OnePlus 3 review

OnePlus 3 review

The OnePlus 3 is official and we've been lucky enough to spend almost two week with the smartphone ahead of the VR launch event. With a new metal design, upgraded specs and the latest software it does a fantastic job of taking on the big name flagship phones like the Galaxy S7, iPhone 6S and LG G5. Here's our full and in-depth OnePlus 3 review. Also see: Best smartphones 2016.

Now in its third-generation, the OnePlus 3 is the best phone from the popular Chinese firm aiming to take on the big name flagships of 2016. This year's model is a stunner featuring a metal design which is thinner and lighter than before. It also has lots of upgraded specs including 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage as standard and a 16Mp Sony camera. Then there's the price which is around £200 cheaper than rivals.

OnePlus 3 review: Price, availability and rivals

Update: OnePlus has announced that the price of the OnePlus 3 might go up following Brexit and the falling value of the pound. It said "Our margins have always been thin, and our expenses are mainly in USD. This being the case, sudden drops such as the one that the Pound has recently experienced could have a direct impact on our prices."

The firm recommends buying sooner rather than later to avoid paying more adding that the price hike won't come out of the blue; customer will be given 'several days of notice'. Read more here.

It seems that OnePlus is hitting its stride in the smartphone market as the OnePlus 3 is available straight away and not only do you not have to wait for a release date, you also don't need an invite to buy it. Those days are over and good riddance to them as it was harder to full recommend a phone which was difficult to buy.

The OnePlus 3 price is a very mid-range £309 ($399) and this will get you the lone 64GB model – there's no choosing here this time around.

Although that price is a little more than the OnePlus 2 at launch (£289) it's a small increase considering the upgrade (read on to find out) and even more so when you consider that you'll save around £200 or more compared with flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7, iPhone 6S, HTC 10 and LG G5. Also bear in mind that you get a lot more storage for this price, double that of most rivals.

OnePlus 3 price

Once again, OnePlus is killing it on value for money with only really Google's Nexus devices and the Huawei P9 able to compete. That said, the Nexus 6P and Huawei P9 are still a lot more at £449 and while the Nexus 5X is marginally cheaper at £299, it has a plastic chassis.

One phone which can compete on value is the Xiaomi Mi 5 which can be yours for just £230 at the time of writing from Gearbest but you'll need to pay import duty of around £40.

OnePlus 3 review: Design and build

While we've been big fans of previous OnePlus phones, we've been a little put off by how bulky they have been (bar the smaller OnePlus X). Well the firm has addressed this with the OnePlus 3 which is a much more slender 7.35mm and a more manageable 158g.

More obvious is the switch to a metal uni-body chassis which is machined from a single block of aluminium. It looks and feels extremely premium and the resemblance to a few other metal phones – Apple, HTC and Huawei spring to mind – is unavoidable really.

What we really like is the attention to detail here where it's clear that OnePlus has been thorough, leaving no stone unturned as it were. We particularly like the angles which not only look good but make the phone very comfortable to hold. Then check out those chamfered edges which adorn the USB port and even the speaker holes.

OnePlus 3 metal design

The 2.5D Gorilla Glass 4 front meets the metal chassis in a smooth and luxuriously flush way and the Alert Slider on the left side even has a solid and satisfying motion with its grippy textured surface. It's this attention to detail which is missing from flagships like the LG G5.

If for some reason you don't like the metal look or you want to protect it from scratches, OnePlus is offering the usual range of cases which are extremely thin so don't add much weight. You can get (from left to right) Rosewood, Black Apricot, Bamboo, Karbon and the classic Sandstone – they all cost £19.99 each.

OnePlus 3 cases

To begin with, the OnePlus 3 is only available in Graphite silver but there will be a Soft Gold option soon. We haven't seen it in the flesh so can't comment on its looks.

We're really impressed with the OnePlus 3 in terms of design and build; it's easily the firm's best work yet. It will be a little bit big for some people despite 5.5in being the 'sweet spot' for OnePlus. It's a very tall phone but the tiny bezels on either side of the screen help things. We're hoping that a smaller version will come in the future but we'll have to wait and see – perhaps a OnePlus 3 mini or new OnePlus X.

