Realme 5 Review : Cheap, but not cheap enough.

Realme, a former subsidiary of Oppo and one of the worlds fastest growing phone brands has had a pretty interesting few years. Starting as an India only brand it’s quickly growing into a force to be reckoned with. Last October Realme flew me out to Madrid for the Launch of the Realme 5, 5 Pro, X2 and X2 Pro, and up for review today is the entry-level Realme 5, for £169, is it any good?

Realme 5
+ FOR
  • Really Nice Screen
  • Battery is Stellar
  • Relatively well built
  • Design.
  • Front Camera can do IG Stories well.
- AGAINST
  • Inconsistent performance.
  • Cameras are just okay
  • MicroUSB
  • No NFC
  • ColorOS is a mess.
  • Priced too close to the much better Realme 5 Pro.

Buy from Realme

Disclaimer: Realme PR provided me (Dom) With this device for the purposes of review. No money has exchanged hands between either entity and Realme are not seeing this review before it goes live. The Realme 5 was used on the ThreeUK Network in the Southeast Coast of the UK, and there were no software updates in that time. Build RMX1911EX_11_A.15

Realme 5 Review

Specifications

  • 6.5” 1600×720 IPS LCD
    • 20:9 Aspect Ratio
    • 83% Screen to Body Ratio
    • Waterdrop notch.
  • Snapdragon 665
    • Samsung 11nm LPP
    • 4x Semi-Custom Cortex A73 2Ghz
    • 4x Semi-Custom Cortex A53 1.8Ghz
    • Adreno 610 GPU
  • 32GB/64GB/128GB Internal Storage
  • 3GB/4GB RAM
  • 5000mAh Battery
  • MicroUSB
  • 3.5mm Audio Jack
  • 12 MP, f/1.8, (wide), 1/2.9″, 1.25µm, PDAF
  • 8 MP, f/2.2, 13mm (ultrawide), 1/4.0″, 1.12µm
  • 2 MP, f/2.4, (macro), 1/5.0″, 1.75µm
  • 2 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
  • 13MP front facing camera.

For a more exhaustive spec sheet head on over to GSMArena Here

Hardware

When I first picked up the Realme 5 the first word that fell out of my mouth was “Woah”, at 198g this is a heavy beast, and although not the most slender at 9.3mm, the curved edges do deceive you enough that the mass is shocking. Of course, once you pick your jaw up off the floor and you remember it has a 5000mAh battery in it, that is likely where a good percentage of that mass comes from. It’s not poorly built phone by any means, but as soon as you pick it up, the plastic chassis is immediately noticeable, the device doesn’t flex on the rails but even moderate pressure on the screen or rear glass and there is an amount of flex I’m just not comfortable with, but then again, it is £169, and trade-offs have to be made.

Realme 5 Review

Taking a look around the device we get to appreciate just how far that inexpensive phones have come, the front of the Realme 5 is mostly screen, with that 6.5” IPS LCD taking up 83% of the front, we have minimal bezels around the sides and top, with a slightly larger bottom bezel, but nothing egregious. Up the top in the centre is, of course, that selfie camera and in the sliver of space between the screen and the chassis is the earpiece for phone calls, a really nice design.

Realme 5 Review

The Left and right sides of the phone have the volume rocker and power button respectively, and once again, these are fine. They are thin lightweight plastic with a little more rattle to them than I’d like, but they aren’t mushy and they actuate well, fulfilling their purpose as buttons quite nicely and they match the body plastic quite well. Above the volume rocker is the NanoSIM and MicroSD sled, in fact, this is one of those rare devices where the sled can accommodate 2 NanoSIMS and a MicroSD card instead of 2 SIMs or a SIM and a MicroSD, nice one. Moving to the bottom we have the Speaker grille, MicroUSB port and 3.5mm audio jack. Whilst there are no doubt people happy that there is a 3.5mm audio jack here, it is hard to believe anyone would be happy that the MicroUSB port has stuck around, it made charging the phone a pain, even if it did take nearly 3 days to kill. The top, however, is free of all perforations.

Realme 5 Review

Lastly, I want to look at the back, this rear panel is plastic and Realme has gone for the under glass pattern that is sweeping many phones now and I still like it here as much as with other devices. The pattern here is like a cracked or bevelled glass with the light hitting it in different ways making the different shades of blue appear and I just love it, more of this, please. In the top left is the camera setup that I briefly mentioned earlier, a 12MP main camera with an 8MP ultrawide, and a pair of 2MP snappers, one is a macro and one is a depth sensor, whilst this is a technically competent sounding camera setup, it is passable and that’s about as much nice stuff as I can say about it, but then again, I have to keep this cost in mind.

Software

This was an area I was expecting to be totally okay with, after all, what I saw in Madrid was basically Android 9.0 with an icon pack and a little theme, but I later learnt that what I tried was a different UI, a beta of ColorOS 7 and what we have here, ColorOS 6.0 is a lot heavier handed.

