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OnePlus buyer's guide: Everything you need to know about the brand
As early as five years ago, OnePlus was barely a blip on the radar of 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). Lau and Pei formerly worked for another Chinese technology brand, OPPO — a BBK Electronics subsidiary.
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 infrastructures. This helped OnePlus create products cheaply since it didn’t need to invest fully in its own R&D, manufacturing equipment, etc.
OnePlus is connected behind-the-scenes to much larger companies.
As an example of this, OnePlus was founded in December 2013 and released its first smartphone — the OnePlus One — four months later. Without significant assistance, a company simply couldn’t do something like that.
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. In 2021, the companies formally announced their intention to combine forces. The brands will continue to exist independently but will share many resources. For example, OnePlus’ Oxygen OS and OPPO’s Color OS will share the same codebase but have different features.
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 2023, its flagship phone of the year — the OnePlus 11 — launched with a $699 price tag. However, that’s still competitive, especially considering the Google Pixel 7 Pro is $200 more and the starting price of a Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus is $999.
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. Its software — known as Oxygen OS — used to be frequently heralded as one of the best Android skins ever made. This praise was usually based on how fast, smooth, and bloat-free the software was. 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 OnePlus.com, eliminating the need to visit carriers or deal with third-party price markups. However, as time has passed, 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. In 2020, the company launched its first pair of true wireless headphones — the OnePlus Buds. The company quickly followed them up with cheaper variants, the OnePlus Buds Z and Buds Z2. The most recent flagship product from the company in this category is the OnePlus Buds Pro 2.
In 2019, OnePlus also launched the OnePlus TV. A few different models have already been released within its TV line 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.
In 2022, OnePlus launched its very first tablet, the OnePlus Pad. Interestingly, this product has a centered camera on the rear, which you rarely see on tablets.
Finally, OnePlus also sells smartwatches. The OnePlus Watch launched in 2021 with mostly negative reviews.
OnePlus phones: A breakdown of your options
There are three categories of smartphones on OnePlus’ roster — its flagship numbered series, the Nord series, and the new Ace 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, while the Ace series only has a handful of devices as of now.
The flagship numbered series
Each Spring, OnePlus launches a new numbered flagship phone. In 2023, it was the OnePlus 11. In 2022, the flagship was the OnePlus 10 Pro (there was no regular OnePlus 10).
Since the OnePlus 11 is the flagship phone from the brand in 2023, it features top-of-the-line specs, including the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. It also has the newest and most innovative features from the brand, which strongly align with flagship trends of the year.
In addition to the OnePlus 11, the company launched the OnePlus 11R. That phone is an Indian exclusive, though. Do note that the company confirmed it would not launch a OnePlus 11 Pro in 2023.
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.
The most recent “T” series flagship phone is the OnePlus 10T. This phone trumps the OnePlus 10 Pro with a more powerful (and less power-hungry) processor in the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1. It also charges at a ridiculous 160W. It looks very similar to the 10 Pro, however.
Unfortunately, the company confirmed that there would not be a OnePlus 11T in 2023. The regular OnePlus 11 will be the flagship non-foldable model of the year.
The Nord series
OnePlus revealed the very first phone in its new Nord line in 2020. Known simply as the OnePlus Nord, the phone featured many of the classic OnePlus flagship design elements and specs while dialing back a few aspects to keep the price lower. Since then, the company has launched multiple Nord phones in two different tiers.
The Nord 2 launched in 2021 and is still the latest numbered flagship model in the line. However, OnePlus also uses the “T” system for Nords, which means the OnePlus Nord 2T is the most recent high-tier Nord you can get. Unfortunately, these phones are not available in the United States.
We expect to see a OnePlus Nord 3 at some point in 2023.
Meanwhile, the Nord “N” series started with the Nord N10 and Nord N100. These act as the cheapest ways to enter the OnePlus ecosystem. However, these phones are simply rebranded copies of OPPO phones. The Nord N300 is the newest in the family.
Unfortunately, OnePlus has confirmed that Nord “N” phones will not receive the same software upgrade commitment as its numbered flagships. The Nord N300, for example, will only receive one Android upgrade before OnePlus will shelve it.
The Ace series
The OnePlus Ace series is the newest in the portfolio. Since it’s so new, it’s hard to really know what OnePlus intends to do with it to differentiate it from the Nord line. So far, it seems OnePlus is just using it as a place to dump realme clones — and even clones of its own phones — in specific markets.
Case in point, the first Ace phone was the OnePlus Ace, which is only available in very select countries (China, mostly). It is a carbon copy of the realme GT Neo 3, with virtually the same spec sheet. Interestingly, the GT Neo 3 was also the launching point for the OnePlus 10R, making the lineup incredibly confusing.
