Oct 1st, 2021

Realme apparently can’t stop itself from releasing new smartphones with great specs at a fairly reasonable price point. The new Realme Master Explorer Edition is one of the latest devices to be added to the companies lineup, featuring the impressive Snapdragon 870 from Qualcomm, 5G support, up to 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage and a gorgeous 6.55-inch curved AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. You’d typically expect a $600 to $700 price point for a device like this, but Realme has somehow managed to bring this phone to market for right around $460.

Before we get too far into this review, I need to point out that the device I reviewed was intended for the Chinese market. This means it didn’t ship with the Google Play Store pre-installed and the price we shared in a rough currency conversion form the phone’s price in China. Realme is planning to release the phone in Europe and other markets, but we doubt it’s be making its way to North America any time soon. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to import from overseas and getting the Google Play Store installed is a simple process as well.

Like many other devices in the premium mid-range segment, the Realme GT Master Explorer Edition seems to check all the right boxes if you’re looking for great performance and quality build materials at an affordable price. Realme even includes a 65W charger and a case in the box. The overall design of the phone is pretty forgettable with a triple camera module on the back, but it does look nice with a metal frame and curved glass on the front and back with color options that include Voyager Gray and Lunar White.

Of course, the phone’s price point does mean some compromises had to be made. The phone doesn’t come with an official IP dust and water resistance rating, there’s no wireless charging and surprisingly, it’s missing a 3.5mm headphone jack as well. But if those omissions don’t scare you away, there’s a lot to like about this phone.

Display

As mentioned already, the GT Master Explorer Edition sports a curved 6.55-inch AMOLED display. While curved displays aren’t usually my cup of tea, I haven’t had any isses with touch input or typing while using the device. You do get some additional glare when watching videos or playing games while holding the phone in landscape mode, but it’s not quite a bad as some other devices. As with most AMOLED displays, the visuals are stunning with great viewing angles and more than enough brightness to be used in direct sunlight.

The panel itself is protected with Gorilla Glass 5, supports HDR10 and a 120Hz variable refresh rate. By default, the refresh rate is set to variable, allowing it to switch dynamically so that battery life doesn’t take a huge hit, but you can lock it in to 120Hz if you want. I honetly didn’t notice the difference when switching between the two modes with both of them producing extremely smooth scrolling and animations as you navigate through your apps and the phone’s UI. But locking the refresh rate at 120Hz did have a noticeable negative effect on the phone’s battery life.

Software

Out of the box, the phone is running on Android 11 with Realme UI Version 2.0. Since this is the Chinese variant, not everything is fully translated to English (or any other language), making it a harder than it should be to navigate the settings while trying to set up and customize the phone.

Personally, I like the look and feel of Realme UI, but the amount of bloatware that comes pre-installed on the phone is reminiscent of what we typically see with all the carrier bloatware we see on phones here in the US. There are more than 10 pre-installed apps that can be uninstalled and another dozen that can’t be removed from the phone. I definitely prefer the cleaner software experience you get on Oppo devices. That being said, you still get just as many UI customization and tweaks as you do on other Oppo devices, allowing you to change color schemes, fonts, and even choose between dozens of different always-on display graphics and animations.

Performance

Some may look at the specs of the phone and scoff at the Snapdragon 870 since they are simply interested in the latest and greatest chipset for optimal performance. After using dozens of phones running the Snapdragon 888 and the 870, my choice would be to always use a phone with the Snapdragon 870 if I had the option. Yes, the chipset is less powerful, but that’s only if you’re comparing peak performance benchmark scores. After about 15 minutes of use, the 870 is the better chipset since it handles heat much better, delivering better performance over time.

The phone also has 12GB of RAM, which makes is great for multi-tasking, but it also has a new feature that allows you to allocate internal storage to be used as RAM as well. The RAM expansion feature to boost the phone’s RAM by 3, 5 or 7GB, effectively giving the smartphone up to 19GB of RAM. Now I’m not quite sure why anyone would need that much RAM since 12GB is more than enough, even for power users. But if you need it, you have the option.

Overall performance of the device is stellar with the Snapdragon 870 delivering incredible performance while gaming and more than enough power to take advantage of the phone’s 120Hz display when needed. Like any phone, you will notice slowdowns here and there, but that has more to do with software optimization than the performance of the hardware.

Cameras

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the phone’s triple camera system is fronted by the 50MP IMX766, a sensor that the BBK group has used on more than a dozen phones this year. You’ll find the same sensor on the Oppo Find X3 Pro and the OnePlus Nord 2. The results are what you’d expect: impressive images and videos in both daylight and night shots. The processing leans towards high contrast shots, but you can always tweak the settings yourself when switching over to manual mode.

The phone also has a 16MP ultrawide that delivers noticeably inferior shots when compared to the main sensor. The use of a fixed-focus lens results in softer images if you’re using the camera to capture subjects that are only a few feet away. That being said, having a low-quality ultrawide camera is always preferable to a low-quality zoom camera since its performance is usually good enough when taking ourdoor shots, especially when lighting conditions are adequate.

The final camera on the back of the phone delivers 2MP macro shots. As I’ve mentioned so many times already, it’s not something worth talking about and is only there so that they can say the phone has a triple-camera.

For the selfie camera, the Realme GT Master Explorer Edition uses the IMX615 from Sony which is capable of snapping 32MP photos and 1080p video. The results are pretty good for a selfie camera. It’s not going to compete with what you get from a flagship-tier smartphone, but the selfie results are clear with adequate low light results as well. While I’d like to complain about video capture being limited to 1080p, it’s a number BBK can’t seem to get away from, even on their $1,000 smartphones.

Battery & Charging

Battery life on this phone is something that’s been hard to judge since the review device I have was not intended for the US market. Using a T-Mobile SIM card, it is capable of connecting to 4G, but I have not been able to test it with 5G enabled. Most days, the 4,500 mAh battery was able to last a full day, leaving me with at least a 20% charge when plugging the phone in when going to bed at night. If you’re a heavy gamer, you should be able to put in at least a 5 hour gaming session before needing to juice it back up

While wireless charging wasn’t included, the 65W charging brick you get with the Realme GT Master Explorer Edition is capable of delivering a full charge to the battery in under an hour. On more than one occasion, I was able to top off the battery from a 60-70% charge in less than 25 minutes before going out at night for dinner.

Final Thoughts

The Realme GT Master Explorer Edition isn’t a device without compromises, but it’s perfectly tailered for someone who’s looking for a gaming-centric smartphone that also offers a premium build and a fairly good main camera. Just keep in mind that there are some workaround needed to get the Google Play Store installed on the phone and you won’t necisserily have the best software experience.

If this device checks all the right boxes for you, it’s not a bad buy at all, but there are definitely quite a few other smartphones for $50 or $100 more that will be less of a hassle, especially for those of us in North America and Europe.

 

Realme GT Master Explorer Edition Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_75star_empty (3.75 / 5)

The Good

  • Performance
  • Design & build quality
  • Main camera
  • Display

The Bad

  • No Google Play Store
  • Lots of bloatware
  • Network not optimized for western markets

The Bottom Line

If all you need it for is a good gaming device on WiFi, this is a great phone. If you plan to use it for anything else, there are better options out there.

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