Will companies like Oppo and OnePlus bring back the ‘wow’ factor to the smartphone market?

by: Andrew GrushMarch 28, 2014


In the last month we’ve seen the introduction of next-gen Android flagships from well-known Android manufacturers Sony, Samsung and HTC. Although all three devices offer solid specs and several other features that set them apart from their predecessors, we can’t help but feel that the “WOW” factor is missing.

There are likely many reasons why a fair number of tech enthusiasts haven’t exactly been blown away by the latest flagship announcements. Probably one of the most obvious reasons is that we’ve come to expect so much from these brands, and therefore its harder to impress us than it was just a few years ago. It’s also hard to deny that the latest flagships feel more like incremental updates than massive leaps forward when compared to their predecessors.

Based on some of the comments we’ve seen in regards to handsets from Chinese companies like Oppo and OnePlus, however, it seems that at least some of our readers have been quite impressed by what some of these lesser known Android players have been up to as of late. It’s true that OnePlus’ teasers have painted the device as a compelling offering, and the Oppo Find 7 equally looks amazing thanks to its QHD display and quick charging capabilities.

In this week’s Friday Debate we ask the following questions: As thebig players are taking less risks and playing things a bit more safely, can newcomers like Oppo and OnePlus bring back the “WOW” factor to the smartphone market? Will increased competition from Chinese manufacturers help shake-up the market in any meaningful way?

Join us in the discussion, vote in our poll, and sound off in the comments.

Robert Triggs

I certainly agree with the lack of a “wow” factor from all of the recently major releases. That isn’t to say that high-end smartphone aren’t great pieces of kit, rather the increase in the number of competitors and high-end handsets has resulted in smaller and smaller leaps between generators, if you can really define generations any more.

Part of the “problem” is that technological differences are becoming smaller and smaller all the time. The leap from a Snapdragon 600 to 800 isn’t really that huge, especially compared with jump from single to dual core. Again, Full HD to QHD isn’t as pronounced as the arrival of 1080p.

As for newer players like Oppo or OnePlus, they’re doing some interesting work, but I don’t think they’re really going to shake things up massively. The technology they’re using will eventually be available in other flagships in just a few months’ time. Perhaps their hardware will grab the attention of enthusiasts, but it probably won’t blow away the average consumer.

The race to the middle is an interesting one, handsets like the HTC Desire 816 are really great looking products aimed just below the top tier. As production costs continue to come down, I’m sure that we’re likely to see some really nice looking mid-range products in the future. The Nokia X is also a showcase for what can be accomplished on a budget. Pressure on prices and technology is working out really nicely for consumers.

The smartphone market has matured now, and this natural plateau has caused a noticeable loss of momentum, but we must remember how far smartphones have come in just a few years.

There are technological innovations to look forward to. Leaps in areas like mobile gaming, smarter wearables, modular designs, and more seamlessly connected devices are yet to come, and I’m certainly looking forward to them all.

Bogdan Petrovan

I don’t blame Samsung, HTC, or Sony for playing it safe. They already invested hundreds of millions in developing great products, and they just can’t throw that away and start over every 12 to 18 months. Add some more millions for burning the shape of their devices onto our retinas, and the pressure to produce profits, and you see why there aren’t any bold devices coming out. Besides, the smartphone is a mature product – the time of growing in leaps and bounds is over, and we now face a period of stable growth or even plateauing. I just hope smartphones won’t have the fate of PCs, which all became “good enough”, and thus boring.

Companies like OnePlus, Oppo, or Xiaomi can afford to be bold, because they have less to lose and because they have to be bold in order to set themselves apart. These young wolves are going after the throats of the old pack leader, and honestly I hope at least one of them makes it. The Oppo Find 7 is amazing in its ambition. It’s a beautiful piece of technology with the best specs around. I expect nothing less of the OnePlus One when it comes out next month. But do they deliver the wow that Samsung or HTC are missing? Not really.

For something truly spectacular I look at Google. Project Ara or Project Tango are amazing examples of what you can do (or at least try to do) when you can take risks, knowing that you have the resources of the biggest technology company in the world. What really excites me though is Google’s ongoing effort to create a truly intelligent assistant and to make it available on every device in the world. When that happens, we will all be wowed.

