Post updated September 23rd, 2016 at 03:30 am
OnePlus has come a long way. The company’s journey first started with the excellent OnePlus One, which was very well received for its close to stock version of Android and – arguably even more important – its great value for money; it’s not often a flagship smartphone was priced as low as the OnePlus One. Then the OnePlus 2 happened.
Now, we have the OnePlus 3; it’s not as affordable as the OnePlus One, but after spending some time with it, I think it’s one heck of a smartphone. In my opinion, it is by far the best smartphone you can get in the sub-RM2,000 price range – but of course, it is not perfect either.
Design & First Impressions
Unlike its predecessors, the OnePlus 3 features an all-metal body, and it feels very premium. In terms of design, it’s arguably the most handsome iteration in the OnePlus lineup as well. The OnePlus 3 looks sleek (I’m quite a fan of the black antenna lines), it’s comfortable to hold, and it’s every bit a flagship smartphone. I also like the fact that the device’s back panel curves slightly, which makes it that much more comfortable and natural to hold.
However, I do have to point out one major issue I had with the OnePlus 3: the sides are too thin. At only 7.35mm thin, it’s not easy to pick up the device when placed on a table; it gets uncomfortable to hold – especially when used lying down – after prolonged use as well.
And then there’s the signature notification slider on the left side of the OnePlus 3. First implemented on the OnePlus 2, I was initially sceptical of the usefulness of such a feature; will I ever need to mute the device with a dedicated slider? To my surprise, it did prove to be more useful than I thought: I used it to silence any notification when shooting videos, and for times when I needed some alone time without the distraction of my phone buzzing away.
As is the case with most smartphones today, the OnePlus 3 has a fingerprint sensor, and it proved to be quick and accurate. To be honest, I prefer a rear fingerprint sensor – it feels more natural to use – but it wasn’t long until I got used to the OnePlus 3’s front sensor. While the sensor itself is quick most of the time, there were a few instances where the sensor refused to recognise my fingerprint.
The OnePlus 3 is a well-designed smartphone that truly deserves the title of a flagship device. It looks and feels premium, and the smartphone itself just screams premium. Then again, I do wish the sides were thicker for a bigger surface area to hold the phone (not to mention the fact that a bigger battery can be fitted inside the phone), but as a whole, the OnePlus 3 is sleek and polished – it’s truly a step above either the One and the 2.
Without a doubt the OnePlus 3 is a high-end, flagship Android smartphone. It’s packed with Qualcomm’s best processor yet, the Snapdragon 820, and it also features a whopping 6GB RAM as well as 64GB of fast UFS 2.0 storage. As a whole, the OnePlus 3 is very zippy and responsive; gaming and multitasking on this device felt really, really effortless. This can be attributed to the power of the Snapdragon 820 processor as well as the lightweight nature of OxygenOS, which results in a very pleasant user experience both in day-to-day use and in games.
Of course, there are a few oddities here and there such as the OnePlus 3’s 1080p display and battery capacity, but I’ll explain further down this review whether or not these proved to be an issue at all.
If there’s one thing that phone makers always get wrong, it’s the software side of things. Thankfully, OxygenOS is by far one of the best versions of Android I have ever used. If I were to describe OxygenOS in one sentence, it would be this: it’s stock Android with the addition of genuinely meaningful features.
For the most part, OxygenOS feels a lot like stock Android: it is lightweight, responsive, and of course, there’s an app drawer. Instead of trying to overhaul the overall feel of stock Android, OnePlus simply enhanced it with the addition of other useful features, such as the plethora of screen-off gestures (double tap to wake, or drawing a V to activate the camera’s flash) and the customisable home button – I can lock the phone or even open the last app I used just with a double tap of the home button.
There were some issues related to memory management, as other users have pointed out. Despite packing the largest amount of RAM on a smartphone, OxygenOS doesn’t actually use the full 6GB of RAM to keep background apps running; a previous build had even more aggressive app management. OnePlus says this will be fixed in a coming update (though for me so far memory management feels similar to other flagship phones).
I’m a fan of Nexus devices because of stock Android, which is the very reason why I like OxygenOS so much: it simply feels polished, which isn’t something that can be said of many other manufacturers’ take on Android OS. Everything works as intended, and I don’t feel that I’m fighting or struggling with the OnePlus 3: it simply does whatever I want it to do, and that’s how things should be.
Packed with only a 3,000mAh battery, I wasn’t expecting much from the OnePlus 3. To my surprise, however, it’s actually a pretty long-lasting smartphone. In my usage, I managed to get about four hours of screen on time with the OnePlus 3 on average; getting through a day of usage – even with some Pokemon Go time – was quite effortless as well.
