Realme 5 full review
Oppo, the biggest smartphone manufacturer in China, had experienced limited global success until just a few years ago.
However, its official UK launch in early 2019 was a defining moment in what has been a rapid expansion into European markets.
Its Realme sub-brand is clearly targeting the affordable market, with four of the five phones it currently sells in Europe retailing for under €300.
The Realme 5 is the cheapest in that lineup, yet on first impressions there’s little to tell it apart from much more expensive handsets. Will extended usage reveal many shortcomings, or can it truly be considered one of the best cheap phones around?
Price and availability
You can buy the Realme 5 for €169, which translates to around £144 at the time of writing . This is roughly in line with what you might expect to pay on eBay.
Given the relatively recent expansion into European markets, many UK manufacturers don’t stock the phone just yet.
Design and build
One of the first things you notice about the Realme 5 is the unique patterned design on the back of the phone.
This is particularly apparent on the Crystal Blue model we reviewed, but it’s also pretty defined on the equally stunning purple variant. This makes the phone highly reflective, giving it a premium feel even if it is more vulnerable to fingerprint marks.
Talking of fingerprints, the rear-mounted scanner is in a very natural position around a quarter of the way down the device, while the quad camera module is arranged vertically (more on that later).
This does protrude slightly from the back of the phone, but the effects can easily be avoided by applying the clear case included in the box.
There’s a more orthodox design on the front of the device, with a small teardrop notch the only distraction from the 6.5in LCD panel. The resolution is curiously low, at just 720x1600, but it’s unlikely you’ll notice in day-to-day usage. In fact, the only time we realised was when YouTube videos maxed out at 720p.
We recorded an impressive maximum brightness of 450 nits in our tests, and outdoor visibility was excellent.
The aforementioned notch houses a single front-facing camera, which can be used for face unlock as well as selfies. It’s disappointing to still see a fairly large chin, although the phone does retain a respectable 82.7% screen-to-body ratio.
The volume and power keys on the sides of the phone are satisfyingly tactile and responsive, even when used through the included case.
You can learn a lot from looking at the bottom of the device, and it’s a mixed bag as far as we’re concerned. It’s incredibly disappointing to see micro-USB here, especially with industry-standard USB-C on nearly all Android devices nowadays.
We were quite impressed with the speakers on the Realme 5 (more on that later), but nonetheless its a mono downward-firing design which is not optimal for audio quality. This isn’t supplemented by the earpiece, which can only be used for calls.
However, we’re delighted that the 3.5 headphone jack is still here. We feel it’s still really important to have native support for wired headphones at this price point, and Realme’s own wired buds will only set you back €19.99.
Hardware and performance
Having mid-range hardware on a budget handset is great to see, and it means performance on the Realme 5 is excellent. The Snapdragon 665 is still a very capable chipset, particularly when combined with an Adreno 610 GPU.
It might sound cliché, but the Realme 5 was able to handle everything we could throw at it with ease.
This included rapid switching between apps, multitasking and productivity on-the-go. Interestingly, 4GB of RAM seems plenty here, perhaps due in part to the software optimisations Realme has made.
This stellar performance even extends to mobile gaming, where the phone was surprisingly capable.. Highlights included Real Racing 3, where the large 6.5in screen came into its own. Despite having a relatively low resolution by modern standards, the graphics were still stunning.
The Realme 5 seems to come into its own when playing graphic-intensive titles, as it can draw on the features in Game Space. This custom area of the software allows you to enhance performance, minimise distractions and increase stability while gaming. We did experience some games occasionally crashing, but this wasn’t something that impacted our enjoyment for the most part.
This goes to prove that you don’t need a dedicated gaming phone to play your favourite titles on your phone. However, it would have been nice to see an option with more than 128GB of on-device storage, although this is expandable up to an extra 256GB via a microSD card.
You will have to be careful not to block the mono speaker, but if you can look past this or use headphones you’ll really enjoy gaming on the Realme 5.
This excellent performance might not have been clear from the below benchmarks, although the main reason it doesn’t stand out is that its main competitors are similarly capable with complex tasks.
Software and features
Before we dive into the software on the Realme 5, it’s worth running through the biometric options, as you’ll no doubt be using them every day.
The rear-mounted fingerprint scanner is the quickest and most effective way to unlock your phone. Enrolment is simple, and it can act as an authentication method for a variety of apps, including internet banking.
For any other scenarios, the face unlock can come to your assistance, and it's pretty effective at recognising you. However, despite being set up in a similar way to Apple’s Face ID it doesn’t offer the same level of security. Nonetheless, it’s nice to have both options in addition to the regular passcode, password or swipe gesture.
The Realme 5 comes running the ColorOS 6 skin over Android 9 Pie out of the box. It has been confirmed for a future update to Android 10, but we’re not sure when that might be available just yet.
The software is fairly consistent across all Oppo-owned devices - it’s relatively similar to Google’s stock OS, albeit with a few notable tweaks.
