Realme, a spin-off of Chinese smartphone giant Oppo, has stepped up its game with recent smartphones, and the GT Master Explorer Edition is no exception.
Previous devices tended to have good specs – especially for their price range – but have suffered in build quality, with sturdy bodies and cheap, plastic-like constructions.
The GT Master Edition feels like Realme’s first attempt at a smartphone that can compete with the big boys, albeit at a mid-range price.
It has a 6.43-inch Samsung AMOLED panel display that is vibrant and responsive and has a 120Hz refresh mode. This last spec is something that often separates the mid-range from more expensive devices, but the inclusion here is nice, if not earth-shattering.
While only noticeable when switching between 60Hz and 120Hz modes, the device does feel faster, especially when paired with Qualcomm’s capable 778G chip. Multitasking and switching between apps is also smooth and lag-free – the device comes with 8 GB of RAM and 3 GB of what Realme calls “Dynamic RAM Expansion Technology”.
This system actually uses some of the storage to act as virtual RAM. The effectiveness of such a technique is somewhat questionable, as the internal UFS storage will be drastically slower than the RAM itself. But since 8 GB is already enough for a mobile device, the virtual RAM is likely to be limited in use for most users.
The display also includes an under-display fingerprint scanner which performs nothing short of admirable. It uses a larger sensor than many smartphones that include previous versions of the technology, meaning the user can be a lot less precise about where to place their finger, and it can also recognize fingerprints at lightning speed. Since it uses a Qualcomm chip, this could indicate that the device will ship with Qualcomm’s 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2, which was announced earlier this year. However, Realme has not officially confirmed this.
Facial recognition is also an option via the device’s front-facing security camera. There is no laser mapping or other fancier techniques like those used on the iPhone. Still, it efficiently recognizes the user’s face, albeit in a less secure way than Apple’s device.
The GT Master Edition has a remarkably more refined build quality than other Realme devices, clearly an attempt to chase flagship enthusiasts. The buttons feel solid, not too clicky, and the device has a slim design that fits well in the hand.
Unfortunately, battery life seems to suffer from these efforts to keep the device thin. It has a relatively mediocre 4300mAh battery that will easily last you a day of heavy use, but you can forget to take it out for a second day before having to put it on the charger. It also lacks wireless charging, a standard typically supported on more expensive phones.
Realme has tended to neglect its cameras in the past. While terms like AI photography and high-megapixel sensors are involved, the results are often far less impressive than the raw specs might lead you to believe.
But the GT Master Edition largely bucks the trend by capturing nicely balanced photos using the 64MP main snapper that offers impressive amounts of detail and vibrant colors without the garish over-saturation that some China-made smartphones can be guilty of. For example, on the tree above, countless shades of green can be discerned without turning into a muddy, ill-defined mess.
The night shots are less good. The direct comparison to a Pixel 4a (top image below), which is a comparably priced device, shows just how flawed the GT Master Edition’s camera (bottom image) is when faced with less-than-ideal lighting situations. Much of the Pixel’s success here may be due to Google’s impressive AI for photography that consistently produces decent photos even with mediocre hardware.
The GT Master Edition is a worthy device for a mid-ranger. An excellent fingerprint reader coupled with a solid build quality makes it a worthy competitor compared to other devices in its price range. Realme has finally done a good job on the camera too, although the night shots clearly show that Google’s Pixel 4a will have the advantage here alongside more long-term software support. A modern Qualcomm chip, backed by an excellent display running at 120Hz, makes for a snappy device, albeit one let down by slightly disappointing battery life.