Not everyone wants a phone so big it’s tough to slide into a pants pocket or use with one hand. Luckily, more manufacturers are hearing our cries, and two big contenders have stepped to the fore: Google’s Nexus 5X, and the OnePlus X. Both are slim, thin, and powerful—but not pricey. Here’s how they compare.
The OnePlus X is a brand new contender, but the Nexus 5X saw its debut back when the Nexus 6P, Google’s current flagship, hit the scene. Both give you the freedom to buy unlocked, powerful Android phones and do it on a budget that’s not quite as pricey as the flagships they both fly behind. Here’s a primer to both devices:
The Nexus 5X is the rebirth of the much-loved, perfectly sized Nexus 5. Like its predecessor, the Nexus 5X is also manufactured by LG, and a phone our friends at Gizmodo notes is a great low-cost wonder. Clad in all plastic, the 5X comes with Android Marshmallow, packs a Snapdragon 808 and a 5.2”, 443 ppi, 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD display that’s bright and pretty for its size. On the back you get a 12.3 megapixel rear shooter (the same camera in the Nexus 6P), 5 megapixel front camera, and a pair of stereo speakers at the bottom (despite the fact that it looks like they’re both on the front.) Like its bigger cousin, the 5X has a fingerprint reader on the back at the rear-center of the phone for unlocking, authentication, and of course, Android Pay. The 2700 mAh battery supports quick charging, so you get a great charge without sitting around forever, all via USB-C.
The OnePlus X is OnePlus’s attempt to go even harder at the budget market. Gizmodo calls it shockingly good looking, which we can’t argue with—its all-glass body looks and feels great in the hands. It features a 5”, 441 ppi, 1920 x 1080 AMOLED display that’s surprisingly bright and crisp. Under the hood you get a Snapdragon 801 processor (the same processor in the original OnePlus One), a 13 megapixel rear camera and an 8 megapixel front-facing camera, and stereo speakers on the bottom, right next to the microUSB port used to charge the built-in 2,525 mAh battery. Of course, the OnePlus X runs OnePlus’s OxygenOS customization of Android, and the version included on the OnePlus X is based on Lollipop. A few noteworthy things missing though: no NFC, no fingerprint reader, no 5GHz wifi support, and no USB-C support. You may not hate that, but that also means no quick charging, which would be nice considering the size of the battery. Giz notes that it’s stunning on the outside but just okay on the inside, which overall we agree with.
As usual, we’re not going to try and replicate reviews here. We’re going to focus on what it’s actually like to use each of these phones for the time we’ve worked with them, and the big features that will matter to you in the long run.
Before we begin, we should note something very important about the OnePlus X. If you live in the United States, keep in mind that the phone only supports GSM carriers, for one, and even on those carriers (T-Mobile and AT&T, and any MVNOs that ride their networks) it’s missing LTE bands 12 and 17. These low-frequency bands are often used in suburban and rural areas for better LTE coverage, and some carriers are switching to these bands in urban areas too. Other LTE bands are supported, but if you don’t live in a city (and I do, this review took place in Washington DC) you could find yourself stuck on 3G speeds. Buyers outside the US probably don’t need to care, but compared immediately to the Nexus 5X, which works on all major carriers in the US without issue, it’s baffling why OnePlus would let this fly.
Bottom line: If you’re in the US, and all this “LTE band” stuff makes your head spin, or it’s as unnecessarily crazy to you as it is to us, this phone is not for you.
Both of these devices intend to keep your pockets slim, give you a phone you can use one-handed, and do so without emptying your wallet. The Nexus 5X is available in two versions: a 16GB model for $329 and a 32GB model for $379. Each model comes in three colors: carbon (black), quartz (white), and ice (light blue.) All models come with 2GB of RAM, and I tested the 32GB version in quartz. On the other hand, the OnePlus X is available in one—well, technically two—models, a glass and aluminum clad onyx (black) 16GB model for $250. There is, reportedly, an all ceramic model that’s $350, but I didn’t see it listed on OnePlus’s site. I tested the 16GB version.
That $80 difference is nothing to sneeze at, but there are more than a few reasons for it. OnePlus is known for aggressive pricing, for one. Also, while the OnePlus X is gorgeous, there are some big sacrifices it makes to stay affordable: USB-C, a fingerprint reader, NFC, the right radios for broad band support, better WI-Fi, even a more advanced processor are all under the hood of the 5X, and clearly things OnePlus skipped to keep the costs down. It’s obvious that they decided to prioritize their spend on the design and build of the device.
Speaking of pricing, we should note that if you want a Nexus 5X, you can just buy one online. OnePlus on the other hand is back to its “invite only” system for the OnePlus X, presumably to manage demand for the phone (or rather, to measure demand and match supply to it without over-manufacturing.) If you want one, you’ll have to ask for an invite and wait. When we asked about it, OnePlus said they’re doing weekly open sales where the OnePlus X is available to buy without an invite—you just have to catch one.