These include the ‘Smart Assistant’ page when you swipe left on the screen. This is Realme’s answer to the Google Now cards, with customisable widgets displaying the likes of weather, time and upcoming calendar events. In reality, it didn’t offer the same level of functionality as Google’s offering, so it’s not something we could see ourselves regularly using.
The Realme 5 also has a pretty significant problem with bloatware. If you decide against installing a number of apps from the ‘App Market’ on setup, they will still be shown in your app drawer in a ‘Hot Apps’ folder.
This can be refreshed to display new suggestions but never deleted, acting as a shopfront for Oppo’s version of the Google Play Store.
It’s a similar story with the adjacent ‘Hot Games’ folder, although this takes you directly to the games section of the App Market. There’s really no reason to use this over the Play Store in the UK, particularly if a lot of your favourites are tied to a Google account.
But that’s not all. The Realme 5 has its own versions of Contacts, Calculator, Weather and many more, all of which can’t be uninstalled. Fortunately, this hasn’t extended to a virtual assistant, as Google Assistant can still be triggered by a long press of the home button or saying ‘Ok, Google’.
Our other main software gripe is with the process for closing apps. This is very similar to many Android devices, with a scrolling pane of open windows that you can swipe to close. However, you could be mistaken for thinking that the big ‘X’ would close all open apps. In fact, it simply closes the apps that are necessary to optimise the device, which essentially means it’s pot luck as to which apps stay open.
It would make much more sense if this was an option in settings, instead of it being such a major element of the UI.
There’s a few other subtle design changes, but none of these require a learning curve if you’re familiar with recent versions of Android.
Cameras and battery life
Mobile cameras have long been a priority for Oppo, with an added emphasis since its expansion into the UK market. The Realme 5 continues this trend, with a quadruple rear setup. The main 12Mp sensor is supported by an 8Mp ultrawide lens and 2Mp dedicated macro camera, while the fourth 2Mp lens is for depth sensing.
However, as we have come to learn in recent years, the megapixel count means little if the software processing is lacking.
We were pleasantly surprised by photos taken with the Realme 5, which have an excellent level of detail and dynamic range. However, the quality of images quickly declines whenever you zoom in on shots.
Realme has borrowed OnePlus’ moniker of ‘Nightscape’ for its dedicated low-light mode, and these shots are similarly effective to its Chinese competitor. Dusk shots which would usually appear grainy and with lots of noise appear far clearer and more vivid. To see this sort of mode on a budget handset is hugely impressive.
The camera UI is pretty simplistic, but all the regular modes you’d expect are here. We particularly enjoyed using slo-mo, but there’s also time-lapse, pano and an ultra-macro mode.
We didn’t have much success using the latter, perhaps because it requires a lot of natural light to work effectively.
The most surprising thing here is the quick switching between 1x, 2x and 5x zoom. Without a telephoto lens, this is achieved digitally, but there is little noticeable drop-off in image quality as you switch between them.
The 13Mp front-facing camera is pretty typical of what you can expect in many modern smartphones. Selfies have a decent level of detail, but might not be Instagram worthy.
Portrait mode shots are possible thanks to the depth-sensor, but they lack the attention to detail you can find on phones which use a dedicated telephoto lens.
Check out a selection of photos in the album below, which you may have to click on to view in full.
On the video side, the Realme 5 supports up to 4K footage at 30fps. However, at this resolution the footage was incredibly juddery and almost unwatchable, due in part to the lack of optical image stabilisation. Unless you plan on keeping the phone in the same position throughout, we’d recommend taking it down to 1080p, which offers much more pleasing results.
The battery life on the Realme 5 is the single most impressive thing about this phone, which is saying something considering how much else we liked.
It’s potentially the biggest beneficiary of the aggressive software tweaks, which when combined with the mammoth 5000mAh cell provides truly stellar battery life. In Geekbench 4’s battery test, we recorded an excellent 11 hours and 36 minutes, ranking it among the top handsets on the market.
We were regularly getting two days of moderate usage before reaching for the charger, even if it did seem risky to leave the house with under 50%. We hope that bigger batteries will become the new standard, particularly as Realme has shown it’s possible without adding much bulk.
The large battery becomes all the more important considering the lack of fast charging. The 10W adapter in the box charges much slower than modern standards, and we were only able to get 22% in 30 minutes after it was completely empty.
There’s a lot to like about the Realme 5. You get a beautiful design and great cameras, while the phone emphatically solves a pain point of so many modern handsets by including a huge battery.
However, to be considered one of the best budget phones nowadays, you have to excel in nearly every area, and in that regard the Realme 5 falls short.
The software experience leaves a little to be desired, and we really can’t understand why Realme has gone with micro USB over USB-C.
Realme 5: Specs
- 6.5in 720x1600 LCD display
- Snapdragon 665
- Adreno 610
- Quadruple rear cameras
- 13Mp front-facing camera
- Video up to [email protected]
- Fingerprint scanner
- Face unlock
- 5000mAh battery
- ColorOS 6
- Android 9 Pie
- Bluetooth 5.0
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