OnePlus 5 Review: The Verdict
The OnePlus 5 lives up to OnePlus' "flagship killer" marketing. You'll make a few small compromises, but we're still staggered by just how much phone the OnePlus 5 gives you for its $599 starting price.
What we love
- Amazing value
- Excellent performance
- Versatile dual lens camera
- Great display
What could be improved
- No expandable storage
- Hit and miss lowlight photography
- No water-resistance
- Only available online
RRP: From $599
What is it?
Upstart smartphone manufacturer OnePlus has long trumpeted its devices as flagship killers. On paper, this is certainly true of the OnePlus 5; you get a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 835 processor, a 5.5-inch 1080p display, 6GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage for $599. There's no flagship device in Australia that comes to offering this much bang-for-buck.
Of course, what looks good on paper and what's good in practice can often vary, yet somehow OnePlus has managed to deliver a whole lot of phone for not a lot of money, without making any major compromises.
Key specifications for the OnePlus 5 include a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a Snapdragon 835 processor, 3,300mAh battery, a front-facing fingerprint reader, USB Type-C for charging, and 16MP and 20MP rear-facing cameras.
$599 gets you a model with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of non-expandable storage, while $699 takes this to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. We were provided with the 128GB model for the purposes of this review.
I kind of hate to say that price is the OnePlus 5's best feature, but I'm still staggered by how much phone $599 buys you. This isn't to undersell the OnePlus 5's other strengths, but when it comes to value, OnePlus have managed to best the majority of midrange and flagship smartphones in Australia.
On top of high-end hardware, the OnePlus 5 has a couple of neat little additions that aren't always present in its price-range. These include a smudge resistant oleophobic coating on the screen, NFC, and a display bright enough to consistently be visible in direct sunlight. The absence of any of these features wouldn't ruin the OnePlus, but their presence certainly helps in making the OnePlus 5 feel genuinely premium.
It is however worth noting that OnePlus has said it may tweak Australian OnePlus 5 pricing following the current "soft launch" period. Given how compelling a starting price $599 is, we're hoping it stays the same, or at the very least, doesn't change too much. We'll be sure to update this review if it does.
The OnePlus 5 is cheaper than most premium phones, but it still feels premium. Cut from the same mould as OPPO's R11, the OnePlus 5 is perhaps best described as a very curvy iPhone. While the iPhone 7 is rounded, the OnePlus 5 has heavily tapered edges, resulting in a pillow look. This not only makes the OnePlus 5 feel thinner than it is, and makes one handed usage reasonably easy for the most part. It's not as light on bezel as phones like the Galaxy S8, but the OnePlus 5 nonetheless feels compact for a 5.5-inch phone.
As you'd expect from top-of-the-line hardware, the OnePlus 5 runs smooth as butter. I didn't encounter any performance issues or hitches in either day-to-day usage or when running more demanding apps or games.
The OnePlus 5's software is a relatively unfettered take on Android similar to what you'd expect from a "pure" install, but with a few slight variations in app icons and a few extra software features (such as a reading mode that adjusts the screen's colour temperature to your environment).
In terms of battery, the OnePlus 5 is reasonably robust, and should give you at least a day and a half between chargers with fairly standard usage; I typically found myself with a buffer of around 40% at the end of a typical day. Heavier usage could take the phone down to about 20%, but if you're a bit gentler on your smartphone, you should be able to stretch battery life to two days.
The OnePlus 5 is one of the latest smartphones to jump on the two rear-facing camera bandwagon; there's a 16MP primary camera, and a secondary 20MP shooter that acts as a zoom lens. While overall camera performance isn't quite on par with the very best from Apple, HTC, and Samsung, the OnePlus 5 will still take great shots. Colours tend to be true to life, there's a nice amount of dynamic range, and the camera shoots fast in well-lit environments.
Tapping a zoom icon in the camera app toggles between the OnePlus 5's lenses, and quality between the two is reasonably similar. As with the iPhone 7 Plus and the OPPO R11, the OnePlus 5's zoom lens is a genuinely useful addition that lets you take photos you otherwise couldn't.
The OnePlus 5 is also able to use the dual rear-camera configuration for a portrait mode. The two cameras are used to get a better sense of depth, which is then used to blur the background behind your subject. As the name suggests, this works best when shooting portraits, but it can still handle other objects, provided the shape isn't too tricky. Even if you're not using portrait mode, the OnePlus 5 is able to achieve a reasonably shallow depth of field using the primary camera.
What's not so good?
The biggest potential deal breaker we've found with the OnePlus 5 is inconsistent lowlight photography. It's possible to get good night shots with the OnePlus 5, but the lack of optical image stabilisation and a slower shutter speed makes it hard to get sharp, clear photos in dark environments. This becomes especially pronounced on the zoom lens. If you're dealing with relatively still subjects (and have steady hands) you can still get good shots at night, but you'll have a harder time as soon as movement comes into play.
There is however a "pro" camera mode that lets you manually adjust settings such as shutter speed, but this rapidly adds noise to images. You ostensibly end up trading motion blur for a grainier image. This can work well in some situations, but just ends up creating a different issue in others.
Other than average lowlight photography, there's not a lot to complain about at the OnePlus 5's $599 starting price; it's more so a case of mentioning the few features you miss out on.
While the OnePlus 5 display has a smudge-resistant coating and holds up relatively well in bright sunshine, it runs at 1080p rather than the Quad HD (or higher) resolutions you'll find on pricier smartphones. I personally struggle to tell the difference in quality between a 1080p and a Quad HD display, but this could make a difference if you're after a phone to use in a virtual reality headset and are putting it right up in front of your eyeballs.
The OnePlus 5 isn't water-resistant, which isn't exactly surprising at $599. Only a couple of phones in this price-bracket come with any sort of water-resistance.
An odder omission is the lack of expandable storage, which has long been one of the main features that sets apart Android devices from iPhones. 64GB and 128GB are both reasonably generous amounts of internal storage out of the box, but the fixed capacity does mean you can't bump up the OnePlus 5's memory down the line.
There some small niggles worth mentioning. There's no Australian charger in the OnePlus 5 box, at least during the soft launch period, and you don't get a pair of earbuds either. These probably won’t matter too much - I'm sure most of us have an old charger and headphones - but hey, at least you know what to expect when you open the box.
There's also currently only one way to buy the OnePlus 5 in Australia: a direct order through the OnePlus online store. While I'm sure this is one of the ways OnePlus keeps prices down, you can't simply just walk into a store and try it out first.
Who is it for?
If you're looking for a truly high-end phone without breaking the bank, the OnePlus 5 could very well be the device for you. Lowlight photography isn't quite as good as what you'd get from a pricier flagship and the lack of expandable storage is a bit odd for an Android phone, but otherwise, there's little else you can ding the OnePlus 5 for.
OnePlus isn't lying when it says the OnePlus 5 is a "flagship killer".
What else can I buy?
If you want a flagship with better lowlight camera performance and water-resistance, it's hard to go past the HTC U11. The design is a little less slick, and it's a little more expensive, but at $999 it still under cuts a lot of the pricier phones on the market.
The OPPO R11 may as well be the OnePlus 5's brother. The same parent company owns both OnePlus and OPPO, and the OnePlus 5 and R11 both have the same basic design. The OnePlus 5 wins in terms of pure grunt, but you'll actually be able to find the R11 in an Australian retail store (or get it on a contract).
Moto G5 Plus
If you're looking to save a little more money, the Moto G5 Plus is one of our favourite affordable smartphones on the market, starting at $399. It doesn't quite have as many bells and whistles as the OnePlus 5, but it's a reliable all-rounder.