The affordable “mid-range” smartphone space is becoming increasingly competitive, and Realme is the latest company to throw their sub $1000 device into the ring. The X3 SuperZoom is the company’s flagship unit designed to match all the requirements for average daily use without the pricey bells and whistles. Solid performance, great battery life and rapid charging are the big ticks, but the camera capabilities, including the 60x zoom lens, don’t quite live up to the hype. If great function with just the right amount of form suits your needs, and you don’t really care about smartphone snaps, then the X3 SuperZoom is definitely worth your time.
The X3 SuperZoom comes in two flavours; a 120GB model with 8GB of RAM ($699) or a 256GB model with 12GB of RAM ($799). Everything else is identical across the two. We reviewed the 256GB model.
- Screen: 6.6-inch IPS LCD 1080 FHD, 120Hz refresh rate. Gorilla Glass 5
- Battery: 4200 mAh. 30W fast charge
- Rear camera: max 64MPs quad lens, 60x zoom
- Selfie camera: max 32MP
- Video: Up to 4K, 60 FPS
- Bluetooth and network: dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5, LE, A2DP
- Audio: mono speaker, no headphone jack
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+
A basic rubber case is also included.
Realme makes some big claims about the X3's battery life, and boy does it deliver. It easily survives a full day of general use (calls, messages, some music streaming etc), which you can stretch further with battery saving mode.
At the extreme end, you can stream HD videos on maximum brightness for seven hours before it conks out. That's enough juice to watch a couple of movies during a cross-country flight before booking a ride home. Plus, it won't melt your fingers as the battery doesn't get very warm, even when it's pushed to its limits.
Fast-charge can supposedly take a dead battery to 100 percent in 55 minutes. Our test took 59 minutes which is slower than the claims but still under an hour. The low battery alert pops up at 20% which, under general use conditions, is still around four hours of battery life. Note it doesn't support wireless charging, but that's kind of a cherry on top, rather than an essential feature.
The X3 SuperZoom, box and charger.
An ultra-wide to 60x zoom is a big selling point. But while picture quality is adequate, there are a few small but persistent problems that kind of drag the camera down.
It seems to have trouble with shadow exposure, as the phone almost always tries to "even out" the image by boosting dark areas. Not only does this make images look a little flat and lifeless, noise reduction isn't very good which leads to inevitable grain and softness in shadowy spots. Bright areas can become overexposed as well which can cause some lens flare and light bleeding. These problems even occurred in fully manual (aka "Expert") mode as well.
Colour seems fairly accurate but they can become overly vibrant or saturated at times, and purple fringing is a pretty persistent issue around sharp edges. JPG processing is also rather average which leads to colour banding, fragmentation and edges on things like plants looking kind of jagged and crunchy. All of these issues impact the different modes too, including selfie, macro and portrait.
It does a pretty good job at capturing moving subjects, though whether the person, animal or object exhibits motion blur is a bit of a wildcard. The X3 doesn't seem to be able to fire off a rapid series of shots, which means you need to time your photos too.
You can click through our gallery of sample images shot on the X3 SuperZoom below.
Meanwhile, low-light images, including "starry" night mode, are grainy, overexposed, soft and a bit blurry. They tend to have a greenish tinge, like someone is trying to light the scene with a single floodlight just out of frame.
Wide angle up to 5x zoom is optical, which means it uses actual lens components. After that, digital zoom kicks in which is basically software telling the camera to blow the image up and crop on the fly. So, anything beyond 5x zoom has to deal with the same issues of digital zoom as most other smartphones – chunky, blurry and somewhat pixelated images.
So is it serviceable? Sure, and image quality in daylight or artificial light should be fine for most situations. But low-light and night shots just aren't that nice to look at. The memories may be there, but photos lack impact.
Call quality and performance
Remember when we used phones to call people? The X3 is a great performer for those of us that still use a smartphone to make and take calls.
The earpiece speaker is clear and crisp with great clarity, and it has a wide volume range which can get pretty darn loud when required. Speaker mode is just as impressive with little to no environmental interference or reverb. You can pop the phone on your desk, sit about 30cm away and hold a clear, coherent conversation.
The X3 uses a mid-range processor (Snapdragon 855+) that isn't premium but more than enough for a mid-priced smartphone. Video streaming through various services (Prime, YouTube and Netflix specifically) buffers quickly and streams without issues, websites and apps load rapidly as well and rarely chug along even during intensive mobile gaming. The response time between smart devices and the apps to control them like lightbulbs and switches was almost instant too.
It may not be the fastest or most powerful smartphone on paper, but you're unlikely to need that sort of power unless you're doing some particularly processor-intensive work, like video or photo editing.
