OnePlus once touted itself as the “Flagship Killer,” offering top-spec’d phones at a budget price. With the first OnePlus device, they showed that they could swing with the big players, but were hampered by the oft-maligned invite system and poor marketing. The OnePlus 2 suffered a similar fate, coupled with some questionable design choices and average performance. Well, OnePlus seems to have found it’s groove with the OnePlus 3, a standout phone with flagship specs at a great price, and finally a invite-free purchase system that makes it much more available for everyone.
The “Never Settle” mantra of OnePlus is on display here, as the OnePlus 3 features a 1080p AMOLED display, NFC, 3000mAh battery, a Snapdragon 820, USB-C and a whopping 6GB of RAM. It only has one storage option, 64GB, and features proprietary DASH rapid charging among other features. Certainly some impressive specs for a $399 phone, but how do they come together as a complete package?
I immediately fell in love with the OnePlus 3’s design out of the box. Gone is the sandstone backing and overall cheaper feel to the build quality, replaced by a full-metal chassis and smooth curves, making it an absolute joy to hold. It has a premium feel in the hand comparable to that of an HTC device, which it seemingly borrows a lot of design cues from. Of all the OnePlus devices, this one is by far the best looking.
The rear of the device is simple and clean. Only a set of antenna lines and a prominent camera bump, housing the 16MP shooter, adorn the back panel coupled with the small shiny OnePlus logo just below. It is admittedly a bit slippery to hold without a case, but not as bad as I expected it to be. The back has a nice arched contour for fitting in the palm, and is so light and sleek that I’d feel bad hiding it in a case. The OnePlus 3 is very reminiscent of current flagship phones in regards to appearance, which can be either good or bad depending on your opinion. Some may miss the sandstone texture and it’s unique feel and grip, and luckily there is a case offering that material from OnePlus if you’re feeling nostalgic for the older design. Along with the sandstone case, there are a number of other stylish protection cases in material such as bamboo, rosewood, carbon fiber and black apricot finish.
The front of the device is no slouch either, with an attractive slab of Gorilla Glass 4 housing the 5.5 inch AMOLED screen, and the prominent capacitive fingerprint scanner front and center. The fingerprint scanner is amazingly fast, OnePlus claims faster than Apple’s Touch ID, with the phone waking up seemingly the instant I touched my phone to the scanner. It’s flanked on either side by OnePlus’ trademark optional capacitive buttons, which are now simple illuminated dots that disappear into the bezel after a few seconds. Bezels are very thin on the sides of the screen, but the top and bottom ones are a bit big for my tastes on a 5.5 inch phone.
The side panels, measuring a scant 7.35mm thick, house the power button and dual SIM tray on the right side, and the volume rockers and still-present mute toggle switch on the left. The button placement and feel are excellent, they are easily reachable and satisfyingly clicky and responsive. The notification toggle switch is nicely textured and feels solid, but I wish they had reversed the order, with full notifications on top and none on the bottom.
The top of the phone is bare metal, but the bottom is one of my favorite parts of the design. It holds the headphone jack, USB-C port, and surprisingly loud speaker. The whole bottom subtly curves towards the back of the phone, and the speaker grill holes and USB port are chamfered, lending even more to the premium feel and look of the 3. As bottoms of phones go, this one is truly excellent.
The display of the OnePlus 3 has been a point of contention in the smartphone community. It’s a 5.5 inch “Optic” AMOLED display with a 1920×1080 resolution, that’s 401 ppi for those interested. It is a very nice screen, and a definite upgrade from the OnePlus 2, but the lower resolution is a bit of a downer considering pretty much every other Android flagship hits the 2560×1440 QHD resolution. The colors and image quality are clear and crisp, and more than enough for the average user but coming down from a Nexus 6P and it’s massive QHD display, it’s a noticeable difference that made me miss the extra resolution for YouTube and movie watching. I will say that the lower resolution display has done well for battery life. OnePlus has included some decent customizations to the display, including the “Optic” tuning and a color balance slider, so you can adjust the color tone yourself.
For most people, the OnePlus 3 screen is perfectly capable, but anyone coming off of a QHD display may be in for some disappointment.
Performance and Software
The OP3 and its 6GB of RAM made headlines prior to it’s launch, and rightfully so. 6GB is a ton of RAM for such a small device, but does it have an impact on performance? The answer is… maybe. The RAM coupled with the Snapdragon 820 chip make this phone lightning fast and super snappy, jumping between apps with ease, but even with all that power under the hood it’s nothing mindblowing in terms of day to day performance. Gaming on the OP3 was satisfying and smooth, and app load times were in the expected range. Oneplus did add some nice tweaks to multitasking, including a clear-all button and a “clean” button to halt all background processes and clear all that RAM. It’s definitely comparable to today’s flagships in terms of speed, but it certainly isn’t the top contender in that regard.
