By now, we shouldn’t be surprised at all to see phone companies launching whole new generations of smartphones just months apart. Competition is so intense that no company wants to be left behind, and it’s clear that the appeal of a new model outweighs the annoyance of such rapid obsoletion. Oppo has quietly launched updates to its value-focused A9 (Review) and A5 smartphones, called the A9 2020 and A5 2020 respectively. The names might indicate that they are slight refreshes over their predecessors, but there are significant changes under the hood that warrant a close look.
These new models are of course meant to help the company stay current in the face of newer models from sister companies Vivo and Realme as well as Xiaomi, Samsung, and others. Both, the Oppo A9 2020 and the Oppo A5 2020, share a lot of common features, including their processors and batteries. The main differences between the two are the front and primary rear cameras, the amounts of RAM and storage you can get, and the colours they’re available in.
We’re reviewing the new Oppo A9 2020 today to see if it lives up to its futuristic name, and whether it’s going to inject new energy into the mid-range smartphone market.
Oppo A9 2020 design
The Oppo A9 2020 feels a little taller than usual, and that’s because of its relatively uncommon 20:9 display. We did notice that this phone stuck out of our jeans pocket a bit more than we would have liked. It’s no narrower than most other phones, and is also fairly thick at 9.1mm as well as heavier than average at 195g. All in all, we found that it wasn’t the easiest to hold and use.
Oppo has made a few design considerations such as placing the power and volume buttons in the middle of each side of this phone so they’re within reach, but any button or icon within the upper quarter of the screen requires quite a stretch to get to. The rear is a little slippery but so much that we were afraid the phone would fall. The fingerprint sensor was just barely within our reach, but it’s a bit small and narrow so others might have trouble with its placement.
As for design, there isn’t anything really new or different about this phone. It has a waterdrop notch and prominent chin on the front, and our review unit had a pre-applied plastic screen protector. Oppo says it has used Gorilla Glass 3+ on the front and back of this phone.
Our Space Purple unit had a slick metallic gradient across the rear, moving from deep blue on the left to purple on the right. The only other option is called Marine Green. The glass is highly susceptible to picking up smudges and fingerprints though. The camera module sticks out quite prominently – three of the four rear cameras are within it, while the fourth is to one side, just below the flash.
There’s a USB Type-C Port on the bottom along with a 3.5mm audio socket and a speaker (which works with the earpiece as a stereo pair). The tray on the left has slots for two Nano-SIMs and a microSD card. Oppo supplies a plastic case, a 10W charger, a USB Type-C cable, and even a wired headset in the retail box.
Oppo A9 2020 specifications and software
Like many recently launched mid-range phones, the Oppo A9 2020 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor. This octa-core model succeeds the popular Snapdragon 600 and claims to offer better power efficiency as well as graphics performance.
You get a 5000mAh battery but there’s no mention of support for fast charging. On the other hand, Oppo is promoting reverse charging, which will let you use this phone as a power bank to charge other devices as long as you have the required cable or adapter to use with the Type-C port.
There are two variants: one with 4GB of RAM – which was launched at Rs. 16,990 but officially reduced to Rs. 15,990 just a month after launch – and the other with 8GB of RAM priced at Rs. 19,990. Oppo sent us the latter for review.
The display measures 6.5 inches diagonally but only has an HD+ resolution (720×1600) which is not great considering that sub-Rs. 10,000 phones with full-HD resolutions are not all that rare anymore. This will hurt Oppo’s prospects, especially when considering that the higher end version of this phone competes with some real powerhouses.
Oppo’s ColorOS skin 6.0.1 runs on top of Android 9 with the October 2019 security patch. It has quite a lot going on, starting with a large amount of bloatware plus fake folders on the home screen that lead you to app and game stores. Many of Oppo’s own apps as well as third-party ones kept generating annoying ad notifications even before we had run them for the first time. It’s possible, though tedious, to clean most of this up.
You can choose whether or not to use an app drawer, and tweak the home screen layout as well as the theme. Oppo’s Lock Screen Magazine feature shows pointless and repetitive content on the lockscreen, but at least we didn’t see blatant ads here, and this can be turned off too.
There are heavy customisations in the Settings app, notifications shade, and many of the default apps, but things are generally where you’d expect them to be. Extra features include a Game Space optimiser, App Cloner which works only with certain social apps, and Oppo Cloud which gives you 5GB of free storage for syncing photos and messages, call history, and more.
Oppo A9 2020 performance
Despite Oppo’s heavily customised Android skin, performance was very snappy, and even the animations didn’t get in our way. We had no trouble at all using this phone for all the usual day-to-day tasks. Apps launched quickly enough and multitasking was also painless. The navigation buttons on the bottom remain visible in their own bar while apps run, unless you switch to using gestures. There are two different gesture schemes but we wouldn’t recommend using either one, since this was the only time we felt the A9 2020 lagging a little.
The low-resolution screen is a bit of a disappointment and the extra-tall aspect ratio might take a little getting used to. Videos still look good enough for most purposes and interestingly, Widevine L1 DRM has still been incorporated so you can stream HD video. The Oppo A9 2020 stands out from its competition thanks to stereo speakers. The earpiece isn’t as powerful as the speaker on the bottom, but the sound is more immersive than we’re used to on phones in this market segment.
We found that videos and casual games were very enjoyable. One advantage of the low-res screen is that games run better than we’ve seen on similar phones with the same processor and HD+ resolution panels, since there are fewer pixels to push.