Realme 5 Review

At first, It didn’t bother me too much, after all, I use a P30 Pro as my daily driver for the most part, and Huawei hasn’t got the best reputation for User Interfaces. But this is different. The iconography is inconsistent, the fonts are a mismatch and worst of all, there is a load of bloatware that sends push notifications and ads all the freaking time. I’ve spent the majority of my time in the settings app of this phone disabling notifications of pre-installed apps because it really is that bad.

Realme 5 Review
Random notification? check.

Looking past that hurdle, how is the User interface? Well, most of the standard Android user paradigms still exist. We have 3 on-screen buttons that can be rearranged or changed into gestures entirely, though, like Huawei, Realme have altered the gestures just a little bit but they do it no favours, instead making it much clunkier to navigate, not bad enough to make me revert to buttons, but enough to make me consider it.

Realme 5 Reveiw

But this is Android 9.0 with ColorOS 6.0.1, this could entirely change if/when this gets Android 10 with ColorOS 7, I’d love to revisit this phone with an update because I personally think the time of Android devices with heavy OEM customisations is over, and people know how to use smartphones these days, it isn’t 2011 anymore, the core navigation and interface paradigms have stayed the same for a while now, and Google is pretty good at designing and OS, let customers see it.

Realme 5 Review

One thing that Realme does do better than others though, is design consistency. Whilst the icons are a mess, the colours, gradients, shades and others work really quite well, and look much better on IPS screens with the pastel palette that they have chosen, the vividness of OLEDs is wasted with UI, there is also a rather large amount of white, something OLEDs aren’t too fond of. There also isn’t too much of a performance penalty for this UI either, which was another issue with older Android Skins from Asian OEMs

Camera

This is the segment where the price of the Realme 5 becomes painstakingly apparent. You can optimise software to take the edge off of a weak processor, you can calibrate the display to overcome some of its issues, but with cameras, it’s hard to fix bad hardware in software, ask Motorola, it’s been trying to do it since 2013. All of these issues get exacerbated the lower in the price stack you go, you have limited money to spend and sadly companies would prefer to spend money on 3 or 4 bad or mediocre cameras instead of one larger actually decent one. It is as much a marketing issue as a development one, but it’s a trend I would very much like to see go away.

Realme 5 Review
a Halo Image for this phone.

The setup we have here is a 12MP main camera paired with an 8MP Ultrawide and then a pair of 2MP cameras, one for macro photography and another dedicated depth sensor. First off, we can scrap those last two cameras. Any depth information you’re capturing with a 2MP camera isn’t going to be crisp enough and can likely be interpreted with software, especially as most SoCs these days have some sort of AI co-processor on board. The Macro camera is similar, you can get a very up-close shot of a pixelated flower? Ignore it. They are also tiny sensors, absolutely minuscule, so they counteract this with a wider aperture which has other issues, once again, let’s just get rid of this entire concept.

Realme 5 Review
Orange paint blown out to expose the rims correctly

The Ultrawide Camera here fares a lot better. At 8MP it is at least of a decent resolution, and with an aperture of F2.2 it is somewhat wide and fast, but when you look at the sensor size and pixel size (¼.0” sensor size and 1.12micrometer pixel size) you realise that once again, this was a cheap part and in anything but perfect lighting with a tripod, you’re going to have a bad time. Lastly is the main 12MP camera, it’s the largest at 1/2.9” with 1.25-micrometre pixel size, but that is still a really small sensor, which needs a lot of light, all of these are byproducts of using cheap sensors. How do you make up for these deficits? You try to tweak around it in software, you oversharpen, you up the contrast and saturation, and in the end, you end up with a more striking picture especially on the contrast edge, but not necessarily a good image.

Realme 5 Review
Ultrawide Camera at the uSwitch Awards.

All of that rings true here. The main camera is fine as long as you’ve got enough light, but if you put it in HDR mode or toggle on the Chroma Boost, you’ll see what I just spoke about, the metaphorical turning of the dials up to 11 to make the image look more pleasing on first glance, but not better. The biggest issue I had with the main sensor was, in fact, the autofocus, the PDAF (Phase detect Auto-focus) was just completely hit or miss, even in favourable conditions the Realme 5 would just peek and poke and sometimes not get it until I closed the app (forcefully, not just from the recent menu) and reopened. I feel this could be a software issue that is somewhat easily fixed, but at this end of the price spectrum, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Realme 5 Review
same image with the main camera.

The Wide-angle camera, aside from the issues I spoke about inherent to it is poor design, was just poorly colour matched and had very little to no distortion processing done on the image, leading to what is most commonly known as fish-eye or GoPro images, and this isn’t the widest at roughly 118 Degrees (for reference the Human eye has a horizontal F.O.V of 135 degrees) but on the Realme 5 very quickly out of centre the warp starts to come into play, now this one is most certainly just a lack of software tuning.

