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OnePlus 5 Review: Rising Above the Rumors

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OnePlus 5 Review: Rising Above the Rumors

The OnePlus 5 is a device that has gotten a surprising amount of scrutiny in the past few months. The company that made the phone, OnePlus, has flown under the radar of American attention for the past few years, previously reaching only a small niche of the market who wanted a cheap, unlocked smartphone of premium quality.

However, as the Chinese manufacturer has risen in status and proliferation, it’s also run into its fair share of psuedo-controversies and Android fan outrages. I’ve already addressed a number of these, but they’re worth noting if you are interested in buying this phone. They range from some problems with the display to some “reversed” stereo audio issues, but the majority of them are run-of-the-mill errors that come with just about every smartphone to ever be released.

So while these are certainly worth mentioning, I’m going to attempt to set aside the “controversies” and give you my real impression of using this phone as a daily driver, which I’ve been doing for weeks now.

Design and Display

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Let’s start with this: the OnePlus 5 is a beautiful, well-crafted smartphone that feels great in the hand. It’s light, thin, and just about the perfect size. On the back, it looks unmistakably like the iPhone 7 Plus, which has been fixated on by a lot of coverage about this phone. However, the truth is that it looks even more like the Oppo R11, which is a Chinese phone that also just came out that you probably haven’t heard much about. OnePlus shares a parent company with Oppo—and therefore have made some very similar choices in terms of design and material. In both cases, it’s two minor design choices that are shared among these three phones: the circular speaker grill on the bottom and the shape of the dual cameras on the back.

The lookalike nature of the back of the phone will undoubtedly bug some people, but if you’ve been following the trends in smartphone design over the years, it’s not the first time you’ve heard that claim. Given that it was an insult hurled at the Google Pixel last year should tell you that it doesn’t mean much anymore. So never mind all of that—what you need to know is that the OnePlus 5 is a really fantastic-looking phone that will impress your friends when you pull it out. I especially love the matte texture to the aluminum on the back that is non-reflective and subtle.

On the front, you’ve got a 5.5-inch display, fit into a 6.07 × 2.92-inch body, which amounts to a 73 percent screen-to-body ratio. The reason I mention that ratio is because other 2017 smartphones have made concerted effort to increase that number—most notably, the LG G6 and the Galaxy S8. These two smartphones have a decidedly more modern look compared to the OnePlus 5—there’s no doubting that.

However, don’t be confused: the OnePlus 5 does not look or feel like an outdated phone quite yet. It’s still got that great notification slider on the side, the fingerprint scanner on the front, and a (!) headphone jack on the bottom. The bezels aren’t massive here or anything either, so unless you are an absolute bezel-hater, the OnePlus 5 is still a great looking phone from the front—and is really quite similar to previous iterations of OnePlus flagships.

Performance and Battery Life

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The OnePlus 5 has received a bunch of scrutiny over its performance, but pretty much exclusively because of how it’s measured up on benchmarks. While I don’t believe that OnePlus was maliciously attempting to rig benchmarks (because that would be a serious waste of time), it did make its performance numbers in benchmarks rather unhelpful. Because while it’s true that the OnePlus 5 performs exceptionally well in demanding situations, that kind of extra horsepower is just not reflected in average usage.

Here’s what you need to know about the performance on the OnePlus 5: it’s fantastic. It’s incredibly fast, running the latest Snapdragon 835 SoC and packing in 6GB of RAM as a starting base. With split-screen multitasking going, I never ran into even the slightest hiccup. Graphically-demanding video games all seemed to run extremely well, without losing a frame of buttery smoothness.

As for battery life, you’ll be happy to know that the drop from a 3400 mAh battery on the OnePlus 3T to the 3300 mAh battery on the OnePlus 5 hasn’t made any discernible difference. It still lasts through a full day of podcasting, YouTube watching, book reading, and web browsing. Though I wish this was an area where OnePlus stood out from the pack instead of blended in, the OnePlus 5’s battery life is competitive with rest of the standard flagship smartphones out there.

Camera

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With the OnePlus 5, the company has gone the way of the dual-lens setup, which has been in vogue ever since the iPhone 7 Plus introduced it last fall. Since then, companies have used dual-lens setups for all sorts of different uses, though the OnePlus 5 uses it for the same purpose as the iPhone 7 Plus: Portrait mode. Essentially, the second lens allows the OnePlus 5 to produce a bokeh blur effect for portrait shots.