This is evidenced by benchmarks – GFXBench’s T-rex and Manhattan 3.1 tests ran at 50fps and 25fps respectively. 3DMark gave us 1,149 points in its Sling Shot Extreme test and 23,307 points in Ice Storm Unlmited. However, PUBG Mobile still defaulted to its low preset and gameplay was a little choppy. Asphalt 9: Legends also stuttered quite a bit and struggled in action scenes.
As for general benchmarks, we got 1,69,226 points overall in AnTuTu, as well as 305 and 1,305 respectively in Geekbench 5. These scores are pretty much on par with those of the Redmi Note 8 (Review), unlike the graphics scores which were affected by screen resolution.
The 5,000mAh battery got us through a full day of usage which involved some gaming, Web surfing, video streaming, and general usage, and we still had 40 percent left by the time we went to bed at night. Our HD video loop test ran for a very impressive 17 hours, 5 minutes. This is the tradeoff we were hoping for after seeing this phone’s low-res screen and bulky body. It also means that using the reverse charging functionality could actually be practical, in a pinch, though we did not measure how fast it is.
Oppo A9 2020 cameras
One of this phone’s biggest selling points is that it has four rear cameras, but we noticed something odd about the way that they have been implemented. Oppo lists them as a 48-megapixel primary camera, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide angle camera, and two others for “artistic portrait effects”. It takes a bit of digging to learn that these are both 2-megapixel sensors for Mono and Portrait shots.
It’s important to note that there is no depth sensor here; the Portrait camera is not the same thing. In fact, the A9 2020 does not use this camera for measuring depth in its portrait mode – that is applied in software, and we confirmed this by physically covering the additional cameras. It also means that you can’t vary the intensity of the effect or adjust it after the shot has been taken.
The “artistic portrait effects” refer to the last two filters in the camera app’s portrait mode, which are unhelpfully just labelled ’06’ and ’07’. Oppo’s website offers “retro aesthetic” and “artistic vintage” as descriptions, which also tell us very little. The effects essentially look like monochrome and faded colours, respectively. It seems as though Oppo really wanted to use the words “quad camera” to market this phone without offering a lot of functionality. Potential buyers should understand that these words alone are meaningless without understanding the specifications and capabilities of each camera.
We discovered how to use these two effects purely through trial and error since the app does nothing whatsoever to highlight this. The effects are not especially compelling and we’ve seen similar looks from ordinary filters. These effects are no substitute for the dedicated macro and depth sensors, or any other types of cameras, that many other budget phones now offer.
The design of the app has other problems as well. When taking close-ups with the primary camera, the message “Macro Lens” flashed on screen even though this phone doesn’t have one and there’s no way to switch to the effects cameras, not that they’d do any good in such situations. The toggle for the ultra-wide camera is in the top row, far from the shutter button, and you can’t use it to record video at all.
Coming to photo quality, Oppo has actually done a really good job with the primary 48-megapixel camera. We found that shots taken in the daytime were bright and crisp, with natural-looking colours and plenty of detail. The phone took no time to lock focus. The only trouble we had was slightly blown-out highlights when there was a lot of contrast between a subject and the sky in the background.
Interestingly, we saw that we could get some pretty good closeups with nice natural depth of field in the cameras standard photo mode. In Portrait mode, background separation was more dramatic and we did notice that edge detection was quite good. Wide-angle shots came out a little duller and grainer, and with a much cooler tone, than those taken with the main camera. If you care about photo quality, you’ll avoid using this camera unless absolutely necessary.
Oppo has implemented a night mode that we found to be surprisingly effective. It not only brought out parts of our subjects that were completely in the shadows, but also balanced colours better. It does take a bit of time to capture a shot, though, and also crops pictures so you might lose some of the frame that you are trying to capture. In the standard mode, shots taken at night were still decent and we were happy, apart from a few that came out with poor focus.
The front camera was just about okay. Beautification is on by default and it takes two taps to turn it off. Our skin texture didn’t look too good but there was decent detail and the exposure was balanced well enough.
Video can be recorded at 720p, 1080p or 4K resolutions, but only up to 30fps at any of them. Switching video resolutions requires multiple taps through the Settings menu. As mentioned before, you can only record video through the primary rear camera, which feels like missed potential. There’s stabilisation at 1080p and it really does make a huge difference. Colours were a little muted but quality was otherwise fine. 4K video is very jerky and quality was not as good despite the higher resolution. Stabilisation does cause a bit of artefacting at night and we would recommend not using this phone to record video unless you’re standing still.
Advertising the Oppo A9 2020 with four cameras is sure to grab attention, but in reality two of them are pretty much there for novelty value only, and you get only the one primary camera plus a semi-useful wide-angle one. Thankfully, the primary camera is good enough and versatile enough for us to still consider this phone good in terms of photo quality.
It also has a few other good features to offer, such as its stereo speakers, strong battery life and reverse charging capability, plus decent looks and build quality. The display isn’t the best we’ve seen but it will be good enough for most people. As far as raw power goes, you shouldn’t expect to play today’s popular high-end games, but day-to-day tasks should go smoothly.
Even after a price cut, this phone costs more than the Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro (Review) and Realme XT (Review), both of which are much more powerful and have more attractive features. 128GB of storage is a slight advantage for the variant priced at Rs. 15,990, but it isn’t enough to outweigh everything else. The higher priced variant with 8GB of RAM makes even less sense in terms of value. This is the version we have reviewed, and so our ratings apply with this context. Sadly, it is thoroughly outclassed by the Realme X (Review), and if you can stretch your budget just a little there’s the Redmi K20 (Review) to consider as well.