OnePlus 5 review: The flagship-killer’s coming of age
When OnePlus launched its first phone back in 2014, it was clearly the plucky upstart, one that was trying to offer as powerful a phone as possible that almost anyone could afford. Many of its strategies – from marketing to launch and invites for sales – screamed that this was a small company without the usual corporate strings attached. It could afford to be bold and different.
Fast forward three years and the key fourth-generation OnePlus device, the OnePlus 5, has arrived. With its latest creation, OnePlus is still trying to give users as good a phone as possible, without charging equivalent flagship prices. And there really is a whole lot of good under the hood.
- OnePlus 5 is here, and it’s more powerful than ever
- OnePlus 5: Release date, hardware specs and everything else you need to know
However, with official carrier partners, growing international presence and a functioning supply chain, it’s more corporate than it used to be. It might not be the £200 flagship-killer anymore, but the OnePlus 5 still promises a lot for a price point that’s comfortably cheaper than the competition.
OnePlus 5 review: Design
- 154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25mm; 153 grams
- Slate Grey or Midnight Black
- Ceramic fingerprint sensor
In many ways, the OnePlus 5 looks like its predecessors – it looks like a slimmer, rounder OnePlus 3/3T – but it has a clear enough identity of its own.
Like its predecessor, it’s made from a solid block of aluminium that feels really well made and has a smooth finish. Compared to most other 5.5-inch devices, the OnePlus 5 is narrower, thanks to its slim bezels. It’s noticeably more compact than the iPhone 7 Plus, Google Pixel XL or Moto Z2 Play.
One of the more subtle changes, which makes the biggest difference in use, is on the OnePlus 5’s edges. On the previous 3T, there’s a corner (or dividing line) between the edges and the back which runs all the way around the phone. With the OnePlus 5, the company has shifted this so that it’s further up the edges, increasing the curves on the back. It’s called the Horizon Line and, combined with the 7.25mm thinness, means the phone feels even more comfortable in hand than before.
This does, of course, mean that there’s less space for buttons and switches. It’s no surprise, then, that the volume rocker, alert switch and power button on the right edge are slimmer than before.
Other important new features in the OnePlus 5 include a new camera design. The new dual camera is no longer placed in a large protrusion in the centre of the back panel like with earlier OnePlus models. Instead, it’s placed in the top left corner. It still protrudes, but nowhere near as much as before. That means the phone won’t rock around so much when placed flat on its back.
There’s also the new antenna band design. Like the Midnight Black OnePlus 3T, the OnePlus 5’s antenna bands are colour matched to make them harder to notice. They also now run around the insides of the corners to follow the edge more closely, instead of being right across the back. It makes for a cleaner design, similar to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
You’ll find the usual selection of ports and holes on the OnePlus 5’s bottom edge. That includes the Type-C port, a 3.5mm headphone jack – OnePlus hasn’t had the “courage” to remove that one yet, despite the slowly growing trend to do so – and five machined holes for the loudspeaker.
On the front, Corning Gorilla Glass 5 has been chosen to protect the display from bumps and scrapes, while the fingerprint sensor is now ceramic, for better durability.
Overall, the OnePlus 5 represents a more refined approach. By evolving the look and feel of its flagship device, while keeping all of what made the last model great, it’s even more likely to make a dent against the current flagship elite.
OnePlus 5 review: Display
- 5.5-inch AMOLED screen
- Full HD (1080 x 1920) resolution
- Gorilla Glass 5 protection
If there’s one thing we’ve wanted to see from the “flagship killer” for the past couple of years, it’s a Quad HD display. Sadly, the OnePlus 5 doesn’t feature one. Those wanting a more pixel dense experience are going to have to wait a little longer or choose something else.
That’s not to say a 1080p Full HD panel on a 5.5-inch phone is low quality. It isn’t. Indeed, this is a very good display. It’s AMOLED based, and is one of the more punchy panels we’ve seen of late. Blacks are pitch black, while colours are really vibrant and saturated in the default calibration.
Here’s where the screen really shines though, for those with very particular standards and requirements: the display can be changed to show sRGB or DCI-P3 colour standards, the latter being the wider colour gamut that Apple is using in its latest devices. If you want a more natural, less saturated appearance, such settings should suit you just fine. Or you can just adjust the colour temperature slider in the Screen Calibration menu to fine tune the white balance to your own preferences.
We’d still like OnePlus to dabble in a higher resolution panel, though. We could notice the difference between this and higher resolution panels. Text and curves aren’t exactly rough or jagged, but when viewing them up close, they’re clearly not quite as smooth and sharp as a QHD panel might be. Still, despite that, when holding at arm’s length, gaming, browsing and watching movies all look great on the OnePlus 5. But it’s how much the screen pops with life rather than resolution that makes it a pleasing experience.
OnePlus 5 review: Software
- OxygenOS on Android Nougat
- Reading mode
OnePlus’ OxygenOS is back and remains one of the more customisable and clean custom Android skins available. On the surface, it looks very much like the Google Pixel’s software, as the app drawer pulls up from the bottom of the screen.
There are also the quick actions which pop-up on compatible apps when you press-and-hold the app icon. The phone dialler lets you add a new contact, you can take a selfie, photo, video or launch Pro mode with the camera, or compose new messages with the Messaging app, among many other uses. Any of these quick actions can be dragged onto the screen as permanent shortcuts too.
Of course, being OxygenOS there are some differences compared to stock Android. The most apparent is the Shelf – a feature which lives to the left of the primary home screen – which acts an area where your most needed information and widgets live. Recent contacts and apps are placed in individual cards, as is the Manager Centre which tells you how much storage and battery you’re using. You can even add practically any widget that’s available in the system.
One really useful and battery-saving feature is Reading Mode. This changes the screen to display greyscale and sharpens text to make it feel more like an e-reader. You can activate it manually, or set it to apply to any of your specific reading apps when you open them.
There are gestures like flipping the phone on its face to mute an incoming phone call, or to take a screenshot by swiping the screen with three fingers. There’s also the usual selection of letters you can draw on the lock screen to launch a particular app, much like Huawei’s EMUI features: you can assign apps to open when you draw O, V, S, M or W, and double-tap the screen to wake it up.
In traditional OnePlus style you can choose whether or not you want onscreen navigation buttons, and which sides you want the back and recent apps buttons to be on. You can even assign shortcuts to each of the capacitive buttons depending on whether you long press or double-tap them.
One of the more useful features is App Locker, which adds an extra layer of security to the apps that contain personal information or communication. By activating it, you choose which apps you’d like to lock behind a fingerprint scan. That way, whenever you launch those specific apps, it asks you to rest your finger on the sensor, draw your pattern or input a PIN.
As is also customary for OxygenOS, you can change the look of the interface too. Choose between a few app icon styles, plus a system-wide dark or light theme. Once you’ve chosen a theme, you can choose an accent colour which appears on any toggle switches, and on some text.
None of the changes made to Android by OnePlus feel like obstacles. In fact, they seem beneficial and they’re not obtrusive. If you leave it as it is from the outset, there’s very little to distinguish it from a clean version of Google’s standard operating system.
There is one thing missing though: Google Assistant. As things stand, in our review unit, the search assistant is still the older version. You can still ask it almost anything, it just doesn’t display it in the Assistant’s chat-like interface.
OnePlus 5 review: Performance
- 2.45Ghz Snapdragon 835 chip
- 6GB or 8GB RAM (LPDDR4X)
- 64GB or 128GB storage
The Snapdragon 835 processor is the latest, and most powerful, currently available from Qualcomm. And it absolutely flies in the OnePlus 5. Regardless of what task you might throw at it, the phone takes it in its stride.
This isn’t all to do with processor, though. With a minimum of 6GB RAM, there’s plenty of memory to go around. And with it being a faster, more efficient kind of memory, things are that bit smoother and more responsive.
OnePlus also uses a software tool called App Priority which learns the apps you use most frequently and makes sure they’re always ready to go when you need them. Again, a bit like Huawei’s EMUI software in the P10 Plus. In daily use, we’ve found our most used apps load up very quickly on the OnePlus 5.
If there’s any minor criticism, it’s that sometimes the content moves and scrolls slower than your finger or thumb moves across the screen. It’s not hugely noticeable, though, unless you look for it closely and compare it to something like an iPhone. Otherwise the OnePlus 5 compares very well to other high-end Android phones – including pricier flagship devices.
OnePlus 5 review: Battery life
- 3,300mAh battery
- Dash Charge fast-charging
- USB Type-C port
On paper, the battery specs may not seem too impressive in the OnePlus 5. The 3,300mAh cell is less capacious than its predecessor’s, but we’ve been getting pretty much the same performance. That’s to say the OnePlus 5 will get to the end of a work day very easily.
In our testing, starting the day at 100 per cent battery at around 8am, we managed to get to nearly midnight with 40 per cent of the battery’s charge still remaining with light to moderate use. Heavy users should be able to get to the end of a day too, albeit with less remaining charge.
One of the OnePlus 5’s best features is that, regardless of how much you use the phone, you don’t have to wait ages for it to charge back up again. Even if the phone dies before your work day finishes (we’d call that super-heavy use), you can plug it in for 30 minutes and have enough juice to comfortably get you through the rest of the evening.
This is thanks to something the company calls Dash Charge. It works by amping up the current to deliver lots of power, quickly, and uses a thick cable to dissipate any heat. That means even if you’re using the phone to game, watch videos or navigate in your car, the battery continues to fill up quickly.
The company’s slogan “a day’s power in half an hour” is pretty much bang on. Starting at zero, you can easily get it to more than two thirds full after 30 minutes plugged into its charger. Or starting at 25 per cent, we checked it again after 30 minutes to find that it was over 80 per cent.
The last 10-15 per cent does take a little while longer, as is typical of current battery technology. Even so, you’re never going to be left waiting much longer than an hour to completely refill the OnePlus 5’s battery from empty.
OnePlus 5 review: Camera
- Dual camera (16MP f/1.7 and 20MP f/2.6)
- Depth effect in portrait mode
- 16MP front-facing camera
OnePlus has upped its camera game in the OnePlus 5. There’s now a dual camera system on the back made up of one 16-megapixel camera with f/1.7 aperture lens and one longer focal length 20-megapixel camera with f/2.6 aperture lens.
In a manner similar to the iPhone 7 Plus, the OnePlus’ cameras combine to form a depth effect in Portrait mode. This means keeping the subject in the foreground in focus, but adding lots of background blur via software, as applied from a depth map created by offsetting the data of both cameras. There’s also the option to switch to 2x zoom quickly at the press of a button.
For the most part, the depth effect function is as good as we anticipated: like most other depth effect cameras, the results can be hit and miss. Sometimes the camera does well at detecting the difference between the background and foreground, creating a nice bokeh effect. Other times, it confuses some of the subject with the background, and blurs the edges that you would ideally like to keep sharp.
One part that has us confused is the way in which the 2x zoom works. Sometimes when hitting the 2x button, the phone switched to the secondary 20MP f/2.6 camera. This resulted in an image that was sharper and had more detail, although there was always more visual noise in these shots (likely a combination of the smaller aperture, smaller pixels on the sensor and different processing being deployed).
Other times we noticed that the phone was still using the primary 16MP camera and, therefore, not using so-called optical zoom at all. In these instances, the images were no sharper than the regular pictures.
