With rumors starting as early as February, the OnePlus 5 is ont of the most anticipated and most researched smartphone of 2017. OnePlus has made a name for itself by building phones with good design and powerful technical features, at a reasonable price. Just as expected, the phone has launched as the summer started, and OnePlus’ CEO is saying that it is their fastest-selling device ever. We’ve taken one for a spin since the June 20 2016 launch, so here’s our complete review:
Those who are familiar with the OnePlus line of products know that the OnePlus 5 (model A5000) takes things one step above, not only for the company but also for every competing phone within this price range.
Everyone in the industry would tell you that when it comes to industrial design, money does make a huge difference. One may think that design creativity is not limited by money and that one can design “smart” — it is only somewhat true. In reality, “money” means better materials, more processes, more expensive processes, higher fit tolerances and many other things that lead to a potentially “better” design.
Slim and fitOlder OnePlus phones were bigger and thicker than the “higher-end, more expensive” competition. On the other hand, it had top processor, memory, battery, and storage technical features (aka “Specs”). The trade-off seemed obvious, and many users were happy to do it. However, what if OnePlus was closing the gap fast? Is that even possible?
The OnePlus 5 is very thin (7.25mm) and light (153g). In fact, it is thinner than the Google Pixel (8.6mm), the HTC 11 (7.9mm), and the Galaxy S8 (8.0mm). The Huawei P10 (7mm) and the iPhone 7 (7.1mm) remain thinner than the OnePlus 5 by a very small margin. It is true that the OnePlus 5 doesn’t have a camera module that is flush with the back cover, but this does not change the overall feel in hand.
The overall volume (WxHxD) of the OnePlus 5 is noticeably larger than the S8, P10 and iPhone 7. It is comparable to the HTC 11, if we are talking about new handsets.
The small size is quite an achievement for a handset that is priced somewhat aggressively ($480+ in the U.S ). As we continue into the review, you will see that while there are some trade-offs, this phone brings great value to the user as well.
Classy and soft
The front of the phone is almost completely glass, with a 2.5G glass bezel near the edge. It is not curved glass, but it does provide a “soft” feel to the palm, although without the “infinity” visual effect of the curved glass as seen on the Galaxy S6-edge/S7/S8. In the front, you have a fingerprint reader located at the classic “Home button” position. It is very fast (0.2 sec) and works as a Home button as well, so it feels very natural.
The button setup on either side is minimalist, and I like the fact that the buttons are well-placed. Whether you are left or right handed, you can grab the phone, and your fingers will land naturally near the buttons, but without being where you would press them unintentionally (I wear U.S size M gloves for reference). It is small things like these that often separate the good phones from the great ones.
"MINIMALIST DESIGN AND LOW-KEY BRANDING"On the left side, OnePlus has an “Alert Slider” tri-position slider that switches the sound settings quickly to/from ON, Do Not Disturb or Silent. If you find yourself switching audio settings often because you are in meetings, you probably know that some phones require you to unlock the phone and go into the quick settings. The physical selector makes it much more convenient and fast when you need it the most.
The back of the phone also has a minimalist design and low-key branding. Many of the larger brands could learn from this because after dropping several hundred dollars into a phone 1/ you know what the brand is 2/ you do not want to advertise (for free). Low-profile branding makes the phone look more “Premium/classy” in many ways.
The OnePlus 5 is not water-resistant, so it does not have an IP rating. This feature might be really important to some users, while others are not so concerned (you decide). The only important thing to know is that many smartphones die from water exposure, which is why the feature is important to start with.
"ANY PHONE MAKER COMPETING AT THAT PRICE LEVEL SHOULD TAKE NOTICE"OnePlus’ ability to push industrial design higher despite budget restrictions is impressive. In absolute terms, the OnePlus 5 phone has a very good industrial design that can compete, and beat, many offerings in the $600+ price range, despite being itself priced at ~$480. You will have to look at last year’s high-end phones such as the $440-$480 Galaxy S7 to find stiff competition design-wise, but of course, the internal hardware platform of the OnPlus 5 is stronger (Snapdragon 835 vs 820).
