Continuing the catching-up with things delayed by the pandemic, I finally got my hands on some 5G capable handsets. They are the Oppo Find X2 Pro and Find X2 Lite, costing $1899 and $799 respectively.
I tested them, and no, I didn't come down with Covid-19, nosebleeds or had my mind controlled by Bill Gates from 5G exposure. If that's what you believe, please avail yourself of one of the many excellent resources that explains what 5G is and how it isn't harmful, including from our own Ministry of Health .
It was a slightly bumpy ride actually. I promptly ran into further delays with a show-stopper issue while trying out the flash X2 Pro at a 5G enabled site. Despite full strength signal, mobile data stopped working. Ditto text messages (I didn't try voice calls).
The X2 Lite worked fine in 5G, ditto Chris the Vodafone engineer's Samsung 5G capable phone. Back in 4G, the X2 Pro data and SMS came back to life.
I was probably treated as a special case, but both Oppo and Vodafone were really quick and responsive in trying to resolve the issue, with a new handset, a production model this time and running tests at the cell site.
Vodafone said the problem was due to using my own SIM in the X2 Pro, and Oppo sent a screen recording showing that the device can indeed connect to 5G and that the issue is now fixed.
However, I tried again at the same site with my own SIM and this time the X2 Pro stayed on 4G with no 5G indicator displayed. The X2 Lite meanwhile slotted into 5G just fine.
I'm not sure yet what's causing the glitch with the pricier phone, but things that are good value and just work are what I like. The nicely built X2 Lite ticks a bunch of boxes in those categories.
The phone is assembled around a newish Qualcomm 765G chip set (the G stands for gaming) with eight Kryo processor cores and an Adeno 620 graphics unit, plus eight gigabytes of memory and 128 GB of storage.
Amazingly enough that's mid-range nowadays, making the phone anything but "lite".
Furthermore, the X2 Lite has a 48 and 8 megapixel quad camera system with a black and white and depth unit, and a 32 Mpixel (!) selfie-shooter, which take pretty good photos and videos. The 6.4-inch Gorilla Glass 5 screen is an AMOLED with 1080 by 2400 pixel resolution, and there's fast WiFi 6 support.
Only thing I missed on the feature list was support for cableless Qi charging pads, but Oppo makes up for it a little with the high-power 30 Watt VOC wall-wart.
The X2 Lite runs the latest Android 10 and Oppo's ColorOS 7 interface tweaks that are subtle and don't get in the way of using the phone. Since Oppo's owners BBK Electronics aren't in America's geopolitical crosshairs like Huawei and ZTE, the X2 Lite (and X2 Pro) both get the full suite of Google Android software. Without that, and it doesn't matter how good the device is, an Android phone is crippled and not very usable outside China.
Even if it didn't have 5G support, the quick and well-designed Oppo X2 Lite is worth checking out.
Is it worth getting a phone specifically for the next-gen mobile service though, and which device should you go for?
The answer is a little complicated, but we're only at the first version of 5G. Eventually, when 5G standalone mode appears (the current version requires 4G for control), it should provide the superfast speeds and great responsiveness that has had some people optimistically claim wireless can replace fibre optic delivered broadband.
One reason for this is due to 5G building on 4G's carrier aggregation. That's when the cell site and phone join up multiple radio frequency bands for a fat wodge of bandwidth and even higher speeds. It involves using frequencies below 6 GHz, and millimetre waves above 24 GHz. The latter can encode lots of data but don't reach very far or go through buildings.
WIthout getting too geeky, the more bandwidth, the better and you can already see how well that works. On Vodafone 4G, despite not shifting into 5G, the X2 Pro managed 150 and faster megabit/s downloads. On an iPhone 11 Pro, I saw 220 Mbps; both of those figures are on par with the 5G speeds I saw.
Those results are pretty good, but I was reminded that they could be even better by Twitter users who posted results in the 400 Mbps region using 4G. In Australia, Telstra has set up tri-band carrier aggregation which appears to produce over 500 Mbps downloads and more than 100 Mbps uploads easily.
For now, 4G is plenty fast and responsive for most uses. The Oppo X2 Lite works well for that, with the added bonus of the high-speed 5G overlay in some parts of the country and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
But, the X2 Lite doesn't have 5G standalone mode. Future-proofing for the even faster 5G requires spending much more on the X2 Pro which supports standalone mode as well as the current 4G with 5G overlay.
Yes, it's complex, and while I appreciate that wireless tech is amazing and almost indistinguishable from magic, I can't help thinking that telco vendors made the 5G too convoluted with that two-step progression.