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realme 3 Pro Review – No-Frills, No Problem

In less than year since their debut in Malaysia, realme has released no less than six smartphones. All share the same DNA of being bang for our buck with the specs to match, but in some cases one or two even punch above their weight. Case in point, the realme 2 Pro boasts 8GB of RAM which is on par or even bested many of the much higher-priced flagships today, but costs only a fraction of what the others demand out of your pocket.

The realme 3 Pro, their latest release and the current flagship in the realme family, is in similar vein. Though it does not pack as many RAM count as its predecessor, it is a better phone all around with better cameras and significantly larger battery – two attributes that arguably are more important for the casual users. On paper, the starting price of RM899 sounds like a hot bargain.

The design of the realme 3 Pro can be described as “safe” in this climate of pop-up cameras in all sorts of manners. It gets a dewdrop-notch display which is the nicest-looking notch of all notches, and It shouldn’t surprise you to find a little “chin” which is the bottom bezel. No pop-ups means no moving parts, which in turn means lesser chance of a physical breakdown. The positioning of the power/lock key and the volume buttons on either side of the device is just right at the finger level when the phone is on hand, which makes them so easy to access.

On the back you will find the fingerprint sensor and a dual-camera lens. No surprises there. For those who still can’t let go of having a 3.5mm headphone jack, the realme 3 Pro is still keeping faith with the fast-disappearing feature. Alas, its continued adoption of the old-school microUSB may not be appreciated by people who have moved on to USB-C.

The phone carries a 6.3-inch Full HD display that should be adequate and good enough for plenty of people but it suffers when viewed under the sunlight. Even with the brightness dialled all the way up, the screen is barely visible which could be annoying when you are taking pictures outdoors in the broad daylight. In general, the display just isn’t very bright enough.

The realme 3 Pro runs on ColorOS (on top of Android Pie) which is the definite operating system of Oppo phones so whoever have used an Oppo phone before will instantly be in familiar ground. Third-party manufacturer skin misgivings aside, its newest iteration – the ColorOS 6 – actually presents a pretty good-looking interface. Besides an alphabetically-sorted app drawer, there’s also a customisable Smart Assistant page on the leftmost which shows useful bits of bite-sized information like weather, calendar, step tracker and more at a glance as well as shortcut to apps and favourite contacts.

The not-so-good-thing about ColorOS 6 is that it dumps quite a number of bloatware apps by default. (A recent software update adds even more unwelcome elements in the form of a front for an App Market). Fortunately you have the option to remove them altogether if you found them bothersome enough.

The OS also gives you the option to try a more modern gesture-based swiping interaction made popular by the iPhone X. There’s a slight learning curve to it if you are not familiar and most times, it works just fine but it feels slower than the traditional Android navigation buttons. The upside is you get more screen real estate at the bottom without the buttons.

That said, you are not stuck with ColorOS. Google has recently announced that the realme 3 Pro is one of a number of smartphones that are eligible to enrol in the Android Q Beta program. You have the cool option to try out Android’s latest features with this phone such as system-wide dark mode, prioritised notifications and live caption. This puts the realme 3 Pro in a unique position that will make it hugely appealing to steadfast Android fans who wants the latest stuffs as well as those who much prefer the experience that stock Android offers.     

While 8GB RAM is out of the option, the 6GB of RAM in our review unit is still plentiful and in most cases more than enough for the things we typically do on our smartphones daily that involve messaging, social media, video-watching and for some, gaming. I have encountered no problem whatsoever doing everyday smartphone things on it and the phone’s general responsiveness and its handling of apps won’t disappoint. A 4GB RAM variant is also available for purchase at a more affordable price.

If you intend to game a lot on the realme 3 Pro, it won’t disappoint either. Popular mobile games like PUBG Mobile and Fortnite will run sufficiently well on this thing. In fact, most of the popular games will run without a hitch with its beefy RAM among others to thank for. I was pleasantly  surprised to find that the device stays relatively cool throughout an entire session of PUBG Mobile as several smartphones with a heavy emphasis on gaming that I have previously reviewed actually ran hotter than this when doing the same thing.

A built-in feature called Game Space claims to optimise and improve overall gaming performance though we have no way of telling how much does it really affect gameplay for sure. Other than that, it also includes an in-game menu which you can summon at anytime during gameplay to access your messages as well as several quick controls to take screenshots, start a screen recording and toggle your notifications’ behaviour.       

Whether you are doing smartphone things or gaming on this phone, you will enjoy the stellar battery life that it offers. The realme 3 Pro joins many recently-released midrange phones in packing a 4,000mAh battery in its body. With a relatively less-demanding hardware, you can get a really long mileage out of it, which is not something that many power-hungry phones get to say.

With smartphones these days going funky with their camera setup with up to three or four rear cameras, the realme 3 Pro keeps it conservative with a dual lens system plus a single selfie shooter. In terms of photo-taking options and modes that the camera offers, its fairly basic and limited nature can be a little disappointing for some users but the main ones are all there. You get a standard portrait mode on the main interface while tucked in a little menu to the side is slow-mo, time-lapse, expert (pro) mode and a Nightscape mode – realme’s dedicated night mode similar to the ones found on Huawei and Oppo phones.

Nightscape does make a significant difference to pictures taken in the dark as seen in the series of photos below. While it is not as groundbreaking as Google or Huawei’s night mode, it still serves as a very useful feature to have in your camera arsenal. Accessing it though can be a little bit of pain especially if you take a lot of night shots. You will need to dive into that little menu page every single time that you wish to use Nightscape. There is no option to put it as one of the primary modes on the main interface nor does the camera automatically surfaces a pop-up shortcut to activate Nightscape when it detects dark environment.

Normal mode

With Nightscape On

Normal mode

With Nightscape On

Normal mode

With Nightscape On

In general, the realme 3 Pro takes decent pictures, provided that there is a lot of light. More pictures follow below.

On its own, the realme 3 Pro presents a solid choice for a no-frills, inexpensive smartphone with practical design, decent performance and above-average battery life. However, it is also plagued by a not-so-bright display as well as the use of some old tech with an unnecessary bloated UI. It faces stiff competitions with similarly-priced midrange phones from the likes of Xiaomi, Samsung and Honor touting flashier features. Whether you end up with a realme 3 Pro might depend on the odd feature or two. As things stand, it is one of the few windows to try out the latest that Android has got to offer – and by far the most affordable.

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