Jonathan Feist

Does the OPPO Find 7 and OnePlus One bring “wow!” to the smartphone industry? Absolutely. Is that alone enough to change the Android market? Maybe not.

I am strongly reminded of the automotive industry. The thing is, auto makers like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti and more bring “wow!”, and then some, to the roads, but the cars we take home are the comparatively boring Ford’s, Toyota’s etc.

Before the argument of price of cars comes up, consider that one of the most “wow!” car makers out there, Tesla, sells their current model for the same price as a pickup truck or SUV. And trust me, pickups and SUVs do not wow like a Tesla!

Back to the point, the best “wow!” features from supercars usually just end up silently making their way to the mainstream makers. I believe that this will be true of the Android market. We are destined to see great new features all blend together into future devices by the big players, but we’ll be less and less impressed by the devices themselves. Incremental growth is great, but boring.

I love the new features that OPPO and OnePlus are bringing to the table, I hope that they develop into the supercars of the industry.

Andrew Grush

As at least a few of my co-workers know, I’m a big fan of the “little guy”, and that’s equally true when it comes to certain companies in the world of Android. I’m am particularly excited by Chinese companies like Oppo and OnePlus because they are working to bring us amazing features, high-end hardware, low-pricing and some of the ‘wow’ factor that I’m just not seeing from the bigger companies anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, HTC, Sony and Samsung all have great hardware, they’re just not what I’m looking for personally (though Sony comes very close.. if pricing was just a bit lower!) For me, the main factors for choosing a smartphone include pricing/value, features and how close the handset is to stock. I don’t like the overload of software customizations we see particularly from HTC and Samsung, and I personally favor the Nexus line and own a Nexus 5.

That said, if anyone could get me to move away from a Nexus handset, I think it’d be Oppo, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Meizu or even Vivo — especially if any of these brands end up embracing CyangenMod the way we’ve seen with the Oppo N1 CyanogenMod Edition and the upcoming OnePlus.

Back to the real question though: will Chinese companies shake up the industry or really bring back the “wow” factor that (arguably) has been lost? No, they probably won’t. Sure, some tech geeks like myself will embrace these alternatives due to their underdog status, awesome specs and low price-points. You can also bet that many of these bleeding edge features we’re seeing from Chinese players will eventually roll out to established players like Samsung and HTC. But that’s about where the influence ends.

Could this change eventually? Maybe. If Oppo and OnePlus keeps pushing hard, they could eventually become part of the ‘big boys club’. When they do, however, I imagine they will slow down when it comes to making bold moves and major design changes as well. Why? As Bodgan said so well, once you invest so much in creating your brand identity it’s hard to throw it all away in the hope that your changes will “wow” both your existing customers and new ones as well.

[poll id=”500″]

  • Bone

    Yes. I like Oppo’s apprach. The draw on screen to open apps from sleep, the N1’s rotating camera, the Cyanogen option, the 50MP supersampling, good ideas when the rest are using well tester formulae.

  • Luka Mlinar

    I think it was a stupid move putting all their eggs in one 5.5″ basket.

    • mrjayviper

      but they are small companies. they can have the same or similar product lines like the big guys

      • Luka Mlinar

        Yea but they gave the finger to about 30% of their existing costumers ad fans so i see it as a step back.

        • smokebomb

          How would their costumers dress up?

        • Airyl

          The Find 7 and OnePlus One are the only new flagships with 5.5-inch displays. It’s also pretty simple to handle the Find 7 if you’ve ever used a Find 5, at least from personal life experience. :)

  • Guest123

    I don’t see hardware being a wow factor anymore. It will be the software and how it works with the hardware that will be the wow factor. Like how Motorola came up with the X8 architecture for the Moto X providing actual useful features that are pretty cool. That’s where I see things headed, sadly I don’t see any companies doing it other than Moto, and they’ve been sold to Lenovo. . . so, we’ll see.

    However, project ara may prove different.

  • Shark Bait

    I think only some wow factor has been lost, and I don’t think the smaller Chinese players will change the wow factor (yet). They are new, and small, which allows them to be faster moving and jump on board trends more quickly than the likes of Samsung, who already have lots of things in the pipeline, and cash invested, so in that respect they are more exciting.

