OnePlus, a brand known for its smartphone built around the motto “never settle” typically aims for the best performance/value or features/value phones. They are historically a single-product company as well, focusing on one handset at a time.
The OnePlus X is a slight expansion of this policy because it is a “design-centric” product. Instead of catering to the need of cost-conscious power-users, Oneplus now wants to attract a wider public with a phone built for a “lifestyle” crowd. This is an approach that has worked successfully for Apple, but also for brands like Huawei.
We got the OnePlus X in our hands, so, ahead of the full review, here’s my first impression of the phone and how it fits into the OnePlus universe. If you don’t yet know the brand, you should pay attention now, because the $249 price will make you say OMG.
- Metal/Onyx new industrial design
- Snapdragon 801 processor
- MicroSD support
Industrial design (classy!)
The industrial is clearly the most important part of the phone, so let’s go over it. You will surely have your own opinion of it, but for one I find it to be very good, and secondly, there are things that are difficult to show on photos, how they feel in the hand etc.…
The 10000-foot view is that the OnePlus X design is based on a metal frame with Onyx in the back, and glass in the front. For practical purposes, it feels like both sides are made of glass. Just for the sake of comparing it with something that you already know, the iPhone 4 would feel like that.
OnePlus has pushed the details further because the glass has a slightly rounded edge, which makes the phone feel much better in the hand than those without it. The phone seems also extremely rigid, which makes sense because none of its base structure should have any flex.
OnePlus’s Co-founder Carl Pei also spent some time showing us the Ceramic (back side) limited edition of the phone. That version looks more “premium” because the ceramic looks better, richer, jewelry like when compared to the regular Onyx back. This is very hard to show in a photo, but if you have a chance, I recommend checking it out – only then you can decide if it’s worth the extra price bump. I’m not sure I would pay for it, but it does look and feel better.
As usual, there’s a physical Alert Slider on the left so that you can go from silent/vibrate/sound very quickly, without having to turn on the phone. This is particularly useful when a call arrives at the wrong time: you can likely shut the phone off before the end of the first ring if you have the phone nearby. I think that only Apple, OnePlus and Blackberry have a physical mute/sound control.
While the OnePlus 2 didn’t have a MicroSD slot, the OnePlus X does (128GB max.). It’s a big deal for OnePlus because it gives it further opportunity to differentiate itself because many phones no longer have that option. Also, as the user installs more and more memory, the value/price ratio of OnePlus X increases dramatically.
But users also want Dual-SIM, so to make the design work within the allotted internal space, OnePlus has built a tray that can configured in two ways: (SIM0 + SIM1) or (SIM0 + MicroSD). It’s a pretty smart way to address two different needs, with a minimal trade off.
Since this is an aggressively priced phone, it makes sense to find a 1080p display (441 PPI). That said, it’s the first time that OnePlus uses AMOLED technology, and that lead them to build new always-on duo-chrome information features that are only possible on an AMOLED display because only pixels that are lit consume energy.
The alerts will become active when notifications arrive, or when the handset comes out of the bag/pocket – thanks to the constant motion sensor activity.
Since the PPI is already at 441, I consider that this is high enough for people to enjoy a very good experience. Arguably, things could be better/sharper when looking at HD photos of a higher DPI display, but overall, and at $249 it would be lame to complain about it (unless you find a much better deal, of course).
Camera (very good)
The Camera of the OnePlus X is very decent. I took a number of photos with it, and I like it a lot because the shutter action is very fast, the interface is very simple, and the auto-mode does the right thing. I compared it with a Galaxy S6 Edge+ (nearly 3X the price!) arguably the top camera phone in 2015, and the results were quite good on the surface. Here’s an example:
While the S6-series win if images are viewed in detail on a computer (no contest), they look quite similar on a phone screen or on Social Media. This means that for most usages (FB, Instagram, email, text…) the OnePlus X photo quality is quite comparable to the best out there. It is only when you inspect the photos from up close, that the higher resolution of high-end phones truly shows the difference:
The big unknown for now is the Camera’s performance in extreme conditions such as background lighting and low-light scenarios. I’ll have to get back to you after I have used the camera for a longer period of time, in adverse conditions. So far, I’m quite satisfied with it, and I think that most people would be.
Software: Android 6.0, Oxygen OS
The OnePlus X will come with Android 6.0, in the form of Oxygen OS, which is OnePlus’ own version of Android, which comes with a number of modifications/improvements that are mostly very appreciated by the OnePlus community. By large, I think that the interface itself is close enough to the regular Android that any Android user can easily find his/her marks. Here’s what Oxygen looks like in our OnePlus 2 video:
Many modifications are simply there to remove some friction that OnePlus users feel are still present in Google’s “pure” version of Android. If you forgot what Android 6.0 brings, check out our Nexus 5P video:
Performance (very good)
Although we’re waiting for a retail unit to run benchmarks, a quick look at the technical specifications can give us an idea of what level of performance we are dealing with. The Snapdragon 801 SoC (processor) is the chip that is powering most of the Galaxy S5 phones in circulation – so this is not a wimpy configuration at all.
I’ll throw in some Galaxy S5 numbers just to refresh your memory, but this is what I expect the retail version of this phone to perform like (we’ll update the benchmark section then). You’ll probably agree that even for today, this kind of performance against some of the most popular (and expensive) phones remains very decent.
Assuming that they are getting a good deal on the chip, this is a smart choice from OnePlus. Users get very good (but not excellent) performance on a proven platform that has been universally praised when it came out. It is also very stable since Qualcomm has continually fixed bugs and optimized performance.
At the same time, Snapdragon 801 should get better performance per core than the Snapdragon 600-Series, including 617, which powers many phones that are aggressively priced. The only “downside” may be the older LTE modem and possibly more limited LTE-band worldwide compatibility, but I don’t think that’s a deal breaker — just do a little bit of homework if you purchase outside of the official markets where OnePlus is promoting this phone.
With a capacity of 2525 mAh, the OnePlus X doesn’t really impress with its sheer “absolute” capacity. OnePlus argues that with fast-charging and with software optimizations, they can make up for some of it, but I know for sure that within a given platform, battery capacity is the main factor that counts. Fast-charging does work very well, unless you don’t have access to an electric outlet, and a fast-charing battery pack.
Given the size of the phone, I consider that 2525 mAh is pretty decent. The Galaxy S5 had a 2800 mAh battery life, but even today, it costs nearly $400… This leads to the OnePlus X providing one of the best battery value… for the price. The data show this clearly:
Conclusion (amazing value)
Once again OnePlus shows that it can bring an amazing value to a product. In terms of absolute value, I would say that this phone is basically your 2014 high-end phone, with a design that would beat most 2014 Android handsets. This in itself is a feat.
In terms of relative value, the $249 (unlocked, U.S) price is extremely aggressive for a no-contract phone. The internal hardware still remains very powerful, and this is a phone that is fully gaming-capable, and it can challenge most phones that are in circulation today.
The only downside of OnePlus’ internet-only purchase is that you can’t go to a store and look at one, which I highly recommend doing if you can. You may not know the brand, but you probably should.