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Making a splash in the increasingly-homogenized smartphone industry often involves breaking away from the norm, and upstart OnePlus did just this back in 2014 with the launch of their first smartphone, the OnePlus One.
Fast forward a year and the OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X somewhat failed to excite consumers as much as the first two handsets did – mainly due to some very questionable product-related questions – so the company has been forced to revisit the drawing board somewhat with the OnePlus 3.
- OnePlus 3 announced: everything you need to know
- Flagship spec showdown: OnePlus 3 vs the competition
- OnePlus 3 vs OnePlus 2 quick look
- What would you change about the OnePlus 3?
Is the third time really the charm for OnePlus, and can the OnePlus 3 prove itself to its biggest critics? Or is it more of the same with the OnePlus 3 ticking some boxes but failing to tick others? Let’s find out in this, our in-depth OnePlus 3 review.
Traditionally, OnePlus has tried to stray away from conventional smartphone design in a bid to keep its handsets unique, but with the OnePlus 3, the company has almost done the opposite.
Rather than keeping the plastic and/or glass finishes of previous handsets, the company has now moved to a full metal unibody smartphone. As a result, a key differentiator for its handsets is no longer quite the same: StyleSwap covers.
With a display that measures 5.5-inches, the OnePlus 3 is actually quite a large phone, especially considering the bezel itself is quite minimal. Although the bezel on the sides of the display could be considered minimal, the overall size of the OnePlus 3 can largely be attributed to the bezels above and below the screen, which are quite large.
Beneath the display, the bezel is largely forgivable thanks to the home button which is flanked by the capacitive navigation keys. The fingerprint sensor itself is similar to other handsets in that it allows you to unlock the phone in a fraction of a second (.3 seconds, to be exact) without needing to wake the phone from standby. The capacitive keys have a very neutral design, no doubt due to the customization options available in OnePlus’ latest OS (which we’ll cover in more detail below).
Moving around the rest of the phone and the usual OnePlus elements also make a return; the very bottom of the phone houses the USB Type-C port which sits adjacent to the single speaker and the headphone jack. The power button is on the right side of the handset while the volume keys are on the left. Above the volume keys, the traditional activity slider also returns, and lets you easily change the notifications profile, even without looking at the handset.
On the rear, the biggest change from past OnePlus devices becomes apparent – the choice of material for the build. By adopting a full metal unibody design, OnePlus has also made the conscious decision to do away with StyleSwap covers as we know them. In previous devices, the StyleSwap covers would have replaced the back of the phone but with the metal build on the OnePlus 3, they now act just like traditional cases for a smartphone.
Handling for a phone of this size and stature is as expected and for the most part, it’s no different to any other smartphone. Reaching side-to-side across the phone is more than possible but given the phone itself is quite tall, its likely some users might face difficulties trying to access all areas of the display.
The metal finish is quite slippery as well, which further compounds the problem of handling and means that StyleSwap covers are almost a necessity. Although they are a consolation prize versus the total customization offered by the covers on past OnePlus devices, the sandstone material helps to reduce the size of the camera bump and vastly improve the grip offered by the handset.
For fans of the original OnePlus StyleSwap covers, the compromise with the OnePlus 3 may prove to be a disappointing implementation – especially as the OnePlus 3 is very much a smartphone that adheres to the convention of 2016 flagships rather than aims to break the mould. All things considered however, the OnePlus 3 is still a very sleek and good-looking phone, even if it is does employ a more atypical smartphone display this time around.
Prior to the launch of last year’s OnePlus 2, rumors suggested we would see OnePlus go with a Quad HD display, but the company ended up sticking with Full HD. This time around, there’s no change as a 5.5-inch Full HD panel makes its way to the OnePlus 3. OnePlus did opt for an Optic AMOLED panel with the 3, which we must say is quite nice.
Although most flagships have moved towards Quad HD displays in 2016 (and arguably for the most part in 2015), the Full HD panel in the OnePlus 3 still performs well and the larger size of the display provides a good amount of real estate. Of course, Full HD doesn’t live up to the current standard of flagship displays and although the OnePlus 3 screen is certainly nice, it’s definitely not on par with current flagships.
Employing AMOLED display technology in the OnePlus 3 does allow the company to offer a couple of welcome flourishes. A feature that is seemingly a necessity for a 2016 flagship is an always-on display. Although it is very similar to the iterations on the OnePlus X and other smartphones, the Ambient Display on the OnePlus 3 can be trigged by waving a hand near the proximity sensor, which is a nice touch.