    However devices these days are more than just the GHz and DPI specs and I look to be wowed in other areas now. I totally agree with Robert, the technological jumps are just becoming smaller (or less relevant) as the mobile space matures. That being said interesting forces are at work with dual lenses and next gen battery’s. Now screens and processors are starting to max out we are just waiting for the next areas for manufactures to start competing on (hopefully not smart watches). I think, and hope this comes in camera and battery innovation.

  • Andrew White

    With each new iteration of smartphone we are expecting more in terms of capability.
    Software though, can’t do more without a corresponding increase in performance by high yield low energy tightly integrated hardware that has been limited in part till now, by battery size and the recharge time.
    The Chinese have in recent years, invested heavily in battery tech generally. They realise energy storage will be and is vital to any society’s future.
    Cracking open this particular holy grail will reap massive financial reward also.
    In terms of putting ‘all of their eggs in one basket’, (re: Oppo Find 7) why not? There will always be something groundbreaking just around the corner. If the established names have to play catchup, who benefits…..we do.

  • Lisandro O Oocks

    I’d be WOW’d with a phone that fits in my hand yet has everything else that I look for in a phone. The Moto X was close but not close enough.

    • complabNG

      Have a look at the Z1 Compact

  • mrjayviper

    I like Brogdan’s reply the best. the smaller companies has nothing to lose indeed. and the bigger ones have built up a reputation (e.g. HTC for having beautiful design or Sony’s design language)

  • Anotherworld

    What I am really dissapointed in all these OEM is the lack of 64gb to 128gb phones..Hopefully Project Ara will solve this issue.

    • Airyl

      Xiaomi Mi3, OnePlus One and HTC One M8 all come in 64GB options. The Meizu MX3 even has a 128GB version.

      • abazigal

        I think what he means is that the Android phone he is interested in doesn’t come in the 64gb or 128gb variety.

  • ichuck7

    I don’t want anything higher than 1080p. I’m looking for better battery life. And the cherry on top would be better speakers.

  • Airyl

    Samsung- Nope

    Sony- Nope

    Apple- Nope

    HTC- Kudos on camera tech and build quality, but nope.

    Nexus- Price is great, but the rest is nope.

    Xiaomi- Price is good, battery is huge, but nope.

    Meizu- Ubuntu? Good start. Unfortunately, everything else isn’t interesting. Nope.

    Oppo- Rear touchpad, rotating camera, screen gestures, SuperZoom, VOOC, official CM support. It’s all good, but other than the rotating camera, SuperZoom and VOOC, there’s not much of a wow factor here either. Lots of useful innovations though, just nothing TOO amazing.

    OnePlus- Reserving judgement, but it seems they’ve made good work, especially with those special design cases and CM support. We’ll see.

    Google- If Tango/Ara ever happens, then wow. Until then, nope.

    Motorola- Don’t know what you guys think, but the Moto X had so much wow factor to me. The Moto Maker, voice commands, superb performance, perfect use of the AMOLED display and good build quality made the Moto X one of the most wow phones to me. Only bad thing was the camera.

    • Eason Qin

      i kinda agree with you until the motto part

      • disqus_7zCKYC2BSD

        You have to admit the voice command is far better than any other oems has put out.

      • majorx

        You weren’t impressed by motto ? I world has really been too narrow, I’ve learned of a whole lot of new manufacturers.

    • Colby Leong

      I agree, and for Sony fan’s who buy every flagship they’re going to see that the “WOW” factor isn’t really there. Personally, as a Z and Z1 owner, there was an upgrade between the two. The camera upgrade, the current chipset, better build quality and bigger battery. However I wouldn’t get the Z2 because there isn’t too much of an upgrade. But, for Z owners they could see that special “WOW” factor between the differences in their phones. As for the M8 they did a great job improving their design from the M7, plus Blinkfeed was something I always wanted to have on my Z1.

      To be fair it is getting hard to show that real “WOW” factor, technology moves at a surprisingly fast pace, especially within the Android community. A lot of companies need to realize that fastest chips won’t matter after a while, and honestly other Android phones may need to take the Samsung route. Which is to sell “features”, and not really focus on selling the “phone” itself. And that makes me sad, especially when you have companies like HTC and Sony having excellent build quality but ending being overlooked because they lack these “features” that make Samsung so famous, and of course rich.

