Realme doesn’t let up, with the new X3 SuperZoom being the company’s twelfth phone release of 2020, and a notable one at that.
Despite the name, think of this as a reworking, more than the successor to the Realme X2 Pro; not least because the X2 Pro itself only launched at the tail end of 2019 and both phones share some notable hardware.
Instead, the X3 SuperZoom serves up premium features in a competitively-priced package that focuses on three key features that have been popular in the flagship space of late – a high refresh-rate display, an impressive zoom camera and the option of astrophotography.
A sizeable yet sophisticated design
Despite its sub-£500 price tag, the phone’s design, for the most part, feels pleasingly premium. There are elements that allude to its mid-range pricing but they’re not so noticeable as to cheapen the overall look or feel of the X3 SuperZoom.
The phone’s silver frame appears to be hewn from plastic instead of metal, there’s a slight ‘chin’ along the bottom edge of the display’s bezel and the phone’s earpiece is awkwardly offset. But in spite of these quirks, the SuperZoom presents as a high-end device.
It’s solidly-built, without feeling too weighty, despite its size; excluding that bottom edge the display’s surround is pleasingly narrow and the earpiece is so thin and colour-matched to the bezel that, chances are, you won’t even notice it.
Realme has elevated other parts of the phone’s design too – with three layers of water resistance that, in the same vein as OnePlus’ 2019 devices, although uncertified, should offer extra peace of mind to accident-prone users; not to mention there’s a TPU case in the box too.
Related: Best mid-range phone 2020
The faintly-pearlescent etched glass back of the Glacial White model we tested looks as good as the finish on any current-gen flagship phone, while also repelling fingerprints with aplomb. The display also comes equipped with both Gorilla Glass 5 and a pre-installed screen protector.
The X3 SuperZoom is a big phone by anyone’s standards but it’s particularly sizeable based on Realme’s current smartphone crop – measuring in with a 6.6in display, making it the company’s largest handset to date – alongside the recently-launched Realme 6 Pro.
This makes it great for enjoying media but can render it unwieldy, which is why the inclusion of a one-handed mode as part of the user experience is not only appreciated but essential.
Button placement is good too – with volume keys not too high up on the left side and a power key cut deep into the phone’s right that integrates a wonderfully fast fingerprint sensor (which Realme says totes a response time of 0.3 seconds).
The only thing some might miss? A 3.5mm headphone jack – you’ve got to rely on USB-C or Bluetooth headphones with the X3 SuperZoom and Realme puts neither in-box.
Smooth scrolling above all else
Realme has toyed with high refresh rate displays for a while, offering one of the most affordable phones with a 90Hz panel on the market in the Realme 6. The SuperZoom is the first of the company’s phones to jump to 120Hz visuals (outside of the China-only Realme X50), meaning it’s part of a relatively exclusive shortlist of devices to boast this ability.
It’s the best aspect of the phone’s screen, adding fluidity to the user experience that gives the impression of power and performance.
The use of an LCD panel in place of AMOLED technology means colours are a little less vibrant and contrast is weaker than the tech employed by the likes of the Realme X50 Pro. To narrow this gap, Realme includes its OSIE technology to boost visuals, along with colour temperature and gamut controls – although the former only functions within select apps and doesn’t improve the viewing experience all that much anyway.
The Full HD+ resolution and hole-punch cutout for the phone’s dual front-facing cameras won’t be to everyone’s taste, but visual fidelity should be fine for most – high-refresh-rate viewing is a definite bonus, though.
“What do your elf eyes see?”
Like Legolas’ eyes, the X3 SuperZoom’s camera setup has two principal talents: it has impressive zoom capabilities and promises great low-light shooting.
Like many of Realme’s phones, the SuperZoom is littered with cameras – some more useful than others. On the front, set into the aforementioned hole-punch resides a 32Mp primary sensor and an 8Mp ultra-wide sensor – granting the phone Pixel 3-like selfie versatility – supplemented by a robust but not overbearing set of beauty tools.
The back, meanwhile, is headed up by a 64Mp main snapper – a favourite of Realme’s current smartphone crop – alongside an 8Mp ultra-wide with a 119° field-of-view, a 2Mp macro sensor, designed to capture subjects as little as four centimetres away and its headline sensor – an 8Mp periscopic telephoto unit, boasting 5x optical zoom and OIS (optical image stabilisation).
Out the gate, you won’t find a phone at this price point with as good a zoom as the X3 SuperZoom’s. In a side-by-side test with one of the best on the market for this sort of thing – the Huawei P40 Pro – the Realme’s camera lagged behind in terms of fine detail, partly due to smaller sensors but also as a result of inferior imaging processing, however, the gap between the two wasn’t as vast as the price difference would have you expect.
While maximum zoom on both devices is near-enough useless, it’s the 5x and 10x magnifications that hold value and the X3 SuperZoom isn’t a letdown by any means.
Better still, the SuperZoom actually outperformed the P40 Pro with regards to consistency, when moving between its various sensors and zoom levels – with more accurate colour and exposure throughout its range.
As for the SuperZoom’s other standout photographic feature, there was only one family of devices worth pitting it against – the Google Pixel 4 line.
Astrophotography was a new addition to Pixel’s skill set with this latest generation and Realme looks to be one of the few trying to stake its own claim in the field.
In testing, both phones captured exposures that lasted just over four minutes, locked down to a tripod, pointed up at the night sky. The Pixel’s astrophotography mode is fully automated – switching on when it detects extreme low-light shooting conditions, while the SuperZoom’s ‘Astro’ mode can be toggled on and off at will.
