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A Real Flagship Killer: OnePlus 3 Smartphone Review

Date: July 18, 2016
Author(s): Rob Williams

With its OnePlus 3, OnePlus has a lot to deliver on. Its first-ever flagship hit the ball out of the park, and the follow-up carried on the tradition – if we want to ignore the lack of NFC (which we don’t). Does the OnePlus 3 continue the company’s tradition of releasing great smartphones at their respective price-points? You bet it does.



Introduction, A Tour Of The Hardware

It feels like only yesterday we took the OnePlus 2 for a test drive, and here we are with the OnePlus 3, primed for the same in-depth evaluation.

Like the OnePlus 2 before it, the OnePlus 3 becomes OnePlus’ latest flagship. At its website, OnePlus (redundant, I know) lists both the OP2 and OP3 as current models, although I couldn’t imagine that the OP2 will remain there for long. The company also still sells the mainstream-focused OnePlus X, although it’s recently been moved inside a nestled menu, suggesting that it might not be there for much longer, either.

But enough about OP’s older phones: let’s tackle its latest hotness, the OnePlus 3:

OnePlus 3 Angled Shot

OnePlus isn’t tossing around the “Flagship Killer” message this time around, which could be because the one and only model costs $70 more than the previous one, to sit at $399. Even so, the title is apt: for its price, the OnePlus 3 packs in many great features and a lot of performance. Or, in other words, the OnePlus 3 has the goods to satiate your desire for a top-tier phone.

At the forefront of this performance is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, a quad-core model that features two cores clocked at 2.2GHz, and two clocked at 1.6GHz. The GPU has also been upgraded over the OnePlus 3, with this phone featuring the Adreno 530.

OnePlus 3
SoCQualcomm Snapdragon 820 4-core CPU (2×2.2GHz + 2×1.6GHz)
Adreno 530 GPU
Display5.5-inch 1080p (401ppi) AMOLED
Storage64GB
Memory6GB LPDDR4
WirelessSupports GSM, LTE, HSPA & CDMA EVDO
Supports Dual-band 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC
CameraFront: Sony IMX179 8 megapixel (1080p/30)
Rear: Sony IMX298 16 megapixel (4K/30)
Battery3000mAh Li-Polymer (Non-removable)
Weight158g
Dimensions74.7 x 152.7 x 7.35mm
Et ceteraAndroid 6.0.1
Support for 2 SIMs
Uses USB-C (2.0) connector (standard USB plugs into PC)

A notable feature the OnePlus 3 has that the OP2 doesn’t, is NFC. While it’s still baffling to me that the OP2 didn’t have NFC (especially when some lower-end phones do), there’s at least the upside that the company immediately corrected the omission with this follow-up.

But, if you’re planning to upgrade to the OP3 from OP2 and migrate settings, it won’t be through the ease of NFC.

It’s also notable that this phone becomes the first (that I know of) on the market with 6GB of memory, something that I imagine could only be useful (at this point in time) for virtual reality, if you’re wishing to view very high-resolution 360° images. For regular phone use, it seems very unlikely that many people would even exceed 2 or 3GB. But hey – it looks good on paper.

Like the OP2, the OP3 is able to record at 4K/30, although its sensor has been replaced with a higher-quality one. The screen is also similar, a 5.5-inch at 1080p, giving us a ppi of 401.

The OnePlus 3 is 17 grams lighter than its predecessor, as well as 2.5mm thinner – a major difference given we’re talking about sub-10mm to begin with. At the expense of that, the battery has dropped from 3,300mAh to 3,000mAh, but to help negate that downside is the Dash charger, which helps the OP3 charge much faster than the OP2 (as we’ll see later).

BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - Front Panel
The OnePlus 2 (Left) and OnePlus 3 (Right)
BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - Back
The OnePlus 2 (Left) and OnePlus 3 (Right)
OnePlus 3 - Camera
OnePlus 3 camera
BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - Top Exhaust Fans
The OnePlus 2 (Bottom) and OnePlus 3 (Top)
BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - Back Of PCIe Slots
The OnePlus 2 (Bottom) and OnePlus 3 (Top)
BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - BOXX Logo
OnePlus 3's (left side) notification toggle and volume button
BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - PSU & Back IO Panel
OnePlus 3's (right side) power buttom and SIM holder

With both phones in-hand, the OP3 is clearly thinner. Despite that, it doesn’t feel brittle or weak. With one of the company’s official cases, both widths are almost perfectly matched (at least, based on sight and feel). Because of the grittier back of the OP2, I feel like it’d be the “safer” phone to hold, but the OP3 feels better (even with the case).

One thing that really sets the OP3 apart from the OP2 is that the camera protrudes out of the back; it’s not (kind of) flush like it is on the OP2. To some, this might not be ideal, but it’s done in the attempt to provide improved image quality. It’s one sacrifice I’d personally make, because poor image quality from a camera drives me bonkers.

