Oppo isn’t the first brand name that comes to mind when thinking of the low-cost smartphone segment in India. This company prefers to promote its mid-range to high-end offerings, with the emphasis usually on camera features and innovations. Oppo has also been pushing the boundaries of design lately, and was right on the ball when multi-coloured gradient finishes and ever-smaller notches started to catch on.

Still, Oppo does have its A-series phones for budget-conscious fans, and the new Oppo A1k is one of the company’s most affordable models in recent times. It slots in below the Oppo A5s (Review), which we found a little disappointing considering its price of Rs. 9,990 in India. The new Oppo A1k is priced even lower at Rs. 8,490, but that pits it against some serious contenders. Can this new budget model strike the right balance of features, performance and price? We’re about to find out.

The Oppo A1k is based on the MediaTek Helio P22 SoC and has a 4000mAh battery

 

Oppo A1k design

Despite Realme now being a separate company, there’s no denying how similar the Oppo A1k is to the Realme C2 (Review). Both phones have nearly identical shapes, and their dimensions are just fractions of a millimetre different. All the buttons, slots, ports, and holes on these two phones are in exactly the same positions.

The Oppo A1k has a plain rear panel rather than the textured and patterned one on the Realme C2, but even little things like the lines of the plastic moulding are the same. You’ll notice that the two models share a lot of their specifications as well.

Oppo has introduced the A1k in two colours, a simple black and the extremely bright red version that we have for review. If you like eye-catching phones, this finish will definitely fit the bill. This phone is made entirely out of plastic but the material didn’t feel cheap at all, and construction quality is quite good.

Thankfully, the rear is non-slippery and not at all susceptible to smudges and fingerprints. The edges are slightly curved and this phone is quite reasonably sized by today’s standards. We had no trouble using it with one hand.

Our review unit had a plastic screen protector pre-applied, but it started coming loose at the corners and got scratched quite badly within a day of normal use, which was distracting. There’s a waterdrop-style notch at the top of the screen with a thin slit for the earpiece above it. Sadly this phone lacks a fingerprint sensor, which we think it should have had considering the price.

The power button is on the right and the volume buttons are on the left. The tray on the upper left has cutouts for two Nano-SIMs as well as a microSD card. On the bottom, we have a speaker grille, Micro-USB port, and 3.5mm headset socket.

The camera bump on the rear protrudes quite a bit and has a slightly scratchy metal ring around it. It might look like a dual-camera module, and is the same size as the one on the Realme C2, but this phone has only a single rear camera with the flash next to it.

We think people who are looking for a simple phone will like the design of the Oppo A1k. It isn’t too heavy at 170g and it’s easy to carry around and live with. In the retail box, you get a rather oversized 10W charger, a Micro-USB cable, and a clear plastic case.

oppo a1k bottom ndtv oppoThe Oppo A1k has a Micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphones socket on the bottom

 

Oppo A1k specifications and software

Once again we see a lot of similarities between the Oppo A1k and Realme C2, but curiously, the lower priced C2 comes out ahead when the few differences are accounted for. Both phones have 6.1-inch 720×1560-pixel 19.5:9 screens, but the Oppo A1k doesn’t have Corning Gorilla Glass for protection like its near-sibling does.

Both phones are built around the MediaTek Helio P22 SoC which has eight ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at up to 2GHz, and a PowerVR GE8329 GPU. We’ve seen this processor used in several phones at around the same price. You also get the same 4000mAh battery capacity.

Oppo has launched the A1k in only one configuration, with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. You also get single-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, FM radio, and the usual sensors including an e-compass.

Interestingly, the Oppo A1k has only a single 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.2 aperture, while the Realme C2 has a 13-megapixel f/2.2 camera with a 2-megapixel depth sensor as well. Both phones have 5-megapixel front cameras.

The story continues on the software side, where we see the same Android skin, Oppo’s ColorOS 6, running on top of Android 9. This is a fairly well designed and customisable UI. The notifications shade and quick settings panel look quite different from stock Android, but things are usually where you’d expect them to be. One exception to that is the Settings app which has a slightly convoluted structure.

The Lock Screen Magazine feature shows different photos with links to related articles on your lock screen, but this can be disabled. Thankfully these are not blatant ads, but there are ads within the linked articles. There is an app drawer but you can turn it off if you like.

You can customise the layout of the on-screen Android navigation buttons or choose from four different swipe-based control schemes if you prefer.

One of the features we like the most is Personal Information Protection. The Oppo A1k can spoof an empty call log, message history, contact list, and calendar when apps try reading these things. You have to opt in, but this feature isn’t compatible with all apps and there’s a disclaimer stating that it isn’t guaranteed to work all the time. Still, it’s a neat idea. ColorOS also says it will warn you if apps are trying to use the phone’s mics or cameras when they’re running in the background.

