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OnePlus 5: after the thrill is gone
Don’t get me wrong: the OnePlus 5 is a fine device, and easily the most accomplished the company has ever produced. But during the unveiling there was a distinct feeling of ‘meh’. As OnePlus has matured as a company – and their device prices have crept ever-so-closer to matching those of the flagships they’re supposed to be killing – the thrill of each new OnePlus launch has begun to lose its luster.
Let’s look at a few facts: the $479 starting price of the 6/64 GB base model of the OnePlus 5 is not bad by anyone’s standards, and you’d be hard pressed to find a device with comparable specs and performance at that price. It’s selling like hotcakes, and for good reason.
The 8/128 GB version bumps things up again, but its price is starting to approach mainstream flagship territory. Again: you can barely find a phone with specs like this anywhere, at $539 or even $839, but there’s no denying the characteristic low-ball price point OnePlus became known for has started to become more flagship than flagship killer.
There's no denying the characteristic low-ball price point OnePlus became known for has started to become more flagship than flagship killer.
Think about it: for not too much more you could have a Galaxy S8, with its dual curved QHD Infinity Display, microSD support, IP68 ingress protection, wireless charging, iris scanner, truly unique design and much better equipped camera (even if it is only a single shooter). Right now on Amazon you can get a 64 GB unlocked Galaxy S8 for $678 – that’s just $140 more for the best Android flagship available right now.
Many folks will still argue – perhaps rightfully – that the OnePlus 5 offers better value for money pound-for-pound, something I myself have argued in the past. I still believe this to be true, but the scales are slowly tipping in the favor of the mainstream flagships for the additional premium features they offer for only an additional 25%. While OnePlus may still have the edge with the OnePlus 5 pricing, that story is likely to look a little different next year.
If the OnePlus 6 arrives with yet another price hike and doesn’t have a fancy QHD 18:9 display, IP rating and so on, where will the value proposition lie? OnePlus’ traditional strength was top notch specs at rock bottom prices. The top notch specs will always be there, this much we know. But the rock bottom prices are already starting to vanish. And every time the OnePlus price point increases, the appeal of the device is lowered: it just becomes another high-end Android phone.
Every time the OnePlus price point increases, the appeal of the device is lowered: it just becomes another high-end Android phone.
And that is what seemed very evident during the presentation: just how mainstream and normal the OnePlus 5 is. Sure, it looks a lot less like an iPhone 7 Plus in real life (having now held one myself), it’s blazing fast even if the company still thinks gaming the benchmarks is worthwhile, its camera is much better but still a long way away from beating the best Android has to offer, and so on. But there’s nothing about it that screams “look at me” in quite the same way as its predecessors.
As I said at the outset, the OnePlus 5 is the most accomplished phone the company has ever produced, hands down. If you’re all about great performance and specs then absolutely go pick one up. But as OnePlus the company becomes increasingly mainstream, they’re going to have to find new ways to make their devices stand out from the crowd.
OnePlus going full mainstream isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we’ll certainly lose something valuable in the process if it does. OnePlus can’t maintain that “disruptive upstart” persona if it’s offering – and charging – the same thing as its mainstream competition. Absent some other unique value proposition, OnePlus will have joined them rather than beaten them. This is why OnePlus needs to do mainstream better than Samsung or LG.
OnePlus going full mainstream isn't necessarily a bad thing, but OnePlus needs to do mainstream better than Samsung or LG.
OnePlus historically differentiated itself with its price/performance ratio, but that bucket is slowly drying up. As OnePlus steadily approaches parity with its mainstream competition, both in terms of feature set and price, OnePlus customers will justifiably start looking around at other similarly priced devices, and they may well prefer what they see.
Better customer service, transparency and update support would be a good start for OnePlus’ new value proposition, but without the premium features outlined above and the three glaring problems just mentioned, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to justify regular flagship OnePlus price tags.