Design-wise, the OnePlus 5 is no Galaxy S8, but the ratio between value and price is simply too strong to ignore. Any Phone maker competing at that price level should take notice.
OnePlus has a 1080p (1920×1080 pixels) AMOLED display with a very powerful backlight that can top 780 NITs in the center and 800 NITs at the top and bottom edges (where the light is coming from, probably). I have not heard OnePlus make a big fuss out of this, but it is unusual enough for a ~$480 that it is important to point out since this makes the phone very usable even on a very sunny day.
Learn more: LCD vs. OLED. Which is Best And Why?
The resolution itself is not impressive and is the typical tradeoff for a phone which is aggressively priced (every expense matters). At the same time, the 1080p resolution can help improve battery life, and the only obvious downside is the loss of details when looking at small text and HD photos — these are the two main use cases where a high PPI display does make a big difference.
Learn more: What is PPI?
Learn more: High PPI displays: do you really need them?
I found the color tuning to be bright and well saturated, just a bit less than the Galaxy S8, but more than the iPhone 7. Samsung is known for making things “pop” quite a bit, so hopefully you’ll have an idea of what to expect. You can tweak the color calibration a bit in the settings with the following options: standard, sRGB DCI-P3, and custom modes).
Resolution aside, the color and brightness are very good, and you get a similar “feel” which is comparable to using a Galaxy AMOLED display.
Looking at the technical specifications, things were looking very nice, so it was pretty exciting to take this phone for a spin. Let’s do a quick technical overview first. If you want to understand how we look at the overall mobile camera experience, you can read this article below that tells you what to look for in a phone’s camera. “Image Quality” is great, but there are a lot of hidden factors that can impact your mobile user experience.
The Main Camera has a 16 Megapixel sensor. We know it is a Sony IMX 398 with 1.12 micron (μm) sensing pixels and Dual-Diode autofocus technology. The same sensor is used in the Oppo R9S and the Oppo F3 Plus. However, there’s no support for optical image stabilization (OIS). OnePlus does mention support for electronic image stabilization (EIS), but you should understand that EIS is useful only for videos. The lens aperture is f1.7 (smaller number = more light entering).
Opinion: what’s a great Mobile Camera Experience?
Learn more: What is Image Stabilization?
"GOOD CAMERA SPECS, BUT THERE ARE TRADE-OFFS"The main camera’s technical analysis shows that it should do very well in broad daylight and produce sharper pictures than the 12 Megapixel cameras present on most high-end phones. The lack of OIS is not important when lighting is good, which leads us to the low-light performance.
The f1.7 aperture is excellent, but in low light, 16 MP vs. 12 MP aren’t an advantage, because it is much harder to perceive details at night. The additional electronics and space in between sensing pixels can steal away precious light sensing area as well.
The Dual Diode AF pixels should bring the best AF performance in both bright and low light, so it is a great feature to have. OnePlus claims that the AF performance is 40% superior to the OnePlus 3T, and we can believe it.
The Secondary Camera is a 20 Megapixel camera which OnePlus says has a “lossless 2X zoom”. The 2X term used by OnePlus has already generated some controversy, and OnePlus’ co-founder Carl Pei had to clarify that it is not 2X optical, but 2X Lossless. Many people assumed that this was a 2X “optical” zoom, and that is just not the case.
Learn more: Dual Cameras vs. Single Camera
Because the sensor resolution is so large (20MP) it is possible to use image cropping to “zoom”: that is really what this “2X Lossless” is about. This allows zooming,without having to magnify (enlarge) the image and induce blurring. Camera companies like Sony have been using this kind of terminology for years. I even remember Nokia using something like this it back in the days.
The real advantage of this dual-camera system (probably built on top of Qualcomm’s ClearSight) is the ability to generate “Bokeh” images in a single shot. This is similar to what Huawei introduced, followed by the iPhone 7+. Because you can capture two images with a small separation, it’s possible to build a depth map (I’ll loosely call this a Z-buffer) from which the phone can understand what is near and far. As a result, it is possible to blur out the background and simulate a lens blur. With this, you can shoot very artsy and beautiful pictures.
