ColorOS 7.1 Review: OPPO’s latest Android OS is its best yet

ColorOS 7.1 Review: OPPO’s latest Android OS is its best yet

OPPO recently announced the Find X2 and Find X2 Pro at the beginning of March. The two smartphones are OPPO’s most premium flagship smartphones yet, both in terms of hardware and pricing. While the Find X2 and X2 Pro are only the second batch of devices in OPPO’s Find X series, OPPO is no stranger to flagship smartphones. Last year’s OPPO Reno 10X Zoom was one of the best flagship smartphones of 2019, but one area where that phone really fell short was in the software. OPPO’s custom Android software, known as ColorOS, left a lot to be desired when we reviewed it on the Reno. With ColorOS 7.1 on the new OPPO Find X2 series, though, OPPO looks to make things right with their software.

XDA VIDEO OF THE DAY

It’s no secret that we weren’t fans of ColorOS 6.1 based on Android 9 Pie. It still felt like OPPO was trying to mimic iOS rather than make a unique Android identity. There were questionable UI elements and behavior changes throughout the OS, leading to ColorOS receiving heavy criticism by reviewers. But then OPPO announced ColorOS 7 based on Android 10, and it was clear right off the bat that OPPO had made huge improvements.

What exactly does ColorOS 7.0 and its minor revision, ColorOS 7.1, offer on top of Android 10? Obviously, you get the benefits of Android 10’s new platform features, but OPPO has introduced so many additional features and behavior changes that you won’t find in stock Android. Here is our full review of ColorOS 7.1 as well as a broad overview of all the features we like, dislike, and are indifferent towards.

Disclaimer: OPPO is a sponsor of XDA. OPPO China loaned us a Find X2 Pro for review, but they did not have any input regarding the content of this review.


Unique Features on the OPPO Find X2 Pro

Before we dive into our thoughts on the full breadth of features offered by OPPO in ColorOS 7.1, here’s an overview of the features that are unique to the OPPO Find X2 and Find X2 Pro because of their hardware.

OPPO Find X2 Forums ||| OPPO Find X2 Pro Forums

Screen Light Effects – A Replacement for Notification LED

In trimming down the bezels as much as possible, OPPO did not have enough room to place a notification LED on the front of the Find X2 or Find X2 Pro. In lieu of the notification LED, OPPO has added a new “Screen Light Effects” feature that turns the curved edges of the display into notification lighting. When you receive a notification or incoming phone call, the edges of the Find X2 will slowly light up. Here’s a brief video demonstrating this feature in action:


It’s a simple feature but it does the job while looking great. It’s not a true replacement to the notification LED, though, since Screen Light Effects do not repeatedly light up, meaning it’s possible you’ll miss it the first time. Thankfully, though, ColorOS has an Always on Display feature so you’ll always be able to quickly see if there are any pending notifications.

O1 Ultra Vision Engine and Natural Tone Display – The Makings of a Great Display

The O1 Ultra Vision Engine is OPPO’s term for the display processing engine that artificially increases the framerates of videos using MEMC as well as converts SDR video to HDR. The two features are powered by the Iris 5 chip from Pixelworks, so the visual processing is hardware accelerated. MEMC, or Motion Estimation and Motion Compensation, is a frame interpolation technique that inserts frames into videos, boosting the framerate of the original video. Most movies and television shows are shot at 24 or 30fps, but with MEMC, they can be played back at 60 or even 120fps on the OPPO Find X2 and X2 Pro. With the extra frames inserted into the video, certain content will appear visually smoother. OPPO wants this change to appear subtle rather than visually jarring, and it definitely works. Keep an eye out during long single-takes, wide-panning shots, fast-moving action scenes, or animated videos if you want to see where MEMC has the most noticeable effect. The only major caveat with the feature is that enabling Video Motion Enhancement to 120fps requires setting the display resolution to FHD+ rather than the native WQHD+. As for the SDR to HDR video conversion, this effect is most noticeable when watching videos with lots of wildlife or nature shots. Scenes with lots of animals and plants will appear more colorful and vibrant due to the expansion of the color gamut.

