As early as five years ago, OnePlus was barely a blip on the radar to the general tech consumer. Nowadays, the brand is becoming very well known as a global powerhouse in the smartphone industry. It’s also starting to branch out to other technology markets.
You may have heard of OnePlus before, but know little about the brand. What’s the company’s history? What products does it offer? What has made it so successful? This OnePlus buyer’s guide will help answer many of those questions, and even some others you might not have thought of yet.
Who is OnePlus?
OnePlus is a Chinese technology company that mostly makes smartphones. The co-founders — Pete Lau (CEO, shown above) and Carl Pei (Director) — started the company in late 2013 (Pei, however, has now left the company to start his own called Nothing). Both Lau and Pei formerly worked for another Chinese technology brand called Oppo — a subsidiary of BBK Electronics.
Early on, it seemed OnePlus was a subsidiary of Oppo. However, both companies denied this. Instead, they each claimed OnePlus acted as its own separate brand. Because of their close connection, though, and BBK overseeing both of them, OnePlus had access to various Oppo infrastructure. This helped OnePlus create products cheaply since it didn’t need to fully invest in its own R&D, manufacturing equipment, etc.
OnePlus is its own separate electronics brand, but it's connected behind-the-scenes to much larger companies.
As an example of this, OnePlus was founded in December 2013, and released its first smartphone four months later. There’s simply no way a company could do something like that without significant assistance.
In 2020, Pete Lau became SVP of OPLUS. This parent group oversees both OnePlus and Oppo and intends to bring more brand synergy between the two. This has resulted in Oppo’s Android skin — known as Color OS — landing on OnePlus phones in China. We expect OnePlus and Oppo to become more and more connected in the coming years.
What does OnePlus offer?
As stated earlier, OnePlus primarily creates Android smartphones. In its early days, it was known for making high-powered phones with unique design elements and low price tags. We saw this in its first phone, the OnePlus One, which had a starting cost of just $300.
As the brand attained more footing in the industry, it slowly raised its prices. In 2021, its two flagship phones of the year — the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro — launched with much more traditional pricing. However, the OnePlus 9’s starting price of $729 is still very competitive, especially when you consider the starting price of a Samsung Galaxy S21 is $799.
OnePlus differentiates itself from the competition by approaching its design and software from a somewhat minimalist perspective. The company’s smartphones are always simple and elegant, focusing heavily on usability. Likewise, its software — known as Oxygen OS — is frequently heralded as one of the best Android skins ever made. This praise is usually based on how fast, smooth, and bloat-free the software is. Unfortunately, recent releases of Oxygen OS have moved away from this trend, which has polarized fans.
OnePlus also fully embraced internet marketing and sales from the beginning. Almost all of its products are available directly from its website, which eliminates the need to visit carriers or deal with third-party price markups. However, as time has gone on, the company has limited its products to certain areas of the world, which is a sore spot for fans.
Outside of phones, OnePlus also has a limited range of other products. Its first non-smartphone product — aside from cases, chargers, and other accessories — was a set of wired headphones known as OnePlus Bullets. These eventually evolved into wireless headphones known as the OnePlus Bullets Wireless. Finally, in 2020, the company launched its first pair of true wireless headphones — the OnePlus Buds. The company quickly followed them up with a cheaper variant, the OnePlus Buds Z.
Related: OnePlus Buds review
In 2019, OnePlus also launched the OnePlus TV. There have been a few different models released within its TV line already with various sizes and feature configurations. The TVs are all powered by a custom skin of Android TV. However, the televisions are only available in limited areas of the world — mostly India. OnePlus has said the TVs will make their way to more countries — including the US — but that hasn’t come to pass yet.
OnePlus phones: a breakdown of your options
There are only two categories of smartphones on OnePlus’ roster — its flagship numbered series and the Nord series. Within the flagship series, there are a few subcategories that exist as riffs on the primary phone. The Nord series focuses on the mid-range market and only has a handful of devices as of now.
The flagship numbered series
Each Spring, OnePlus launches a new numbered flagship phone. This year, it’s the OnePlus 9 series.
Since these are the flagship phones from OnePlus, they all feature top-of-the-line specs, including the latest 800-series processor from Qualcomm (the Snapdragon 888 in the case of this year). They usually also get the newest and most innovative features from the brand which strongly align with flagship trends of the year.
