Hands-on review: Realme 8 smartphone
Image credit: Jack Loughran
With its latest device, Realme continues to provide good value for money when it comes to lower-end Android handsets, although its specs on paper don’t quite match its real-world usability.
The firm, a sub-brand of BBK Electronics, the massive Chinese conglomerate that also runs Oppo and OnePlus, has been a rising success story in the West since Huawei became a casualty of the US trade war. Since Huawei’s devices were effectively banned from including the Google Play Store, sales have slumped dramatically, while Realme became the fastest growing brand in 2020.
While Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips used to dominate both low-end and high-end devices in the west, Realme has been using a Mediatek chip in many of its cheaper devices, especially since the squeeze on global chip supplies since the start of the pandemic.
In the west, Mediatek chips have long been used exclusively in lower-end devices and featured lacklustre performance and power efficiency. In recent years, the firm has made strides in catching up to its rivals - the Realme 8 uses the firm’s Helio G95 which provides respectable performance compared to similarly priced devices. Unfortunately, it is not the most power-efficient chip; the handset can only muster around two days of battery life before conking out. Considering its hefty 5000mAh battery, this is underwhelming. It fares worst on standby, losing around 10 per cent overnight despite no user interaction and very little in the way of push notifications or other passive energy drainers.
Realme UI, which is based on Android 11, operates smoothly enough on the device. The skin mostly sticks to stock Android conventions but applies a chunky, almost cartoonish aesthetic. While Android purists may prefer Google’s stock version of its operating system, Realme UI is far from the most offensive and is arguably nicer to use than Huawei’s EMUI.
Its 6GB of RAM feels more than enough to keep the phone feeling snappy and responsive. While some flagships opt to go all the way up to 12GB now, it’s increasingly questionable whether a mobile OS needs that much RAM in 2021.
The AMOLED display is good for a £199 smartphone, although it’s stuck at 60Hz even though phones are increasingly getting 90Hz or even 120Hz depending on their horsepower. An unobtrusive selfie camera is the only thing interrupting the front-facing side of the device, and it blends in well with the UI design and the pure blacks of the AMOLED display. The fingerprint sensor is embedded into the display, a once premium feature that has quickly found its way into cheaper phones. It works well enough, unlocking the phone on first try about 90 per cent of the time.
The camera is where the cost cutting measures taken by Realme really start to show (example shots below). Despite having four sensors, its 64MP main snapper does not deliver the goods. Grass and finer details typically look grainy and ill-defined, while colours are often washed out. The other three sensors do not make up for it either, even if the ultrawide, macro, and depth capabilities look good on a spec sheet. Realme claims to have implemented some sort of camera AI designed to boost performance depending on the scene, but honestly it doesn’t seem very effective and often tends to wash details out of the picture. Other devices in this price range, such as Google’s Pixel 4a and Pixel 3a, demonstrate how good photos can look using just a single sensor and effective AI processing even if they might not have as extensive an array of options for depth and macro shots.
Another lacking feature is 5G; that may feel like a major omission but it shouldn’t. Simply put, the UK’s 5G networks are not mature enough to provide a significantly better experience than 4G unless you live in the heart of Central London (and in which case you probably have enough money to spend more than £200 on a smartphone).
The Realme 8 is a good device considering its price. Its snappy feeling with a good screen and an unobtrusive Android skin. It lacks a faster refresh rate and 5G but these shouldn’t be deal-breakers for most people. Its lacklustre camera performance is more concerning, and keen photographers should probably seek out last year’s Pixel 3a which can be picked up for around the same price.
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