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Realme GT Master Edition hands-on review: Quirky but confusing phones

There was a time when phone ranges were easy to understand, but companies like Realme are muddying the waters by introducing multiple variations of existing models, just with small differences between them. The Realme GT Master Edition and Realme GT Explorer Master Explorer Edition are prime examples, which is frustrating because the company should have just let the really fun design to do all the talking.

Like previous Realme Master Edition phones, each has been given special treatment by Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa, but this time it’s not the only phone in the range, and just because it says Realme GT on the box, don’t expect the phones to be the same as the existing Realme GT. It’s all rather confusing, and even after a few days with the phones, I’m no closer to understanding why Realme has done this.

Confusing master class

The two GT Master Editions are a continuation of Realme’s partnership with industrial designer Fukasawa, who has already lent his Color, Materials, and Finish (CMF) talents to a series of phones for the brand. For the Realme GT Master Edition and Master Explorer Edition, he took inspiration from the paneled design of a suitcase, and styled it from gray vegan leather. The phones proudly wear his signature.

The Realme GT Explorer Master Edition (left) and GT Master Edition (right) seen from the back.
The Realme GT Explorer Master Edition (left) and GT Master Edition (right) Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The finish is soft, with just enough texture to give it grip, the gray color is subtle and warm, and the clever design catches the light in an interesting way. Realme says it’s the first time vegan leather has been shaped this way, with unusual 0.3mm raised panels. It definitely doesn’t look like any other smartphone, and I really like it.

The Realme GT Master Edition in grey vegan leather seen from the back.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The special design is, to me, the reason why the Master Edition phones exist. It’s what makes them cool, different, and desirable. But unlike previous Master Editions, these are not special editions of an existing phone, but apparently a continuation of the GT series, as the model with Fukasawa’s signature doesn’t stand alone, and neither of them is the same as the Realme GT.

The Realme GT Explorer Master Edition (right) and GT Master Edition (left) screens.
The Realme GT Explorer Master Edition (right) and GT Master Edition (left). Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

If, for some unknown reason, you don’t want the gray vegan leather finish, you can buy the GT Master Edition phones in two other colors, Luna White or Daybreak Blue, without Fukasawa’s signature on them. Without the “Master” involved, this surely means they are not Master Editions, just regular editions? Realme doesn’t agree, and continues to call them Master Editions anyway.

I’ve had my hands on the Luna White GT Master Edition model, and although I like the matte finish, the back panel feels very plasticky and doesn’t have the same premium charm of the similarly plastic Samsung Galaxy A52 5G. It doesn’t disguise the plastic chassis very well either, unlike the vegan leather back, so the lightweight 174-gram body feels quite cheap. I’ve also tried the white version of the Realme GT Explorer Master Edition, which is far more premium, with a metal chassis and what I think is a higher-quality back panel, plus a curved screen instead of the flat screen on the Realme GT Master Edition.

The Realme GT Master Edition's signature.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Not the same as the Realme GT

Neither phone looks the same as the Realme GT, which has a different camera module design, and a glass or leather back panel. So, the Realme GT Master Editions don’t look the same as the Realme GT, and don’t all carry the signature of the “Master.” Confused yet? Well, it’s about to get worse.

Confirmation these are new models in Realme’s GT range comes after examining the spec sheets. The Realme GT Master Edition has a 6.43-inch flat Super AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G processor, 8GB RAM, Android 11, a 4,300mAh battery, and fast 65-watt charging. The main camera has 64-megapixels (MP) and is joined by an 8MP wide-angle camera and a 2MP macro camera, plus a 32MP selfie camera.

The Realme GT Explorer Master Edition has a 6.55-inch, 120Hz curved Super AMOLED screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 processor, either 8GB or 12GB RAM, a 4,500mAh battery, Android 11, and stereo speakers. On the back is a 50MP main camera, plus a 16MP wide-angle, a pair of LED flash units, and the same 2MP macro camera and 32MP selfie camera as the GT Master Edition.

