A big, balanced, budget phone with appealing specs for the price – although the 720p display resolution is a downer, and ColorOS doesn’t do it any favours against the cleaner UIs of Motorola and Nokia.
- Strong battery life
- Solid performance
- Decent specs for the price
- 720p display
- Weighty handset
- ColorOS is way too busy
- Review price: €169
- 6.5in 720 x 1600 IPS LCD screen
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 octa-core CPU
- 128GB storage with microSDXC, 4GB RAM
- Quad camera: 12MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, 2MP depth
- 164.4 x 75.6 x 9.3mm, 198g
- 5000mAh battery
- Android 9.0 Pie with ColorOS 6
If you’re seeking a £150 (ish) smartphone that covers all the bases then you won’t be short of options these days. Motorola, Huawei or Xiaomi will probably serve you well, but a certain Chinese brand has quietly begun to flex its budget phone muscles in recent years. Realme might not have the cachet of its rivals, but it certainly turns out some robust and affordable handsets, including the new Realme 5.
Following hot on the heels of the well-equipped €299 Realme X2, the Realme 5 could be the brand’s most accessible effort yet. Having launched in select European markets for just €169 (around £142), with such eye-catching specifications as a quad-camera and a 6.5-inch screen, it’s well worth a closer look.
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Realme 5 design – Big, solid and surprisingly flashy
Talking about design in a sub-£200 smartphone can be a rather dispiriting process. After all, you’re unlikely to get any desirable materials or fancy flourishes for this kind of money.
Just about the best you can hope for is solid build quality and a handset that doesn’t look or feel like a toy. On those modest terms, the Realme 5 comes up trumps. And it even manages to exhibit a certain amount of bling with moderate success.
You don’t get any nasty surprises from the front of the phone. It’s mostly screen, with an 89% screen-to-body ratio, a teardrop notch, and a slightly thicker chin. None of which is unusual for affordable phones these days; but points for consistency.
Around the back, though, Realme has chanced its hand with a segmented, angular finish. It’s still all-shiny plastic, and a total magnet for your greasy paw prints. But the shifting tones of the finish (which Realme calls “Crystal Design”) are quite distinctive, which is an achievement.
You also get a fingerprint sensor, which is well positioned on the back, if perhaps not quite recessed enough for my liking. Still, it’s fast and reliable.
The rim of the phone is a more matte form of plastic, while the volume and power buttons have been positioned on the left and right edges respectively. They’re a similar size and texture, which probably makes this separation a smart move.
Everything else of interest – unless you count the dual SIM/MicroSD tray just above the volume buttons – is along the bottom edge. Here you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack (yay), a micro-USB port (boo) and a solitary speaker.
The latter is plenty loud and clear enough, but the sound is tinny and thin. Again, you have to weigh your expectations carefully here; meaty stereo sound is still very much a flagship feature.
This is a surprisingly weighty phone at 198g. But then you consider the Realme 5’s 6.5-inch display and 5000mAh battery, and the extra bulk makes more sense. Don’t sign up if you value compactness in your budget phone, though.
The Realme 5 is deemed “splash-proof in normal daily usage, but not applicable to extreme situations”. The sheer fact that there’s no official IP rating should prevent you from taking any dips with it.
Realme 5 display – Big and bright, but a little shy on pixels
We’ve already established that the Realme 5’s display is big; 6.5-inches makes it the same size as an iPhone 11 Pro Max.
That’s about where the comparisons end, of course, but this is still an IPS LCD panel that gets plenty bright. It’s reasonably colour-accurate, too; but if you find it a little warm or cool for your liking, ColorOS packs a handy slider to help you adjust. Rare props to Realme’s custom UI there.
The screen’s biggest shortfall is a lack of sharpness. We’re dealing with a 720 x 1600 “HD+” resolution, which really isn’t many pixels to be stretching over such a large canvas; 269 ppi is nothing to boast about here, even in the sub-£200 category.
In general navigation this doesn’t pose a particular problem. But bring up a web page containing image thumbnails (such as the website previews from a Google search) and you’ll notice an off-putting blurry, smudgy effect, like they’re yet to load in properly.
The same applies when you’re scrolling through your picture previews in Google Photos – and, of course, YouTube videos (or any videos, for that matter) are going to be stuck at 720p.
I’d say that the provision of such a low-res display is just about forgivable at this price. The £179 Motorola One Macro is equipped with a similar display, as is the £230 Xiaomi Mi A3, so the £150(ish) Realme 5 is hardly an outlier.
But even in this context, the decision to go with such a large screen seems a little misguided.
Realme 5 performance – Competent and hitch-free
The Realme 5 runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 665 CPU. This is the same lower-mid-range chip that powers the Moto G8 Power and the Xiaomi Mi A3.
Two of the three Realme 5 models come with 4GB of RAM, while some markets will have access to an even cheaper 3GB unit.
My model was the 4GB RAM/128GB storage one that will be offered in Europe, and it handled most things fairly fluidly. Homescreen navigation was smooth, the phone woke quickly from sleep, and jumping into the camera app was pleasingly snappy.
I did spot a few minor pauses and sluggish moments when navigating through some menus or tapping on notifications, but this may well have been down to the clunky animations of the custom ColorOS UI. Ultimately, it isn’t anything to frustrate.
