OnePlus 5 Review: Superb value at a mid-range price

Alex Kidman 29 August 2017 NEWS

Quick Verdict
While it has a few limitations to keep to its price point, the OnePlus 5 proves that you don't need to pay top dollar to get an exceptional smartphone. On a pure price basis it's the best value smartphone on the market right now, assuming it can keep its price low.

Strengths

  • Great camera
  • Excellent performance
  • Mostly clean Android overlay

Could be better

  • Benchmarks might be a bit suspect
  • No water resistance
  • No expandable memory


The OnePlus 5 is a speedy and stylish handset at around half the price of everyone else's flagship devices.

Unless you're rather keen on the Android phone scene, the chances are pretty good that you've never even heard of OnePlus. It's (essentially) a splinter company from Chinese manufacturer Oppo, specialising in delivering handsets with cutting edge internal components at a fraction of the cost of most other premium handsets.

Order now OnePlus 5

Order now OnePlus 5 from DWI (Digital World International)

The more you use the OnePlus 5, the more you'll notice the thoughtful touches that set it apart.

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To date OnePlus has never offered a handset in Australia directly, but that changes with the OnePlus 5, which goes on soft launch in Australia on 29 August 2017.

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Design

When I first unpacked the OnePlus 5, the design struck me as rather familiar. There's a reason for that, because it's ostensibly the same design that Oppo uses for its own Oppo R11, which itself has cribbed somewhat from the Apple design playbook. In Australia, OnePlus will offer the OnePlus 5 in Slate Gray and Soft Gold finishes for the 64GB model, and in Midnight Black and Slate Gray for the 128GB variant.

Physically, the OnePlus 5 measures in at 154.2 x 74.1 x 7.3 mm, so it's not the largest of phones in your hand, and with a carrying weight of only 153 grams it's also suitably light. Like the Oppo R11, this does mean that it's a somewhat slippery phone in your hand, so the purchase of a case to avoid drops is arguably a wise move.

While limited bezels on phones is definitely the style note of the times, the OnePlus 5 has relatively prominent top and bottom bezels, incorporating a fingerprint reader and home button at the base, and the front-mounted camera at the top.

Along the left hand side sits the volume control, directly underneath a dedicated mute switch, which is a genuine rarity for Android smartphones. It's even grooved, so you can easily locate it without having to look for it, which could be handy if you're heading into a meeting and don't want to be disturbed.

The right hand side is where you'll find the power button, along with a dual SIM tray that's a little different to most other dual SIM trays you'll find in other Android handsets.

That's because OnePlus has taken the unusual step of delivering a dual SIM handset where the second SIM slot doesn't also do double duty as a microSD card slot. There's no microSD expansion on the OnePlus 5 at all, in fact, which is a really unusual step typically only seen in Google's own Pixel phones.

There, Google wants to send you to the cloud for its own services, but in OnePlus' case, it's just a mystery that means you should probably buy the larger 128GB model to keep yourself well covered for storage.

The rear of the OnePlus 5 features a minor camera bump to accommodate its dual rear lenses, as well as a rather subtle OnePlus (or in this case, 1+) logo embossed on the back.

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Camera

Premium phones often differentiate themselves with their camera offerings, and OnePlus is no different in this regard, with dual lenses at the rear of the camera to bring wide, telephoto and portrait lens capabilities into play. Specifically, there's a 16 MP, f/1.7, 24mm lens sitting next to a 20 MP, f/2.6, 36mm 1.6x optical zoom lens on the rear, as well as a 16 MP, f/2.0, 20mm lens on the front for selfie purposes.

OnePlus' camera app, rather like Oppo's, borrows heavily from the Apple playbook with a simplified swipe interface for accessing portrait, still and video shooting modes. A hamburger menu opens up the camera's pro controls, as well as standard timelapse, slow motion and panorama modes.

