OnePlus 3 review update : New software and a new colour, but at a higher price

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PROS
  • High-quality build
  • Very good heat handling
  • Excellent value
  • Solid camera
CONS
  • Inconsistent battery life doesn’t impress day-to-day
  • Innaccurate display colours
KEY FEATURES
  • 5.5-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen
  • 6GB dual-channel DDR4 RAM
  • 64GB storage
  • Android 6.0.1
  • OxygenUI
  • 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.

gold

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.

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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.

DESIGN

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

SCREEN

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.

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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.

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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.

SOFTWARE

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.

OnePlus 3 21

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.

OPO

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.

PERFORMANCE

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.

OnePlus 3 31

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.

OnePlus 3 21

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.

OnePlus 3 9

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.

CAMERA

The OnePlus 3 has very familiar camera hardware. On the rear sits a Sony IMX298 16-megapixel sensor, used in both the Moto X Style and the Huawei Mate 8; on the front Sony IMX179 8-megapixel sensor is the one featured on the rear of the Nexus 5.

Both are high-quality sensors, making this comfortably the best OnePlus camera setup to date. It exhibits none of the performance issues suffered by the OnePlus 2 at launch. When shooting normal photos in daylight, there’s almost no shutter lag evident. Switching to HDR adds a little delay, but nothing significant.

OnePlus 3

The OnePlus 3’s camera is also supported by a sensible app, which makes it fun to shoot with. Additional modes can be found in a sub-menu, leaving only the essentials at the top-right of the screen, within easy reach. These include the HDR controls, the flash toggle and the HD toggle.

That last of those three isn’t something you’ll have seen included in other handsets – it’s a OnePlus-only feature. It appears to use lighter processing, which can often mean you end up with more fine detail. However, you can’t use HD and HDR at the same time, and I tend to use the very solid Auto HDR mode for day-to-day street shooting.

HDR has improved radically this year. In the OnePlus 2 it lacked subtlety, but here it’s much better, keeping your photos looking fairly natural while being almost as effective as the mode on the Samsung Galaxy S7 and its siblings.

OnePlus 3 33

General photo quality is excellent too. Colours are lifelike and maintain saturation even in drab indoor lighting, which is where phones often struggle the most. The OnePlus 3 benefits from OIS too, making it easy to keep your shots sharp at night.

Its use of OIS isn’t as dynamic as the best Samsung phones, since the ISO sensitivity level still creeps up noticeably as the light goes down. This leads to more obvious dithering at pixel level and, in trickier conditions, loss of fine detail. The shutter never goes any slower than 1/17 of a second, which is very conservative for an OIS phone, but I remain happy with the quality of the low-light images you’re getting from a £309/$463  phone.

I’ve heard some complaints about the OnePlus 3 producing blurry images, but this isn’t something I’ve experienced.

There’s scope for pushing the OIS much harder, too. To explain: OIS uses a little motor that tilts the camera module to compensate for the tiny movements made when holding the camera; this allows the shutter to slow down without handshake blur turning your photos into smudgy messes.

OnePlus 3 35

Using the Manual mode, the shutter can be set to as slow or fast as you prefer, and the rotary dial system feels good. However, it isn’t perfect. Even though it offers control over all the main parameters (focus, ISO, shutter speed, white balance),when you alter one parameter and set the rest to “Auto”, the OnePlus 3 doesn’t tend to manage the others correctly. Nevertheless, it remains useful if you know your way around a camera.

One weakness is that the OnePlus 3’s processing is perhaps a little too evident at pixel level, which goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to use higher ISO sensitivities. This affects all photos, making certain patterns look a little watercolour-like when viewed close-up. This appears to be what OnePlus calls “Dynamic De-noise”, if you’ve been poring over the OnePlus 3 spec list.

I’ve also had some very occasional issues with the OnePlus 3 misjudging focus when dealing with the trickiest lighting conditions, with scenes of ultra-high light contrast and very poor lighting. All this means, however, is that the camera isn’t quite on a par with the very best. But I reiterate: it’s still superb for a £309/$463  phone.

Here are some photos taken with the phone:

OnePlus 3OnePlus 3 3

Auto HDR is king for daylight overcast shots such as this, and the OnePlus 3 has nailed it. Virtually no clipping in the sky and the foreground is clear; and only as depressing as it looked in real life.

OnePlus 3 5OnePlus 3 7

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The high-resolution sensor offers plenty of detail, but the processing is less natural-looking than the best

OnePlus 3 11OnePlus 3 13

This shot shows the good and bad of the OnePlus 3’s low-light abilities. The stage lighting shows off the well-saturated colour, but the close-up crop shows the tendency to lean on higher ISOs, which leads to a disintegration/dithering of fine detail. Once again, the character of the image processing isn’t the best.

OnePlus 3 15OnePlus 3 17

One of the few instances of blown highlights can be seen with the bonnet here. But take the scene as a whole and the OnePlus 3 has done a solid job on this night-time shot.

