If foldables are the future, just where does the OPPO Fold N fit?

Samsung started off with Huawei as their main opponent in the foldable world but unfortunately Huawei ran afoul of the US government and have been basically ruled out of any sort of market race.  Since then though we have seen many manufacturers show off foldable devices (including a rollable one from OPPO) but very few have made it to the mass market.

Samsung seems to have that cornered, especially in Australia, at the moment.  They have the Galaxy Fold3 and the Galaxy Flip3, two very different form factors – one starts as a big phone and opens to a massive tablet while the other starts as a tiny phone and opens out to a standard sized phone.  

But they don’t have anything in the middle.   The Fold3 is too large for a lot of people with it being as tall and as (nearly) as wide as a flagship smartphone but twice as thick.   OPPO has now released, to the Chinese market, their new foldable, the Find N, and guess what?  It fits right into that mid-sized device range.  It sits an inch or so smaller than a flagship smartphone but opens out to a wide device – much like the Galaxy Fold 3.  That height that it starts at makes the device much more pocketable, even though it still carries the near double the thickness as the Fold3 does.

At the recent launch of the OPPO Find X5 Pro I was lucky to get my hands on one a few weeks ago, took a few pics of it (in terrible lighting I must admit) but had great fun checking it out.   So, what did I think of it?

The size and display

As I stated above, the size is much more pocketable than the Fold3.  There is an outer display which is a decent 5.49-inch 18:9 OLED display and is usable by itself without ever having to open the device.  

Open the device and you are greeted by a great 7.1-inch 8.4:9 ratio landscape display with an impressive 120Hz refresh rate – the quality and smoothness of this refresh rate is definitely noticeable when watching video and scrolling through various apps.  This aspect ratio is quite good for handling most things including video consumption – without having to rotate the display to watch the video in landscape mode.

Touching the display is not a bad experience either with the fold in the middle nearly unnoticeable – and mostly only because I went looking for it – it is much more subtle than that on the Fold3.  While you may slightly feel it under your finger it is close to indiscernible when looking at the display – you have to look at it on a very shallow (wide?) angle to see any fold, indentation, or bump in the display. The display is incredibly touch sensitive, just like a usual smartphone display, with it protected by their own ultra-thin glass

The hinge

The hinge – and I tested out two different Find N’s while I was in Sydney that night – is decent, although I would prefer to be able to open it one handed.  It is a bit stiff to do that but when the hinge is rated to 200,000 opens you don’t want it too flimsy (or it wouldn’t be rated to that figure).  The hinge though is extremely well designed with it able to be opened and left opened and used at any angle between 50 and 120 degrees.  

It was difficult to open on the older phone but a bit easier on the newer one (the older one was the daily driver for Michael Tran, MD of OPPO Australia so I had to be extremely careful not to drop that while opening it).  He told me that it took him a while to get used to the opening of it but now it is second nature to him – I can see that happening.  I was of course cautious opening the phone as I did not want to drop and break any of their only Fold N smartphones in the country.

The software

The OPPO Find N’s that I checked out were both running Chinese software – and that’s because that’s all there is.  It has not been released internationally at this stage but the Chinese software does have Google Play Services installed so once you manually install Gapps yourself you can use it as you would any Android smartphone.  How do I know this?  A good friend bought one after I checked it out and confirmed it was a great phone.

Samsung has done a great job with specific software to take advantage of the new foldable form factor.  OPPO has attempted to add a few tweaks here and there but, likely because it is the first generation, there is not much.  There are a few tweaks for the camera, music and video apps but nothing special to write home about – such as having the video play in the top half of the screen and the comments etc in the bottom fold.

At this stage, if you buy an OPPO Find N you will be getting a Chinese ROM with basic Google Play Services installed – unless you can find a seller who does it for you – but it’s not difficult to do it yourself.

Final thoughts

After playing around with the Find N for an hour or so Iwas comfortable recommending it to a friend who purchased one from a grey-market importer. He had it in his hands within a few days and was equally enamoured with it. After installing Google apps he has full access to the Play Store and all the Gmail and more you could want.

The Fold N is a size that is comfortable to use, whether closed or open with opening it offering so many advantages over a more traditional smartphone. Once open, the bump in the centre of the display from the hinge and fold is nearly non-existent. The camera is a decent triple rear camera of 50MP, 13MP and 16MP with the addition of two 32MP selfie camera — one usable with the phone closed and the other open.

With a generation of maturation of its software with an international flavour (ColorOS for the international market is quite good these days) generation 2 of the Find N promises to be a great device. It sits comfortably between the Galaxy Fold3 and the Galaxy Flip3 size-wise and if you can’t wait for gen 2 you can grab a gen one now from various grey market importers such as Expansys and Liaow for around the AU$2,000 mark.

Will it arrive anywhere other than China?

Unfortunately, that is extremely doubtful, at least at this stage due to logistical issues such as sourcing parts. That will change over time and the potential for a broader international release for the Find N Gen 2 is potentially far more likely – and OPPO seem to hint at a wider release for this second gen Find N.

OPPO love Australia (and why wouldn’t they?) and while we are a small market, which may suit OPPO perfectly in the first international release of a foldable smartphone — a smaller market testbed.  I think if they keep the same form factor with the smaller footprint that folds out to a decent sized tablet then we may have an extremely usable foldable that can fit into most pockets and if priced competitively it will sell extremely well.