OnePlus 3 Review – The Real 2016 Flagship Killer

IMG_20160622_122237

Last year’s slogan, this year’s phone. The OnePlus 3 bests its older sibling in just about every way possible. 

It’s faster, it’s sexier, it’s that “ugly” girl from high school that became a Victoria’s Secret swimsuit model. Nothing against the OnePlus 2, it was a good phone for a good price, it just did absolutely nothing for me. It was quickly replaced by the Moto X Pure edition. But what a difference a year makes. Just about every single facet of the previous generation has been improved, some more dramatically than others. The OnePlus 3 (OP3) is a beast of a phone, at an incredible price. Finding “reasonable” flaws with the OP3 is going to be tough.

SPEC RUNDOWN

ComponentSpec
COLORGraphite, Gold
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT152.7 x 74.7 x 7.4 mm (6.01 x 2.94 x 0.29 in) 158 g (5.57 oz)
OPERATING SYSTEMAndroid 6.0.1 (Marshmallow)
CPUQualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820
GPUAdreno 530
RAM6 GB LPDDR4
STORAGE64 GB (Non-expandable storage)
BATTERY3,000 mAh LiPo battery
CONNECTIVITY GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz UMTS: [+]850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz FDD LTE: [+]800 (band 20), 850 (band 5), 900 (band 8), 1800 (band 3), 2100 (band 1), 2600 (band 7) MHz TDD LTE: 2300 (band 40), 2500 (band 41), 2600 (band 38) MHz Wi-Fi: 802.11a/g/b/n/ac Bluetooth: Bluetooth Version 4.2 Positioning: Internal GPS antenna
PORTSPorts: Dash Charging: USB Type-C Audio: Jack 3.5mm Buttons: Power Button Volume Rockers Alert Slider Fingerprint Scanner Capacitive / On-screen buttons SIM: 2 slots - Nano SIM (DSDS) Indicators: 1 LED notification light (multicolored)
DISPLAYSize: 5.5 inch 1080p FHD (1920 x 1080) 401ppi Type: Super AMOLED
CAMERASRear: 16 Megapixel, OIS. Phase detection, f/2.0, Flash Front 8.0 Megapixel
AUDIOSpeakers: Bottom-facing speaker Microphones: Dual-microphone with noise cancellation

SIZE, BUILD QUALITY, & DESIGN

Size

If you are accustomed to the OnePlus One, OnePlus 2, or any other 5 ½” or larger devices,  then you will feel right at home with the OnePlus 3. OnePlus is apparently perfectly contempt keeping almost the exact same form factor from previous generations, and I can’t say that I blame them. 5½” is the sweet spot in my opinion. Of all of the smartphone sizes I have been through throughout the years, 5½” feels just about perfect.

The OnePlus 3 is the thinnest OnePlus flagship phone to date. It’s significantly thinner than the One and the 2 (the X wasn’t a flagship). But thinness always comes with some sacrifice. In our case, the OP3’s thinness cost us a bit of battery size, but we will get into whether or not that actually matters in a bit.

The OP3 isn’t heavy, but it is quite beastly if ya know what I mean. This son of a bitch is just about as solid as they come. Its size, thinness and weight distribution make it a please to hold and caress.

Build Quality & Design

I still find it hard to believe that a phone that looks and feels this badass, only costs $400 (free shipping and no tax mind you). OnePlus has legitimately upped the bar as far as what you should expect from the mid-range smartphone market. I say mid-range, but the OnePlus 3 doesn’t feel like a mid-range device at all. I’d say OnePlus has stepped up to the premium game. In terms of build quality and overall fit & finish, the OP3 feels equal to if not greater than the $700+ iPhones and Galaxy devices of the world. It’s seriously that fucking good. It’s a high-end device, with a mid-range price tag. You’d really have to be a real nitpicky asshole (the “I don’t believe in tipping” or “I take up two parking spaces in a crowded lot” type of asshole) to spot anything wrong with the build quality of the OnePlus 3.

