Realme started life as a sub-brand under Oppo which, along with OnePlus and Vivo, is part of China’s BBK Electronics. In 2018, Realme was spun off into a brand in its own right, and this year, the company is selling the X2 Pro smartphone. Starting at €399 (equivalent to about $440), the Realme X2 Pro includes features typically found in significantly more expensive devices, like a screen with a 90Hz refresh rate, the same Snapdragon 855 Plus processor as you get in the OnePlus 7 Pro, and a quad-camera array with a 64MP base lens. We spent some time with the phone over at PCMag UK, and have some first impressions.
Design and Display
Despite the Pro name, it’s clear as soon as you hold the X2 Pro that it isn’t built like a flagship device. Compared with even the similarly priced Huawei Honor 20 and Oppo Reno 2, the 7-ounce X2 Pro simply feels a little cheap.
Turn the phone on, and you’re met with a 6.5-inch, 2,400-by-1,080-pixel AMOLED display with 1,000 nits of brightness and a 90Hz refresh rate similar to that of the Google Pixel 4 and OnePlus 7 Pro (in fact, it’s exactly the same Samsung-made display you’ll find on the OnePlus 7 Pro). Thanks to the faster refresh rate, scrolling is noticeably smoother and more enjoyable with the X2 Pro than with 60Hz phones.
That is, until it gets in the way of your apps: Running Android 9.0 with ColorOS 6.1 layered on top (Realme says the phone is likely to receive Android 10 early next year), the X2 Pro won’t run the Netflix app with the screen set to 90Hz. To rememdy this, you have to go into the Settings app, select Display and Brightness, and choose to stay at 60Hz, lest all your streaming video be replaced by a black screen. The company says this is a known problem and that “users will be able to use Netflix normally,” but for now, it’s a pain.
Even at 60Hz, however, the X2 Pro’s screen is lovely. Compared with the OnePlus 7 Pro, it appears brighter and crisper; the white mountains that start Planet Earth II look dazzling, and the full colors of a green forest really pop. There’s a greater sense of contrast, too, with a richer patch of orange fur on a leopard’s neck and a better-defined glint in its eye as it waits to strike its prey.
The Honor 20 has a lighter color balance that can’t quite match the Realme’s lushness, but does look brighter, making the green sparkle of a hummingbird’s head appear more vibrant, if less accurate. That said, it does have a greater handling of detail, as does the Pixel 3a, which sits firmly between the X2 Pro and the Honor 20 in these regards. All are very good, and while I might pick the 3a for its moderation, it’s worth seeing the devices in-store, in case your personal preference differs.
On the bottom of the X2 Pro is a USB-C port for charging and a headphone jack for audio, the latter of which is especially nice to see as more and more phones move away from 3.5mm connections.
The X2 Pro has a four-lens camera array, including a 64MP f/1.8 main camera, an 8MP f/2.2 115-degree wide-angle lens, a 13MP f/2.5 zoom lens capable of 20x hybrid zoom, and a portrait lens. Most cameras in this price range have only a three-lens array at most (or, in the case of the Pixel 3a, only one), so the Realme looks better on paper. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite have the skills to back it up.
Taking photos of stained glass windows in a church, the X2 Pro doesn’t manage to contain the light as well as the Pixel 3a does. The glow around the edges of the glass is much more pronounced, and while the color accuracy is impressive, the X2 Pro errs too far in favor of delivering a punchy but less accurate photo. The play of the light on the material behind a statue—red at the edges, leaning toward orange where it gets brighter—seems more a dark pink when captured with the X2 Pro. Though its handling of detail and color tops the OnePlus 7 Pro and the Honor 20, it falls short of the Pixel.
Zoom is where the X2 Pro comes into its own; with a 5x optical and 20x hybrid zoom, the phone scoops up more detail than competitors. Although the OnePlus 7 Pro may provide a slightly clearer image, the photos you see here were at the 7 Pro’s maximum capacity, where the X2 Pro had almost half of its zoom left.
With wide-angle photography, the X2 Pro, Honor 20, and OnePlus 7 Pro all perform well (the Pixel 3a, like the Pixel 4, does not have a wide-angle lens), but when we get to macro photography, the X2 Pro really stands out. The Honor 20 has a macro lens, but it doesn’t pick up the same level of detail: the X2 Pro’s colors are richer, and it makes the subtle creases on a flower’s petals and tiny flecks of yellow amidst the black much clearer than the Honor 20.
Realme is pushing its Nightscape mode, but the X2 Pro’s low-light photos simply aren’t as good as offerings from OnePlus and Google. As you can see, the Pixel 3a manages to scoop up a mass of detail from the roofs of nearby houses, as well as accurately capture the blue of the London sky, while the 7 Pro, although less detailed, has a decent grasp of the various colors. By contrast, the X2 Pro smudges out details and its color balance is too warm. That said, it does edge out the Honor 20, which doesn’t do well with the bright streetlights.
As for the 16MP selfie camera, Realme has steered away from the overbright, overly white palettes that might play well in China, but look washed-out in the West. While it can’t quite top the Pixel 3a, which offers greater accuracy, the X2 Pro is head and shoulders above its Eastern rivals.
Hardware and Software
The X2 Pro we tested has 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, although it also comes in configurations of 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, as well as 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. As expected from a phone with three times the memory of the Pixel 3a and 50 percent more than the OnePlus 7 Pro we tested, it’s speedy and responsive, though to be honest, it’s hard to notice the difference when you’re not using two phones side by side. Switching to the Pixel 3a, I didn’t perceive it as sluggish.
The X2 Pro also comes relatively free from bloatware, making it preferable to the Honor 20 and closer to that of a Pixel phone. What you do get are Realme’s music and gallery apps, phone and file managers, its own email app, and Game Space. Of these, the latter is the most important addition; it’s essentially a dedicated folder for downloaded games which are added there automatically and hidden from the home screen or app drawer.
Game Space optimizes the phone for play, allocating resources to the game, reducing lag, and giving it priority among network traffic. It also stops phone calls and messages coming through, as well as making sure the screen’s brightness doesn’t change while you’re playing. While I didn’t notice much of a difference when playing Fortnite, the phone didn’t drop from the maximum 30fps, which is a definite plus.
ColorOS offers a couple of additions as well. The first is a smart sidebar that appears when you swipe in from the side of the screen and gives you quick access to screenshot, screen recording, and messaging tools. The second is the Smart Assistant tab. Accessed by swiping right from the home screen, this offers the weather, a calendar, and step tracking.
ColorOS also offers a notification center you can access by pulling down from the top of the screen. Realme splits notifications between important and unimportant ones (which can be set manually), which is more useful than what most Android phones do by default.
The Realme X2 Pro is a good phone for the money. It’s slick and responsive, its camera is impressive (although it can’t beat Google’s), and ColorOS adds a few neat features over standard Android. If you have a budget smartphone and are looking for the next step up without breaking the bank, it’s a solid choice.
The X2 Pro isn’t quite good enough, however, to recommend over the Pixel 3a, and that’s not just because of the Pixel’s outstanding camera. The 3a feels nicer. The little tweaks and additions Google makes to its phones are more sophisticated than what Realme offers. And the knowledge that you’ll get the latest Android updates is also a major plus. That said, the X2 Pro is an impressive first step for Realme, and we look forward to seeing what comes next.