OnePlus 5 Review


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OnePlus hasn’t shied away from calling it’s phones, flagship killers. The company set out to build top-notch handsets with cutting edge specifications and offered them at bargain basement prices. The OnePlus 5 however has higher ambitions. With its sight set on top end flagships and a price that isn’t too far off, OnePlus has a tough uphill climb ahead of it. The company has endowed it with all sorts of hardware bells & whistles but hardware alone doesn’t make a phone. Let’s take a closer look and see if the OnePlus 5 really lives up to the hype. 

OnePlus 5 specifications

  • 5.5-inch (1920×1080 pixels) Full HD Optic AMOLED 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla Glass 5 display, sRGB, DCI-P3 color coverage
  • 2.45GHz Octa-Core Snapdragon 835 64-bit 10nm Mobile Platform with Adreno 540 GPU
  • 6GB LPDDR4x RAM with 64GB storage (UFS 2.1 ), 8GB LPDDR4x RAM with 128GB (UFS 2.1) internal storage
  • Android 7.1.1 (Nougat) with Oxygen OS
  • Dual SIM (nano + nano)
  • 16MP rear camera with dual LED Flash, Sony IMX398 sensor, f/1.7 aperture, 1.12μm pixel size, EIS, secondary 20MP camera with f/2.6 aperture, Sony IMX350 sensor, 1.0μm pixel size, 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 60 fps, 720p slow motion at 120fps
  • 16MP front-facing camera with Sony IMX371 sensor, 1.0μm pixel size, f/2.0 aperture
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • 3.5mm audio jack, 3 microphones with noise cancellation, Dirac HD Sound
  • Dimensions: 154.2×74.1×7.25mm; Weight: 153g
  • 4G VoLTE, WiFi 802.11ac dual-band (2×2 MU-MIMO ), Bluetooth 5.0 aptX HD, GPS/GLONASS/Beidou, USB Type-C, NFC
  • 3300mAh battery with Dash Charge (5V 4A)

Design

There’s a dearth of design ideas in the smartphone space. As the majority of Chinese brands ape the successful though by now stale imagery of Apple’s iPhones, there are many parallels to be drawn here. The OnePlus 5 isn’t immune to these comparisons. To be sure, the phone has taken design inspiration from the iPhone but spend some time with it and you realise that it isn’t quite the clone.

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The front of the phone isn’t far off from the OnePlus 3T that the 5 replaces. A large 5.5 inch Full HD display sits bang in the centre while above it is the 16MP front facing camera. A notification LED sits at the far left corner. Meanwhile, you’ll observe the fingerprint sensor that is slightly larger and coated with a layer of ceramic, sitting below the screen flanked by capacitive keys on either side. These capacitive keys serve as the back and menu keys and their functionality can be easily switched out through the software settings menu. There are LEDs under the keys but they are very dim and light up only when you tap the button.

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The right side of the phone sports just the power button. This button is suitably large and the feedback is amongst the best we’ve ever tried on any smartphone. There’s just the right amount of action and we felt ourselves repeatedly pressing down on the semicylindrical button. Above it of course lie the dual nano SIM card slots.

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The left side on the other hand is much more busy as it includes not just the volume rocker but also the three-way OnePlus notification slider. The volume rocker is made of a single piece of metal and can be just a smidgen too hard to press down. This is doubly true for the notification slider that seemed a bit too hard to slide around. The three slider positions correspond to ring, do not disturb and silent mode.

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While the top of the phone is clean and devoid of all buttons, the bottom has the USB Type C connector as well as the 3.5mm audio jack. There’s a speaker grille at the left corner of the device right next to the Type C connector. Talking about the speaker performance, we found that while it can go quite loud, there is a tendency for audio to crackle or distort if you go too high or listen to demanding tracks. It’ll do just fine for alarms, calls though.

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The back of the phone is obviously the most polarising aspect of it. Sure, there is a likeness to the iPhone 7 Plus but not quite to the extent that it may appear at first glance. There’s a dual camera module over on the top left corner which is paired with a dual LED flash. And that’s about it, the entire back is a large swath of aluminum with a OnePlus logo in the centre. Talking about antenna lines, these have been pushed right to the top and bottom of the phone which lend it a very clean look.

