OnePlus 5 review (in progress): OnePlus’ new flagship is mid-range genius

This OnePlus 5 review is an ‘in progress review’, which means it’s not complete but that we’re in the process of actively updating it. We won’t be giving the phone a star rating until we’ve finished all of our tests, but here’s what we think so far: 

So, the OnePlus 5 is finally official and it would appear that, as with most smartphone launches these days, the company has revealed nothing we didn’t know already. Not that you shouldn’t be excited by this launch; far from it.

OnePlus has demonstrated over the past few years that it has a keen eye for what consumers want from a smartphone (a fast phone without the bells and whistles at a more reasonable price than the flagship competition) and the OnePlus 5 doubles down on that.

As expected, the OnePlus 5 builds everything around the latest silicon from Qualcomm – a 2.45GHz/1.8GHz Snapdragon 835 chip – and it supplements that with a generous dollop of RAM and storage. This phone has a huge 6GB or 8GB of “more efficient” LPDDR4x RAM, while storage options start at 64GB and rise to 128GB, although disappointingly there’s still no microSD slot for storage expansion.

What you don’t get with the OnePlus 5 is the long-tall screen of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6; instead, the Chinese manufacturer is sticking with its eminently sensible 1080p, 5.5in AMOLED panel (which is fine as long as you don’t plan on using your phone to play VR games all the time) and has focused on improving the camera.

And that’s where OnePlus has spent all of its R&D yuan this year: on a new dual-lens rear camera, which it has also repositioned from the centre at the rear to the top-left corner of the rear panel.

OnePlus 5 review: Specs, price and release date

Display 5.5in, 1,920 x 1,080 AMOLED display, tuned to DCI P3 colour gamut
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (2.45GHz quad-core & 1.8GHz quad-core)
Storage 64/128GB
Dimensions 7.25mm slim
Rear camera Dual-lens 20MP/16MP camera f/2.6 / f/1.7
Battery capacity 3,300mAh, with Dash Charge for “a full day’s charge in half an hour”
Release date Pre-orders from 20 June 2017
Price: £449 (64GB) / £499 (128GB)

OnePlus 5 review: Key features and design

I’ve become used to the symmetrical design of previous OnePlus handsets, so this change of look is quite a wrench. It looks much less like a OnePlus phone now, and more like something Huawei or Honor might produce, except that the camera module isn’t flush with the back of the phone.

As usual, though, the finish is high quality and sensibly practical. This is the slimmest OnePlus yet, at 7.25mm, and it feels jolly lovely. It’s not glass, so doesn’t look quite as slinky as the S8 or even the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, but the anodised aluminium unibody design (available in Midnight Black and Slate Grey colours), coupled with the new curves and crescent-shaped antenna strips at the top and bottom, makes for a very smart look indeed. The fact that it’s aluminium means it should resist breakage a little better than its flagship rivals as well.

Nothing else has changed about the physical design, though. The OnePlus 5 continues with the three-position do-not-disturb switch on the left side that I and so many other OnePlus fans love.

That sits just above the volume rocker, while the power button is directly opposite on the right-hand edge of the handset and everything else sits on the bottom edge. The 3.5mm headphone jack is retained, as is the USB Type-C port and the single speaker grille, while the fingerprint reader is, as ever, on the front – but now it’s covered in tough ceramic and will unlock your phone in a quoted 0.2 seconds.

And boy this phone unlocks fast. You only have to touch the sensor with your thumb or index finger and you’re into the home screen instantly. It’s the fastest fingerprint reader I’ve used on any phone and it really does add to the feeling that you’re using one of the fastest smartphones on the planet.

OnePlus 5 review: Display

As with last year, the display is a 5.5in AMOLED unit and the resolution remains resolutely Full HD. You might think that OnePlus would have left things as is, but there are a few changes afoot here. The main thing is that OnePlus is giving users a choice of colour profiles – Default, sRGB, DCI P3 and Custom – following criticism of the OnePlus 3 for its somewhat lurid default colour profile.

As with the OnePlus 3 and 3T, I think most users will probably end up sticking with the Default settings. In this mode, onscreen colours are bright and vibrant and don’t look nearly as candy coloured as on last year’s OnePlus 3. Yes, the colours are still bright and a touch over the top, but they’re not downright horrid.

That’s just as well because the sRGB mode isn’t quite as good as I’d like it to be. It covers only 89.8% of the sRGB colour space and red tones, in particular, look dull. My colour accuracy measurements, for what it’s worth, reflect that impression precisely. Overall, the average delta E in sRGB mode isn’t bad, hitting 1.76 – not the best result we’ve seen but far from the worse – but there’s a problem in the red tones as you can see from the graph below.

^ The coloured line represents the OnePlus 5’s attempt at matching the sRGB colour space; the dotted line is what it should be

The DCI-P3 pre-calibrated mode is better, with the phone producing 95.3% of that colour space, while the Default mode is more vibrant still, extending the displayed colours beyond even DCI P3, but despite this, it’s not distractingly garish.

^ Here, the coloured line here represents the OnePlus 5’s attempt at reproducing the DCI P3 colour space; the dotted line is what it should be

The Samsung Galaxy S8’s display is better and goes brighter than the OnePlus 5 in automatic brightness mode, but again the OnePlus 5 is no slouch. Its top brightness figure reaches 419cd/m2 and a polarising filter applied between the glass and AMOLED panel means it’s readable in most conditions.

And, thankfully, that polarising layer has been arranged so if you’re wearing polarising sunglasses it doesn’t black out when you’re holding it vertically or horizontally, unlike the HTC U11, where the polarising filter blacks out your view entirely when you hold the phone in landscape orientation.

All-in-all, the OnePlus’ screen is a very good one – a little off the pace in sRGB mode, perhaps, and not a match overall for the Samsung Galaxy S8’s, but I can’t think that anyone is going to complain too much about that.

OnePlus 5 review: Performance

One of the main reasons behind OnePlus’ continuing success has been its ability to include the very latest flagship Qualcomm chipset while keeping a lid on the price and that continues with the OnePlus 5. Inside is an octa-core Snapdragon 835 (comprising a pair of quad-core CPUs, one running at 2.45GHz, the other at 1.8GHz) and either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, depending on whether you choose the model with 64GB or 128GB of storage.

You’ll not be surprised to find that this produces stonking benchmark results and the OnePlus 5 feels ultra-slick in use. That doesn’t suprise me and it shouldn’t suprise you either. Here’s how the benchmark results stack up against a few of the OnePlus 5’s key rivals:

Basically, the OnePlus 5 matches the Samsung S8 (Exynos 8895 model tested) and the HTC U11 (Snapdragon 835), give or take, with the OnePlus 5 edging in front marginally. Interestingly, there have been reports that OnePlus has been manipulating the benchmarks; even if this turns out to be true, the difference is so small (below 5%) that you’d never notice it anyway.

As for graphics performance, that’s good enough that it’ll handle anything the Google Play Store can throw at it and then some. Once again, here’s a quick comparison chart:

You’ll notice here that the OnePlus 5’s onscreen result is better than the S8’s by quite a margin. Why is this?the simple answer is the S8’s extra screen resolution; this test was run at 2,960 x 1,440 where the OnePlus 5 only needs to render 1,920 x 1,080 or more than double the number of pixels. However, it is worth bearing in mind that, in the hunt for more performance, it is possible to reduce the resolution the S8 renders to either 2,220 x 1,080 or 1,480 x 720.

Perhaps a more significant performance indicator, though, is the speed of the OnePlus 5’s integrated flash storage, which dictates how fast apps launch and large files load. Just like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the OnePlus 5 uses two-lane UFS 2.1 flash and it’s super quick. In raw numbers, it delivers sequential read and write speeds of 731MB/sec and 213MB/sec, which is far quicker than the OnePlus 3T (420MB/sec and 168MB/sec) and around the same ballpark as the S8 (763MB/sec and 180MB/sec).