IMG_20160622_122823

Design wise, OnePlus has decided to switch things up this year. For better or for worse, the OnePlus signature Sandstone textured backing material has given way to an all metal, solid aluminum unibody construction. But fear not Sandstone enthusiasts, luckily, the Sandstone textured material can still be had in the form of a case, and can be purchased directly from the OnePlus store. Aesthetically, the aluminum construction sets the OnePlus 3 apart from any OnePlus device before it. It looks as good as it functions. The power, volume, and alert slider buttons are also made from metal, further enhancing that premium feeling. The phone can get a little slippery, so if you are the brave “I don’t need no stinkin case” type, you had better be extra careful.

IMG_20160622_122442

The alert slider returns to the OnePlus 3

Resting on top of that aluminum unibody, you will find a solid slab of black Gorilla Glass4. The glass features that lovely, highly underrated, 2.5D curved effect that makes the entire front panel feel smooth as your mom’s lips silk. The front of the device is also where you can find the dramatically improved ceramic fingerprint sensor and very subtle capacitive buttons.

The left and right capacitive buttons of the OnePlus 3 consist of one small LED illuminated dot. It’s about as minimalistic as you can get. These buttons can be customized (you can swap the recent apps and back buttons) or turned off completely in favor of on-screen buttons. Whatever your preference, it’s always nice to have the option. I really wish more manufacturers would do this.

Some may say that the design of the actual phone is a bit uninspired and dull. It does look a whole hell of a lot like the HTC A9, and iPhone 6/6S after all. But I really don’t give a shit. I’ve never owned either phone, so the design still feels pretty fresh to me. You could argue the fact the design of the OnePlus One and 2 were both more original than the 3, and you could probably win that argument quite easily. But ultimately, design is completely subjective, you either like it or you don’t, and I like the design of the OnePlus 3.

IMG_20160622_122848

 The OP3’s sexy backside.

SOFTWARE AND PERFORMANCE

Performance

When it comes to performance, the OnePlus 3 absolutely kills it. The OnePlus 3 is probably one of the snappiest phones I have ever owned. The OP3 is powered by the latest and greatest processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 820. Pair that with a whopping 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM and the OP3 cruises at lightspeed. If you’re a normal human being, and you do normal human being things on your phone, then you are probably good to go. Bugs and poorly optimized apps aside, you’re not likely to slow down the OP3 under normal circumstances.

Benchmark_01

 The OP3 rips through synthetic benchmarks

If you actually give a shit about synthetic benchmarks (it actually affects your purchasing decision) then you’re in luck, because the OP3 rules the roost. Besting the likes of almost every high-end smartphone on the market. The lower resolution FHD screen probably gives the OP3 a leg up on the competition in synthetics, but hey, you can only play the hand you’re dealt.

Benchmark_02

 The OP3 is a graphical powerhouse.

The OnePlus 3 once again comes with 64GB of built-in storage. The OP3 does not support microSD, but it’s not a big deal in my book. I find 64GB to be just about perfect for my needs. I have never come close to filling up all 64GB on any of the phones I have owned, but that is most likely because I don’t typically own a device long enough to fill it up. But if you are a storage hog, you do have options. The OnePlus 3 supports USB-OTG (One the Go) by default with no tweaking needed. You just need to enable it in the USB settings menu. This allows you to use USB-C flash drives, such as this one, to transfer and move files to and from your OP3.

Fingerprint Sensor

Whether it be the powerful hardware in perfect harmony with the software, or just a fantastic fingerprint sensor, the fingerprint sensor on the OnePlus 3 is fucking incredible. It’s one of my favorite features of the OP3. OnePlus claims that the fingerprint sensor can read and wake up the device within 0.2 seconds of placing your finger on the sensor with the screen off, and they are spot on. It’s the fastest and most accurate sensor I have ever used. It’s almost shocking how fast it is. The sensor also doubles as a capacitive home button, which also functions flawlessly. It’s awesome, ’nuff said.

