Realme has had a phenomenal run right after its launch in India. A counterpoint report said that the Oppo spinoff had become the third largest smartphone brand in India in six months. It also recently gave itself a new identity altogether, with a new logo and typeface, focusing on the youth.

One thing becomes clear after observing their new campaign—the company pictures the youth as a selfie and gaming obsessed crowd. A month ago, they launched the Realme 2 and Real 2 Pro, right after launching a video online which goes by the name “Proud to be Young". While the Realme 2 was marred with a lacklustre processor and low-res display, the Realme 2 Pro was more of a complete package.

Then on Wednesday, the company launched the Realme U1, a phone they call the “Selfie Pro". Boasting the newest (and the best) chipset from MediaTek, the phone is expected to add more variety in the sub-Rs 15,000 market. But does it really make sense for Realme to put out two very similar smartphones in quick succession? Let’s find out.

Design and display:

An untrained eye will fail to distinguish the Realme 2 Pro and Realme U1 from the outside. Both have exactly the same design, display, physical dimensions, weight and even the camera and loudspeaker grille placement. The only way to distinguish the two phones would be by their colour schemes.

The Realme U1 comes in three colour variants—Ambitious Black, Brave Blue and Fiery Gold. While Ambitious Black and Brave Blue are extremely similar to Blue Ocean and Black Sea variants of the Realme 2 Pro, the Fiery Gold is a new colour and that is the only way you can distinguish the two phones physically.

Realme claims rotating the phone’s back under different light sources (daylight, lamplight, colored light) reveals light pillars, which deliver a “strong sense of quality". I second that.

The back is also made out of a transparent acrylic composite and not glass. This not only keeps the costs low, but also makes the phone more shatter and heat resistant.

As mentioned earlier, Realme U1’s display is the same as the Realme 2 Pro—a 6.3-inch IPS LCD display with a resolution of 2340x1080. The dewdrop notch helps it stretch out the screen further to the bezels, but that doesn’t necessarily help with the viewing experience.

Although the display is sufficiently bright to use it outdoors, it lacks the contrast and vibrance you’d require to binge-watch Netflix. I watched three episodes of Narcos: Mexico and I couldn’t help but notice the poor reproduction of dimly lit scenes in the series.

Browsing through the web and fiddling around apps is fine, since the whites and touch sensitivity are both good. The notch also doesn’t come in the way and you get accustomed to it really quickly. The white balance seems to be on the cooler side, but it can be changed in the settings.

Hardware and performance:

Under the hood, the Realme U1 is very different from the Realme 2 Pro. It features MediaTek’s Helio P70 processor clocked at 2.1GHz. It is paired with ARM Mali-G72 MP3 GPU clocked at 900MHz for better image processing. To let the AI flex more muscles, it also has a multi-core, multi-thread AI Processing Unit (APU) with a clock speed up to 525MHz.

This basically means AI and overall performance is upped a notch from the Helio P60, which was found on the Realme 1.

Our model came with 4GB RAM and 64GB internal storage, with expandable storage up to 256GB.

The chipset is unarguably one of the best in the price and definitely punches above its weight. While it’s given that the phone can tackle light to medium processes (like scrolling through your feed and having more than 7 apps open in the background) with ease, it can even fight through heavier processes like image editing and intensive gaming.

Image and video editing apps like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC and Quik worked well, with only a few minor stutters.

But can you play PUBG on it?

Oh yes, and with good frame rates. While the default setting is medium, you can yank it up to High with the help of GFX tool and it works just fine at that. Frame rates were consistently over 45FPS and there was no choppy gameplay whatsoever.

The processor gets a pass from me.

Software:

I gave the Realme 2 Pro a lot of flak for its UI (ColorOS 5.2), but Realme (read Oppo) has rolled out some upgrades to get rid of the previous annoyances like app notifications and bloatware. The phone runs Android Oreo out of the box and there are no promises from Realme about a Pie upgrade, but since Oppo was a Android 9 developer partner, we can expect it to come by the January.

Coming back to the UI, there is still no app drawer, but the UI now allows you to swipe and dismiss notifications. The bloatware can also be uninstalled, bar a few apps like ORoaming.

Some apps do come in the way of the notch, but you can disable the notch on an app-by-app basis. The music app also likes to autoplay a “Rakshabandhan" compilation whenever you pair a Bluetooth audio device, which can be mildly unnerving.

You can fix the lack of an app drawer with a launcher like Nova, but there isn’t really much of a fix for the drop-down notification bar.

Camera:

The camera of Realme U1 is a mixed bag. It is a selfie-focused smartphone, so let’s dig into that first, even though I’m not much of a selfie person.

The front camera consists of a 25MP Sony IMX576 sensor paired with Helio P70’s image processing platform.

The AI capabilities allow 296 facial identification points (an overkill, but doesn’t hurt) and better noise and colour recovery. To add cherry on top of that selfie cake, it can correct backlight, just in case you click in front a bright light.

In typical Oppo fashion, the camera wants you beautify you. Realme says it “factors in the aesthetic views of local youths in tuning cameras and optimizes selfie beauty features accordingly".

It essentially makes your skin appear without blemishes and smoothens everything out, makes your eyes bigger, jaw slimmer and cheeks more protruding—depending on your settings. You can also put everything on the AI to make you look pretty.

Selfies without the AI selfie mode also look good, and I personally prefer myself with my small eyes. They are well lit and thanks to the wide aperture and pixel size, you consistently get well-lit images. I wish this was the camera at the rear of the phone.

The rear camera comprises a 13MP+2MP module, which is also powered with AI. Camera modes include AI scene recognition, multi-frame noise reduction, portrait lighting, pro mode and slo-mo. While the AI-scene recognition works well in well lit and semi-well lit scenarios, it’s a little difficult to use at night. Everything appears a bit too smooth, since high ISO and noise reduction are working hand in hand.

Slo-mo is passable, but since it is shot in 720p, it is a bit too pixelated.

The pro-mode has one of the best implementations in any camera app period. It’s extremely intuitive and easy to use. No circular dials, no mumbo-jumbo, it is spot on.

Verdict:

Realme U1 ticks nearly all the boxes required to be a good sub-Rs 15,000 smartphone. A phone with the top MediaTek processor is a good addition to the Realme line-up and so is that selfie camera. The resemblance with the Realme 2 Pro is uncanny, but once you’re past that it’s a good phone very worthy of its price tag.

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