Video Motion Enhancement does not support every video app, though. OPPO maintains a whitelist that they use to determine whether boosting the frame rate to 60 or 120fps is supported. While most of the supported video services are Chinese, there are a handful of international apps that are supported. Amazon Prime Video, VLC, and MX Player are supported for boosting the frame rate to 60fps, while Netflix and YouTube are supported for boosting the frame rate to 120fps. If you’re struggling to notice the frame boosting, then try watching either one of these two YouTube videos: [1] or [2]. The effect should be very noticeable in both of these videos. I recommend OPPO add a toggle in the settings that, when enabled, shows an overlay of some kind telling the user that the video is being enhanced. A program that I occasionally run on my PC called “SVP” (Smooth Video Project) shows the user when it is running by displaying a message in the bottom left-hand corner of the video.

 

Natural Tone Display is another excellent feature that’s currently exclusive to the OPPO Find X2 and X2 Pro. The feature takes advantage of the RGB color sensors on the device to measure the ambient color temperature and subsequently adjust the display’s white balance. What this means is that the color temperature of the Find X2’s display actually changes based on the surrounding lighting. This means the display will maintain a “paper-like” appearance under different lighting conditions, which I find makes the Find X2’s display really comfortable on the eyes and easy to read. Most phones can only change the brightness of the display based on the ambient lighting, not the color temperature.

The rest of the features we’re going to cover can be found in one or more OPPO smartphones, so we won’t focus on only the Find X2 from here on out. However, our experiences with each of the features will still be based on our usage of them while reviewing the Find X2 Pro.


What I Like About ColorOS 7.1

A Brand New UI – Colorful but not gaudy

In our review of the OPPO Reno2, we noted that our biggest problem with that device was not the software features but rather how the software looked. Gone is the weird gray overlay in the notification center, the iOS-like Quick Setting tiles, and the out-of-place multitasking menu. Instead, OPPO has taken the look of AOSP and added a few useful tweaks. A new, large clock is added with the weather above the Quick Setting tiles when they’re expanded, for example, which is something that we’ve seen with Samsung’s OneUI. The recent apps overview looks exactly as it should with large, horizontally scrolling app previews.

Even the icons have received a total revamp. The icons in the top-level Settings in particular now look amazing, while the icons throughout the UI are also gorgeous. Beauty is subjective, though, so if you aren’t a fan of the stock icons, you can customize them. In the launcher settings, you can set the icon style to either the default ColorOS option, Material Design style, “Pebble” style, or use the custom “Art+” icons that can even be further customized to change the icon shape, rounded corner radius, or icon size.

A reworked UI was badly needed, and ColorOS 7.1 has definitely brought it.

Forced dark mode

ColorOS 7.1 builds on top of Android 10’s built-in system-wide dark mode by adding a dark mode scheduler and an option to force dark mode for selected third-party applications. The former feature was only recently added to Pixel phones with the second Pixel Feature Drop, while the latter feature is only possible on Pixel with a third-party application called DarQ. Oddly, ColorOS does not let you select certain applications to force dark mode in, such as Google Hangouts.

One-Handed Mode

The OPPO Find X2 Pro is a huge smartphone, so using it one-handed isn’t really possible for most people. Thankfully, the one-handed mode in ColorOS 7.1 makes it possible. Once activated, the screen shrinks to the bottom left or right corner, dramatically reducing how far you have to stretch your thumb to tap on the screen. Unlike other one-handed mode features, you won’t accidentally leave this mode by tapping outside of the shrunken area – OPPO disabled that. However, the only way to toggle one-handed mode is via a Quick Setting tile, which kind of defeats the purpose since accessing Quick Settings is difficult to do with only one hand.

Always on Display – Simple yet effective

Just like with previous OPPO smartphones, there is an Always on Display feature present on the OPPO Find X2. There’s one oddity with the feature, though, and that’s how you can’t actually enable it at all times. You choose a time range for when it is active, and during that time it can display the current time, date, battery level, and notification icons during that time range. There’s a pretty easy workaround for this, though, and it’s just setting the start and end times to be a minute apart. One small gripe I have with the implementation, though, is that it pulls notification icons from the app’s icon rather than the actual notification, which leads to things like the Google App icon appearing when it’s actually just a weather update.

