OnePlus 5: Australian Review

Image: OnePlus

Upstart smartphone builder OnePlus's motto is Never Settle. And with its recent launch into Australia, OnePlus is here to upset the apple cart. This is the OnePlus 5, a flagship-killer Android phone that looks like an iPhone, for half the price of either.

What Is It?

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The $599-plus OnePlus 5 is a 5.5-inch smartphone that has specifications you might not expect for that surprisingly moderate price tag. OnePlus' strategy has always been to push a high-quality product out to its established fan base with aggressively low prices, and the OnePlus 5 -- despite being the first phone the company has officially launched in Australia -- is no different. For that $599 price tag you get a phone using the most powerful processor, Qualcomm's octa-core Snapdragon 835, that you can buy on the market today, 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage -- as well as the same high-end design and build quality that previous OnePlus phones have attracted a loyal following with. It's a hell of a lot of phone for not a hell of a lot of money; it makes you question just how OnePlus can charge so little... or how its competitors can charge so much.

The OnePlus 5 is built around a 5.5-inch 1080p AMOLED screen with small and mostly easy-to-ignore bezels on its sides; the top and bottom have a more noticeable length to them, but that's where OnePlus hides normally-invisible capacitive touch buttons and the non-clickable fingerprint sensor at the base, as well as a camera and earpiece speaker up the top. It doesn't have the elongated 2:1 or 18.5:9 aspect ratio of the Samsung Galaxy S8 or the LG V30, but uses the regular widescreen ratio panel that's still far more common in smartphones today. Being an AMOLED display, the 5 has excellent contrast and picture quality overall, but OnePlus doesn't do anything extra with it like offer an always-on display as a lock screen.

Image: OnePlus

The design of the OnePlus 5 might look familiar. It is familiar. It inherits some design cues from older OnePlus models like the 3T, but to me it's pretty obvious that OnePlus has taken liberal inspiration from the Apple iPhone 7 released in September of last year. The same positioning of the dual cameras -- like, identical -- to the 7 Plus is a pretty dead giveaway. The phone's grey, gold and black colour variants again mimic last year's iPhone. Where the iPhone has its volume mute switch, the OnePlus 5 has a three-position clicker that moves between ringing, a selective do-not-disturb mode (you can set specific contacts to ring or messages to make noise, for example) and a silent-but-vibrating mode. A nicely tactile power button is on the right, a nicely tactile volume button is on the left.

The OnePlus 5 stands out from the crowd of also-ran Android phones in its price point with a dual camera module -- the same featured on the very similar-looking (although different in internal hardware and software) Oppo R11. It's not actually a combo of 1x and 2x cameras in hardware, though, like an iPhone 7/8 Plus, iPhone X or new Note8 -- the wide-angle sensor and bright f/1.7 lens captures photos with a 26mm (35mm film equivalent) field of view, and the telephoto sensor and still relatively bright f/2.6 lens captures 40mm, around a 1.6x crop. You don't get optical image stabilisation on either lens, though, nor dual optical image stabilisation like the Note8 or iPhone X.

What's It Good At?

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The stats of the OnePlus 5 are just overkill, and that's especially impressive for a smartphone that has a price tag less than half of the devices it's competing with. The cheaper of the two variants has 6GB of RAM, on par with Samsung's Galaxy Note8, and the step-up $699 model has 8GB of RAM, the largest amount of any smartphone sold in Australia. That translates into excellent performance -- but more on that later. Combine that with the either 64GB (not bad) or 128GB (great) internal storage capacity of the OnePlus 5, as well as the power of its 10-nanometre octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 CPU, and you have a phone that has a hardware list that's on par with just about any other Android phone out there. One caveat: the phone doesn't support Gigabit LTE.

The OnePlus 5 feels incredibly well built for its $599 entry level price tag. It's not at all original, of course -- it looks like an iPhone 7 Plus, essentially, and it's even very similar in its dimensions -- 154x74x7.25mm versus the iPhone's 158x78x7.3mm -- due to the identical screen size. Replace that OnePlus logo with an Apple logo and you'd have the iPhone 7 or iPhone 8. But just like an iPhone, it's been incredibly well constructed and due to that anodized aluminium chassis and unibody design, it feels incredibly solid to use. I've held more expensive smartphones, like the Google Pixel, that don't feel anywhere near as sturdily put together as the OnePlus.

Image: OnePlus

The combination of 6GB (on the 64GB variant) or 8GB of RAM (on the 128GB storage variant) and essentially stock Android with just a few additions through OnePlus's OxygenOS. Those additions are mostly cosmetic, like wallpapers and widgets, or allowing you to change the position and function of the capacitive touch or on-screen interface buttons for Android, as well as a camera and gallery app that work with the OnePlus 5's dual-camera setup. All the additions don't materially affect the experience of using the OnePlus 5 over a truly vanilla Android phone like a Nexus or a Pixel, but what it does mean is that the OnePlus 5 flies when you're using it. It's fast and it's powerful, and those combine into an excellent user experience when you're typing away or switching apps or loading web pages. Everything feels quick.

