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OnePlus won me back with the 11R; too bad most of you can't buy it

It's been a hot minute since OnePlus struck the perfect balance of design, performance, imaging and most importantly, value.

Published onApril 2, 2023

OnePlus 11R rear back placed on a table
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

It’s been a few years since OnePlus released a smartphone that truly fit the ethos it so boldly pioneered. For a company that coined the term flagship killer, OnePlus’ meandering product strategy and pricing over the last few years has been far removed from the bleeding edge value it has traditionally promised.

So, it’s a shame that OnePlus’ first true flagship killer in a very long time, the OnePlus 11R, is a product that most people will never be able to experience. In my opinion, that needs to change.

What exactly is a flagship killer?

oneplus 11r software screen
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Flagship killers have quickly become a catch-all phrase for devices that push the boundaries of value and offer specs that go beyond what the competition brings to the table. They don’t always need to have the absolute best chipset or cameras, but the defining criteria is to make you question the need to move up to some of the best premium Android smartphones. The term originated with the OnePlus One, so it’s no surprise that the company’s lack of focus over the last few years led to much disillusionment among long-time fans.

Flagship killers should make you question the need to upgrade to a premium smartphone.

The lack of direction hit an all-time high following OnePlus’ merger with OPPO, and it would be fair to say that the company has struggled to deliver a product that truly fits the “flagship killer” bill in a very long time. However, over the last three years, OnePlus has also been experimenting with a completely distinct product line in India. Its R-series of phones has been geared towards that exact same value-seeking buyer that it lost due to ever-increasing price points. However, it is only now, with the launch of the OnePlus 11R, that it has managed to deliver a product that drives home the old-school OnePlus focus on great value and all the performance you need.

The OnePlus 11R makes all the right compromises

OnePlus 11R rear upright
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Anyone following the smartphone space would be aware of the constant complaints about OnePlus losing its essence. Here at Android Authority, we’ve talked about it all too often in our reviews. However, while it might have taken a few years under OPPO’s guidance, the 2023 crop of OnePlus devices signals a much more thought-through approach to the portfolio.

The OnePlus 11R is a key part of that — despite being restricted to just one market. For better or worse, OnePlus is a brand that is known for cutting-edge specs at, well, less than cutting-edge prices. To get there, it needed a spec sheet that blew the socks off the competition while undercutting the alternatives on price. That’s exactly what the OnePlus 11R does, even with necessary sacrifices.

The time for the latest specs at cutthroat prices is behind us, but the OnePlus 11R strikes the perfect balance.

Getting here, of course, required a combination of factors, including, but not limited to, the numbers on the spec sheet. For example, the choice of the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset is equal parts interesting and obvious. Compared to the Snapdragon 888, last year’s Qualcomm flagship improved on all the fronts that truly matter: efficiency, 5G band support, and performance. Opting for last year’s chipset is key to enabling the affordable price point of the OnePlus 11R.

Personally, I believe balls-out performance isn’t much of a factor to consider in modern smartphones. In fact, our OnePlus 11R sustained performance benchmark tests show that the company made some cooling sacrifices to hit that price point, but none of it matters because that Snapdragon chipset is excellent to begin with. The early OnePlus days of getting the absolute latest processor at sub-premium prices might be behind us, but the performance of slightly older chips is good enough that it doesn’t make a perceptible difference in daily use.

OnePlus 11 vs OnePlus 11R
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Similarly, OnePlus made the right call keeping the same visual identity across the flagship OnePlus 11 and the 11R. Unlike the OnePlus 10R before it, which experimented with a bold, polarizing, and ultimately unloved design, the OnePlus 11R looks and feels as premium as its flagship counterpart. It evokes the same experience for a lot less money. This taps into that same no-compromise buying mindset that OnePlus cultivated when it first started off.

Using a similar design language and camera capabilities creates a sense of continuity between the affordable OnePlus 11R and the flagship 11.

OnePlus hasn’t traditionally been a major camera player. Be it software instability or choice of optics, its imaging experience has often lagged behind the OnePlus alternatives on the market. This year, though, the OnePlus 11 and 11R buck the trend. The camera optimization has been improved across the board, and despite the lack of Hasselblad branding, the OnePlus 11R generates some pleasing results. We talk a lot about the OnePlus 11R’s camera in our review, but the key takeaway is that the company has focussed on the essentials this year.

