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If you’re looking for a low-cost 5G phone, the 2021 series of budget Oppo A phones might be perfect for you. Note that we say the ‘series’, and not the ‘Oppo A94 5G’, despite this being a review of that phone – that’s because recommending this handset over one of its siblings is a hard call.
Launched alongside the Oppo A54 5G and A74 5G, the A94 5G is the top member of a family of cheap 5G phones, but there’s not a huge difference between them. The price gap is minimal, and while there are a few differences, like processor, screen refresh rate and charging speed, the A94 5G doesn’t always come out ahead in these comparisons.
Oppo A94 5G (Blue) at Amazon for $565
So if you need a fast phone this is the better member of its family thanks to its 8GB of RAM, and its screen looks better, but it’s the worst in terms of battery life, and the display refresh rate lags behind its cheaper siblings.
We’d recommend you check out our reviews of all three Oppo A phones before coming to a buying decision, though they’re so similar that if one appeals to you, the others likely won’t let you down either.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why we’re writing ‘5G’ at the end of ‘A94 5G’, despite not doing that for the vast majority of 5G-supported phones, it’s because there’s actually a 4G-only version of the handset which is pretty different. This is a review of the 5G model, which is the only version on sale in most regions, and if we omit the ‘5G’ for brevity we’re still talking about this device.
As it stands, the Oppo A94 5G is a pretty good phone for its price – sure, that’s not exactly emphatic language, but it’s still the most accurate way to describe it.
Some budget phones are quite weak, or slow to use, but with the MediaTek Dimensity 800U chipset and 8GB of RAM, we didn’t have this problem with the Oppo A94. It was relatively snappy to use, and ran games well.
The screen looks good too, as it uses AMOLED tech which provides better colors and contrast compared to the LCD used in many other budget phones (including the A94’s siblings). However the refresh rate is just 60Hz, making motion look less smooth than the 90Hz on the other devices in the family.
For social media purposes, the cameras are fine too – sure, you won’t win photography competitions with them, but if you just want to take a quick selfie or snap a cake you baked, they’ll make sure those likes come rolling in.
The price is the real selling point of the Oppo A94 5G though – despite costing more than its siblings, it’s still great value if you’re looking for next-gen connectivity.
With regards to recommending the Oppo A94 5G, we’d give it a tentative ‘maybe’ – check our reviews for each member of its family. If they all seem roughly the same to you, opt for the A54 5G, because it’s cheaper. Thanks to certain strengths, the A94 5G is no slouch though.
Oppo A94 5G price and availability
The Oppo A94 5G costs £299 (roughly $410, AU$560), which is a supremely affordable price for a 5G phone.
The handset likely won’t go on sale in the US, as Oppo doesn’t sell its phones there, but Australian availability is up in the air. While the A94’s siblings are all on sale in the country, this phone isn’t – this makes it unlikely the handset will reach the golden shores, but we can’t say that for certain.
In the UK, the phone is available from a range of retailers including Oppo itself, Amazon and Argos, though no carriers range it. That means you have to buy it SIM-free and add in your own SIM card.
The Oppo A94 5G doesn’t do much to vary from the ‘standard Android phone’ formula, which is to be expected since few handsets at this price do. It’s your standard ‘chocolate-bar’ device that looks near-identical to its siblings.
We found the Oppo A94 fairly easy to hold, though it’s far from a ‘compact phone’. Weighing 173g and measuring 160.1 x 73.4 x 7.8mm it’s not too big, perfect for people who don’t need giant handsets.
The phone has a USB-C port as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack; there’s a volume rocker on the left edge and a power button part-way up the right one.
The plastic back of the phone is adept at picking up fingerprints. This is likely more noticeable on the blue version of the phone, but we only tested the black one, where it wasn’t always immediately apparent. The camera bump, also on the back, doesn’t stick out too far at all.
Oppo hasn’t officially stated an IP rating of the phone; we’d treat it with caution then, though it’s likely at least splashproof.