For most users, it’s going to be hard to notice this on the phone’s screen itself. We had a dig into the image properties to see what was going on, and experimented by covering lenses during shooting to see which camera was being used. Whether this is a designed feature, or the switch between the two cameras is not working correctly at present is unclear.
The long and short of it is that you can hit a handy 2x button on the screen to grab a zoomed in picture really quickly. To call it optical zoom is arguable, however, as the OnePlus 5 has two rather different cameras.
Even so, in general the OnePlus 5’s image quality is up there among the best of them. Colours and detail really shine, while the phone focuses really quickly and reliably. In fact, this fast autofocusing was easily one of the camera’s best features. In low lighting conditions, you’ll notice more image noise, especially in automatic mode, but the relatively fast aperture settings help keep results at a level that’s typical of a high-end smartphone.
We noticed a tendency for the camera to sometimes overexpose shots in a number of lighting conditions, however, by letting in too much light, and thus killing some detail. Thankfully there is a brightness slider near the focus ring on screen to help you adjust this. There is a new Pro mode which will let you adjust ISO, shutter speed, white balance, focus and gain, too.
Overall the OnePlus 5’s camera is impressive, it’s certainly more consistent than any previous OnePlus. In conditions where your subject is backlit, the OnePlus’ HDR system does a better job of highlighting the subject than an iPhone 7 Plus does. Other images in good lighting are comparable to the latest iPhone too.
It’s still a little way off competing with the Galaxy S8 though. All-round shots from that device appear more vivid, vibrant and seem more detailed to our eyes. The fact that we can compare the OnePlus 5 camera to a Samsung flagship at all shows the progress made by an ambitious smartphone maker.
It’s impossible to look at the OnePlus 5 and not see the price hike this year. Last year’s first flagship cost £309. Then the OnePlus 3T launched at £399. With the OnePlus 5 that’s up again, to £449 for the Slate Grey 6GB/64GB model. In the space of 12 months, OnePlus has increased the price of its best phone by £140 – which is just over 45 per cent.
With that said, when you compare the OnePlus 5 to what it’s competing with, it’s still very good value for money. The Midnight Black model with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage (as reviewed here) costs a little more again, at £499. But compare that to an iPhone 7 Plus or the Pixel XL with the same storage and you’re effectively saving £320 by comparison.
Besides, we can’t get solely hung up on the price difference. Sure, the OnePlus 5 is more expensive than the series has been in the past, but it’s a brilliant phone. It’s better than any OnePlus before it by quite a margin, too, thanks to great software, ultra-powerful loadout, a refined design and some great features.
It’s clear OnePlus is no longer the plucky upstart. It’s a proper, grown up company. And the OnePlus 5 is a fitting flagship: a sophisticated, grown-up flagship that’s still great value for money.
Alternatives to consider
Google Pixel XL
Spec the Google Pixel XL to the same storage option as the OnePlus 5 and you’ll have to pay considerably more for it. Still, those wanting a pure Android experience in excellent hardware will love this phone. What’s more, you’ll get upgraded to the latest and greatest versions of Android way before OnePlus manages to get its OxygenOS updated to the same version.
Read the full review: Google Pixel XL review: Android’s new heavyweight champion
iPhone 7 Plus
On the hardware front, there are so many comparisons between the iPhone and OnePlus 5. It has the same size and resolution screen, and it has a similar dual camera make-up. It’s even roughly the same thickness. Apart from the price difference, the main reason for considering the iPhone is the software. iOS is quite different to Android, and you’ll always be on the latest software.
Read the full review: Apple iPhone 7 Plus review: Big changes from the big iPhone
HTC surprised us all this year with the U11. It may have a bit of a gimmick feature thrown in, but it’s a very capable piece of hardware. The Liquid surface finish is really eye-catching, it has a bright, big screen and is powered by the same Snapdragon 835 processor as the OnePlus 5.
Read the full review: HTC U11 review: Flagship glory, with a gimmick squeezed in