For Android enthusiasts, few companies can generate as much buzz as OnePlus. Looking back at my own personal experiences with the brand, I was very skeptical of the company’s start, especially critical of early advertising campaigns. Smashing phones and over the top slogans like flagship killing never sat well with me, but over several generations, this label has evolved to better represent what the slogans claim.
Never settle? Can a manufacturer still deliver a near flagship grade experience at a significant price reduction? As vicious as this mid-range market has become, the OnePlus 5 cuts precious few corners, but can it still excite fans like earlier OnePluses could when novelty was on their side?
Let’s get this out of the way right now. This phone looks an awful lot like another phone out there. It’s been well documented by now that the shell for the OnePlus 5 is nearly identical to the OPPO R11. A well-known relationship, BBK Electronics owns OnePlus, OPPO, and Vivo. There are minor differences, like the addition of the hardware mute switch, some sculpting on the sides, but otherwise, the same frame. There’s nothing particularly objectionable about that. Automobiles do this regularly, same frame different design accents, different options and trim. There’s something kind of charming about two forks of the same company sharing resources and collaborating.
For fans of these brands, the larger potential sin might be the design similarity to Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus. A similar matte black finish. A similar overall layout. Nearly identical camera housing and camera options. Angled antenna bands. The main differences, less sculpting around the sensor, a gentle curve to the rear, instead of Apple’s flat back, and retaining the 3.5mm headset jack.
This aesthetic is as evolved as it really can be. We’ve lived through three generations of similar apple products, so this is as low risk as a manufacturer can get. A phone that aims for a premium feel, and won’t rock the boat. There’s a difference between companies organically arriving at comparable design elements, and one company following another like a disciple. The OnePlus 5 crosses into the latter territory.
Words like derivative or copycat might be bandied about, but I do have to give OnePlus credit for yet again showing how much space Apple wastes for the same size screen. I’m certainly being kind, but there is a small moral victory to applaud.
I suppose owners won’t be looking at the back of their phones much. The feel in the hand at least differentiates it from the Apple. A nice satin layer over a gracefully contoured back, with nice facets carved into the sides helps the phone trick the fingers into thinking it’s thinner than it really is. Thankfully OnePlus was kind enough to send over some sample cases, so I can replace the sandstone texture I enjoyed so much on the OnePlus 2. It made the camera testing a lot easier knowing I had a good grip on the thing.
The technology inside is on point, and continues the OnePlus tradition of balancing compromises against horsepower. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chipset packs a nice punch, especially when paired with fast storage and energy efficient RAM.
These guts are top tier, but some folks might be frustrated by the dual sim card tray instead of expandable storage, or the lack of enhanced water resistance or durability certifications. Lifestyle features take a backseat to the “big number” bullet points on this spec sheet.
All this power is paired again with a 1080p AMOLED display. We’ve come to expect a higher pixel density on proper Android flagships, though an HD screen is plenty fine to make it through your daily business. The lack of resolution density will be felt most by folks interested in paying with some VR, but people with better than average eyesight might notice some haziness around text or fine details.
AMOLED panels deliver that tasty contrast ratio, accentuated by the dark theme included with OnePlus’ software. The saturation drives a nice color pop. Photos and videos are eye pleasing, and outdoor viewing is better than average in auto brightness mode.
Highlighted for the OP5, are separate night time and reading modes to ease the strain on your eyes. You can dial in a bit more of an amber tone, or select apps to shift into an almost eReader-like state. Nice consideration for those late night insomniatic Reddit sessions. All phones can be flipped into a grayscale mode, but this option to activate with specific apps is handy.
Expanding on the software, Oxygen OS is a wonderfully evolved experience. Consider it stock Android, refined. Only minor touches here and there to differentiate the phone, with a minimum of pre-installed software. It’s really clean, a blank slate for the consumer to customize as they see fit.
Two handy additions, Mobile gamers will certainly appreciate a “Do Not Disturb” mode, setting filters for which notifications can disrupt your boss battles. For folks worried about privacy, the file manager now has a secure box, locked down by a pin or fingerprint, to keep your sensitive materials away from prying eyes.
If there’s any concern software wise, it’s in an area we can’t properly predict: future support and updates. We can be confident that this phone will be in line for Android O, but the recent announcement that the OnePlus 2 will not be receiving Nougat was disappointing. It introduces a touch of doubt as to how this company might support products long term. Early software releases have been promising, addressing performance and camera issues. As consumers are holding on to phones longer, this aspect of support is becoming increasingly important.