One feature of the A94 5G, which you might not see on other same-price phones, is its in-display fingerprint sensor. If you like this method of unlocking your phone, it’s a good reason to consider this handset.
You might be surprised to hear that the Oppo A94 5G’s 6.43-inch display is smaller than the panel on the A54 or A74 – not that many will notice the 0.07-inch gap. A difference you might notice, though, is that it has a 60Hz refresh rate, unlike the 90Hz on its more affordable siblings, which means motion appears less smooth.
The resolution here is 1080 x 2400 – standard for a smartphone at almost any price – it has an 800 nits max brightness, which is pretty good for a budget handset, and is broken up by a cut-out for the front camera in the top-left corner.
The reason you might opt for the A94 5G over its siblings, is that while they use LCD – considered gauche as a smartphone screen tech – this handset uses Super AMOLED. As a result colors are more vibrant, contrast is improved, and darker areas are even darker than they would be on an LCD display.
The Oppo A94 5G has four rear cameras, and it’s the same array as the A54 and A74. Finally, a section in which we don’t need to keep comparing it to its family!
These snappers are a 48MP f/1.7 main, 8MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, 2MP f/2.4 macro and 2MP f/2.4 depth-sensing camera. There’s also a 16MP f/2.4 camera on the front. Overall, that array is about average for a phone at this price.
A quick word on the 2MP cameras: smartphone makers seem to love throwing in auxiliary lenses with 2MP sensors, and they rarely if ever add anything to the party. That’s the case here: macro shots looked better on the standard camera instead of the actual macro one, and as you’re about to read, depth was a problem for photos, so the sensor clearly wasn’t doing a top job. These additions are here to bulk out the specs list, not add photography capabilities.
Now onto the other cameras: we found selfies looked fairly good – they were sharp with bold colors. Portrait snaps sometimes had inaccurate ‘bokeh’ background blur, with some non-blurred parts visible around the subject, but it was never too noticeable.
We weren’t too disappointed with the main camera either, as snaps were perfectly suitable for sharing on Instagram or similar. Pictures were fairly bright with vibrant colors, particularly in well-lit environments, and were high-res enough to be cropped down if necessary too.
Depth was an issue though. Due to the tech used, smartphone cameras often have to rely on digital depth effects to replace natural ones, and we found this didn’t always work well on the Oppo A94 5G. Sometimes the depth effect was too apparent, with too much of the background blurred; other times the camera evidently had trouble identifying the subject of a shot, so didn’t blur anything, making depth tricky to ascertain.
This was a problem with close-up shots (flowers, food etc), and not so much with snaps with a wider field of view. And these pictures were still better than macro ones, which had strangely crushed darker areas and an odd yellowy hue.
Finally, the ultra-wide camera does what it says on the tin. There was good consistency in lighting and color between this and the main camera, though snaps could be noticeably distorted at the edges.
For video fans, you can record at up to 4K, but only ever at 30fps – there didn’t seem to be a way to increase the framerate of shooting, even at lower resolutions. Slow-mo goes up to 1080p.
As well as the basic photo mode there are a few expected extra ones like panorama, Pro mode, slow-mo photography, Portrait mode and more – there aren’t any surprise extra modes that you wouldn’t expect on a smartphone.
Performance and specs
The ‘brains of the operation’, so to speak, is the MediaTek Dimensity 800U chipset, which is comparable to the Snapdragon 480 used in the other two AX4 phones. It’s paired with 8GB of RAM, which is a lot for a phone at this price, making the Oppo A94 5G feel fairly fast compared to some rivals.
When we put the handset through the Geekbench 5 benchmark test, it returned a multi-core score of 1641 – the A54 got 1664, and the A74 got 1629, so they’re roughly on par performance-wise. For context, the OnePlus Nord got 1877, the Moto G100 got 2875 and the Realme GT hit 3508 – all these phones are roughly similar in cost, though they do cost a little bit more than the A94 5G.
So the Oppo A94 5G isn’t exactly a powerful phone, though it’s certainly not the weakest we’ve tested, and it didn’t actually disappoint when put to the test. We found it more than adequate for Call of Duty: Mobile and PUBG Mobile, at least regarding performance (we’ve got some issues listed in Software which affected gaming).