Where I was quite surprised though, was the front-facing camera. Does it look magnificent? Most certainly not, but it is high resolution enough, and can resolve enough detail in normal light, and it can do something that a lot of android phones struggle to do, and that is do Instagram stories properly. Yes, the Realme 5, a £169 phone can do Instagram live stories over multiple sections without going out of sync, without the audio messing up, without the image being a blurry mess, this is a feat that up until the last year or so, even high-end Android phones couldn’t do, my only gripe with the front camera is the field of view is far too small, Realme won’t give me a direct number, but looking at things I’d say It is about 80 degrees, potentially less, which makes vlogging hard and unless you have long arms, those Instagram stories or Snapchat streak may be hard too.

Video is another area that struggles, I do commend Realme for even giving you the option to shoot in 4K, and even to encode it in H.265 for the best efficiency, but please, whatever you do, do not shoot in 4K, it is jelly-like, the exposure is slow, the focus is peaky and it is just not a great time. Shooting in 1080p is a much better fare, but still not p[articularly enjoyable. Colours are somehow vibrant but also flat? There is very little depth of field in the image, it’ll do in a pinch, but I wouldn’t rely on it to win you that BAFTA.

Performance

It’s funny how fast things change, just a few years ago, an SoC toting Cortex A73s, especially 4 of them, was top of the stack, let alone at 2Ghz and on a modern manufacturing node (Samsung’s 11nm, an optimised version of it is 14nm), but here, the Snapdragon 665 is merely middle of the road and if we’re honest,  probably on the lower end of that stack, it was a mid-cycle refresh of another part with slightly higher clocks. Despite that good basics, I just don’t think nearly enough time has gone into optimising the OS for this chip as there are times when you can wait multiple seconds for something as simple as the screen to turn on once pressing the power button or touching the fingerprint sensor, or opening up the camera application and waiting 2-3 seconds before the live feed comes up on screen. None of this is a dealbreaker, especially at the £169 price tag, but as I said, this was once, not too long ago, considered a top tier chip, with a bit more time in the oven this device could be a lot snappier, or at least more consistent.

As always I still run a brief battery of tests so the people who still care about benchmark scores can have something to oggle at, but at the end of the day what matters most is how the phone feels to use, and here that phone feels inconsistently mediocre.

Battery

This is the section you don’t really need to worry about unless you use GPS a lot, which seems to drain the battery disproportionately, which could just be a bug with the current version of Google Maps.

The 5000mAh battery in the Realme 5 is a beast. In normal use I was able to get 2.5 days of use per charge. That is with WiFi always on, even when not connected, Bluetooth on Connected to my Huawei Watch GT2, NFC always on, Location on, screen at 75% brightness, that is absolutely nuts. On a heavier day, for example taking lots of photos or videos, or just watching more YouTube than usual, that number drops down to around 2 days. I only managed to kill the Realme 5 in a single day when I went to London so I streamed music and video on the train, GPS’d my way around central London with Google Maps for a few hours, took photos and posted to Instagram, and then did the train home over the span of about 9 hours, then I got it down to 15% by the time I went to bed, but as I said, GPS was drawing disproportionately more power, so either it is an app bug, or this has the worlds least efficient GPS Radio.

Realme 5 Review

But with the good comes the bad, and of course, it is related to charging. Not only does the Realme 5 use MicroUSB which in and of itself is bad, it is also stuck charging that whopping 5000mAh battery over a pitiful 5v2a, or 10w charger. I could almost give Realme a pass if they used MicroUSB to use Dart Charge (or VOOC, or Flash charge whatever the current branding is) but they didn’t, it’s a bog-standard MicroUSB port with a 10w max charge rate. Even USB-PD base spec is 15w, this makes the phone a pain to charge, as I don’t trust it charging standing up on my dock due to the weight of the phone and the fragility of the MicroUSB charging port, and the sheer lack of speed from the 10w charger means that charging this at any other time than when you’re going to sleep is asinine.

Conclusion

Now comes to my least favourite part, the conclusion, because for the most part, the Realme 5 has been a fine phone to use. It has a nice screen, it lasts forever, for the most part it is plenty fast, and unlike some flagships, it can actually do Instagram stories. But the disappointing camera experience, with the MicroUSB charger, and the lack of NFC for contactless payments makes me feel like too many corners where cut to get to this price point, and even then this price point doesn’t feel all that compelling.

Realme 5 Review

For just £20 more you can get the Realme 5 Pro, with a faster Snapdragon 712 SoC, with a better main camera and a nicer front camera, you get a smaller battery but you get USB-C and fast charging at double the speed. You still don’t get NFC, but all of those upgrades for just £20 is hard to overlook and makes the Realme 5 look slightly overpriced.

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

One comment

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