I really want to stop calling OnePlus the “startup you've probably never heard of that’s making kick-ass phones" but sadly they still aren’t ready to outgrow that status.
Not that the company cares that it’s still seen as the underdog in the increasingly saturated smartphone world. In fact, the metaphor that OnePlus is David and everyone else is Goliath only pushes the company to “Never Settle” (its tagline) and keep doing the seemingly impossible with its impressively affordable phones.
If you’re one of the many who’ve never heard of OnePlus, there’s no better time to get to know the company than with their new flagship OnePlus 5 smartphone.
It feels like a trick that the OnePlus 5 is this spectacular. It feels like even more of a trick when you realize it only costs $479 (Slate Gray; 64GB with 6GB of RAM) or $539 (Midnight Black; 128GB with 8GB of RAM).
But ridiculously premium phones with prices that cost hundreds less than Samsung's or LG's or Apple’s flagship phones is precisely what OnePlus is known for and how it’s built a cult-like following in the nearly four years since it vaulted onto the stage.
I’ve watched the company’s ambitions grow and its phones continue to push the limits of industrial design, software, and value since the beginning.
Now with the OnePlus 5, which I’ve been testing for a little over a week, the startup phone maker finally claims phone perfection for Android.
Looks like iPhone, but feels incredible
The haters will look at the OnePlus 5 and say it’s an iPhone 7 Plus clone, and they wouldn’t be wrong.
Kyle Kiang, the company’s head of global marketing, told me the company isn’t (at least not yet) spending gobs of resources building a phone that looks dramatically different from others just for the sake of doing so.
That wasn’t an answer I wanted to hear — original industrial design is what gives a phone an identity — but I can’t say that I was shocked by it either.
The phone does look like Apple’s biggest iPhone, but what phone isn’t derivative of another? Sure, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 looks distinct with its long curved display, but things weren’t always that way. Google’s Pixels look like an iPhone as well, but so do many others.
Skin resemblance aside, the OnePlus 5 does feel different from an iPhone or Galaxy S8 in the hand, and that makes a big difference. OnePlus says the OnePlus 5’s curves are a natural evolution of the OnePlus 3T’s.
The aluminum unibody is remarkably thin at 7.25mm (0.29 inch — a hair thinner than the iPhone 7 Plus). The longer sides of the display stretch edge-to-edge allowing for a smaller physical footprint compared to the iPhone 7 Plus.
The OnePlus 5 isn't quite the supermodel the Galaxy S8 is, but it looks like one next to Google’s Pixel. There’s not a single button or port that’s out of place, and the lack of any logos besides the OnePlus logo, “Designed in…” text, or model numbers on the back, only makes the phone look that much purer.
Flagship inside and out
It’s for the better that OnePlus dropped the “flagship killer” nonsense last year. OnePlus’s phones don’t need to dethrone another to be winner. Hell, and it’s unlikely to do so until it ships as many as Samsung does in a year, which probably won’t be for a while.
For the money, the OnePlus 5 checks off all the boxes you’d expect from 2017 flagship. The industrial design is right up there in Apple and Samsung’s league, and so are the specs.
• 5.5-inch AMOLED display (1,920 x 1,080)
• Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
• 6GB RAM/8GB RAM
• 64GB/128GB storage
• 3,300 mAh battery
• Dual SIM
• Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11 ac
• 16-megapixel f/1.7 camera + 20-megapixel f/2.6 2x "tele" lens
• 16-megapixel f/2.0 selfie camera
The phone comes with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip with two RAM and storage options (6GB of RAM with 64GB of storage or 8GB of RAM with 128GB of storage). On paper, these specs beat the pants off the Galaxy S8 and in reality they do as well (although not by much).
The OnePlus 5 beats the pants off of the Galaxy S8 in specs and responsiveness.
That extra 2GB or 4GB of RAM over the Galaxy S8 means everything is faster and smoother. Apps open and close in an instant. 3D games power through with virtually no choppiness. You can flick through what feels like hundreds of suspended apps in the multi-tasker.
Android fans will wonder why there's no microSD card slot for storage expansion again. When I nagged OnePlus about this, their reps said they found memory-card performance was sub-par compared to onboard storage, and so they decided to skip it and switch to UFS 2.1 built-in storage, which speeds up everything from performance to loading.
This insane speed is noticeable all throughout OxygenOS 4.5.0, which is really nearly stock Android 7.1.1 with some very minor customizations and custom settings.
Kiang says the company didn't add more RAM just to have more than the competition. The extra RAM helps improve responsiveness and reduce touchscreen latency, which all contribute to the phone working faster and actions feeling more fluid.