OnePlus' claim with the OnePlus 5's dual rear cameras is that they offer faster autofocus, "effortless" clarity and "professional" quality, but those are all marketing hype terms, rather than absolutely quantifiable numbers.

The practical reality of using the OnePlus 5's camera is that it's amongst the best I've ever tested in most circumstances, and certainly exceptional at this price point. There are some qualifications to that statement, however. There's no onboard optical image stabilisation for any of the lenses, which means that some content, most notably video, can tend towards the wobbly if you're not careful.

While it's superb for a phone in this price bracket, it's just a tad slower than the focus on, say, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium. Like any smartphone camera, if you push the OnePlus 5 particularly hard the cracks will show, but even in low light situations it's a top-notch performer. Here are some sample shots taken with the OnePlus 5:

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Performance

The OnePlus 5 isn't the first phone to market with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 under the hood, but it's the first we've seen at a mid-range price point, made all the more appealing by the inclusion of either 6GB of RAM on the 64GB model or 8GB of RAM on the 128GB variant. We tested with the higher specification 128GB handset using Geekbench 4's CPU test to see how it compared to a range of premium handsets.

Handset Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 2020 6690
Samsung Galaxy S8 1989 6628
Huawei P10 Plus 1863 6544
OnePlus 5 1976 6506
HTC U11 1919 6362
Sony Xperia XZ Premium 1908 6324
Huawei Mate 9 1925 6068
Oppo R11 1616 5895
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3374 5649
Huawei P10 1922 5633
Apple iPhone 7 3452 5599
LG G6 1810 4228
Apple iPhone SE 2449 4171
Google Pixel XL 1629 4051

Here's how it compared using 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test:

Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
HTC U11 40239
Sony Xperia XZ Premium 40086
OnePlus 5 39497
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 37956
Apple iPhone 7 37717
HTC U Ultra 29968
Apple iPhone SE 29276
Huawei P10 Plus 28491
Google Pixel XL 28458
Samsung Galaxy S8 28409
LG G6 28344
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 28120

There's a huge catch here, however. OnePlus has been accused of juicing its figures with regards to how the OnePlus 5 detects benchmark applications by modifying the behaviour of the Snapdragon 835 to give it a performance boost. Benchmark cheating, in other words.

OnePlus' official statement on the issue somewhat prevaricates around whether it's cheating or not:

"People use benchmark apps in order to ascertain the performance of their device, and we want users to see the true performance of the OnePlus 5. Therefore, we have allowed benchmark apps to run in a state similar to daily usage, including the running of resource intensive apps and games. Additionally, when launching apps the OnePlus 5 runs at a similar state in order to increase the speed in which apps open. We are not overclocking the device, rather we are displaying the performance potential of the OnePlus 5."

Now, I lack the tools to easily check whether this is still the state of affairs with regards to the OnePlus 5, and while benchmarks should never be the sole arbiter of smartphone quality, they can be a useful comparative tool, and anything that makes their figures less reliable is a definite problem.

From the analysis performed by XDA Developers, however, it appears that OnePlus' possible juicing of the CPU would only give it around a 5% increase in performance at best. So what does that mean in real terms if you're not quite as obsessed by the numbers as I am?

Not a great deal, because while that 5% drop would see it ever so slightly outclassed by other Snapdragon 835 devices, the difference would still be marginal, and the OnePlus 5 is still markedly less expensive than other premium offerings. Or in other words, you're still getting plenty of bang for your buck with the OnePlus 5.

That's played out in day to day testing as well, where apps ranging from video players to high fidelity games rarely missed a beat on the OnePlus 5. This is a slick and fast handset that, like the best Android handsets available today, doesn't try to add too much in the way of sluggish software "features".

OnePlus provides its own "OxygenOS" skin to Android 7.1.1, with the promise of Android Oreo down the track, and it's a mostly hands-off, simple launcher that long term Android fans won't find too troublesome. It's nowhere near as iOS-centric as Oppo's "ColorOS" is, for a start.

