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We were wrong: OnePlus becoming the Western OPPO is great
There’s been plenty of criticism leveled at the closer relationship between OPPO and OnePlus in recent years (I’ve had plenty of my own thoughts too). However, the OnePlus Open, with hardware built essentially by OPPO, has revealed a potentially exciting future for the co-brands. In fact, OnePlus cribbing from OPPO’s hardware, effectively becoming the OPPO of the West (or US) as it were, is just what it needs to do to stand out once again. Trust me, this isn’t a bad take.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 2023 about “OP-Plus,” it’s that OPPO knows how to build brilliant hardware. The second-generation Find N3 Flip clamshell is superbly made, as was its predecessor. We’ve had nothing but good things to say about the hardware aspects of the OnePlus Open (aka the OPPO Find N3). In fact, our review described it as “the best hardware we’ve seen from OnePlus since its true flagship killer days.” That’s a double-edged statement when you think about who built the phone.
OPPO hardware stands out as some of the best in the business.
Likewise, the Find X6 Pro, while sadly limited to certain regions, is a phenomenal piece of kit. It would probably be my phone of the year if I could buy it without the import caveats. But even the Chinese model I used left a lasting impression; the design and cameras are a cut above. We haven’t been able to say the same for OnePlus flagships for years, with the 10 and 11 series continuing a trend of so-so trade-offs.
But the Open has given me cause for optimism. If, somehow, the upcoming OnePlus 12 is even 80% as good as the brand’s latest powerhouse, it would be hard to ignore. The rumored specifications are there; it’ll all boil down to executing them as well as on the Open.
OPPO knows hardware, OnePlus knows the US
Despite its brilliant hardware, OPPO has often struggled to stand out in some Western markets, particularly the US. Part of this is likely down to brand recognition and the homogeneity of the Apple/Samsung dynamic. Part of it may be down to global software choices not quite hitting the mark. (There are some lingering questions over patents too.) But perhaps the most significant is the often elusive carrier and retailer distribution routes. These are areas that OnePlus has more experience with than OPPO and where the partnership can shine.
The brand still has an in with BestBuy, where you can grab the OnePlus 11. You won’t find OnePlus handsets at Verizon anymore (you could buy the OnePlus 9 back in the day) and T-Mobile’s pickings are slim, but OnePlus could reopen the door if new hardware proves to be a hit. Premium phones like the Open are much more likely to catch retailers’ eyes, especially in the US, than a plucky “flagship-killer” or mid-range models. By comparison, OPPO’s lack of existing US presence makes it an uphill battle to convince major retailers to stock its phones.
If leveraging the OnePlus name is what it takes to get OPPO hardware into more hands, I'm all for it.
In its heyday, OnePlus carved out a niche with its Never Settle approach to software, although that’s been watered down in more recent versions of OxygenOS. There’s more room for OnePlus to put a US slant on the software rather than renaming and reusing features like Open Canvas, O Relax, and Zen Space. Still, closer collaboration with OPPO’s ColorOS is necessary, as there are now resources to ensure the Open receives a very competitive four OS upgrades and five years of security patches. That’s a vital win when competing against Apple and Samsung.
And let’s not forget the necessary support structures to keep high-end phone purchasers happy, encompassing everything from warranty needs to replacing aging batteries. OnePlus already has an established setup in the US and other Western markets, while OPPO would have to invest heavily and start from scratch in many places if it wanted to push its brand further.
If leveraging the OnePlus name is what it takes to get OPPO hardware into more hands, I’m all for it.
The relationship still needs work
Synchronizing left and right hands is a perpetual problem for these hydra-headed organizations, and there’s already clear room for improved coordination at OP-Plus. Take the fact that the Open supports OPPO’s stylus but not OnePlus’ stylus — oversight is an understatement. Similarly, we’ve seen OPPO pinch and then return the Hasselblad partnership and reserve its best camera tech for its Find X series. The company needs to drop the pretense that OPPO is the premium tier if it wants OnePlus to land hits on the big Western players.
All that said, it would be unwise for OnePlus to become nothing more than an OPPO rebrand for Western markets. There’s a subtle but important distinction between customizing a product for a target market and becoming little more than a white-label manufacturer. OnePlus has a legacy of doing things differently, innovating on features, and undercutting the competition, which all remain recipes for success. That history has been let down with years of so-so hardware, which OPPO can clearly fix. But equally, OPPO’s insistence on throwing extra app stores and duplicate features into markets that are happy with Apple and Google ecosystems needs tempering by a brand that understands these consumers better.
OnePlus putting a unique stamp on excellent OPPO hardware is the best of both worlds. We’ve seen glimpses of great potential with the OnePlus Open; now let’s see if lightning can strike twice with next year’s phones.