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realme X review: X marks the spot
The line between a mid-range smartphone and a premium device is no longer as defined as it used to be. As performance leapfrogs with each successive generation and high-end camera sensors become commonplace in affordable devices, it is increasingly difficult to make the case for splurging on a flagship. When you can score a great design, a beautiful display, a fantastic camera, and smooth performance for half the price of a flagship, why spend more?
The realme X is the latest in a long line of devices that, at least on paper, have everything the average smartphone buyer needs. Does that mean the realme X is the phone to get if you want to save some money? We try to find out in the Android Authority realme X review.
realme X review: The big picture
The realme X is taking the fight straight to high tier devices such as the Redmi Note 7 Pro and the Redmi K20. Phones such as the Samsung Galaxy M40, Galaxy A50, and Nokia 8.1 also offer a comprehensive — and competitive — user experience. All this is to say, the realme X has its work cut out for it.
The Redmi Note 7 pro is arguably one of the most popular mid-rangers in India. Between the excellent camera, Xiaomi’s support network, and MIUI, the Note 7 is the principle competitor for the realme X as it launches in India.
The Redmi K20 is another device aiming for dominance in the sub 20,000 rupees (~$300) segment. Xiaomi hasn’t been shy about being aggressive with market positioning.
What’s in the box
- realme X
- 20W VOOC charger
- USB-C cable
- TPU case
- SIM ejector tool
- Quick start guide
The realme X ships with a pretty standard package. The included TPU case, however, stands out. It is robust enough to take a few drops and shows an attention to detail with extra protection around the edges. The rest of the contents are exactly what you’d expect with a SIM ejector tool, manuals, and charging kit rounding off the package.
- 161.2 x 76.1 x 8.6mm
- Polycarbonate build
- In-display fingerprint scanner
- Pop-up selfie camera
- USB-C port, Headphone jack
The realme X, especially the white colorway, is a gorgeous piece of kit. There is a certain elegance in simplicity. Yes, the phone sports a plastic back, but the gleaming white melds into the metal mid-frame and oozes class. It helps that the gently curved back fits comfortably in the palm of your hand.
Like most glossy phones, the realme X is prone to picking up smudges, but these are easy to wipe off and aren’t very visible. The camera island is mounted centrally and is surrounded by a metal ring that helps with the aesthetic and to prevent scratches, too. There is no fingerprint scanner here: The phone makes of an in-display print reader for user authentication. While the setup process takes a bit long, I found the fingerprint scanner to be one of the fastest around with excellent reliability.
The phone isn’t particularly heavy, but it feels appropriately dense to the touch. The power button on the right and the volume rocker on the left both have top-notch tactile feedback and no noticeable wobble. The bottom edge of the realme X sports a USB-C port, a headphone jack, as well as a grille for the bottom-firing speaker.
Say what you will about pop-up cameras, but I love the expansive displays they enable. The realme X is no exception and the phone boasts an impressive 91.2 percent screen-to-body ratio. If I had to nitpick, the chin below the screen could have been a bit smaller but it certainly doesn’t ruin the experience.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the realme X takes some design inspiration from the OnePlus 7 Pro, but the location of the pop-up camera certainly isn’t the same. Centrally located, the camera elevates in just 0.7 seconds. realme put it in the center to allow for more natural-looking selfies. The company claims it has tested the mechanism over 200,000 times, and that it auto-retracts the moment the phone detects a fall. Combined with the sapphire glass top, this should assuage any fears you might have about the reliability of the pop-up camera.
All in all, realme has done a rather good job with the realme X. The phone feels like a premium piece of hardware both in terms of design and build quality. There are a few quibbles, such as the rather terrible haptics motor. The vibration feels imprecise and loose at best. But the fit and finish, and overall general attention to detail means we’re still inclined to label the phone as rather good hardware.
- 6.53-in. display
- 2,340 x 1,080 resolution
- 19.5:9 aspect ratio
- AMOLED panel
- Gorilla Glass 5
A 6.53-inch Full HD+ display is hardly unique these days. However, what does set the realme X apart from other mid-range phones is the AMOLED screen. With Gorilla Glass 5 on top, there is ample protection on offer too.
First, the good stuff. The display on the realme X manages to get plenty bright. The 400 nits might not make it the brightest display around, but it is certainly enough to be visible outdoors under a summer sun. I found the display to be perfectly sharp and the resolution is adequate for the screen size.
