortex A53 cores, clocking in at 2Ghz. This CPU gets used a lot in other budget smartphones. It mightn’t be a muscle-bound snapdragon 865, but it’s paired with 8GB of RAM. This combination results in smooth performance and pretty good multi-tasking. There is a 128GB of storage plus a MicroSD slot which supports up to 256GB.
The P70 isn’t designed for demanding apps and games, but when I fired up Asphalt the A91 played it with no noticeable lags or stutters. Some of this is due to software optimisations, which include HyperBoost 2.0 Plus. Oppo says this speeds up app launching while decreasing battery drain. Then there’s GameBoost 2.0, which keeps frame rates at usable levels and optimises touch screen accuracy.
I got a day and a half of life with typical use, which isn’t too shabby at all. This is due to the massive 4025mAh battery. Oppo uses two 2012mAh batteries wired in parallel: one of the reasons that their VOOC 3.0 charging is so fast.
“Signal strength from your router is better than you’d get on a budget phone”
When I say VOOC 3.0 is fast, I’m not kidding: I hit 10 percent charge in five minutes. Keeping the stopwatch running, I reached 50 percent charge in 30 minutes, and the A91 was completely charged in 55 minutes. For topping up your phone before you rush out the door, Vooc 3.0 has a lot to recommend it. The only element missing is Qi wireless charging. Still, given the sticker price of the A91, this isn’t a huge surprise.
On the connectivity front, the A91 bats well above its budget sticker price. Wi-Fi AC, dual-band 1×1 MIMO is present. You not only get fast Wi-Fi, but signal strength from your router is better than you’d get on a budget phone.
Another un-budget feature usually absent at this price point is NFC. I didn’t see NFC listed in any specs but found it under ‘Other Wireless Connections. It also supports Google Pay which is a definite bonus I wasn’t expecting with a phone at this price.
The A91 also has Dual Sim support, which means you can have a work and home sim on the same phone. VoLTE and VoWi-Fi are also supported. VoLTE makes for high-quality in-call audio on networks with VOLTE support. VoWi-FI means 2Degrees customers can route calls over a Wi-Fi network. All calls over Wi-Fi get charged at your local rate regardless of your actual location. It is an excellent feature when roaming. Again, these are not something I’d expect to find on a smartphone at this price-point.
There is support for the standard low bitrate SBC Bluetooth audio codec, as well as AAC and LDAC. Their inclusion saw the A91 delivering sweet sounds to paired Bluetooth headphones. Another win on the audio front is a 3.5mm audio jack, which allows you to add wired headphones for even better audio reproduction. The headphone leads also act as an antenna for the A91’s built-in FM radio.
“Dual sim support means you can have a work and home sim on the same phone”
On the software front, Oppo has installed Android 9 with their own overlay, Colour OS 6.1.2. Colour OS initially got dismissed by many reviewers who said it aped the look and feel of IOS. Since then, it has matured into a slick, intuitive and customisable user interface. All the usual Google apps such as Google Assistant, Lens and Photo are present too.
Last but by no means least are the quad rear shooters. The primary rear camera uses a whopping 48 MP Samsung sensor. It sports an f/1.7 aperture, 26mmm 68.2° FOV, 1/2.0?, and supports ISO 100-3200. There’s also an 8 MP, Hynix/hi846, f/2.25, 13mm ultrawide shooter), 1/4.0, which also acts as a Macro lens with Autofocus. Rounding things out around the back are 2 MP OV02A1B B/W sensor and a 2 MP depth sensor. Built-in AI allows the A91 to work out what sort of photo you’re shooting. It’ll choose the right image sensor and the right shooting mode for the job.
The camera setup uses Oppo’s capable and intuitive camera app. While it has loads of features, you don’t need a doctorate in photography to get a good photo. This gets helped along by a portrait mode that that works with both front and rear cameras. It uses beautification effects based on scanning for 137 facial points. It can also apply these effects to up to four people in the same photo.
“It uses beautification effects based on scanning for 137 facial points”
The 48MP primary shooter sounds impressive, but it uses pixel binning. This delivers 12MP photos, which won’t blow out your mobile data allowance. You can shoot RAW Mode 48MP photos, but the resulting files are enormous. Pixel Binning sees the A91 shooting several shots. In-built AI selects the best pixels from each photo and combines them for super crisp 12MP photos.
The cameras also use Electronic Image Stabilisation. This involves cropping and straightening images based on AI and a built-in gyroscope. For low-light shooting, this makes quite a difference. When shooting video while walking, smooth footage is also possible.
Speaking of low-light, Oppo has baked in an Ultra-Night mode. It uses AI, HDR (high dynamic range image processing) and takes a bunch of shots. These get combined and processed. Brightness gets increased. Primary colours also get tweaked to stay accurate(ish) and pixel noise gets reduced. It isn’t quite in the same league as the night mode on Huawei’s P30, but it’s pretty good, especially at this price point. Last but by no means least, there’s also a load of shooting modes.
My considered opinion is that Oppo should re-brand the A91. Positioning it as an affordable smartphone aimed at buyers on a budget is doing it a real disservice.
As much as I love reviewing flagship phones bulging with beefy specs, I took the A91 and used it as my daily driver. This $649 phone could do everything that more costly flagship devices could.
If I were Oppo, I’d re-brand the A91 as the OPPO Un-Budget Phone.
If you’re after a good camera, great display and flagship goodies on a budget, check out the A91. It is excellent.