OnePlus has a reputation for making high-performance phones — self-branded “flagship killers,” at abnormally low prices. Those prices have climbed with each new phone the company puts out, and the OnePlus 5 sits in the same price range as some “true” flagships like the LG G6.
That might not necessarily be a bad thing, though. The higher cost also means OnePlus was able to put better specs in the 5, and it’s starting to look less like a flagship killer … and more like a proper flagship.
The design of the OnePlus 5 has garnered a lot of attention for looking remarkably similar to another popular smartphone, but just because it’s not a particularly unique look, doesn’t mean it’s unattractive or poorly made. In fact, the 5 is extremely well built and feels great in the hand thanks to its slim 7mm profile.
The 5 is dual-SIM compatible, but unfortunately, there’s no microSD support. What’s worse is that there’s no water resistance either; especially with how many phones in even the low-end to midrange market these days are IP-rated to some extent, it’s frustrating to see such an important feature missing.
There’s also no curved screen or tall aspect ratio like on some of the more popular flagships of the year, but the 5.5” AMOLED display still looks plenty good. You’d be hard-pressed to notice that it’s only 1080p, and it’s able to get both bright enough for viewing in direct sunlight, and dim enough to read at night.
It should be said that a lot of users have complained about a “jelly effect” when scrolling on the OnePlus 5. Some further investigation revealed that this is probably due to OnePlus installing the display panel upside-down (a more common practice than you might think), but your experience may vary. Luckily, I’ve yet to run into the issue on my review unit.
My unit is the higher end of two versions of the OnePlus 5 available for purchase; the baseline model has 64 GB storage and 6 GB RAM, while the higher end version I’ve been testing has twice the storage and a whopping 8 GB RAM. Aside from storage and memory, both variants have the same specs, including a Snapdragon 835 chipset and Adreno 540 GPU.
My favorite part of using the OnePlus 5 has easily been the alert slider above the volume keys on the lefthand side of the frame. It’s been around since the OnePlus 2, but that doesn’t make it any less convenient. You’re able to quickly switch between Android’s three audio profiles, and even customize each profile to best suit your needs.
Speaking of customization, Oxygen OS on the OnePlus 5 is one of the most tweakable user interfaces I’ve come across. It’s based on Android 7.1.1, and out of the box you probably wouldn’t notice the difference, but jump into the settings and you’re able to adjust almost everything about the UI. You can change the system theme and accent color, enable shortcuts on the fingerprint sensor, switch between on-screen and capacitive navigation keys… The possibilities are nearly endless.
One of Oxygen OS’s signature features is the shelf to the left of the home screen. It’s a lot like the quick access panel on Action Launcher, and lets you store whatever widgets you’d like, as well as a persistent weather display.
There was a lot of hype built up around the 5’s new dual camera system leading up to and during its launch event. OnePlus admitted that its cameras have been subpar in the past, and acknowledged that camera performance plays a huge role in the perceived quality of a phone. Naturally, they wanted to get it right this time, and the OnePlus 5’s cameras do a better job than ever before.
The dual camera setup is almost identical to what you’d find on the iPhone 7 Plus; there’s a 16 MP primary sensor and a 20 MP secondary sensor that serves as a 1.6X telephoto lens (up to 2X lossless zoom with the help of digital cropping), giving you an effective 24-36mm f/1.7-2.6 array. The telephoto lens doesn’t perform as well as the wide angle in low light due to the slower aperture, but light intake aside they’re both capable of taking some great-looking photos. Like the iPhone, you can use both lenses together in Portrait Mode to create an artificial depth of field effect — though, like the iPhone, it’s not entirely convincing.
There’s no OIS on the OnePlus 5, but it at least employs the same EIS as the Google Pixel. If you’re shooting in 1080p, it does a great job at stabilizing videos, but that all kind of falls apart in 4K. It’s still not terrible, but you’ll at least want to apply some stabilization in post.
On the bright side, the front-facing camera is fantastic. It’s one of the sharpest selfie shooters I’ve used thanks to the 16 MP f/1.7 sensor (same specs as the primary sensor around back), making it perfect for vlogging, Snapchat, or whatever else the kids are doing with front-facing cameras these days.
At first, I was surprised by how quickly my OnePlus 5 was dying — especially given that my Galaxy S8 lasted significantly longer despite a heavier software load and a smaller battery. After a few software updates throughout the week, however, endurance significantly improved to the point that the OnePlus 5 actually gives me a full day’s battery life and beyond. Even better, if you’re in a hurry to re-up your battery, the Dash charger included in the box is the fastest charger I’ve ever used. An hour is all it takes for an 80% bump.
I think OnePlus can finally drop the “flagship killer” branding, and embrace that they’ve become a flagship-tier OEM. From software to cameras to battery life, using the OnePlus 5 feels shockingly similar to using a Galaxy S8, LG G6, HTC U11, or anything other flagship. In fact, it’s better in a lot of ways — I’m going crazy without the alarm slider on my next review unit.
The cameras don’t entirely live up to the expectations OnePlus set, and a true 2017 flagship feels incomplete without some level of water resistance. For better results in those fields, you can pick up an LG G6 for about the same price. Still, the 5 is an outstanding phone with one of the best software experiences around, and not to spoil my own future post, but … I might have returned my Galaxy S8 for the OnePlus 5. Check back soon for that.