The AMOLED display is nicely saturated, but has a noticeable blue shift.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a very accurate display. Color errs towards cooler shades. There is very noticeable blueshift, and while you can adjust to a warmer tone in the settings, the corrected color is still far from perfect. Saturation levels are predictably boosted and you get punchy tones all the way through. The display certainly cuts it for media consumption but isn’t necessarily the best in class.
Unlike the robust display customisation options on many of the realme X competitors, the only option here is to switch between a warmer or cooler tone. Neither of these do much to improve color accuracy. Like most current phones, a blue light filter is built in to reduce eye-strain and to make the phone easier on the eyes when viewing it late at night.
- Snapdragon 710
- 2.2GHz Kryo 360 + Hexa 1.7GHz Kryo 360 CPUs
- Adreno 616
- 4GB/8GB LPDDR4X RAM
- 128GB UFS 2.1 ROM
- No microSD card
The realme X is powered by the year-old Snapdragon 710. The chipset has since been superseded by the Snapdragon 712, the same the we recently saw in the vivo Z1 Pro. As far as CPU performance goes, the realme X is on the back foot when placed next to the vivo Z1 Pro and even the Snapdragon-675-toting Redmi Note 7 pro. The Adreno 616 GPU here, on paper, surpasses Xiaomi’s offering and matches the Z1 pro. To be fair though, frame-rate and texture differences in popular games like PUBG are minimal.
It might not have the latest chipset, but the realme X is powerful enough to run anything you throw at it.
Suffice it to say that overall performance evens out and you don’t lose much by opting for one of these phones over the others. What matters more is how well the software is mated to the hardware, and performance on the realme X is fantastic. The entire interface is extremely responsive and slick. Never during my week of use did I feel wanting for more power.
The phone excels at gaming, too. There is sufficient oomph here to power games like PUBG without any noticeable screen tearing, pop-ins, or frame drops. With the graphics set to HD, PUBG runs buttery smooth and gaming is a pleasurable experience.
In line with what we expected, AnTuTu scores here are lower than that on the Redmi Note 7 Pro. The Snapdragon 675 chipset on the latter delivers stronger CPU performance and manages 179,683 points. 3D Performance, however, is drastically better with the Adreno 616 pulling an overall score of 1,826 points in the OpenGL benchmark versus the 1,082 score achieved by the Redmi Note 7 Pro.
- 20W VOOC charging
The realme X doesn’t have quite as large a battery as other phones in this price band. However, battery life is fairly competitive. The 3,765mAh battery lasted about 11 hours in our browsing test, while video playback lasted a lot longer at 14 hours and change.
VOOC charging on the realme X tops off the phone rapidly.
While this falls short of phones packing 4,000mAh batteries, it is still sufficient for all-day use. The software is well optimised for the hardware and I could easily manage six hours or more of screen-on-time with lighter use. Topping off the phone from scratch takes just 83 minutes using the bundled VOOC charger. The realme X lacks wireless charging capabilities.
- Android 9 Pie
- Color OS 6
The software on the realme X has to be its weakest link. Built on top of Android 9 Pie, Color OS version 6.0 makes some questionable design choices that take away from the user experience. The entire interface comes across as a mish-mash of iOS-style elements. I liked some of the usability enhancements, such as pull-down to search, but realme needs to overhaul its skin.
Simple things such as the notification shade have been given an unnecessary makeover with gigantic toggle tiles. Coupled with the huge amounts of white space, this leads to really low information density for no obvious gain.
realme has also preinstalled too many internet services and apps. I observed a range of pre-loaded apps and “smart folders” that automatically refresh and pull in app-recommendations from the internet. Every time you open up the folder, it will populate itself with fresh recommendations for apps. You can also hit the refresh button to trigger the action. While it is possible to remove the folder, it is alarming to see such intrusive pre-loaded apps. Do keep in mind that not all of the preloaded apps can be removed.
A swipe-in sidebar exists to give you access to a range of customizable app shortcuts. The “Game Space” mode is an interesting one. It acts like a front-end and displays all your installed games. It can also be used to shift the phone into high-performance mode, as well as let you disable intrusive notifications and calls while you are in a heated gaming session. Nifty.
I’m generally not a fan of heavily customised Android skins, but for the most part Color OS works. Other than the awful notification shade and unfortunate use of internet services, I did not have any deal-breaking issues with the software onboard the realme X.
