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OnePlus 5 Review

Does the darling of lower-cost Android flagships have what it takes at a higher price?

In 2014, OnePlus stormed into the Android phone market with premium hardware and pared down software at what seemed like an impossibly low price. In truth, the price — $300 — really was impossibly low. It was never going to be economically feasible for the company to keep offering flagship specs at that price forever, and we’ve seen the price of OnePlus phones inch up accordingly. With a higher price, the little flaws do stand out a bit more on this year’s OnePlus 5 as a result, but as usual, most of the sacrifices that were made were probably worth it to get the price as low as it (still) is.

Build

Like the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T before it, the One Plus 5 is a 5.5″ aluminum phone, which seems to be the happy medium — big enough to satisfy those who need a large display, small enough to where it can be used with one hand. The OnePlus 5 is slightly larger than the previous models, but a hair thinner — overall, no changes big enough to move the needle.

The front and sides are mostly unchanged, with the fingerprint scanner on the front, the SIM tray and power button on the right, the volume rocker and an alert slider on the left, and a 3.5 mm headphone port and a mono speaker on the bottom. Everything is fine enough, although I thought the volume rocker felt a little loose.

On the back, the antenna lines now curve around the top instead of going straight across, and instead of having a single camera in the top center, there’s a dual camera system in the top left with a smaller camera bump. Many have said the design copies the iPhone; I don’t care enough about that to comment, but you can make your own judgments. The one thing I will say is that the recessed OnePlus logo gets surprisingly grimy, so that’s another reason to use a case.

The phone feels nice in the hand — there’s enough heft to it to make it feel substantial, but not so much that you’d get tired if you were holding it up to your ear to make a call. I’m not totally convinced that sloped edges make a huge difference ergonomically when dealing with these super thin rectangles, but it’s not uncomfortable to hold and it’s easy to grip, so OnePlus seems to have done everything right here.

The one big knock on the OnePlus 5 is that there’s no water resistance — it’s one of the sacrifices made for the sake of the price. You’ll have to gauge how good you’ve been historically at keeping phones out of bodies of water.

Performance

Like every other 2017 flagship Android phone (save for the LG G6), the OnePlus 5 runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset, which is as good as it gets in smartphones right now. That’s combined with 6 GB RAM/64 GB storage or 8 GB RAM/128 GB storage and a 3,300 mAh battery.

Benchmark Test Score
PC Mark for Android Work 2.0 6609
AnTuTu 180495
GFXBench GL 3.1 1080p Manhattan Offscreen 2,556 frames
3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme 3722
PC Mark for Android Work Battery Life 8 hours, 32 minutes

I’ve posted the benchmark scores I got from my OnePlus 5 review unit (8 GB RAM/128 GB storage), but I’m aware of the XDA Developers findings about OnePlus gaming benchmark performance scores. Check out the link for the full details, but the short of it is that OnePlus has tuned the OnePlus 5 to go all out, to unrealistic extremes, whenever a benchmark app is detected. As a result, these scores beat those of every other Android phone on the market.

It’s a complex and kind of boring problem, but here’s a short aside. Ideally, benchmark scores are two things — a descriptor of a device’s maximum performance and a standard of comparison that can be held up to equal tests of other devices (not a descriptor of everyday performance). The party line from OnePlus in response to XDA Developers was unapologetic, claiming that benchmark scores are meant to measure the full potential of a phone.

I’d say they’re right about what benchmarks should measure, but the sort of gaming they did is largely frowned upon, and people from the Android team have told hardware makers explicitly not to do it. That leaves us with benchmark scores that do measure the phone’s performance potential, but fail to provide standardized scores useful for comparisons — the definition of a benchmark! That’s not a good look.

Having said that, the OnePlus 5 performs about as well as you’d expect from a phone running on a Snapdragon 835 and 8 GB of RAM — really, really well. The 8 GB of RAM is overkill, so I’d say the 6 GB/64 GB storage model is the better buy unless you need the 128 GB of storage (and you might, because OnePlus has still left off a microSD card slot). Regardless, you’re going to get a lightning fast, responsive phone. There are no stutters or hitches to worry about — it just runs smoothly.

The display is the same 5.5″ AMOLED 1080p screen from the previous model, which is fine. Not jumping to a 1440p display is a perfectly reasonable way to keep the price down on an otherwise very powerful phone. It also saves battery life, which I would prefer to a 1440p screen unless I knew I would be using the phone with VR apps a lot. The display can generate most of the sRGB and DCI-P3 color gamuts — OnePlus learned from the rough start the OnePlus 3 had in this respect, and it shows.

I found the battery almost always lasted a full day. The combination of a 1080p display with OnePlus’s lightweight software does great things for battery life, and even if it runs low, charging up using the included Dash Charge adapter is incredibly fast — I got a full recharge in a little under an hour and a half and went from 20 percent to 76 percent in 30 minutes.