Starting in 2019, OnePlus started releasing Pro variants of its numbered series of flagships. As you might have guessed, the Pro variants up the ante on the numbered flagship phones by offering better specs, some new features, and other upgrades. Obviously, these phones are also more expensive than the vanilla flagships. The OnePlus 9 Pro represents the best phone the company has made thus far.
Finally, OnePlus introduced a new variant this year within its classic numbered series: the OnePlus 9R. This phone is a more budget-minded model with a weaker processor, camera, and build when compared to the 9 and 9 Pro. Additionally, the phone is only available in India.
The “T” variants
In 2016, OnePlus released the first “T” phone: the OnePlus 3T. This phone looked exactly like the OnePlus 3 launched earlier that year, but had a few spec upgrades. This started the trend of OnePlus refreshing its flagship phone line in the second half of the year.
Since the 3T, the “T” series has moved to become more than just iterative upgrades. For example, the OnePlus 7T from 2019 looks dramatically different from the OnePlus 7, while also featuring upgraded specs and features. However, OnePlus doesn’t consider these “new” flagships, which is why they don’t get a new number.
The most recent “T” series phone is the OnePlus 8T. This phone introduced a new feature to the entire OnePlus line: Warp Charge 65. That’s OnePlus’ brand name for its proprietary 65W wired charging solution. It can charge the OnePlus 8T from zero to full in just under 40 minutes. This tech is also in the most recent OnePlus 9 series.
The Nord series
OnePlus revealed the very first phone in its new Nord line in 2020. Known simply as the OnePlus Nord, the phone features a lot of the classic OnePlus flagship design elements and specs, while dialing back a few aspects to keep the price lower.
Read also: OnePlus Nord 2 buyer’s guide
Meanwhile, the Nord “N” series started with the Nord N10 and Nord N100. These act as the cheapest ways to enter the OnePlus ecoystem. However, these phones are simply rebranded copies of Oppo phones, once again proving OnePlus’ connections to its sister brand.
Unfortunately, OnePlus has confirmed that Nord “N” phones will not receive the same software upgrade commitment as its numbered flagships. The Nord N10 and N100, for example, will only receive one Android upgrade before OnePlus will shelve them.
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What sets OnePlus apart from competitors?
The smartphone industry is pretty cut-throat. There are a lot of players on the field, and all of them create a very similar product: a flat computer that you keep in your pocket. With so much competition, it can be hard for a brand to stand out in the crowd.
Luckily for OnePlus, it has a few characteristics that make it unique in the industry. Even in the various aspects that aren’t unique about it, OnePlus does a great job of nailing the basics of what makes a modern smartphone company successful.
Here are three things that OnePlus does differently than competitors.
A limited lineup
Although OnePlus releases more smartphones each year than it did in the year prior, its lineup is still downright tiny compared to many of its competitors.
Samsung, for example, releases dozens of smartphones each year across multiple lines, including the Galaxy S, Galaxy Note, Galaxy A, and Galaxy M lines. Xiaomi — a sizable competitor for OnePlus in India — releases multiple variants of one phone with each release, sometimes ending up with four or five devices all with similar names.
OnePlus has a much smaller roster by comparison. This enables the company to give more focus to its devices than some of its competitors. This is a similar strategy as the one adopted by Apple, which also releases a very small selection of phones each year. Unfortunately, as OnePlus gets bigger, its roster is also growing. Time will tell if it keeps its roster manageable or if it becomes another Samsung.
One of the most contentious topics amongst OnePlus fans is how the company has raised its pricing over the years. While it’s true that OnePlus phones are more expensive now than they’ve ever been, the brand’s overall pricing strategy is still competitive. It’s just not releasing flagship-tier phones for $300 anymore — as it did in its early years.
When you compare OnePlus phones to the bigshots — especially Samsung and Apple — it’s plain to see that OnePlus offers a lot for sometimes hundreds of dollars less. For example, the OnePlus 9 has many similar specs to the Samsung Galaxy S21 yet costs $80 less. Even the OnePlus 9 Pro — which is very analogous in specs and features to the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro Max — starts at $929, significantly less than those phones
While the days of ultra-cheap yet ultra-powerful OnePlus phones are long gone and likely never coming back, OnePlus hasn’t completely abandoned its status as a wallet-friendly brand.
While it’s easy for pretty much anyone to walk into a store and buy a Samsung smartphone, that’s not the case for a lot of other brands. Xiaomi, Realme, Oppo, and many other Chinese smartphone makers have zero presence in the United States, for example.