IMG_20160622_122657

 The OP3’s fingerprint scanner is among the best ever.

Software

The OnePlus 3 runs an in-house, custom version of Android called OxygenOS. It’s a grown-up version of the OS that shipped with the OnePlus 2 last year. The OS has had well over a year to mature and improve, and I am happy to report that the maturation process has done wonders for OxygenOS. I think that most of its growing pains are in the past. OxygenOS feels lean and mean. Though still not quite to the level of customization that Cyanogenmod provides, OnePlus does have a few very nice tricks up their sleeve.

OxygenOS_Options

 Here are a few of the various tweaks and options of OxygenOS

I view OxygenOS as stock Android with a few awesome features sprinkled in. All of the screen off gesture features from previous iterations are back and better than ever. I have seriously missed double-tap to wake, and ambient display (these should be staples of every Android phone IMO). Also, this is the first OnePlus phone I have owned where the flashlight hasn’t accidentally activated in my pocket. I’m glad I can finally keep this gesture activated because it certainly comes in handy from time to time.

Shelf_01

 I never found much use for Oxygen’s shelf, but that doesn’t mean you won’t.

I still haven’t found much use for Shelf, the OxygenOS swipe right from the home screen Google Now replacement. But I’ll keep trying to put it to good use. But if you prefer the stock Google launcher, luckily you can always download it from the Play Store. Want the best of both worlds? Here is a tip. If you are running stock OxygenOS as your launcher, just swipe up anywhere on your home screen to access Google search and your cards.

Themes_Screen

 OxygenOS allows you to lightly customize your theme.

OxygenOS will also allow you to customize your interface theme by changing colors from an all white layout to a black layout. You can also customize your accent colors, the colors of the text and icons in the UI. The customization options aren’t nearly as robust as Cyanogenmod, but it’s definitely nice to have the option of a light or dark theme.

DISPLAY

IMG_20160622_122712

 The OP3’s display is as smooth as butta baby.

There is always something people harp on when any new phone releases. The battery is too small, not enough RAM, no NFC, etc. In the case of the OnePlus 3, it’s the display. The OP3, like its predecessors, once again sports a 5½” FHD (1920 x 1080) display, but this time it’s an AMOLED display. Which is a solid overall improvement when compared to displays of the past (I was not a fan of the OP2 display). FHD is still more than adequate when it comes to sharpness and clarity.

The display almost edge to edge, the bezels are very thin. The OP3 sports a 73.1% screen-to-body ratio which ranks pretty damn high vs other current flagships. The screen-to-body ratio in combination with its thin frame makes the OP3 feel quite small for 5½” device. It feels great in the hand, and one handed use shouldn’t be a problem for folks that have experience with larger (5″+) smartphones.

There are some that may bitch about the display being “only FHD” and your concerns would be justified if you are really, really into Android VR games and experiences. In that case, a resolution bump would help a ton in VR applications. But honestly, if you’re that into VR, you should drop everything (save up some cash if need be) and pick up a Vive right now (review coming soon). But for everyone else, you’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference in normal day-to-day tasks. My daily driver before the OP3 was the Nexus 6P (QHD display) and other than DPI scaling (text, icons, etc. look smaller on the 6P) I didn’t notice a reduction in quality. They both look very sharp.

You’ll probably read about the OP3’s display color inaccuracies on other review sites. You can read all about their fancy-schmancy scientific tests measuring contrast, color temperature, and Delta E (real sciency shit). Benchmarks have their place in life, but they don’t always dictate real world performance. So at the end of the day, all you really want to know is if the display is any good? Is your average, everyday consumer going to notice anything wrong, or offputting? I would have to say no. The display is punchy and vibrant. It does tend to lean towards the blue side of the spectrum (OnePlus is working on an update if that bothers you) but as a whole, I think it looks pretty damn good. I think that the vast majority of consumers will be pleased.