Look, Feel, and Use
The Nexus 5X gets a lot of undeserved flack for being all soft plastic. The delineation between the backplate and the trim around the sides is pretty clear. The buttons on the side are plastic too. You might think that this makes the phone feel cheap, but it doesn’t. While it doesn’t have those premium, metal touches that the Nexus 6P or other higher-end phones have, the Nexus 5X actually feels solid. You can drop it, bump it around, and it doesn’t really care.
The 5X’s screen feels a little pale and washed out, but not enough that most people will care. It’s still an improvement over lower-resolution screens that you usually see in this size, and the level of detail you get is great. The screen uses space intelligently, and the bezels are appropriately thin. No millimeter is wasted, and in that regard, it’s very much like the original Nexus 5—even though compared to that classic, the 5X is definitely bigger, brighter, and surprisingly, lighter despite being roughly just as thick and all plastic (no grippy back like on the original Nexus 5.)
The OnePlus X on the other hand sank a significant part of its budget into build. It’s all glass on the back and the front, with an etched aluminum trim around the case. It’s heavier than the Nexus 5X and my current daily driver, a first-gen Moto X, even though it’s thinner. That aluminum trim is broken up by chamfered power and volume buttons on the right side of the phone, and that notifications slider on the left that I waxed poetic about on the OnePlus 2. The front and back, being all glass panels, kind of “rise” off of the sides of the case to meet you, a lot like Sony’s Xperia line, and the front of an iPhone. It’s actually a beautiful design touch that makes the phone feel like a solid, premium piece of glass.
Of course, the flip side to that is that it’s shiny and glossy all over. While the AMOLED display cuts through that all-black, glossy body, it’s also a fingerprint magnet. Keep a microfiber cloth handy. It’s also slippery as all getout. I’m not kidding: I rested the OnePlus X on my desk to charge, and if it was at an angle at all, it slid right off. Put it on an uneven surface, like a pillow or couch, and onto the floor it goes. Another con we should point out is that OnePlus hates letting you know where the hardware buttons are. On the OnePlus One and the OnePlus 2 they’re barely backlit. On the OnePlus X, they’re not backlit at all. It’s a small thing, but small things add up.
Compared to each other, the OnePlus X is definitely the more premium looking. It’s heavier, all glass and metal, and sports that AMOLED screen. There’s a system-wide dark theme to help you save on battery, and some black touches to the UI, like the notifications shade and a few other places, just to help that bright screen pop. The result is a kind of illusion that the whole front panel is the screen, not just the center, which is nice.
When it comes to day-to-day use though, things break down a little bit. Both phones sailed through my battery of day-to-day tests and uses, effortlessly handling gaming, web browsing, texting, streaming music and video, and reading. The Nexus 5X’s pure Android experience just felt better over long-term use than OxygenOS, and the bigger screen and software buttons make a huge difference.
One thing OnePlus nailed on the X however is the sound. LG has never really chosen great speakers for its devices, and the 5X’s onboard stereo speakers, mounted at the bottom, are noisy and missing any kind of low end and bass. The OnePlus X didn’t exactly offer stellar sound (nothing compared to the beauty of the 6P) but it was at least more complete. Side by side, the X shouted down the 5X with richer, deeper audio. This isn’t a big deal if you plug in headphones for your on-the-go listening, but if you listen to music or watch movies without them, it’s a big difference.
However, the OnePlus X’s screen, even though it’s bright and crisp, felt cramped compared to the Nexus 5X (as you can see in the photo above,) and the text felt big for the real estate available. Reading on the 5X was just better, even though the X’s AMOLED screen kind of looks nicer. It’s a big deal, especially when reading or playing games, which kind of proves that even in a one-handed world, .2” can make a huge difference.
We should also call out a few other places the OnePlus X is lacking that make using it comparably painful: The lack of 5Ghz Wi-Fi support is a bummer, especially if you have a dual-channel router. It supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi. Note the lack of AC? Compared to the Nexus 5X’s dual-band support and support for 802.11 b/g/n/ac networks, that just sucks. The OnePlus X supports Bluetooth 4.0 compared to the Nexus 5X’s Bluetooth 4.2. No fingerprint reader and no NFC on the OnePlus X means you won’t be using this phone for Android Pay, or any other cool NFC projects. It does boast 3GB of RAM over the Nexus 5X’s 2GB, but I never noticed a difference, even in taxing apps and games. There’s a point here that OnePlus is making, which is “well, is any of that a big deal when you can get this beauty for $250?” Well, yes, we think so, but you can make your own call.