The OnePlus Ace Racing Edition followed, which was also a rebranding effort. The OnePlus Ace Pro, meanwhile, looks just like the OnePlus 10 Pro and OnePlus 10T but is decidedly cheaper.
The most recent phone in this lineup is the OnePlus Ace 2V.
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 Z, 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 smaller roster by comparison. This enables the company to focus more on its devices than some of its competitors. This is a similar strategy to the one adopted by Google, 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 fans is how OnePlus has raised its pricing over the years. While it’s true that OnePlus phones are more expensive now than ever, 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 had many similar specs to the Samsung Galaxy S21 yet cost $80 less. Even the OnePlus 9 Pro — which was very analogous in specs and features to the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro Max — started at $929, significantly less than those phones. The OnePlus 10 Pro was the exact same price as the Google Pixel 7 Pro, which was heralded as an amazing price for what you get.
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 anyone to walk into a store and buy a Samsung smartphone, that’s not the case for many 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 mainline OnePlus Nord series, for example, is unavailable in the United States and many other countries. However, consumers across the globe can 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 has been one of the biggest reasons OnePlus fans stick with the brand. This is because it has offered an Android experience that most other companies simply don’t offer.
The key differentiator between Oxygen OS and other Android skins used to be the company’s minimalist approach. Rather than try to revamp the way Android looks and feels in an effort to “brand” its phones, OnePlus used to let stock Android do most of the work.
Not only did this make Oxygen OS a familiar and easily understood experience, but it also kept the operating system fast and smooth.
Unfortunately, the company has started 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 was highly contentious among fans, who were mostly unhappy with the alterations. OnePlus has also started being slower with delivering software updates. To make matters worse, many of those updates come riddled with bugs.
In 2021, OnePlus also announced it would be merging Oxygen OS and OPPO’s Color OS. Fans have mostly reacted quite negatively to this, proving that Oxygen OS might not hold the luster it previously enjoyed.
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 many more phones than OnePlus, but Samsung usually prices comparable products higher than OnePlus. Samsung arguably offers more features, so it depends on how much you’re willing to pay for the kitchen sink approach.
Google’s Pixel phones are another good alternative to OnePlus phones. With Oxygen OS falling out of favor, some OnePlus fans are moving to Pixels to keep that stock-like Android feel.
Finally, 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.
Outside of the US, there is a slew of competitors, even some that are also under the BBK Electronics umbrella. The most notable competitor is realme, positioning itself as the “new” OnePlus — and yes, it’s a BBK brand. This is because realme offers 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 the company’s first smartphone and 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 became 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.
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 was 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 have stuck 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.
However, as mentioned earlier, OnePlus has made some controversial decisions regarding Oxygen OS. It is starting to lose fans, so its future is uncertain.
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 before 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.
Remember 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 one of the top brands 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 in 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. A few of these 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 quickly pointed 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 discovered 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.
Merger with OPPO
In 2021, OnePlus announced the beginnings of “OnePlus 2.0.” At the time, the company tried to play this off as a positive shift for the brand that would make it leaner, faster, and able to offer more to its customers for less.
However, this was all a smokescreen for what was really happening: the swallowing of OnePlus into OPPO.
While a company merging with another company isn’t always bad, OnePlus is starting to lose its identity. Oxygen OS is now pretty much a clone of OPPO’s Color OS, which robs OnePlus of one of its most significant strengths. Various bits of evidence strongly suggest that OnePlus is not getting the same R&D funds and support as OPPO, pushing OnePlus to be more of a sub-brand than its own distinct entity.
Since the merger, OnePlus phones have faced middling reviews, and fans are already moving on. It could be that in just a few years’ time, OnePlus won’t even be a blip on the radar anymore.
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 that 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 for any issues. 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.
- Newer 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
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 are just looking for the most basic of experiences, the OnePlus Nord N300 starts at around $228. 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.
The OnePlus 10 Pro, OnePlus 9, OnePlus 9 Pro, and OnePlus 8 Pro are the four phones from the brand with wireless charging. All other devices in the company’s history are wired charging only, including the latest OnePlus 11.
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).
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 and OnePlus 10 Pro from T-Mobile have IP ratings, but all other similar OnePlus models don’t.
None of the company’s flagship phones have expandable storage. The OnePlus Nord N10 and Nord N100 were the first phones from the brand with microSD slots since 2015. It is unlikely a OnePlus flagship will ever launch with expandable storage, though.
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.
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. The exception here is the OnePlus 11, which has a promise of four Androud upgrades. Unfortunately, for its new budget entries in the Nord N series, the software upgrade cycle is much lower with just one upgrade and two years of security updates.
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.
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.