The OnePlus 3 also lets you customize and tweak the color temperature of the display via a slider in the settings, which can be useful for those worried about the emission of blue light. A night mode in the Quick Settings dropdown makes for much easier viewing in darker conditions by increasing the warmth of the color temperature, and as a result, this makes the overall experience much easier on the eyes in dark conditions.
Viewing angles are mostly acceptable and legibility in bright daylight is about average, although OnePlus claim the dual-polarizing layer does help to increase sunlight legibility. Overall, the OnePlus 3 display is certainly not a superstar like certain other flagship devices, but considering the price of the handset (and everything else it offers), it’s certainly no slouch.
In previous years, OnePlus has sought to help its handsets stand out through the use of flagship specs without the flagship price point, and this year is no different. The OnePlus 3 delivers the very best internals on the market at the moment and offers them at a price which shows it is possible to obtain flagship performance without breaking the bank.
Under the hood, the OnePlus 3 is powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor coupled with an Adreno 530 GPU and 64GB of non-expandable storage. As such, performance has been very smooth and while some of this is down to the refined and polished Oxygen OS, there’s no denying that using the latest processing package certainly helps.
How does the processing package compare to other flagships? Running the usual benchmarks, we can see that the OnePlus 3 scores 141955 in the AnTuTu Benchmark, which is higher than the 140955 and 129375 scored by the Galaxy S7 Active and Galaxy S7 respectively. Moving on to GeekBench 3, it scores 2378 and 5465 for the single core and multi score scores respectively, which is again higher than the 2269 and 5156 scored by the Galaxy S7. Lastly, a 3D Mark score of 2523 shows the Adreno 530 is no slouch and is on par with the 2528 and 2535 scored by the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Active respectively.
A common problem in Android devices is also being addressed here, as apps don’t slow down even when there’s heavy loads working in the background. Why so? It’s simple: OnePlus has equipped the OnePlus 3 with 6GB of RAM, making it one of the only handsets to offer this.
Adopting the highest RAM available on a smartphone to-date means performance is silky smooth and there’s plenty of RAM available to offer breathing room for users. Far too often, manufacturers will offer 4GB of RAM but only make 1GB available with no apps running (as the rest is taken up by background processes), but the OnePlus 3 leaves enough free RAM to ensure its always able to perform any task you ask of it.
From gaming and media consumption to browsing apps and webpages, the OnePlus 3 sails through anything you ask of it and there’s no question that the OnePlus 3 is a very viable addition to the flagship market when it comes to overall performance.
For the most part, OnePlus handsets have always offered the usual array of internal hardware specs that we’ve come to expect from flagship smartphones, with the exception of one feature: NFC.
Yes, NFC proved to be a very costly assumption by the company in the OnePlus 2 as the mobile payments industry was thrust into the limelight and the omission of NFC – as no-one uses it, according to Carl Pei – meant the OnePlus 2 was left out of this wave. Fast forward a year and the company has clearly learnt from its mistakes, with the OnePlus 3 now supporting NFC and the payment and transfer opportunities the feature affords.
NFC aside, the OnePlus 3 brings the usual array of connectivity options including dual-SIM capabilities which are an out-of-the-box feature. For those who want a dual-SIM experience, the OnePlus 3 could even be one of the best options available. Throughout our testing, there were no issues with dropped calls or call quality.
On the subject of audio, the OnePlus 3 sports a bottom-mounted single-firing speaker which is an average performer. The speaker is loud – which is nice to have – but there is little body to the sound, which is expected from a single bottom mounted speaker. That being said, audio through a good pair of headphones is definitely above average. And while the experience is short of the one offered by an audio-centric device like the HTC 10, it’s definitely better than some more expensive handsets.
The home button beneath the display sports a fingerprint sensor, and just like most flagships, it can wake the phone from standby and unlock the phone in just .3 seconds when you place your finger on the sensor. Setting up the fingerprint sensor is a breeze and overall, it certainly performs like a flagship fingerprint sensor. The positioning may not to be to everyone’s taste, but it’s definitely a flagship-worthy feature.