The SuperZoom takes many more liberties with the scene – the colour science tunes the sky to a deep blue, some of the stars adopt a red halo, the trees in the foreground lose definition and detail, and yet, based on these test shots taken in greater London (and thus contending with light pollution), the Realme’s results are probably better-suited to social media.
They offer more ‘pop’ and excitement, compared to the technically-superior Pixel samples – so it falls to a matter of what you’re looking for here.
For all the pats on the back Realme deserves by being able to offer up features though, the elephant in the room is that such abilities are extremely niche, especially Astro mode.
While zooming in has its uses from time-to-time, most users will unlikely be snapping the night sky on a weekly or even monthly basis, making it a poor reason to make a purchasing decision on.
Thankfully, the general shooting capabilities of the X3 SuperZoom aren’t half-bad – they’re not going to give the iPhone 11 Series cause for concern, but they delivery nice, imagery, with a surprising amount of dynamic range, when shooting in well-lit environments.
While the macro camera doesn’t grant you much wiggle room, when it works it actually offers genuine value, capturing Instagram-worthy close-ups like this:
Low-light is definitely the SuperZoom’s unmaking, with noise and detail-loss being the worst offenders all-too-quickly.
One saving grace is the phone’s impressive stabilisation, which works exceptionally well when shooting at up to 4K/60fps.
A UX by any other name
Realme UI – the company’s tailored user experience – runs atop Android 10 on the SuperZoom. In truth, there’s little to distinguish it from Oppo’s ColorOS at this early stage in its existence, but there’s every chance that it’ll diverge from its source as Realme settles into its stride as a brand.
As mentioned, that 120Hz display ups the sense of responsiveness from the UX, which itself doesn’t pull away from source Android so hard that you’d be lost if you’d never used a Realme (or Oppo) phone before.
It’s clearly borrowed touches from its competitors too, which for the most part, is a good thing. The smart sidebar – which offers ever-present access to select apps and widgets – feels like it was lifted from Samsung’s Edge Screens feature, the randomised lock screen wallpapers are straight out of Huawei’s playbook and UI gestures like double-tap to lock originally debuted on LG’s phones.
There are also some core Android 10 experiences worth noting, like a system-wide dark mode (although the battery benefits are lessened compared to phones leveraging OLED display tech), the Google Assistant is accessible through a myriad of means and Digital Wellbeing is baked in to help keeps tabs on usage habits and steward towards a healthier relationship with your phone.
Beyond staple inclusions like a file manager and a standalone music player, Realme does throw on some additional third-party apps that are less welcome but can, at least, be uninstalled.
Our pre-release review device also came with a few bugs and quirks, which we’re hoping are ironed out by the time the SuperZoom goes on sale.
Tried and true performance
Although the Snapdragon 865 is currently the top chipset in Qualcomm’s arsenal, it’s also notoriously expensive.
The Snapdragon 855+ that graced a number of late-2019 handsets (including the Realme X2 Pro), not to mention more recent entries, like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, also makes an appearance inside the X3 SuperZoom.
While mileage will vary by market, in the UK the SuperZoom arrives in one potent SKU – toting 12GB of RAM and 256GB of fast UFS 3.0 storage.
Running through our litany of benchmarks, the SuperZoom performed as expected, falling in line with the marginally more modest late-2019/early-2020 flagship phones (i.e. the non-‘Pro’ branded versions of high-end handsets).
The X3 positioned itself at the upper end of most of our tests, which is reflected in its solid gaming performance and rapid multitasking chops; don’t fret about the fact it doesn’t have the absolute latest and greatest chip at its heart, it’s still got enough clout to last you a long time.
The promise of power
As for battery life, while it doesn’t offer the same 65W Super Dart charging as its maker’s 5G flagship, more modest 30W Dart charging paired with the phone’s 4200mAh battery still grant the SuperZoom above-average refill speeds – reaching two-thirds full in 30 minutes and 100% in under an hour.
In artificial testing, the SuperZoom was able to dole out ten hours of screen-on time, however, in real-world testing, it lasted closer to eight – more than enough for a day’s use in most cases.
Price and availability
Realme once again drives a hard bargain, with the 12GB+256GB SuperZoom coming in at £469 in the UK and €499 in Realme’s key European markets, including Spain. Available to pre-order from 26 May and on sale from both Realme’s website and Amazon UK from 10 June.
A decent but not outlandish set of cameras, a high-refresh-rate display and a Snapdragon 855+ processor at its heart; the Realme X3 SuperZoom reads just like the OnePlus 7T and that’s no bad thing.
In truth, the OnePlus 7T is perhaps the biggest barrier to the SuperZoom’s success. In most markets, OnePlus is the more established name and with the arrival of the OnePlus 8 Series, the OnePlus 7T happens to have enjoyed a price drop to £469 – exactly the same asking price as the SuperZoom.
As such, if you opt for the Realme, your money goes to a phone with more specialised camera talents, a higher-refresh-rate display and more memory. Otherwise, the 7T still packs a 90Hz display and sports a more premium design, with a cleaner fit and finish, plus a snappier and slicker user experience in Oxygen OS.
Either way, you’re getting a great phone for under £500.
Realme X3 SuperZoom: Specs
- Main cameras: 64Mp wide, 8Mp 5x optical tele, 8Mp 119-degree ultra-wide, 2Mp macro
- Front cameras: 32Mp wide + 8Mp 105-degree ultra-wide
- 6.6in 120Hz Full HD+ IPS LCD
- Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
- Dual stereo speakers
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ processor
- 8GB/12GB RAM
- 64GB/128GB/256GB UFS 3.0 storage
- 4200mAh battery
- 30W Dart Flash Charge
- Android 10 w/ Realme UI
- Dual SIM
- Colours: Arctic White, Glacier Blue