AMOLED has never been all that great when using the phone outdoors in bright conditions. LCD displays usually fare much better when it comes to outdoor visibility. The OnePlus 3 isn’t bad in this regard, but in direct sunlight, you may struggle to see the display if you don’t have adaptive display turned on (which is kinda slow), or the display isn’t at max brightness.

CAMERA

I’m a pretty big fan of the OnePlus 3’s camera. It’s got quite a bit going for it. It’s incredibly fast and it’s capable of some great photos and videos. How fast you ask? With the screen off, you can open the camera (double click the power button or circle gesture) and snap a photo within 2-3 seconds. In other words, it’s fast enough.

In well-lit conditions, picture quality has been outstanding. I’m not typically one for over analyzing picture quality, I use my phone camera to take quick, spur of the moment pictures. So it just needs to work. If the camera can snap a good photo, quickly, I’m a happy camper. The OnePlus 3 delivers in that regard. In low-light conditions, the camera doesn’t perform quite as well as it does in ideal conditions, but photos still turn out pretty damn decent.

Photo

As I touched on before, the OP3 is capable of some pretty outstanding photos, especially under daylight. The camera features a burst fire mode (up to 20 photos), timer, panorama mode, time-lapse, manual mode, RAW support, and HDR. Most of which is pretty standard fare for today’s higher-end smartphones.

The OP3 camera also sports Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS). This combination usually provides some pretty decent camera stability and crisp photos, but there are still the occasional blurry photos. Focus isn’t quite as fast as the competition. It doesn’t quite match the overall speed of the camera as a whole, but it should be good enough for most of us amateur photographers.

Take a look at some of the photo samples below. Click a photo to view full size uncropped. All of the photos taken in this section used auto/default settings with HDR enabled.

IMG_20160630_163200

IMG_20160630_161137

IMG_20160630_161108

IMG_20160630_160829

IMG_20160630_160526

IMG_20160630_160403

IMG_20160630_160309

IMG_20160630_160203

IMG_20160621_192155

IMG_20160621_192133

Video

Though still very usable and capable of producing some good looking video, I’ve had a semi-mixed experience with the video recorder on the OP3. The big issue being focus. I had a few times where the video camera refused to focus on anything while I was walking and recording. I had to stop walking to get the camera to focus. It was a very sunny day, and there was quite a bit of contrast between the shadow areas and bright spots. The focus was really the only issue I had with the video camera as a whole. For the most part, videos were smooth (thanks to OIS) and look pretty damn acceptable for the most part. Luckily, whatever problems I’ve experienced can probably be fixed via software update. Have a look at the video samples below.

Sample video testing the OP3’s OIS technology

OP3 4K video sample

Interface & Controls

Camrea_Interface

 The OP3 camera interface

The camera interface and controls are very straightforward and simple. It sports a no-frills look and feel, but that is not a bad thing, in my opinion, it makes the camera easier to use. As I mentioned before, with the screen off you can open the camera via circle gesture or double press of the power button.

The camera app also features gesture controls. From within the camera app, you can swipe right (or use the menu button on the top left) to access the camera mode menu. You may also swipe up or down on the screen to quickly switch back and forth between photo to video mode. Everything else is pretty typical among today’s smartphone cameras.

CALL QUALITY & SPEAKER

Call Quality and Network

If you still use your smartphone to make calls to other human beings, I’m pleased to report that OnePlus has included this feature in the OP3. I have found call quality on T-Mobile’s network to be mostly outstanding, especially when calling other T-Mobile customers. The OnePlus 3 supports T-Mobile’s HD voice calling service (both phones must support this feature to work) which dramatically improves call clarity. I have gotten quite spoiled using this feature for the past year and I am glad that it isn’t something I have to sacrifice.

The top speaker grille is a bit smaller than I am accustomed too (coming from a Nexus 6P), but it’s just something I going to have to get used too. Calls come in clearly and folks I talk to have no problems hearing me either through the speaker or directly via the headset.

The OP3 supports the full gamut of T-Mobile LTE bands, including band 12. It’s signal strength and connectivity have been on par with the Nexus 6P, which has always been excellent.

