Look And Feel: Primarily Plastic, Positively Premium
To many folks, plastic is synonymous with cheap, and using it for the frame in a high-end device is a serious faux pas. While cost reduction is certainly one reason for choosing plastic, there’s another, more pertinent justification for considering the material in a phablet: weight. A structure made from plastic weighs roughly half as much as an aluminum equivalent. For a device such as a phone, which is meant to be easily carried all day, the emphasis on weight increases with size. When you consider that the N1 employs plastic on the front and back of the chassis, and still weighs in at 213 g (or nearly half a pound), the material choice makes sense. Even then, you're looking at 1.9 times the heft of the much smaller, but all-aluminum iPhone 5s.
Of course, there are other design factors to think about, such as durability, rigidity, and thermal conductivity. There, plastic is at a disadvantage to metal. Oppo’s solution is to add a solid aluminum frame around the perimeter of the N1, increasing both its strength and rigidity. The result is a phone that feels just as solid (with no discernible frame flex) as one made from all metal, but without the weight.
The melding of metal and plastic gives the N1 a premium feel that Oppo pairs with a sophisticated appearance. The matte white plastic has a smooth, ceramic-like texture that hides fingerprints well. The aluminum ring is also white, except for the chamfered, polished edges. Polished metal rings also surround the rotating camera module, camera lens, and LED flash.
The front of the N1, dominated by its 5.9” IPS LCD, is almost all Gorilla Glass 3. Normally, I don’t like white phones because I find the border distracting when viewing video, and ambiguous when reading text on a white background. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem for the N1. The white bezel on either side of the screen is so thin as to be nearly nonexistent. It blends into the slim lower bezel with nice compound radius corners. Only above the screen, where the camera module is located, is there any significant white to be seen. The display itself is surrounded by a black border that widens at the bottom where the three backlit, capacitive navigation buttons (menu, home, and back) are located. Centered above the screen is a speaker, which is only active during phone calls. To its right, you'll find an ambient light sensor for automatically adjusting the screen brightness and an infrared sensor that turns the screen off when the phone is held next to your face.
On the slightly curved back surface, printed in shiny chrome to match the polished metal edges, is the Oppo logo. Centered above that is a pinhole for the noise-canceling microphone. The camera lens and stacked, dual-LED flash reside within the rotating camera module.
The top edge is bereft of buttons or ports to make room for the rotating camera, while a pinhole microphone, microUSB port, and 3.5 mm headphone jack are located on the bottom. I like the idea of a front-facing speaker, or even better, front-facing stereo speakers on a phablet, since the larger screen makes watching video more enjoyable. Unfortunately, Oppo sticks with tradition and places a lone speaker on the bottom, where its output tends to get muffled by your hand.
On the left side, near the top, is the micro-SIM card port, while the right side is home to the power button (located just above center) and volume rocker switch (just below center). I find this arrangement to be very awkward when holding the phone in my right hand. My thumb can reach the power button easily enough with just a slight shift of hand position, but the volume rocker is so low that it’s basically off-limits for the same digit. Holding the N1 in landscape mode with one hand on each end of the phone, I really have to stretch to reach the volume rocker, since it’s so close to the centerline.
After nearly dropping the phone a few times while fiddling with the volume switch, I had an epiphany: I was holding it wrong! A phablet isn’t meant for single-handed use; it requires both hands for the full experience. And for a right-handed person, that means holding the phone in my left hand while navigating the screen with my right. Using the N1 in this manner, my fingers are perfectly perched above both the power button and volume rocker.