Yesterday, Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus announced its new flagship killer, the OnePlus 5. Like all the products the company has released, the latest is a handsome slab of aluminum (though, unlike past models, this one shares a heavy resemblance to the iPhone), with a big, vibrant screen and monstrous internal specs. OnePlus has made solid smartphones at an aggressive price for several years now, and that continues in 2017.
Though the newest offering is the company’s most expensive to date, for under $500 it remains one of the best values on the market when compared to the flagships of Apple, Samsung and Google. It would be a smart buy for a lot of people, if it weren’t for one troublesome area of uncertainty: software support.
OnePlus’ OxygenOS has received a just amount of praise over the years for being a light and fluid Android skin that doesn’t bury the best aspects of the platform while adding improvements via customization options. The issue at hand is not the quality of the software, but continued support as the device ages. The standard, for most companies, is to offer support for at least two years after release. That means two years of consistent updates, and being on the latest version of the operating system by the time the handset reaches its second anniversary.
OnePlus has claimed to offer that standard, but failed to deliver. Aside from unveiling the 5, the biggest piece of news involving the company this month was that the OnePlus 2 would not be upgraded to Android Nougat. This comes after a significant community movement imploring the company to push the update forward, only to receive silence in return.
OnePlus is not alone in its less than stellar software support. The issue of updates is one that is ingrained in Android, a result of the horrific fragmentation that has hamstrung many users on the platform for years. Outside of Google’s own phones, the likelihood of receiving timely updates is a toss up and what users can expect beyond the first year differs from manufacturer to manufacturer.
That doesn’t get the company off the hook, though. Consumers should consider software support when they’re shopping for a new phone and OnePlus’ track record in that regard isn’t a selling point. The OP2 is not yet two years old, and already it has been cast aside. It was not a rousing success upon its release, and its follow-up, the OnePlus 3, was considered vastly superior. But that’s not the fault of the consumers who bought it, and they shouldn’t be punished. It’s a tough pill to swallow, certainly, for those that picked up a OP2 in 2015, but it should give pause to anyone considering the new handset as well.
The good news is that the company has, seemingly, gotten better with its software support in regard to the OnePlus 3 and 3T. Those handsets received an update to Nougat not long after Google’s own products, and are set to get Android O sometime after that iteration hits the public. Still, I would be cautious with committing to any new OnePlus device until I see them follow through on that promise. The only difference between it and the OP2 is that CEO Pete Lau said the update will come, as opposed to offering the silent treatment. But, with the announcement of the OnePlus 5 now under its belt, OnePlus will be focused on pushing the new hardware, which could mean updating last year’s phone falling down the priority list.
For all the good it has done since bursting onto the smartphone scene in 2014, OnePlus has also shown a clear bias toward its new devices, which is not a great way to build a loyal consumer base. If the company continues to push aside software updates and general support for its older hardware, no one should buy into a OnePlus product, no matter how beautiful the hardware or how many gigabytes of RAM it contains.
The tagline for OnePlus is “Never Settle”. It’s meant as a declaration; despite the low cost of its devices (in comparison to top-tier flagships from other major manufacturers), a OnePlus phone won’t cut corners, but instead deliver an experience that is just as good, if not better, than the best products on the market. That phrase has been knocked around more than a few times, with everything from the lack of water resistance on the OP5, to consistently subpar camera performance used to combat the line’s validity.
The truth is, OnePlus makes great devices for the price, even with that price having increased with each new iteration, but customers do have to make sacrifices. One they shouldn’t have to make is with support. If you buy a OnePlus phone, you should be able to do so with a guarantee that, for at least two years, you’ll be a supported member of the community, not a commodity that is thrown out when a newer, shinier, more expensive smartphone hits the market.