With a new year comes a new OnePlus flagship, with the goal of taking on the big league players and give them a serious run for their money. After last year’s disappointing OnePlus 2, the “little OEM that could” drops its “Flagship Killer” slogan for a humbler release of a well-specced phone.
Can the OnePlus re-deliver the Never Settle mantra it is known for?
In this review, we’ll take an in-depth dive into the OnePlus 3. Rather than listing specs and talking about how the experience felt, this feature attempts to provide a thorough look with contents relevant to our reader base. At XDA, our reviews are not meant to tell a user whether a phone is worth buying or not — instead, we try to lend you the phone through our words and help you come to the decision by yourself. Before getting started, let’s get the specification sheet out of the way:
Aluminum body, 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35 cm (~73% screen-to-body), 158g
The OnePlus 3 brings forth a design refreshment that does away with the signature sandstone back of the previous two phones, and shakes up the design language by softening curves and edges, as well as changing the material employed. While the OnePlus 2 introduced a sturdy magnesium frame to complement the sandstone back, the all-metal OnePlus 3 is made from a single block of aluminum that still ends up feeling surprisingly sturdy. Indeed, while the OnePlus 3 lacks the heft of its predecessor, it ends up appearing quite durable and tests have shown that it likely won’t bend on you like similar phones.
This comes as a surprise given how thin the phone is — at 7.4mm, this phone is almost as thin as the Nexus 6P. The in-hand feel is handled very well thanks to a rather efficient screen-to-bezel ratio and proper softening of the edges. The device’s camera does protrude, however, and the glass on it is not fancy sapphire, meaning you might put it at risk atop certain textures. That issue aside, the materials and dimensions of the OnePlus 3 are well-accomplished, as the device has no issue fitting in the hand comfortably with or without cases.
Moving on to specific design elements, we find that the back of the device looks very much like what you’d expect out of an aluminum smartphone nowadays. The antennae band arrangement is reminiscent of devices like the HTC One M8, the iPhone 6, and their countless copycats — that’s a conclusion we simply can’t escape. But nevertheless, it is finely executed and the various OnePlus slim cases do provide a more traditional “OnePlus” look and feel for those willing to shell out extra cash. The center of the back has a shiny and slightly depressed OnePlus logo, making for the only stand-out feature in the back.
The sides of the device are very well fused with the back through a comfortable curve and soft corners, making for an easy grip. On the right you will find the power button and the dual Nano-SIM tray, while on the left there is a power rocker and also the famous alert slider, back with its signature tactile pattern which makes it extremely easy to identify. It’s worth pointing out that the physical keys of the OnePlus 3 are excellent — they don’t rock, they are sturdy and clicky and they are placed at very natural locations. The only nuisance I personally found was with the alert slider, which is programmed to mute all notifications when fully slid up instead of down — it might sound like a small detail, but it takes more effort to slide it up with the right hand’s index finger than it is to slide it down, and an option to change this would have been nice.
The top of the device is perfectly plain whereas the bottom has a lot going on. Down there you will find the USB Type C connector at the center, a single speaker grill on the left (thank you for not giving us fake double speakers!) and a microphone and audio jack on the right, with both sides flanked by very tiny screws that oddly take away from the otherwise-seamless look.
Then we have the front, which is actually one of the better-designed aspects of this phone. The black-slab approach is toned down in favor of a visible camera and sensor, as well as a speaker grill at the top, and the prominent fingerprint scanner depression at the bottom. To the sides of the fingerprint scanner (which, while not a button, functions as a home key) you will find two white LED circles that mark the capacitive keys you can opt to use. These are much more elegant-looking than the blue slits in the OnePlus 2, as they are more neutral and subtler (they go well with any theme on your phone). Finally, it’s worth noting that the small side bezels (a fraction of a millimeter shy of the LG G3’s) coupled with 2.5D glass make for an attractive illusion that makes the phone ultimately feel narrower and smaller than it is. Also, the phone comes with a built-in screen protector, which is a nice touch.
A final point worth mentioning is that the OnePlus 3 is offered with cases that come in the same styles the OnePlus 2 styleswap covers came in: sandstone, bamboo, rosewood, black apricot and karbon. These are slim, easy to apply and hug the device better than your average smartphone case, although they are not the most protective alternative. That being said, they only add a couple of millimeters of thickness — something that many will welcome, given it makes the camera sit flush with the rest of the back, and not everyone prefers such slim devices anyway. The cases are $25 each though, which is not cheap, but the cutouts around the sides and backs compliment the device well and make it look different and also more familiar to OnePlus veterans, and it also adds an extra layer of protection (especially with the pre-applied protector) without sacrificing comfort, depending on your taste.
Software – User Interface
Android 6.0.1 Oxygen OS ROM v3.1.2/3.1.4
Oxygen OS on the OnePlus 2 was a rather close-to-stock UI that focused on bringing only some useful and subtle customization and navigation options, many of which OnePlus promoted specifically for being part of the then-upcoming Android Marshmallow. Not much has changed in Oxygen OS, truthfully, and the version found on the OnePlus 3 is very similar to the latest Marshmallow build for the OnePlus 2. That being said, the changes OnePlus made to the UI and the user experience can be curious little additions.
As far as the eye can see, OnePlus’ OxygenOS does not deviate much from Material Design nor Stock Android. But extra input in some UI elements will reveal the changes that make the experience slightly more comfortable. For example, in the multi-tasking menu, you can move the card stack up to reveal three buttons: one to clear and close all recent applications, another one to kill all apps and background processes, and finally a shortcut to the app manager menu where you can quickly find and configure application options (force stopping, disabling, checking data usage and permissions, etc).
