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As smartphones go, the OnePlus devices have caused a bit of a storm over the past few years thanks to the Chinese manufacturer’s decision to supply devices via an invite system. The inevitable result being that the OnePlus One and OnePlus 2 were tricky to get hold of, despite attracting favorable reviews.
Lucky enough to own a OnePlus phone? Then you’ll know what I mean. While the system was established to avoid problems with manufacturing supply, it also made the OnePlus brand desirable — a rarity in the Android device marketplace.
This time around, things are different. With the reputation built, the OnePlus 3 has been given an open release, invite free. You can, quite simply, click a link on the Internet and buy one.
But would you want to?
What’s in the Box?
Packed in a thick cardboard box with a rubberized, velvety finish, the OnePlus 3 is a handy slab of electronics, packed alongside a USB Type-C cable and adaptor. Borderline phablet-sized, the OnePlus 3 is light and feels comfortable in the hand.
Beyond this, it’s a case of check the quick start guide, slide your Nano-SIM card in (or cards – the OnePlus 3 has dual SIM support) and start making some calls.
Of course, you’ll want to setup the device with your own Android account first, and thanks to the reinstated NFC (near-field communication, dropped from the OnePlus 2) which is situated in the rear camera, you’ll be able to easily copy your account details and sync data from your old device with the minimum of effort.
Expectations of the OnePlus 3
The OnePlus 3 follows the previous OnePlus, and imaginatively-titled OnePlus 2. Both devices revitalized the high-end Android market, putting a rocket up the sub-par devices from Sony and Samsung, prompting manufacturers to raise their game.
With the previously invitation-only purchasing system now opened up to all, anyone can have a OnePlus device — specifically the OnePlus 3.
Over the past year I’ve been fortunate enough to review a host of excellent (and not so good) Android handsets. The Huawei P8 was adequate, the Samsung Galaxy A7 phablet was impressive (if largely overlooked by consumers) and I liked the Sony Xperia Z5 so much that I bought my own!
So, expectations for the OnePlus 3 are universally high. There’s a good chance that this could be the best Android phone currently on the market — that’s certainly the implication from the hardware specification.
The OnePlus 3 Device Specs
With OnePlus’ customized Android experience OxygenOS (based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow) preinstalled, the 158-gram handset feels light in the hand and is easy to unlock thanks to the fingerprint sensor and associated recognition software. Physical dimensions are 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.4 mm, leaving ample room for the 5.5 inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, with 16 million colors and 1920x 1080 pixels, at 441 ppi, providing stunning high definition visuals. The display is constructed from hardwearing Corning Gorilla Glass 4.
Along with the usual mobile internet (GSM/HSPA/EVDO/LTE) and wireless connectivity (802.11 c/a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, and hotspot tethering), the OnePlus 3 has Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, and USB Type-C. The port can be used for adding a mouse or keyboard, as well as charging the phone. Quick charging is available for the non-removable Li-Ion 3000mAh battery.
Front and back cameras for stills and video are included, which we’ll look at in more detail below.
Audio features are standard, with the usual alert options and a noise cancelling microphone for good call quality.
Running the phone is a Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820 chipset, with a quad-core (2×2.15 GHz Kryo & 2×1.6 GHz Kryo) CPU and Adreno GPU. This relies on 6 GB LPDDR4 RAM and the OnePlus 3 has non-expandable 64 GB UFS (universal flash storage).
Dual SIM, No SD Expansion
You’ll have noticed that this is a dual-SIM handset, but unlike other devices, neither space on the tray is also suitable for a microSD card. Instead, you’re limited to the option of inserting two Nano-SIM cards. But what does this actually mean?
Having a dual-SIM phone is a little bit like having a dual nationality — you get the advantages of two networks (or nations), along with the downsides of each. While dual-SIM phones have been around for years — I recall a friend who was regularly travelling had a dual-SIM feature phone — they’ve been largely ignored by the big names in smartphone manufacturing.
With slots for two SIM cards, this means that the phone can hold two telephone numbers, two telephone identities. This includes making calls and sending text messages from either number. Perhaps, for example, you have a personal mobile and a work mobile; using a dual-SIM device, you can use the same device for both purposes, which can prove particularly useful (or problematic, depending on your viewpoint!)