The blistering charging speeds are a key differentiator for a brand focused on speed and performance like OnePlus.

Another advantage that the OnePlus 11R has over its competition is in charging speeds. Sure, it might not be as speedy as last year’s OnePlus 10T, but 100W charging is no slouch either. Combined with a large 5000mAh cell, it goes a long way toward enabling all-day connectivity, gaming, and more.

Finally, while the three years of updates and four of security patches might not be as good as the very best in the industry, the update promise is a step in the right direction for OnePlus. The company has been reasonably quick with rolling out updates too, giving it a leg up over some of the other affordably-priced alternatives.

Tying all of these facets of the OnePlus 11R together is the fact that it is also extremely well-priced. In India, the phone’s primary and only market, it is the most affordable Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 phone. And while affordability usually comes with compromises, the OnePlus 11R is one of those rare devices where the necessary tradeoffs don’t mar the core experience, making it even more of a shame that the company isn’t fielding the phone in other markets. The Rs. 39,999 (~$480) price point of the OnePlus 11R perfectly positions it to make headway into the value flagship segment in markets like North America and Europe.

A very competitive proposition

Google Pixel 7 close on green wall
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Even when compared to other very good options on the market, the OnePlus 11R is able to stand out for itself. And this is something we haven’t seen from the brand in a while.

For example, a very obvious competitor for the OnePlus 11R is the Pixel 7. Google’s compact flagship is aimed at that same core audience that doesn’t want to spend a fortune for a flagship experience. Sure, the Google Pixel 7 gets you a lot of value for your money with its focus on excellence in imaging and fast updates, but pitting it against the OnePlus 11R reveals its shortcomings too. The Pixel 7 might have better camera algorithms, some Pixel-only exclusive features, and an IP68 rating, but its Tensor G2 processor is no match for the blistering performance offered by the OnePlus 11R. Add to that a much larger display, larger battery, much faster charging, and, most importantly, price, and the OnePlus 11R rapidly starts taking the lead. It doesn’t help that in India, the Pixel 7 costs Rs. 55,000 (~$666), a whopping Rs. 14,000 (~$180) more than the OnePlus 11R.

The Pixel 7 has a laser focus on imaging, but it lags behind the OnePlus 11R in other key areas.

The OnePlus 11R holds its own against more enterprising alternatives like the Nothing Phone 1 as well. Carl Pei’s latest smartphone might have a lower price lower than the OnePlus 11R and an innovative design to boot, but it also misses out on the sheer performance their shared target demographic craves.

Similarly, options like the Samsung Galaxy A73, or even the A53 are great for users who want a more holistic approach to smartphones. However, both of those options are much more laid back in their approach and aren’t pushing any performance or innovation boundaries — again, features that are very important to users in this phone segment.

OnePlus 11R: A quasi-perfect flagship killer that more people should be able to buy

OnePlus 11R placed on a table
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Much as it might sound like I’m gushing over the OnePlus 11R, the fact of the matter is that the value flagship market has been in need of a push and a shove. With OnePlus effectively pricing itself out of the segment with phones like the OnePlus 10T or missing out on basics like a top-tier blend of build quality, performance, and imaging, there’s been a dearth of instant classics that can be easily recommended to those who seek great performance without breaking the bank.

OnePlus priced itself out of the value-flagship segment with phones like the OnePlus 10T, the OnePlus 11R is a return to form.

Sure, I might still recommend the Pixel 7 to someone whose top priority is the camera setup. But the OnePlus 11R finally creates a compelling option for those who value other features more. Meanwhile, markets like the UK and Europe too could stand to benefit from more competition.

I’m also firm in the opinion that the OnePlus 11R is the company’s best chance at making a bigger play in the North American market. As the company gets more aggressive in North America with initiatives like a 100-day trial for the OnePlus 11, an accompanying phone that showcases the value proposition of a high-powered sub-flagship could be the perfect one-two punch to carve out a niche. The perfect marriage of performance and value was OnePlus’s root and the OnePlus 11R is a great opportunity for the brand to truly embrace its origins and own that niche.

For once, OnePlus has a product that is more than capable of pulling off a triumphant rejuvenation of the flagship killer segment, but it’s only available in India. More people should be able to try it out.

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