Also amazing value
Written in accordance with Gadgette’s Reddit-inspired review policy.
I’ve had a mixed history with OnePlus. I hated their first phone, the One (mainly because mine had some major errors that shouldn’t have slipped by quality assurance); liked but didn’t love the OnePlus 2, and I dubbed my (smashed) OnePlus X “the world’s slipperiest phone” – although I still liked it a lot.
In short, my opinion of OnePlus’s handsets has roughly correlated with their ascension to geek royalty: it’s got higher with every phone. Now that they’ve hit the mainstream in the form of O2 stores – and have finally dropped the cursed invite system – their great-value phones are positioned to be very popular choices in a post-Note 7 world. So does the £329 OnePlus 3 follow the pattern? It certainly does. Read on for my in-depth review after using the phone day in, day out – and yes, there are kitten pics.
How is it that every phone brand hires super-talented product designers, yet ends up with a phone that looks like all the others? HTCs look like iPhones these days, and this looks like an HTC. However, you won’t notice, because you’ll want to slap on one of the official cases post-haste – not only to avoid a OnePlus X-style smashathon, but also because they are beautiful.
OnePlus originally tried the bamboo case idea with the One, but had production problems and had to cancel it. They’ve clearly nailed it now, offering cases in two wood tones and a variety of finishes. They look really cool and people will walk up to you on the street to ask about them (seriously). This has always been the case with OnePlus phones, actually: be aware that if you use one in public, you’ll either get “What the heck kind of iPhone is that?” or “OMG A ONEPLUS” from those in the know.
(On a related note, I found a man who’d just arrived from India in the tech aisle of Stratford Wilko’s recently, frantically looking for a USB C cable for his dead OnePlus. I saw him trying to explain what it was to the baffled shop assistant (“So, like, a Motorola?”) and took pity on him, showing him my matching phone and actually gifting him my spare charging cable, as our local Wilko’s hasn’t caught on to Type C yet. It really is a “geeks club” kind of brand, and I hope that doesn’t change now that they’re on O2).
Speaking of Type C, that’s what you’ll find on your OnePlus 3, in the centre of the bottom edge between the solo speaker and the 3.5mm headphone jack (I can’t believe this counts as a notable feature now). On the right edge is the power key (a double tap launches the camera), and the left side holds the volume rocker and etched, iPhone-style Do-Not-Disturb slider.
Then there’s a fingerprint pad in the centre of the phone’s ‘chin’ (below the screen), not a Samsung-esque pressable fingerprint key, but an HTC-style static pad. It unlocks quickly and accurately, and has capacitive (‘soft’) back and apps buttons on either side. They don’t light up by default, but there’s a menu option if you want to see a tiny spot of light where they are.
The official cases have cutouts for all the buttons, so you won’t have to push the volume key through another layer of material, but does make for a less cohesive look if that bothers you. I’m mostly just in love with the wood.
For saying it’s only one speaker, sound on the OnePlus 3 is pleasing. The six drilled speaker holes on the bottom left edge are capable of outputting surprisingly loud audio, and while it does distort somewhat at the higher volumes, clarity and bass are generally good at more realistic listening volumes.
It’s not an audiophile’s phone, for sure, but it’s more than good enough for those of us with standard-definition ears.
Another surprise. Considering how inexpensive this phone is, the screen is quite literally brilliant. For the first few weeks of use, I got that “wow” moment every time I unlocked my phone – due in part to the rather lovely paint-effect default wallpaper that makes the most of the colour settings. But coming from the Huawei P9, I was expecting something about the same, and was pleasantly surprised.
The screen is advertised as “Optic AMOLED,” which isn’t really a thing. But a Reddit AMA revealed that it’s actually a current-generation Samsung display, with some tweaks by OnePlus. So, it’s Super AMOLED (Samsung’s marketing name for their AMOLED screens) with a OnePlus twist. That does explain why it’s so pretty: Samsung screens are among the best.
The slightly-curved glass goes all the way to the edges with slim bezels on either side of the screen, bookended with the usual black bars at the top and bottom. It’s glossy and therefore fingerprinty, but that’s pretty standard.
More importantly, the glass on this model seems tougher than my OnePlus X, as I’ve dropped it quite badly several times (I blame the cat) and so far, not so much as a scratch. The case helps, of course, but it’s never a given that it’ll save you. I don’t use a screen protector (it comes with one, but I took it off because I hate the look of them… meh, I have insurance) and so far, so good.
Six. Gig. Of RAM. For three hundred quid. The world’s gone mad. There are still flagships coming out costing more than twice as much as this and offering half the RAM.
Do you need six gig of RAM for current Android apps? Hell no. Do you want it? Obvs. It’s pretty much a boasting thing at this point, because I can’t see any appreciable difference in performance, but equally I haven’t had any of the problems I’ve seen on some phones with less memory, either.
Of course, memory doesn’t tell the whole story. The quad-core processor is more in line with this phone’s mid-range price than the rest of its specs, but it still performs as ably as most flagships I’ve used. It does run hot sometimes – especially the top half of the phone – but not to problematic levels. I’ve also had a few crashes, but mostly caused by software issues (see next section).
Does it run like a phone from 2017? Probably not. Does it run really well, and really really well for the price? Definitely.
OnePlus phones run a modded version of Android called OxygenOS. It’s developed alongside their fans (superfans, I should probably say) and although it’s not as quick to get updates as a Google phone, the pressure of said superfans to have the NEW THING RIGHT NOW keeps them moving pretty quickly.
OxygenOS is like Android Plus. If you’re the kind of person who likes droids for their customisation options, you’ll love it, because it adds even more things you can mess about with. Wanna make the notification LED bright pink when it’s charging? Done. Want your battery icon to be circular? Do it. Want to save loads of power and use a dark theme? Oh hell yes (seriously, do this, it makes a significant difference to battery life).
