Starting in 2014, OnePlus has released a flagship killer smartphone every single year. A smartphone that has flagship specs but without the premium flagship price. And every OnePlus device in the past has been very appealing. It’s hard not to take notice and take it into consideration any budget device, especially one with high-end specs. But they have had their compromises. Flash forward to 2016 and I’m happy to report that the OnePlus 3 is the most well-rounded OnePlus device yet. And it has very little compromises relative to the competition and relative to its predecessors. So let’s take a step back and take a look at what’s new.
The OnePlus 3 features a fresh, new design; one that consists of a uni-body aluminum build construction with apparent antenna lines that resemble the HTC 10. The metal feels great in the hand. It really helps give off a sense of quality when holidng the device in the hand. But if you plan on using this guy as a daily driver like most of you will, you’re going to want to apply a skin or a case; thus rendering the metal construction almost worthless.
There is a physical notification toggle on the upper left hand side of the device. all the way down is all the notifications, middle is priority, and top is silent. I think it would be pretty neat to be able to change the order of these actions in the settings but that’s currently not available. Another area of the build worth mentioning—there’s no microSD card slot for expandable storage. OnePlus assumes 64GB of built-in storage will be plenty enough for most people. I think it would be nice to have a dual SIM SD card slot in the next OnePlus device but I do agree that 64GB should be enough for most people.
Alright, so there’s a few things to note about the display. It’s a 5.5-inch display and it still features a 1080p resolution. But the display type is AMOLED and not LCD so black colors look extra inky, there’s a lot of contrast on this display. I have no major complaints about the display. It’s an excellent panel that gets nice and bright. There’s even an SRGB color option in the developer option in the latest update so if you want an accurate color display, it’s there for you and reportedly, it is one of the most color accurate displays on the market. Personally, that’s not my cup of tea. I do prefer overly saturated colors and contrast. Also worth mentioning, the bezels of the display here are very thin. One of the thinner display bezels I’ve seen on a smartphone lately.
The OnePlus 3 has had some controversy over RAM management. It features 6GB of RAM, which is much more than those smartphones. But it only features a 3,000 mAh battery. So in order to save that battery life, the performance is throttled or prioritized. After a few games and commonly used apps like YouTube and Chrome and Google Play Music are running in the background, the OnePlus 3 would then start to close background apps and restart them when reopened. I say would because in the latest update, RAM management has improved to allow you to open many more apps and many more graphic intensive games and revisit them without them restarting. So you can have more than 15 tabs open in Chrome, 3 applications and 3 games opened; which is far more than the average person would ever need running in the background. And the OnePlus 3 will be able to revisit those apps without closing or restarting them. It’s pretty incredible. It goes without saying the OnePlus 3 is powerful with 6GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 820 processor we found in all of the top of the line flagship smartphones from LG, Samsung and even HTC. Geekbench 3 spits out a single-core score of about 2400 and a multi-core score of about 5500.
The software experience is very pure and similar to stock Android Marshmallow. The launcher is not the Google Now launcher. It’s the OnePlus launcher. It features a separate home screen like Google Now but for your most recent apps and various contacts and widgets. You can even add notes here if you like. OnePlus calls them memos. I never found myself using it however, I preferred Google Now but every other area the phone resembles stock Android—the overview tray, notification tray, settings and the app drawer. OnePlus does include a bunch of customizable options not found in stock Android. For example, you could add on-screen navigation buttons if capacitive buttons are not your thing. You can even make it so that when you long press on the back button, it will open the last used app for example, or a double tap on the home button will open up the camera app. It’s pretty great, very useful. Dark mode is pretty awesome with the newly implemented AMOLED display, granted it’s beta and it might throttled its performance a little bit. Gestures can also be convenient. You can double tap to wake the screen, open the camera by drawing an O, toggle the flashlight by drawing, and draw two parallel lines to pause music or forward and back arrow to change tracks.
The OnePlus 3 features capacitive touch navigation buttons as I mentioned earlier and a capacitive home button with a fingerprint scanner. The fingerprint scanner, I’ve got to say, OnePlus did a great job here—it’s one of the fastest I’ve ever used; if not the fastest. I have to make a separate video testing out the speed of the sensor here.
So what else do you need to know about this smartphone? Well, there’s a 16MP rear-facing camera sensor with an f2.0 aperture and Optical Image Stabilization. It’s not quite as capable as the Galaxy S7 camera but it does compete very well. It’s just not quite up to par in the low light department. But sharpness, contrast, and dynamic range are very good. Color accuracy could be a little bit better but the exposure of the sky in outdoor shots for example is very well done. Once again, it’s not the absolute best of the best but they compete with the best surprisingly. Front-facing sensor is also very capable. It can capture a lot of detail. My only complaint is that I wish it were wider.
As for the battery life, in my testing, I was able to get around 3-4 hours of screen on-time. I would say the 3,000 mAh battery did surprise me. I thought I would get 2-3 hours to be honest, especially with 6GB of RAM. But it held its own pretty well. The speakers are located on the bottom of the phone next to the USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s not a terrible speaker. It’s fairly crisp but moderately loud but the location is poor. I’d like to see OnePlus integrate a front-facing speaker into the next OnePlus device.
So at the end of the day, the OnePlus 3 doesn’t feature all the bells and whistles of a traditional flagship smartphone in 2016. It doesn’t feature an IR blaster, a microSD card slot for expandable storage, a removable battery, an IP68 water-resistance, deck headphone amplifier, or a front-facing stereo speakers. But it does feature all of the core components that are the building blocks that makes a great smartphone. You could pay an extra $200-$400 for these bells and whistles or you could pay $400, which is about half the price of a new flagship smartphone from Samsung, LG, or HTC and still have an excellent smartphone that will last you a couple of years at least. Best of all, you can now buy the OnePlus 3 without an invite and it’ll work with GSM carriers here in the US. OnePlus is also selling some optional protective cases for the OnePlus 3 in a variety of materials—bamboo, carbon black, apricot, rosewood and sandstone.