In 2014 OnePlus was a company that was basically unheard of. Despite that, there was great anticipation in the Android enthusiast community about a new smartphone coming from this new company. Their first smartphone ended up being called the OnePlus One, and it was arguably the first device in a trend of smartphones that tried to bring flagship specifications to devices with prices much lower than what the big players in the smartphone market demanded for their best smartphones. The OnePlus One certainly wasn't perfect, but it showed that it was possible to produce a high spec smartphone for hundreds of dollars less than Android flagships, and what OnePlus needed to improve on was their execution.

A year came and went, and OnePlus came out with the OnePlus 2. This was during a time where the Android market was still struggling to deal with the issues posed by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 808 and 810 SoCs, which put Android performance improvements at something of a standstill. In the case of the OnePlus 2, I discovered that OnePlus had put mechanisms in place that reduced web performance even further, and as I reviewed the OnePlus 2 I discovered concerning regressions in other aspects like the phone's display, and its battery life.

Moving into 2016, we now have the OnePlus 3. At this point OnePlus now has a better variety of hardware to choose from, and they should know exactly what to fix from the OnePlus 2 to make a great smartphone. However, the smartphone market gets more competitive with each year that passes, and it's no longer enough to simply put good specs in a device and fail with the execution. Finding out how well OnePlus executed with the user experience is what I'm here to tell you, but before getting in to that, it's important to see how the OnePlus 3 compares to its predecessor.

  OnePlus 2 OnePlus 3
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
GPU Adreno 430 Adreno 530
RAM 2/4GB LPDDR4 6GB LPDDR4
Display 5.5" 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD 5.5" 1920 x 1080 PenTile AMOLED
Size / Mass 151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85mm, 175g 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35mm, 158g
Battery 3300 mAh 3000 mAh
Rear Camera 13MP 1.3 μm OmniVision OV13860 f/2.0 16MP 1.1 μm Sony IMX298, f/2.0, OIS
Front Camera 5MP 1.4 μm OmniVision OV5648, f/2.0 8MP 1.4 μm Sony IMX179, f/2.0
Storage 16/64GB eMMC 64GB UFS 2.0
I/O USB 2.0 Type-C connector, 3.5mm audio
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1
USB-C, GPS/GNSS
802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.2, USB-C
NFC, GPS/GNSS
Price $329 (3GB/16GB)
$389 (4GB/64GB)
$399 (6GB/64GB)

At least at a high level, the OnePlus 3 shows a great deal of promise. The move from Snapdragon 810 to 820 will certainly improve performance, especially when you consider the app detection that OnePlus was doing which crippled web performance on the OnePlus 2. There's also a whopping 6GB of RAM. I do wonder if 6GB is overkill only because the number of apps that people actually use on a daily basis may be smaller than the number that 6GB can actually keep resident in memory. It's also worth noting that there is an energy cost to adding more RAM as each memory cell has to be periodically refreshed to maintain data integrity.

OnePlus has moved to an AMOLED display with the OnePlus 3. While it was once the case that AMOLED displays that weren't on Samsung devices exhibited low brightness and poor calibration, recent AMOLED devices have reversed that trend entirely. However, moving from a 1080p RGB LCD to a 1080p PenTile AMOLED does come with a reduction in effective resolution, and I'll talk about that more in the display section.

With the cameras, OnePlus has gone back to Sony sensors. The front-facing camera moves to 8MP, and the rear-facing goes to 16MP. Lenses stay at f/2.0 which I think is a smart move given some of the problems we've seen regarding sharpness and distortion on phones that have moved to even wider apertures. There's more to the camera story than what you see on paper, and I'll be covering that as well.

As for other changes, there's now only one version of the phone which is 6GB of RAM and 64GB of UFS 2.0 storage for $399. I almost never saw the 16GB OnePlus 2 for sale anyway, so this isn't really some sort of pricing upset. As for connectivity, you still have a USB 2.0 based Type-C connector and 802.11ac WiFi, but NFC has made a return which means the OnePlus 3 will be usable with Android Pay and other applications that make use of NFC.