Note: all the full-size photos are available in our OnePlus 5 Flickr Album. You can compare these photos with the Galaxy S8 Flickr album, HTC U11 flickr gallery, and the Sony XPERIA XZ flickr gallery.
In broad daylight
The OnePlus 5 does very well in broad daylight. Without close inspection and side-by-side comparison, I expect most users to be very happy with the results. This is particularly true since the display is very bright and colorful. The extra megapixel count (16MP) gives extra details that even high 12MP high-end phones cannot match in broad daylight (that is because they are optimized for low-light).
However, since OnePlus has a reputation for being “high-end” at a reasonable price, we need to push this further. If you compare it with the overall best phone Camera, the Galaxy S8’s, the Oneplus will be on the defensive in an area like metering. This is the process by which the scene is analyzed; then camera settings are put together before taking the shot.
For example, even in broad daylight, the OnePlus often has a tendency to crank the ISO up, or example to 320, when the S8 uses 50. Low ISO means low noise and lower risk of over-exposure. Also, the hue of the S8 photos is a bit more natural.
Regarding shutter action speed, the OnePlus does quite well and is pretty fast. Perceptibly, it is about Google Pixel fast. That is definitely NOT the case of many high-end phones. That is certainly a plus, and keep in mind that slow shutter action is not about compute power, but about the decision to “try” to increase image quality by finessing with the metering. It does not always work.
In low light
In low-light conditions, the high-megapixel count does not matter as much. It is actually even counter-productive because the small spaces between each pixel take away from the “sensing” surface. For non-BSI sensors, it could even be that tiny electric wires block the light even further.
In any case, the photo shows clearly that while the OnePlus 5 does an OK job in low-light, the HTC11 or Galaxy S8 can easily overtake it and provide noticeably better sharpness and brightness when the light is scarce. This is where the higher Megapixel count and smaller pixel size come back to haunt the OnePlus 5. That’s also why most high end phones opt for 12 Megapixel these days: low light performance.
The more extreme the conditions, and the harder it is for the OnePlus 5 to keep up with handsets optimized for low-light. The night skyline is a great example of how low-light performance is truly what separates the great cameras from the good ones. Although challenging for every single phone, the loss of details varies greatly from phone to phone (note: I took several images, and kept the best one for each phone).
Since the OnePlus 5 has a dual lens camera system, it offers the opportunity to capture to images with a slight separation, which lends itself to building a depth map to create a good Bokeh (background blur) effect.
I will compare the OnePlus 5 Portrait mode with the two best: the iPhone 7+ and the Huawei P10. The OnePlus 5 Portrait mode performance offers mixed results, but in most case, it is OK for social media use. Let’s start with the Challenging aspects.
- The color balance/contrast and saturation could be better.
- The level of detail is noticeably lower. That is probably because instead of using a 2X zoom to obtain that “zoom effect,” OnePlus uses image cropping. That leads to not using all the sensor resolution available.
- The level of Bokeh (how much the background is blurred) may not be enough for those who like the iPhone-style Bokeh. This is a matter of appreciation. Ironically, the single-lens S8 isn’t far off.
However, in other ways, the Bokeh of the OnePlus 5 does better than others:
- In this test, the blur of both the iPhone 7+ and the Galaxy S8 show relatively noticeable artifacts around the edges. Those can show up in various conditions, and the stronger the blur is, and the more there’s a risk to see those artifacts. The OnePlus 5 has very little of them and does well in that respect.
- The Portrait mode captures photos quite fast. Because at least two photos need to be taken and merged, speed can vary. Some phones may have a hard time tracking a non-human subject in Portrait mode (like the S8). This is not the case with the OnePlus 5
Very good “Pro” Interface
While most people use their phone’s camera in “auto” mode, there are situations where switching to Pro (full manual control) is worth your time. I do it myself during press conferences where the projected screen and the ambient stage lights make it extremely challenging for the camera to choose the best settings. Low-light photos can also benefit from the Pro mode because the auto-settings tend to increase ISO (and noise) as an easy way to converge towards “good enough” settings.