This is far from a media-playing monster, of course. On the gaming front, PUBG Mobile defaults to the Low settings, although I was able to bump it up a notch to Medium/Balanced and still enjoy its sprawling Battle Royale gameplay – albeit not flawlessly.
Netflix playback is fine and fluid, but then at 720p you’d jolly well expect it to be.
Realme 5 software – ColorOS 6 is another gaudy Android wrapper
The Realme 5 runs Android 9.0 Pie out of the box, but it’s coated in a thick layer of custom UI called ColorOS 6 (or ColorOS 6.0.1, to be precise).
Custom UIs aren’t necessarily bad news – one look at a OnePlus or Motorola phone confirm this to be the case. But Realme’s approach is more in line with Huawei’s and Xiaomi’s: that is, fundamentally stable – but also overworked and a little gaudy.
The app icons and pale app tray aren’t a million miles away from stock Android, but the notification menu feels like a backwards step. It isn’t offensively ugly or distractingly wacky, but it just feels messier and more cluttered. It’s an all or nothing affair, with a full screen of notifications, confusing icons, a brightness slider, and shortcut widgets all vying for your attention.
You’ll also find a custom “Smart Assistant” when you drag to the left of the homescreen. This might suggest a Google Assistant replacement, but it’s more like the iOS Today View in the way it provides you with a series of widgets for weather and calendar functions.
You also get a Step Tracker, a shortcut to recent photos, and – far less usefully – a link to a few popular apps you might want to download from Realme’s own App Market.
Ah yes, the apps. Realme doesn’t quite go so far as to duplicate or supplant every last Google app and service with its own. But it does install a bunch of mystifyingly superfluous stuff.
The Opera browser comes preinstalled, which is a perfectly decent third-party web browser. But why presume to install it alongside Chrome? The same goes for the Webnovel app, which is a service that grants access to a bunch of books and comics.
Our model came with the Lazda shopping app, which (along with the charger) seems to indicate we were sent an Asian model. Presumably this won’t come preinstalled on the European model, as it’s useless to a Western audience.
Realme 5 camera – Not a true quad, but not bad
This is a budget phone we’re dealing with here, so when I note that the Realme 5 has a quad-camera setup, it should instantly sound a note of caution.
Sure enough, this camera isn’t quite as flexible as it sounds. A 12-megapixel f/1.8 main sensor is a decent start, as is an 8-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide. But there’s no telephoto lens for zoomed shots, so the 2X and 5X options rely on cropping, with increasingly noisy results.
A macro lens and a dedicated depth sensor round out the selection of four, both of which weigh in at 2-megapixels and f/2.4.
I recently encountered a similar mixture of sensors in the Huawei Nova 5T, which is more than double the price of the Realme 5, so it would be harsh to hold Realme to account for its approach.
What’s more, the phone is capable of capturing vibrant, well-balanced shots in good lighting. The AI Scene Recognition picks out the requirements of the scene pretty reliably, employing HDR and bringing in the Macro lens when necessary, as well as bolstering the colours when photographing greenery, for example.
However, I did notice that a number of my landscape shots resulted in a curiously pronounced grainy effect to the blue skies in the background.
Night-time shots of reasonably well-lit streets, meanwhile, proved to be an absolute write-off. As in, unusable. In low-light conditions, such as in restaurants, the Realme 5 wouldn’t always focus properly, and the results could be a little noisy.
The 13-megapixel f/2.0 selfie camera isn’t too bad, and Realme’s Portrait mode managed to pick out my outline and dial up the bokeh quite effectively.
Realme 5 battery life – Huge battery yields predictably strong battery life
As we’ve already mentioned, Realme has packed its latest budget phone with a huge 5000mAh battery, which in part accounts for its heft. This is the biggest battery the company has ever supplied in a phone.
With a mere 720p display (albeit a huge one) to power, this yields some impressive stamina. You’ll comfortably get through a day and a half to two days of moderate use on a single charge. Light users will get even more mileage, provided they don’t hit the media hard.
On that front, one hour of Netflix playback with the screen set to full brightness sapped 9% of the phone’s juice in my testing. This isn’t particularly impressive if you look at mid-range handsets running on more efficient processors – the Realme X2 ate just 7%, for example. However, it’s very strong within its class.
You’d be looking at roughly double that energy consumption with the more expensive Nokia 7.2, for example. It also outperforms the Motorola One Macro by around 3%, and that’s one of the stronger budget performers in this media-driven battery test.
The Realme 5’s blunt-force approach to battery life works well, then. It doesn’t charge particularly quickly, with a fairly meagre 10W charger bundled – but that isn’t unusual in a budget phone. It’s the same kind of provision you get with the Motorola One Macro.
Through testing the Realme 5 managed to go from 46% to 62%, gaining 16% of a full charge, in half an hour.
Should you buy the Realme 5?
The Realme 5 is another strong value proposition from Realme, offering a large, well-specced handset with a quad camera and decent performance at a low price.
Its huge 6.5-inch display doesn’t play particularly nicely with a low 720p resolution, but you’d need to spend more money to get the same level of performance from the phone.
While the quad-camera isn’t quite as impressive as it initially seems, it’s still capable of taking vibrant snaps in good lighting. And its huge battery means that stamina is a strong point.
ColorOS should probably dissuade fans of clean, unfussy UIs. But, otherwise, the Realme 5 deserves consideration alongside the cheaper efforts from Motorola, Xiaomi and Huawei.
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