Lean software and HD resolution, it’s no great shock that this phone is a screamer. The most fluid UI performance we’ve yet experienced on this chipset. I’m not sure how much software really benefits from this quantity of RAM, but it’s sure footed and predictable in multi-tasking situations. It chews up daily communication and social networking, and it’s more than capable of brute forcing its way through a poorly optimized game for Android like Marvel Future Fight.
Yet again, OnePlus seems to be including software to help influence the results of benchmarking applications. Yet another data point for users to refrain from placing too much stock in these synthetic results, or how they might apply to real-world performance. The shame here is that this phone is already a monster performer. Little is gained by sprucing these benchmarks, and it introduces doubt as to what the phone might be capable of.
OnePlus touts improved carrier reception and MIMO WiFi antennas for better wireless performance. The OP5 didn’t let me down in tricky reception areas around Los Angeles, showing small improvements over the OnePlus 3T. For these improvements though, both LTE and WiFi consistently fell behind a glass back phone like the LG G6.
We’ve taken a closer look at photo and video performance in the Real Camera Review embedded above. The dual camera setup opts for a standard view and the equivalent of a 2X optical zoom. All round, we saw very good photo performance in a variety of shooting situations. It still falls behind the fastest performers, but improvements to autofocus over the 3T are certainly appreciated. Refinements to image processing produce some great jpegs, and though there isn’t any hardware stabilization, the phone can largely hang in low light situations.
The zoom sensor helps get you a bit closer to your subject, but the denser resolution and smaller aperture require good light. The practical comparison, it doesn’t improve image integrity much over the crop zoom found on standard cameras.
Dual cameras deliver some fun software blur though, in a portrait mode almost completely copy/pasted from the iPhone. We wish there were a bit more control over this effect, but it is well implemented.
Unfortunately, video takes us a step backwards with only software stabilization which is not available when shooting UHD. It’s a shame as we’ve seen what older chipsets can produce when cropping and adjusting the frame for 4K. The OnePlus 5 should be more than powerful enough to match, but for now users will probably want to stick with 1080p.
When switching to 1080p, output is nicely smoothed out, supporting my hypothesis that hybrid software and hardware stabilization is less desirable This comes at the expense of clarity and resolution, so if there’s any area we’re hoping for improvement on a future update, it’s in adding stabilization to UHD video.
While a significant focus has been applied to camera tech, we’re happy to hear that audio has also received some attention. Speaker performance won’t wow anyone for being a bottom firing mono solution. It’s about as good as a single speaker can be when not pointed at your face.
Happily the OnePlus 5 continues a track record of including above average headphone hardware. New for 2017, we’re treated to true blue 32-bit playback, and this is another phone added to our list of gadgets which can properly produce frequencies of sound that most dogs cannot hear. In terms of quality, it’s exciting to see a less expensive phone which produces almost exactly the same numbers as the improved Galaxy S8, and any differences we could detect were well within the margin of error. Better still, the amp on the OP5 takes a small step up over our OnePlus 3T, making this phone ever so slightly better at driving nicer headphones than most of the current flagship competition. Very well done.
Now, there have been some concerns over the slightly smaller battery in the OP5 over last year’s OP3T, but OnePlus claims the more power efficient chipset and RAM should make up the difference.
We’d say this philosophy is on point. In our media test, streaming 30 minutes of HD video over WiFi at 190Lux, the OnePlus 5 drained 4%, posting the best numbers of any phone we’ve yet tested this year. It won’t cross over into the marathon territory of some bigger battery devices, but it shouldn’t leave you stranded during the day under moderate use.
In the event you do need to recharge, you can also expect some of the fastest juicing around thanks to the Dash charger. This is happily not a marketing claim. Thirty minutes on the included charger delivered a 48% top off. Not only does this rapidly increase your run time, it manages to keep the phone relatively cool while topping off.
I’m very happy with this initial experience. The mission of a company like OnePlus is to balance competitive pricing, while compromising as little as possible. Reviewing the more expensive model, we’re treated to performance which exceeds our expectations, and with a retail price some $200 less than a Galaxy S8. You really do feel like most of your money is going towards what’s inside the phone.
The tradeoffs are acceptable for most daily use scenarios. You don’t get the most pixel dense screen. You don’t get expandable storage or water resistance. You don’t get the most fashion forward gadget.
Any of those could rightfully be deal breakers depending on the consumer, but the lower price helps take some of the angsty edge off. That balance of features for the dollar is critically important. The OnePlus 5 faces incredible competition from other mid-rangers, and price cuts on flagship phones like the LG G6.
The OnePlus 5 no longer dominates this space, lacking the “wow” factor of the original OnePlus 1, but it still makes a compelling argument for your cash.