ColorOS 7.1 on the OPPO Find X2 Pro

 

While the Always on Display is slightly customizable in that you can select the clock style, there’s not much else that can be customized. In contrast, Huawei, and especially Samsung, provide far more customization of the Always on Display.

Enhanced screenshot and screen recording options

I take and share a lot of screenshots online (as shown in this review), so I’ve always hoped that Google would add better screenshot tools in Android. While that looks to be coming to Android 11, ColorOS 7.1 already implements a lot of good screenshot tools. For instance, you can choose to delete the original screenshot after editing and saving it, take scrolling screenshots, use gestures to take screenshots, and take a partial screenshot. Tapping on the mini screenshot preview that appears brings you to an editor UI with 5 options: Share, Doodle, Edit, Long screenshot, or Delete. The doodle option lets you quickly draw on the image without opening the full-fledged screenshot editor. The Edit option brings you to the Photos app where you can edit the screenshot by cropping, rotating, blurring, and more. The Long Screenshot option does a clever take on the scrolling screenshot—rather than having the system slowly start scrolling down until you tell it to stop, it waits for you to scroll down as much as you want to cover in the image. You can alternatively share the screenshot or start the Long Screenshot action by swiping up or down on the screenshot preview respectively.

I also do screen recordings on occasion, which is one area where OEMs excel at but Google fails at. ColorOS 7.1 has a built-in screen recorder that can record the internal audio, which is great news for gamers looking to share gameplay clips. Unfortunately, you can’t record from both the microphone and internal audio at the same time, so you can’t record a voice-over during gameplay. You can, however, record video from the front camera while recording audio. The quality settings are quite limited, at least on the OPPO Find X2 Pro—you can only go up to 1080p at 14Mbps. There’s no option to record at 120fps or QHD+ resolution. One more thing I’ll note is that you can pause recordings and resume them later, which can save you time in editing.

I can’t show the floating screen recorder toolbar through screenshots since it doesn’t appear in them, but it’s basically a small bar that sticks to the left or right side of the screen. There are 4 buttons: Record, Settings, Close, and Minimize. The Minimize button hides and unhides the Settings and Close buttons. The bar can be moved anywhere on screen, though it will always snap to the left or right edges. When you’re recording, the bar turns more transparent, minimizes by default, and the Close button turns into a Pause button. Screen recordings are stored in the same folder as screenshots, meaning /DCIM/Screenshots.

Additional permission control and privacy settings

There are a couple of neat features that help protect your data and restrict what apps can access. Here’s a list of features/changes that I found to be most useful:

  • You can disable network access entirely for selected applications by going to Settings > SIM Card & Mobile Data > Data Usage > Network Permissions. Alternatively, you can disable either WiFi or mobile data access for selected applications. The ability to restrict background mobile data access is a feature of stock Android, but it’s nice to see that ColorOS 7.1 lets you fully block network access for apps you don’t trust.
  • In Settings > Privacy, you can enable “personal information protection” which provides empty call history, contacts, messages, and events information to apps that request them. This allows apps that request this information to continue to run without exposing any of your personal information to them. This is a feature we’ve seen in custom ROMs and Xposed Modules before, so it’s nice to see it appear in OEM software.
  • ColorOS 7.1 protects you against pseudo base station hijacks, or at least that’s what OPPO says it does. I have no way of actually testing this, though. In theory, this feature will protect your device from connecting to a cellular base station created by an attacker rather than a mobile carrier.
  • If for whatever reason you don’t trust your keyboard app, then you may enjoy the “Secure Keyboard” feature which is a barebones, offline keyboard app that only appears when you’ve focused on a text field for password or financial detail entry. This feature can be toggled in Settings > Additional Settings > Keyboard & Input Method.
  • The “Prevent Screen Captures” feature will block screenshots and screen recordings when using any of ColorOS 7.1’s privacy-related features. Apps can already do this if they declare the FLAG_SECURE flag for their windows, but this feature extends support to more apps that may be sensitive.
  • ColorOS 7.1 actively warns the user about attempts to record audio/images in the background. Since Android 9 Pie, apps cannot access the microphone or camera when they’re running in the background. The request is silently blocked with no indication shown to the user. ColorOS 7.1 expands upon this by showing a prompt in the status bar when an app attempts to use these permissions in the background.