The final aspect of performance, but possibly the most important one, is battery life. I haven’t had the phone in my hands long enough yet to establish how good or bad this is yet but with a capacity of 3,300mAh, which is larger than either the HTC U11 and Sony Xperia XZ (both of which use the same Snapdragon chipset), I’m confident it isn’t going to be problematic.

OnePlus 5 review: Dual-lens camera

So far, so good, but the OnePlus 5’s biggest main new feature is its new dual-lens rear camera. The specifications look pretty decent on paper, with one 16-megapixel f/1.7 main camera and another, dimmer, 20-megapixel f/2.6 telephoto camera making up the duo. There’s phase-detect autofocus, so it should lock onto your subject superfast, but you don’t get optical image stabilisation.

Like on the iPhone 7 Plus, the regular camera is your main shooter, with the 20-megapixel snapper offering a 2X zoom for when you need to get closer to your subject and, again like the iPhone 7 Plus, they can work together to produce portrait photos with a blurry bokeh effect in the background. I found this feature worked rather well, as long as I was careful to shoot my subject against a background a reasonable distance away.

Here’s one example; you have to look pretty close at the edges of my victim’s face to see that it’s an effect rather than a true SLR wide aperture shot.

The OnePlus 5 also features improved HDR algorithms, but this is considerably less successful. Not only is the effect subtle to the point of being nigh-on invisible, it’s also prone to double-vision effects. If your hands, or your subject, move even a little you’ll see a little fringing around the edges of objects in your photographs. And in some shots I noticed colours going completely awry. Take a look at the Tube sign below: you’ll see that, in the OnePlus shot, the no smoking sign is grey where it should be red.

Not good; in fact, I’d go so far as to recommend you don’t use HDR at all; it’s no match for the Google Pixel’s stupendous HDR+ mode, which rarely produces such artefacts.

Otherwise, the OnePlus 5 produces decent-looking photographs that are well exposed and reasonably crisp. Close inspection reveals a touch more unnatural processing than the equivalent Google Pixel shot, while in low light the OnePlus’ shots exhibit a more grainy, oversharpened look, but despite lagging behind the Pixel, the results are pretty good.

What’s perhaps most impressive about the OnePlus 5’s camera is the Pro mode, which allows you to manually adjust focus, ISO sensitivity, shutter speed and white balance and handily displays a live histogram and levelling gauge onscreen. You can also shoot in RAW.

As for the front-facing camera, that’s an impressive 16-megapixel snapper with an aperture of f/2. That’s more than detailed enough for your pouty Instagram selfies.

OnePlus 5 review: Software and other features

Manufacturers always seem to add an extra feature or two on the software side of things, whether or not they’re needed, and that’s very much the case this year with the OnePlus 5. As usual, the phone runs the firm’s own Oxygen launcher and that’s on top of Android 7.

The most interesting feature is Reading mode, which works a bit like Apple’s TrueTone. This uses an ambient light sensor to tune the white balance of the screen to match that of the surrounding light, which is great news for people (like me) who use their smartphones to read ebooks late at night.

Elsewhere, the app drawer is now semi-transparent, which makes it feel less separate from the rest of the UI, according to OnePlus. One final change is that OnePlus has changed the phone’s vibration component so that it delivers a stronger, yet shorter buzz. This is a subtle improvement, but a welcome one nonetheless.

OnePlus 5 review: Early verdict

We already have our review sample, so keep checking back for results of benchmarks and camera tests throughout the rest of the week. So far, though, so good. The OnePlus is currently putting in a fine performance – at least as good as its rivals – and it’s wrapped up in a very nicely designed chassis.

As with all OnePlus handsets, however, the OnePlus 5’s success rests on perceived value, and with the price rising yet again to £450, its position as the best-value phone on the market is under threat. And with rivals – particularly from Honor and Huawei – producing excellent smartphones for £500 and below, it remains to be seen if OnePlus 5 can regain the position it once held in consumers’ hearts.

We’ll deliver our final verdict once we’ve completed our testing. Until then, keep checking back for more details.

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