"Dual-network" mode, which connects to two networks at once (e.g. 2.4 and 5GHz) to improve performance on select apps, is the only performance niggle. It seems desperate to activate rather than sticking with a single strong Wi-Fi connection. Plus it only supports a small number of apps, and there doesn't seem to be any discernible difference in performance when it does turn on. As a result, it may be better to disable this feature.
The X3 SuperZoom has enough power to handle all but the most strenuous day-to-day tasks.
Perhaps the most obvious indications of the X3's mid-range status are the screen and speaker – to a degree. It has a 6.6-inch 1080p IPS LCD screen, 20:9 ratio with a 120Hz refresh rate, and just one speaker at the base of the handset.
In practice, the LCD screen looks great, unless you are familiar with what a premium AMOLED screen can bring to the table. High-def images on the X3 are sharp, colours are relatively rich, vibrant and accurate where required, and picture has decent pop without becoming too contrasty. You can adjust the coolness and warmth if it's not quite to your liking. However, LCD just lacks that level of punch and contrast you get with higher-end OLED/AMOLED screens, especially in darker areas.
The screen is nice and bright in most conditions, though videos, dark games, some apps and websites struggle outdoors, especially in direct light. Not only is it really difficult to see anything, it highlights all the smudges on your screen. X3's much-touted Object & Semantic Images & Eye-tracking (OSIE) technology, which supposedly uses artificial intelligence to improve image quality in select apps (again a limited number), doesn't seem to do anything. It's turned off by default and it's worth keeping that way.
The high 120Hz refresh rate makes for a silky-smooth image that flows beautifully when you're navigating the home screen, menus and so on. Unfortunately, third-party app support is mostly limited to 60Hz with some pushing 90Hz. But the X3 can detect this and adjust refresh rates on the fly to improve battery life – hopefully the high refresh rate will future-proof the phone to some degree.
The 1080p LCD screen looks great, although it's not quite as punchy as a higher-end OLED smartphone.
It's a shame that Realme decided to go with a single speaker. Though it's loud, clear and quite decent by smartphone speaker standards, it can sound a bit unbalanced, especially if you're used to stereo sound.
Still, the specs are quite impressive. It supports high-resolution audio (up to 24-bit/196kHz) and Dolby Atmos decoding which is a very niche, but not unwelcome, addition. However, it doesn't include a 3.5mm headphone jack or the aptX codec. Given that these features really require hardwiring to perform at their best, it feels like Realme wanted to appeal to audio enthusiasts but didn't want to go all the way.
Realme uses a proprietary user interface (UI) based on Oppo's ColorOS that has its fans but may not appeal to traditional Android users. Navigation is easy, app icons have a clear, modern appearance and the settings, while extensive, are typically easy to navigate. You can wind up falling down a rabbit hole trying to find some options but fortunately the search function is quite robust.
The software is generally stable, though it does present some occasional quirks. Google Assistant randomly activates without a prompt from time to time and the browser does crash occasionally. Not a lot, but enough for it to be a little frustrating.
If the layout isn't to your liking, you can download and install different themes which alter the wallpaper, icons and the icon's shapes. Though not super customisable, there's a fair bit of flexibility.
But this may be the only example of welcome bloatware. The X3 is loaded with other 'enhancements', as well as plenty of proprietary tools that Realme really wants you to use. These are all optional, you can uninstall a good chunk of apps and ignore all the Realme tools, but some things, like the music player and photos app, are baked in.
Thumbprint, face scan and classic pin login are all available and generally work fine, though they're a bit buggy. Sometimes thumb and face scans take you to the home screen as intended, other times they unlock the phone but you still have to physically slide the lock screen away. Occasionally they just don't work, but the good old pin code is always there to save the day.
The X3's build and feel fits its mid-tier price point perfectly. The Gorilla Glass 5 screen is responsive and feels fine while navigating, while the plastic case is neither premium nor cheap. It's, well, mid-range, though it is a magnet for fingerprints.
There's a small bezel and the selfie camera sits just inside it, at the top left of the screen. It's not all that distracting but you do notice the little black rectangle out of the corner of your eye when apps utilise the entire screen.
The volume controls on the left of the phone (top) and thumb scanner to log in on the right-hand side (bottom). Camera protrusion is also pictured.
The only other gripe is the thumb scanner placement. It's on the right side of the phone which is convenient, but also easy to unintentionally tap during a call. Though this won't end the call, you can accidentally bump buttons mute with your cheek, and the blinding screen light can be a bit of a shock.
This is a great smartphone for the consumer who wants a good all-round performer with great battery life. If you're into fancy phone technology and all the bells and whistles, you'll find the X3 limiting. But it should match everyone else's needs at a much lower price point than comparable models from big-name brands. Just don't buy it solely for the camera.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.