OnePlus is synonymous with sticking two fingers up to the wider smartphone industry and doing it their way. It’s been a tough learning curve for the Oppo Electronic’s backed company over the last three years, and there has been a sea of poorly conceived marketing stunts, customer service issues and teething problems with production over that time. With the OnePlus 5 in 2017 they introduce more RAM, storage, processing power and optics than ever before. So are they still delivering the flagship killer, or have they grown up and finally settled down? We take a look in our OnePlus 5 review.
Let’s start with the biggest elephant in the room based on the response to the OnePlus 5’s design, yes, it looks a bit like the iPhone 7 Plus. There’s no denying it. Perhaps that’s intentional as OnePlus must have more confidence than ever in their ability top match the Cupertino giant at least in terms of fluidity, based on the reception to its previous two phones (the 3 and the 3T).
OnePlus 5 – Specs
Now that’s out-of-the-way, let’s see what OnePlus has packed in to their 2017 offering.
- Snapdragon 835
- 5.5-inch 1080p screen
- 6 or 8GB RAM
- 64 or 128GB storage
- Dual rear facing cameras
- Bluetooth 5.0
- 3300mAh battery
- Dash Charge, NFC, USB-C, Fingerprint Scanner
- Android 7.1
Top tier specifications with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a new dual-camera setup, amounts of RAM that frankly aren’t required as yet, and excellent storage options are the highlights here, but there are also areas that some might raise an eyebrow to in 2017. A 1080p screen, even a really glorious one like the one on offer here is no longer cutting edge, and a battery capacity which is less than that offered in their previous device might be frowned upon somewhat.
OnePlus 5 – Design
We’ve already touched on its likeness to another popular smartphone, but if we look at this as a standalone device, its curved and sleek finish is elegant and more mature even than the 3/3T of last year. The matte finish of this Midnight Black model has a brushed effect which allows the slightly lighter colour of the antenna bands at the top and bottom of the device to melt into the overall design. The edges are not completely rounded which actually aids in hand feel here but due to the proliferation of the brushed finish, the device can be slippery to hold, without a case that is.
The fingerprint scanner, along with all other buttons, are in the same positions that they have been in the last couple of OnePlus devices. The fingerprint scanner position is interesting with many manufacturers looking at rear scanners. Perhaps the dual optics on the rear wouldn’t sit with a rear fingerprint scanner technology. The alert slider makes its triumphant return here and it could be argued that this dedicated button has much more functionality (as it has done for the last few years) than Samsung’s Bixby button currently.
A bottom speaker placement that is in line with every other 2017 smartphone is to be expected, and I can’t see OnePlus wanting to disrupt the flat, clean finish on the back of the device just for better audio. They are happy to handle this with headphone tweaks instead perhaps suggesting that they believe many won’t be consuming too much media without such an accessory connected.
The Type-C USB port returns to provide Dash charging to the OnePlus 5 once more, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is thrown in for good measure too.
The OnePlus 5 is available currently in two colour variants; Slate Grey and Midnight Black. There are rumours of Red, and Blue offerings, but currently at the time of writing these are not available.
In short, it’s a very similar design to almost all OnePlus devices, and specifically that of the last two years in terms of buttons, but is given a more elegant finish.
OnePlus 5 – Performance
I want to start by addressing the 1080p screen here. Whilst many of their peers have been experimenting with QHD displays for the last 12-18 months, OnePlus has only ever used a 1080p screen. This years panel is bright, vibrant and accurate thanks to the inclusion of the DCI-P3 colour gamut. sRGB is still available and using the OnePlus 5 in the default screen calibration should suffice for most with it delivering a Galaxy-esque punchy finish to colours. The options are there if you want to experiment though.