    • nathan

      I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head. I’m hoping these new(er) Manufacturer’s that are coming out to compete with the big brands like Apple, Samsung etc. will rejuvenate the market, and make the established brands either pull their fingers out or reconsider their price points, sadly i doubt the latter.

  • MindMechanic

    The wow factor for me is updates. The Big players abandon even their flagships rather quickly. Oppo and oneplus will have CM support, so at least they’ll get updates. What would blow me away is Google Play editions with the optimized software released as apps on the play store, so I could buy the HTC One, download the camera optimization, or boom sound optimization, and still get the latest version of android.
    Custom ROMS are fine, but I’ve never been able to find one that is perfectly stable (including CM on my current LG Optimus G e970), over the 5 or 6 flagships that I have owned.

    • joe

      everyone likes what they like…that is my concern…updates…htc, Samsung…they are pumping out phones like no tomorrow…doesn’t mean they will support them…personally, I hate all the eye candy they come with…you can find an app to do almost anything they add to their phones…I want nexus simplicity with decent specs and batter…my gnex is still kicking…simple…specs were ok when it came out…no eye candy…just simple…a few apps to give me lockscreen crap…i’m happy…

  • Salman Thaw

    I think there’s little left for the wow factor. It takes a lot of R&D and a lot of spending to get diminishing returns on improvements. Having that said, the cameras are good enough, the resolution is good enough, the thinness is good enough, the bezels are thin enough goddammit.

    Software has a huge room for improvement. Voice recognition, the Moto X always on feature, tiny things like that. More features, less buzzwords and marketing stuff.

    I still can’t believe Sony is releasing a 10″ 1080p tablet that shoots 4k. Does that make sense to anyone? It’s as if it’s a 4k camera with a tiny sensor and a giant (1080p) monitor. Their priorities are in the wrong place.

    I’m also extremely disappointed with the imaginary competition that OEMs have with Apple. People that will buy iOS devices will buy them no matter what. I was expecting Sony to make a tablet with a high resolution (since they’re selling 8k TVs already and have 1080p phones) or a tablet with great battery life. Instead, they went for thin, trying to out-thin the iPad Air, as if anyone cares. People will still buy the iPad and Android users will buy something else, while Sony will continue to hemorrhage money and blame market saturation.

    I feel like the next tablets and phones are going to be 4k shooters with 4k screens, with 4 GB or RAM, a bit thicker than a credit card and have 10 hours of battery life.

    More RAM, faster CPU, 4k resolution and 4k shooting are things that interest a few, while battery life is something that concerns everyone.

    The next revolution should not be in upping these specs into the point of redundancy, but to optimize the software, to increase battery life or speed up charging speed.

    There is little need to wow people. You just need to give them what they need, not what you/they think they want.

    Okay… You want to wow me? Give me a phone that can power the RAM only when needed. RAM is the probably biggest power drain. Do you really need to power 4 GB of RAM in stand-by?

    • Airyl

      Wow, this guy’s good. Everything he’s just said is actually true, especially the part about all these manufacturers having some sort of imaginary competition with Apple, and the battery life vs thin factor problem. Kudos man, I’m pretty sure everyone here agrees with you, battery life is the main problem for smartphones and tablets as of now.

  • Joshua Hill

    Sony already have brought the wow factor back with consistently good Z releases and now a compact flagship. The first in about 2 years. The wow factor in 5+ inch phones is from Yota with their e-ink display.

  • Dennis Henriquez

    I have mi Xiaomi Mi-2 for almost a year, and the quality it’s impressive for the price, the specs are great for a 2012 phone, but the lack of support in source code make me run from Xiaomi’s products next time. They bring the WOW factor? In some ways yes, but it’s easy because we don’t expect this things from then as we expect from major players

  • smokebomb

    I hope when I scroll down the comments I see the phrase wow factor over and over again…

    • Airyl

      Wow, such factor, much lot.

  • Stephan Hall

    I was wowed by the Nexus five …… bang for the buck!! The Moto x for innovation. The N5 for $359.00 no contract. That “wow” is strong. To say “Ive the latest and greatest” for $600.00 for just a little more …… does nothing for me!

  • Romeo Bucur

    I own a Note 2. I am looking to upgrade my phone. 3 devices in particular caught my eye. The New M8, Oppo’s Find 7, and the Note 3 ( oldie but goldie ).

