The Realme C31 is an absolute steal and effortlessly upstages the more expensive C35
- Decent overall performance
- Good looks
- Unexpectedly great photos
- Video capture isn’t the best
- Weak 3D performance
- Screen could be better
When you think of Chinese phone brands – if you ever find yourself thinking of Chinese phone brands – you probably list Xiaomi, Huawei, Honor, Oppo, OnePlus and maybe Vivo. You probably don’t think of Realme, and you really should, because the company has a knack of making attractive-looking smartphones on a budget.
The ultra-affordable Realme C31 is the latest in the line, and comes in at a thoroughly reasonable £129. But does it feel like it costs so little?
Realme C31 review: What you need to know
The Realme C31 is a 6.5in handset that looks to all the world like it costs three or four times its modest price. But obviously Realme isn’t making a loss on this, so what’s on the inside?
Rather than sticking with the tried-and-tested Android chip providers of Qualcomm or MediaTek, Realme has instead leaned on Unisoc for its T612 processor. It’s a 12nm octa-core chip with speeds of up to 1.8GHz, featuring an ARM Mali-G57 GPU. Backing this up is 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, as well as a generous 5,000mAh battery.
For photography, Realme packs in three cameras on the back: a 13MP primary camera, a macro lens and a monochrome sensor.
Realme C31 review: Price and competition
As mentioned, all of that comes in at the low, low price of £129. It’s worth taking a moment to marvel at how much you can get for such little outlay these days, even as flashy flagships try and normalise the £1,000+ handset.
Unfortunately, such low-cost handsets are still unusual, and it’s even more unusual for companies to send out review units so we don’t have a great deal to compare the Realme C31 to. There’s just the Motorola Moto G10, which cost £130 a year ago and can now be had for around £100, and the somewhat disappointing Nokia G21 for £150.
If you have a bit more cash, the field opens up a little, not least with the Realme C35 which I also reviewed recently for £169. Its competitors include the Motorola Moto G31 for £170, the Nokia G50 for £200 and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11, also for £200.
Realme C31 review: Design
The ~£100 smartphone has come a long way in the past decade, and the Realme C31 looks a lot like something a flagship would have looked like about five or six years ago.
Yes, it’s chunky by today’s standards weighing in at a hefty 197g, and yes, the bezel is rather thick (especially along the chin, where it reaches a good 7mm), but it still looks like a desirable bit of hardware from a distance.
Up close, corners have obviously been cut with its textured plastic back, but it still looks appealing with its gentle curves and neat raised camera bump containing its three lenses. More importantly, it feels substantial in the hand, with little risk of slipping, which is something you have to worry about with glass-topped premium handsets.
It also features a headphone jack, and has space for microSD cards of up to 1TB in capacity as well as two SIM cards at once. The only really disappointing thing is the use of micro-USB charging, rather than the now standard USB-C. But as a charger is included in the box, you can’t really complain too much on that score – it will just take a bit longer to charge, that’s all.
Realme C31 review: Display
For £129, you shouldn’t come to the Realme C31 expecting the best viewing experience of your life, and if you arrive with that frame of mind, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. It’s good for the price – not great, but good enough.
The 720p 6.5in IPS panel covers a slightly disappointing 82% of the sRGB gamut, with a volume of 93.1%. That’s not awful, but it does mean that colours can look a bit muted. Brightness, too, is a little on the low side, as we measured a peak of 413cd/m², though it does offer superb contrast at 1,774:1.
All this adds up to a decent screen that you might consider calling great given the low cost of entry. Whatever way you look at it, it’s a lot more than you used to get for this kind of money, which is definitely something to be celebrated.
Realme C31 review: Performance and battery life
Unlike the vast majority of Android phones, Realme has chosen to ditch Qualcomm and MediaTek in favour of Unisoc’s Tiger T612 chip, which is a budget 1.8GHz octa-core processor. Here, it’s paired with a decent 4GB of RAM.
In Geekbench 5, it doesn’t fare too badly at all. It’s a near dead heat between the £129 Realme C31 and its more expensive £169 sibling, and it outperforms both the £130 Moto G10 and £150 Nokia G21. In fact, it isn’t too far off the two handsets that are markedly more expensive – the £200 Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 and Nokia G50. A great start.
But those pricier handsets come into their own in the graphical tests, especially the Nokia G50 and its Snapdragon 480, which offers more than double the frame rate of all the sub-£150 handsets.
The red bar may make it look like the Realme C31 is outperforming the C35, but it actually isn’t: it’s just that it’s outputting the gaming test at a lower screen resolution. As you can see from the pale orange bar where things are equalised, it’s a narrow 2fps advantage to the C35. You can argue that an extra 2fps isn’t worth paying £40 more for, but it’s there nonetheless.
In terms of battery life, both the Realme handsets are comfortably the weakest, but a 15-hour stamina isn’t too bad, all things considered.
Realme C31 review: Camera
The Realme C31’s camera setup consists of three lenses: a 13MP (f/2.2) main camera, backed up by a 2MP (f/2.4) macro lens and a monochrome sensor.
I have my usual misgivings about throwing in extra cameras for the sake of it: for my money, budget handsets should just put in one quality lens, rather than waste money on supplementary sensors that barely get used. That said, I was pleasantly surprised with the Realme C31 – especially when compared to the more expensive C35.
In well-lit conditions, the Realme C31’s main camera is capable of some nicely composed shots, as the photo above aptly demonstrates. Better still, it’s actually marginally better than the 50MP f/1.8 lens on the C35 as you can see from the zoomed images below. The C31 offers a bit more detail, somehow, especially on the tiles, and colours are replicated more accurately, too.
Even the best smartphones struggle with low-light photography, so we shouldn’t expect miracles from a £129 model. But once again, the Realme C31 left me pleasantly surprised. Yes, it’s a bit noisy, but there’s still quite a lot of detail captured in my garden as night fell.
And while relative performance is even closer here, the Realme C31 once again holds its own against the more expensive model.
The front-facing camera fits in the “good enough” category. Lots of Chinese smartphones go big on beauty fiters, but I’m pleased to report Realme mostly leaves these as optional. From left to right: no filters, default filters, max filters.
Video recording will do in a pinch, but footage captured certainly won’t be winning any awards. It’s grainy, lacking in detail and bounces around when moving. No doubt good results are possible with the right lighting and a steady hand, but even then you’ll be limited to 1080p at 30fps.
Realme C31 review: Verdict
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s amazing how much phone you can get for £129 nowadays, and if that’s your absolute budget then the Realme C31 should be on your shopping list. For the money, it offers solid performance, a decent screen and camera performance that punches well above its weight.
Of course, if you can afford to pay more, then you should. Not, as it turns out, for the Realme C35, which probably doesn’t justify the extra £40, but the Nokia G50 will give you a lot more bang for your buck if you can stretch to £200.
If you can’t? Well, the Realme C31 will do you just fine. And you can do a lot worse.