The alert slider is also present on the OnePlus 3 and, just like previous devices, it lets you quickly swap between all notifications, priority notifications or no notifications. In the past I’ve never used this much as I wear smartwatches all the time, though I do find myself reaching in my pocket to make sure the phone is muted whenever I need it to be. With a textured design on the key, it also means it’s easy to locate and differentiate between the slider and the volume buttons.
The OnePlus 3 is powered by a 3000mAh non-removable battery, which couples with Dash charging to power the entire experience. With quite a few days of heavy usage that included GPS navigation and plenty of music consumption, the OnePlus 3 was able to achieve 3 and a half hours of screen-on time. For the most part, the handset usually ended the day with a single digit of battery life remaining but it never quite drained completely.
Dash Charge is OnePlus’ take on fast charging technology. The company claims the OnePlus 3 can now charge the phone to 60% from empty in half an hour. In our testing, the claims are certainly true and the addition of fast charging is definitely a boon for the OnePlus 3, meaning if the battery is running low, it’s very easy to get the power needed to finish off the day.
Overall, the hardware inside the OnePlus 3 is certainly premium. While the display and design may not stand out too much, it’s under the hood where the OnePlus 3 shows its true flagship-worthiness. NFC makes a return, 6GB of RAM keeps everything running smooth and Dash Charge means you’ll never be without a charge; whichever way you look at it, these are definitely specs worthy of any premium flagship smartphone.
On the rear of the OnePlus 3 is a 16MP camera equipped with f/2.0 aperture, Optical Image Stabilization and phase detection autofocus. On paper, the camera is certainly on par with some flagship devices but as we all know, good camera specs on paper don’t necessarily translate to a great camera experience.
The camera app is still quite simplistic but it has been refined and polished to make it even easier to use. That being said, there is on area of the UX which I just can’t quite understand; when swiping on the viewfinder to get to the different modes, getting to the panorama mode puts the phone in portrait orientation, meaning you have to swipe differently to get back to the other modes.
Manual mode in the camera app features some very nice sliders for changing the focal point of the image, the shutter speed and the white balance and tweaking images in manual mode is as easy as adjusting the slider. By far the best feature in manual mode is the ability to first set the exposure point and then drag the middle to find a proper focal point: it’s an intuitive way of catering the shot to your liking and it works perfectly in Auto mode.
Despite the positives in the camera interface, the actual camera performance is a let down thanks to some of the typical pitfalls. Color saturation in photos is rather inconsistent as while some shots result in good looking photos, others fail to capture the colors in vibrant scenes. E.g. in the eccentric scenes of Hawaii, we were left disappointed by the lack of vibrancy captured by the images.
HDR can traditionally help smartphones in this regard but with the OnePlus 3, it doesn’t seem to be quite as effective. On the OnePlus 3, HDR seems to be working ineffectively, by increasing the shadows rather than bring down the highlights and add in more color. The camera woes continue in the panorama mode, where issues with the stitching make parts of the photo look really choppy.
For most smartphones, low light performance is the biggest challenge and this is also true of the OnePlus 3, where slower shutter speeds compromise the exposure. Although it has Optical Image Stabilization, the shakes produced by long shutter speeds are still readily apparent and this means you’ll need very steady hands if you don’t want blurry photos more often than not.
OnePlus 3 camera samples:
The same issues are apparent in video where OIS does a good job of stabilizing the footage, but noise and a lack of color saturation plague all the video recording modes, including 4K. Considering that 4K video recording is growing in popularity, the poor footage captured by the OnePlus 3 is certainly a concern, especially for users who rely on shooting footage on their phone.
Though it may not come as a huge surprise, it’s still very disappointing to see that OnePlus haven’t quite figured out the camera on its smartphones. Without doubt the camera is one of the most important parts of a smartphone and it’s disappointing to see that the OnePlus 3 is bogged down by one of the most important features that a 2016 flagship needs to perfect.
Just like its past devices, the OnePlus 3 runs on OnePlus’ Oxygen OS, and the latest version is based on Android Marshmallow with some polish and streamlining that makes the overall experience better. In the past, OnePlus has been criticized for providing an experience that’s too akin to stock Android without any extra features that differentiated it. This time around, the features have been ironed out to provide an overall experience that feels like it has its own identity.
Customization is a large part of the overall OnePlus experience and to that end, the Dark Mode is a great addition to the Oxygen OS. In adding the Dark Mode, OnePlus have added a feature that’s still not available in beta versions of Android N and the feature enables a dark interface with customizable accent color that’s likely to appeal to a lot of people who have wanted a dark theme for Android.