Game Space claims to improve gaming performance by clearing the phone’s RAM when a game is launched. It can also suppress banner notifications and restrict background apps from using network bandwidth. Smart Assistant is a page to the left of the first home screen that contains useful panels showing a step tracker, shortcuts to frequently used contacts, and a calendar, but also tries to offer “popular apps” for you to download.

We were a little disappointed by the amount of bloatware this phone ships with. There’s Oppo’s own app store and games store, plus a fake ‘Hot Apps’ folder on the home screen that’s actually a link to download more junk. ColorOS also has several redundant Oppo and third-party apps including Tips, Theme Store, Music Party, Facebook, UC Browser, Paytm, Helo, Dailyhunt, Webnovel, Newspoint, and Amazon Shopping. You can’t disable or uninstall all of them.

oppo a1k side ndtv oppoThere is only one configuration option for the Oppo A1k, with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage

 

Oppo A1k performance, battery life, and cameras

The Oppo A1k has a decent screen, but it isn’t very vibrant and colours don’t look rich. Videos and games were okay, but we found that the rounded corners cut off some UI elements in full-screen apps and games unless we manually set them to run with the space around the notch blacked out. The phone’s speaker was also just about okay.

Everyday performance was good, though we noticed some very slight stuttering in UI animations, such as when flipping through thumbnails in the app switcher. 2GB of RAM will probably be a limiting factor if you like having a lot of background apps open and switching between them quickly.

As for benchmark tests, we got middling scores including 76,242 in AnTuTu and 775 and 3,134 in Geekbench’s single-core and multi-core tests. GFXBench returned 25fps in the T-rex scene and 11fps in the Manhattan 3.1 scene. 3DMark’s Sling Shot and Ice Storm Extreme tests gave us 712 points and 8,340 points respectively. These scores are expectedly on par with those of the Realme C2 (Review), and lag behind those of the Redmi 7 (Review).

We played a few rounds of PUBG Mobile and unfortunately even at the Low quality setting, visuals were jerky and our responsiveness was compromised.

Battery life is definitely one of this phone’s strong suits. We were able to last for just over a day and a half on a single charge. Our usage involved an hour of video streaming and quite a lot of time spent taking photos, as well as some Web surfing and gaming. Our HD video loop test ran for 19 hours, 43 minutes, which is very good. However, it was only able to charge up to 20 percent in 30 minutes using the included charger.

The camera app is relatively bare-bones but is easy to use. The basic Photo, Video, and Portrait modes are in a standard ribbon at the bottom, while Panorama, Timelapse, and Expert modes are in a spillover menu. You get auto HDR, a few filters, and a beautification toggle.

 

Tap to see full-sized Oppo A1k photo samples.

 

We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of photos we managed to capture in the daytime. As long as subjects were still, quality was good even at full size. This is still an entry-level smartphone camera and so it did struggle a bit with high-contrast exposures, but overall we think Oppo has done a good job here.

The one curious thing we found was that the Portrait mode just didn’t seem to work at all, and there was little to no discernible background blurring. Even selfies taken in the daytime were good.

At night however, the situation was not as good. The focus was completely off quite a lot of the time, and and details were murky and noisy. Shots taken without a lot of artificial light on our subjects were not usable at all.

The video recording resolution goes up to full-HD. We saw a lot of focus shifting with moving objects, and our recorded videos were a bit dark, but overall the quality was not too bad in the daytime. At night, we had the same issues as with stills, and even more trouble getting the focus right.

oppo a1k notch ndtv oppoThe Oppo A1k has a 6.1-inch HD+ screen with a waterdrop notch

 

Verdict
Oppo is taking on several heavyweights at around the Rs. 8,500 mark including the Redmi 7 (Review), Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 (Review), and Realme 3 (Review). Unfortunately it doesn’t outshine these options except in terms of battery life. We think a lot of people would like to have features like a fingerprint sensor and additional rear camera at this price level, and would like to play games and take decent photos. If you can spend a little more money you could also grab the Redmi Note 7 (Review), Realme U1 (Review), or ZenFone Max Pro M2 (Review) for under Rs. 10,000.

Still, the alternative we keep coming back to is the Realme C2 (Review). It might not seem fair to keep comparing the phone we’re reviewing here to another model, but the simple fact is that they are very nearly the same device, except that the Oppo A1k is about 40 percent more expensive than the base variant of the Realme C2. Oppo also offers somewhat weaker specifications in terms of its cameras and the lack of Gorilla Glass on the front. Even the higher priced variant of the Realme C2 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage costs a bit less than the Oppo A1k.

Of course the Realme C2 and several of the other phones we’ve just named are only available online and some only through flash sales, so you’ll have to contend with those if you want to maximise what your money is buying. A lot of people only buy phones offline, and while that’s completely understandable, we hope that buyers who come across the Oppo A1k offline and like it are aware of what other options exist.


Which is the best phone under Rs. 8,000 in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.



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