OnePlus 5 review

OnePlus just graduated. It’s no longer in the second division, pushing for the big time. The OnePlus 5 is technically brilliant and is the natural product of the last three years for the company. 

From 2014’s OnePlus One to today, these phones have shown mobile tech’s natural progression to where it is now. The only thing is, when you release a phone every few months there is only so much you can change.

The OnePlus 5 is an exquisitely designed, high-spec flagship phone with outstanding cameras, a decent display and a sense of individualism. But so were the OnePlus 3 and its successor just five months later, the 3T

Just 12 months after the OnePlus 3, it is no longer an out-and-out bargain. It has joined the top table of smartphone royalty and still undercuts the price of most of them, but not by quite the distance it once did a long time ago.

With only one network partner in the UK, OnePlus might find it hard to find a wider audience who are willing to spend £449 outright rather than get a similar phone on contract.

OnePlus 5 Price and Where to Buy

The OnePlus 5 is now on sale direct from OnePlus or from O2 from £449. This gets you the Slate Grey model with a set 6GB RAM and 64GB storage, or the recently announced Soft Gold colour, which is a limited edition.

Pay £499 and you’ll get the Midnight Black OnePlus 5 with a set 8GB RAM (yes, eight) and 128GB storage, and as of August this version is also available in the fairly similar Slate Grey hue.

This option is definitely better value for your money, as you get double the storage for the extra £50 and still save nearly £200 compared to the Galaxy S8.

In the UK it is also available exclusively on contract with O2, with contracts from £9.99 upfront with £41 per month, or £89.99 upfront and £37 per month.

This puts it at roughly the same price as the Sony Xperia XZ and iPhone 6s. Those phones are a generation behind the OnePlus 5, so OnePlus is still the better value option SIM-free compared to 2017 flagships.

OnePlus 5 Design and Build

Ignoring past phones for a moment, the OnePlus 5 is a brilliantly well thought out and designed premium slab of phone. I reviewed the Midnight Black model on (8GB RAM, 128GB) and it is impressively thin yet sturdy - just 153g.

Yet the Slate Grey (left) version is barely distinguishable from the black (right). I also ran benchmarks of both, with surprising results.

I also got to play about with a limited edition Soft Gold OnePlus 5. Here's the video:

The aluminium rear of the phone is slick and clean, with no aerial lines breaking the design, but rather hugging the top and bottom of the phone. This means it now looks akin to an iPhone 7 Plus with its dual cameras and clean back, broken only by cameras, flash and logo.

The front of the phone has a forehead with a camera, ambient light sensor and earpiece and a chin with the excellent ceramic fingerprint sensor, but very slight side bezels. The bezels have an ever so slight dip to them, not an edge, but it only adds to the exceptional feel. The display remains 16:9 and even with my small mitts I was able to do a few things with one hand.

The right edge is clean save for a power/lock button with the Alert Slider and volume rocker on the left. The top edge is clean while the bottom houses a single down firing speaker, USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack.

OnePlus describes the ridge that runs all around the edges of the phone as the ‘horizon line’, showing dark on one ridge and light on the other in the right light. More simply, it makes the phone look and feel premium while allowing for a better grip on what is undoubtedly a fairly slippery phone. You may want to invest in one of the attractive cases OnePlus sells (I like the carbon fibre one).

Attention to detail has always been a strong point for OnePlus. Marketing descriptions can be overblown; the OnePlus 5 speaks for itself. It’s a revision of the 3, and feels like an end point. It’s an excellent place to be, but it’s hard to see where the OnePlus goes from here without completely renovating its design language.

The handy Alert Slider remains a key design feature but there's still no waterproofing here.

It’s a company that understands better than many that how a device feels and how the customer relates to that is what strengthens a brand. However, it does bear almost exactly the same design as the Oppo R11.

Spot the difference... this is the Oppo R11

OnePlus was borne out of Oppo, one of China's biggest phone companies and on this evidence the two still share some designers. The R11 has exactly the same design as the OnePlus 5 bar the different style of aerial lines and the Alert Slider.

This is, it would seem, perfectly legal, and shows more obviously than before what the two companies still obviously share. But it takes away from the power of OnePlus' marketing clout once you realise a doppelgänger is available from another company.

OnePlus 5 Hardware and Specs

Despite this the OnePlus 5 is one of the best specced phone on the market right now. It has more RAM than any of its direct competitors. Who needs 8GB RAM? You do, apparently. Or, you will do, in a year or two as the phone naturally slows and apps become more demanding. But you’ll upgrade in two years, won't you?