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In terms of dimensions the phone measures 154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25mm which is not that much different from the OnePlus 3T. It does however feel ever so slightly smaller because of the curved edges and the tapering corners. The weight at 153grams is not particularly heavy and we found it to be well-balanced across the body of the device which made it feel dense and very well built. It’s taken a while but OnePlus has certainly learnt how to build an ergonomically sound handset.

Software

OxygenOS on the OnePlus 5 takes a stock Android like approach and is virtually free of bloat. There are no extraneous additions and gimmicks are far and few.

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Swiping from the standard lock screen drops you into the home screen where you have a shortcut tray at the bottom. Up above you can add icons and widgets. Swiping left on the other hand brings you to a shelf of sorts that includes some basic widgets like a memo area, vital information about the phone like free storage, battery life and more. We don’t think it’s the best use of space and in fact, an option to replace it with Google Now might have turned out better.

Other additions are minor but useful to a degree. There’s a Reading Mode that we’ll talk about further on in the review as well as the Night Mode which can now be scheduled. There is support for expanded screenshots that can scroll down to the end of the screen and let you capture the entire display area.

A Gaming Do Not Disturb mode is one of the other minor additions. This mode mutes all notifications while you are playing games or using specific apps. For hardcore gamers who crave for an immersive experience, this might be godsend. Finally, Oxygen OS also gains some more off-screen gestures that can be used to activate customisable apps. This works well enough and expands on the existing shortcuts like scribbling O on the lock screen to launch the camera.

Performance

Not quite the first smartphone to ship with a Snapdragon 835 processor, the OnePlus 5 is perhaps the cheapest phone powered by the chipset. Pair that with upto 8GB of RAM and you’ve got a veritable beast. There are two variants on offer with the former offering 6GB RAM and 64GB storage while the top end is packed with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. Truth be told, the performance difference between the Snapdragon 821 and 835 isn’t as pronounced as you’d imagine for day-to-day tasks. Yes, the phone does boot up a bit faster and there is perhaps a mild performance gain in games and heavy-duty apps but this is something you’ll really only notice when you place the OnePlus 5 next to one running an older chipset.

In terms of RAM, yes, there is a whole lot of optimisation this time around to make sure that the phone actually use the entirety of it. The OnePlus 5 manages very well to keep current apps in memory instead of starting them from scratch. This was a problem with the OnePlus 3 when it first rolled out so it is good to see that the company hasn’t repeated it’s mistake. Processor and RAM aside, the OnePlus 5 gains dual lane UFS 2.1 storage which gives performance a much more meaningful boost. Installing apps, running them, accessing files from storage and more, all proceeded at a must faster than usual clip.

We’ve been using the OnePlus 5 for about a week now and the phone works reliably well for the most part. Other than a few crashes and odd software behaviour which has since been patched out via a software update, the phone has been a solid workhorse. There are intermittent dropped frames but nowhere close enough to raise a red flag.

Performance benchmarks aren’t really the best way to judge how well a phone is going to keep up with your day-to-day use but we’ve still included them below for those who like to compare devices. Do keep in mind that OnePlus has been caught red handed for boosting the phone during performance benchmarking and this will invariably push the phone ahead in the scores. Not that the OnePlus 5 needs it due to the phone’s scorching fast internals but it is something to keep in mind while going through the benchmarks below.

OnePlus 5 3Dmark Ice Storm Unlimited
In the 3DMark benchmark, the OnePlus 5 is slightly behind the Xiaomi Mi6 and HTC U11 with a score of 39397 points.
OnePlus 5 Basemark OS II

In Basemark OS II, the phone scores 4320 points which places it a the head of the test bench, just ahead of the Xiaomi Mi 6.

OnePlus 5 AnTuTu 6

In the AnTuTu benchmark, the phone scores 170666 points. Check out the complete set of benchmarks here.