The notification panel stays the same, while the toggles see the comeback of easy toggle drag-and-drop configuration, as well as some useful additions including a Night Mode toggle (like the one coming with Android N) as well as an “invert colors” button. The latter might seem of questionable usefulness at a first glance, but consider its usefulness when browsing the web at night for reading purposes — with the OnePlus 3’s AMOLED screen, it’s actually nice to have it hanging in there for the occasional insomniac redditing session.
The OnePlus 3 comes with rudimentary theming, too: while you won’t be installing third-party themes and get your Hello Kitty game on, there is a “Dark Mode” that, unlike Google’s, is actually pitch black where it counts for maximum AMOLED synergy. You can also change the accent color while in Dark Mode, and while in Dark Mode only (why?), letting you choose from 8 color options besides the default accent. As with other ROMs that allow for the UI tuner, you can also get rid of annoying status bar elements, this time through a handy shortcut in the Customization sub-menu.
The lockscreen is what you’d expect: notifications, google and camera shortcuts, etc. The Launcher, however, is one of the places OnePlus decided to add some spice in: while the homescreen layout and app drawer (other than the icon) will be familiar to everyone, they also bring a quick notification pulldown (down) and quick search (up) gestures by default, as well as Shelf, a place with your favorite apps, widgets, time, weather, frequent contacts, memos… In short, the same things you can have on your homescreen already, albeit in resizable boards you can move around. Other than Shelf, there is not much going for the stock launcher. Having it react to the Dark Mode setting in the app drawer is also a nice touch, but ultimately the launcher will fall short for those used to more complex or liberating launchers. For everyone that just needs a traditional homescreen, it’ll do just fine.
Software – Features & UX
Oxygen OS is toned down not just on the aesthetic front, but also when it comes to features. However, that doesn’t mean that what’s in there is not useful, and I’d argue that the overall implementation and presentation of these features surpass the work of other OEMs in delivering a “no-nuisance” experience. In a few words, you won’t be digging through menus to find features because what’s there is apparent and most of it has been advertised by OnePlus anyway.
Starting with the toggle situation, there isn’t much that deviates from Stock Android. I do appreciate the setup, with the “invert colors” function being a notable feature (that I didn’t know I’d like) when considering that the AMOLED screen will give you perfect blacks. While browsing the web at night, this can help you read whatever’s on your browser without consequently stabbing your eyes (especially important given the poor minimum brightness on this device, but more on this later). In order to help with night-time usage, you can also find a night mode as seen on Android N, and the dark theme to theme your UI black.
The OnePlus 3 has no shortage of off-screen gestures and features, either. The famed double-tap-to-wake is back, as are other off-screen customizable gestures involving swipes and shapes. These are responsive and quick to use, but you can also double-press the power button to launch the camera without unlocking the screen, a neat addition for those moving from Nexus devices. And speaking of which, Ambient Display is also an option on the OnePlus 3, made all the better by the AMOLED display and the fact that you can swipe your hand above the screen in order to see your notifications without physically interacting with the device.
A feature that synergizes with the screen-off versatility of Oxygen OS is the alert slider, which has 3 positions or “stages”: up for do not disturb/silent, middle for priority mode, and bottom for all notifications. Furthermore, you can customize priority settings to allow alarms, media, reminders, events, calls and messages (from select contacts, if you so choose) to go through. Additionally, repeat callers can be allowed through if they call twice within 15 minutes — a nice addition for the rare (and hopefully nonexistent) emergency call. Sadly, customization for silent mode is not as granular, only enabling alarms and media (being able to mute media permanently while on silent mode is also useful for walking into meetings or classrooms).
“The nicest thing about Oxygen OS is that it lets you ignore its additions and pretend you are running a slightly-modified Stock Android”
Apart from aesthetic customization, the navigation bar of the OnePlus 3 can be configured to act through the hardware capacitive keys, or the software keys (you are asked on the first boot, meaning no user can miss that this feature exists). This gives you the best of both worlds, and has become a stable of the OnePlus experience by now.
If you choose to, you can of course turn off the backlight or always enable the home button, and then swap the order of the recent and back keys no matter your nav bar choice (luckily, the capacitive keys are labelled with dots open to interpretation!).
If that wasn’t enough, you can also customize the long press and double tap action of each and any key (but not when using the virtual navigation bar), with options that include: trigger the recents menu, search assistant (like Google Now/On Tap), turn the screen off, open the camera, do a voice search, open the last used app (very welcome feature!) and open the Launcher’s Shelf. Do keep in mind that the keys’ responsiveness goes down dramatically should you configure a “double tap” action, but long-press is fine. Using long-press on the home-button to turn off the screen, for example, makes the fingerprint scanner button feel symmetric in functionality (turn on/off).
And that’s precisely our last stop: the fingerprint scanner on the OnePlus 3 is phenomenal, being very fast, responsive and accurate. I’ve had no issues with this fingerprint scanner, and while I personally prefer them on the back, the handling of the OnePlus 3 (thanks to its dimensions) does not make for a cumbersome experience. In any case, smart lock can help you minimize the need to unlock your phone when out and about.
There are smaller features here and there, like the ability to wake the phone for alarms even if the device is off and also “locking-in” applications in recents so that they can’t be closed (including “close all” button), but ultimately what you see is mostly what you get, with very few features hidden behind secret menus or with vague descriptions and triggers. Ultimately, Oxygen OS is a very pleasant experience as you can easily ignore most of these additions, not theme the device, and pretend you are running a slightly modified Stock Android. Aesthetically, it mostly looks the part, and functionally, the features the ROM brings do not detract from the experience and result in a solid net positive that you can exploit at your leisure.
SD820, Quad Core 2×2 up to 2.15GHz, Adreno 530 GPU, 6GB DDR4 RAM
The OnePlus 2 was notorious for its performance issues, but it was only one in a streak of devices suffering such fate due to the Snapdragon 810 at their heart. The OnePlus 3, however, wields the Snapdragon 820 to try and smash the notorious past that put a blemish on the excellent performance record their first device achieved. With a quad-core Kryo core configuration and a maximum clockspeed of 2.15GHz on the performance-centered dual-core cluster, this device sees no sacrifice in frequency like its predecessor did (as it was downclocked), and bears the best internal hardware available at the moment. Has OnePlus been able to redeem the OnePlus 2’s performance issues? In one sharp word: yes. We’ll explain why below.
CPU & System
The OnePlus 3 leads the pack with the rest of the Snapdragon 820 devices in the CPU side, offering extremely good performance on every CPU-centric test and system-oriented tests as well. The OnePlus 3 frequently scores higher than all other devices in these tests, and it does a particularly respectable job in PCMark, which tests both the hardware and the software. In BaseMark OS II 2.0, a more holistic test, the OnePlus 3 also hangs out with the top of Android, and all of this without any sacrifices to clockspeed or through modified CPU behavior. The Snapdragon 820 proves itself once again in the OnePlus 3, although the Kirin 955 and the Exynos 8890 give it a run for its money on multi-core tasks and results, where they get an advantage likely through sheer number of cores.
AnTuTu (over 144,000) and other more comprehensive tests also put the OnePlus 3 at the top of what’s available today, and the extra RAM will ensure it gets a favorable score later down the line. Oxygen OS itself may be contributing to the good scores in some of the software-aided tests, but in any case, there is nothing else to ask out of the OnePlus 3 at the moment. It’s simply that good, and the numbers speak for themselves, leaving little else to write about in terms of peak performance.
And if the exceptional theoretical maximums were not enough, we also found that the device sees the least throttling on a Snapdragon 820 device we’ve tested. The S7 Edge, HTC 10 and (especially) the LG G5 all see higher temperatures during both regular usage and thorough stress tests, while the OnePlus 3 manages to keep its cool throughout with scores dropping as little as 2 percent over 10 tests or more. For reference, other Snapdragon 820 devices like the HTC 10 saw as big as a 6% drop, with higher a maximum temperature as well. This is only a summary of our thorough performance-over-time analysis, which we suggest you check out for a more in-depth explanation.
GPU & Gaming
On the GPU side, the Adreno 530 is once again a stand-out feature of a flagship’s performance. We’ve seen time and again that this mobile GPU can output some fantastic scores on practically every test, and the OnePlus 3 maximizes the results of this component by keeping its resolution at 1080p. This is not something that makes a noticeable impact throughout the UI, and many games already run at 1080p regardless of the (higher) native resolution, but it greatly affects on-screen benchmarks and other tests, meaning it’s worth mentioning. While the lower resolution might seem like an “unfair advantage” (and it arguably is), we also lowered the resolution on the HTC 10 to get an idea of how another 820 device would perform under the same graphics stress.
As expected, the OnePlus 3 outperforms other popular Snapdragon 820 devices in on-screen tests, but the large difference disappears in off-screen results where the additional pixel tax disappears and the footing is even. Only 1080p Snapdragon 820 devices like the Xiaomi Mi5 can see head-to-head with the OnePlus 3 at this time, but these are merely abstract tests that don’t tell us everything about actual graphics performance during usage and gaming. Nevertheless, we downgraded the HTC 10’s resolution to 1080p to see if it fared as well as the OnePlus 3 in peak scores and over time.
The Slingshot ES 3.1 test is rendered at 1440p on both devices regardless of resolution.
The graphs are pretty telling: while the OnePlus 3 already outperformed other Snapdragon 820 devices in GPU performance over time (as seen in our previous report), the HTC 10 nevertheless throttles much harder than the OnePlus 3 in GFXBench’s Manhattan stress test (30 consecutive benchmarks). The OnePlus 3’s lower resolution meant up to 80% better framerates, and we originally assumed that this meant the GPU wasn’t taxed as much leading to better-sustained performance, but the HTC 10 shows this is not necessarily the case, as this device saw more substantial and frequent drops in frames despite starting out on even footing. Either way, the OnePlus 3 has excellent performance-over-time with no significant throttling even after reaching high temperatures of up to 46°C |114.8°F.
Heat distribution on OnePlus 3’s body
Gaming is a similar story on the OnePlus 3: the device features some of the best framerates of any device we’ve tested, with most games easily hitting – and sustaining – their framerate caps of 30 or 60. Asphalt 8, for example, kept a solid 30 frames per second (surprisingly, it was locked at 30 while the HTC 10 was not, but this device showed substantial fluctuation).
The device also handles other heavy games like Warhammer 40K and Dead Trigger really well, with 30FPS and 42FPS averages respectively. Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that this device can sustain maximum framerate on GTA: San Andreas at maximum settings for over 10 minutes without throttling, while 810 phones and even other 820 devices commonly have issues after a few minutes.
RAM Management and Storage
When it comes to RAM, the OnePlus 3 is mighty impressive on paper. Its 6GB of DDR4 RAM echo promises of near-infinite app caching, but reality is quite different. The OnePlus 3 went under controversy for underperforming in this regard, with videos and articles detailing how it was out-played by devices with 4GB (and even 3GB) of RAM. We took a look back then and found that the LMK/OOM values were fine, but the build.prop had a hard limit on background processes, with the relevant code line set to 20. Changing the value to over 40 allowed us to make near full use of the device’s RAM, being able to use over 5GB for applications and go back over 20 apps in recents with ease.
Since then, OnePlus 3 released a reviewer OTA and now a final OTA that upped that value to 32, making for a slightly less compromised experience. Ideally, Oxygen OS would offer a set of preset settings so that users could take advantage of all of the device’s RAM should they choose to do so, but for now, you can either settle with OnePlus’ change (which, in reality, is setting it back to the standard of Android) and have it be in-line with other devices, or edit the build.prop yourself to make the most out of the hardware you bought.
Nonsense! There’s no such thing as “too much RAM”!
That being said, we found that with the latest software, the phone can hold more applications in memory that most people need, and few will care or notice the few app redraws they’ll face every day.
NAND performance on the OnePlus 3 is downright excellent thanks to its UFS2.0 solution, the kind that Samsung devices bragged about in exclusivity until these last few months. The OnePlus 3, thus, battles it head-to-head with the Galaxy S7, and as shown above, you can expect some quick file transfers and ROM flashing out of this phone. App installs, routinely update sprees and the like take no toll here. Sadly, there is no microSD support, but there is only one set of phones with storage as fast as this and with expandable storage. The base storage capacity of 64GB is also welcome and likely good enough for most users. While the OnePlus 2’s storage was no slouch, the OnePlus 3 is as future proof as it gets on Android right now in this regard (but I have no doubt Samsung will make me eat my words soon).
Real World Performance
Real world performance on the OnePlus 3 is one of the best parts of the phone. With the processor package documented above, plus the lightweight UI, you will not be bogged down nor halted by neither hardware nor software. In day to day use, the OnePlus 3 is simply a pleasure to behold, with speed and fluidity that rivals even the best in the game such as the Nexus 6P and its “purer” Stock Android.
App opening speeds are some of the fastest of any device out there and the screen responsiveness also helps in making the experience feel very snappy. Using Discomark, we tested the app opening speed of the OnePlus 3 against devices like the HTC 10 and Nexus 6P (same application state), and only the latter was able to surpass it in both hot and cold app launch times. Scrolling through lists is smooth, too, and I have not seen a single app crash nor any glaring stability issues in my time with devices, even on the “reviewers-only” 3.1.4 update which, according to OnePlus, has improved app launch times as well.
While we found a slight difference in our DiscoMark testing, it is so small that it could be attributed to extraneous factors. In any case, the OnePlus 3 is one of the fastest devices out there when it comes to day-to-day operations.
Multi-tasking, too, is better on 3.1.4. If you do not get the stalled consumer 3.2.0 update by the time you receive your device, I do suggest you edit the relevant build.prop values to get better RAM management. Once more, the 3.1.4 update brings the background apps setting up to the standard of 32 rather than the lowly 20 the phone shipped with. You can raise this number further by editing it by pulling it through ADB or with root on your device, and get the most out of your RAM.
But either way, hot app switching times are great as the DDR4 RAM bears no compromises, so multi-tasking is very good once the fix is in place, and as demonstrated above, it’s even better if you choose to tweak the RAM management. There are also a few multi-tasking related features like “app locking” and navigation shortcuts for the most recent app, making the experience all the sweeter.
A notable aspect of this device, especially over the OnePlus 2, is that it does not throttle with prolonged usage, nor does it get noticeably warm. This is one of the more thermal-efficient devices in recent memory, closely resembling the efficiency of the Note5 and ZenFone 2 during day-to-day usage (they sported some of the most interesting processors of 2015, too). It’s also notably better for intensive usage than other Snapdragon 820 devices like the HTC 10 and the LG G5, and OnePlus managed to go from one of the least pleasing devices for real-world usage to one of the best.
Finally, there is no bloatware to be seen in the background processes, and when running a regular workload through Trepn and other performance analytics tools we spotted none of the ugly behavior of the OnePlus 2 (such as switching to A53 cores for specific apps, or shortly after initiating arduous tasks). There are no footprints of rogue apps taking up CPU cycles neither on idle nor during usage, something I appreciate after using devices with heavier ROMs like TouchWiz or EMUI.
Front: 16MP Sony IMX 298 Sensor, 1.12μm, OIS, EIS, PDAF, f/2.0, RAW support, 4K 30FPS / 720p 120FPS
The OnePlus 3 comes with a 16MP primary camera with f/2.0 aperture, PDAF, and OIS, a package that at first glance looks relatively unimpressive compared to its predecessor’s 13MP shooter with Laser Autofocus, OIS and the same aperture. Either way, the sensor is better than last year’s OmniVision solution, and while the OnePlus 2 had some decent camera hardware, in our review we were ultimately disappointed at its performance, with Laser AF failing to make itself noted and OIS being flakier than we were used to. Another disappointing aspect of the OnePlus 2 was the picture-taking experience through the camera app, which was slow to launch, focus and shoot. Luckily, OnePlus has managed to resolve many of these issues with their latest device.
The camera is blazing fast to launch this time around, and you can set multiple gestures for a convenient experience: either by applying a shortcut to the navigation bar (long press/double tap), by double tapping the power button, or by triggering it from the lockscreen. OnePlus is likely using the device’s ample RAM to cache the app, as implied by one of Carl Pei’s tweets regarding their approach to memory management. This isn’t unlike Samsung’s, and ultimately makes for a nice experience as the camera is launched and ready in about a quarter of a second. In fact, we tested the speed difference between cold and hot launch and they were only a couple of tens of milliseconds apart.
After you launch the app you are greeted with a pretty standard camera interface with simple controls on the right/bottom, including a giant shutter button, a camera switch key, and a settings menu which will allow you to change the aspect ratio and set a timer, as well as enable a grid, and it also gives you access to a “beauty mode” slider for the front camera (luckily, it’s disabled by default). At the top you also have access to the flash and HDR (on/off/auto), and finally you can find a sub menu at the top left that allows you to switch between different camera modes, including time-lapse, slow-motion, manual mode and panorama, and then also settings to save location, disable shutter sound and keep RAW images.
Actual picture quality is easily OnePlus’ best, with pictures from the rear camera showing good exposure and saturation all-around. While pictures can turn out a bit bright and the occasional “sky blow out” is still possible, the colors are often engaging with rich greens and blues that make for good pictures of nature. Like many cameras, though, vibrant reds and oranges can have quite the identity crisis and end up looking artificial, and also inconsistent between shots. Detail preservation is pretty good outdoors, with only “busier” textures and fine geometry getting distorted (but not much).
High dynamic range is good at getting more detail out of your pictures while preserving the colors better than the bigger offenders in the space, but it also brightens up the picture noticeably. There is little to like about the OnePlus 3’s lackluster low-light performance in general, though: while other devices focus intensely on low-light performance, results out of the OnePlus 3 can be quite grainy, but I haven’t found common issues like chromatic aberration nor particular difficulty in focusing.
Focusing on the OnePlus 3 is decently fast and the resulting depth of field and background blur can be quite satisfying. While you won’t get the best macro shots on auto mode, manual mode allows you to get around 8cm to 9cm away from the target, and we’ve been largely satisfied with the results (exemplified above). It’s worth pointing out that you can lock the focus by long-pressing on a location, and also change the exposure by sliding around the focus circle, which helps in getting the right spot and brightness. But the focus can be quite bouncy, an issue that is only made worse during video, as the focus reset can make your video end up looking jerky, reminding you this is a mere smartphone camera.
The front-facing camera can take some detailed shots in the right conditions without much difficulty, and OnePlus introduced a “smile to capture” feature that, albeit unoriginal, actually works quite well. There is also a beauty slider in there, but the quality of the resulting pictures is nice by itself and the softening it adds to your selfies will take away from it. Overall, OnePlus did a good job here, even if there is the occasional whitened image.
Video on the OnePlus 3 is perhaps one of the more disappointing aspects of the device as a whole. There is quite a bit of pixelation in some areas of the image, and it ultimately doesn’t look as sharp as the video output of other phones, with artifacts often messing up various textures like concrete. This is noticeable even in 4K video (which it can record “only” up to 10 minutes), where the lack of electronic stabilization makes on-the-move recording a bad option. Dropping down the quality of the video does kick in electronic stabilization to aid the hardware OIS and as a result there is less wobbling, which made the footage look much better at the expense of some detail. But with the macroblocking-like look going on in the 4K mode, you are probably not missing out on much quality anyway.
For a $400 phone, OnePlus did a good job here. While there are many aspects to criticize, the pictures can end up looking quite good and the camera user experience is much better than last year’s thanks to its improvements in speed and focusing. I do hope that the post-processing issues will get addressed, but for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the picture-taking experience and given OnePlus has made many changes to the camera experience of the OnePlus 2 over time, I expect this camera to get better over time too. At its worst, this camera is a thorough improvement over every aspect of the OnePlus 2’s, which I think is good enough at this price-point.
5.5 inch 1080p AMOLED (401p ppi)
Switching to an AMOLED display is perhaps one of the smartest moves OnePlus made in regards to the OnePlus 3 software experience, given its perfect blacks synergize very well with the Dark Mode (which was present in the OnePlus 2) and the Ambient Display. However, the decision to use a 1080p AMOLED panel instead of a higher resolution 1440p option led many to receive this display with skepticism, and the initial objective screen analysis by websites like AnandTech ended up painting a rather grim picture for the OnePlus 3’s viewing experience.
This is an unavoidable fact: by default, the OnePlus 3’s display is saturated like something out of 2013, with neon-blues and very sharp reds/oranges. This will be an issue not just to color purists, but I presume also users that are less-used to very saturated displays (a rare breed in today’s smartphone world). While the saturation accuracy is terrible when objectively compared to the sRGB target, though, it does not automatically mean that you will not enjoy this display. In fact, it doesn’t take long to find hundreds of positive comments about this screen (in general terms) on OnePlus and Android communities (the official forums, XDA, and reddit). To many users, color-accurate screens like those of the Nexus 5 and 5X ultimately look unappealing. We can measure color accuracy objectively, but our perception and taste in color are still subject to our own eyes and personal preference.
That said, objectively speaking, the color distortion means that most of your media will not look as intended by its creators (should you care). Subjectively, I also find the saturation and overall color balance to be very unnatural — the literal opposite of what OnePlus claimed its “optic AMOLED” display would provide (“[more] true-to-life than ever“) with their in-house customization/calibration. The issues with the OnePlus 3’s display don’t stop there: on the default NTSC-aiming mode, there is highly visible banding on grays and grayscale, sometimes even visible on mostly-solid grays. The resolution of the display also plays against it for the sole fact of being a pentile AMOLED display, with an unequal distribution of color LEDs that is noticeable to the naked eye (should you have good vision) unlike on denser panels (like those of 1440p displays).
The effective resolution of this display is thus lower for anything but pure green (base pixel color), making this 1080p-in-name-only (TINO?). This doesn’t mean that your viewing experience will be awful, but those with sharper vision will likely spot more graininess and faults in text and UI icon edges. Another issue that is very apparent when using Dark Mode is the amount of “purple ghosting” when scrolling through lists and the like, although this is something that you can learn to ignore over time.
This being an AMOLED display, however, gives you all of its inherent strengths, including excellent contrast and perfect blacks, which are very well-exploited by the OnePlus 3’s software features. You also get excellent viewing angles with no color casting, and also no lightbleed like what you’d find on some LCD panels we’ve seen this year. The whitepoint on the OnePlus 3 is on the cold side by default — in fact, it’s almost too blue, which further adds to the “unnatural” look of the display.
That being said, there is a handy slider in the Display options that allows you to make the display warmer, thus mitigating the negative impact of OnePlus’ calibration decisions. A final point worth noting is that the OnePlus 3 does not get as bright as the OnePlus 2, or even the Nexus 6P in the AMOLED space, and certainly not Galaxy devices. There is also no “brightness boost” on adaptive mode, and the auto brightness can be slightly finicky at times (with a very disappointing minimum, too). Despite all this, outdoors legibility is above-average due to good sunlight contrast.
With the biggest downside of this display being the default calibration, you can expect custom ROM makers and tinkerers to figure out a way to make the resulting colors more appealing. But truth be told, if you want a color accurate display, OnePlus has you covered: after the criticisms came to light, the company quickly built the 3.1.4 update (coming to consumers as 3.2.0) which brings an sRGB mode (targeting said color space) and tucking it into the Developer Options. This toggle makes the display more muted and… well. color-accurate. When enabled, media looks as it should and on-par with other sRGB non-saturated display modes from other devices, like the sRGB mode of the Nexus 6P or the Basic mode of Galaxy phones. It turns this display from one of the most saturated to one of the most accurate ones quickly and easily, and anyone that enjoys color accuracy or despises over-saturated colors should welcome it kindly. OnePlus also tells us it’ll become a persistent setting that will survive reboots. It’s also worth noting that sRGB mode disables the temperature slider in the Display settings, which might turn off those that want a colder display after the switch, and that night mode is not available when sRGB mode is on.
Battery Life & Charging
3,000mAh, Dash Charge (5V 4A)
The OnePlus 2 touted a battery capacity increase over its predecessor, while the OnePlus 3 brings that number back to 3,000mAh – 300mAh less – for what is now considered the “standard” battery capacity for flagships, particularly the 5.5 inch ilk. On its face, this is nothing worth writing home about, but we also must keep in mind that resulting battery life is more than the sum of its parts — that is, the components employed by the manufacturer, mainly screen and processor, play a huge role in the overall result, as does the software that ships with the phone. Last year, for example, the Note5 managed to outperform the firmly-average OnePlus 2 in both theoretical/benchmark battery tests as well as real-world usage, in great part due to the highly-efficient Exynos 7420 and last-gen AMOLED panel. How does the OnePlus 3 stack up against the competition and past OnePlus devices?
PCMark Work Battery Life
9 h 4 m
7 h 19 m
5 h 13 m
While the OnePlus 2 suffered from the power-hungry Snapdragon 810, the OnePlus 3’s battery efficiency has seen a huge step forward, with battery benchmarks putting it above the average and past its predecessor despite the drop in battery capacity. PCMark and GeekBench (6:17) show healthy battery scores, while GFXBench showed a worse-than-average result, although this is to be expected given that at no point did the OnePlus 3 throttle or switch CPU behavior and it kept top-performance throughout. The OnePlus 2 was notorious for this, often relying on the power-efficient A53 cores after a mere few minutes of intensive use, or while using an internet browser like Chrome. The OnePlus 3, on the other hand, excellently sustains performance and still manages to output respectable battery results.
On the real-world side of things, the OnePlus 3 fares much better than the OnePlus 2 and, surprisingly, better than many other devices in my household including those with bigger battery capacities such as the Nexus 6P. Indeed, while I considered 4 hours of screen on time to be a good day on the OnePlus 2, the OnePlus 3 sees that as more of a minimum, and I’ve had no trouble going over the 4 hour mark on any given day. Moreover, after installing the 3.1.4 update rolled out to review units, my battery life was even better, but this could be merely due to usage-pattern changes given the first week of a review period is usually the most exhausting one on the device. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to get 6 hours of usage a few times on the OnePlus 3, with a healthy spread of activities including a few hours of YouTube, lots of redditing and Hangouts messaging, some (20-30 minutes) of navigation, off-screen music and podcast listening, and some LTEtime.
Standby drain on this device has been rather consistent. Measuring the overnight drain of my routinely 6-hour sleep period showed an average drain of 0.4%/hour on Wi-Fi, and one particularly “bad” instance of 0.8%/hour. Few devices have shown better standby than this, so I personally consider it respectable, and savvy users can get even better standby drain with tinkering (through Greenify or Amplify, for example). Throughout the day, Awake times were kept at a minimum within usage pauses as seen on the samples above, making for an overall-pleasant experience that doesn’t feel bogged down by wakelocks or other issues.
The OnePlus 3 does not have wireless charging, meaning previous investments in this technology would become paperweight should you upgrade. Likewise, Quick Charge 2.0/3.0 is also not present on this device, despite the Snapdragon 820 inside it being capable of utilizing the Qualcomm standard. However, OnePlus brought forth the VAAC charging standard from its “friend” company Oppo, and this technology is capable of fast and efficient charging that is an actually-welcome improvement over Qualcomm’s – and others’ too – standards. We’ve explained precisely how it works in a previous article, as well as why it is likely coming to custom ROMs near you soon, but what’s most interesting is its charging behavior, which we also documented. We suggest you read our in-depth analysis of Dash Charging, but we’ll summarize the results for you below as well.
Just don’t touch it.
Dash Charging is faster than most of its competition as it is able to net your device 63% battery in just 30 minutes. While this is a very nice spec by itself, the most interesting aspect is that this charging standard does not slow down the charging rate while you use the device. Whereas other devices, like the Nexus 6P, cut down the intake to 600mA or so while the screen is on and the phone is being used, the OnePlus 3 can receive the full listed current (4A) while still remaining cool and unthrottled (using Trepn, we found the device operated identically and still managed to sustain maximum clockspeed on benchmarks while charging).
This means that you can charge your device at the same rate regardless of your usage, although the effective charging speed is lowered given the usage itself does drain battery as well. But even then, using the phone continuously while charging has a mostly minimal impact on the final charging time, and you can still charge from 0 to full in an hour and 20 minutes while using the device.
This is one of the most underrated features of the OnePlus 3 in my opinion. With other devices, hotspotting or even texting while charging meant I would get less battery life once I would unplug to head out or head back to whatever destination. I work and study full time, and I am constantly on the go, so having my primary device charge fast with no exceptions nor downsides is something I personally appreciate. The biggest downside to this, however, is that you need both the OnePlus Dash Charger and the included cable to obtain not just this functionality, but any sort of fast-charging. If you want a car charger, too, your only option is OnePlus’ offering which is rather expensive and with limited availability. You will also not be able to fast charge out of powerbanks until (and if) OnePlus releases or licenses a specific Dash-compliant powerbank. If you can live with these constraints, the OnePlus 3 will bring you the best charging experience on Android. Just don’t touch the charger while it does its thing!
Single Speaker (Bottom Firing), 3.5mm Jack
OnePlus has not been particularly renowned for audio, and it’s no surprise that the OnePlus 3 doesn’t break this trend. Truth be told, it’s usually the more premium-focused manufacturers that pack in great DACs/AMPs and quality speakers in their flagship devices, with only a few exceptions aiming for hi-fi audio at the OnePlus 3’s price-point (such as last year’s Axon). Basically, the OnePlus 3 can firmly be placed in the “average” part of the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean that the audio experience isn’t at least better than what OnePlus offered previously or what you’d expect out of a $400 phone.
Speaker Samples (Maximum volume, same distance from Blue Yeti Microphone)
There is a single bottom speaker on the OnePlus 3 (and thankfully, no deceitful “extra” non-working speaker grill) that can get decently loud with minimal distortion at the highest notches of volume. The position of the speaker makes it harder to cover when holding the device in landscape over other devices like the Note5, but it still does not compare to the front-facing speaker of phones like the Nexus 6P. Ultimately, you get a rather standard audio solution here that is not well-fitted for a quality media experience without headphones.
With headphones, audio is sharp and clear with good bass and it is overall pleasing, without any special merits nor nuisances. It’s worth noting that the profile selection and MaxxAudio optimizations of the OnePlus 2 are gone, likely because they were not very fleshed out features, especially when factoring in the unimpressive audio experience of the device as a whole. The OnePlus 3 keeps it basic and keeps it “good enough”.
Microphone Samples (Same distance from speakers, OnePlus 3 followed by Nexus 6P and HTC 10)
Likewise, the microphone and call quality are good with no issues on either side of the call, no odd feedback or inconveniences. You can hear the samples above to get a sense of comparison with other devices; Subjectively, I’d say the microphone is slightly worse (and more uneven) than the one found in those flagships. In summary, I wouldn’t expect much out of the OnePlus 3’s audio. This being such a tinker-friendly device, it likely won’t be much of a hassle to find and optimize the audio experience to your liking through modifications such as ViPER, but if you are looking for an audiophile experience, your best bet is getting a Galaxy device like the Note5 or the HTC 10.
Quick Miscellaneous Facts & Thoughts:
The vibration motor is rather weak, especially on system feedback like the navigation keys. You can use Xposed modifications to tune this to your liking, or turn them off from the settings.
The car charger has very good build quality, and looks nice. You’ll probably need an extra Dash Charger cable in your car at all times for it, though.
When you unlock the bootloader, you’ll be greeted with an interactive splashscreen every time, which allows you to quickly boot into recovery or the bootloader through a neat GUI. It’s also full of typos and there’s a placeholder link ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .
The phone is a Cat 6 device (despite the x12 modem in the 820), which means lower speeds of “only” 300/50 Mbit/s. Luckily, there is VoLTE and Wi-Fi Calling support at least.
Think twice before flashing TWRP until/unless you need it, the Stock Recovery can be pretty annoying to get back without official recovery tools.
The built-in screen protector is prone to fingerprints and oil, and it doesn’t cover the screen from edge to edge, which can take away from the visual experience.
The unboxing experience is, as always, top-notch.
The style covers can be quite snugly (some more than others), so be careful when removing them — the wood ones can easily bend more than you want them to.
Future Proofing & Development
When it comes to developer support and future proofing, the phone has quite a legacy to live up to. Luckily, the odds look to be in favor of the OnePlus 3, dare I say even more so than with the previous flagship. The OnePlus 3 is a device that is easily unlockable, with no codes or hassles needed to free the device. Moreover, OnePlus included a flash-friendly stock recovery that’s easy to operate, and a boot screen that let’s you access the bootloader, whatever recovery you went for, or keep on booting, through an optional GUI (key shortcuts still work). Software-wise, the OnePlus 3 is as easy to root and flash onto as it gets.
When it comes to developer support, OnePlus has welcomed devs with open arms, and shortly after releasing the OnePlus 3 they set up a github for easy access to device trees and kernel sources. The company further encourages experimentation through its warranty policy, which will let you flash without repercussions and also ignore the “YOUR WARRANTY IS NOW VOID” messages traditionally found on our forum’s opening posts. As far as actual development goes, we know that OnePlus has provided devices for developers like Franco in the past and will most certainly continue to do so. They also helped recognized developer Grarak release an unofficial build of CyanogenMod on the week of release, before any customer had the device reach their doorstep.
The hardware itself lends itself to longevity thanks to the phone’s beefy specifications, plus the inclusion of NFC for the increasing popularity of mobile payments and the now-standard USB Type C that keeps reaching new devices. The 1080p AMOLED screen means that you won’t be getting much out of the OnePlus 3 for VR purposes, though, and the phone’s construction means replacing the battery will either take you a good disassembling session of some cash out of pocket.
Firmware and general software updates, too, are worrying on the OnePlus 3 given the company’s track record. The OnePlus 2 received Marshmallow over half a year after its release, and we hope that they step up their update (and patch) game for the OnePlus 3. It’s a pity, really, because Oxygen OS did improve over time and it’d be great to see the company squash the last few issues on the OnePlus 3’s software. I wouldn’t buy into a OnePlus device expecting timely updates at this point, nor until the company states their intentions to support the phone timely and firmly — though they’ve been quick to address the phone’s issues, which gives me a sliver of hope that they’ll prove me wrong. In any case, I am confident that the development community will be quick to bring great and up-to-date software to the OnePlus 3 in one way or another. If official and timely software support is important to you, then carefully assess the pros and cons before buying this device given OnePlus’ history.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
OnePlus has managed something commendable with the OnePlus 3: this device cuts down on the compromises of last year’s flagship in order to deliver an experience that, in most respects, isn’t held back by bad decisions or shoddy execution. This isn’t to say that the company has created a perfect device – far from it – but the flaws that the OnePlus 3 hasn’t managed to squash truly pale in comparison to the overall value of its package, unlike with last year’s flagship.
The OnePlus 2, by contrast, managed to botch the momentum the company was enjoying after their highly-successful OnePlus One. That device somehow brought regression on every aspect that its forefather excelled at — battery life, performance, software & developer support. The Snapdragon 810, in particular, really held back the device even more so than it held back the rest of that smartphone generation, with noticeable throttling issues and easy-to-spot thermal constraints. The design of the OnePlus 2 was criticized for many of the things that the OnePlus 3 improved upon, too, and this device ultimately feels more-consciously planned and built, instead of blunt and rushed. The OnePlus 2 pretended to be a premium “2016 flagship killer”, but it couldn’t amount to half of what other 2015 devices accomplished. This newest OnePlus phone does indeed give other flagships a run for their money.
For $400, you are getting the best internal specifications currently available as far as processor, RAM and storage go. The camera hardware is also very strong, even if its implementation ends up somewhat underwhelming. The speakers are fine for a phone at this price range, and the exceptional Dash Charging washes away the bad mouth taste that the OnePlus 2’s horrifically slow top-up time left behind. There are many thoughtful additions here and there, some old and some new, some hardware and some software, and ultimately this feels like OnePlus’ best-designed user experience, down to the last detail. One could always ask for more – expandable storage, removable batteries, etc – but the device ultimately redeemed the poor decisions the company made throughout 2015 (such as the exclusion of NFC) while still upping the value of the product.
And even though this phone delivers OnePlus’ best user experience yet, a few expected specifications didn’t make the cut, like a 1440p display. This isn’t to say that these are necessarily compromises — if our community is anything to go by, there is a huge chunk of people that do not embrace 1440p just yet for one reason or another. But if you do care about pixel density and are considering a purchase, the OnePlus 3 is a phone that you will likely want to try out and inspect beforehand, as the 1080p AMOLED display suffers in this regard more so than 1080p phones with different screen technology. Luckily, the saturated calibration the device has shipped with has been corrected in the latest (stalled) OTA, and the results redeem one of the most criticized aspects of this device.
The RAM management decisions, too, received a lot of flak — and, in my opinion, rightly so. OnePlus had advertised this device’s app-holding capabilities specifically as a result of its mighty RAM setup, but it was quickly shown to be lacking. Once more, OnePlus had to quickly address the issue and the latest software also brings RAM management improvements, which we noted in the sections above. Even then, I still feel like OnePlus is underusing its flagship’s RAM, as it now behaves like other phones in this regard, but not necessarily better (and certainly not 6GB-better). Ideally, the company would release an update with “preset” memory management options so that the user ends up gaining more control over the device if he/she chooses to stay on Oxygen OS.
And there are many reasons to stay on Stock — OxygenOS is lightweight, has good aesthetics and useful (if rudimentary) customization options, thoughtful features, and its additions can be ignored by those who want a more vanilla experience. Those that do want to venture into further tinkering, however, will find that they have a lot of control over the OnePlus 3’s hardware and software, virtue of OnePlus’ openness to the development community. With a healthy amount of custom ROMs and Kernels popping up, some from prominent names in the community, we should expect the OnePlus 3 to keep devs and flashaholics entertained.
And that last bit is, perhaps, shines a light on the reason why I enjoyed my time with the OnePlus 3, and why I’d recommend it to those looking for a new device to sate their tinkerer lust: for $400, this phone brings one of the best hardware packages for the enthusiasts willing to make the most out of it. Those who want to break free of an OEM’s chains or carrier’s shackles and fully explore Android will find a trusty companion in the OnePlus 3, which has the right (OP) gear to carry you through whatever quest you set out for yourself. With ample processing power in a thoughtful package, the OnePlus 3 is the perfect canvas for the spec-hungry tinkerer — but with the condition that you can live with the relatively minor mishaps of this $400 phone. The OnePlus 3 does not cater to traditional trends and does not cater to specific niches. It’s just an unassumingly solid device that let’s you mold and shape the experience to your liking. It doesn’t try to be a 2017 flagship killer (thankfully), and once or if you look past its pixel density and the more average of its components, you’ll find a tried and true smartphone, with no shiny bells and whistles but also no arbitrary gimmicks nor restrictions. For $400, that’s something worth settling down with.