- 48MP IMX586 sensor, f/1.7
- 5MP depth sensor, f/2.4
- 16MP IMX471 sensor
- Centered pop-up camera
I’ll be honest, the camera on the realme X caught me by surprise. The phone consistently managed to take good-looking images. The camera hardware is robust, though the realme X loses out on versatility because it does not include an ultra-wide or telephoto lens. You do, however, get a secondary depth-sensing camera. The front-facing camera is equally adept.
The realme X is capable of capturing well-saturated images with a lot of detail. Unlike many others in the category, the fine detail is visible even when pixel peeping. The only caveat is that images tend to look a bit brighter than they actually are — a common issue with phones in this price band.
Shooting at a window with the light streaming in, the phone does a rather good job of bringing out details from the shadow region. HDR performance is generally excellent across the board.
The realme X is particularly impressive in low-light, where it is able to capture sharp, noise-free images. In fact, the phone ranks right at the top (or very close to it) if you want a capable low-light mid-ranger. While the above shot was taken in the standard mode, a night mode takes longer exposures on multiple frames to get a brighter shot. Unfortunately, the night mode elevates noise levels.
The realme X does a passable job at portrait mode. As you would expect, stray hair definitely throws off the algorithms and the bokeh fall-off is not very natural looking at all.
I wasn’t all that convinced by the front-facing camera on the realme X. To start, it has a tendency to blow out highlights. This is particularly noticeable on subjects’ noses. Further, portrait selfies are extremely unnatural looking and I would steer clear of it.
Video capture on the realme X tops off at 4K, 30fps but lacks any form of stabilization. Footage looks crisp and well saturated, but also fairly shaky unless you use a gimbal or have very steady hands. There are a bunch of options included in the camera, including a full-fledged expert mode that you can use to experiment with photography. Want to take a look at full-resolution realme X camera samples? We’ve got you covered.
- 3.5mm audio jack
- Dolby Atmos virtualization
Audio output from the headphone jack on the realme X is plenty good. The audio response is quite neutral with a slight bass boost. It also gets rather loud. If you care about software equalization, the phone supports Dolby Atmos, which promises to simulate the movie theatre experience. The virtualization is, obviously, nothing like the real thing, but in case you like the effect, it is available.
Audio output from the headphone jack is fantastic, with a clean and slightly musical output.
The speaker, on the other hand, is nothing special. It’ll get loud but that’s about it. Audio output is tinny, lacks any semblance of bass and can rattle the hardware at high volume levels. I wouldn’t recommend cranking this up loud any longer than necessary.
6.53-inch, FHD+ AMOLED
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
19.5:9 aspect ratio
91.2 percent screen-to-body ratio
Gorilla Glass 5
Qualcomm Snapdragon 710
Up to 2.2GHz
VOOC Flash Charge 3.0 (20W charging)
48MP at f/1.7
5MP at f/2.4
Video: 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 120fps, EIS
16MP at f/2.0
AI beauty mode
Dual nano-SIM slots
Dual SIMs dual VoLTE 4G
Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4/5Ghz
Positioning system: GPS, aGPS, GLONASS, Beidou navigation system
Supports Bluetooth 5.0 connections
Supports aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC
In-display fingerprint sensor
ColorOS 6.0, Android 9 Pie
Steam white, Punk blue
161.3 x 76.1 x 8.55-9.33mm
Value for the money
- realme X: 4GB RAM, 128GB ROM — 16,999 rupees (~$245)
- realme X: 8GB RAM, 128GB ROM — 19,999 rupees (~$290)
The realme X starts at 16,999 rupees, which places it squarely against the top model of the Redmi Note 7 Pro range. The latter gets you an extra two gigabytes of memory, but you lose the AMOLED display, the pop-up selfie camera, and the overall better camera.
Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy M40 flanks the top-end realme X. Samsung’s contender brings an Infinity-O display, a bit more CPU grunt, and a more versatile camera setup to the table.
Between these three models, perhaps the best mid-rangers in India at the moment, it is surprisingly hard to pick a champion. For sure, the realme X and the Galaxy M40 win as far as design is concerned. However, at a solid 3,000 rupees (~$45) less than the realme X, the Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 7 Pro continues to offer a potent mix of value and performance that remains untouched.
realme X review: The verdict
The realme X represents a coming of age for the brand. The phone is well-built, polished, and rather good to look at. The hardware is paired with a well-optimized build of software that, despite some questionable design choices, manages to offer excellent usability enhancements. Add to that an excellent camera and it leaves little to complain about.
What are your thoughts on the realme X? Is it enough to dethrone the Redmi Note 7 Pro or are you willing to pay a bit more for premium niceties?