Audio is another place where sacrifices have been made. The earpiece is fine, and calls are clear thanks to the terrific Qualcomm X16 modem in that 835 chipset (the noise cancelling mic keeps you clear on the other end). The mono speaker on the bottom isn’t impressive, but again, I’d say this is a fair enough cut to keep costs down, all things considered.

The fingerprint scanner is excellent — I’ve found it reliable and very fast, even when using my thumbprint at different angles.

Camera

OnePlus has been marketing the camera on their new phone heavily, and for good reason. They’ve moved to a dual camera system, using a 16 MP sensor with a f/1.7 lens and a 20 MP sensor with an f/2.6 telephoto phase detect autofocus lens. That secondary camera is usually employed for depth — using the camera app’s portrait mode, you can snap DSLR-like bokeh shots with blurred background and a subject in tight focus. It also gives you 1.6x optical zoom — you can zoom in to 2.0x with a tap, but there’s a little software wizardry that makes the last 0.4 happen.

There are some red flags on paper. The f/2.6 telephoto lens is pretty small for a smartphone camera, and that usually means that low-light shots don’t come out so well. That’s not helped by the small pixel size on both sensors — 1.12 microns on the 16 MP and 1.0 microns on the 20 MP. Generally speaking, that means the sensors can’t take in as much light, negatively affecting low-light performance.

Good software can mitigate those problems, and OnePlus has gotten better in this department. While the low-light shots aren’t as good as what you’d get with a more expensive Android phone or an iPhone, they aren’t overwhelmingly grainy, either. Bright lights were usually overexposed, but overall I was pleased with what I got out of it. It helps that the phone can intelligently choose the right camera for the right situation.

I thought portrait mode worked well. The edges of the subjects in focus are well-defined — almost too much so sometimes. In a few shots, I thought it was way too obvious that software was responsible for tracing out the subject. Then again, maybe that’s more indicative of a drawback to DSLR cameras with older image processors. Depends on your point of view!

The cameras don’t have optical image stabilization, which is the premium feature you’ll probably miss most if you’re used to something like a Galaxy S phone. It’ll make it tough to take long-exposure and panorama shots without camera accessories, and it’ll affect low-light shots when the shutter speed has to slow down a bit. But, OIS is kind of expensive, and the OnePlus 5’s price is inching up as it is — I’d still lean towards this being an acceptable sacrifice.

The cameras can also take 4K video and slow-motion video in 720p. Selfies will be taken using the front 16 MP f/2.0 camera. More importantly, that front camera can do 1080p video and auto HDR, making it pretty good for video chatting.

 

Software

Software has always been a strength for OnePlus, and that’s still true. It’s not exactly stock Android, but their OxygenOS overlay is very light and doesn’t add redundant apps. Most of the additions end up useful, although as always with OnePlus, there are a handful of weird minor hitches and disappointments that mar an otherwise excellent experience.

First, the good news. The alert slider, a physical slider on the left that can switch off notification alerts immediately, is still there. You can set the phone to ring, silent, or do not disturb, the latter of which is terrific if you want to do things like sleep and get maybe a 15 minute reprieve from your phone. The expanded screenshot feature makes it easy to scroll all the way down to the bottom of a page to capture an image, and gaming do not disturb prevents pop-up notifications and temporarily disables the two hardware buttons beside the fingerprint scanner/home key. I love that the app drawer can be called up with a swipe up on the bottom quick launch bar — no app drawer icon opens up space for a fifth app on that bar, which is pretty convenient.

The shelf, a pane to the left of the home screen, is OK. I like the concept — a scrolling pane that holds all your widgets — but the size restrictions on individual widgets is a little frustrating. I’d like to see more information in my calendar and OneNote widgets, but I can’t, so I end up disabling the shelf and just using a regular pane. It’s a feature I’d use regularly if it weren’t for this.

Besides the yellow-tinted night mode, there’s also a new reading mode that turns the display greyscale, like a Kindle. It misses the point — e-readers are better for the eyes because they use E ink displays and front lighting, not because they only display black and white. As long as you’re dealing with a bright LED-backlit LCD shining in your face, this reading mode won’t be any better for the eyes at night.

Then, there’s the really minor and really weird. Despite a couple updates that were supposed to have fixed the problem, adaptive brightness is a bit slow. It takes the software a few seconds to brighten the screen up when you step outside — it’s not that big of a deal, but I can’t remember any other phone I’ve used recently that has had this issue.

One final nit to pick — automatic switching to landscape is way too sensitive. If I tilted just a bit too much when stretching to use the phone with one hand, it would shift to landscape and screw up whatever I was trying to do. It’s possible to disable automatic switching, but I’d rather leave it on and have the software turned down a bit.

Read on for the verdict…

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