- High-quality build
- Very good heat handling
- Excellent value
- Solid camera
- Inconsistent battery life doesn’t impress day-to-day
- Innaccurate display colours
- 5.5-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen
- 6GB dual-channel DDR4 RAM
- 64GB storage
- Android 6.0.1
- Snadragon 820 CPU
- Manufacturer: OnePlus
ONEPLUS 3 REVIEW UPDATE: NEW SOFTWARE AND A NEW COLOUR, BUT AT A HIGHER PRICE
Update 05/08/16: The best budget phone of year has seen a few updates since it’s introduction, and a new much pricier rival in the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. The first thing I should address is the price-rise, as the OnePlus now costs £329/$493 in the UK as opposed to £309/$463. You can thank Brexit for that. It’s still a bargain though, especially for what you get in return.
On to better news and OnePlus has been snappy in sending out updates to its flagship, the latest of which addresses some minor issues people had. OxygenOS version 3.2.1 tweaks the RAM management to take full advantage of that 6GB, keeping apps in memory longer and reducing the amount of reloads you have to do. I didn’t really have much issues with this previous, but it’s clear the update has made a positive difference.
An sRGB colour mode has been added too, for those who found the default view a little overcooked. To access this you need to enable developer options and then flick the sRBG toggle. Personally, I would rather have that extra oomph and colour it had originally but it does look much more accurate with this new mode switched on. It’s all down to personal preference though.
Finally, OnePlus has started shipping a new colour. It’s gold on the back, with a white front, and it looks good. It’s not as gaudy as other gold phones, and the white front is a nice contrast. I was disappointed OnePlus only had one colour option to begin with, so it’s nice to see another added so quickly after launch.
WHAT IS THE ONEPLUS 3?
Original Review: After two near misses, the third iteration of OnePlus’ grand experiment to show that great phones shouldn’t cost over £500/$750 hits the mark. The OnePlus 3 is a marvel – a stunning phone in almost every way that takes the game to the Samsung Galaxy S7, HTC 10 and even the iPhone 6S.
Previous OnePlus devices compromised, but the OnePlus 3 doesn’t. It has a lovely design, fast-charging, NFC for mobile payments and you don’t need a silly invite to actually buy one.
If you want an Android phone off-contract, this might just be the perfect choice.
Each OnePlus phone to date has offered a marked improvement on what has gone before. The original OnePlus One was an all-plastic affair, with a somewhat strange “sandstone” finish. The OnePlus 2 enhanced the body with metal sides, but retained the plastic rear.
The OnePlus 3 offers an upgrade once again, this time by way of a metal and glass design. It’s available in “Graphite” – a muted grey – and its 7.4mm-thick aluminium frame makes this handset a delight to both look at and hold.
A 5.5-inch phone may still not be for everyone, but the OnePlus 3 is among the more manageable phones with such a screen size. The finish is excellent too: the aluminium rear is anodised sports the same type of non-shiny look you’ll find on an iPhone.
I’ve always been a fan of the quirky, instantly recognisable design of the previous OnePlus phones, but have met plenty of folk who weren’t. Those people will be happy to discover that the OnePlus 3 has a far more conventional appearance.
The OnePlus 3 is plainer and prettier than its predecessors, but its quirks remain; they’ve just been relocated. It’s possible to buy super-skinny rear covers with the classic OnePlus sandstone finish, a few different wood finishes or one with a carbon-fibre look. These aren’t ultra-rugged cases, but will protect the aluminium frame from scratches, without adding bulk to the phone.
As is the case with an iPhone, it almost seems a shame to cover up the OnePlus 3’s bare metal. The OnePlus 3 is similar to HTC’s One-series phones but slimmer and no less attractive.
Like the OnePlus 2, this phone has no memory card slot. This time round, however, it isn’t a ploy to make the expensive versions of the phone more attractive. The OnePlus 2 model was available in 16GB and 64GB versions; there’s only one OnePlus 3 and it has 64GB of storage.
For some context, the 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge costs £639/$958 SIM-free, and the iPhone 6S Plus will set you back £699/$1,048. The OnePlus 3 is half the price of these phones and, as we’ll see, the hardware is directly comparable in several areas.
The OnePlus range is also more accessible than ever before. The OnePlus 3 can simply be ordered online at the OnePlus website – stock allowing – where in the past you had to wait for an invite to buy. In addition, unlike the OnePlus 2, the OnePlus 3 features NFC technology.
This was omitted from the spec in the past, seen as not important enough to warrant the additional cost. However, with the launch of Android Pay, OnePlus has relented. And the move doesn’t appear to have significantly impacted the price.
The OnePlus 3 also has a great fingerprint scanner, which is located in the same position as it is on the OnePlus 2. It’s a non-clicky pad that sits below the screen.
It works whether or not the display is on, and is super-fast. It’s possible to use it as a “Home” soft key, either on-screen or via the physical ones below the screen. The hardware back and “apps” soft keys are marked with tiny white LED dots, rather than full-on icons. This is because you can flip them around too.
A bargain price has always been the main draw of OnePlus handsets, but there’s plenty of customisation on offer as well.
The first two OnePlus phones featured LCD screens. OnePlus had a crack at an OLED phone with the OnePlus X, and the OnePlus 3 continues that here with a Super AMOLED Samsung screen.
I had a few minor issues with the OnePlus X display, which mostly concerned brightness management, but these issues have been fixed with the OnePlus 3. It’s 5.5 inches across and has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, resulting in pixel density of 401ppi.
Sharpness is excellent and the black level is perfect. Like other recent Super AMOLED screens, viewing angles are superb, with far less a reduction in brightness if viewing off-angle than the OnePlus 2’s LCD panel.
