$239 for a smartphone.  Yes, you heard that right.  The prices of smartphones have not just skyrocketed in recent years but also plummeted.  Of course, that makes no sense but as companies have developed their high end flagships they have not neglected the entry level, where worldwide a large percentage of their sales are.  

For this reason, the entry level has become extremely competitive in the last year or two with manufacturers looking at ways to bring greater and greater value to the consumer without increasing the price.

The $239 phone in question is the OPPO A15, very obviously an entry-level smartphone and at that price you shouldn’t expect high end features and quality.  So, what can you expect at this price in the OPPO A15?

Entry level hardware?

The OPPO A15 comes with a decent 6.5-inch IPS LCD display which fills a large percentage of the front of the phone — 83% screen to body ratio in fact.  The display lacks some of the black blacks you would expect from a high-end display and the colours are a very close representation of the true colour of the image but I am comparing it to one of the best in class displays in the OPPO Find X2 Pro.

Using its AI brightness, it gives a decent experience with some good viewing angles — cheap displays have come a long way in the past few years.

The phone itself is powered by a 4,230mAh battery and comes with a charger that is just 10W — not hugely fast but considering I was able to get over a day and a half on a single charge it’s not an issue.  Just charge it overnight or every second night if you are an average user and you’ll be fine (I am a very heavy user with a lot of streaming of video and audio).

The processing power under the hood is just okay on paper with an octa-core Mediatek MT6765 Helio P35 combined with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.  Nothing special and with only 32GB of storage you will want to find yourself a decent microSD card to store apps, photos etc.

The experience of using the phone was barely ok.  I am used to using a high-end phone which flies but, in this case, there were quite a few slowdowns but I am not who this phone is marketed to.  I would expect this to be for younger kids or older adults where they just need a phone to do the very basic of things, make phone calls, have various messaging apps with a little bit of surfing or music etc.  If you want raw speed and power this phone is not for you.

So how does it look in hand?  

Pretty damn good in all honesty.  The smaller camera module on the rear has a nice square design to it and is situated on the top left of the device, on the shiny, but fingerprint magnet surface.  In the centre of the rear is a fingerprint sensor — you didn’t expect an in-display fingerprint sensor for $239 did you?  Maybe in a few years.

The fingerprint sensor worked well but the face unlock was even faster although I do have to question its security given that while at work with a mask covering my face and only the eyes showing the phone was able to unlock each and every time.  The face unlock is fast though and if security is an issue for you maybe don’t use this feature and just use the fingerprint sensor.

Is the camera any good?

Let’s face it, if you want the best in smartphone photography you are going to have to pay for it — and closer to the $2,000 mark. Coming in at sub-$240 the OPPO A15 is not going to produce shots that will have you appearing in the latest version of National Geographic but if you realise its limitations and can live with them then it is not all bad.

Give it some decent light and a motionless hand it can produce adequate images — it was only a few years ago that these were as good as many smartphone images could get. We just have higher standards now.

The rear camera is a triple rear camera although the main camera is just a 13MP main lens and the supporting two lenses a very basic 2MP for the macro and depth lenses:

Triple Rear Camera13 MP, f/2.2, (wide), 1/3.1″, 1.12µm, PDAF
2 MP, f/2.4, (macro)
2 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
Selfie Camera5 MP, f/2.4, (wide)

As you can see in the images above and below it produced barely acceptable images in the daytime but the low light Android shots really struggled with detail. These were taken with the light quite low though. The selfie pictures were perfectly acceptable though.

Low light photography

Software experience

As stated above the software is a bit slow — it runs an entry level Mediatek chipset and a small amount of RAM so that should be expected.  ColorOS from OPPO is their skin on top of Android 10 and it would surprise me if the A15 ever sees Android 11 but those who buy this phone will generally be less concerned with Android updates than those who live in the high end of smartphones.

ColorOS is something I have been very critical of in the past and with this low-end chipset and hardware it does struggle due to its resource-hungry nature — but it is not all bad.  It does look a lot better than it once did but I can only think that if OPPO used Android Go or Android One the experience would be so much fluid.  In saying that it may be slow and occasionally hang, the bulk of the experience was acceptable for this price range.

If you have used ColorOS in the past year or two you will know what to expect.  Nearly all features in their high end ColorOS skin are present in the version of ColorOS on this $239 device.  This is excellent and helps you to set up the device, how you want to set it up, how you use a phone and customise it to you.

Value for money surely?

The OPPO A15 does not have to offer much to be of value for money.  At $239 it is most certainly value for money.  A triple rear camera setup, with basic specs still offer some flexibility and the ability to capture decent images when the conditions are right.

The design of the phone is stylish and with the rear fingerprint sensor on a shiny backing and an 83% screen to body ratio on the front with the selfie camera in a teardrop at the top of the display it offers a great looking package.

The performance is lacking when compared with more expensive phones but it is but a fraction of the price of those and it performs better than you would expect an entry-level phone to.  I could not use it as my every day phone being a heavy user but it is not marketed at me.  My parents, both in their 70s, are one demographic who would be perfectly happy with this and would not have any issues with it at all.

The OPPO A15 is a decent entry-level phone and is certainly one worthy of consideration if you are looking for a smartphone in this price range.  At $239 it is extremely cheap and definitely great value for money.  You can buy the OPPO A15 in Mystery Blue and Dynamic Black from JB Hi-Fi, Woolworths, Mobileciti, Amazon, The Good Guys (online), OfficeWorks.  For more information head on over to OPPO.com/au.