Display

Similar to the OnePlus 3T, the 5 too has a 1080p AMOLED display with a Gorilla Glass 5 coating on top. In fact the display is the same as the one on the OnePlus 3T so we’re not expecting much to have changed here. Starting off with the resolution, in an obvious cost cutting measure, the company has once again decided to skip out on installing a QHD panel and that’s absolutely fine for day-to-day use. It does however make the phone a less than ideal candidate for VR content.

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The screen itself looks quite good out of the box but switching to the  DCI-P3 mode is what really made it shine for us with just the right balance between natural tones and good contrast levels. An SRGB mode as well as the ability to adjust the color temperature should help you calibrate the display to your preference.Viewing angles on the phone are great and there’s virtually no color shift unless you look at the screen from extreme angles. Brightness levels too are more than adequate and the screen goes bright enough to view even under a bright summer sun.

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This year, OnePlus has added a reading mode to the phone which overlays a grayscale filter than adjusts itself based on ambient light. There is separate from the night mode which cuts down on the blue light emissions from the device.

Camera

Over the last few years, OnePlus has almost nailed the formula for its phones. High end specifications, a design that works and a price point that is substantially lower than competing flagships. The one area where the competition still has a leg up however has been the camera. With the OnePlus 5, this was one of the key areas for innovation for the company. Enter the dual camera module and its iPhoneesque implementation.

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Now dual cameras aren’t exactly new. The LG G6 has the secondary wide-angle camera that can get some stellar shots in the right scenario. Huawei too has implemented a secondary monochrome sensor that manages to finagle a lot more details in the shots. OnePlus however has opted for a secondary telephoto lens in the same vein as the Xiaomi Mi 6 and this enables a depth of field feature that is often called the portrait mode. Let’s take a closer look.

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As you flip over the body of the phone, you’ll notice the dual camera module towards the top left corner. Set in a camera islet of sorts, the two camera sensors sit proud of the frame. The primary camera is a 16MP shooter with an f1.7 aperture lens. The low aperture effectively lets in more light and lets you shoot better even in less than ideal lighting scenarios. The secondary camera has a 20MP sensor with an f2.6 aperture lens attached to it.

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Switch on the camera and at first glance you won’t spot anything special. The camera performs similar to what you’d expect and you can simply tap the shutter button to take a photo. If you observe closely, you’ll notice the addition of a few more buttons and toggles. Tapping the 1 inside the circle will instantly switch the camera to the telephoto lens which has 1.6x the reach of the primary camera. This in combination with smart multiframe technology allows the phone to do a 2x lossless zoom. In good lighting, this telephoto lens comes in very handy while trying to capture distant action. You no longer have to depend on the much inferior digital zoom which works by cropping into the image and there by degrades the picture quality.

OnePlus 5 Bokeh

Where the magic really lies however is in the portrait mode. Swiping up takes you into portrait mode in the camera where it helpfully points out that the phone should be at a distance of between 1 to 6 feet from the subject at which point a green Depth signal activates.

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Let’s talk about picture quality. In the standard mode, the 16MP sensor resolves good details but there is still a bit of noise in the images. Especially when you drop in a low light scenario, the lack of optical image stabilisation really hurts. The camera can’t keep the shutter open too long as it would result in blurry photos. The camera also exhibits very strong noise reduction that results in a somewhat soft image. In terms of color reproduction, the camera captures natural looking shots that are quite true to the real deal. Some users might find this unappealing compared to Samsung’s brand of slightly oversaturated shots but it is trivial to edit this in your favourite app.

In telephoto mode too, there is no OIS and every jitter appears more pronounced. The f 2.6 lens can’t resolve as much light and low light shots are far from ideal with a lot of visible noise even in well-lit conditions. Focussing speeds are less than ideal and in the telephoto mode, we often had to repeatedly tap the camera screen to make sure that the object was in focus. There’s a lot of room for improvement as we noticed that photos in the telephoto mode exhibited overblown highlights and generally, a very constrained dynamic range.