The only thing missing from the design compared to some rivals is waterproofing. For some this will be a big deal and for others it won't matter at all. Nevertheless, it's not a feature of the OnePlus 3 so you'll need to look to phones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Sony Xperia Z5 for this.

OnePlus 3 review: Hardware, specs and performance

As usual, there's a lot to talk about when it comes to the OnePlus 3 specifications with some rumours being spot on and others being way off the mark. We'll go through all the different elements of the hardware in manageable sections so you can read about what most important to you.

OnePlus 3 screen

OnePlus has stuck with both a 5.5in screen size and a Full HD resolution for the new phone. It feels that this is the sweet spot on both fronts as the firm tells us it believes you can't see the difference compared to Quad HD. The resolution also helps with things like performance and battery life.

What is new is a change to Optic AMOLED technology, which is OnePlus' take on SuperAMOLED. This looks better thanks to more vibrant colours and better contrast and also is what enables the phone to have those tiny bezels.

OnePlus 3 screen

Although we'd argue that you can see the difference between Full HD and Quad HD, the OnePlus 3's screen is still excellent quality. We can particularly understand the choice from a performance point of view as the GPU has less work to do rendering the interface so it feels slicker in use.

Our only real complaint on the display side of things is that even at full brightness we occasionally found it hard to read outside in bright sunlight. This is despite a dual-polarising layer which is supposed to make this easy.

OnePlus 3 processor, RAM and benchmarks

It's fairly predictable that the OnePlus 3 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, considering the OnePlus 2 uses the 810. This means it joins the 820 club frequented by the HTC 10 and LG G5. The quad-core chip comes with the Adreno 530 GPU and is clocked slightly higher than other phones at 2.2GHz – the other two cores are 1.6GHz.

Not only is the phone clocked higher than rivals, the slightly outrageous sounding rumours surrounding the memory are true. The OnePlus 3 comes with a slightly insane 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM. That's a full 2GB, or 50 percent, more than any other phone we've seen.

In both benchmark results and real life, the OnePlus 3 offers outstandingly slick performance – especially the latter. The firm has done a great job of making the interface feel extremely responsive and fast. The phone does everything you throw at it without hesitation. Check out the OnePlus 3 benchmark results below compared to its predecessor and rivals in Geekbench 3, GFXBench and JetStream – higher scores are better.

OnePlus 3 storage

Although there were totally understandable rumours of different OnePlus 3 models, the firm has gone for just one capacity this time around. You won't need to spend time deliberating as it's a OnePlus 3 with 64GB of internal storage or nothing at all.

That's an impressive amount considering the price where rivals tend to starts at 32GB or even 16GB. The only down side here is that there's still no Micro-SD card slot for expanding storage which may put off some users – 64GB will be enough for most, though.

OnePlus 3 storage

OnePlus 3 fingerprint scanner, NFC and connectivity

The fingerprint scanner is still a key feature and sits below the screen as usual. The fingerprint is extremely fast and accurate when scanning (under 0.3 seconds according to OnePlus) and can be used to unlock the phone from sleep and mobile payments including Android Pay.

We've got good news as OnePlus has listened to its fans and put NFC back into the OnePlus 3 – this can be used for a variety of tasks including Android Beam sharing, quickly pairing with Bluetooth devices which also feature NFC and mobile payments.

Remaining connectivity is about what you'd expect from a high-end smartphone with 4G LTE (Cat 6), 11ac Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth 4.2. Although there's no expandable storage, the OnePlus 3 feature a dual-SIM setup featuring two Nano-SIM slots.

OnePlus 3 battery life

The OnePlus 3 has a slightly smaller battery than its predecessor at 3000mAh (down from 3300mAh) but that's still a reasonable size. If you're thinking that you'd rather have a fatter and heavier phone with a larger battery then OnePlus' answer is fast charging. As usual, the battery is non-removable. Also see: OnePlus Power Bank review.

