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Smartphones

Review: OnePlus 5 is the best smartphone you can buy, bar none

Latest flagship handset from Chinese company has a similar look and feel to the OnePlus 3, but its massive 8GB of RAM and clean software, coupled with great battery life, make this phone a winner

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 12:30pm

Shenzhen-based OnePlus may be a relatively small company in terms of phone sales and brand awareness, but it is probably the most beloved Chinese smartphone brand for Android geeks (reviews back this up) in the West, due to its clean (not too Chinese) software and bang-for-your-buck value. The company’s new flagship product, the OnePlus 5, continues this trend.

(If you’re wondering why the company jumped from the OnePlus 3 to the OnePlus 5, it’s because the number four is considered an unlucky number in Chinese culture.)

Design and hardware

The OnePlus 5 mostly continues the design of last year’s OnePlus 3: the oval home button that doubles as a fingerprint reader is back, as is the 5.5-inch, 1080p AMOLED display. The “notification slider” button that’s unique to OnePlus phones has also returned.

Sure, there are subtle evolutionary tweaks – the phone fits in the palm a tad better, thanks to having shed a bit of thickness (the 5 measures 7.25mm) – but for the most part, if you owned the OnePlus 3, the new model will look and feel very similar.

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This is both praise and criticism: on one hand, the OnePlus 3 was one of the best reviewed phones of 2016, partly due to its superb build quality. But 2017 has introduced us to the visually stunning, slim-bezelled phones (from Samsung and LG). The 5, by comparison, looks a bit boring and dated. But boy, does the phone make up for that.

Software and features

OnePlus’ software, the OxygenOS, is beloved among the Android community because it looks and behaves mostly like stock Android, except for a handful of useful customisation/short cut options. The off-screen short cuts are my favourites: you can launch an app (or a specific feature within an app) by drawing a shape on the screen when the phone’s off. These are completely customisable. There is almost no software bloat, which is a rarity for Chinese smartphones.

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The OnePlus 5 has a dual-camera system that’s become the standard for smartphones in 2017. The set-up here is exactly like that of the iPhone 7 Plus and the Xiaomi Mi 6: one normal lens paired with a secondary sensor that can capture photos in 2X lossless zoom (achieved with a 1.6X optical zoom lens with an additional software zoom).

Performance and battery life

In general, photos are sharp, although the colour saturation tends to be muted and less dynamic than photos shot with a Samsung or Huawei device. The 2X zoom works as advertised, but as is the case with the iPhone camera, having a dedicated camera for it is a waste of resources.

Just like every other dual-camera phone, the 5 can use both lenses in unison – with some digital trickery – to produce bokeh effect shots (Apple markets it as “Portrait Mode”). Although this trick is starting to become tired and clichéd, the 5 does generally produce a more natural looking blur than other phones.

Much has been made of the OnePlus 5’s whopping 8GB of RAM, and rightly so: 8GB is more than is found on most laptops, and even if you rarely ride a phone hard enough to get close to using all that RAM, it’s a nice luxury to have.

I’m a heavy phone user, constantly jumping from app to app and doing minor video editing/converting, and the OnePlus 5 handled everything more smoothly than any other phone I’ve tested.

It’s not just the RAM, of course. The 5’s responsiveness is also due to its very clean software and the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 835 chip inside.

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The lean software plus 1080p screen (not as power hungry as the quad HD panels on other phones) mean the 5 has exceptionally good battery life. Not once during my week of testing did the phone ever run out of juice before my day ended.

Conclusion

This smartphone has a few shortcomings that consumers should be aware of: the design of the 5 is a bit dated, it does not support micro-SD card expansion and it is not waterproof. If that’s not a problem for you, then the OnePlus 5, priced at HK$4,188, is one of the best value phones out there.

Other phones running Snapdragon 835, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium, cost at least HK$800 more, and while the Xiaomi Mi 6 (HK$3,200) is cheaper, the OnePlus offers much faster/smoother performance. In fact, the OnePlus 5 is the best performing smartphone at the moment, regardless of price.

Dimensions: 154.2mm x 74.1mm x 7.35mm

Weight: 153g

Display: 5.5in

Battery: 3,300mAh

OS version reviewed: Android 7.1.1

Processor: Snapdragon 835

Cameras: 16-megapixel with f/1.7 aperture and 20-megapixel f/2.6 aperture (rear); 16-megapixel front-facing camera with f/2.0 aperture

Memory: 64GB ROM/6GB RAM or 128GB ROM/8GB RAM

Price: HK$4,188