OnePlus devices have been known to come with gestures to launch apps and actions but with the addition of the fingerprint reader in the home button, you can now also launch the camera by double pressing the home button. This renders the gestures somewhat less needed but they are still present for those who are used to them.
The capacitive buttons that flank the home button are now dots rather than bars, and this is particularly good because they don’t have to adhere to the particular function that they indicate. Indeed, Oxygen OS provides the ability to customize the behavior of the keys – with different actions for long or double presses – as well as the option to disable them altogether in lieu of a bar of soft keys.
Finally, the Shelf returns and is still a bunch of boxes in which to add some widgets for safe keeping, but now widgets are scrollable. The Shelf also has a new dialog box which allows you to create quick memos and this makes it easy to take notes very quickly. It’s really the small flourishes that make this version of Oxygen OS a pleasure to use and whether it’s little icon indicators – for turning off the background, Dash charging and more – or the ability to quickly swap lockscreen and homescreen wallpapers, the tweaks help enhance the Oxygen OS experience.
In fact, whereas Oxygen OS once felt like stock Android attempting to replicate the feature set once offered by Cyanogen on previous OnePlus devices, it is now starting to feeling like a user interface all of its own.
5.5-inch Optic AMOLED display
1920 x 1080 resolution, 401ppi
Gorilla Glass 4
Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Kryo: 2x 2.2 GHz, 2x 1.6 GHz
Rear camera: 16MP Sony IMX 298 sensor with PDAF, 1.12μm, OIS, EIS, f/2.0
Front camera: 8MP Sony IMX 179 sensor with 1.4μm, EIS, f/2.0
OxygenOS based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Fingerprint, Hall, Accelerometor, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light and Electronic Compass
USB 2.0, Type-C
Dual nano-SIM slot
3.5 mm audio jack
GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
North America model: WCDMA: Bands 1/2/4/5/8 FDD-LTE: Bands 1/2/4/5/7/8/12/17 CDMA EVDO: BC0
Europe/Asia model: WCDMA: Bands 1/2/5/8
FDD-LTE: Bands 1/3/5/7/8/20
TDD-LTE: Bands 38/40/41
Speakers: Bottom-facing speaker
Microphones: Dual-microphone with noise cancellation
Dash Charge (5V 4A)
Materials and colors
Materials: anodized aluminum
Colors: Graphite, Soft Gold (Available shortly after launch)
Dimensions and weight
152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35mm
The OnePlus 3 is available to buy now for $399. The biggest news around the handset is that OnePlus has finally dropped its dreaded invite system. In previous years, you had to wait weeks or months and go through a lot of steps to acquire an invite before buying the phone, but now you’ll be able to buy one directly from OnePlus. Of course, it’s likely you’ll end up waiting a few weeks for delivery but it’s definitely easier than waiting for an invite.
What happens when a manufacturer puts together the best features of flagships for an affordable price point? That phone is called the OnePlus One. Unfortunately, the OnePlus 2 tried to bring a few forward facing features but didn’t fully flesh them out.
To make a success out of their third phone, it almost feels like OnePlus had to bend to convention.
That misstep has been rectified in the OnePlus 3, where the philosophies of the previous two devices have come together to make an incredibly solid device for a good price. In order to do that however, and appeal to the masses, OnePlus had to make a couple compromises – the camera is still not where a flagship should be, and the design takes a step back from uniqueness. To make a success out of their third phone, it almost feels like OnePlus had to bend to convention.
Overall, the OnePlus 3 is still a great device that hits almost all the right notes – exactly what would be needed to make a ‘flagship killer.’ Perhaps now the phrase to look closer at is ‘Never Settle’ – where OnePlus once made a splash was in being bold, taking changes, and requiring invites to make the phone feel more exclusive. Without all of that, the OnePlus 3 feels just like an almost-flagship device for a midrange price. Though that in and of itself is great for most users, it also simply isn’t as exciting as before.
- OnePlus 3 announced: everything you need to know
- Flagship spec showdown: OnePlus 3 vs the competition
- OnePlus 3 vs OnePlus 2 quick look
- What would you change about the OnePlus 3?
What do you think of the OnePlus 3 and are you planning to buy one? Let us know your views in the comments below!