The Realme 8 Pro is a good, inexpensive Android phone that you probably shouldn’t buy right now — at least if you’re in the US. But it’s also a preview of positive things to come to the midrange class, especially in terms of camera hardware. I have seen the future of smartphone imaging around the $400 price point, and it is good.
If you’re not familiar, Realme is a Chinese company that started off as a sub-brand of Oppo; like OnePlus, it was founded by a former Oppo vice president. Its phones are sold in China, India, and Europe. Although, you can technically and use it in the US, but we wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not compatible with many of the 4G bands we use in the states, so coverage won’t be great.
The 8 Pro uses a relatively new 108-megapixel Samsung sensor. It’s the same pixel count as the main camera in the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but a different, smaller chip designed for budget-friendlier phones. As in the S21 Ultra, the point of this technology isn’t to take 108-megapixel images (though you can do that if you want). It’s to combine information from groups of pixels to create a better optimized 12-megapixel final image.
There are other reasons to like the Realme 8 Pro. Considering its £279 (about $380) price, performance is very good, owing to a strong combination in its Snapdragon 720G processor and 6GB of RAM. Battery life is healthy and the phone supports 50W fast wired charging. Depending on how you feel about inspirational corporate branding, I guess the “DARE TO LEAP” printed on the back of the phone could be a plus (not my thing, personally).
But the camera impressed me the most, and it’s a component that will likely make its way into many more midrange phones sold around the globe. Let’s take a closer look.
In case you need a reminder at any point of how many pixels the main camera offers, you can simply look at the back of the phone where you’ll find “108 MP QUAD CAMERA” etched on the camera bump. Specifically, it’s Samsung’s 1/1.52-inch Isocell HM2 sensor coupled with an f/1.9 lens.
Unfortunately, there’s no optical image stabilization here, but maybe owing to the image processing tricks this high-res sensor can pull off, I didn’t notice a significant number of blurry shots that OIS might have corrected. Other rear cameras include an 8-megapixel ultrawide, 2-megapixel macro, and a 2-megapixel depth-sensing camera. There’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera on the front.
The main camera is able to do a couple of interesting things. In bright daylight, it can use all 108 million pixels individually, using different pixels to capture your scene at multiple exposure levels at once, and combining the information into a 12-megapixel final image. In low light, the camera switches things up and uses binning to combine pixels into groups of nine, effectively turning relatively small individual pixels — 0.7μm to be precise — into much larger 2.1μm sized pixels, which helps produce less noisy images.
Photos in bright light look good as expected. There’s an impressive amount of detail captured, though some overzealous sharpening is evident if you zoom in to 100 percent. Colors are a bit too saturated for my liking; there’s no amount of lawn fertilizer in the world that would make my yard look as green as the 8 Pro thinks it is. It seems more prone to this oversaturation with landscapes and is thankfully less aggressive with portrait mode photos. Portrait mode photos look good, and I appreciate that the camera doesn’t crop in when switching to this mode.
Dim indoor lighting and low light are where phone cameras typically struggle, but the 8 Pro turns in an impressive performance in these conditions. In moderate lighting, images are surprisingly detailed and show little noise. The camera’s night mode will bring out even more detail, though it does apply a distracting amount of sharpening and contrast.
I had, frankly, low expectations for the 8 Pro’s digital 3x zoom, but I’m pleased to report that it’s much better than I feared. In good light and even moderate indoor lighting, images show a lot of detail and I’m hard-pressed to find the unpleasant artifacts that usually appear in digitally zoomed images.
The camera isn’t just cropping in on a 108-megapixel image, either. Comparing them side by side at 100 percent, a photo taken with 3x digital zoom shows more detail and looks less noisy than a crop of a 108-megapixel image. The Samsung HM2’s pixel binning powers are being put to work here, too, and the result is digital zoom that is actually worth your time.
There’s not as much exciting news to report about the 8 Pro’s other cameras; they do just fine. The ultrawide is prone to some subtle but unpleasant color shifts: white balance can skew too warm and blue skies sometimes look a little gray. The macro camera is a low-resolution sensor that is little more than a gimmick, and the selfie camera thankfully avoids over-smoothing faces at its default setting. All fair for a phone at this price.
Outside of cameras, the Realme 8 Pro is a thoroughly capable midrange phone. Battery life is sufficient to get through a day of moderate to heavy use and the aforementioned processor / RAM combo handles day-to-day app scrolling and tasks with ease. The 6.4-inch 1080p OLED with standard 60Hz refresh rate is fine but nothing special, and I had to fight with auto brightness insisting on making the screen too dim on a couple of occasions.
There’s the flashy branding on the rear of the device, which is either your kind of thing or not. The Realme 8 Pro doesn’t support 5G at all, which is something to consider if you’re in the UK and thinking of buying the phone.
My biggest gripe, though, is with the optical in-display fingerprint sensor. I’d say at least a third of the time when I unlocked the phone it required more than one try to read my finger. A couple of times — both outside in bright daylight — it gave up and had me enter my PIN instead. If this was going to be my forever phone, I’d probably skip the fingerprint sensor and just stick with a PIN, personally.
The Realme 8 Pro is the kind of midrange phone that we don’t see very often in the US: great performance and decent all-around specs combined with an excellent camera, all for what would equate to a sub-$400 price.
Phones that meet this description are surprisingly scarce stateside; in fact, its closest equivalent is probably the Pixel 4A, which we’ve recommended as the essentially since it became available last summer. The 8 Pro goes a step beyond the 4A in some respects by offering an ultrawide rear camera and fast charging. If it came down to it, though, we’d probably still favor the Pixel for its very good device support and excellent lone rear camera.
If you live in the UK and you don’t care much about class-leading display specs and the lack of 5G doesn’t bother you, the 8 Pro has a camera and a processor that will keep up for many years to come. For the rest of us, the 8 Pro is (hopefully) a sign of good camera hardware coming our way soon.
Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge