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Notable Hardware Features

Oppo N1 Review: Future-Looking Phablet Or Oversized Flop?
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O-Touch, O-Click, Oh My!

In order to improve one-handed use, Oppo adds an auxiliary touch panel called O-Touch to the back of the N1. The roughly 12 cm² area is located below the Oppo logo where your index finger naturally rests when holding the phone. It recognizes basic swipe gestures in all directions, but doesn’t support multi-touch, so there’s no pinch-to-zoom or other gesture controls. O-Touch, therefore, is mostly limited to scrolling through the app launcher, Web browser, photos, etc., but not within widgets on the home screen, including the ColorOS Exclusive Spaces.

There are a few additional perks that can be individually toggled within Settings. O-Touch launches or quits an app of your choice with a double-tap. With the camera open or on the ColorOS Exclusive Photo Space, you can tap and hold to take a picture, though the shutter doesn’t actually activate until you lift your finger. Finally, you can tap and then swipe up/down to control music playback.

I was very excited to try this feature since it offers several potential benefits: easing one-handed use, keeping your fingers from obscuring the screen, and even reducing smudges on the display. My enthusiasm was quickly tempered, however. The touch-sensitive area is too small (an ironic oversight considering the size of the N1), the scroll rate too slow, and the scroll motion itself has no momentum (it abruptly stops when the touch boundary is reached or the finger lifted). Due to these limitations, scrolling with O-Touch becomes a series of short, jerky movements, and trying to scroll any appreciable amount quickly makes your finger resemble an inchworm on meth.

This feature’s potential is further stymied by an ill-defined boundary that’s difficult to locate, either visually or tactilely, which in turn forces that stimulated inchworm to flail about blindly searching for the reactive zone. Also, if you have larger than normal hands (I’m 6’ 3”), the O-Touch area is too low to use comfortably when holding the phone in a natural grip. The only way to keep the inchworm from getting a kink is to shift the phone into a less secure grasp.

Perhaps its most annoying trait however, is the propensity for accidental activation. Oppo doesn't infuse this feature with any intelligence, so any contact with the touch surface is translated into action. After several inadvertent screen jumps and apps seemingly opening and closing at random intervals, it was clear that O-Touch wasn’t living up to its promise of easier navigation, so I disabled it.

While the addition of O-Touch doesn’t solve the phablet’s one-handed navigation problem, it’s not the only novel feature Oppo includes with the N1. O-Click is a coin-sized, remote control accessory made of white plastic with a circular metal ring around its perimeter. There’s a slot on each side allowing it to be clipped to a keyring or worn as a bracelet. O-Click communicates with the N1 via Bluetooth and is activated by a single button.

The O-Click fob performs four different functions, which can be individually toggled on or off within the O-Click settings app. Clicking the fob twice causes the phone to start ringing, revealing its hidden location. Of course, this only works if the phone is no more than about 10 m away (the maximum range of a class 2 Bluetooth device). That limitation is mitigated by what Oppo calls “Anti-lost.” When the fob moves outside of the security radius, the N1 loses its Bluetooth connection and automatically rings the phone as an alarm, hopefully preventing your phone from being lost or stolen.

O-Click also works as a remote control for the N1’s camera, which is a great feature for group shots. With the camera facing forward, lean the phone against something, line everyone up so they appear on the screen, and press the button on the fob. This works quite well, but there’s about a half-second delay before the image is captured. The one thing that would make this feature even better is if O-Click could control the rotation of the camera module remotely, making it easier to line up shots.

Finally, O-Click functions as a notification alert, flashing its green LED when there is an incoming call or message. When you wear the fob on your wrist, it becomes somewhat of a primitive smartwatch. The functionality is compelling, though.

O-Click, while not revolutionary, is a welcome accessory, and most people should find at least one of its functions useful. I'd only worry about its plastic construction. Long-term durability is a concern, especially if it lives on a keyring.

Connectivity

Oppo equips the N1 with the ubiquitous microUSB 2.0 connector for charging and file transfer duties via the USB On-The-Go (USB OTG) specification. The standard makes it possible to connect other USB devices as well, such as keyboards, flash drives, and digital cameras. Conversely, plugging the N1 into a computer allows it to act as a flash drive for transferring files.

Wireless connectivity includes 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and NFC. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support tethering, while peer-to-peer data exchange is accomplished via NFC and Wi-Fi Direct. The N1 also supports Wi-Fi Display for sharing video content with HDTVs.

Notably absent from the N1 is 802.11ac, a standard that its phablet peers support. We're surprised that Oppo snubbed the newer wireless standard, especially considering the N1 contains the necessary hardware within the Snapdragon 600 SoC. The N1 does at least support the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands.

Audio and Speaker

The sound quality of the single speaker located on the bottom of the phone is average. It's nothing special. Bass from such a small driver is predictably lacking, but this is true for any phone I’ve listened to. On the plus side, it does get very loud without audible distortion ruining the sound. I did notice one anomaly: when changing the system volume, there’s audible static for several seconds afterward, and then it disappears. The volume of the static is independent of the system volume and occurs when the volume is adjusted both up and down. This phenomenon also occurs when adjusting the volume when listening to music or video, and even after pressing play or pause. While audible, the noise is really only noticeable in a quiet room or if you hold the speaker up close to your ear. It's not a deal-breaker, but not something that should happen on a high-end device either.

I also subjectively tested the sound quality of the audio output from the headphone jack using a pair of NAD VISO HP50 headphones and Apple's iPad Air as a reference. Compared to the iPad, music played by the N1 lacks clarity. Sounds blend together, and it's more difficult to discern individual instruments. High notes on the iPad are crisp and detailed, whereas they sound flat on the N1, as if you're listening to cymbals from another room instead of sitting right next to them. Bass notes aren't as tight compared to the iPad. Overall, sound from the N1 just seems dull, which takes some of the emotion out of the listening experience. Most people aren’t going to be this critical, but if music is important to you, and especially if you’re an audiophile, you’ll be unimpressed by the N1's sound.

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