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Finally coming to the all important portrait mode. In short, it works for the most part. As long as you’re standing at the recommended distance, the phone usually manages to create a natural looking pseudo bokeh around the subject.

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Since there is still a lot of software trickery in place to make this happen, results can be quite hit or miss and many a times you might find the bokeh boundaries overlapping with the subject. With objects, this gets a lot worse but we can’t really blame OnePlus for this considering the mode really is optimised for portraits. The mode also requires a lot of light to work well so don’t expect to get very good shots in low light situations.

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With the OnePlus 5, the company seems to have taken two steps forward and one step back. The camera quality is more than adequate and results are a modest but certain step up from the OnePlus 3 & 3T. The dual lens system too works. What does irk us is the lack of OIS that makes taking photos in dimly lit situations, an exercise in frustration. This also has an adverse effect on videos wherein electronic stabilisation just doesn’t work as well. All in all though, the OnePlus 5 has all the ingredients and most of the performance to make it one of the better camera phones in it’s category. Check out the camera review.

Connectivity & Battery Life

The OnePlus 5 brings with it a whole host of connectivity options that range from the usual WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac as well USB OTG support over the Type C standard. Talking about USB, the phone unfortunately does not support USB 3.1 speeds and also skips out on alt mode connectivity. Part of the Snapdragon 835 platform, the chipset supports outputting video over DisplayPort via the USB Type C connector. This is something that we’ve already seen on the Samsung Galaxy S8 but unfortunately, the OnePlus 5 eschews support for this. Despite having Bluetooth 5.0 onboard we were not able to pair multiple headphones simultaneously and we suspect that this feature is still missing from Oxygen OS. Depending on the variant you opt for, the phone ships with 64 or 128GB of storage. There is no provision to expand this via a memory card. There are however dual nano SIM card slots and they both support 4G. In fact, the OnePlus 5 can be used pretty much anywhere around the world due to robust LTE band support.

OnePlus 5 FA One Charge Rating

Our usage entails a full suite of social media applications, 3 email accounts syncing to the phone, messaging on WhatsApp and Telegram, phone calls and web browsing. Suffice to say that unless you are a hardcore gamer or have a niche use case, the test scenario is fairly indicative of heavy real world usage. We managed to get a little over 5 hours of screen on time from the 3300 mAh battery which is good but not great. Our one charging rating for the phone came to 13 hours 39 minutes which is decidedly lower than what we achieved on the Samsung Galaxy S8. The phone supports Dash Charge which can top off the phone in just about an hour. While we’d have vastly preferred a standardised protocol like USB-PD, Dash Charge does work very well with the biggest drawback being that only OnePlus chargers are supported. Check out the complete set of battery test results here.

Conclusion

OnePlus as a company is now at a stage where it must demonstrate the kind of innovation it can bring to the table. A race to the bottom in terms of price is not something that it can sustain because it is all too easy for other brands to catch up. With the OnePlus 5, the company has started making headway towards the premium end of smartphones and is very vocal in admitting where it’s ambitions lie.

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The spec sheet is solid as always and you can’t argue with the value proposition as the phone offers a top of the line Snapdragon 835 processor and 6GB of RAM at a price point of just Rs. 32,999. Even the higher end variant is priced much lower than the competition at Rs. 37,999. Despite this, there are certain performance hiccups that need to be ironed out. The camera too needs more work with low light shots and lack of OIS being particular pain points. There’s no doubt that on paper the OnePlus 5 is a very well endowed device. Against the likes of the LG G6, Google Pixel and similar flagships though, it still lacks a certain refinement and polish to make it truly deserving of the price. It is available from Amazon.in.

Pros

  • Most affordable Snapdragon 835 equipped handset
  • Dual Cameras
  • Software

Cons

  • Performance Hiccups
  • Hit or Miss Camera Performance
  • Average Battery Life
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Author: Dhruv Bhutani

Dhruv loves technology & is passionate about travel, science in equal measure. Currently using a ZF2. Catch him on Twitter (@DhruvBhutani) / Facebook . The metal head down the block ;)