Alternatively, you might use an additional SIM for roaming, perhaps buying one for use in another state, or even a country overseas.
App and Game Performance, Benchmarking
So how does the OnePlus 3 compare with other phones currently on the market? Antutu results were extremely encouraging, ranking the phone number 1 against other hard hitting, high-spec devices such as the LeEco Max2 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and even the iPhone 6S.
You can view the ranking and related details side-by-side above. This is a very encouraging result for anyone who isn’t aware of the OnePlus range’s performance, and pretty much confirmation of the OnePlus 3’s place as a successor to the previous devices.
But how does this translate into app and game use?
Well, things are fast enough, with games looking particularly impressive. You still get the warm handset with graphically intensive titles (RPGs and first person shooters are particularly problematic), but on the whole the graphics are smooth and immersive.
Similarly, streaming video with YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Instant Video (the services used in this review) is smooth and without jerkiness at the highest quality settings. Naturally, this will also depend on the speed of your internet connection. Video playback, meanwhile, doesn’t warm things up too much.
As with any mobile device, having the Facebook app installed is a battery nightmare, so avoid it. Most respected apps, however, respond perfectly well, and are noticeably faster than on some other “high end” phones.
Day to Day Life with the OnePlus 3
Thanks to the thumbnail scanner, you can quickly “get in” to the OnePlus 3, and the fast UI is another pro, enabling you to go about your mobile business with ease, whether you’re checking social networks, making notes, or playing games.
Our test device took a trip to the zoo (see below) and as my primary device that day, did a good job of snapping photos, a short video, and staying connected to the internet. Unfortunately, however, the battery struggled to last more than 8 hours with such use.
Compare this to the Meizu Pro 5 which I used the following day for a similar outing, and which retained 30% of its battery at the end of the excursion. Both were hot days.
Weighing this up with the benchmarking results above, it seems as though the OnePlus 3 isn’t a great choice as a camera phone.
Get Snapping: OnePlus 3 Camera Compared
The phone’s 16MP rear camera should, on paper, produce some good photos. But does the firmware live up to expectations? On our day out at the zoo (Colchester Zoo, just over 60 miles from London, England), I compared the camera with the output from my Nikon D5200 DSLR.
An unfair test, you think? Well, let’s find out.
The 16MP front camera has phase detection autofocus, LED flash, OIS (optical image stabilization) and an f/2.0 lens, with the usual auto flash option and a choice between HD and HDR (High Dynamic Range, particularly effective when the results are viewed on a suitable display, TV or monitor). Also included are time-lapse, slow motion and panorama modes, while the Manual mode lets you set the ISO, aperture, light source and focus for your stills.
For testing, however, standard “day out” photos were snapped.
These were the best comparison, snapped within a minute of each other, showing a pair of deer-like creatures feeding on grass next to a hill and in front of a pole. You’ll notice that the OnePlus 3 delivers fine results, although the color is not quite on a par with that of the DSLR. Different resolutions are in use, as well as a difference in lenses, resulting in the slight zoom of the OnePlus 3.
Meanwhile on the front of the phone is an 8MP camera, which produces excellent results for selfies, should you be so inclined. Video is available on both cameras, but the front camera doesn’t have the same set of options as the rear camera.
OnePlus 3 – A Good Phone with Limits
What do you expect when you spend $500 on a new smartphone? The ability to play games, run all of your favorite apps, browse the web at speed, and take great photos? Perhaps the hardware required to playback streaming video and music at good levels of quality, if not HD?
The OnePlus 3 does all of this. What’s more, the device is comfortable to hold and is a pleasure to use — always a bonus in this age of expensive-but-below-par smartphones. Photos are comparable with hardware from other, more widely-known manufacturers, and the dual SIM functionality proves useful for travelling.
In our experience with the review device, however, the battery is a problem. With no evidence of background updates, and no battery draining apps installed, I can only put this down to the phone’s attempts to connect to routers and mobile internet, and perhaps regular use of the camera (although the majority of the 35 photos were taken over a 15-minute period, so this seems unlikely).
All in all, a solid, impressive device let down by questions over the longevity of the battery life. But hey, fast charge to the rescue!