The Pro mode user interface of the OnePlus 5 is excellent and are exactly what you need most of the time from Pro mode: start with the auto-settings, then switch one or several to Manual. Typically, it is enough to control a couple of settings such as ISO and aperture speed for example.
The virtual wheel control makes it easy to finely tune the controlled setting with precision. This is important because many “Pro” user interfaces are difficult to adjust, or prone to false-positive touch motion. This is not the case with the OnePlus 5 controls. Good job!
There’s also a helper that will show you how “horizontal” you are, but in practice I found it to be not accurate enough to be useful to me. Finally, you can save photos in RAW as well, in case you want to edit them later with more control.
The HDR mode is on “Auto” by default, so that is great. Any camera app that doesn’t have HDR “on” by default will tend to lose out big time in high-contrast situations. It seems unbelievable, but I still see phones where this is not the default setting. Big mistake.
The OnePlus photo gallery app has a really neat feature. Not only you can select multiple photos for deletion and other actions, but you can also create a “collection” (folder) quickly and easily to sort things on your phone. That is great because things can get messy real quick, so having as little friction as possible to sort photos is welcome.
In conclusion, the initial Camera hardware analysis correctly showed the potential strengths and weaknesses of the OnePlus 5 in comparison to other strong phone cameras. Barring any big surprises in the experience and camera software, that was a good early indicator.
Battery: exceptional charging speed. Excellent capacity
"OUT OF THIS WORLD BATTERY CHARGING SPEED"With a 3300 mAh battery, the OnePlus 5 is well positioned among the most popular phones (by name recognition) and ranks among the top phones by battery capacity. It has 10% more battery capacity than the Galaxy S8.
If you take into account the fact that the screen is only using a 1080p resolution, it makes sense that battery life would be very good, with all else being equal. There is no wireless charging functionality, but OnePlus does advertise a proprietary fast-charging tech called Dash Charge, and you know what: it is really good!
As usual, we depleted the battery down to nearly zero, then charged the phone, which went from 0% to 59% in 30mn. That translates to 65 mAh/mn, the second best-charging speed ever recorded in our office (the Huawei Mate 9 remains undefeated at 77 mAh/mn). The OnePlus 5 joins the Mate 9 for an “out of this world” battery charging speed.
The thing is: this charging speed can only be obtained with a OnePlus Dash charger, which is not abnormal, but inconvenient if you want to buy 3rd-party accessories. If you plug the phone on a Quick Charge 3.0 charger, it will not charge at maximum QC 3.0 speed. In that configuration, the OnePlus 5 charges at 30 mAh/mn, which is well below of the ~50 mAh/mn that QC phones are usually capable of.
The OnePlus 5 ships with Android 7.1.1 and the Oxygen OS 4.5.x layer, which is OnePlus’ customized version of Android (official page). The general philosophy of Oxygen OS is to keep things clean and bloatware-free, which is a far cry from other manufacturers. There are 27 apps pre-loaded in the app tray. Other OEMs can pre-load 80 apps…
Superficially, Oxygen OS feels very much like a “pure” version of Android. Out of the box, it is very snappy, and everything runs smoothly and fast. I will have to come back laters to update this when more apps and data are present in the system, but it is clear that the level of preloaded apps is just much lower than “big brands” phones (add carriers on top of this).
Oxygen OS for the OnePlus 5 has features also offered by some competitors, such as the Gaming Mode which blocks notifications and all physical buttons activity to avoid unwanted interruptions and accidental task switching.
There’s also a Secure Box, which is a kind of encrypted Vault for documents, photos & videos that are for-your-eyes-only. It can be conveniently opened with your fingerprint or a 6-pin digit. From the file browser, you can select which files go in there as it is not a stand-alone app.
All in all, Oxygen OS is a solid branch of Android, which offers users most of the benefits of a pure Google experience, while opening some opportunities for OnePlus to differentiate where/when they feel it is needed.