OnePlus, though, has a footprint in all the major markets, including the US. Being a Chinese brand, that’s a huge differentiator between OnePlus and its competitors.
Granted, OnePlus is starting to embrace global exclusivity for some of its products. The OnePlus Nord 2, for example, is unavailable in the United States and many other countries. However, consumers across the globe are able to buy various OnePlus products with ease.
Oxygen OS: What is it and why is it so popular?
We’ve mentioned Oxygen OS a few times already in this article. Without a doubt, Oxygen OS is one of the biggest reasons OnePlus fans stick with the brand. This is because it offers an Android experience that most other companies simply don’t offer.
The key differentiator between Oxygen OS and other Android skins is the company’s minimalist approach. Rather than try to revamp the way Android looks and feels in an effort to “brand” its phones, OnePlus lets stock Android do most of the work.
Not only does this make Oxygen OS a familiar and easily understood experience, but it keeps the operating system fast and smooth as well.
Unfortunately, the company has started slowly moving away from its established Oxygen OS feel. With Oxygen OS 11, OnePlus started making the Android skin more similar to Samsung’s One UI. This is highly contentious among fans, who are mostly not happy with the alterations. OnePlus has also started being slower with delivering software updates. To make matters worse, a lot of those updates come riddled with bugs.
Later in 2021, OnePlus also announced it would be merging the “core code” of Oxygen OS and Oppo’s Color OS. This could result in a dramatically different software experience, although we have yet to see it for ourselves.
Time will tell if OnePlus will be able to keep up its reputation in this regard.
Competitors you might want to consider
While OnePlus makes great phones at good prices, there are other companies out there that boast a similar pedigree. As one would expect, though, each brand also has a few caveats.
Here in the United States, OnePlus competes most directly with Samsung, Google, and Apple. Samsung offers a whole lot more phones than OnePlus, but Samsung usually prices comparable products higher than OnePlus does (although not always). Samsung arguably offers more features, so it comes down to how much you’re willing to pay for the kitchen sink approach.
Google’s line of Pixel phones have recently been cheaper than OnePlus phones but have weaker specs. Apple obviously has a huge market share here in the US. However, ditching OnePlus for Apple would require switching to iOS, which is not something many fans are willing to do.
Related: Who is the next OnePlus?
Outside of the US, there are a slew of competitors, even some that are also under the BBK Electronics umbrella. The most notable competitor is most likely Realme, which is positioning itself as the “new” OnePlus — and yes, it’s a BBK brand. This is because Realme is offering high-powered phones with great designs at low prices. However, Realme’s roster is much bigger than the OnePlus roster, and it doesn’t seem that Realme has any plans to try to enter the US market, so there are still a few differences.
The greatest moments in OnePlus history
Although OnePlus is a very young company, it’s had some incredible success in a short time. In less than a decade, the company has gone from nothing to a brand that is used in the same breath as Samsung, Google, and even Apple.
Here are some of the company’s most important achievements and landmark moments.
The launch of the OnePlus One
The OnePlus One was not only the company’s first smartphone, but its very first commercial product. One would assume it would take a while for a company to find its audience, but not so with OnePlus — the One was a gigantic hit amongst hardcore Android users right out of the gate.
In fact, the company found it hard to keep up with the demand for the device. Reportedly, it expected to sell about 50,000 units of the One over its first year but ended up selling over a million.
Luckily for OnePlus, it had instituted an invite-only system for the One, which helped it regulate supply and demand. Although consumers weren’t big fans of the system, it ended up being a smart move for the company and acted almost like a strange PR stunt.
The OnePlus One is one of the most-loved Android phones of the past decade. Despite its age, it still has a sizable user-base, and various developers still create and update custom Android ROMs for it. Just recently, the OnePlus One received an unofficial update to Android 11!
The debut of Oxygen OS
Originally, OnePlus used a popular custom Android ROM on its phones called Cyanogen OS. Unfortunately, not long after the launch of the OnePlus One, the company behind the software — Cyanogen, Inc. — started making some incredibly bad decisions, which soured the relationship between the two brands.
As a result, OnePlus cut ties with Cyanogen, and started to make its own version of the Android operating system. The whole debacle ended up being a blessing in disguise, as it bore us Oxygen OS — the proprietary Android skin of OnePlus.
Oxygen OS is — without a doubt — one of the biggest reasons fans stick with the brand. Its debut on the OnePlus One was like a breath of fresh air in the smartphone market. Clean, smooth, and unbelievably fast, Oxygen OS acted as an antithesis to other Android skins of the time, many of which were ugly, slow, and bloated.
