Does OnePlus Deliver Even at $500?
For the past few years OnePlus phones have been the best value option for those wanting premium smartphone hardware. However in 2017, with the OnePlus 5 jumping another $80, the value proposition isn’t as strong.
There are plenty of positives to the OnePlus 5, and as always that starts with the hardware. The Snapdragon 835 inside is extremely powerful, topping performance charts for Android devices, and it’s complemented with plenty of RAM and fast storage here. OnePlus has also gone pedal to the metal with performance, sacrificing temperatures for lower-than-average throttling over lengthy gaming sessions.
While performance is solid, the phone is missing a few features. The phone doesn’t support Gigabit LTE though it's available to it with the Snapdragon X16 modem. There’s also no expandable storage – although 64 or 128 GB should be plenty for most – as well as no wireless charging and no water resistance.
The display is a decent 5.5-inch 1080p AMOLED, but its resolution isn’t as good as more expensive flagships and it misses support for Daydream.
Although the OnePlus 5 doesn’t bring anything new to the table, I love its metal unibody design and premium construction. The curved rear feels comfortable in your hand, and the matte aluminium finish is one of the nicest this generation. The front of the phone feels dated as the bezels above and below the display are enormous, and while you do get a 3.5mm headphone jack, stereo audio is missing.
Battery life is mid-table, falling around the same mark as its high-end competitors, but failing to reach the heights established by the Xiaomi Mi 6. Dash charging is super fast, though this doesn't quite make up for the OnePlus 5's only average battery life.
One of the benefits of purchasing a OnePlus device is the software. This isn’t something I’ve touched on a lot in this review, but the basic experience is very close to stock Android. OnePlus has made some tweaks and additions, forming what they call OxygenOS, though for the most part it’s a stock experience with extra customizability. The end result is fantastic: no pointless skins, no bloatware features; just a pure, clean, lightning fast OS.
With that said, OnePlus doesn’t have a fantastic track record with software updates, and the recent 911 bug suggests not everything about their software is shipped in a polished state. Even then, this is the best software experience you can get outside of a Pixel.
The main improvements to the OnePlus 5 come in the camera, and I don’t think they’re particularly successful. Zoom cameras are nice and occasionally useful, but this simple hardware addition seems to have come at the expense of advancing camera processing. The OnePlus 5 remains a few steps behind the best smartphone cameras on the market, even though it produces acceptable photos for the most part.
I also think the choice to include high-resolution sensors over light-friendly large-pixel sensors is a mistake, as it hurts low light performance, particularly on the zoom camera.
The price increase is also a concern. The OnePlus 5 is giving you a very similar experience to the OnePlus 3 when you factor in the competition and hardware available at the time. But the OnePlus 5 costs $80 more, and that’s largely gone to weak camera additions.
Now when you just look at premium phones like the Galaxy S8, Pixel XL and LG G6, the OnePlus 5 still presents excellent value. It’s a sub-$500 phone, it provides great hardware and great software. But the price increase, pushing it now up to $480, makes it more expensive than the Xiaomi Mi 6: a phone that also packs flagship hardware and a dual camera solution with only so-so software.
The OnePlus 5 is a very well-rounded phone for the price, it’s just not the screaming value proposition OnePlus phones once were.
Pros: Excellent performance in all facets from top-end hardware. Premium, metal unibody construction. Near-stock Android is leagues ahead of OEM skins. Still great value.
Cons: Small bezels, water resistance, expandable storage aren’t found here. Camera improvements focused on the wrong areas. Price increase lets Xiaomi take the value crown.
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