    HTC blew it from my point of view. The camera move was a big mistake and i think it will lose them a lot of customers. Do not get me wrong, no one should expect high quality photos from a phone ( any phone ). If you like photography that much, get a DSLR and that’s the way to do it.
    I do want, for my occasional pictures to be usable, so .. 8 megapixel camera at least, 13 is OK, with 4K recording as well, just to capture that extra detail.
    I have no doubt that the build quality of the M8 is stellar, and also the Boom sound is a huge selling point for me as the speaker on the Note 2 is a bad joke ( on the Note 3 from what i hear is even worse.. ). That being said, without a removable battery, fast charging, of a display to top everything that is out there now, i will have to say no to it.
    Note 3.. still a good phone, love the design, and for the price that they are selling them now it’s a steal from my point of view, however, there are things that i do want in my phone, such as fast charging, good speakers, metal chassis, class leading display.
    So.. my next phone ?
    The Oppo Find 7.
    In my view, this is a phone that will change the game at the top, as it comes from a small company, that shows the big dogs how it’s suppose to be done.
    Fast charging anyone ? There you go .. from 0-100 % on a 2800 Mha battery in 70 minutes.. and from 0-75% in 30 min… If you have a Note 2 or 3 device, you know how long you have to wait for it to charge.. so.. YES .. this is a welcomed feature.
    I will not even go in to the build quality of the phone because the Oppo Find 7 2k model will be almost at HTC One levels of feel. (or better still considering the 5 layers of protection that the battery housing has, just so that the phone will never become hot, or cold to the touch when you charge it ).
    Display ? Well 2 k.. which is also a chapter where both Samsung and HTC fell short this year.. we all hoped that they will come, at least on the S5, and they did not.. again, the underdog.. somehow succeeded where the big dogs failed.
    Sound quality ? The speakers on it sound surprisingly good, although i was expecting them to be better than the Note 2’s but not by much. There is a video online with a review of the Find 7a ( 1080 P model ), that is 28 min long where the guy actually maxes out the volume on the speakers while playing 20 sec of music. IT IS AWSOME !!!
    Bottom line ? I will buy a phone, from a company that respects and listens to the customer feedback, and gives the customer what he needs. HTC was suppose to up the quality of the camera, better the battery life (removable one at that ), and put all that beautiful sound quality into a display that looks like no other – they failed on that front.. so they will not have me as a customer, even though i really like the phone, i will always regret not having that picture quality and huge battery life that a Note device already gives me now.
    Samsung .. has nothing but pain for its plastic devices for a least 3 years now, and their answer was.. a faux-leather … plastic.. sound quality on the Note 3 is .. at best.. mediocre.. which is a real shame because a beautiful big screen begs for a sound quality that matches the image, and that is simply just not the case.
    So.. Oppo.. the company that pretty much none of us heard up until a couple of years ago… will cash in on my next purchase. Why ? Because they listen to the customer.. when Oppo Find 5 customers asked for a removable battery, they made it happen, when they were asked for a bigger and better screen, they made it happen – 2k screen at that, when they were asked for an SD card slot, again, they made it happen, and even topped it all off with a beautiful design, fast charging capability, great camera, and a price that to be honest, i find it to be quite low for the specs that the phone is giving us.
    Yes, i will always buy the product from the company that listens, not from the one that ignores, so ladies and gentlemen, i give you.. Oppo.

  • Romdude

    No one mentioned the Yota? I’m liking the second e-ink screen on the back, that should be the best for battery life. That’s a wow for me if they can keep the new yota’s design clean and aesthetic.

  • pjcamp

    As long as they sell only in China, no.

  • Rien Soewardji

    Samsung wowed me with their wave series. Metal body and so on and that unique diamond shape home button.

    Samsung wowed me again with the crazy 2 GB of RAM inside the small device when most of the laptops just had 2 GB RAM and no phone had 2 GB RAM that time. And that swiping the screen to screenshot, S Pen.

    But maybe as you said we expect more from the newer phone and that cheap look of Galaxy Note 3 didn’t appeal me anymore. Even when it came with more RAM.

    And now I have HTC Desire 816 that many people said as the mid range phone. The wow factor for this phone are the affordable price and big screen. I really didn’t care about the internal storage, it has only 8 GB total and sense 6 had taken some big part of it.