In its four years of existence, OnePlus has fashioned itself as the flagship phone killer jumping out of the midrange bushes. Every device to date has been defined by premium specs at bargain prices, but that changes with today’s OnePlus 5. Starting at $479 with 64GB of storage, this new flagship can no longer be mistaken for a super-specced midrange handset. And even though it doesn’t cost quite as much as a mainstream mainstay like the Galaxy S8, that’s exactly the sort of phone it will be compared against. This is the priciest device yet, and it’s falling in line with its more traditional competition: you pay more to get more.
There’s no questioning the specs of this phone: it’s powered by the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 835 processor; comes with a combo of either 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage or a laptop-rivaling 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage; and it has a total of 52 megapixels of image-taking prowess between its three cameras.
What I see when I look at the 2017 edition of the OnePlus flagship is a necessary maturation and refinement. The ruthless cost cutting of the past was never going to be sustainable, and now that the company is facing the exigencies of being a global operation with costs that go beyond basic distribution and marketing, flagship is growing up in both price and quality.
A) Hardware and design:
Before we go any further, a few notes: We’re reviewing the top-of-the-line OnePlus 5, with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (available only in black). This model will set you back $540, but that’s still highly reasonable for the specs you get. Fortunately, there’s also a version with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (available only in gray) — that’ll set you back $480, and should still give every other flagship a run for its money.
Both versions of the phone are identical otherwise, from the Snapdragon 835 chipsets they share to their sealed, 3,300mAh batteries. (Yes, that’s just a hair smaller than the battery we got in the 3T.) For better or worse, though, OnePlus still prefers giving its phones two nanoSIM slots instead of a spot for a SIM and a microSD card. While this flexibility (and support for loads of GSM and LTE bands) make OnePlus 5 an excellent travel device, you’re better off getting the more expensive mode if you can afford it.
B) Display and sound
This year, we’re working with another 5.5-inch AMOLED panel running at 1080p, with a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio and no curves. (It is, however, covered in a slightly curved plate of Gorilla Glass 5 that’s already getting dinged up.) While I would’ve loved to see OnePlus embrace the no-bezel look that its rivals have, it’s pretty clear why it hasn’t: It’d be a financial nightmare. Personally, I’m just fine with the compromise OnePlus made here.
It might not be quite as crisp as the Galaxy S8’s screen but the pixel density on this 5.5-inch, 1080p screen works out to 401 PPI. During my testing, that’s been more than enough for nitpicking details in photos and reading very small text. Brightness was also sufficient — I took the phone for several long walks and had no trouble seeing directions.
The fact that we’re getting a no-nonsense screen doesn’t mean we’re not getting any frills. After user feedback, OnePlus added an sRGB color mode to the 3 via software update — this time the team added support for the DCI-P3 color gamut, a move Apple embraced in its most recent iPhones. These are nice perks for display junkies, but most people will never touch these settings — the punchy default mode is already very pleasant. In fact, my only real complaint is that you’ll see some mild color distortion if you look at the screen from a very oblique angle. That’s less a problem for you than for the person snooping on your texts from the seat next to you.
Meanwhile, the speaker situation hasn’t changed much: There’s still a single grille drilled into the phone’s bottom edge, and it’s a little louder than the 3T at maximum volume. I’ve mostly used the OnePlus to blast music and podcasts for a week, and both came out sounding bright if a little muddy at high volume. As always, you’ll want to turn to headphones for the best possible audio quality. On the flip side, OnePlus baked three microphones into the phone for improved audio recording, and the difference was clear. I recorded a room full of chattering family members on Father’s Day, and the 5 produced clearer, cleaner sound than the 3T.
As always, the OnePlus 5 runs a custom version of Android called OxygenOS (version 4.5 now). Think of it as “stock Android plus” — it’s built atop a clean version of Android 7.1.1 Nougat and loaded with a host of helpful tweaks and options to give power users more control. You can, launch apps by drawing symbols on the screen or swipe into a “shelf” to the left of your home screen to quickly check the weather and leave yourself memos. Want to switch to a dark theme or inject some pink highlights into the interface like I did? Done and done.
The settings app is rife with modifications that both expand Android’s usefulness and make it feel more personal, but all of this stuff is hidden under the surface. If you just want a smooth Android experience, you could very easily ignore it all. These broad strokes will be all too familiar to OnePlus fans, but there are plenty of new touches as well.
