Why the Oppo Find N is One of 2021’s Most Important Phones

Oppo has dipped its toe into the world of folding smartphones with the Find N. Despite several manufacturers making folding smartphones at the moment, most will associate the technology with Samsung, due to its success with the Galaxy Fold and Galaxy Flip, but what Oppo has done is come up with a phone that despite looking very similar, is actually different in several key ways.

Due to this — and a lot more — what you’re looking at is one of the most important phone releases of the year, and it has given me hope for the future of this still young technology.

What’s different?

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Oppo Find N is basically the same as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. After all, it follows the same basic recipe: It has a small outer screen, and then the whole device opens up like a book to reveal a much larger screen.

Oppo Find N screen closed.
Andy Boxall/We

But immediately after you pick the Find N up, the difference between them is obvious. It’s sized somewhat closer to the Galaxy Z Flip 3, but doesn’t lose the inherent foldiness of the Z Fold 3. When closed, the Find N feels like any other compact phone, not a weirdly elongated phone like the Galaxy foldable. It’s like using a modestly sized candy bar phone like the Apple iPhone SE (2020), and it feels, well, almost normal.

I can swipe type, and scroll through Twitter comfortably, the viewfinder is a regular size when I take a photo with the closed Find N, and apart from the phone being twice as thick as an iPhone SE, I hold it in that same familiar way as any other phone. Almost immediately and for most basic tasks, I have comfortably used the Oppo Find N closed up. Oppo has succeeded in making the closed Find N feel a lot more like a non-folding phone — thickness aside — and by doing so, it has removed a crucial barrier to the adoption of folding phones.

It’s a great-looking phone too. The smooth matte glass on the rear panel looks great with the glossy glass camera lenses, which are contained inside a module integrated into the panel itself for a slick final look. It feels extremely well made, the plastic bezel around the open screen adds grip, and the metal chassis and concave hinge does the same when the phone is closed. It’s a great design all around.

What about when it’s open?

The Flexion hinge on the Find N is one smooth operator. There’s enough resistance to the movement to make it feel substantial, but not too much that it feels like an effort. When you close it, the hinge takes over just before the two halves meet, then coming together with a super satisfying thunk. Open, it reminds me of an early Amazon Kindle. There’s something about the weight and the size that makes it very natural and comfortable to hold with one hand, just like a Kindle.

Oppo Find N held in hand.
Andy Boxall/We

It’s not as light as a Kindle, though, as the Find N is weighty at 275 grams, and because the aspect ratio is wide, it feels more tablet-like to use. Oppo has used Ultra Thin Glass over the main screen, and it’s tactile and smooth to the touch, just like using a regular phone. If you’ve used the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s inner screen, it feels just like that.

Oppo talked about how its special teardrop-shaped hinge would minimize the screen crease, so has it? Yes, but this “problem” needs clarification, as the crease on the Fold 3 is only really visible when the screen is black or off, and you don’t feel it very often when using the phone normally. That said, when the Find N’s screen is off, you can’t spot a crease at all. There is still some rippling, though, so those wanting to feel an entirely flat screen under their finger will still find something to complain about, but it is far flatter and screen-like than the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Using the Find N

The Oppo Find N’s hardware is spot-on, provided you leave aside the overall thickness of the phone when it’s folded up, which is unavoidable with folding smartphones at the moment. However, it’s only part of the story because the software needs to be equally as sorted for the phone to be successful. Oppo has laid the groundwork, as the Find N has all the power you need from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor and up to 12GB of RAM.

Oppo has used its ColorOS 12 interface over Android 11 for the Find N, with a few tweaks to make it suitable for a folding screen. Let’s talk about the good stuff. The two-finger swipe down the screen to activate the split window mode is excellent. It’s intuitive and reliable, and seems to work with all the right apps — Chrome and Twitter or Messages, for example — plus you can then resize each window if a 50/50 split isn’t right for the situation. In some Oppo apps, including the camera, the display splits into two for a laptop-style view when you half-close the phone.

However, big-screen app support like this isn’t as wide as it is on the Galaxy Z Fold 3, and many apps, including YouTube, don’t split like this or always scale in quite the right way. Some, like Instagram, just default to a normal mobile view. I have also encountered situations where ColorOS itself isn’t sure what it should be doing with the screen open — options in Settings autorotate for no reason, for example. So it’s clear there’s still work to be done, and by virtue of working with Google on its Z Fold software, Samsung still has the lead.

Video on the Oppo Find N.
Andy Boxall/We

Reading and watching video on the 120Hz open screen is a joy. It’s bright, sharp, and devoid of motion blur when you scroll. Regardless of whether it’s a website, an e-book, or a file from Google Drive, text looks great on the Find N, but only when it’s open. The outside screen may be a good size, but the 60Hz refresh rate is jarring after using the inside screen, and diminishes the otherwise excellent viewing experience. Elsewhere, the side-mounted fingerprint sensor is reliable and fast, although it is quite small and therefore takes some practice before your finger naturally locates it. The stereo speakers sound great.

Camera performance

There are three cameras inside the Find X3 Pro-style curved module on the back of the Find N: A 50-megapixel main camera, a 16-megapixel wide-angle camera, and a 13-megapixel telephoto camera with a 2x optical zoom. There are also a couple of selfie camera hole-punch cutouts on both screens.

Oppo hasn’t prioritized the camera on the Find N, and while it’s still decent, it’s not competing with Oppo’s top camera phone, the Find X3 Pro, in terms of quality and ability. I’ve only taken a few dozen photos in fairly poor conditions, and had hoped the camera would inject a little more life into the images, and for the HDR to kick in more often, too. Instead, they’re fine, but not much more.

The Portrait mode does seem to have good object and edge recognition, though, and I like the way the Cover Display can be used as a viewfinder, either for someone to see the photo you’re taking, or for you to use the rear cameras as a selfie cam. It’s a good thing, as the hole-punch cameras are very basic. It’s unfair to judge the camera harshly after only a short time using it, though.

Can you buy one?

Yes, you can buy the Oppo Find N, but Oppo is only putting it on sale in China, so you’ll have to import it if you want one. If you d,o remember that the phone may not come with Google’s services installed, although my review model did have Google Play. You will also have to deal with alerts in Chinese on the phone when ColorOS wants you to agree to terms and conditions.  It’s not an insurmountable problem, but it’s not the simple setup you’d get with a locally purchased Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Oppo has priced the Find N quite reasonably, too. It’ll start at the equivalent of about $1,200 in China when it’s released on December 23, which is a bargain compared to the $1,800 Galaxy Z Fold 3, but you will have to pay more than this if you decide to import.

Why the Find N is important

Just because you can’t rush out and buy the Oppo Find N doesn’t mean you should ignore it, as it shows that Samsung can be challenged when it comes to foldables. As time continued to pass and phones like the rumored Pixel Fold failed to arrive, this seemed to become less likely by the day.

Opening the Oppo Find N.
Andy Boxall/We

The Find N proves there are different routes to take with folding smartphones, even when the overall design is still quite close to the Fold series, that manage to improve the usability and even solve some of the common complaints about folding smartphones. Add in a lower price that’s comparable to top flagship phones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max, and you get mainstream appeal and accessibility.

Furthermore, the Find N may well be the precursor to an internationally available version in the near future, or even the template for a OnePlus version that could come to the U.S. After all, OnePlus is working more closely with Oppo than ever before, and it has never been afraid to take on the big players with eye-catching tech. All of this, plus the fact it’s shaping up to be a great phone, is what makes the Oppo Find N one of the most important phone releases of the year.

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