Review: OnePlus 5 is good, but it needs to push towards greatness
The OnePlus 5’s entry spec 6GB RAM variant with 64GB storage is the one that most consumers will be eyeing.
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Previously, OnePlus had launched multiple storage spec variants of the OnePlus 3T smartphone. But while the 64GB variant came through initially, the 128GB version with the attractive midnight black colour option was added later. This time around, the company is sending both variants of the 5 through the door, at the same time. The top-notch spec will be the first phone with 8GB RAM, along with 128GB of storage (Priced at Rs37,999). But it is the lower priced version, with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space (Rs32,999 price tag), in the slate gray colour, which will be what anyone looking to upgrade from the OnePlus 3 or the 3T, and even first time OnePlus phone buyers, would be eyeing. And it is because of these vastly different specifications, and potentially the performance too, is why we will be doing two separate reviews of the OnePlus 5 variants.
Here, we look at the 6GB RAM and 64GB variant, which is priced at Rs32,999 and should represent the interest of a larger demographic of potential buyers, because of the lower price point.
Design: Yet more of the same, but refined
After using the same design language on the 3 and the 3T at different times last year, OnePlus decided to change things around a bit. They went back to the drawing board, with what seemed to be a two-part mission—make the new phone slimmer and lighter. They did achieve both, because the 5 is slimmer than the 3T (7.25mm compared to 7.4mm) and is lighter too (153 grams compared to the OnePlus 3T 159 grams). The design is now more rounded, and the with the chamfered edged and a more profound curve on the sides of the back panel. It isn’t very different from the 3T, all things considered, but there are enough tweaks to the design to make it ergonomically even better. The slider key on the left side spine is still a fixture—it is extremely convenient to toggle between the normal, silent and do-not disturb modes.
The colour options look good too. The Midnight Black colour, which we saw in the later edition of the 3T has been carried forward on this slimmer design—but that would only be available in the 8GB RAM variant. Then there is the slate grey option, which has been completely refreshed. It is darker than the grey option in the 3T, and to be honest, it looks a lot closer to the authentic black variant under most lighting.
Everything said and done, it is hard to shrug off the uncanny resemblance with the Apple iPhone 7 Plus. Flip it over, flip an iPhone 7 Plus over, keep them side by side, and you will be hard pressed to tell any differences unless you look closely. However, the OnePlus 5 isn’t the first phone to resemble the design of an iPhone, and it surely won’t be the last either. It’ll be prudent to not rage about this non-issue, and focus on how genuinely useable this design is overall.
However, we have this nagging observation about the very different feelings that are evoked while you’re holding and using the 5, compared with the 3T. To make the 5 slimmer and lighter, OnePlus has perhaps sacrificed the reassuring heft which was a hallmark of the 3T. While evenly weighed out, the 5 does feel a tad too light, even though it isn’t that big a difference on the weighing scales. We hope it can withstand the heart-stopping drops our phones take, at least once in the time they spend with us.
Our biggest gripe with the 5 isn’t over irrelevance such as whether it looks like an iPhone or not, or whether the colour is perfectly hued or not. What we are unable to wrap our heads around is the fact that the 5 isn’t waterproof. Agreed, this is perhaps not a deal breaker for anyone eyeing up a 5, but for a phone that claims top notch specs and experience, this seems to be a big miss. Yes, no one wants to give their phone a shower occasionally, but that sort of thing accidentally happens near a pool, a bucket or water or while walking outside and getting caught in a sharp shower—and it is always reassuring to know that your phone can shake the water off itself at the end of it all, and carry on as if nothing ever happened.
Performance: Nothing is slowing it down, at all
OnePlus phones, beginning from the One, the Two, the 3 and the 3T, have always packed in the very latest specifications, which at times, even the flagships available then didn’t necessarily. That was the foundation of a OnePlus phone, and that hasn’t changed with the 5. This runs the very latest and powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. At present, the HTC U11 (Rs51,990) and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium (Rs61,990) are the only two other phones to run this chip. Among the other flagships, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ run Samsung’s own Exynos chips, while LG settled for the Snapdragon 821 chip for the G6 (Rs39,990). Simply put, the performance is top-notch, be it for apps, gaming or multi-tasking. We did not notice any sluggishness while running multiple apps, and the phone also doesn’t heat up while using the camera or during gaming.