How does it perform? Well—it’s not quite as impressive as what the iPhone 7 Plus can do. It still gives you a nice portrait if you carefully let the lens fine-tune its focus, but there are still spots where the blur bleeds over into your background or makes weird choices about how to capture your subject.

Secondarily, the dual-lens gives you the ability to do perform an optical zoom—at least, mostly. The zoom isn’t a true 2x zoom, it’s actually a 1.6x physical zoom and a 0.4x digital zoom, which explains why the zooms aren’t quite as crisp as they are on the iPhone 7 Plus. There’s another reason for this that I’ll mention in a moment.

Even aside from the second lens, OnePlus is putting this phone’s camera out in front when it comes to selling it. For what it’s worth, the OnePlus 5’s camera does fairly well. In terms of balancing color processing, saturation and exposure, the OnePlus 5 is a big upgrade over the more muted processing of the OnePlus 3 and the OnePlus 3T. At some points, it overshoots with its white balance, especially in low light conditions.

The one big thing that OnePlus has dropped with its newest phone is optical image stabilization (OIS). Instead, the phone opts for electronic stabilization, which is just not nearly as effective and has been left behind by the majority of flagship smartphones. The new iPhones have OIS. the Galaxy S8 has a form of it strangely enough—even the OnePlus 3T had it. The company made the choice to remove OIS on the OnePlus 5, which is pretty disappointing, primarily because the lack of OIS is particularly noticeable in zoomed-in shots, which spoils some of the fun of having that telephoto lens I mentioned earlier.

Software

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In keeping with the philosophy of OnePlus, the software on the OnePlus 5 is as close to vanilla Android as you’ll find. It runs its custom skin, OxygenOS, but you’ll only notice it in a few places.

Unlike phones like the LG G6 or the Galaxy S8, you won’t find any bloatware here. There aren’t three different virtual assistants trying to be helpful and there aren’t five different messaging apps that come pre-installed. Instead, everything has been thought out in a way that makes it the user experience both beautiful and easy to use.

If you’ve never used a OnePlus phone before, you’ll quickly notice that the OnePlus 5 also doesn’t feature the customized UI flourishes that come with those other Android phones. As someone who loves what Google has done with its UI lately, the OnePlus 5 really does have everything I’m looking for in terms of software. It’s clean, minimal, and completely customizable. It’s even gotten a few features that actually enhance the experience such as a customizable notification LED, the ability to trade out icon packs right in the launcher, and some helpful gestures for quickly launching apps.

The two most notable enhancements this time around are Night Mode and Reading Mode. While we still don’t have a real Dark Mode in Android, OxygenOS does give us these two new display modes that are pretty helpful. Night Mode is a blue-light reducer, similar to what the iPhone has, though this mode comes with the nice ability to adjust how strong the effect is. Reading Mode is similar, though this time it adjusts the color palette to be completely monochrome for more studied reading times. You can even customize it so that when you open the Kindle app, Reading Mode is automatically flipped on.

The one place where the software gets in the way of Android is with its “Shelf” feature. It’s been a feature of OxygenOS for years now, but it still isn’t good enough to compete with Google Now. It can be found with a swipe to the right of the home screen—and gives you access to recent contacts and apps, current weather, and some helpful device statistics.

It’s not that Shelf is terrible—and it’s easy enough just to turn it off. However, I really wish that Google Now had been included as an option instead. Google Now can, of course, be downloaded from the Google Play store and installed, but with it you lose all the visual greatness of the OnePlus launcher. As someone who relies on having Google Now for all sorts of small moments throughout my day, having that option (as some other phones do) would have really been a nice addition to the OnePlus 5.

Verdict

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I’ve gone to great lengths to attempt to dispel some of the outrage surrounding the release of the OnePlus 5. A lot of unfair shade has been thrown its way. In most of the ways that actually matter, the OnePlus 5 is another great phone in the company’s flagship series that continues to bite at the ankles of the big smartphone manufacturers out there.

I haven’t talked much about the price of the phone, which is now at $479. Even though it’s a slight hike over the OnePlus 3T, you are still getting an incredible deal for that price, making the purchase of a Galaxy S8, Pixel, or iPhone 7 Plus that much harder to justify. While the OnePlus 5 certainly has its compromises (most notably in the lack of waterproofing and OIS), it’s still a magnificent achievement in the value department. In fact, because of the price and the sheer amount of things it gets right, it’ll still be near the list of phones I’d recommend to the average Android user.

If OnePlus continues to raise the price of its phones into the future, we may see a day when the OnePlus 7 or 8 is just another flagship phone. But as of now, the OnePlus 5 still aptly matches the title of “flagship killer.”

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