A partnership with T-Mobile
It would be hard to pick just one moment when OnePlus stepped out of its status as a niche brand and into a mainstream one, but its partnership with T-Mobile might be that moment. The agreement saw OnePlus phones — specifically the OnePlus 6T — enter a US-based carrier store for the first time.
OnePlus had had carrier partnerships prior to its T-Mobile deal, but they had all been outside the United States. With the OnePlus 6T appearing in physical retail shops right next to a Samsung Galaxy S9 and an iPhone XS, the move signaled a new era for the company.
Keep in mind that OnePlus is a Chinese company and earned this deal during the US/China trade war. Other Chinese companies have been unable to break into the US market at this level.
Becoming top dog in India
Although OnePlus’ success in the US is very important, its success in India is altogether extraordinary. As of now, OnePlus is the number one brand in India’s premium smartphone market.
That means OnePlus has more control over the premium market in India than heavyweight players such as Samsung, Xiaomi, and even Apple. This is incredibly advantageous considering India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market and home to over 1.3 billion people.
With the launch of the OnePlus Nord — the company’s first mid-ranger in years — OnePlus made a big splash in India’s cut-throat mid-range sector, too. Time will tell how OnePlus will handle this, but it’s already made a good start for itself with the premium market.
The not-so-great moments in OnePlus history
No company rises to the top without a few fumbles along the way, and OnePlus is no exception. Although there have been no high-level scandals that have put the company’s future in jeopardy, there have been some things that have been PR disasters.
Below are a few of these issues.
Very questionable promotions
In the early days of OnePlus, the company relied heavily on word-of-mouth promotions rather than traditional advertising. There were a few of these that ended up backfiring on the company for one reason or another.
As an example, the “Smash the Past” campaign saw OnePlus encouraging fans to smash apart their current phones and film the destruction. The wording of the contest, though, made it seem like most people who did this would get a new OnePlus phone, but in reality, only a handful would. By the time OnePlus clarified things, hundreds of fans had already smashed their phones to bits. Whoops.
Another example of an ill-advised internet promotion was the “Ladies First” campaign. This saw OnePlus encouraging female visitors to its official forums to post a picture of themselves with the OnePlus logo. Some of these entries would win an invite to buy the OnePlus One. As one would expect, it wasn’t long before the trolls came out in force, and OnePlus was chastised for the quite obviously bad idea.
Finally, OnePlus has also received flak for its more legitimate ad campaigns. In 2019, OnePlus revealed it had hired none other than megastar Robert Downey, Jr. to be a OnePlus spokesperson. He would go on to star in India-centric ads for the brand, which reportedly cost OnePlus millions of dollars. While this isn’t the worst thing in the world, fans were quick to point out that the rising costs of OnePlus phones were helping to pay the millionaire’s salary, which didn’t sit right with them. OnePlus has continued to use Downey, Jr. as a spokesperson, though.
The user data breach
In early 2018, OnePlus saw a security breach on its website. The breach resulted in sensitive user data getting stolen. This data included information such as emails, physical addresses, and more. To make matters worse, around 40,000 OnePlus shoppers had credit card information stolen, too.
When OnePlus found out about the breach, it temporarily shut down all payment transactions on its website. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.
This wasn’t the first — nor the last — time that OnePlus has seen a data breach of some kind, but this was certainly the biggest one that caused the most damage.
A poorly chosen company slogan
Since day one, the official slogan for OnePlus has been “Never Settle.” At first, the slogan made perfect sense as the company was pushing out the OnePlus One, which was a phone with multiple top-of-the-line specs for just $300.
Over the years, though, “Never Settle” has come to bite back at OnePlus. As prices for its phones started to creep up to normal flagship levels, the devotion of OnePlus to its mantra came into question. Other decisions have also caused fans to mock the slogan such as the across-the-board removal of the headphone jack, the lack of wireless charging and IP ratings in the majority of its lineup, and the inability to get certain phone models in various countries.
In hindsight, “Never Settle” may not have been the best choice of slogan.
A few other OnePlus details to keep in mind
If you’ve made it this far, you now know a lot about OnePlus. Hopefully, this information will help you make informed buying decisions when it comes to your next smartphone, TV, or other electronic device.