The Snapdragon 835 (a la HTC U11 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium) is a phenomenal chip, and the OnePlus 5 has not so much as stuttered in my time with it. It is the fastest phone I have ever used, and I’ve used all the main flagships of the last year to some extent.

You can hop between apps with absolutely no slowdown, while games such as the graphically intense Asphalt 8 run seamlessly. This is helped by the Adreno 540 GPU, which makes a great processor run even smoother, swatting away difficult tasks with ease.

The phone also has a silent feature called App Priority that supposedly learns your behaviour over time and stops rarely used apps taking up memory space. Not that you’ll need to worry about that.

Even if you get the cheaper model you still have 6GB RAM to keep you ticking over. 8GB is overkill for the average user, but won’t find another phone with that much RAM at £499.

As mentioned earlier you get either 64 or 128GB of internal storage and it's worth noting there's not a microSD card slot.

Benchmarking the phone against others with the Snapdragon 835 shows the 5 is no slouch. In fact, it matches and sometimes outdoes its nearest rivals, particularly notably in the Geekbench 4 test.

It's worth noting however reports that OnePlus has set up the phone to 'cheat' benchmarks by purposefully over-performing when using such software. OnePlus has countered this claim. This is frustrating, and also goes some way to explaining why the 6GB RAM model actually consistently outperformed the 8GB RAM model in every test here.

Has OnePlus boosted the 6GB model in testing conditions to appear to keep up with the technically faster model? Or is it all a bit of a muddle, and shows that no app pressure on a phone means it needs 8GB of RAM? 

Thankfully for you the consumer, it doesn't overly matter. I can confirm that both models of this phone are stupidly fast and it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. 

The display is AMOLED like in Samsung’s Galaxy S8. The 5.5in screen displays colours very vividly and brightly, even in direct sunlight. OnePlus has stuck with a 16:9 aspect ratio so video won’t display with black bars in most instances like on taller phones such as the S8 and LG G6. See also: OnePlus 5 vs Galaxy S8 and OnePlus 5 vs LG G6.

The screen uses 2.5D Gorilla Glass, a version of the drop and scratch resistant material that allows for slight curvature. OnePlus has noticeably improved the touch response and latency of the display, one of the main complaints held against the last generation. Touch input is near flawless.

We finally find something on the spec sheet to warrant the cheaper price compared to rivals and that's the display resolution. The OnePlus 5 is still Full HD (1080x1920) with most Quad HD or even higher. 

That said, it still looks crisp and in our experience the average user can't tell the difference.

While the handset packs in NFC, 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX and a headphone jack, it noticeably leaves out wireless charging and waterproofing. Sure, it’s splashproof (I tried it) but with no IP rating, the 5 has a clear couple of features missing considering it’s going head to head against phones that have one or both

That's two more reasons why it's cheaper than the other 2017 flagships.

OnePlus has run the ‘Shot on OnePlus’ social media campaign for a while now and it hopes it can inspire another raft of fans to get involved with the improved camera set up on the 5. With dual cameras it looks a hell of a lot like the aforementioned Oppo R11 and, in black, the iPhone 7 Plus. Its headline bokeh feature is snatched straight from the latter.

Camera sample at 1x on auto mode

It works incredibly well though, better I feel than on the Huawei P10. The effect doesn’t feel gimmicky but is instead well integrated into the camera app, and you can get amazing results without using pro mode.

There is a 16Mp sensor supported by a 20Mp telephoto lens with an aperture of just f/1.7 on the main one. The second sensor means the phone can also perform a handy optical zoom, bringing better quality images than the digital zoomed alternative. OnePlus confirmed though that it is not the 2x optical zoom like on the iPhone 7 Plus, but a 2x lossless zoom - the differnce being optical zoom is 1.6x, with a further 0.4x achieved digitally.

The front facing camera is also 16Mp and feels like an upgrade to the one on the 3T which struggled in low light considerably.

Notice the excellent blurring of background in portrait mode

It's tricky to get the portrait mode to work every time though. It's clearly software doing all the work, and sometimes I lined up a good shot only for the post-image processing to fail on me, leaving no bokeh effect. The camera set up is improved from the 3T, but still falls short of the Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel.

The cameras also perform well reproducing challenging light conditions

The phone intelligently compiles several frames of the same photo and clears up noise before saving the final image to your gallery. The results are always good and often stunning. There's no doubt this is a substantial upgrade from the 3 and 3T.

