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Review

Hands-on review: Realme X50 Pro 5G

Image credit: jack loguhran

Since its founding just two years ago, Realme has been a rapidly rising star among Chinese phone manufacturers.

Formed by the ex-VP of Oppo, one of the largest OEMs in China, the firm has recently released a swathe of phones targeting the mid- to low-end tier, headed by the impressively well-spec’d Realme X50 Pro.

With 5G in tow, an underscreen fingerprint sensor, and six cameras, you could be forgiven for assuming that the X50 would cost as much as Samsung’s latest flagship.

At under £500, however, it is a relative steal compared to almost all other phones boasting similar specs. Realme is currently following in the footsteps of Huawei from four to five years ago, releasing cheaper phones that successfully emulate many premium features but cutting just enough corners to keep the prices down.

The X50 uses an AMOLED screen that takes up almost the whole front of the device, with an elongated cut out at the top for its two front-facing cameras.

While the screen-to-body ratio is something to behold, the long thin cut-out necessitated by two cameras is more of a distraction than the singular hole punch you find with just one. Whether two selfie cams are necessary is a matter for debate; for social media junkies perhaps the extra fidelity is worth it, for others it might seem like too much of an imposition on the main display for a feature they rarely use.

On a sunny day the screen can be difficult to see outside, even at max brightness settings. While AMOLED displays tend to be a little dimmer, competitors like Samsung seem to have largely avoided such issues.

The underscreen fingerprint scanner proved responsive enough, not up to par with some of the fastest scanners, but better than the worst. Considering that underscreen tech is one of the latest innovations to come to smartphones, Realme did a pretty good job here.

x50 pro front face

Image credit: jack loguhran

The X50 also boasts a 90hz refresh rate, a step down from the likes of OnePlus and Samsung, which both offer 120hz for this year’s phones, but still an improvement on 60hz screens most are used to.

Placed next to a Sony Xperia 5, a flagship phone released last year with a standard refresh rate, the differences are apparent if not mind blowing. Scrolling up and down web pages and the app drawer appeared noticeably smoother in the X50.

Without this direct comparison, the 90hz bump is only a minor enhancement. Maintaining a solid and consistent frame rate when navigating the operating system is something most users will notice before the 30hz uptick, and that is something that the X50 achieves with aplomb.

Coupled with Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 865 and 12gb ram, the X50 simply flies through any task you shove at it.

Switching between apps by sliding your finger along the bottom of the screen is as smooth as butter, and with that amount of RAM it definitely should be.

You can flick through to apps that haven’t been used in hours and pick up right where you left off. This means no reloading of old web pages when going back to the browser, and no need to reload apps and games from scratch even if they haven’t been used in a day.

Taking a page from changes Apple made to iOS with the introduction of the iPhone X, Android has had a more difficult time trying to implement full-fat gesture navigation. Its three-button system didn’t lend itself as readily to the simple actions required from gestures as iOS, which relied entirely on a singular home button.

After experimenting with gestures for the last two versions of Android, Google has finally got it right, with the back gesture being activated by pulling on either side of the screen, and the home screen returned to with a quick swipe from the bottom.

Realme UI has gone for a rounded, blocky look, not unlike Samsung’s One UI that is mostly pleasing to the eye and doesn’t throw in too many unnecessary complications beyond stock Android. One Android 9 addition strangely removed by Realme is the rotate button that appears in the corner when a user changes the orientation of their phone when auto rotate is off.

While the home screen is relatively uncluttered, Realme has introduced it’s own 'Smart Assistant' when pulling to the left that replaces the Google Feed found on most devices. This is mostly a redundant feature and adds an unnecessary layer of complication upon a system that worked just fine in stock Android. While this can be turned off, there is no way to get direct access to the Google Feed unless users are willing to install a third-party launcher, such as Nova, which will force them to stop using gesture navigation (until Google allows third-party launchers to make use of both, this is the current situation across the entire Android ecosystem).

Battery life is excellent, with a large 4200mah battery – the X50 lasts for two full days, or seven hours screen-on time, without compromising on usage. Heavy gamers may be able to drain this thing in a day if they really try but, for most, nightly charging is just not necessary. This is despite the inclusion of the Snapdragon 865 chip, which takes some efficiency hits compared to last year’s 855 in order to integrate 5G.

The X50 also has 'dart charging' capabilities, which allow it to charge to around 90 per cent in just half an hour, with the rest of the battery trickle charging after this point to maintain its health. Be aware that this is only possible through the included charger as older chargers typically cannot provide enough juice for the phone to top up this quickly.

With its four rear cameras, the X50 is trying to compete with the big boys on photography performance, but it doesn’t quite match up to premium-tier devices.

The photos taken have been replicated with a Huawei P40 pro, which DxoMark currently rates as the most accomplished smartphone for camera performance.

Its main 64MP snapper performs well in brightly lit rooms and outdoors with vibrant colours that reflect the general ambience of a scene. Unfortunately, it is also prone to washing out some of the finer details on objects.

statue

Image credit: jack loughran

The dynamic range between light and dark areas is also not as impressive as the P40, which more accurately captures shadows and contours of objects.

Close-up shots reveal a pleasing amount of detail – if you can get the camera to focus. While not an impossible task, it takes a steady hand and a little patience for the lens to correctly focus on objects a few centimetres away using its ultra-wide lens in macro mode.

The X50’s 12MP telephoto lens offers a 2X optical zoom, which can be boosted further with a digital zoom that goes all the way up to 20X. The quality on shots like these inevitably takes a hit, with details lost and muddy textures, but should you need such a powerful zoom, it is there in a pinch.

The two selfie cameras yield acceptable results, the primary 32MP sensor will be enough for social media enthusiasts. But whether the addition of the 8MP ultra-wide selfie camera, designed for group shots no less, is worth expanding the front camera array even further into the display is another question. Nevertheless, the long thin 'holepunch' look is cropping up on an increasing number of modern phones, the P40 for one features such a setup.

Realme’s X50 Pro is reminiscent of the kind of devices Huawei was producing about five years ago, with some compromises when compared against the crème de la crème from Samsung and Apple but at a price that was much more palatable. If you want the very best screen and camera you will have to look elsewhere, but bear in mind you will probably also have to pay double the amount for only minor improvements.

With the latest Snapdragon 655, 12GB of RAM and 5G, the performance is snappy and cannot really be bettered considering Qualcomm’s stranglehold on premium chipsets for Android devices.

We could be seeing a lot more from Realme in the years to come, and with Huawei effectively dead in the West there is renewed opportunity for a Chinese OEM to come and take the market by storm. You could do a lot worse pound for pound than pick up an X50 Pro, and if 5G is the killer feature but you’re put off by premium prices, this is one of the only options.

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