Another change – and this is noticeable – is that OnePlus moved the headphone jack from the top to the bottom. This is going to be a love-it-or-hate-it change, but with such a design, the power/data cable and your headphones would plug into the same side; it’s simply more elegant. I’d still prefer it at the top, but this is one of those decisions that simply can’t please everyone.

OnePlus even moved the position of the volume rocker; that’s now located on the left side. This is another change I don’t quite get, but lefties might appreciate it. Also on the left side of the OnePlus 3 is a notification button; while on the right side, there’s the power, and SIM holder.

The SIM holder on this phone is well-secured, requiring a pin to eject (OnePlus provides a tool in the box). Once your SIM card(s) are in place, you can slide the tray back in and they’ll remain safe until you decide to pop them out again.

BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - Back
OnePlus 3 Dash charger and USB-C cable
OnePlus 3 - Camera
OnePlus Dash car charger

OnePlus was super generous when it came to our sample, as it shot along all five of its cases for testing. All of them have the same smooth feel, but each one has a very different aesthetic. Most people I’ve talked to have said that the carbon fiber one is the most attractive, and I might have to agree as that’s the one I’ve been using. The gray wood-grain case is also pretty eye-catching, though.

Another accessory OnePlus sent along was its Dash car charger, which retails for $30. Like the Dash wall charger included with the phone, this car charger is designed to replenish the OP3’s battery-life quicker than any other out there.

On the topic of charging, OnePlus claims that its Dash charger can push a phone from 0% to 60% in 30 minutes flat, and I’ll spoil something right now: it’s true. That’s one of the reasons a ~10% loss on the battery capacity isn’t going to matter that much, because even a short fifteen minute charge will add substantial life to the phone.

Charging the OnePlus 3 is going to spoil you if you don’t have another that charges just as fast. For reference: the OnePlus 2 charged from 0% to 35% in 30 minutes, and 0% to 18% in 15 minutes.

A Tour Of The Software, Testing & Final Thoughts

One of the things OnePlus prides itself on is offering its customers as clean an OS as possible. While it does customize Android a wee bit, the effect is so modest that most who refuse to purchase an Android device that’s not as “clean” as possible should still be fine with it.

As with previous models, the OnePlus 3’s main differentiator over truly stock Android is that it has what’s called a “Shelf”, a screen that can be accessed when the homescreen is swiped to the left that tracks most-used apps, calendar events, and the weather.

Aside from the Shelf, I couldn’t spot a single app installed on the OnePlus 3 that wouldn’t be expected to be included with Android. Don’t even want the Shelf? Hold down on a free area on the desktop, hit Customize, and voilà, that’s taken care of in a few seconds.

BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - Front Panel
OnePlus Setup (Post-Android Setup)
BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - Top Exhaust Fans
OnePlus Setup - Navigation Control
BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - Back
OnePlus Setup - Gestures
BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - BOXX Logo
Customized Desktop On OnePlus 3
BOXX APEXX 4 Workstation PC - APEXX 4 Logo
OnePlus 3 Wi-Fi Test Using Speedtest

At first boot, Android itself will ask you to set up a Wi-Fi connection, log in, and so on and so forth, and following that, OnePlus’ own setup will kick in. This setup consists of just two pages, which allows you to set up gestures or opt to use software buttons in lieu of the hardware ones.

In the image carousel above, there are a couple of things to note. First is the shot of the memory usage, which shows that the phone has 5.6GB to use (and at that particular point in time, I sat around 1.4GB used). You can also see the default lock screen, which shows “Dash Charging” whenever you use the official Dash charger – just as a bit of added confidence that it is in fact charging as fast as possible.

Since I forgot to screenshot the default desktop, I included my customized one. By default, the OnePlus 3 doesn’t use the clock widget, but the layout otherwise is exact. Two icons will situate themselves at the bottom, surrounding the app dock button, while four more will be placed right above them.

There is not much else to say here. If you know what Android looks like, then this is it – all without bloat, both aesthetically and app-wise.

Testing The OnePlus 3

Since I still had the OnePlus 2 on hand, I decided to retest it fresh to compare to the latest and greatest OnePlus offers. To reiterate, the OnePlus 3 packs in a faster SoC, which includes a faster CPU and GPU, and it even has more memory, although I feel confident in the fact that that won’t matter much (or at all) with these benchmarks.

OnePlus 3OnePlus 2
PCMark Work Performance66024853
PCMark Storage Performance36034198
Geekbench 3 Single-core23571117
Geekbench 3 Multi-core55034905
AnTuTu Benchmark 6.1.414131781470
MobileXPRT Overall544312
3DMark Sling Shot ES 3.125501564
GFXBench Car Chase18 FPS10 FPS
GFXBench Manhattan 3.130 FPS15 FPS
All benchmarks: higher is better

As expected, the OnePlus 3 dominates across (most) of the benchmarks here. Wait a minute – “most”? That’s right. Interestingly, the OnePlus 2 actually scored higher than its successor in PCMark’s Storage test. Not by a great deal, mind you, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.

In all other benchmarks, the OP3 rules the roost, with its faster CPU and faster GPU shining through in these numbers. In the graphics tests, the OP3’s Adreno 530 proved 80% faster in GFXBench’s Car Chase test, and 63% faster in 3DMark.