Call quality on the OnePlus 5 is excellent, with voices coming through bright and clear. Hands free calls are adequate with the one down facing speaker but sound best with the device placed on a surface.

The vibration motor has also been changed. It was quite loud as well as being audible with the OnePlus 3, but I never missed a notification. Now it is much more subtle and quiet. It feels more premium, but has meant I’ve never really felt the motor at all unless I’m holding it.

Even in tight trouser pockets it’s hard to feel it. This posed a problem as I missed calls and texts frequently. I don’t want to hold the phone every waking second, even if some people do.

Battery life is solid, and occasionally outstanding. I never ran out over the course of a day but with heavy use you’ll dip to about 20 percent by 8pm, which is respectable. I felt it emptied on a morning commute unusually fast on some days but it seemed to level out after a week.

The capacity is 3300mAh despite rumours of it being larger. Many users would choose a thicker phone with a bigger battery over making it more slender.

It remains an annoyance that you can only fast charge with OnePlus’ own Dash Charge brick and cable combo – any other USB-C charger will see you phone charge agonisingly slowly in comparison.

With the bundled charger you’ll be able to top up 50% in half an hour just like the company promises though, which is very good and faster than pretty much any other phone out there.

OnePlus 5 Software

The best thing manufacturers can do with decent hardware is integrate excellent software. Thankfully OnePlus understands this, and OxygenOS is the best Android skin around. This is not change for the sake of change as every little tweak to Google’s stock Android interface is well thought out and worthy of use.

The notification shade is easily customisable, the app tray is a smart swipe up (like on the Google Pixel) and the smaller options deep in the OS will be a tad confusing at first but if they are your style then you’ll love it.

You can program off-screen shortcuts to actions by drawing on the blank locked screen in an O, V, S, M or W, do a three finger screenshot, and even control music with gestures.

You can set onscreen hardware buttons, but I prefer the physical capacitive keys here with theirs subtle blue-tint lights lying beneath the chin. These can be swapped over and even long- and double press functions added.

There are other thoughtful additions like the clumsily named but nonetheless does-what-it-says Gaming Do Not Disturb mode. Tap this setting on from the notification shade and your gaming sessions will no longer be disturbed by notifications from other apps. 

Coupled with the insanely fast hardware, Oxygen OS (version 4.5.0 at the time of writing) zips you around the phone, almost to the point where it feels one step ahead. The App Priority software inclusion seemed to silently kick into effect and positively affected battery performance.

As mentioned, the latency is so much better than it was on the 3 and 3T. It feels as responsive as the best phones out there (no Android phone can beat the iPhone 7 in this instance though). It all adds up to an Android phone that excels in customisation.

Technically they all should but sometimes it isn't the case. The phone makes it easy for you to make it your own.

OnePlus 5: Specs

  • Android Nougat 7.1.1
  • 5.5in 1920x1080 1080p Full HD AMOLED display, 401ppi
  • 2.45GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
  • Adreno 540 graphics
  • 6/8GB RAM
  • 64/128GB storage
  • 16Mp rear camera, f/1.7, support for 4K video at 30fps
  • 16Mp front camera, f/2.0
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 4G
  • Dual nano-SIM
  • NFC
  • 3,300mAh non-removable battery
  • 154.2x74.1x7.25mm
  • 153g
  • Android Nougat 7.1.1
  • 5.5in 1920x1080 1080p Full HD AMOLED display, 401ppi
  • 2.45GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
  • Adreno 540 graphics
  • 6/8GB RAM
  • 64/128GB storage
  • 16Mp rear camera, f/1.7, support for 4K video at 30fps
  • 16Mp front camera, f/2.0
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 4G
  • Dual nano-SIM
  • NFC
  • 3,300mAh non-removable battery
  • 154.2x74.1x7.25mm
  • 153g

OUR VERDICT

The OnePlus 5 is a logical refinement of the young company’s back catalogue. It marries solid design with excellent software in a package under £500. But a year ago, it did this all for a sliver over £300.

The phone feels like the end of OnePlus phase one and a bridge to whatever the company does next. It might not be the obvious bargain price OnePlus is known for but it's still significantly cheaper, is incredibly fast and has improved cameras.

There are downsides with no waterproofing, Quad HD screen or wireless charging. We strongly recommend considering this phone if you’ve been tempted by the Galaxy S8 or LG G6 but can't stretch to them – the fact it’s in that conversation is testament to OnePlus’ continuing impressive achievements.

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