OnePlus 3 Review

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Introduction

A great act is tough to follow and sometimes delivering two great devices in a row requires that you take a completely different approach with the successor. Now on its third “flagship killer” (with the OnePlus X taking a different path), OnePlus has taken on the tough task to mature from a business standpoint, while still retaining that ambitious “never settle” attitude that brought it where it is today.

Only time will tell if that works out, but it’s beyond the point of this review anyway. What we are determined to find out here is whether the OnePlus 3 is worth your hard-earned cash.

On paper, the formula is right – match the specs of rivals and undercut their pricing. However, it is the approach towards the latter that has really changed this time around. Instead of going for an absurdly low price and being unable to sort out production, mandating stuff like the dreaded invite system, OnePlus has gone to reasonable levels this time and dropped the sales tricks.

Overall, the OnePlus 3 is best described as driven by pragmatic choices. There is nothing really unusual, bold or even remotely eccentric from a design standpoint – just a really elegant and thin metal unibody with very few things that may raise questions. The same goes for the specs. They have always been more than robust in OnePlus devices, but typically hand-picked and arranged for optimal performance, rather than just there for the sake of pure numbers.

 

Key features

    • 5.5″ Optic AMOLED display of 1080p resolution; 401ppi; Corning Gorilla Glass 4; Metal back
    • 64GB model with Snapdragon 820 chipset (2x Kryo at 2.15GHz and 2x Kryo at 1.6GHz cores); Adreno 530 GPU
    • 16MP f/2.0 main camera with OIS and phase detection autofocus, single LED flash; 2160p video at 30fps;
    • 8MP f/2.0 front-facing camera, 1080p video recording at 30fps
    • 4G LTE; Dual-SIM support; Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; Bluetooth 4.2; NFC; GPS, GLONASS and BDS; Fingerprint reader; USB Type-C connector
    • Oxygen OS, based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
    • 3,000mAh non-removable battery
    • Fast battery charging: 60% in 30 min (Dash Charge)

Main disadvantages

    • No microSD card slot

With a Snapdragon 820 SoC and Adreno 530 GPU, pushing pixels to an extremely power-efficient 1080p, 5.5-inch AMOLED panel, you don’t expect any performance bottlenecks. If anything the 6GB of RAM put it ahead of the pack and with a Sony-made 16MP OIS camera imaging department holds plenty of promise too.

 

All bases seem covered, but a modern smartphone, and particularly a flagship is more than a mechanical sum of its parts. Premium user experience goes beyond the things you can put on a specs sheet and we are yet to see if OnePlus managed to deliver it. Follow along on the next page, as we unbox the 3 and take a closer look at its exterior.

 

Display

The OnePlus 3 is equipped with a 5.5-inch screen, which still seems to be right in the sweet spot by current standards. The 1080p resolution has been among the most controversial aspects of said display and frankly the whole phone. This is actually a debate that we have had before on quite a few occasions, so we won’t go into the whole QHD vs FullHD debate yet again. What we’ll say, however, is that having a more power-friendly lower-res panel was definitely a conscious decision and like Carl Pei has said on several occasions, not one dictated by cost. Sure, the diamond pentile pixel arrangement probably wasn’t the best choice, but you really have to be nitpicking to go so far as to criticize it.

 

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The AMOLED panel in question comes courtesy of Samsung and is specifically made for the OnePlus 3, hence the Optic AMOLED moniker. Still, it looks just as gorgeous as any other Samsung Super AMOLED panel and unless you place it next to a QHD phone, the difference between the two is hardly noticeable.

Just to try and address the whole resolution issue in its entirety as best we can, yes, 1080p is a notable drawback when it comes to VR and that is truly ironic, considering the recent release of the OnePlus VR headset. However, the company has made it clear that from its standpoint, strapping a phone to your forehead is more of a gimmick than a viable approach to VR in its current form, and as such is not considered a priority.

Anyway, back to the Optic AMOLED panel. It offers a quite respectable 401ppi and at 433 nits at full blast, it is bright enough for most scenarios. As expected, blacks are deep and contrast is infinite.

Display test 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
OnePlus One 0.75 598 799
OnePlus Two 0.30 399 1334
OnePlus X 0.00 340
OnePlus 3 0.00 433
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (MediaTek) 0.42 403 953
Samsung Galaxy J5 (2016) 0.00 338
Samsung Galaxy J7 (2016) 0.00 353
Samsung Galaxy S7 0.00 391
Lenovo Vibe K4 Note 0.47 442 940
Oppo F1 Plus 0.00 351
ZUK Z1 by Lenovo 0.39 396 1021
Xiaomi Mi 4c 0.28 452 1609
Xiaomi Mi 5 0.51 628 1227
LG G4 0.43 532 1238
Sony Xperia Z3+ 0.68 789 1158
LeEco Le Max 2 0.30 426 1444
Samsung Galaxy S6 0.00 363
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 0.00 421
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 0.00 425

 

As for colors and accuracy, there are quite a few points to be made. Just like with resolution, the OnePlus 3 has already received quite a bit of criticism for not offering tuning to sRGB. This is yet another point Carl Pei had to weigh in on, by saying that sRGB is another thing OnePlus consciously decided not to gun for, due to its limited appeal to a broader user base. The company co-founder has also promised that the feature will be added as an option within the setting in a future OTA, but overall, the OnePlus 3 exhibits the same rich colors as we have grown used to seeing on AMOLED screens.