There are a few extras baked into OxygenOS, the main one being the ‘shelf’ to the left of the homescreen. It pops up your most-used apps, contacts and so on. It also, er, bids you good night. I don’t find I need it, but some people love it, and it can be turned off if you’re not a fan of generic software greetings.
One of the ways OnePlus has cut costs here is to only offer one storage size, and isn’t it a relief to see a sensible choice for once? No fundamentally-useless 16GB model, no ridiculously unnecessary 256 gig, just the best middle size: 64.
That said, it’s a shame not to see expandable storage, but at this price we really can’t complain about that. With the use of cloud services like Google Photos, most people aren’t going to get to the end of those gigs anytime soon.
The microSD space has been used on a second nano SIM slot, which makes sense internationally, but I’d wager the UK would have preferred an SD bay. Still, can’t have everything (yet).
OnePlus phones use a proprietary camera app, although you could be forgiven for thinking it’s Google Camera, as the icon is almost identical. I certainly did at first.
The app is fairly basic, but includes all the features mainstream users need in a clean, easy-to-use interface. The downside – at least when it comes to selfies – is that there’s no softening or Beauty Mode whatsoever. You look exactly how you look, and when you’ve got used to Snapchat filters that make your skin smooth and your eyes huge, that can be disconcerting.
You can, of course, get another app to soften up your selfies a bit. Although the selfie camera is fixed focus, so if it doesn’t quite get a lock on your face, you probably won’t have to.
The selfie cam itself is fine. It’s not bad, not amazing, but certainly better than necessary for a phone in this price range. It’s quick and it’s accurate – for better or worse!
(These, as you can probably tell, were not taken for the purposes of a phone review. They’re a random sampling of real selfies I took during the months I used the phone as my main. That gives a more accurate impression, in my opinion).
I wasn’t kidding in the headline. Any black cat owner will tell you that taking photos of their furry sootmonster is pretty damn difficult if you want anything other than a lovely landscape photo with a hole in the middle. Of all my phones (and I have a fair amount, as you can probably imagine), the OnePlus 3 takes the best pictures of Mawri, hands down. That’s not an accolade to be sniffed at: it means the camera is good at picking out detail in dark areas, which is also handy for low-light and contrast shots.
It’s good to know you can rely on your camera to get the result you want, and I’ve come to rely on the OnePlus 3 when I want a shareable pic of my kitty. Or anything else, really. It’s an excellent camera and – at the risk of repeating myself one time too many – especially so for the price.
Some of the photo samples have been auto-enhanced using Google’s built-in tool (which has sometimes led to overexposure of the rest of the photo to bring out the detail on Mawri), but none have been edited more than that.
The double-tap launch shortcut for the camera is appreciated as well – I really miss this on the few phones that don’t have it. As with everything on the OP3, you can customise which button you double tap. I use the power key, because double tapping the fingerprint pad isn’t as satisfying as a real button.
A 3k battery is pretty standard for a higher-end phone, although some ‘phablets’ at around this screen size now offer more. 3,000 mAh seems more than fair for the price, and it holds up well, lasting me (a heavy user) the majority of the day before needing a top-up.
There’s no wireless charging, but there is a dash (quick) charger, which very generously comes with the phone. OnePlus use the slogan “a day’s power in half an hour” for this, but while it’s true that it does charge the phone very quickly (especially for the first third or so), I don’t get a day’s power out of this full stop, so I can’t agree with that claim. However, I use my phone more than most people, and haven’t found a handset this year that can last me the day.
On the whole, then, you should expect good but not amazing stamina from the OnePlus 3. You’ll still need a power pack if you’re wandering about playing Pokémon, and I can wholeheartedly recommend OnePlus’s own 10,000 mAh pack at £16.99 (I’m not on commission, I swear).
OnePlus also sell a dash charger for your car’s lighter port. It’s not cheap at £24.99, but then if you drive an actual proper petrol car in 2016, you can afford it, moneybags.
OnePlus have more than bought their ticket to the mainstream with this phone. It’s superior to many of the better-known phones to have hit the shelves this year, and rivals most flagships in terms of specs (with the exception of the processor) while absolutely trouncing them on price. Once again, OnePlus leave us asking: if they can do it this cheap without economies of scale, why can’t the big firms?
Contextually, OnePlus have never been in a better position. Sure, they’re not a household name yet, but they’ve secured high street backing in the form of O2 (which has more clout than, say, Three or Giffgaff, which are known for going with more niche devices). More importantly, two big names in the Android market have suffered setbacks recently: the newly-launched Google Pixel was received with a resounding “meh,” while Samsung have had a Titanic of a time with the Galaxy Note 7. That means there’s space in the market for a new name, especially while consumers are asking “Well, if not this phone, then what?”
The Pixel has been particularly harshly compared to the OnePlus 3 in terms of specs and pricing – after the famously inexpensive Nexus line, the iPhone-esque Google phone seems rather overpriced at £599+ when this can be had for just £329. (Our Pixel review will be coming next).
Our verdict, then? This is a big step up for OnePlus. An all-round excellent-value phone with very few downsides and some impressive upsides. There’s no wireless charging, no microSD and a couple more processor cores wouldn’t have gone astray, but the screen’s a beauty, the camera’s a workhorse, it has six gig of RAM and it’s half the price of its rivals.
I’ve been recommending this phone left, right, and centre. If I didn’t need to switch to another review phone, I’d be more than happy with this as my daily driver, over several much more expensive options. Welcome to the big league, OnePlus.
The OnePlus 3 is available now, either on contract with O2 (from £28 a month) or directly from OnePlus for £329. Take my advice and grab a wooden case and a power pack while you’re there – at these prices you might as well.