Speaker

The OnePlus 3 features a single bottom facing speaker. It’s no Bluetooth speaker replacement, the sound quality and volume are nothing to write home about, but it will probably get the job done for most. It’s not bad, but its a far cry from the BoomSound and dual-speaker devices of the world. It’s loud enough for navigation and speakerphone calls, but it’s not going to provide you with room-filling sound. Even a cheap Bluetooth speaker would be a good alternative. If speaker quality is of the utmost importance, you could obviously do a lot better.

BATTERY LIFE & CHARGING

Battery Life

The OnePlus 3 features a non-removable 3,000 mAh battery and has no problem getting me through an average day, usually with some battery to spare. Under normal, mixed usage, you can probably expect the OnePlus 3 to need a charge every 24 hours or so. If you’re a heavy gamer, YouTuber, or RedTube smartphone abuser, you might need to charge up nightly. You could probably improve these figures some by turning down the screen brightness, switching to a black theme, or turning off location, Bluetooth, etc. when not in use. Battery life is not class leading, but it is good, it’s not disappointing by any means. I’ve found the battery to be better over the long haul, every now and again sporadic usage, versus really heavy hardcore usage.

Battery_Life_01

 The OnePlus 3’s battery is a distance runner, not a sprinter

Battery_Life_02

 Considering the 36-hour time span, this is very acceptable.

Considering the entire package and what you’re getting for $400, I think the battery life is more than acceptable. But if you tend to beat up your battery daily, luckily the OnePlus 3’s new Dash charger has your back. The Dash charger is so damned fast, it actually makes battery life less of a daily concern.

Charging

The OnePlus 3 is easily one of the fastest charging phones I have ever had the pleasure of using. OnePlus has developed their own proprietary charging system for the OP3. It is basically VOOC charging technology leased from Oppo, but customized and re-branded exclusively for the OnePlus 3.

The good. It works really well and charges the OP3 extremely fast and efficiently and its included with the device. The bad. It’s proprietary, meaning you will need to use a compatible OnePlus Dash charger (sold exclusively via OnePlus) in order to achieve anything near its maximum charge rate. There is no Quick Charge 2.0/3.0 support. Other aftermarket chargers will charge at a much slower rate.

Charge_Rate_01

 The OP3 is one of the fastest charging devices currently available.

OnePlus claims that you can charge the phone from 0% to 60% in just half an hour. I can pretty much confirm that number is just about spot on. A half hour charge can easily net you a half days usage or more, but your distance may vary. It’s so damn fast that overnight charging isn’t much of a concern anymore. If you can find 30-45 minutes after you wake up, or on your way into work via the Dash car charger, you will probably be set for the day. Here is a quick example starting from 19% battery. Within 20 minutes I was at 60%, 35 minutes 85%, 60 minutes 98%.

IMG_20160622_123014

 Luckily, the OP3’s Dash Charger is included with the phone

CONCLUSION

IMG_20160622_122005

So there you have it, folks. After a lackluster sequel, OnePlus has come back with a big bang. The OnePlus 3 is easily the companies best phone since the OnePlus One. The OnePlus 3 is actually the “2016 Flagship Killer” the OnePlus 2 was supposed to be. It’s better than its $400 price tag suggests. The OnePlus 3 has replaced the mighty Nexus 6P as my daily driver, and will probably be my DD for the foreseeable future (at least until the next Nexus phone is released).

Is it perfect? Hell no. Is it lacking a few features found on phones nearly double the price? Absolutely. I would love to have IP68 water/dust resistance, and expandable storage. But these are trade-offs I am completely fine with. Personally, I don’t really need either. For $400, you’re probably not going to find a better phone. You certainly won’t find a better value.

  • dwp4you

    Great review! An ACTUAL review and NOT some ONEPLUS BASHING shite that is out there written (I am sure) by Apple and Samsung lovers or persons that have be bought off by the BIGGER manufacturers out there!!!