There's a fine line between entry-level and mid-level in the smartphone market.
In fact, there are two lines - a price line and a features line.
The question is; which line are you prepared to cross?...
The OPPO AX5s is almost exactly the same phone as the AX5 (note the lack of an "s") I reviewed last September. At that time, I was pretty impressed with what OPPO was offering for the money. Interestingly, at $299RRP, the AX5s is a hundred dollars cheaper than last year's version was.
Market-wise, the main change since September is there are a lot more devices with similar specs in that price-range now. That doesn't mean the AX5s isn't still a good buy, it just means you have more to compare it with.
First up, if you like a black phone, the AX5s is a good fit for you, because that's the only colour it comes in. I'm being a bit mean - as black phones go, this one does look and feel pretty classy. The back has a mirror-like finish, with a subtle rose gold trim around the dual-lens camera in the top left corner.
The front is all about the screen - no physical buttons, no fingerprint sensor, a tiny ear speaker built right into the top bezel and the water drop cutout for the selfie camera as opposed to the much larger notch which I'm hoping we've seen the last of.
No fingerprint sensor means you're left with either a passcode or facial recognition to unlock the device. Luckily, the face unlock works very efficiently, although only in portrait. The AX5s will even turn the lockscreen bright white to light your face to unlock in dark conditions, which is useful. You can also turn this feature off if you don't want your screen to light up in a theatre or bedroom every time you take it out of your pocket.
The screen is big, bright and surprisingly good for a three-hundred dollar phone. I actually really enjoyed watching video content on the AX5s, as long as I had headphones or earbuds connected. The single downward-firing speaker isn't great - not particularly powerful and quite tinny sounding.
On the other hand bluetooth connected headphones and earbuds sounded nice and loud, although for some reason bluetooth connectivity, especially with my smartwatch and car stereo was very inconsistent. Sometimes the phone would connect almost instantly, other times not at all. Perhaps I was just trying to keep to many things connected at once.
While the AX5s does have a GPS sensor, I found it to be wildly inaccurate - especially when used to track my exercise. My 7km run ended up being recorded as several much longer distances - ranging from 8.6kms to almost 10. That's okay, I quite like the idea of telling people I ran 10 k's today, they don't need to know it's not quite true.
Like the AX5, the AX5s has quite the oversized battery, clocking in at 4230mAh which is still enormous, even by the very latest standards. This is probably why the phone feels slightly thicker and heavier than some, but it's well worth it for the massive battery life. You'll get two days out of this handset without too much trouble at all - outlasting some flagship phones by more than a day. As I've noted with other OPPO devices, the power-saving tricks built into the ColorOS operating system are probably too aggressive for me. Even apps I've told the phone not to optimise seem to get shut down eventually, but you can't argue with the battery economy that results.
While we're talking ColorOS - I think it's time OPPO gave this interface a major overhaul. Although some improvements have been made - the settings menu is easier to navigate than ever and smart sidebar is a useful way to access some specific shortcuts - we still need the option of an app drawer so we're not left with screen after screen of rarely-used app icons. What I do particularly like are the navigation options. You can choose between virtual keys or simply go with gestures, which can be tailored to your preferred configuration. This is something OPPO has got dead right.
The camera configuration is more or less the same as we saw in September, ie: a little underwhelming. It's not that it's bad, and certainly the camera app itself is full featured and easy to use. It's just that there are so many phones with incredible cameras these days, when you come across one that's only good, you can't help but be disappointed. I enjoyed the colour temperature of most of the pics I took with the AX5s and the selfie camera offers a good range of beauty options, filters and stickers. Unfortunately, OPPO has set an extremely high standard for itself with some of its other devices leaving this particular phone's photographic performance towards the bottom end of the scale.
But remember, at $299 it's also priced at the lower end - so you can't have it all. If you want to shoot masterpiece photos with every click, you're just going to have to pay more. On the other hand, if you want a massive battery and pretty decent storage instead, this shiny black number's looking better all the time.
The AX5s has a different processor and GPU to the AX5, but performance-wise it's very much on a par - with 3GB of RAM keeping things chugging along fairly consistently, although I did find some apps a little slow to start or swap between on occasion. There's a very respectable 64GB of on-board storage so you'll be able to take plenty of pics before uploading to the cloud.
At the end of the day, given this is essentially last September's phone, I think it's about $50 overpriced. In saying that, I thought it was exceptional buying in September, so I guess now it's merely a great buy. Other than the rockstar battery life, there are no real surprises here but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as there are no nasty surprises either.