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Hands-on review: Realme 7 5G

Since the downfall of Huawei’s smartphone business in the west, primarily driven by action from the Trump Administration, other Chinese manufacturers have swooped in to fill their niche.

Realme has quickly stepped up to the challenge by releasing an array of devices over the last year designed to cater to the mid to low end markets. The Realme 6 was only launched in March and yet the firm is already back with the Realme 7, this time with 5G in tow.

While Realme says that the 7 is one of the cheapest phones on the market to support the new network standard, we were not able to test its performance because O2 does not actually provide coverage in this area. Considering that this review was written in zone 1 London, this lack of coverage is a prime example of why you shouldn’t be buying a phone specifically for its 5G capabilities in 2020 (or even 2021).

5G signals are inherently worse at penetrating buildings and solid surfaces than 4G and earlier standards. They also have a more limited range. While the benefits of low latency and faster speeds are definitely appreciated, we’re going to need to give network operators more time to install the infrastructure before getting the most out of 5G: a process that could take several years.

But 5G isn’t the only feature that the Realme 7 has to offer, in fact buyers could do a lot worse for the £229 asking price.

One could be forgiven for feeling wary of the MediaTek Dimensity system-on-chip used here instead of the Snapdragons favoured by most Android devices. But being built on a 7nm fabrication process, MediaTek’s latest is legitimately cutting edge, even if it may not be able to keep pace with Qualcomm’s finest.

While flagship devices only started to support 120Hz displays in the last couple of years, this feature has rapidly found its way into cheaper devices. The Realme 7 5G maintains a steady 120Hz frame rate with aplomb, credit where credit is due for MediaTek’s chip. This feature, coupled with its 6GB ram, makes the whole UI feel very smooth when swiping through menus and apps.

Battery life is also excellent, reaching up to 3 days of normal usage at a push. We suspect that the massive 5000mAh battery is doing most of the good work here rather than a particular focus on power efficiency from MediaTek.

For gaming it’s a mixed picture; the spacious screen certainly lends itself well to shooters like Call of Duty, although the game itself only offered “medium” graphics settings on the device. Nevertheless, the frame rate was consistent and felt like it was running at 60FPS or above. Fortnite, on the other hand, is just straight up incompatible with the Realme 7 5G, probably because the developers haven’t optimised it for the chipset. So while more than capable of outputting acceptable graphics, results may vary depending on support.

At £229, there is bound to be some cost cutting here and there. The LED display is fine, although lacks the deeper blacks of AMOLED, and the fingerprint reader, which doubles as the power on/off button, feels plasticky and cheap. The same could be said of the vibration motor, which emanates an unsubtle, noisy buzz when notifications come through. Furthermore, at 9.1mm wide, the Realme 7 is thicker than most competing devices, although this does allow for the inclusion of its massive battery.

The quad camera is also a step down from the kind of results you might get from the Pixel 4a, which costs around £100 more.

Daylight shots yield acceptable results

In the daylight, it does a decent enough job producing relatively detailed, if slightly washed out shots. It fares much worse in lower light environments, where even the shade of a tree results in significant grain and a muddy image.

Just a bit of tree shade produces a muddy mess

It also lacks a telephoto lens which means that zoomed in shots are achieved entirely digitally, wiping away many fine details in the process. This murky shot, which has had five times zoom applied to it is a good example of that.

Taken with a five times zoom, a lot of details are lost

On the opposite end of the spectrum is a macro camera that manages some highly detailed shots when photographing an object up close. Ultimately though, macro lens are quite gimmicky due to the limited shots you can take with them and far less useful than the telephoto lenses typically included on flagship devices.

The camera array fares better for macro shots

On the software side, Realme has applied significant visual alterations to stock Android which add little useful functionality. While the changes are largely inoffensive, it leads one to question the necessity of making them in the first place when Google does a good enough job already. Disappointingly, the device ships with last year’s Android 10 rather than 11 which came out in September, although Realme has already announced the second iteration of its UI which is expected to start rolling out before the end of 2020.

The Realme 7 5G is a great buy for those who are on a budget and yet desperate for 5G. We would argue however, that this is a foolish position to take in 2020 and that no one should be paying too much attention to the network standards a device supports just yet. The spacious screen and excellent battery life are marred by a less than premium build quality and a shoddy camera, although for this price, there aren’t many better options. If you can stump up another £100, Google’s Pixel 4a is an obvious alternative as it features cleaner software with guaranteed updates for the next three years. The camera is also superior, although its diminutive size means that battery life inevitably takes a hit.

£229

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