It’s come a long way, that front camera meant for video calls back when MMS was the big thing. For a while there, front cameras packed just enough resolution to make a face recognizable on those tiny candy bar phone screens, pixels numbering in the low hundreds on each side.Selfie-Expert

Throw in the Internet with high-speed data calls and with WiFi hotspots, simmer things with a few more years of social network start-ups and obsessions, and it’s now about stills and videos of them phone owners, of the hands that wield the handsets, as it were. Shot from arm’s reach or at stick’s length, these images now preoccupy both shooters and viewers everywhere, everyday. Now phones have front cameras with resolutions that rival those of rear cameras, even match the main cameras on models down a rung or two on the price-point ladder. We’re talkin’ serious megapixels these days, both in back and at the front. Eventually, things got even more dizzying when some folks finally took those secondary, fixed-focus front cameras out of the equation.

From selfie swinger

OPPO’s swivel camera N3

Remember when the OPPO N1, then later the N3, burst onto the scene? Here were camera phones that tipped their hats, literally and figuratively, to the selfie phenomenon. First time ever, that primary rear-facing camera was put on swivels so that it can be pivoted front for some high grade self-portraits. The quirky swivelling autofocus cameras ended up upstaging everything else about those phones, but the thing about those OPPO N’s, what sneaked in amidst the guffaws, was how these objectified, even institutionalized, the selfie impulse, how these legitimized overt acts of self-absorption with blatant, selfie-specific designs.   Call them OPPO’s conspicuous, slow-burn response to what Ellen Degeneres and friends made way cool, hamming it up at the Oscars way back then.

Ultimate selfie phones, those OPPO N’s were dubbed. But that tag line has gotten tired—acknowledged and made hackneyed by, well, by every major brand really. Now, them swivelling, swingin’ selfie guys at OPPO have launched a new line that makes things subtle again, dunks the rabbit back in the hat, and goes back to front camera roots, but bringing along rear camera bells.

Back to sleek slab

OPPO Philippines' official launch of the F1 at Trinoma Mall, February 17
OPPO Philippines’ official launch of the F1 at Trinoma Mall, February 17
The F1's widgets for control of its main, rear camera (note the ones for Expert mode and Raw capture)
The F1’s widgets for control of its main, rear camera (note the ones for Expert mode and Raw capture)

Introduced here just this Wednesday, the F1 is dubbed the “Selfie Expert.” While nursing my old timer’s aversion to that “Selfie” qualifier, I’ll have to admit that the thing has the sophistication an “Expert” would want and need. On this new upper mid-range model, the mainstay rear camera has a 13mp sensor behind a fast f/2.2 aperture in the kind of lens I’ve come to equate with OPPO—you can rely on them for good glass at certain price points. And the controls that get added on as removable widgets on OPPO’s proprietary Color OS, tell the tale of an advanced camera engine. There’s RAW capture and Expert mode, stuff you’d go looking for if you need to do your own post-shoot processing on images done the old way, forcing focus points and pushing f-stops, while dealing with new-fangled white balance settings we never had to bother with on film. And, with phase detecting autofocus (PDAF), half-press to shutter-click on the F1’s main camera could be as fast as on new mirror-less pro cams.

Widgets for the F1's front camera ... you might want to disable the Beautify one
Widgets for the F1’s front camera … you might want to disable the Beauty one to get the most from the sharp autofocus

Now, with the F1, they’ve put that “Expert” halo on the front “Selfie” camera as well. On its front camera, the upper mid-range F1 at its P11,990 SRP has features you’d expect but not really find, not completely, on the rear of rival mid-range offerings. First off, the thing has sharp autofocus, something I verified personally, hands-on intimately, since it wasn’t in the literature. You’ll think twice about using the default Beauty filter for selfies, maybe disable the algorithms that automatically air-brush faces, and keep images uniquely sharp and gritty, particularly for dramatic black and whites.

The F1’s front camera has an even faster f/2.0 aperture and an 84 degree angle-of-view that means it has the equivalent of a wide angle 22mm lens on a film or full frame camera—good for ambient light work that’ll get a handful of folks into a close-up selfie. The 8mp front camera has a 1/4” sensor, a wafer 4mm diagonally across that’s half again as big as the 1/6” or 2.67mm used on most other phones, on either of their front or rear cameras. That 8mp on a 4mm sensor is smaller than the 16mp on the exceptionally large 7mm sensor of their swivel-camera N3, but things are kept nicely proportionate. Half the resolution on a sensor that’s nearly half across compared to those featured by their class-defying top-end phone, you just know OPPO made sure the F1’s mid-range hardware is up to scratch for what the software boasts to deliver.p5-phone-1-b09760164e9bd036a6853d14712b9f25102bba6eWith the conventional looking, two-camera F1, they’ve morphed their best camera tech into a mid-range slab phone that makes things solidly monolithic again, no more fragile sub-assemblies to swivel a single camera, back to looking understated and keenly sharp with the excellent build quality OPPO has become known for. The screen is protected behind hard 2.5D Gorilla Glass 4, while the mirror finish on the caseback of OPPO’s Neo and Mirror models gives way to the F1’s satin metal that’s now de-rigeur on anything premium. You’ll want to find a protective case pronto—if you want hassle-free tosses into pockets and purses—but OPPO has got you covered. Says so in the specs, you’ll find a case in there when you unbox the F1.

Mainstreamed in other ways

Last Wednesday was a real news day about OPPO hitting its stride, creating new elements in the mainstream, joining the old guard in some ways. With the introduction of the F1, OPPO Philippines also announced critical, much awaited telco alliances.

The other shoe we’ve been waiting to drop, OPPO’s finally linking-up with major telcos, has finally hit the ground. The OPPO F1 is now available on Smart’s postpaid All-in Plan 1200, and bundled with Smart prepaid kits offering nice freebies for six months—50MB of free data usage monthly, and P150 bonus load for every P250 of accumulated top-ups each month, with both data and load freebies valid for half a year. OPPO’s lower mid-range Neo 5s is now also available on Sun Cellular’s postpaid Best Value Plan 450 that features unlimited Sun calls and texts, and 250mb of free data usage and 250 free text messages to other networks each month. And we have OPPO Philippines Operations Manager Garrick Hung saying that a tie-up with Globe Telecom is “in the works.”

OPPO Philippines Operations Manager Garrick Hung delivering the much awaited news about Telco tie-ups
OPPO Philippines Operations Manager Garrick Hung delivering the much awaited news about telco tie-ups

OPPO again partners up with global consumer-finance provider Home Credit to offer yet another way to acquire an F1. They partnered up last year to put the OPPO Neo 7 on promo. This time around, from February 19 to March 31 and at 245 partner stores nationwide, consumers can get the F1 on a Home Credit installment plan for as low as P1,299 per month for six months. Not a credit card transaction, just a valid ID could start things rolling on a Home Credit purchasing loan.

p7-struct-6e10a03f991219d4415fe81cab52ba84ed99b9d2Specifications: OPPO F1

  • Display: 5.0” IPS TFT, 1280×720 pixels, protected by 2.5D Gorilla Corning Glass 4
  • Main camera: Autofocus 13MP with PDAF and f/2.2 aperture lens
  • Secondary camera: Autofocus 8MP with 1/4″ or 4mm sensor and f/2.0 aperture lens
  • Operating system: ColorOS 2.1 (based on Android 5.1)
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8939 (616) Octa-core at 1.9GHz
  • GPU: Adreno 405
  • Memory:  3GB LPDDR3
  • Storage: 16GB flash storage expandable to 128GB with microSD
  • Power: 2500mAh fixed Li-Po battery

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