However, there are a few miscellaneous things related to OnePlus you should also know. Here’s a quick roundup:
- Customer support: Unless you buy your OnePlus product from your carrier, you’ll need to contact the OnePlus customer support system with any issues you might have. The OnePlus customer support is a mixed bag. Some people rave about it while others get so frustrated they boycott the company. Of course, your mileage may vary, but you should be aware that the company doesn’t have universally loved support.
- Older devices: A company like Samsung will sell the latest Galaxy S device for years after it launches. OnePlus, however, is notorious for discontinuing products only months after release. That means grabbing a OnePlus phone from as early as a year ago might mean going the used route. In other words, if you want a OnePlus phone, buying the latest one early — or at least within a few months — is probably best.
- Android upgrades: OnePlus used to have a really good reputation when it comes to delivering the latest version of Android quickly and to a majority of its devices. However, that’s not really the case anymore. If you read an article online from a few years ago, you might think that OnePlus is one of the best for updates, which it was. Nowadays, though, the company seems to be abandoning that reputation — coincidentally, as Samsung seems to be embracing it.
- Accessories and extras: If you buy a OnePlus phone from your carrier, your local shop should have a limited selection of cases, screen protectors, and other accessories for it. However, chances are very, very slim that a third-party retailer such as Best Buy, Target, Walmart, etc., will have much selection for OnePlus products — if any at all. Keep this in mind if you like to accessorize your smartphone, as you’ll likely need to depend on online sources such as Amazon or even OnePlus itself for those items.
Frequently asked questions about OnePlus
Q: How much do OnePlus smartphones usually cost?
A: If you want a device in its flagship numbered series, you should expect to spend around $700 on the latest from its roster. If you want the best of the best from the brand, you should plan on spending around $1,000. If you are just looking for the most basic of experiences, the OnePlus Nord N200 starts at around $240. If you’re looking to get the most value for your money, used flagship OnePlus phones from the previous year can usually be found for $400 or less.
Q: Do OnePlus phones feature wireless charging?
A: The OnePlus 9, OnePlus 9 Pro, and OnePlus 8 Pro are the three phones from the brand with wireless charging. All other devices in the company’s history are wired charging only.
Q: How about headphone jacks?
A: Since 2018, all flagship phones from the company come without headphone jacks. However, the OnePlus Nord family has devices with headphone jacks (the main OnePlus Nord and Nord 2 do not).
Q: Can I get phones from this brand with IP ratings?
A: If you’re buying a phone unlocked directly from OnePlus, the only phones you can get with an IP rating are the OnePlus 9 Pro and OnePlus 8 Pro. Notably, the OnePlus 8 5G UW from Verizon has an IP rating (but all other OnePlus 8 models don’t). Similarly, the OnePlus 8T Plus from T-Mobile has an IP rating, but all other OnePlus 8T models don’t.
Q: Are there any OnePlus phones with expandable storage?
A: None of the company’s flagship phones have expandable storage. The OnePlus Nord N10 and Nord N100 are the first phones from the brand with microSD slots since the OnePlus X. It is unlikely a OnePlus flagship will ever launch with expandable storage, though.
Q: What usually comes in the box with a OnePlus phone?
A: OnePlus keeps its in-box accessories minimal. When you buy a OnePlus phone, it usually only comes with the phone itself, a USB cable, a wall charger, and a SIM tool. Most of the time, there is a not-so-great screen protector pre-applied to the phone and sometimes a protective case is included. Other items are usually not included with OnePlus phones, including headphones, headphone dongles, mounts, stands, etc.
Q: How long does OnePlus support its phones?
A: Each OnePlus phone comes with a limited one-year warranty that starts the day the phone ships. You can add more coverage and/or extend coverage by purchasing a third-party insurance plan, which OnePlus offers you during the checkout process. Starting with the OnePlus 8 series, OnePlus promises three Android upgrades and four years of security patches for its flagships. Unfortunately, for its new budget entries in the Nord series, the software upgrade cycle is much lower with just one upgrade and two years of security updates.
Q: If something goes wrong, would I need to ship my phone to China for repairs?
A: No. OnePlus has a large presence in the United States, Europe, and many other countries, so your phone returns and repairs would be handled in the country of purchase. In some rare cases, OnePlus might issue you to a third-party repair service, but it would never ask you to ship a phone to China.
Q: I live in (insert country here), can I buy OnePlus products?
A: OnePlus sells products via its online store in the US, Canada, almost all of mainland Europe, the United Kingdom, China, India, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and a few others. Generally, there are very few areas of the world where OnePlus doesn’t offer sales and support.