2016 was going to be quite a challenging year for OnePlus. The OnePlus One in 2014 exceeded expectations (and how!), while the OnePlus 2 in the following year didn’t do much. What this meant was OnePlus had a huge burden on their shoulders, that of making a truly remarkable phone… once again.
Besides that, a lot has changed since 2014. Buyers paying ~$400 can get phones with some truly top-end tech now, so it hardly makes sense to have flash sales/invite models for phones that expensive.
So OnePlus had two birds to kill with one stone. Let’s see how that went in our review of the OnePlus 3.
OnePlus 3 Review: Design and Build
The design of the OnePlus 3 is something that’s known for quite a while, thanks to ‘leaks’ ahead of its official launch. That said, I never really disliked the design in pictures, and it felt even better in the hands.
OnePlus somehow manage to pull this off each time. Each of their previous phones, including the OnePlus X, seemed to have been written off even before being launched. It somehow changed after launch each time — the design grew on us. I’ll concede that the OnePlus One was the least good looking OnePlus so far.
The OnePlus 3 does have an iPhone-HTC feel to it, which cannot be ignored. It’s a very clean design with not much fuss about it.
The hardware profile switch key remains from the OnePlus 2, and this time feels like its made out of better quality metal that won’t snap. I’ve had issues with the slider on the OnePlus 2 myself, with the slider coming loose and having play.
One thing that does bother me about the visual aspect of the OnePlus 3 is the colour of the home button. While the bezel on the top and bottom of the screen is pure black, the button is covered in silver reflective coating which in my book makes it look a tad tacky.
Another thing about the fingerprint sensor/home button — after growing used to fingerprint sensors mounted on the rear on 5.5-inch phones, it was a bit of a learning curve going back to a home button-mounted sensor.
The OnePlus 3 has a super tiny lip around its 2.5D curved glass (which itself is a sheet of Gorilla Glass 4) that is supposed to protect the digitiser from damage during drops and such. I’m not sure how effective that’s going to be, because the 2.5D glass itself rises about half an mm over the metal lip. That said, I’ve managed to drop the phone a couple of times from around 2-2.5 feet (unintentional), with no visible damage whatsoever.
The unibody metal around the screen comes chamfered with a slight polish to it… the right amount. It’s quite intricate at the edges, in fact with so much going around – 2.5D glass, a metal lip, the chamfered edge and then the matte unibody. It all makes for quite a premium-looking setup.
The right edge has the power button and the SIM tray. The left features the volume buttons and the profile slider. There’s nothing on the top edge — clean as a (curved) whistle. The chin, on the other hand, is quite busy with the external speaker, USB Type C port, a microphone hole and a 3.5mm jack situated on it.
If I’m not wrong, the Gorilla Glass 4 on top of the screen does possess oleophobic characteristics, but I’m not quite happy with how it works. There always seem to be smudges and fingerprints on the panel. These are extremely easy to get rid of (one quick wipe does the job), but I’ve seem better implementation of oleophobic coating.
Flipping over the phone will put you face to face with the minimalistic and trademark 1+ branding engraved in metal, right below the camera and flash. I like how symmetrical everything is on the OnePlus 3, it’s an OCD’s delight. Antenna lines too, exist only on the top and bottom — reminiscent of the Coolpad Max.
OnePlus 3 Review: Hardware and Performance
So far, so good. I’ve only received the critical OxygenOS 3.2.1 update that is supposed to sort out RAM issues, but I honestly haven’t had any issues with the ROM before that.
6GB of RAM is overkill, and there’s no two ways about it in my dictionary. Shipping a phone with 6GB RAM is like installing Windows 98 on your iPod Touch 2nd gen — you do it because you can. Besides that, I’ve never really felt the difference between a 4GB RAM and a 6GB RAM phone. With component costs falling like they are, OnePlus probably thought of adding the additional 2GB (can’t believe I’m saying that – additional 2GB RAM!) for the spec sheet’s sake.
You’ve already seem how the phone marauds benchmark apps. If not, do so here.
Performance in both, general UI and 3rd party apps is brilliant. It’d be fair to say that the OnePlus 3 is among the fastest Android phones on the market, if not the fastest. To provide some context, the apps that I use most are – Chrome, WhatsApp, Slack, Telegram, Skype, Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, AirDroid, and a few more. A few of these (Skype, FB, Chrome, Slack, specifically) are pretty heavyweight but the OnePlus 3 manages to switch between any of those quite effortlessly.
Moving on to the hardware side of things, let’s start with the display. It’s a nice 5.5-inch 1080p AMOLED panel, which is always a good break from the usual IPS screens that we keep being fed. That said, the display lacks the ‘flagship’ element that a $400 phone is expected to have.