At the heart of the system performance, there’s the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC (system on a chip, or main processor) which is currently the best for Android phones. We have reviewed it extensively, but the takeaway is that Snapdragon 835 is extremely power-efficient (40% more than its predecessor), very powerful in general and with leading-edge graphics performance in particular.
Learn more: what is a SoC or System On a Chip?
There was some controversy about Benchmarks running on the OnePlus 5 handset, which OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei has addressed on Reddit. The bottom-line is this: OnePlus says that for games and other high-performance apps like Benchmarks, they want to activate a high-performance user profile.
Some users disagree on the app detection method, and question the idea of doing that, citing possible overheating issues. I’m adding this here because that may explain why this handset gets better scores than other handsets with the same SoC.
Opinion: Are benchmarks important? What do they mean?
That said – benchmarks are just a proxy to define a “class of performance”, and we would not advise buying based on those scores, or expect “perceive performance” to scale linearly with those. Also, the risk of overheating is probably somewhat exaggerated because the handset should have additional safety in place that will slow things down if temperatures do go too high. In any cases, here are the charts where Basemark OS is a general benchmark, while 3DMark is a gaming benchmark:
One of the big differences between low/mid range phones and the more expensive ones. Typically this goes from 1GB to 4GB on most phones. The OnePlus 5 has between 6GB and 8GB, so that sounds very impressive, but how does it impact the user experience, and should you pay extra for that?
The bottom-line is “it depends” how you use the phone. In general, it is all about multi-tasking or app-switching if you prefer. The Android OS tends to keep the apps in RAM for as long as possible so that it does not have to re-load them again from the (slower) Flash storage. I found that most of the time, 4GB is fine, but heavy multitasks may be able to push the limit.
In recent years, Android has improved the memory management and tries to make sure that the system apps/processes remain in RAM as much as possible. This means that for most tasks, the switching should not be slow. Also, since the OnePlus 5 has a 1080p display, the memory allocated for graphics/bitmap buffers is not nearly has big as phones with 2K (or 4K!) screens. In short it is not impossible to hit 6GB+, but the large majority of users are probably not concerned by this, and this is a bit of a “specs war” item.
Optimize: How to Speed Up Android Phones
Also important to the general system performance is the “disk” input-output (I/O) interface. Everything stored in the 64/128GB of flash memory has to go through this (app/data loading, photo/video saving… ). The OnePlus 5 has a UFS 2.1 storage system (see UFS Wiki page), which is the fastest for Android phones. Qualcomm introduced it as part of its Snapdragon 835 platform.
Although Snapdragon 835’s integrated modem is capable of “Gigabit-class” speeds, the implementation in this particular phone allows it to reach ~600 Mbps. It may not be the fastest integration of Snapdragon’s 835 modem, but it should be more than enough. When carrier support for Gb-class LTE spreads, this will be another story.
Conclusion: a great value
Although the OnePlus 5 costs more than previous OnePlus phones, it does deliver much value. That explains the success of OnePlus in the past and present. This phone, like many other products, has to be thought in terms of “what do I get for my money”? For one, you’re getting a top of the line mobile computing platform.
From a design standpoint, OnePlus has done very well too. The phone is good-looking, slim and agreeable to use. It also feels like a pure Android experience with booth standard interface design and speed of execution. This is one of the biggest asset of OnePlus phones.
"THE VALUE/PRICE RATIO OF THIS PHONE IS DELICIOUS"The display and camera experience (both are somewhat related) is the thing that separates OnePlus from a high-end phone like the Galaxy S8 or the Google Pixel. Despite having an excellent camera sensor, the OnePlus 5 is noticeably less performant for photo capture if you decide to take a close look. However, the price differential makes this performance gap very acceptable.
In conclusion, the OnePlus 5 reaches its target in the bullseye: it may fit your budget perfectly, or maybe you do not want to spend more, the value/price ratio of this phone is delicious. If you do not mind the lower specs, compare this phone to last year’s high-end phones that sell in the same price range now.