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Colour is great, photos offer excellent sharpness and superb contrast, and the OnePlus 3 is reliable at judging exposure. Even with very tricky lighting – when you’re facing towards a bright-but-cloudy scene, for example – the phone almost never suffers from major overexposure.

Not every decision taken by OnePlus here falls in line with my idea of the “dream” phone camera, but its strategies work and the experience and image quality are far better than that experienced with any OnePlus camera to date.

OnePlus limits “silly” modes to only Snapchat, and you still get panorama, slo-mo video and time-lapse photography options. Also included is a flash on the back, if you don’t want to put all your faith in OIS.

Video-capture options are 720p, 1080p and 4K. Unusually, the footage stabilisation seems to rely on OIS, rather than cropping into the image and using software. I’m not a huge video-shooter, but this means you miss out on the real steadicam-like vibe some phone footage offers. This is potentially something OnePlus could add in an update, however.

With the selfie camera OnePlus uses a high-end “old” piece of hardware, rather than a mid-range new one. The IMX179 was used in the original Nexus 5 from 2013, but on the back rather than the front and with a faster f/2 lens and a fixed focus.

Selfie quality is excellent, with solid white balance judgement even in unnatural indoor lighting; it offers exceptional detail for a front camera. Indoor shots can be a touch grainy, but given the rear camera’s processing approach, the front one has a surprisingly light touch.

BATTERY LIFE

The OnePlus 3’s battery life is less notable. Stamina is inconsistent, although it do believe it was a blessing that the screen resolution wasn’t bumped up to QHD or 4K.

Having Samsung’s efficient Super AMOLED screen tech onboard enables the phone to last for good time in certain conditions. In tests, the OnePlus lasted 17hrs 25mins playing a 720p MP4 movie on loop – this is even longer than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge managed.

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This is a fair indication that the Snapdragon 820 is able to use very little power when it needs to, and that the display is efficient. In more demanding benchmark tests, however, the OnePlus 3’s stamina is more ordinary.

Thirty minutes of Real Racing 3 saw the battery level drop by 12%, suggesting the battery will last for a little under four and a half hours of gaming. Not amazing, then. This is no huge surprise given that the phone features a 3,000mAh battery, which is a lower capacity than the 3,200mAh unit in the OnePlus 2.

In general use, I’ve found the OnePlus 3’s battery acceptable – but little more. It will easily drain within a day, with some software appearing to accelerate the process. “Google Play Services”, for example, appears quite prominently in the list of main battery drain offenders.

The OnePlus Dash charger is excellent, however. This fast charger supplied with the phone is similar to the one used by Oppo. It’s a 5V, 4A charger that gets the phone from 0 to 95% in less than an hour.

Like the OnePlus 2, the OnePlus 3 has a USB Type-C socket rather than the usual micro-USB – although there’s really nothing to get too excited about there. The actual capabilities of the connection are the same as normal. While USB Type-C will eventually be used as the standard port for USB 3.1, allowing for much faster transfers, this is just a USB 2.0 socket at heart.

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SOUND QUALITY

The OnePlus 3 has an innocuous-looking speaker. It sits on the bottom of the phone, and the single grille denotes that it’s a single-driver affair.

It’s a sledgehammer among phone speakers: it isn’t subtle; it goes very loud. It’s louder than a Samsung Galaxy S7, louder than an iPhone, louder than the rival Vodafone Smart Platinum 7. It has the capacity to cope with a fair amount of ambient noise before becoming drowned out.

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The tone of the sound isn’t particularly special, though. While not caustic, it can be a little hard-edged at top volume. The iPhone 6S Plus and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge both offer slightly better sound quality, if not greater volume.

As is generally the case, a single bottom-loaded speaker driver is quite easy to block whilst playing games, for example, and you’re not going to get any sort of stereo effect here.

SHOULD YOU BUY THE ONEPLUS 3?

OnePlus has always made my job easy, offering decent handsets and an excellent price. The OnePlus 3 is no different: it’s easily the most attractive design the company has brought to market yet, and the cost is roughly the same as ever too.

The camera can’t quite live up to those in the LG G5 or the Samsung Galaxy S7, but it isn’t a million miles off either. Software, performance and design are all excellent for the money, and lack any obvious creaky parts that would have made you wish you had a little more money to spend.

Battery life isn’t great: heavy users will likely need to top up the battery of an evening. However, when you consider that its video endurance is unusually good, there’s a chance this may improve with a future software update.

There may be a handful of better phones in the world, but the OnePlus 3 is the best you can get right now at this price. And it may be for some time too.

Buy Now: OnePlus 3 at Amazon.co.uk from £349.99 | Amazon.com from $550

VERDICT

OnePlus has done it again, delivering a superb smartphone to rival the high-end competition at a bargain price.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/hl6GwD)

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