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Smartphones

Review: the OnePlus 3 – not the perfect smartphone but there’s plenty to like

Despite its shortcomings, this handset has curves in all the right places, making it feel slimmer than it is, has a superfast UI and great battery life; the camera is nothing special, though

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 5:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 5:30am

Gone is their gimmicky “invitation-only” sales and marketing tactic, words on OnePlus’ latest offering have, in general, been favourable. But can the brand finally realise its ambition to be the “flagship killer” with the OnePlus 3?

Design and hardware

The OnePlus 3 is an all-aluminium unibody phone. Another large boring slab, you think. Not quite. This model is different, as it has curves in all the right places that not only add to the aesthetics but also hugely improve on the ergonomics.

Apart from the typical power and volume buttons on the side, there is also the iPhone-like silence switcher. It’s a three-step switch that corresponds to Android’s volume control scheme: one for off, one for priority and one for silence, a feature that I have known and loved since it was first bestowed on the OnePlus 2.

One look at the side profile and you know you’ve a seriously slim phone. Having the OnePlus 3 in hand confirms that fact. It’s not the slimmest phone in the world, at 7.4mm, and OnePlus isn’t even trying (because the slimmest is 4.85mm). What they have done is to make it seem and feel like it’s slimmer than it actually is. The back of the phone curves in towards the sides just right, just enough to give that optical illusion and at the same time make it comfortable to hold in the hand.

At all times I’m conscious of just how slim the phone feels, and that makes me happy. The only caveat here is the annoying camera bulge that rises above the back. As the phone rests against a surface, the camera bulge is the first point of contact, and this will most likely be the first thing you scratch on a brand new OnePlus 3.

Camera

Speaking of the camera, the OnePlus 3’s shooter just isn’t very interesting. On paper you have a 16-megapixel sensor, with phase detection autofocus and most importantly, optical image stabilisation present. In reality though, daylight photos can lack detail, and grain sets in especially in low-light shots. Corner skewing is an issue that simply refuses to go away no matter which aspect ratio you switch to. Videos are nothing special and seem mostly muted in colour.

The only redeeming factors are a clean camera UI, HD mode that genuinely improves sharpness to a degree and the ability to save RAW photos for your editing pleasure.

Features, performance and battery life

One of the best things about the OnePlus 3 is its buttery smooth UI. OnePlus deserves credit for coming up with a home-grown launcher, now arguably in its second generation, known as the Oxygen OS. It replaces CyanogenMod after their falling out and it does a good job, especially in providing a similar array of customisation options. But every phone this side of 2016 runs on a Snapdragon 820 processor, so what makes the OnePlus 3 this much faster? The answer is in their choice of display resolution.

Those who chase after spec sheet figures would not be happy to learn that there is only 1920x1080 pixels to play with. But the more savvy individuals will appreciate that it’s also easy on the battery and graphics performance, and of course the fact that the human eye can hardly tell the difference between this and anything higher on such a small display. It’s not just the UI either.

Apps launch and multi-task with ease and there are practically zero hiccups. In fact, apps that I purposefully left in the background resume in a split second half a day and 20 open apps later, thanks to the 6GB of RAM.

Now one concern when having apps open in the background would be their impact on battery life. As apps stay in the background, they undoubtedly drain the battery, right? But this is not the case; it would appear Android Marshmallow’s Doze is working very well here, keeping apps alive and yet not allowing them to drain the battery in the background.

Conclusion

It’s not without its flaws. Display colour is exaggerated, but it does not skim on quality: even the buttons are all aluminium, and the fingerprint sensor is made of an allegedly more durable ceramic.

Specs:

Display size: 5.5”

Display type: AMOLED

Camera: 16MP, with OIS

Processor: Snapdragon 820

RAM: 6GB RAM

NFC: Yes

Storage: 64gb

Battery capacity: 3000 mAh

Price: HK$3,098