Design

One of the big changes OnePlus has made with the OnePlus 3 is the industrial design. Nothing about the OnePlus One's design was really exceptional, but given that it was bringing many flagship specs to a phone that costed several hundred dollars less than flagship phones of the time it was entirely understandable. With the OnePlus 2 the average price of OnePlus's flagship phone went up, but OnePlus had made some changes to the external design. The phone gained a metal frame but retained its sandstone back cover. To be honest, I wasn't really a fan of the OnePlus 2's design. The metal frame didn't do much to improve how high quality the phone felt, and the back cover wasn't coarse enough to really have an impact on how grippy the chassis was. On top of that, the fact that the display layer of the phone had a plastic border that sat above the metal frame looked kind of cheap, and the increased thickness and mass actually represented regressions from the OnePlus One in some respects. 

With the OnePlus 3, OnePlus has moved to an aluminum unibody design. In doing so they've addressed pretty much all of my issues with the OnePlus 2. Starting with the back of the device, you no longer have the sandstone finish. I'm sure many people will disagree, but the OnePlus 2 back cover didn't help me with gripping the phone at all. The OnePlus 3 feels like a much higher quality device, particularly because there are no longer three distinct sections of the phone that all have seams and gaps between one another. The unibody design means the back cover is no longer removable, but as I said in my OnePlus 2 review I think the removable back cover on OnePlus devices was a complete waste anyway because it only served as a way to access the SIM slots, which could have been implemented as a tray on the side of the device. With the OnePlus 3 they've done exactly that, and so the removable back cover isn't needed.

The back cover sees some additional changes, with some being independent of the move to an aluminum chassis. There are now lines for the antennas on the top and bottom of the phone, and the top line connects to the square-shaped camera sitting beneath it, which reminds me of the HTC One M9. On the topic of the camera, there's no longer a separate island that the camera and flash sit upon, which I think is a big improvement on what I felt was one of the least appealing visual aspects of the previous OnePlus devices. The camera does stick out significantly more than it did on the OnePlus 2 which is just a consequence of the significant reduction in thickness, and OnePlus has actually decreased sensor size with this generation so the hump likely would have been even larger if they hadn't. The only other thing to note about the camera area is that there's now just a single LED flash and the camera uses PDAF, while the OnePlus 2 had a dual LED module and an IR module for the laser autofocus.

On the left side of the phone you have the volume rocker and the mute switch, while the right side has the sleep/wake button and the NanoSIM slots. I appreciate that OnePlus has kept their volume rocker on the left side of the phone, and I think the three stage mute switch is an underappreciated feature that more manufacturers should adopt. You can see above that the phone's edges only curve to a point, at which point you have a chamfered edge that meets the display glass. I like the appearance that this provides, but it does mean that you don't have the same smooth feeling when swiping near the edges of the display that you get on a device like the iPhone 6s Plus. 

The bottom of the phone is changed from the OnePlus 2. There are no longer any antenna lines since they wrap around the left and right sides of the phone, and there aren't holes drilled on both sides of the USB Type-C port which has allowed the 3.5mm audio jack to be brought to the bottom of the phone. One thing that bothers me is how the 3.5mm jack isn't centered like the rest of the ports and screws, which kind of ruins the visual uniformity. You can also see OnePlus's pre-applied screen protector in the image above. It doesn't quite cover the entire display from edge to edge, and I noticed that a great deal of dust was collecting around the edges so I ended up removing it. It's just your typical plastic screen protector rather than a glass one anyway, although the fact that OnePlus throws it in for free is a nice gesture.

The front of the phone is similar to the OnePlus 2, but it's clear how the overall shape of the phone has changed to become more curved, while the OnePlus 2 was similar to the Nexus 5 in how it had flat sides meeting curved ones at hard angles. I have to say that I prefer the appearance of the OnePlus 3 in this regard, but it may be seen as less unique than the OnePlus 2. As for what's on the front cover, you have the earpiece and front-facing camera on the top, with three capacitive keys on the bottom. The middle key is the home button, which also acts as a fingerprint scanner in the same manner as the OnePlus 2's home key. In my experience the sensor has been quite accurate and just as quick as anything else on the market, and having it on the front of the device provides a better experience than rear-mounted scanners.