The OP3 excels in the CPU-bound tests, too, completely obliterating the OP2 in MobileXPRT, with a performance delta unlike any I’ve ever seen in that particular test.

As for wireless performance, I didn’t think to test with LTE (I don’t have a 4-bar signal from home), but I did test Wi-Fi. In the image carousel above is this image. That’s right: the OnePlus 3 hit a ridiculous 250Mbps over Wi-Fi, something totally unexpected for phones anything lower than “top-end”. Through ES File Explorer, I was able to transfer files at 10MB/s, which again is much faster than any other phone of this price-range (and lower) I’ve ever used.

Performance isn’t all that matters: battery-life does, as well. As I mentioned a couple of times before, the OnePlus 3 includes a “Dash” charger, which is claimed to charge the phone so fast, that battery-life simply shouldn’t ever be an issue. The promise is that the phone can go from 0% to 60% in 30 minutes flat; in our tests, it managed to exceed that to hit 62%.

OnePlus 3OnePlus 2
15 Minutes30%18%
30 Minutes62%35%
60 Minutes97%60%
To Full Charge1h 10m2h 15m
Phones charged from 0%

In one hour flat, the OnePlus 3 charged from 0% to 97%, which to me, is downright incredible. Since I received this phone to test, I’ve used it day in and day out, and sometimes, before leaving the house, I’ll plug it in for just 15 minutes since it will add a substantial amount of battery-life while I go get ready.

The reason the last 3% of the charge took an additional 10 minutes is simply due to the design: there’s no point in the charger providing extra voltage to the phone straight through to the end, so the last bit charges far more modestly.

Final Thoughts

Having used the OnePlus 2 for about eight months prior to receiving the OnePlus 3, I noticed some immediate differences when moving over to the OP3 – most of them good. I still don’t like the fact that the headphone jack has been moved to the bottom, but from a design standpoint, that’s the only complaint I can muster (and it’s one that could easily be argued).

The feel of the OP3 is a lot different from the OP2. The OP2 feels like a tank in comparison, even though it weighs just 18 grams more. This is thanks to its design, which feels a bit “boxier”. In that way, that phone actually feels more durable, but that “problem” with the OP3 is lessened once a case is slapped on.

One thing to be aware of is that because of the OP3’s thin bezel at the bottom, those who grip the phone while gaming or watching videos might experience an issue where the palm brushes across the Back button and causes an unexpected action. This problem isn’t exclusive to the OP3 but can happen on any phone with a thin bezel. If you experience this issue too much, you could choose to use software navigation buttons instead, which would disable the bottom capacitive ones.

OnePlus 3 Smartphone

Overall, I consider the OnePlus 3 to be a superior phone over the OP2. What has really improved in this generation is the thumb print reader. As for its speed, I can’t think of another word but “instant”; the moment I touch the pad, the phone unlocks. The OnePlus 2 sold me on finger print readers, and now the OP3 has sold me on super-fast ones.

And then there’s the charging. Hot damn does the OnePlus 3 charge fast. From 0% to 60% in 30 minutes, and to 97% in an hour. Even if you’re in a situation where you have very little time, you should be able to get a few more hours’ charge by plugging it in while you do, well, virtually anything (showering, making food, running from wild boars – the usual stuff).

If you regularly run out of battery but are in your car often throughout the day, I’d highly encourage picking up the OnePlus Dash car charger – it’s a $30 product that could return its value very quickly. A mere 10 minute drive would add at least 20% to the phone’s battery.

So what about pictures? Over the course of my time with the phone, I took a number of shots, both inside and out (but mostly out). Since the OP2, OnePlus has updated its camera software to be a little more intuitive to use, so you can choose between flash and HDR settings very easily. As for the quality, it’s quite good:

Outdoors and in the daylight, this phone is going to have no problem taking great-looking shots. Inside, if the lighting is not ideal, you might have to fiddle a wee bit, but that’s to be expected. Also, I should note that while these shots were captured in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the phone can do 16:9 just fine (I didn’t clue in until after all of these shots were taken).

One thing that has noticeably improved with the OP3 is video recording; the quality is better, and its autofocus isn’t quite as aggressive with moving scenes. For one test, I recorded at 4K while moving 360° in 16 seconds, and at any point during the video, it could be paused and the image quality look almost as good as a photo. For videos where you are standing still, you should be very happy with the quality.

One last thing I’d like to touch on is the screen, which can go from dark to freaking bright. While outside taking the some of the shots seen above, I was very impressed by how well I could actually see the screen. This is another major improvement over the OnePlus 2.

Overall, it should be clear by now that I quite like the OnePlus 3, and consider it to be superior to the OnePlus 2 – which I had already had great opinions of. It’s a no-brainer to me: if you have $399 to spend on a phone right now, and don’t mind the caveats mentioned below, this is the phone to get.

Pros

Cons

OnePlus 3 Smartphone - Techgage Editor's Choice
OnePlus 3 Smartphone

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