It’s always way more fun to root for the underdogs. The little guys with fewer resources. They’re the guys who fight the hardest to keep the lights on because it’s truly shoot for the moon or go bust.
OnePlus has been fighting an uphill battle against Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, Xiaomi — pretty much every smartphone maker — as the company’s grown since 2013.
Learning lessons is a necessary part of growing. For OnePlus, it would appear they’ve learned a lot of lessons in the last year.
The company’s new flagship OnePlus 3 is mighty impressive on paper and even more incredible in your hand. This is Nexus-, Galaxy- and iPhone-level excellence, but with a price that destroys all of them.
The biggest lesson OnePlus learned and has finally done away with is its invite-to-buy system. That’s right, you’ll actually be able a OnePlus 3 without needing to receive an invite. Not only that, but it’ll also be available on Amazon (in India) in addition to OnePlus’s website.
Like Xiaomi, OnePlus rose to the global stage selling phones with competitive specs at a fraction of the cost of premium devices. The OnePlus One and OnePlus 2 were successes driven by their low pricing as much as they were for their excellent build quality.
This year, OnePlus has distilled its flagship phone back down to a single 64GB model that costs $399 and launches on June 14 in the U.S. and Europe (399 Euros), and on June 15 in India (27,999 INR) and China (3,098 HKD). The price is a far cry from the $299 days of the OnePlus One, but it’s still less the Google Nexus 6P, which costs $549 for a 64GB model.
Online leaks revealed the OnePlus 3’s design from every angle weeks before the phone arrived for me to test. 3D renders give you a good idea of what a phone will look like, but not how it feels. And let me tell you, the OnePlus 3 feels amazing.
The OnePlus 3’s smooth unibody metal design borrows from the HTC One M8, iPhone 6S andSamsung Galaxy S7 that all came before it. Every phone is a lookalike. Everyone copies. Even Apple.
The antenna lines aren’t nearly as ugly as the iPhone 6S’s, the buttons are perfectly tactile and I don’t even mind the camera hump on the back.
The glass on the 5.5-inch display melts right into a thin chamfer before spilling into the metal body. The cutouts for all the ports are all located on the bottom. The fingerprint sensor is rounder this time and still unlocks the phone quickly with just a touch (no press required) of the finger. It’s faster than the iPhone 6S’s Touch ID sensor, too.
Rival phones all sport a sharper and denser Quad HD-resolution screen, but to be honest, the OnePlus 3’s 1080p AMOLED screen still looks great. While it’s not the brightest screen, I could still see the screen fine with the brightness set to 50% to 75% outdoors.
I’m a fan of OnePlus’s signature sandstone back and it’s a sad to not see such a striking texture return. OnePlus sort of makes up for it with its official OnePlus 3 cases, though, which come in sandstone ($19.95) and several wood finishes ($24.95), but those will obviously cost extra.
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If you’ve read any of my flagship Android phone reviews this year (Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge,LG G5, HTC 10, Xiaomi Mi 5, etc.) you’re already aware of the unstoppable performance duo: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor paired with 4GB of RAM.
This winning combo is what every high-end Android phone has in common. OnePlus didn’t want the OnePlus 3 to be another phone in the 820-4GB RAM club, so it went one further and included 6GB of RAM.
Apple’s A-numbered processors and iOS are well known for their ability to handle powerful tasks without needing a boatload of RAM; it’s why the iPhone 6S only has 2GB of RAM. Android not so much — the software and apps just eat memory like there’s no tomorrow.
I never got any slowdown while testing phones with 4GB of RAM and I sure as hell didn’t get any performance issues with the OnePlus 3’s 6GB of RAM. I opened 50 apps and the phone just handled it all like it was NBD. Even while playing games with high-resolution 3D graphics, the OnePlus 3 never choked up. It really doesn’t get better than that.
OnePlus’s approach to Android has always been to augment it with useful features. But at the same time give users the option to disable anything they don’t want. The OnePlus 3 runs OxygenOS on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
As with previous versions of OxygenOS, Android remains fairly stock — there’s no bloatware anywhere in sight and no duplicate apps — and features like the Shelf notification board, gestures for activating features like the flashlight (draw a “v” on the screen) and camera (draw an “o”), dark mode and proximity sensor (wave hand over the screen or take phone out of your pocket) to check for the time and notifications are useful, but can be disabled at any time.
On top of all this power, you get battery life that lasts a day and half from its 3,000 milliamp-hour (mAh) battery and Dash Charging, which charges up your phone from 0% to about 60% in 30 minutes.
It’s getting harder and harder to find a flagship phone with a camera that sucks these days. Every major flagship Android phone has a pretty great camera and low-light performance. The Galaxy S7/S7 Edge, LG G5, HTC 10 — I’ve tried them all and they’re all outstanding compared to a year ago.
The OnePlus 3’s 16-megapixel rear camera and 8-megapixel front-facing camera won’t topple any of its Android rivals if you compare their apertures (low f-stop number, which is key to better low-light performance), but that doesn’t mean they’re inferior.
Through a combination of Sony image sensors with phase-detection autofocus (that’s the tech that allows for super-quick autofocusing in about 0.2 seconds) and OnePlus’s own software (“Dynamic De-noise” for image noise reduction and “HD Mode” for sharper details and “HDR” a.k.a. High Dynamic Range for better exposed images), I was pleasantly surprised at how good the photos were, even in low-light situations.
The cameras, while better than previous OnePlus phones, aren’t best-in-class — many photos came out blurry because the autofocus missed a bunch of times and it’s not great at freezing moving objects — but it’s still pretty good if you know good photography practices. Even if you don’t, the cameras still do a good job, especially if you’re only looking at them on your phone’s screen.
The back camera can take pretty crisp photos thanks to the optical image stabilization. For shooting video, the electronic image stabilization helps smooth out shaky footage.
More serious photographers will also love the manual controls and RAW image support.
I liked the OnePlus 2, but I didn’t love it the way I do the Nexus 6P and Galaxy S7/S7 Edge. But I can now say I love the OnePlus 3, too.
As a phone the OnePlus 3 is off-the-charts spectacular.
It’s arguable the screen isn’t on par with the those two phones, which means using it for VR isn’t quite as crispy, but as aphone the OnePlus 3 is off-the-charts spectacular for its price.
Whereas the OnePlus 2 wasn’t very future-proof, the OnePlus 3 is. The powerful processor and insane amount of RAM ensures it won’t be obsolete by next year, the second nano SIM card slot is useful if you travel a lot and NFC means you can use Android Pay and connect with NFC-compatible speakers and other devices.
Including a microSD card slot for adding more storage would have made the OnePlus 3 even closer to perfect.
The OnePlus 3 is practically perfect, save for expandable storage, waterproofing, fast wireless charging and a QuadHD display. To be honest, I could live without any of these.
OnePlus has really outdone itself and its competitors this year. I dare you to find a better Android phone for $400.
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