There is also a color tone slider present in the phone’s display settings. It actually changes the screen’s behavior quite a bit. In its default setting, the display is actually a bit dimmer with a maximum brightness of 404 nits and all the colors are a lot punchier. If, however, you are after a more color-accurate setting, pulling the slider all the way to the right produces the best results with an average deltaE of 6.0. This also brings the brightness up to the aforementioned 433 nits.

Update:

Now that Oxygen OS 3.2 is officially out, OnePlus has made good on its promise to bring an sRGB calibration mode to the OnePlus 3. The results are definitely not perfect, but are pretty close to what is achievable through software alone, without actually tuning on a per-panel basis. On our testing unit, toggling sRGB mode brought the average deltaE down to only 2.9. Even more impressively, the maximum deltaE is just 4.9, instead of 13.2. Another point worth making is that under sRGB mode, colors become a lot less vivid than usual, quite similar to the Basic AMOLED mode on most Samsung panels.

Connectivity

The OnePlus 3 is a Dual-SIM device, just like its predecessor. It takes two nano SIM cards, neither of which is a hybrid slot. As mentioned, a microSD is not an option.

There is LTE on board as well. It comes courtesy of Qualcomm’s current flagship chip, the Snapdragon 820, which means Cat.6 speeds of up to 300 Mbps downstream and a rich combination of HSPDA and LTE bands, making the OnePlus 3 a truly global device. Currently Wi-Fi Calling and VoLTE support are unconfirmed.

There’s a full set of a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi standards on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot and DLNA media sharing on supported TVs and PCs.

There is also Bluetooth 4.2 added to the mix, which is a small upgrade from the v4.1 in the OnePlus 2. Actually, the OnePlus 3 shares most of its communication capabilities with its predecessor with just minor upgrades like this.

Likewise, it also uses a USB Type-C port for charging, data and also USB host scenarios. Overall, USB Type-C is a safer choice now than it was last year, when the standard was still a rarity among devices. However, one thing that does already feel out of date is the USB 2.0 speed of the port. Still, it is not a massive drawback in most cases.

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Battery

The OnePlus 3 is equipped with a sealed-in 3,000mAh battery. This is a fair amount of juice, but again, there could have been a little extra to go around, if OnePlus had stuck to their original flat back design approach. However, then we wouldn’t have a device that is quite so thin and light.

The OnePlus 3 managed to clock in a respectable 66 hours of endurance rating. This actually falls in line pretty well with what we have seen from previous OnePlus phones – 61 hours total on the OnePlus 2 and exactly 66 hours on the original OnePlus One as well. This is an achievement, as the OnePlus 3 does have the smallest battery of the bunch.

It is great to see that the traditionally excellent call time has now become even better at almost 32 hours. Video playback has also received a major improvement. The weakest link seems to be browsing time.

As for charging, we already mentioned the excellent Dash charging technology that has become available via related Oppo and its industry-leading VOOC. OnePlus was also kind enough to include the necessary Dash adapter in the retail package. It is surprisingly compact and can pump out a whopping 4A / 5V, which adds up to 20W.

The technology also rules out drawbacks like overheating, which one could naturally expect at such a massive output. In fact, the Dash system is so efficient that it practically eliminated the need for overnight charging while we tested the device. 30 minutes on the socket consistently got us up to 60% from a dead phone.

The battery testing procedure is described in detail in case you’re interested in the nitty-gritties. You can also check out our complete battery test table, where you can see how all of the smartphones we’ve tested will compare under your own typical use.

Powerful Snapdragon 820 SoC and 6GB of RAM

Performance has always played a vital part of the signature OnePlus mix. The original “flagship” killer rose to popularity with the promise of high-end specs at a reasonable price tag and that core principle still holds true with the OnePlus 3.

However, there is one important note to be made here. Building an excellent hardware platform doesn’t necessarily mean putting in only the most powerful and consequently most expensive parts you can find. This might leave you with quite a lot of big numbers for marketing, but it doesn’t automatically make for a good device or good performance.