One downside of the OnePlus 3 is the lack of expandable storage or larger storage options. 64GB is fine for me, but I know a lot of people who live and die by the SD card. It is disappointing for sure, but certainly not a deal breaker. Also, connectivity issues have been cropping up for many OP3 users, including myself. Difficulty with LTE connectivity, rapidly switching from 3G to 4G to LTE, as well as issues with wi-fi calling on T-Mobile have made using the OnePlus 3 off of wi-fi a bit harrowing at times. However, the problems are not nearly as bad as they sound, and regular daily use has been stellar otherwise, with these connection problems only popping up once in awhile.
The custom Android Marshmallow ROM, Oxygen OS, is just as light as before and with some welcome stability and performance improvements. OnePlus still offers those wonderful tweaks to the stock experience, like optional hardware or software buttons, night mode, screen-off gestures and more. In place of the Google Now page on the left-most screen, OnePlus introduces the Shelf. The Shelf holds a place for widgets, recent apps, and a quick memo section for easy note taking. I initially avoided using the Shelf as I was so used to Google Now being there, but as I used the phone more and more I found it to be a welcome addition and very handy. Oxygen OS is easily one of the better ROMs for Android, being nearly as stock as a Nexus device but offering just enough customization and extra features to differentiate it.
Battery performance is very solid on the OP3. The 3000mAh battery and standard definition AMOLED screen do wonders for all-day use from 7 AM onwards, I rarely had to top off the battery with an average day’s usage. The phone does heat up a bit when under heavier use, but nothing too concerning so far. I was surprised at how well the OnePlus 3 stood up to my Nexus 6P with its larger battery, both managed to stay above 20% by the end of the day at 9 PM. OnePlus has done an admirable job of making sure users get the most out of the battery despite it’s pedestrian capacity.
Where OnePlus really shines is its DASH charging, a rebrand of Oppo’s VOOC charging technology. Using the included charger and cable, or any VOOC charger, the OP3 can get a full day’s charge, about 60-70%, in 15 minutes. It is mind boggling to plug in your phone and five minutes later see a 10-15% jump in battery life for the first time. Compared to the rapid charging on my Nexus, this was fast as hell and one of the best features of the OP3. It’s a shame that more chargers don’t support it, as I’d like to use a longer cord and still get the DASH results.
The camera on the OnePlus 3 is another area of merely average performance. The 16MP rear shooter is fine at all levels, but isn’t going to beat out the likes of Samsung when it comes to image quality. OIS is a nice touch, and shutter speed and focus are fast and responsive. Software-wise, the OnePlus camera app gets the job done, and has some nice manual options as well but the LG camera app from the V10 still has a bit of an edge in that regard. The front-facing 8MP camera is great for selfies, and works well. Snapchat users will have a great time using it to get those memorable snaps.
Image quality has been satisfying on the OP3, especially in bright daylight. Low light pictures are fine, but the flash can be a bit aggressive if left on automatic, going off even in well lit areas causing a washed out image. I’m not generally a big phone photographer, so not the best judge of a camera, but the OnePlus 3 is certainly very good. Most people will have no issues at all taking some sweet photos.
Overall, the OnePlus 3 is an incredible deal at $399. You’d be hard pressed to find a more feature-packed device in this price range, with this few compromises. If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t be able to tell that this was a device from a small Chinese offshoot brand at all. OnePlus should be commended on finally finding that perfect balance between specs, price, and design to make the OnePlus 3 a real hit. That being said, I still found myself drawn back to my 6P, for a few different reasons. The screen resolution and wifi calling issues are chief among them. The OnePlus 3 has all the element s to match or best the current crop of flagship devices from the likes of Samsung, LG, and HTC but if you’re currently using a 2015 or 2016 flagship device, the performance and specs aren’t enough to justify a swap unless you are a die hard OnePlus fan. If you are a budget conscious person, the price certainly crushed the competition and other phones in it’s price range just can’t compare. I would say that the OnePlus 3 is a excellent device, if maybe not as polished as it’s competition, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of best phones of 2016. The OnePlus 3 is king of the budget phones, and a great pick for those looking for an affordable phone that Never Settles for budget features.