The OnePlus 3 and the 3T, last year, ushered in the era of 6GB RAM as a standard spec in in flagship smartphones. This year that continues with the 5 as well. Because it runs the most powerful processor available for smartphones presently on offer, what you experience is silky smooth performance. What also helps are the optimizations made in Android 7.1.1 (Nougat), and the tweaks to the Oxygen OS wrapped around Android.
The 5 has a 3,300mAh battery, which is slightly smaller than the 3,400mAh battery in the 3T. you would think that this would mean a worse battery performance than the predecessor, but that isn’t the case, because the slightly smaller capacity is offset by a processor that is more frugal than the 3T’s Snapdragon 821. And because the 5 has Full HD display and not a higher resolution screen, the on-screen battery drain is significantly lesser. Under most use cases, the battery the lasts a day easily on a single charge. If you are not a heavy user, the 5 will be able to even last a day and a half on one battery charge cycle—this isn’t something many Android phones these days can truly boast about.
Display: Do we need more than 1080p on phone screens?
The debate continues as to whether the best resolution for your phone is 1,920 x 1,080 (Full HD) or you need higher resolution displays touching the 4K mark. OnePlus makes its feelings very clear in that regard, with essentially the same 5.5-inch display that we saw in the 3 and the 3T now carrying on with the 5 as well. The display hasn’t changed much, but the glass layer above it has—this has Gorilla Glass 5, while the predecessors had Gorilla Glass 4.
The OnePlus 5 gets the wider DCI-P3 colour mode in the display settings, something that the likes of the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy S8 also have. This makes colours bright, more accurate and the display can reproduce even more shades than it may otherwise do with the default colour mode.
Yes, there will remain that debate about whether the OnePlus 5 does have enough for its display to match up with what is around it. For instance, there is the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the LG G6, both of which have higher resolutions, are brighter and richer as well as the intensely addictive taller aspect ratio.
Camera: More doesn’t mean better, unless optimized
The optics capabilities of the OnePlus 5 have been touted a fair bit, to say the least. With cameras fast becoming a critical point of consideration among smartphone buyers, OnePlus thought it was prudent to switch to the dual-camera setup. The 5 has a primary 16-megapixel wide-angle camera (Sony IMX 398) working with a 20-megapixel telephoto camera (Sony IMX 350) for additional detailing and depth in photos. It is a bit perplexing that there is no optical image stabilization (OIS), and that means the clarity of some low light shots and fast moving visuals will not be as good as phones that have OIS.
Also Read: OnePlus 5’s top Android rivals
For all the optics prowess, the performance alternated between unhinged brilliance and frustrating inconsistency. In between some fantastic photos, some perplexingly dull ones would turn up. Some photos, particularly HDR ones, turned out to be better than what even the HTC U11 (the best Android camera now, arguably) managed. Low light shots, thanks to the f1.7 aperture, are brighter and crisper than competition cameras. On the other hand, simple photos with uncomplicated lighting turned out to be either too soft or noisy. Try hard enough, and you’ll get great details with accurate colours, but OnePlus quickly needs to iron out these inconsistencies with software updates.
There have been multiple camera updates rolled out for the OnePlus 5 over the past few days, and while the performance has become a tad better, there are still sharpness, focus and HDR inconsistencies that plague the camera even now.
Verdict: The upgraded love affair that costs more
The OnePlus 5 costs more than the 3T did, and that itself is a challenge that OnePlus must overcome. There is no doubt that under the hood, there is the very latest and powerful hardware. The 5, with the 6GB RAM and 64GB storage is one of the best performing smartphones money can buy right now. The design will have its critics, but we feel it is ergonomically spot on. The camera, which has been touted as one of the finest points of the 5, incidentally falls short presently, and requires a considerable amount of effort from the company to iron out the inconsistencies.
That brings us to the question of who would buy the OnePlus 5. If you already own a OnePlus 3T, then we would suggest you stay put for the time being and enjoy the excellence that the 3T already brings to the table. If you happen to be using any mid-range Android phone now, and are looking to change, this is a definite upgrade that you can get your hands on. But, if you have the budget for a true flagship such as the HTC U11 or the Samsung Galaxy S8, for instance, do not try to save a few pennies—the OnePlus 5 is good, but not exactly great (until the camera inconsistencies can be ironed out).