There’s a Do Not Disturb mode specifically for gaming, which automatically blocks notifications from rolling in when you’re midmatch. More useful for me was a reading mode that makes the screen go gray scale when you launch certain apps — say, Amazon’s Kindle or The New York Times. It’s certainly easier on the eyes, but I’m never going to give up my e-reader. There’s also a “secure box” for storing sensitive files and apps from prying eyes (a la Samsung), which is always more useful than people are generally willing to admit. Beyond that, most of the changes are pretty subtle — you can customize how the phone vibrates more specifically and night mode can be set to automatically activate with the sunset.
Curiously, my OnePlus 5 was supposed to have Google’s Assistant preloaded — emphasis on “supposed to.” I’ve since been able to confirm that the Assistant works as well as expected on other OnePlus 5s, so hopefully, this is just a rare mistake that users will never have to deal with.
Dual cameras in smartphones may have seemed like a flash in the pan at first, but it’s clear they’re not going anywhere except in our pockets. Most of the time you’ll be using the 16-megapixel main camera, which stacks up well against devices like Samsung’s Galaxy S8. Photos taken with the OnePlus 5 were generally a little darker and less saturated than their S8 counterparts, but the sensor’s higher resolution kept things crisp and occasionally captured details Samsung’s might have missed.
It’s also very quick to focus thanks to the way Sony has arranged the focus pixels on the sensor — long story short, you’re probably not going to miss the moment unless your reflexes suck. The camera also has an f/1.7 aperture, which made shots taken in dim conditions come out brighter than expected, though grain became an issue when lighting was anything less than optimal. As light grew more scarce, edges softened and textures became more indistinct.
Having another, separate 20-megapixel telephoto camera to switch into is very helpful, and it’s a pleasant surprise to see OnePlus use a higher-resolution sensor for the zoom camera. (The G6, for example, uses a pair of 13-megapixel sensors.) Color saturation and detail seemed slightly better here as well, to the point where I sometimes preferred shooting in 2x mode. Thankfully, switching between the two takes a single tap, while a sideways slide brings the zoom level as high as 8x.
Both of these cameras are used for the depth-effect mode, which adds a bunch of bokeh behind your subject. It’s a crowd-pleaser, albeit a finicky one. You have to maintain the right distance from your subject and have enough light for the software to do its thing. The resulting shots are generally very good, and I’ve come to appreciate OnePlus’s approach over the iPhone 7 Plus because it works surprisingly well on things besides faces. Beyond all that is a fairly spartan app for actually shooting these photos, which is just fine by me. There’s no cruft here — the only other truly neat feature is a handy Pro mode, complete with a histogram to help experienced photographers expose their photos correctly.
And what of the 16-megapixel front-facing camera? Well, selfies came out very crisp, and the new screen flash makes it easier to capture your duck-face in a dimly lit bar. Good enough for me.
While I’d still give the photographic crown to Google’s Pixel, OnePlus should be proud of its work. It’s not perfect, but the dual camera here is well executed and raises the bar for a company that has struggled to get photography right.
E) Performance and battery life
There was never any question that phone with specs like this would run well,The flip side to all this is that the OnePlus 5 actually has a slightly smaller battery than the model it replaces. OnePlus says that the sealed 3,300mAh battery is capable of lasting around 20 percent longer than last year’s 3T, but I wasn’t able to replicate those claims. That doesn’t mean the battery sucks. In our standard rundown test, where we loop an HD video with Wi-Fi on and screen brightness set to half, the OnePlus 5 stuck around for fifteen hours and three minutes — that’s better than any other flagship phone I’ve tested this year, but roughly an hour short of the bar set by the 3T in 2016.
The OP5 fares better in daily use, though: while the OnePlus 3T generally lasted for just over a day on a single charge, the 5 routinely withstood a day and a half of mixed use. It doesn’t take much to get that up to two days — the battery saver mode is off by default, after all — but the included Dash charger means you can go a long way on a momentary recharge. When I forgot to plug in the phone overnight, a 15-minute top-up was enough to last me most of a day. Just try (hard) not to lose the cable or the charger, because you’ll need both to charge as quickly as possible.
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