I was also very impresssed with the OnePlus 3’s Dash Charge feature. In my testing, the OnePlus 3 was charged up to 65% in just 30 minutes of charging; that’s really an impressive feat. This pales in comparison to all phones’ rapid charge technologies; our Galaxy Note 7 in review managed just 40% charge in 30 minutes (though it packs a larger 3,500mAh battery). Mathematically, that’s still a higher charged capacity (1,950mAh vs 1,400mAh).
The OnePlus 3 has a 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 Optic AMOLED display. Yes, its display isn’t as pixel-dense as other flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, but as far as I can tell, it’s a good display. It is bright, vibrant, and blacks are truly black thanks to the AMOLED panel.
I would describe the audio experience of the OnePlus 3 as…decent. The bottom-firing speaker can get loud without crackling, but it’s not exactly enjoyable at maximum volume. On top of that, I’m honestly perplexed with the speaker’s positioning. As it is placed on the bottom left of the device, I find myself almost always covering the speaker grille whenever I’m watching a video or playing a game in landscape mode.
Packed with a 16MP rear camera with Sony’s IMX298 sensor, the OnePlus 3 proved to be an enjoyable smartphone to photograph with. In fact, all of our video footage from IFA 2016 was shot with the OnePlus 3, although I have to admit: the video recording could’ve been better.
For one, getting an accurate focus was troublesome at times depending on the situation; the video recording also tends to stutter when shooting in less than ideal lighting. That being said, the OIS does keep things stable most of the time, which makes for a pleasant – and easy – shooting experience.
As for still images, I was very happy with the OnePlus 3 in this respect. There is little to no shutter delay in between shots, and the final images look very nice. Sure, the camera does struggle in low-light conditions, especially with the shutter speed, but the end results are more than satisfactory. Judge for yourself with these sample images:
In short, the OnePlus 3 may not be the best mobile shooter in the market, but it certainly is one of the best smartphones for photography.
This is where the OnePlus 3 has an edge. Despite costing more than its predecessors, the OnePlus 3 is easily one of the best value for money smartphones in the Malaysian market now. If we were to judge by pricing alone in the flagship segment, the OnePlus 3 is only trumped by one smartphone: the Xiaomi Mi 5.
Retailing at only RM1,549, the Mi 5 costs RM339 less than the OnePlus 3. But, for that extra bit of cash, the OnePlus 3 has twice the storage and RAM than the Mi 5 at 64GB and 6GB respectively. On top of that, the OnePlus 3 also has a faster variant of the Snapdragon 820 processor, not to mention a better camera and software experience – OxygenOS just feels more polished and lightweight. I’d say it’s worth paying a little extra for the OnePlus 3 here.
Another noteworthy competitor to the OnePlus 3 is the equally affordable Axon 7. Retailing at RM1,999, it only costs RM111 more than the OnePlus 3, and it has a ton of high-end features. These include a higher resolution 5.5-inch 2K AMOLED display, a bigger 3,250mAh battery, as well as a 20MP rear camera with OIS and PDAF. However, the Axon 7 does have less RAM at 4GB, and the software experience may not be as refined as the OnePlus 3.
Other than the Mi 5 and Axon 7, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is also a noteworthy competitor to the OnePlus 3. The S7 has a class-leading 12MP dual-pixel camera with very fast autofocus speeds, arguably better overall design, a higher resolution 1440p display, as well as water resistance – a feature that the OnePlus 3 does not have. Although the S7 has less storage and RAM at 32GB and 4GB respectively, it has a microSD card slot, unlike the OnePlus 3.
Of course, all of these benefits also come at a price; literally. The Galaxy S7 retails at RM2,699, which is RM811 more than the OnePlus 3. If you’re on a tight budget, the OnePlus 3 would definitely be a better fit, although the S7 is the superior device of the two – this still depends on personal preference, of course.
The OnePlus 3 is an excellent smartphone. For its asking price, it is easily the best Android smartphone in the sub-RM2,000 price range for me. It offers very polished and intuitive user experience with OxygenOS, it has a capable camera, and the very fast Dash Charge feature really changes how I charge my smartphone – I don’t have to worry about charging my smartphone every night before I go to bed anymore.
OnePlus may have retired the “flagship killer” moniker with the OnePlus 2 (and perhaps rightly so), but this young company is tantalisingly close to producing the “perfect” Android smartphone for me with the OnePlus 3. I absolutely cannot wait to see what the company has to offer in the future.