Battery performance is hugely important on any phone, and, well, let’s just face it: The Nexus 5X crushes the OnePlus X on this front, and it’s not just because the battery is physically bigger. First, the Nexus 5X reaps the benefits of Android Marshmallow’s “Doze” feature, which offers huge improvements in battery life. OnePlus says that a Marshmallow-based version of OxygenOS is coming soon, which should bring those same benefits to the OnePlus X.
The Nexus 5X benefits from quick charging, which makes a huge difference when you only have a few minutes to plug in between meetings, or when you’re getting ready for work after forgetting to charge overnight. The OnePlus X’s AMOLED display may look great, but it’s a benefit and a drawback here—it sucks down power when those pixels are lit up (and remember, AMOLED means the screen only lights up pixels when they’re needed,) and without quick charging, it takes longer to get a serviceable charge if you’re running low on juice.
All in all, I could discharge the Nexus 5X in a full day’s moderate-to-heavy use, texting, emailing, reading the web, catching up on social media, and of course, listening to music and watching a few YouTube videos. If you’re busy and don’t use it much, you’ll carry that charge much longer—Doze means that while it’s idle the 5X barely sips power. With the OnePlus X, the story is similar to older Android phones—mild to moderate use means you definitely want to charge at night while you sleep, and heavy use means you’d better charge during the day or carry an external battery.
The camera comparison is no real contest here either. The Nexus 5X has the same glass (largely) that its bigger cousin, the Nexus 6P, features. The OnePlus X’s 13 megapixel rear shooter is good, but it can’t keep up with what’s largely considered one of the Android world’s best current cameras. Don’t just take my word for it though, here are a few sample galleries you can check out for yourself:
Again, these aren’t side-by-side or anything. Again, you’ll find a ton of photos, some of which are essentially the same shot, just trying out every photo mode available. With the Nexus 5X, I shot a lot of low-light and colorful images, and with the OnePlus X, I spent some time shooting in well-lit environments (and a few low-light settings) just to get a cross-section of potential shots.
First of all, with the Nexus 5X, you’ll notice that the mode you’re shooting in makes a huge difference in image quality. Shooting in HDR+, especially in low-light, results in beautiful, crisp photos. Shooting without it though can yield odd and noisy results, with no better examples being this photo with HDR off, and this one with it on. Regardless, there’s little to complain about with the 5X’s camera, especially at its price. I’ve mentioned before that expert shooters will want a third-party app that offers more tools and tweaks than Google’s default photo app, and that holds true. My only gripe with the 5X is that it’s missing optical image stabilization (OIS), but shutter speed is fast enough you may not even miss it (unless you’re shooting video, that is, where you’ll get great-looking video, but you’d better hold your breath for stable clips.)
Over on the OnePlus X, I didn’t experience the camera issues Gizmodo reported with their review unit, so the story isn’t as bad as it was over there. Even so, the camera just doesn’t hold a candle to the Nexus 5X. It’s passable, but even its bargain price point doesn’t totally explain the detail-lacking, difficult-to-focus shots I got. They’re not bad especially, it’s just that they’re not impressive either. If you’re an Instagram shooter, you probably won’t even notice the difference, but when you start taking pictures in low light, or really want detailed landscape shots, or want to turn your photo into a wallpaper on your desktop, you’ll notice. Similarly, the feature-packed camera app from the OnePlus 2 is missing here for some reason. The X is also lacking OIS, and doesn’t shoot video in 4K (the Nexus 5X can.)
So what’s the bottom line here? Well, the winner of this showdown is the Nexus 5X. It just represents the future of affordable phones, wrapped up in a nice package that makes the right kinds of compromises to keep its price down but performance high. It’s not perfect, but it cuts the right corners and allows the right features to shine—the ones that matter to most people, like battery life, a great camera, perfect sizing, and pure Android. It’s just a solid buy if you’re looking for a relatively affordable phone with decent size options that’s also pocket-friendly and easy to use with one hand.
The OnePlus X on the other hand isn’t bad, but it is a gorgeous and well-built piece of hardware that I don’t think people should actually buy. Unless you know this is the phone for you already, that is. OnePlus fans or people who need that premium feel, even if it doesn’t come with premium function, will probably love it.
I can’t think of anyone who shouldn’t just spend the extra $80 bucks and grab the Nexus 5X (or even the OnePlus 2 for that matter.) That’s a shame, too, because the OnePlus X is a stunner to look at, a beauty to hold, and from a geeky, technological perspective, a marvel at what you can make and sell at its price. It’s just overall built like a phone worth two or three times its price. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that for the money you spend, even as little as it is, you just make too many sacrifices that you’ll probably regret further down the line—sacrifices the Nexus 5X doesn’t make. Combine that with the fact that you essentially have to wait in line to get your hands on one when you can have a much better device right now, and well, it’s a pretty easy decision.