We’re going to skip the usual benchmarks in light of recent information, but let me explain exactly how snappy this device is in one statement; I’ve had zero Android jank on any application or game since the day of release. Seriously, not a bit. It’s silky smooth in its transition from application to application and the gameplay on the device in my go to test games (Riptide GP2 as an example) is exemplary. Gone are the days of worrying about the CPU cooking your hand as you attempt to load an application; Qualcomm have delivered again with the 835. Does Android 7.1 require the 835’s power coupled with 6GB or 8GB? Well, no, no it doesn’t, but then again you don’t need a Lamborghini to drive down a road. There’s something instantly tingly about knowing you have the fastest processor in the Android game currently, and I felt very tingly!
The 8GB model we’re reviewing here is firmly in the sledgehammer to crack a nut territory and I’ve barely managed to get the device to utilise more than 5GB of RAM at any given time currently, so those happy with a 64GB storage option might do well to save themselves £50 and grab the 6GB model. All other specifications remain the same and you can use that saved money to grab some accessories?
Speaking of the storage options here, the 128GB of storage in this model is not only comforting in its size, but blistering in its performance thanks to UFS 2.1. I actually managed to run a few benchmarks on this storage compared to other phones and indeed tablets and it holds up very well against any similar type of storage solution. The specs speak for themselves and more and more, just as in the enterprise world, storage is the one of main components to delivering a great user experience. Thankfully the OnePlus 5 nails this.
The fact it’s taken a number of paragraphs to get to the voice calling aspect of the review should tell you everything you need to know about the way in which the majority of people are utilising their smart devices in 2017. For what it’s worth, the call quality here is marginally better than it was on the OnePlus 3, for me, which is to say still very, very acceptable. The issues OnePlus used to have with their GSM radios seem to have thankfully vanished and instead we’re left with excellent signal performance too.
Connectivity wise, again, OnePlus joins in leading the way by delivering Bluetooth 5. Now, this won’t necessarily help too much as we’re awaiting a sea of Bluetooth 5 products for it to pair to, but the fact that it’s included delivers some future proofing and will bode well for the future. It’s a shame that the Wireless radio included isn’t of the same standard. To be fair to OnePlus, since their recent patching frenzy following the 5’s release, it has improved greatly, but there are still performance issues that can sometimes only be resolved by turning the radio off, and then on again. Keeping that old saying alive is something that nobody will be thanking them for.
Battery life is something I am very keen on ensuring is top-notch in my phones. To say I’ve been disappointed over the last two years with devices marketing “48 hour battery life” only for it to fall considerably short, would be an understatement. OnePlus makie no such bold claims here but the included 3300 mAh battery does deliver good battery life, which to me is confusing. My OnePlus 3 which had a 3000 mAh battery struggled to get anywhere close to the 3 hour screen on time figure, during a 12-16 hour working day (including commutes). The OnePlus 5 usually surpasses that and can pass the 5 hour screen on time figure if used for prolonged periods rather than idle most of the time. This should deliver acceptable battery life for any use case, but keep a Dash charger handy for a quick top up in any case.
On the whole the package is a very strong one and is up there with, if not beating the pants off, the other leading contenders.
OnePlus 5 – Camera
Sorry you had to scroll so long to get to this point as I’m guessing most will be wanting to read about the new dual camera setup OnePlus has introduced with the OnePlus 5 this year. Following in the iPhone 7 Plus and LG G6, OnePlus is delivering two cameras on the rear of the device. One, a regular sensor delivering 16MP resolution with a f/1.7 lens, and one with a 20MP resolution, and a narrower f/2.6 aperture in its telephoto lens for optical 2x zoom. On paper this should deliver crisp, detailed shots with the telephoto lens allowing you to get closer to distant subjects with no loss of clarity. In the field, it almost manages to deliver.
The biggest miss here is OIS, or optical image stabilisation. This allows for, well, stabilisation in a shot, which not only helps in video mode, but also helps when the light dips and the aperture opens, to steady the shot. As you can tell from some of the shots, sometimes there is a tendency to over expose when in high sunlight, but in dimming light, or normal daylight you can get some really excellent shots from the OnePlus 5. Macro shots are quite good, and the “bokeh” mode as I call it, or Depth Effect as OnePlus do can produce stunning pictures from the rear facing camera, with some impressive software depth of field manipulation.