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Don’t get me wrong – the colours and viewing angles are right up there, but the ‘wow’ factor — that cannot be quantified — doesn’t seem to exist. Also, it doesn’t help that I’ve been using the OnePlus 3 over two weeks, which may have caused the wow factor to wear off even further.
What you should totally do on your OnePlus 3 though is you should use Ambient Display mode in conjunction with Proximity Wake. Not much, it’ll turn the screen on in ‘ambient mode’ (i.e., Black and White only) when you take it out of your pocket. Black and White because AMOLED displays take zero power to display a black pixel, thus very less juice is consumed when there’s only a few (figuratively speaking) white pixels to light up.
OxygenOS also comes with it’s own ‘Night Mode’ which works quite well. It’ll skip the blue light and give the display a yellow tint which sure is far from just a gimmick. If you’re a user of the fantastic f.lux app on your computer, you’ll know what Night Mode is.
Besides that, the 3.2.1 update also added the ability to turn on sRGB mode, which seems to affect how the display performs in a very apparent manner.
Moving on to the sound quality, I’ve had mixed results. While the external speaker — mono, from what it looks — is surprisingly powerful and neat, I’ve usually had problems using the built-in earpiece. Now, I’m not sure if the issues are caused due to a network problem or a low-grade speaker, but it’s often really hard to make out what the other person’s trying to say during a call.
The fingerprint sensor, in one word, is awesome. It’s really accurate and really, really fast. I don’t have an iPhone to compare with, but I’m pretty sure it is as fast as the newest iPhone.
Battery life has been good so far, and should get better with future updates. OnePlus have usually delivered on the battery front, with the exception of the OnePlus 2. The OnePlus One in fact was a battery monster with some users reporting up to 7.5-8 hours of SOT! While that is not the case here, the OnePlus 3 does give around 4-5 hours of SOT depending on how you use it.
I used the phone on a super long train journey twice, and despite the constant network switching, the phone didn’t let me down.
OnePlus 3 Review: Network and Radio
A bit of a mixed bag once again. While mobile radio reception (2G, 3G and 4G LTE) has been fairly good, I’ve been disappointed with the WiFi performance on the OnePlus 3. The phone keeps dropping my home WiFi connection (2.4GHz), despite the router being only some 30 feet and a door away. No other phones have had issues, but the OnePlus 3 continues to be a poor WiFi performer.
On the other hand, the OnePlus 3 is the best GPS phone I’ve used to far. Indoors, outdoors or on a train – the OnePlus 3 manages to latch on to satellites regardless, delivering superb accuracy.
OnePlus 3 Review: Camera
Honestly, there doesn’t seem too much of a change between the camera performance of the OnePlus 3 and last year’s OP2. The shutter can sometimes be annoyingly slow (I’m not sure if this is problem that developed recently), rendering both, OIS and EIS useless many a time.
OxygenOS ships with a few different camera options. Main modes include: Time Lapse, Slow Motion, Photo, Video, Manual and Panorama. Manual mode lets you control ISO, White Balance, Shutter Speed and Focus. Besides that, you can also opt to save RAW images.
In automatic photo mode, you can tap on the ‘HD’ icon to enable HD mode. This is what OnePlus used to call ‘Clear Image’… and it doesn’t do too much. And besides, it takes away the ability to take photos in HDR, so it’s really not worth using this mode. I also feel that the name is a little misleading.
Here are some samples.
OnePlus 3 Review: Other
OxygenOS ships with some interesting and some gimmick features. The ones that you totally should use:
- Night Mode
- Ambient Display + Proximity Wake
- Double press Power Button to open camera
- Dark Mode (looks really cool) 😉
Besides this, OxygenOS will allow you to configure your buttons (order, on screen or off screen, backlight, etc.), LED notifications, long press button actions, etc.
OnePlus 3 Review: Gallery
OnePlus 3 Review: Conclusion
I believe I’m been as thorough as I could in this review, without taking any sides. To be honest I was quite floored by the OnePlus 3 initially, which is why I decided to push the review back by a week or so just so that the excitement doesn’t turn into misleading.
Anyway, at $399 international, I feel that the OnePlus 3 is a phone worth the money despite the few shortcomings. Funny enough, one of the most important aspects of the OnePlus 3 doesn’t have anything to do with the phone — that of doing away with the invite scheme. I’m pretty sure releasing the OnePlus 3 with an invite system would’ve taken OnePlus nowhere, and they’ve delivered right in the nick of time.
The phone is available via OnePlus to international buyers. Buyers in markets where OnePlus don’t ship officially can buy from here.