OnePlus 3 Dash Charge

As usual, the phone has a reversible USB Type-C port and is a supplied with the new Dash Charge charger which provides 5V and 4A of electricity (favouring current over voltage). OnePlus touts over 60 percent in 30 minutes which means you can top the battery up with minimal hassle despite its lower capacity. There's also a Dash Charge car charger if you want to top up quickly when driving which costs £24.99.

What's interesting here is the OnePlus has moved the power management controller to the charger instead of housing it in the phone. This means the phone keeps cooler during charging and can continue to fast charge while doing things like gaming as a result. To avoid any mishaps, when a different charger or cable is used the charging reverts to regular speed.

Inside the OnePlus 3 is a 3000mAh battery which is a little smaller than the OnePlus 2's (3300mAh). It still features the reversible USB Type-C port and now supports fast charging with the supplied Dash Charge (5V, 4A) which can give you over 60 percent in 30 minutes and can continue to fast charge even when you're gaming as the controller is in the charger rather than the phone.

In our test the OnePlus 3 charged a total of 61 percent over a period of half an hour and was only warm to the touch despite having a case on during charging. We recorded a benchmark time of six hours and 13 minutes in Geekbench 3 with a score of 3735 which is decent but a little way of some rivals which have hit nine, 10 or even 11 hours.

OnePlus 3 Sony camera

OnePlus 3 cameras

Going by specs alone, you’d be forgiven for getting excited about the OnePlus 3’s main camera. It has a 16Mp Sony IMX298 sensor (the same as in the Xiaomi Mi 5) and a lens with an f/2.0 aperture. There’s optical image stabilisation (OIS), electronic image stabilisation (EIS) and phase detection autofocus. Read next: Best new phones coming in 2016.

OnePlus claims the camera will give you clear shots in just 0.2 seconds, so you’ll easily catch a Formula 1 pitstop. There's support for shooting in RAW as well as JPEG files, plus a new manual mode if you want to take control of the ISO, shutter speed and focus.

The camera app’s interface is so minimal it takes a while to figure out how to find the settings, but you’ll have to resort to the manual to understand why there’s an HD button at the top which, when tapped, disables HDR. To save you the efforts, HD mode enhances detail, sharpens lines and increases clarity – Much like you can in an image editor such as Snapseed.

Overall, we’re impressed with the camera. That fast AF means photos were generally in sharp focus, although pushed to the limit (when attempting macro shots) it can be hard to judge whether your subject is too close and blurry.

OnePlus 3 camera macro

Colours are lifelike without being overblown, and dynamic range seems good even without using the HDR mode. A feature that works effectively is Dynamic De-noise. Our shot in a dimly lit bar shows no noticeable noise, but another taken in our office during the day proves the algorithm does work well in all scenarios.

OnePlus 3 low light camera

We took several comparison shots to see the difference between HDR and HD, but none existed. Whether looking at our usual framing of St Pancras or a macro photo, it was impossible to see any improvement in clarity or detail when using the new HD mode.

OnePlus 3 HDR vs HD

The rear camera is also capable of recording video in up to 4K, but while there’s OIS for photos, this doesn’t appear to be used for video, which relies on EIS. It’s reasonably effective if you stand still, but start walking or moving the phone around and you’ll soon find its limitations, with slightly jerky movement and odd sparkling effects in skies.

4K video quality is very good, though: sharp and packed with detail. What’s unimpressive is the soundtrack. Voices sound distant and muffled, as though underwater – this could well be a failure of the noise cancellation of the dual microphones. Hopefully it’s fixable in a software update.

Extra modes include a great panorama function which deals well with changes in brightness across a scene, and a slo-mo mode which records at 720p.

At the front is an 8Mp camera with 1.4um pixels. It can record 1080p video at 30fps. Selfies are sharper than we expected, and the field of view is easily sufficient for two people at arm’s length. A Smile Capture option saves you stretching for the shutter button.