Speaking of Oppo, the other feature that the OnePlus 5 manages to sneak in is full NFC compatibility, which means that the OnePlus 5 should be entirely compatible with contactless payment systems such as Android Pay.

If it were this simple to bring premium features to the market at this kind of price point, everyone would be doing it, so it's worth pointing out what you don't get with the OnePlus 5. I've already mentioned the lack of microSD expansion, which is a pain point, but to that you can add the lack of any kind of water resistance. Every other premium handset released this year has had an IP rating, but the OnePlus 5 keeps itself cheap by hoping that you'll keep it nice and dry.

The other feature found on most premium handsets that you won't find on the OnePlus 5 is a 2K or 4K display. Instead you get a plain old 5.5 inch 1080p panel, and while it's tweaked for a rather oversaturated experience, it's still lower resolution than most "premium" handsets.

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Battery life

The OnePlus 5 shares the same essential chassis as the Oppo R11, and that means that it's thin, light and there's not a whole heaping load of space for shoving in lots of battery capacity. Still, OnePlus has managed to throw 3300mAh of battery power into the OnePlus 5, which should in theory give it some legs in day to day usage.

Testing with Geekbench 3's older battery test showed that the OnePlus 5 isn't an absolute standout on the battery front in the same way that it might be on the performance front:

Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score
Galaxy S8+ 14:55:30 8955
Sony Xperia XZ Premium 12:06:40 7266
Samsung Galaxy S8 11:47:50 7078
HTC U11 11:42:40 7026
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 11:11:20 6713
Huawei P10 Plus 10:39:50 6218
OnePlus 5 9:33:30 5735
Huawei P10 9:31:30 5523
Google Pixel XL 9:14:20 5543
LG G6 9:09:30 5495
Apple iPhone 7 7:50:10 4701
HTC U Ultra 7:25:40 4456
Apple iPhone SE 4:27:10 2671

Day to day usage bore this observation out, although there are very few phones that I can't send flat within a day if I put my mind to it.

The OnePlus 5 is capable of single business day usage without a doubt, and OnePlus does provide its own fast "Dash Charge" charger in the box with the OnePlus 5 to top it up if it's getting low.

It's also worth noting that OnePlus' inbuilt power saving measures are quite brutal in terms of cutting down network access and processor capabilities, but if you're desperate to make it through a few hours with just simple phone access, they'll do the trick to keep the OnePlus 5 ticking along.

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Verdict

The promise of the OnePlus 5 is that you get a premium handset without the premium price point, and any discussion of it has to revolve around that price.

For its soft launch in Australia, OnePlus will sell the OnePlus 5 for $599 outright for the 64GB/6GB ROM version and $699 outright for the 128GB/8GB ROM variant. That's broadly in line with its international pricing, but representatives of OnePlus did note to finder that this is just soft launch pricing, and it may revise the price of the OnePlus 5 if it takes it further to the Australian marketplace. That suggests that it could become more expensive over time, and obviously quite how expensive will affect its overall value equation.

At $699 for the 128GB/8GB ROM version, however, while there are compromises on storage, water resistance and screen resolution, and there's the grim cloud of benchmark cheating hanging over the whole enterprise, it's still an exceptionally worthwhile buy if you fancy an outright phone.

There's really nothing in the mid-range that competes with it, and while some premium handsets do outclass it for other features or a slightly more refined or unique design language, this is still a top-notch phone at a very attractive price point.

Specifications

Product Name
OnePlus 5
Display
5.5in
Resolution
1920 x 1280 pixels
ppi
401ppi
Software
Android 7.1.1
Storage
64/128GB
RAM
6/8GB
Battery
3300mAh
Front camera
16MP F2.0
Rear camera
Dual camera: 16MP F.17 wide angle/20MP F2.6 telephoto
Processor
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Size
154.2x74.1x7.25mm
Weight
153g

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