- What’s good? Periscope zoom lens at an affordable price; nice build quality; great software
- What’s not good? Realme is just pumping out too many phones. You buy this, thinking you have Realme’s latest, then six weeks later Realme releases something new and you have an old model already. It’s crazy.
Realme has only been around two years, but it’s already released like a dozen phones — seriously, the brand has no chill — but they all offer some of the best value around, and oftentimes the Realme device is the first to offer a flagship feature at a budget price point. Last year’s Realme X was the first sub-$450 phone to get an in-display fingerprint scanner and pop-up elevating cameras—both features that had grabbed headlines just months ago—and then the Realme X50 Pro offered a 90Hz display at a time when $1,000 phones from Samsung were still running at 60Hz.
Now the Shenzhen-headquartered brand is back with the Realme X3 SuperZoom, which as the name suggests brings the “Periscope” zoom lens technology that was the star of Huawei’s and Oppo’s top-of-the-line phones just a year ago to a phone that costs a fraction as much.
Starting at around 500 euro, this is a heck of a package at this price point, because in addition to the Periscope zoom lens that can capture almost lossless 10X zoom and digital zoom up to 60X, the phone also sports a 6.6-inch 120Hz, 1080p display. It is, however, an LCD panel, so blacks aren’t as deep and reds aren’t as lush, and the bezels that wrap around the screen are a hair thicker than an OLED panel’s but it’s still a very good looking screen.
Another area that’s been compromised—at least on paper—is the chipset: the X3 SuperZoom runs on a Snapdragon 855+ instead of the current 865, but it is good news if you ask me. Qualcomm’s decision to force 5G modems into all purchases of the 865 chip has driven up the cost of smartphones this year (leading to backlash against Xiaomi, OnePlus and the like from fans). The 855+ is more than capable, and is clearly used here to shave production cost, which allows a lower starting price. But yes, this phone does not support 5G—that doesn’t matter to me, nor should it to you. The 5G launched right now are very basic, preliminary versions; the real 5G that will be life-changing won’t really be a factor in our lives until at least another year.
The main camera system consists of four cameras: a 64-megapixel Samsung ISOCELL GW1 sensor that’s similar to the one used in Realme’s previous X50 Pro; an 8-megapixel wide-angle camera with a 119-degree field-of-vision; a macro lens that can get really close-up shots, and the aforementioned Periscope lens.
Photos are very good for a mid-tier device at this price range, but they fall short of flagships. Samsung’s GW1 sensor overexposes easily, although Realme’s night mode, named “Nightscape,” works very well. It is, after all, the same night mode seen in Oppo’s phones.
One thing to note about the Periscope lens is that, although it is using the same tech as the Periscope lens seen in Huawei, Oppo and Samsung phones (in which the lens are placed sideways inside the device to allow for image information to travel through a series of magnifying glasses), the overall image sensor is noticeably smaller. And so zooming quality suffers when going beyond, say, 20X. To compound matters, Realme allowed the digital zoom to reach up to 60X, which sounds great in theory but the results are a blurry mess. So even though the phone advertises zoom up to 60X, it’s best to keep it under 20X.
The wide-angle camera also suffers from sub-par dynamic range due to the small sensor and lower megapixel count. But these are all nitpicks as my eyes are used to seeing photos produced by phones that cost twice as much.
The software experience is excellent, as has been the case with previous Oppo/Realme phones. I’ve reviewed about a half dozen Oppo/Realme phones over the past year so I’m not going to bother explaining for the 9th time why the software experience is great. Just know that it’s clean, stays true to Android’s vision, and offers plenty of shortcut gestures. If you want to know more, please check the old reviews.
The Snapdragon 855+ here performs just as great as last fall, and the 4,200 mAh battery is almost enough to power the phone all day. Keep in mind I’m running the screen at full 120Hz resolution; if I lower it to 60Hz, battery life will last through the night easy.
Some of the flagship flourishes are missing here: there’s no stereo speaker, no wireless charging, no water proofing. But outside of these things, the X3 SuperZoom is a very good mid-tier handset that offers the important stuff: high refresh screen, superior zoom camera system, capable chipset, at a reasonable cost.