Neither of the phones are exactly the same as the Realme GT, which has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, and are solid enough midrange models. You could be forgiven for associating a phone with the name “Master Edition” to be a range-topper, especially as there is a special edition version, but that’s not the case here.

Using the Master Editions

I played some Asphalt 9: Legends on both, and while I couldn’t see any performance difference on either, there was a difference from an audio and visual standpoint. The stereo speakers on the GT Explorer Master Edition have a lot more bass and depth, with the GT Master Edition’s single speaker sounding tinny and suffering from harshness and distortion at mid-volume levels. The Explorer’s 6.55-inch screen is more immersive and brighter, plus the screen protector doesn’t get as grubby as the one on the Master Edition.

Asphalt 9: Legends on the Realme GT Master Edition.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Without a doubt, the Realme GT Explorer Master Edition feels like the more upmarket smartphone, as the all-plastic GT Master Edition does not have the same heft or in-hand feel, and unless you get the gray vegan leather model, it’s a disappointment. But then, why wouldn’t you get the true “Master Edition” with Fukasawa’s signature on it? It’s genuinely the only reason to choose one of these new Realme GT phones over the, um, Realme GT.

The GT Master Edition has Android 11 with Realme UI 2.0 installed. I’ve only used the phone for 24 hours, and although it’s smooth and fast, I find it doesn’t always deliver notifications reliably. The GT Explorer Master Edition I have uses the same software, but came without Google Play installed. This was easily fixed by using a third-party installer, but does require time and effort to install all the additional Google Mobile Services tools you’d get with a model released outside China.

I have only taken a few photos with each phone so far, but definitely preferred those taken by the Realme GT Explorer Master Edition. They’re more vibrant and make better use of HDR, plus the focus is faster and more accurate than the GT Master Edition. For example, I captured a 2x digital zoom shot of a bee that really impressed, yet was not able to replicate anything close to it using the GT Master Edition.

Having used both phones for a short period of time, I consider the GT Explorer Master Edition the one to buy. It feels higher quality, the screen’s curve looks great, and the camera outperforms the GT Master Edition’s.

It’s all in the name

Fukasawa’s eye-catching, fun take on smartphone design, complete with his signature etched on the back, was the reason the previous Master Edition phones existed. Happily, one model in the GT Master Edition and GT Explorer Master Edition range also has its own quirky Fukasawa design, but is oddly joined by models that don’t. I don’t really know why they exist, and because neither are as desirable as the regular Realme GT, I’m confused as to why Realme didn’t just let Fukasawa go crazy with the design on that model.

It’s not like Realme is hurting for midrange phones either. The Realme 8, 8 5G, and 8 Pro have only recently been released, and the company still sells the Realme 7, Realme X50, Realme X50 Pro, Realme X3 SuperZoom, and a host of other older models through its online store. I understand the need for new models, but aside from Fukasawa’s design, there is nothing to make the GT Master Editions desirable over the Realme 8. This makes the design seem wasted, when it could have just as easily been added to the top-of-the-range Realme GT.

The Realme GT Master Edition and GT Explorer Master Edition are perfectly acceptable midrange smartphones, but the Fukasawa design may not be enough to make them stand out against not only Realme’s other phones, but strong challengers like the OnePlus Nord CE 5G and OnePlus Nord 2, the new Google Pixel 5a, and Samsung’s Galaxy A52 5G.

Price and availability

Even the price is confusing. Despite Realme not selling its smartphones in the U.S., it has given the two GT Master phones prices in U.S. dollars. The Realme GT Master Edition costs $399 for the 6GB/128GB model and $449 for the 8GB/256GB version. The GT Explorer Master Edition costs $499 for the 8GB/128GB model and $549 for the 12GB/256GB version. It’s possible these prices will convert directly over to British pounds and euros.

The Realme GT Master Edition will be released in the U.K. in the future, but at the time of writing, the release date isn’t known. The Realme GT Explorer Master Edition’s fate is less clear, with no mention of a wide release. This is unfortunate, as it’s really the one to choose.

Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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