OnePlus 3 selfie camera

OnePlus 3 review: Software and apps

As you'd expect, the OnePlus 3 comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out-of-the box. OnePlus provides its OxygenOS 3.1 which is a very close to stock Android with a few different features and ways to customise the interface.

For starters, it's nice to see OnePlus hasn't gone down the route of some rivals by keeping the app draw/menu. Open it up and you'll notice that there is next to no bloatware installed on the phone. You get the usual suite of Google apps plus the odd duplicate from OnePlus such as Gallery, Music and Files. Control over apps is very good as OxygenOS allows you to set permissions for individual apps as well as control notifications, too.

OnePlus 3 OxygenOS 3

Not a great deal has changed with OxygenOS for the OnePlus 3 – a key new software feature is the latest camera app as detailed above – but that's not exactly a bad thing. It offers a slick and easy use interface with a great deal of customisation. OnePlus said it has polished it to ensure animations and transitions are as smooth as possible.

Gestures are still available to switch on in the settings to do things like wake the phone with a double tap, open the camera by drawing an 'O' and toggle the flashlight with a 'V'. You can also draw different shapes to control music playback.

We like existing features such as the dark mode, an accent colour for the themes, customisable LED notifications and the Shelf which is a swipe away from the home screen. Shelf allows you to get quick access to things like apps, contacts and information; you can also add widgets like you would on the homescreen. If you like, you can switch Shelf off completely if you want.

OnePlus 3 Shelf

Either side of the fingerprint scanner are two capacitive buttons, similar to the Galaxy S7 but you can choose which one is use for back and recent apps which is a real boon. In addition you can choose for shortcuts for long presses. Furthermore, you can use onscreen buttons if you really want.

There's more as you can rearrange the quick settings, customise the Google search bar or remove it and make use of the proximity sensor to activate the screen when you wave in front of the camera. The latter is turned off by default – presumably to save battery – switch it on in Settings > Display > Ambient Display.

You can also customise the size of icons, the grid in the app draw and switch features like quick search (swipe up) and quick notifications (swipe down once instead of twice).

As previously OxygenOS comes with the SwiftKey keyboard which is widely regarded as one of the best available for Android. The MaxxAudio app is no longer present but the OnePlus 3 does support 24bit/96kHz audio playback.

OnePlus 3: Specs

  • OxygenOS based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
  • 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
  • Adreno 530
  • 6GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 64GB internal storage
  • 5.5in full-HD Optic AMOLED screen (1920×1080, 401ppi), Gorilla Glass 4
  • 16Mp rear camera, f/2.0 aperture, 4K video/120fps slo-mo at 720p
  • 8Mp front camera
  • proximity sensor
  • USB Type-C charging port
  • 11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • GPS with GLONASS
  • NFC
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • bottom-facing speaker
  • dual-mics with noise cancellation
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 4G LTE Cat 6
  • Dual Nano-SIM
  • 3000mAh non-removable lithium-polymer battery
  • 153x75x7.35mm
  • 158g
  • OxygenOS based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
  • 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
  • Adreno 530
  • 6GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 64GB internal storage
  • 5.5in full-HD Optic AMOLED screen (1920×1080, 401ppi), Gorilla Glass 4
  • 16Mp rear camera, f/2.0 aperture, 4K video/120fps slo-mo at 720p
  • 8Mp front camera
  • proximity sensor
  • USB Type-C charging port
  • 11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • GPS with GLONASS
  • NFC
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • bottom-facing speaker
  • dual-mics with noise cancellation
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 4G LTE Cat 6
  • Dual Nano-SIM
  • 3000mAh non-removable lithium-polymer battery
  • 153x75x7.35mm
  • 158g

OUR VERDICT

The OnePlus 3 is another amazing smartphone from the Chinese company as easily its best effort yet. It's a little bit more expensive than its predecessor but it's still a ridiculous price considering the design, build and hardware on offer which matches rivals but also beats them in some areas. There's very little to dislike here unless you really need things like expandable storage and waterproofing. You don't even need an invite any longer, either.

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