Android purists will cling to their Pixels and say that's what a pure Android experience is, but I think I might like OxygenOS more. Aesthetically, the launcher looks practically the same as stock Android. But dig around and you'll find OnePlus's handful of unique features like the Shelf board that's a swipe over from the main home screen, dark theme, expanded screenshots (take longer screenshots), unique off-screen gestures, and more.
New to OxygenOS is a handy "Reading Mode" that drains the screen of its color to black and white for an e-reader-like experience and a "Gaming Do Not Disturb Mode" that mutes notifications when you're, well, gaming. Both of these features can be toggled on manually or set to automatically activate on an app-by-app basis. They're small features that you might gloss over, but, man, are they useful.
The rest of the phone's features are also top-notch. The fingerprint sensor is impossibly quick (and thankfully not on the back next to the camera), there's a headphone jack, and the battery easily lasts a full day. Dash Charging, OnePlus's own version of Quick Charge, also continues to kick ass, juicing up the OnePlus 5 from 0 to 60% in 30 minutes.
The phone's also splash-proof. It's not IP-rated for water-resistant, but OnePlus says it'll be able to handle rain and a drop in the toilet, no probs. Sure enough, my review unit survived the recent torrential downpours in NYC.
The only thing that could've made the OnePlus 5 even better would've been stereo speakers; the phone's mono speaker is loud, but it's just like the Galaxy S8: side-firing instead of forward-firing.
iPhone 7 Plus-like cameras
The dual cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus — one regular lens and one 2x optical zoom "telephoto" lens — are considered the best in the phone game. On top of that, its "Portrait mode" which blurs out the background has been described as game-changing and good enough to shoot magazine covers.
It was only a matter of time before an Android phone copied it. And copy the OnePlus 5 does so without shame.
The OnePlus 5 has the same type of dual-camera system mounted on the back, only with higher-resolution image sensors. There's a 16-megapixel wide-angle lens with f/1.7 aperture and a secondary 20-megapixel 2x "telephoto" lens with f/2.6 aperture.
They work just like on iPhone 7 Plus: tap a little "1x" and "2x" icon to switch between the two lenses. The OnePlus 5's even got the same "Portrait mode" with a "Depth effect" icon that appears when you've got your subjects within a few feet to blur out the background.
How good are photos taken in regular, 2x, and Portrait mode? Unsurprisingly, very, very good... most of the time.
Let's start with regular photos. They look phenomenal. Colors are rich (if not a little too warm and oversaturated than reality), details are crispy, and low-light pics just look amazing.
I'm more of a "life-like" colors kind of guy, and prefer to edit and saturate my photos on my own terms, but I recognize a lot of people like the more vibrant colors, so it's really a matter of preference.
The OnePlus 5's HDR+ mode (default) also tends to over-process images to an extreme, washing out details and giving them a cartoon-like look when you view them up close. This isn't a problem on your phone screen, but zoomed in, it's clear the cameras could dial back on the processing — an issue that could be fixed with a software update.
As for 2x zoom and Portrait mode, those look pretty tight as well. The lenses are wider than on iPhone 7 Plus so the optical zoom isn't quite as close, but they're still solid.
Just like on iPhone 7 Plus, Portrait mode blurs out the background making foreground details pop. The iPhone 7 Plus has softer (considered better) "bokeh" than the OnePlus 5, but they're both impressive for a phone.
Selfies from the 16-megapixel f/2.0 front camera look as good as they did on the OnePlus 3T. That is they're sharp enough for Instagram and Snapchat.
Not bad. Not bad at all, OnePlus!
The OnePlus to rule them all
Three years after it launched the OnePlus One to critical acclaim (and silly invite-to-buy shopping experience), the startup shows no signs of slowing down.
The OnePlus 5 is arguably the best no-nonsense Android phone of the year. There simply is no better phone when it comes to value.
The OnePlus 5 is still the best phone value in town.
Die-hard OnePlus fans might have reason to pause with the price increasing with each new model, but if you compare that to the prices you’d pay for other unlocked flagships — $725 for an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S8 (64GB), $770 for an unlocked Google Pixel XL or iPhone 7 Pkys (32GB; there are no 64GB models, but you can jump up to 128GB for even more) — the OnePlus 5 is a steal.
I said it when I reviewed the OnePlus 3T and the same holds true for the OnePlus 5: It fills the void left by Google’s Nexus phones. With Google playing in the premium phone game, few have stepped in to offer that same kind of value-performance package of the Nexus line except OnePlus.
The Galaxy S8 is Samsung’s best phone ever. Same goes for Google and its Pixels, LG and its G6, and Apple and its iPhone 7.
The OnePlus 5 is OnePlus’ best phone ever — and maybe one day it’ll command premium prices just like Samsung — but for now, it’s still the best deal in town.