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There is a lot more to it and OnePlus has always been cautious of that fact. Hence, as with the physical aspects of the device, its specs are carefully arranged to be the most reasonable choice to meet OnePlus’ vision for a perfect device. The OnePlus 3 has already fallen victim to a lot of criticism for its 1080p panel, as well as seemingly excessive 6GB of RAM, but there is a good reason behind both, which we will mention in a bit. But most-importantly, they were conscious decisions made towards creating a phone to cater primarily to fans of the brand and its signature ideology.

Now, with that rant out of the way, we will start of by stating the undoubtedly subjective, but also undeniable fact that the OnePlus 3 is fast. In fact, we could even go as far as to say it offers the most fluent and snappy Android experience we have seen to date. A lot of this has to do with the powerful Snapdragon 820 SoC, which along with the Adreno 530 is often used to power high-end QHD mobile devices, while on the OnePlus 3, it is left with a lot of breathing room thanks to the FullHD resolution. Of course, software plays a major mart in the mix and OnePlus has definitely lived up to its great reputation in this area as well.

Contacts and telephony

Not much has changed in regard to the core set of apps within Oxygen OS since its last major update. Current OnePlus owners, as well as most stock Android fans will feel right at home.

The contacts manager features tabbed interface, which displays all contacts and the favorites. You can sync with multiple accounts including Google and Exchange. A button to add a new contact is constantly present in the bottom right corner – you can choose which account to sync the new addition with.

The phone app comes with a tabbed interface for speed dial, recent calls and all contacts. The dialer is invoked by taping on its dedicated key and supports smart dialing.

OnePlus has stuck to its typical design approach and like its sibling, the OnePlus 3 also has a single loudspeaker on the bottom. However, this time around it lacks a bit behind the OnePlus 2 and the original OnePlus in terms of loudness. It gets the job done and sounds fine, but we wouldn’t count on it at parties.

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overall score
Samsung Galaxy S7 66.5 62.1 66.2 Below Average
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 66.2 64.8 66.8 Below Average
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 65.8 66.0 66.5 Below Average
Oppo F1 Plus 66.3 66.2 65.9 Below Average
Samsung Galaxy J5 (2016) 66.0 64.3 70.1 Below Average
Sony Xperia Z3+ 66.7 66.6 67.7 Average
OnePlus X 65.9 66.3 70.7 Average
Sony Xperia Z3 69.7 66.6 67.2 Average
Samsung Galaxy J7 (2016) 64.5 71.0 68.9 Average
Samsung Galaxy S6 68.1 66.3 73.7 Good
Xiaomi Mi 5 66.9 67.2 74.0 Good
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 66.5 66.6 75.8 Good
ZUK Z1 68.7 66.6 75.7 Good
OnePlus 3 62.4 71.0 77.8 Good
Lenovo Vibe K4 Note 74.7 66.6 72.3 Good
Xiaomi Mi 4c 73.2 66.6 77.5 Good
OnePlus One 74.8 73.5 80.2 Excellent
OnePlus 2 75.7 73.5 80.7 Excellent

Messaging and text input

Messaging is pretty much as straightforward an affair as on every other droid out there. The generic Email app is being decommissioned in favor of the Gmail app. If you tap on its icon, it will tell you the Gmail app is the client that will handle all your emails from now on.

One of the Chrome’s strengths is its ability to seamlessly sync with the desktop version, using nothing but your Google account. This allows you to open an article on your PC and finish reading it on your mobile phone. It also syncs your bookmarks and favorite sites.

OnePlus has opted to use most of the Google app suite on the OnePlus 3, but there are a few exceptions, like the dedicated File app, Gallery and Music player. The usual organizing tools are present as well – there is the massively capable Google Calendar, a neat Calculator, and Clock (alarms, world clock, timer, stopwatch).

 

Powerful 16MP snapper

So, we have already established that the OnePlus 3 offers a series of well thought-out decisions concerning both design and hardware all ultimately culminating in a stylish and powerful device. And with an affordable price tag of EUR 399, one has to wonder where the experience will come short. The camera was naturally our first guess, but once we got to test it out it became obvious that almost no corners were cut in this respect either.

Sure, the OnePlus 3 might not be quite up to par with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7, but it is a solid snapper that performs consistently and reliably under all conditions and seldom requires more than a single try to capture the desired shot. It utilizes the Sony IMX298 sensor, which might not be the company’s cutting edge offer, but is still good enough to power some other excellent flagship camera experiences, like the one on the Xiaomi Mi5 and the Huawei Mate 8. The very same sensor is also found in the Oppo R9 and R9 Plus, the ZTE Nubia Z11 family as well as the Vivo Xplay 5 and the XPlay 5 Elite that we recently reviewed as well.

The 16MP camera has an 1.12µm pixel size and and aperture of f/2.0. It is also OIS-enabled and has a single LED flash at its disposal. As for the selfie snapper, it is nothing too fancy, but still offers a respectable 8MP resolution with an f/2.0 aperture.