OxygenOS provides many ways to customize the phone, so you also have the option to switch the order of the back and recent apps buttons, and if you want software keys OnePlus provides that as an option as well. I covered the major points of OxygenOS in my OnePlus 2 review, and I haven't seen any major changes to it so I'll just refer to that rather than going over the features a second time. The one thing that has changed is that the UI no longer feels unbearably slow and sluggish, and in the next section you'll see exactly why that is.

System Performance
POST A COMMENT

176 Comments

View All Comments

  • [-Stash-] - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    I'm currently running a Note 3, which has a 5.7" 1080p pentile AMOLED screen. I *can* see the subpixels, but it also doesn't bother me. I'd much rather take the better GPU performance/battery life improvements (although we don't appear to be getting this latter one with the OnePlus 3). For the price, I think this is an excellent trade off.

    I'm all for getting even 4k and 8k screens into phones, but not until the GPU and battery trade offs aren't there. And to be honest, until we're pretty much back to a week long battery life, I say stick to the 1080p screen! I'd also be much more interested in seeing Android move up to 120fps for general usage, as it would reduce the screen latency a bit too and make things feel so much better.

    The colour accuracy, or lack thereof, is a concern. The Dash Charger wouldn't bother me if there was still QuickCharge enabled (so you have choice) , but at this point, I think there's enough positives to give the phone a try and see if I can live with it. The price point is very keen and I can't afford to blow £500+ on a phone, so £309 for flagship performance and a decent (if not market leading) camera are enough for that price. Ideally I'd still also like microSD and a removable battery, but I think for this price, I'll settle ;)
    Reply
  • Sivar - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    4K or 8K on phones?
    Do you also profess that megapixel count is a good measure of camera quality, or that 96 KHz audio is better than 48KHz?
    Reply
  • Pissedoffyouth - Monday, June 20, 2016 - link

    I hope Andrei comes up with his SoC deep dives soon, been a while coming Reply
  • jospoortvliet - Monday, June 20, 2016 - link

    Absolutely and a great review it is... awesome work! Reply
  • deskjob - Monday, June 20, 2016 - link

    Excellent review! So basically, this is a HTC One M9 clone (aesthetics) with current flagship specs and a bad screen. I am somewhat sensitive to the green tint from pentile Amoleds (S6 was horribly green, S7 still a hint), so the screen on this alone is a dealbreaker. Good to know.

    Any news on the HTC 10 review?
    Reply
  • JoshHo - Monday, June 20, 2016 - link

    It will be arriving with the GS7 part 2 review. Reply
  • Roland00Address - Monday, June 20, 2016 - link

    Thank You,

    But also remember If You Give a Mouse a Cookie ;-)
    Reply
  • Meteor2 - Monday, June 20, 2016 - link

    A (timely) phone review! A (timely) phone review!

    I nearly crapped myself when I logged on.

    I'll go and read it now :-). Thank you very much!
    Reply
  • zeeBomb - Monday, June 20, 2016 - link

    Just want to mention:

    https://youtu.be/1fcIZctnRjE - fix for RAM issue

    It saddens me 1+ did this to a device that boasts having 6GB of RAM. Before tweaking the max app count is 20. 20!? Shameful! Y'all remember the OPX having issues of performance cuz they LIED of having a 801 snapdragon AB version, but really it was an AA? smh.

    If too lazeh;
    1) root, get build prop editor
    2) search for ro.sys.fw.bg_apps_limit=20 and change to a number no more than 60
    3) enjoy, spread the word!
    Reply
  • Vishalaestro - Monday, June 20, 2016 - link

    why don't you put the old HTC one m7 to the low light test with these phones, i still think their support for low noise levels even at a much higher ISO is a feature that many companies can't offer now. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now