The Realme 8 Pro is a look into the future of mid-range smartphone imagery

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The Realme 8 Pro is a good, cheap Android phone that you probably shouldn’t buy right now, at least if you’re in the US. But it’s also a taste of positives coming to the middle class, especially when it comes to camera hardware. I’ve seen the future of smartphone imaging at around $ 400, and it’s good.

If you’re not familiar: Realme is a Chinese company that started out as a sub-brand of Oppo; like OnePlus, it was founded by a former Oppo vice president. His phones are sold in China, India and Europe. While you can technically buy a global version of the phone and use it in the US, we wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not compatible with many of the 4G bands we use in the United States, so coverage isn’t going to be great.

The 8 Pro uses a relatively new 108 megapixel Samsung sensor. It has the same pixel count as the main camera in the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but a different, smaller chip designed for more budget-friendly phones. As with the S21 Ultra, this technology is not intended to take 108 megapixel images (although you can do that if you want). It is to combine information from groups of pixels to create a more optimized 12 megapixel final image.

There are other reasons to like the Realme 8 Pro. Considering the price of £ 279 (about $ 380), the performance is very good, thanks to a strong combination of the Snapdragon 720G processor and 6 GB of RAM. The battery life is healthy and the phone supports 50W fast wired charging. Depending on how you feel about inspiring corporate branding, I think the “DARE TO LEAP” 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 part that’s likely to find its way into many more mid-range phones sold around the world. Let’s take a closer look.

Realme 8 Pro

The 8 Pro offers wide and ultra-wide cameras as standard, plus macro and depth sensor modules.

Realme 8 Pro camera

If at any point you need a reminder of the number of pixels the main camera offers, look on the back of the phone where you will see “108 MP QUAD CAMERA” on the camera bubble. Specifically, it’s Samsung’s 1 / 1.52-inch Isocell HM2 sensor paired with an f / 1.9 lens.

Unfortunately, there is no optical image stabilization here, but perhaps because of the image processing tricks this high-resolution sensor can achieve, I didn’t notice a significant number of blurry images that OIS may have corrected. Other rear cameras include an 8-megapixel ultrawide, 2-megapixel macro and a 2-megapixel depth-sensitive camera. There is a 16 megapixel selfie camera on the front.

The main camera can do a number of interesting things. In bright daylight, it can use all 108 million pixels individually, use different pixels to capture your scene with multiple exposure levels at once, and combine the information into a final 12 megapixel image. In low light, the camera turns things off and uses binning to combine pixels in groups of nine, converting relatively small individual pixels – 0.7μm to be precise – into much larger 2.1μm pixels, which helps with producing less noisy images.

Pictures in bright light look good as expected. An impressive amount of detail has been captured, although some overzealous sharpening is evident when you zoom in to 100 percent. The colors are a bit too saturated for my taste; there is no amount of lawn fertilizer in the world that makes my garden look as green as the 8 Pro thinks it is. It seems more prone to this oversaturation in landscapes and is thankfully less aggressive in portrait mode photos. Portrait mode photos look good and I appreciate that the camera doesn’t crop when I switch to this mode.

Dim interior lighting and low light are what phone cameras usually struggle with, but the 8 Pro delivers impressive performance under these conditions. In moderate light, the images are surprisingly detailed and show little noise. The camera’s night mode will bring out even more detail, although it does apply a distracting amount of sharpening and contrast.

I honestly had low expectations for the 8 Pro’s digital 3x zoom, but I’m happy to report that it’s much better than I’d feared. In good light and even poor indoor lighting, images show a lot of detail and I have a hard time finding the obnoxious artifacts that usually appear in digitally zoomed images.

Left: 3x digital zoom, 100% crop. Right: 108 megapixel image, 100% crop.

The camera doesn’t just cut into a 108 megapixel image. If you compare them 100 percent side by side, a photo taken with 3x digital zoom shows more detail and looks less noise than a crop of a 108 megapixel image. The pixel binning powers of the Samsung HM2 are also put to work here, and the result is a digital zoom that really pays off.

There isn’t much exciting news to report about the 8 Pro’s other cameras; they are doing fine. The ultra-wide is subject to some subtle but unpleasant color changes: the white balance can get too warm and blue skies sometimes look a bit gray. The macro camera is a low-resolution sensor that’s little more than a gimmick, and the selfie camera thankfully avoids overly smooth faces at the default setting. All reasonable for a phone at this price.

The 8 Pro’s combination of processor and RAM is more than enough for mundane tasks and scrolling.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

Realme 8 Pro performance and screen

Outside of cameras, the Realme 8 Pro is a very capable midrange phone. Battery life is enough to get through a day of moderate to heavy use, and the aforementioned processor / RAM combo handles the daily scrolling of apps and tasks with ease. The 6.4-inch 1080p OLED with a standard 60Hz refresh rate is fine, but nothing out of the ordinary, and I had to fight with the auto-brightness and get it on a few times to make the screen too dim.

There is the flashy branding on the back of the device which is your 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 considering buying the phone.

My biggest complaint, however, is with the optical fingerprint sensor in the display. I would say at least a third of the times I unlocked the phone it took more than one try to read my finger. A few times – both outside in bright daylight – it gave up and I had to enter my PIN instead. If this were going to be my phone forever I would probably skip the fingerprint sensor and use a PIN personally.

The Realme 8 Pro is the kind of mid-range phone we don’t see very often in the US: great performance and decent overall specs paired with an excellent camera, all for the price of less than $ 400.

Phones matching this description are surprisingly scarce in the United States; in fact, the closest equivalent is probably the Pixel 4A, which we’ve recommended as the best cheap Android phone since it became available last summer. The 8 Pro goes a step further than the 4A in some ways by offering an ultra-wide rear camera and fast charging. When it comes down to it, we’d probably still prefer the Pixel for its very good device support and excellent solitary rear-facing camera.

If you live in the UK and don’t care too much about best-in-class display specs and the lack of 5G doesn’t bother you, the 8 Pro has a camera and processor that will last for years to come. For the rest of us, the 8 Pro is (hopefully) a sign that good camera hardware is coming our way soon.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge