OnePlus has dropped the 'flagship killer' moniker, but that continues to be how its phones are measured.
OnePlus has made a name for itself with phones that offer high-end specs and experiences at prices a couple hundred dollars less than the true flagship competition. And even with the OnePlus 5 marking the company's most expensive phone yet, at $479 it's still $245 less than a Galaxy S8.
When comparison shopping, that's a big price gap to fill for a phone that on paper just has the same overall spec sheet and even comes up short in a couple of areas. But of course there's far more to a comparison than just specs — let's see how the OnePlus 5 and Galaxy S8 compare.
What's the same
When you buy either one of these phones, there are some base level qualities you can expect to get. You get a Snapdragon 835 in either phone, along with plenty of RAM and a base level of 64GB of storage. Yes OnePlus offers 6GB of RAM versus 4GB in the Galaxy S8 ... but it's hard to see any real-world performance improvement from that added memory right now. Both phones are snappy and consistently quick, though you could see the OnePlus 5 holding up better over time with its cleaner software and extra room to expand into that RAM in a year or two.
Both phones offer the base specs and experience you expect from today's high-end phones.
The same ends up being true with the batteries, where the OnePlus 5's 3300mAh cell beats the Galaxy S8's 3000mAh on paper but doesn't offer dramatically longer real-world use. If you leave the GS8 on its default screen resolution and turn off Always-on Display, it's going to last you the same full day the OnePlus 5 does with its 1080p display. Both phones offer quick charging capabilities, with the Galaxy S8 having cross-compatibility to Qualcomm's Quick Charge; the OnePlus 5 arguably has a faster and better thought-out system in Dash Charge, but it's proprietary to only OnePlus accessories.
Finally, both phones are solidly built. The OnePlus 5 has a bit more overall heft while the Galaxy S8 has trimmed-down metal all around, but both feel substantial and well made rather than flimsy or cheap. They also have the typical smartphone comforts of a USB-C port, headphone jack, single down-firing speaker and buttons in the expected places.
Yes you get the same core experience in either phone, but the OnePlus 5 and Galaxy S8 each have strengths that separate them from the competition.
Where the Galaxy S8 wins
Let's start with the Galaxy S8. Samsung's tent pole features of a fantastic screen, waterproofing, an SD card slot and wireless charging are the key differentiators for the GS8. The display still leads the industry in brightness and overall quality, while full waterproofing, expandable storage and wireless charging are three features just not on offer from OnePlus.
In terms of feature volume and variety, the Galaxy S8 takes the cake.
Then there are more subtle and subjective differences that are often preferred. The Galaxy S8 is certainly narrower and easier to grip, though it comes at a small price of having a more fragile curved display. The Galaxy S8's software also gives you a huge number of choices in features and capabilities right out of the box, which for some is preferable to finding everything in the Play Store.
Samsung's final big point of emphasis, and where it still comes out above the OnePlus 5, is low light photography. Samsung's tuned and tweaked 12MP sensor, f1/.7 lens and OIS combine to give you consistently good low-light shots, and the OnePlus 5's main camera can't match it every time.
Where the OnePlus 5 wins
Now, here's where the OnePlus 5 stands out. The biggest area is probably its software: if you like a near-stock Android experience, the OnePlus 5 is the better choice. OxygenOS gives you a handful of customization options, but OnePlus doesn't make any big assumptions about how you want to use your phone — the configuration is all up to you. This results in a simpler, easier to understand and consistently cleaner experience.
The OnePlus 5 is simple, sleek and takes few risks — but the execution is great.
And with a single hardware version that's available everywhere in the world, OnePlus has a huge advantage in software updates. There is no reason why the OnePlus 5 should be getting software updates slower than any Galaxy S8 model — let alone later than the dozens of various regional and carrier GS8 models that have staggered update paths.
The OnePlus 5's fingerprint sensor is also in a standard, logical place below the screen — right where Samsung used to put its sensor. This seems like a small thing, but that's because you don't think about it every time you set your finger down and it just works — you can't say the same about the GS8's frustrating biometric security options.
Talking cameras, as mentioned the OnePlus 5 isn't as consistent in low light shots as the GS8. It does, however, have a trump card in its secondary 20MP telephoto lens. Not only does it give you unique shooting options with a longer focal length, but also provides shallow depth of field effects in its "Portrait Mode" that the Galaxy S8 can't.
It's clear that the gap is narrowing between ultra-high-end phones like the Galaxy S8 and strategically value-focused high-end offerings like the OnePlus 5. For a completely reasonable price, the OnePlus 5 offers a similar spec sheet to the Galaxy S8, even besting it in some respects, and both performance and battery life that match Samsung's latest.
Yes the OnePlus 5 doesn't have the same screen quality or the sheer volume of hardware features, but at this price there was bound to be some feature disparity there. The interesting thing to see is how many areas the OnePlus 5 actually offers a preferable experience over the more expensive phone. This isn't a comparison in which you'd only choose the OnePlus 5 based on its lower price — some may choose it because for them, it's the better phone for them overall.