The presence of 5G is a benefit too, giving you a faster internet connection than you’d otherwise get, and it made loading up Instagram stories and downloading Spotify tracks that little bit quicker. Not all handsets at this price get 5G so it’s certainly a blessing.
The Oppo A94 5G runs Android 11 with Oppo’s ColorOS laid over the top. It’s mainly a graphical difference, with softer colors and a more cohesive color scheme than stock Android, but there are a few extra customization options too.
Compared to most other Chinese smartphone makers, Oppo doesn’t throw in too much extra bloatware, so you’re not going to find your smartphone chock-full of unnecessary extra apps when you turn it on.
We found the software fairly smooth to navigate – the chipset and RAM definitely help – but now and then there were small stutters or delays when swiping. A higher screen refresh rate definitely wouldn’t hurt either.
There was one real issue we found with the Oppo A94 5G, and while we’re not sure it’s a wider issue with the phone, or just our review unit, it’s probably safer to bring it up just in case.
The Oppo phone often dropped connection for small periods of time when we were using it, whether with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or mobile data connectivity. The first of those manifested in connected headphones sometimes disconnecting and reconnecting after a few seconds; Wi-Fi was sometimes a problem playing online games where we’d now and then repeatedly freeze, or be seconds out of sync for other players; twice in our time with the phone data dropped out completely, though restarting the device fixed the error.
If we’d found just one or even two of those issues, we could potentially shrug our shoulders and ignore it, but the combination of all three sometimes became very irritating.
We had to think long and hard about whether the Oppo A94 5G’s battery performance should be listed as one of the ‘cons’ at the top of this article or not. In the end, as you’ll see, we didn’t list it, but that doesn’t mean we’re pleased.
With a 4,310mAh battery, the phone doesn’t have a huge power pack for its price, as budget phone makers love to throw 5,000mAh batteries into their devices. We found that through light or medium use, the A94 just about survived a whole day between charges, but heavier use could absolutely obliterate the battery.
Several times, we needed to turn on battery saving mode in the afternoon to ensure the phone would stay working until evening; on some occasions, Super Battery Saving mode (which drastically strips back the phone’s functions) was necessary to see us until sundown.
We didn’t list battery life in the ‘cons’ column because some people, light phone users who just want to stream music, scroll through social media and reply to texts, will find the battery just fine. If, like us, you’re prone to frequent gaming sessions, need to use your handset to navigate around a city with lots of mapping, or like to take plenty of pictures, you might find yourself reaching for the charger in the early evening.
There’s also no wireless charging (unsurprisingly at the price) and its 30W wired charging isn’t terribly fast either, not when you can get handsets with 65W for not much more, but it’s certainly not slow compared to some other rivals (especially when the A54 5G uses a painful 10W). At 30W, it takes just under an hour to power the handset from empty to full.
Should I buy the Oppo A94 5G?
Buy it if…
You like colorful screensThanks to its Super AMOLED display, the Oppo A94 5G shows colors and contrast well, unlike many phones at this price point.
You want affordable 5GYou won’t find too many 5G phones that cost as little as the A94 (apart from its siblings), so if you need a device with next-gen connectivity, it’s a good option.
You only need cameras for social mediaWhile the Oppo A94 5G won’t give you professional-grade photography chops, we found pictures looked just fine for social media, whether it’s a food snap or a selfie that you’re sharing.
Don’t buy it if…
You like high screen refresh ratesDespite having a better-looking display than other AX4 handsets, the Oppo A94 suffers on the motion front, with a 60Hz display refresh instead of 90Hz like its siblings.
Its siblings appeal to youThe A54 and A74 are better than the A94 in some ways, worse in others. But since the A94 costs more, you should check out the more affordable versions first.
You need a long-lasting batteryThe Oppo A94 5G’s battery life may be fine for some, but with plenty of smartphones that tout huge batteries, there are better options for people who need lasting power.
First reviewed July 2021
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