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The Oppo R17 Pro throws the cat among the Android pigeons

Here comes Oppo: the March launch of new models from the Chinese phone maker. Photo/Getty Images

In the Android smartphone world, Samsung is far from being the only game in town. Oppo's R17 Pro shows that.

If 2018 is notable for anything in the world of smartphones, it is the arrival of the big Chinese brands as credible rivals to Android market leader Samsung.

Huawei’s P20 and Mate 20 set the bar high, particularly for design and camera quality. OnePlus and Xiaomi, meanwhile, are increasingly on the radar of online shoppers, and the latter recently opened a shop in an Auckland mall.

OnePlus owner Oppo wins the prize for the year’s most novel phone with the $1499 Find X. Instead of cameras on the back and front, it has one that pops out of the top of the device when you want to take a photo or use face recognition to unlock it.

RelatedArticlesModule - Oppo R17 Pro smartphone review

It makes for slick styling, but I doubt that it will take off. For one thing, it can’t be made waterproof, which is a more useful feature than a pop-up camera.

More conventional and much cheaper than the Find X is Oppo’s $999 R17 Pro, which has the glass body and build quality you might expect from a more expensive handset. Its best feature is fast charging: Oppo claims that, from flat, the battery takes 10 minutes to reach 40% of capacity, and a full charge takes 35 minutes, although it doesn’t have wireless charging.

The R17 Pro’s other key feature is its three-lens rear camera, which performs well. It is no Mate 20 Pro ($1499), but an aperture that adjusts from f/2.4 to f/1.5 on the 12-megapixel middle lens makes it good for low-light shooting. Its so-called “ultra night mode”, coupled with image stabilisation and artificial intelligence that automates a range of settings, helps it capture great photos. The 25-megapixel front-facing camera is also more than adequate.

Oppo's R17 Pro.

A key photographic feature touted by Oppo, which awaits a software update before it becomes available, is Time of Flight (TOF), a camera mode that will let you record 3D images. Circle an object such as a chair, or a person, with the camera in TOF mode and the R17 Pro will generate a 360-degree 3D image.

We’ll have to reserve judgment as to its usefulness until the update arrives.

In other respects, the R17 Pro delivers what you would expect: its Snapdragon 710 processor isn’t the top-of-the-range one that powers Samsung’s S9, but I didn’t notice the difference.

The 6.4in Amoled screen has excellent colours and contrast. There’s just a small tear-drop-shaped housing for the selfie-camera interrupting the display, and under the screen is a fingerprint scanner that is fast and works most of the time.

There is a USB Type-C port for charging and headphones, and a dual-sim card tray that lets you run two phone accounts simultaneously.

The R17 Pro has 128 gigabytes of storage as standard. The entry-level models of the latest Apple iPhones, in contrast, which cost more, come with just 64 gigabytes. Oppo’s ColorOS operating system, which runs on top of Android Oreo, has big icons and vivid colours and is relatively unintrusive.

The R17 Pro is a taste of things to come: more options amid a growing pack of Android contenders and improving value below the $1000 mark.

Price: $999

This article was first published in the December 1, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.