What do you want?
A phone with more screen per square millimetre than you can shake a stick at, with more battery life per milliamp hour than you can shake your fist at, more value for money per millicent and more surprises per millicurio (words, for the record, we just made up) than you can throw a brick at?
Or do you want a phone that won’t break when you shake your ass at it?
Because that seems to be the choice you get with Oppo’s new Find X phone, one of the most remarkable phones to come out in 2018, and proof if proof was needed that the low-cost Chinese phone makers have now figured out how to make top-notch phones at an affordable price and are going to be a formidable force in the next few years.
Not that the Oppo Find X has a top notch. That’s actually the point of the phone, its unique selling point, if you like.
The Find X is an Android phone with almost no bezel. Not at the sides. Not at the bottom. And, most remarkably, not at the top, where there isn’t even the notch in the screen that you’ll find in phones such as the Apple iPhone X and the Huawei P20 Pro. The phone is just about all screen at the front, with a screen-to-body ratio of 94 per cent. 94!
Compare that to phones you thought were all screen at the front. The Galaxy S9+: 84 per cent screen-to-body. The iPhone X: 83 per cent. The Huawei P20 Pro: 82 per cent.
How does the Find X do it?
It does it by removing the selfie camera and unlocking sensors from above the screen, and putting them behind the screen, only to pop up above the screen when they’re actually needed.
Whenever you go to take a photo, be it with the front-facing camera or the rear camera (and more on the photo quality in a moment), the camera module hidden behind the screen silently pops up, takes the photo, and then pops down again when you’re done.
If you have facial recognition turned on (which you’ll need to because the Find X has no fingerprint scanner, not even at the back), every time you pick up the phone to unlock it, the camera module pops up, identifies you and then pops down again.
Though, I should say “glides” up. The mechanism is on a screw thread, powered by a stepper motor, and is fairly but not completely silent. You’ll notice the sound of it when you first use the phone, and you’ll continue to notice it when you use it in a quiet room, but other than that it’s less bothersome than you might expect.
After just two days of using the Find X, I pretty well stopped noticing the camera mechanism, even though it’s sliding up and down every single time I go to use the phone.
Indeed, the facial recognition unlocking mechanism on the Find X is remarkably unobtrusive. Even with the need to move the camera, it’s still way quicker and way less irritating than the facial recognition system on Samsung’s flagship’s phones.
I can’t speak for how secure it is – Oppo says it uses an infrared scanning system similar to the one on Apple’s iPhone X, and as such is roughly as secure as the iPhone X – but in terms of convenience, it’s almost up there with the iPhone X. And that’s saying something.
Whether having a moving part on a phone is going to prove to be more a liability than an asset is something only time will tell, of course. It’s not hard to imagine pocket lint gradually building up inside the phone, and it’s not hard to imagine that, should the phone ever lose its shape, the mechanism could get sticky, and eventually stuck, rendering the whole phone a little useless.
Though, surprisingly, uselessness may not be the biggest concern with the Find X.
Not much reinforcing
We haven’t tested this, but various “bend tests” you can find out on the internet suggest that the Find X bends and breaks far more easily than most high-end phones on the market, due to a lack of metal reinforcing in the guts of the phone.
How big a concern that is to you would depend on how often you sit on your phone. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of smartphones and their precursors, the PDAs, through the Digital Life Labs over the past 20 years, and not once has any of the staff here sat on or bent a device, so we don’t think it’s too big an issue. But obviously it would be better if the phone were a little more rigid, if for no other reason than it would help keep the moving camera module from getting out of whack.
And speaking of the camera, we’re surprised to tell you it’s actually very good. We tested it against our favourite phone cameras – chiefly, the P20 Pro, the Galaxy Note9 and the iPhone X – and while we don’t consider it to be quite as good as them, it’s not far behind. Considering the Find X is much cheaper than the Note9 and the iPhone X, and a little cheaper than the P20 Pro, that’s a very good outcome.
Meanwhile, the battery life on the Find X looks extremely promising. We’ve only had the phone in our Labs for four days, so it’s too early to say for sure, but judging from our experience so far, we’d say you can expect a full two days of battery life from a single charge of the Find X, if you’re a moderate user, and at least a day for heavy users.
Considering it’s only got a 3730 mAh battery, smaller than the battery on the Note9, considering the phone is pretty well all screen and no bezel, and considering it has a little electric motor in it that’s always on the move, that’s a very good outcome, too.
As I said, the Find X is a phone full of surprises. Just take care with it, when you go to sit down. You don’t want to stand up to a pocketful of surprises, now, do you?