Only OnePlus can charge more for a phone, and still be an insane value

 cnet.com  7/12/2017 12:00:04 PM  4

The OnePlus 5 is simply stellar.

It delivers a grade-A experience and nearly all the specs you demand in a flagship phone for hundreds of dollars less than the Samsung Galaxy S8, Google Pixel and Apple iPhone 7.

This is the fourth major phone from Chinese phone maker OnePlus, which has earned a reputation for creating cheap, quality Android phones that undercut the competition. While OnePlus doesn't have the volume or pure brand clout as Samsung, Apple and even Huawei, it has garnered a loyal following through flash sales and word-of-mouth recommendations.

The OnePlus 5 excels at serving high-performing hardware, like the latest Snapdragon chipset and an enduring, fast-charging battery. It's also on trend with a dual-lens rear camera that takes artsy portraits and can hold its own against the iPhone 7 Plus.

But it doesn't have super-slim bezels or the water-resistant body that so many top-tier phones do. And its price, while still hundreds less than its top-tier competitors, inches closer to them than years past due to its more expensive features. As a result, the phone isn't quite the deal it once was. But, rest assured, the trade-off is more than fair.

Editors' note: This review has been updated on July 12, 2017, with additional benchmark tests.  

Pricing and where to buy

The OnePlus 5 will come in two storage capacity variants (both have no expandable storage) and you'll need to buy direct and unlocked since it's not available through major carriers. It will also only work on GSM networks, like AT&T and T-Mobile in the US (and not Verizon and Sprint). There will be an online "early drop sale" the day of its announcement on June 20. The day after, on June 21, OnePlus will host one-day pop-up shops for the phone in London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Helsinki and Copenhagen. Finally, on June 27, the device will be available globally on its site for open online purchase.


USD GBP AUD (converted) EUR
Gray (64GB/6GB RAM) $479 £449 AU$750 €499
Black (128GB/8GB RAM) $539 £499 AU$830 €559

One of the best cameras around

The OnePlus 5 hopped aboard the dual-camera trend and has two rear shooters. Unlike other phones that have two cameras for wide-angle or monochrome purposes, the phone has a standard 16-megapixel shooter and a secondary 20-megapixel telephoto lens. This enables it to take "bokeh" images that have a shallow depth of field and blurred backgrounds (as if you took the photo with an DSLR camera).

The effect turns my run-of-the-mill photos of my friends into something more artsy and dramatic, and it works the same way the 7 Plus' cameras do. You need to stand 1-6 feet away from your subject to use the effect, and there were times when the camera didn't recognize or "catch" the subject initially. But when it worked, my pictures looked great. Due to its longer focal length, the telephoto lens has a fixed optical 1.6x zoom (it then adds digital "multi-frame technology" to bring it up to 2X), so you can toggle between the standard lens or zoom in on distant objects clearly and steadily with the telephoto.

The effect doesn't always work perfectly every time on both the OnePlus and the iPhone. It can be patchy around objects with tricky outlines (like with stray hairs and such). But the iPhone did a slightly better job at reading these situations and determining where best the blurring should start and end. The iPhone's bokeh effect also looked softer and more natural at times. In some of the OnePlus' portraits, the foreground looked too harshly contrasted with the blurred background, and the effect looked too digitally rendered. (Check out CNET's full OnePlus 5 vs. iPhone 7 Plus camera comparison here.)

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Portrait mode on the OnePlus 5 (left) and iPhone 7 Plus (right).

Lynn La/CNET

The OnePlus 5 takes excellent low-light pictures, better even than the pricier Pixel at times. That's due to a combination of better processing technology from OnePlus and a slightly wider aperture (f1.7 versus f2.0 on the Pixel), which lets in more light. And in photography, light is everything. Many of the OnePlus' photos were clearer and sharper (with less digital artifacting) than the Pixel. White balance was also more accurate, since the Pixel gave off a slight greenish hue with some of my dark, indoor shooting.

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Shooting in low light with the OnePlus 5 (left) and Pixel (right).

Lynn La/CNET

In general, the OnePlus 5 has a superb camera (and its 16-megapixel front-facing shooter takes sharp selfies as well), if not one of the best camera phones around. When it comes to regular day-to-day shooting, though, personal preference comes into play -- especially when all premium phones carry first-rate cameras.

For instance, in a few photos, the OnePlus had deeper reds and purples than the Galaxy S8. This gave objects more vibrancy and depth, while the S8 came off flatter. At the same time, however, the OnePlus rendered skin tones darker and more orange, whereas on the S8 (and the iPhone too, actually), people's complexions looked more true to life. The S8 also had a more accurate white balance indoors, with whites being much more purer and brighter. (Check out CNET's more extensive camera shootout with the OnePlus 5, the Galaxy and Google Pixel here.)

While there were some situations when the iPhone, S8 and Pixel had an edge, all of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. The OnePlus 5 is the only phone that we know that has two cameras for the bokeh effect with that high of a megapixel count. What's more, while the camera is competing neck-and-neck against these rivals, keep in mind it's doing it at hundreds of dollars less than the others.

Other camera features

  • "Pro mode" gives more manual control for photographing and OnePlus included new tools like a histogram for adjusting ISO levels and white balance, and a leveler. Click here for more about getting the most out of your OnePlus 5's camera.
  • Camera still has time-lapse, slow-motion and panoramic shooting.
  • The camera does not have optical image stabilization, but it does have electronic image stabilization for video only.
  • On top of the 2x telephoto optical+digital zoom, you can digitally zoom up to 8x.

Comfortable but not waterproof

Though the 5 is still wider than my petite hands prefer and its bezels aren't as sexily thin as the S8 and LG G6, its softer edges make it more comfortable to hold than last November's 3T predecessor. I also dig the smaller and flatter camera footprint.

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