OnePlus is a company that has a similar investor as Chinese smartphone giant Oppo, and uses it for contract manufacturing -- and as well as meaning that the OnePlus 5 looks essentially identical to the Oppo R11, it also means that it inherits some Oppo proprietary features. OnePlus' Dash Charge is similar to Oppo's VOOC Flash Charge, and that means both are among the fastest charging smartphones on the market. The OnePlus 5's 5V 4A charger (20 Watts) is slower at its peak rate than Oppo's 5V 5A (25 Watts), but in reality either will power up your phone quickly; the OnePlus 5's 3300mAh cell will fill up from completely dead to completely full in barely an hour. You don't have to worry about charge with this phone if you're near a charger regularly at all.

What's It Not Good At?

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The OnePlus 5 doesn't have wireless charging. It doesn't have 3D Touch like the iPhone 7 or an iris scanner like the Note8 or a 2:1 aspect ratio AMOLED display like the LG V30. It does have NFC and fast charging and all the basics that you'd expect to find on a mid-range or high-end phone, but it doesn't do anything special to stand out from the crowd. This isn't a smartphone that does anything new, but it's a smartphone that does everything that it does very well, and it does it at an aggressively low price.

The speaker in the OnePlus 5 can hit impressively loud volumes, but it doesn't have the clarity of the iPhone that many prospective buyers might compare it to. It's fine for listening to podcasts or for making a voice call, but it doesn't have quite the frequency range to make listening to music fun. It can distort when you're trying to push low-frequency notes through it at loud volumes, where some of its competitors have superior speakers and audio tuning to create better sound quality. If it's any consolation, the OnePlus 5 does have a 3.5mm headphone jack so you can plug in your regular headphones without needing a USB-C adapter.

Image: OnePlus

If you wanted to criticise the OnePlus 5's design, you'd say it's identical to the iPhone 6 or 6s or 7 or 7 Plus -- it has an identical layout to the 7 Plus down to the positioning of its side-by-side dual rear cameras, and even that non-tactile front fingerprint sensor is very iPhonesque in its positioning (albeit oblong instead of circular). It's available for purchase in an Apple-mimicking colour scheme -- the 6GB/64GB variants are sold in grey and gold, and the 8GB/128GB variants are sold in black and grey -- too. The Oppo R11 uses an identical chassis. Now, none of this is a bad thing, because Apple's industrial design is excellent and the OnePlus 5 looks great, but you might get some people thinking it's an iPhone, and you're going to get Apple fans calling it a rip-off.

The cameras on the OnePlus 5 are good, but only good. They're not great like the iPhone 7 Plus or the Samsung Galaxy Note8 or the Google Pixel. The lack of image stabilisation means some photos are soft where competitors are crisp, especially if you're snapping while walking. In low light there's noticeable image noise, and detail in good light is excellent but not up to the same quality It's also worth noting that while OnePlus markets the OnePlus 5 as having a 1x and a 2x camera -- and that's the jump between the two in the camera app -- the telephoto lens itself is only a 1.6x crop of the wide-angle one. The rest of that 2x zoom comes from software. Photos are good, but there are noticeably better smartphone cameras out there.

Should You Buy It?

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The OnePlus 5 is a smartphone that costs $599, but that has a feature-set, specifications and build quality that compete with $1000-plus flagship smartphones from Samsung, Apple, and other high-end smartphone brands. That alone makes it an excellent value handset -- it offers many of the features that its competitors have but at a significantly lesser price. Other phones from Apple and Samsung may have a larger set of unique features -- the Galaxy Note8's iris scanning, for example -- but I can't think of anything I use regularly the OnePlus 5 is explicitly missing.

Cameras are important on a phone. The OnePlus 5's cameras are good enough that I don't miss the superior cameras of other high-end smartphones enough to use them instead. There are definitely better cameras out there -- the iPhone and the Note8 beat the OnePlus 5 hands down, and there's still nothing better than the Google Pixel in low light -- but the OnePlus 5's photos are generally pretty good. The addition of a second telephoto camera and a background-blurring portrait mode takes the OnePlus 5 90 per cent of the way to its competitors as a photographic tool.

Image: OnePlus

It's also one of the fastest and most responsive smartphones that I've used, much faster in everyday use -- in things like switching apps, the speed of typing and input lag -- than many of the competitive phones I've used that are significantly more expensive. (For what it's worth, I didn't notice any of the 'jelly scrolling' that early user reports have mentioned.) It's this soft-touch experience that leaves you with the best impression of the OnePlus 5 -- it's an extremely refined device, but at a price that suggests it might not necessarily be.

Because of that, the OnePlus 5 is an enchanting device. It's fun to use, in a way that most smartphones in 2017 still aren't. Despite having an iPhone 7 Plus and despite having a Galaxy Note8 that are both fantastic phones, I find myself going back to the OnePlus 5. I meant to swap my SIM into my new Note8 this last week, but I just... haven't. I like the OnePlus 5, a lot. I would buy one in a heartbeat.

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