However, my love for the OnePlus 3’s display wasn’t instant. I came to using the OnePlus 3 from the Samsung Galaxy S7, which has one of the best phone screens in the world. By comparison, the OnePlus 3’s colours are overcooked.
As a result, colours on the screen appear less natural than a display that’s been carefully calibrated to the sRGB standard. This also makes the amazing native contrast of the Super AMOLED panel a little less evident for much of the time.
The OnePlus 3’s approach follows current trends, however. All other flagships have deliberately oversatured colour fresh out of the box, because it’s what people respond to. Even Apple has started to aim for standards other than the classic sRGB, with the iPad Pro 9.7’s display aiming for the DCI-P3 cinema standard instead.
Despite all the additional customisation that the OnePlus 3 offers elsewhere, it isn’t possible to mute the colours as you can on the top Samsung handsets. There is, however, a colour temperature slider that alters the white balance a little, making it warmer or cooler.
This is a decent screen, with caveats that some people might not care about. The colour is deliberate, after all, part of what OnePlus calls “Optic” AMOLED, which describes OnePlus’ tweaking of Super AMOLED.
Outdoors visibility could also benefit from some improvement. It’s fine, but Samsung’s phones do better since they over-drive their OLED panels more aggressively, and dynamically alter colour and contrast to suit tougher conditions.
The OnePlus 3 runs Android 6.0.1 with its OxygenOS interface layered on top.
While plenty has changed in hardware since the OnePlus 2, the software remains largely the same. Its look is that of pure Android, but OxygenOS digs its tendrils deep into it, adding elements of customisation that standard Android no longer has. Or never had.
These include the “Dark” mode, which turns the apps page and Settings menu black rather than white. Then there’s the choice of hardware or software soft keys I mentioned earlier. You can also make the soft keys work harder, by adding extra gestures such as making a long-press on the Back button fire up the camera.
What’s important about all these minor performance-enhancing tweaks is that they’re not in your face. On the surface, the software appears much like Android Marshmallow, offering a more accessible feel than the CyanogenMod interface of the first OnePlus phone. You have to dig around in the Settings menu to discover all the extra goodies.
The one part of the OnePlus 3’s interface that’s quite obviously different is Shelf. This is an extra homescreen: simply flick to the right from the default homescreen and you’re there.
When you start using the phone, Shelf is simply home to your five most-used apps and a quick memo function. However, you can add the weather, a bunch of your most-used contacts and any Android widget of your choice.
Personally, I didn’t use Shelf. Although it doesn’t offer anything I need, it does at least seem less useless than it did last year. There will be plenty of folk who may call upon it to check the weather and compile a quick to-do list each morning. Either way, it’s optional: you’ll be asked whether you want it at initial setup (granted, that’s before you really know what it is).
So with regards to the OnePlus 3’s software, there’s nothing terribly exciting or new – but that’s a good thing if the likely alternative is something new that doesn’t quite work.
As ever, the core hardware featured in the OnePlus 3 is fairly aggressive. It runs on a a Snapdragon 820 CPU, which is the same used in the more expensive HTC 10 and LG G5.
It may sound similar to the Snapdragon 810, but it’s actually quite different: this isn’t an octa-core CPU, but a quad-core one.
There are two performance cores, and two lower-clocked ones. Both use the Kyro core 14nm architecture, which is radically more efficient than the older Cortex-A57 cores used in the Snapdragon 810.
Performance benchmarks may not entirely blow you away, however. It scores 5,393 in Geekbench 3, which is a solid but not mind-blowing increase over the 4,460 achieved by the OnePlus 2. However, its heat handling under load is remarkable for a metal handset that’s less than 8mm thick.
The OnePlus 3 barely gets warm under pressure. A couple of races in Asphalt 8 and 30 minutes of Real Racing 3 – both reasonably demanding games – see the phone’s rear become only slightly warm, and I haven’t noticed the handset getting warm while out shooting photos either.
You’re likely to notice a slight warming only if you don’t use a case, since it’s only the process of charging the device that heats it up substantially. It seems the era of slightly dodgy Snapdragon flagship CPUs is over. Phew.
This is also the first phone I’ve used with 6GB RAM. This would be enough to make Windows 10 run well, and Android is already a much less RAM-hungry OS.
Whether such an inclusion is overkill is a moot point since the phone is cheaper than many handsets offering far less RAM. The crucial part is that, like the Samsung Galaxy S7, the OnePlus 3 has very fast dual-channel RAM, which makes accessing RAM data faster than the first DDR4 phones.
Using the storage speed benchmark A1 SD Bench app, the OnePlus 3’s RAM can shift data at 18,000MB/sec, where a single-channel DDR4 phone such as the OnePlus 2 or Samsung Galaxy S6 can manage “only” 8,000-9,000MB/sec. Of course, the benefits aren’t going to be better graphics in games or radically faster performance.
In all honesty, I’m not sure what the real-world benefit is when most of the clear performance improvements over the OnePlus 2 appear to come from the software optimisation. However, at least it shows the RAM isn’t purely a Tops Trumps game of numbers.
The internal memory is fast, too, offering 367MB/sec write and 175MB/sec read speeds. This beats HDD performance.
We’re still miles away from the speed of the latest SSDs, though, which can read/write at 1,300MB/sec. Rapid storage along with fast dual-channel memory may contribute to noticeable speed increases in how fast camera images appear in the Gallery app, for example. The OnePlus 3 is fairly fast as it is, but not instant.
Either way, the OnePlus 3 is the most powerful phone you can get for the money from a recognisable brand.