The front facing camera is more of the same. I can see the OnePlus 5 being a good vlogging tool for those wanting to “go live” all the time. It’s more than capable in anything but poor lighting conditions.
Video wise, well 4K is available but is somewhat pointless thanks to the lack of OIS and lacklustre EIS (electronic image stabilisation). The image is sharp when taken on a tripod, but take a walk with the device to capture footage and every time movement is exaggerated. Strangely, the level of jiggle isn’t found at 1080p so I’m hopeful that OnePlus will continue to address this (they have already, kind of) in forthcoming patches and updates.
This is one area OnePlus don’t excel in this year when compared to their competition, but they certainly don’t to an awful job; it’s just not class leading.
OnePlus 5 – Software
OxygenOS returns and it’s interesting to see how it’s grown up. Back when OnePlus announced the split from CyanogenOS, there was at the time, quite understandably, a bit of a backlash. CyanogenOS was loved by the enthusiast community and it was difficult to see how OnePlus themselves could deliver anything better. Well, they haven’t, they’ve delivered different instead. The best way to describe OxygenOS is to say it is CyanogenOS-lite I think, but with a stock feel. There’s no heft to the skin and every option is there for a reason giving the OnePlus 5 a level of customisation which its users crave but without falling down on to the other side of the fence of being gimmicky.
There are a plethora of editing options from tile positions, to adding widgets to the shelf (the left most homescreen), to gestures to allow you to open almost any application with a custom swipe of the screen whilst off. This is not only incredibly handy but is still a stand out feature in the marketplace with few other devices offering this.
A lot of the goodies are a combination of OnePlus’ OxygenOS and the Android 7 it sits upon. Android 7 has brought stability fixes as well as improvements in ambient display options and battery life, so OnePlus can’t take all of the credit here, but they certainly deserve quite a bit. They’ve created a long running software deployment that is periodically improved and continues to feel incredibly lightweight. That said, we’d expect the TouchWiz of yesteryear to feel snappy with this compute package powering it!
One of my favourite additions is the new reading mode which allows applications to basically turn the screen into a monochrome display very similar to that of a Kindle to aid eye strain reduction. The immediate use case is to, yes you guessed it, add the Amazon Kindle app as I did. It’s also good for other bedtime reading such as 9Gag or other similar apps. Similarly, Night Mode has been tweaked with a slider to allow users to control the strength of the “yellowing” of the screen.
The more I use OxygenOS with each passing generation the more I prefer it over almost any other Android skin out there currently. It’s stock like for those wanting that but it’s only a tap or two away from some rather neat customisation features which actually add value rather than clutter!
OnePlus 5 – Conclusion
OnePlus have scored with the release of another stellar device. It’s no longer delivering sexist marketing campaigns or poorly judged snap sales to deliver this product into the hands of the waiting public and has instead opted for a more conventional pre-order route. Equally, their marketing and their unveiling of the product is aligned to that of its peers signalling that perhaps OnePlus is more content than ever to be “one of the crowd”.
With a mantra like “Never Settle” it seems ironic that inevitably they have been forced to grow up, tidy their house, pay their bills and face up to the responsibilities and demands of delivering a cutting edge smartphone in 2017.
It’s a strange dichotomy that on one hand has be frowning and wanting the old OnePlus to blow the competition out of the water in terms of specifications and price point, but on another, I can see sustainable roots now that will provide a platform to compete with the likes of other Android manufacturers, and should also allow for a few surprises yet.
OnePlus have scored another goal with the OnePlus 5. It may not have been hit as ferociously towards the net as the OnePlus 3, and it might not have made a satisfying ding noise when it thuds in off the bar this time around, but it’s a goal nevertheless, and in the end that perhaps is all that matters to OnePlus as they mature into a less niche smartphone brand.