OnePlus 5 Smartphone Australian Review

Sleek and powerful without breaking the budget, the Android-powered OnePlus 5 throws down the gauntlet to flagship smartphone makers.

There was a time when Android smartphones were either cheap and nasty or else expensive and slick, with very little middle ground. In the last few years we’ve seen the arrival of impressive mid-range Android handsets, but the OnePlus 5 shakes things up by delivering flagship Android performance with a mid-range price tag.

Bang for your buck

Shenzhen-based phone maker OnePlus was established in 2013, with links to Oppo, as part of the push by Chinese hardware makers to build a reputation for quality rather than just churning out budget knockoffs.

OnePlus soon built up a loyal following amongst the Android faithful and now it’s officially coming to Australia with the 5.5-inch OnePlus 5. It kicked off with a soft launch last week and OnePlus is holding meetups in Melbourne and Sydney this month to gain feedback from early adopters.

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For now it’s selling directly via rather than through traditional retailers, although you’ll find grey imports from the usual suspects. This means you’ll probably need to buy the OnePlus handset outright rather than on a plan from a telco, but that might not be a deal-breaker considering it’s not nearly as expensive as the flagship Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S.

The entry-level OnePlus 5 will set you back $599 with 6GB of RAM – generous for an Android handset – and 64GB of onboard storage. If you tend to push your smartphone to the limit you can step up to the $699 model with an impressive 8GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. Neither model has a microSD slot for extending the onboard storage.

One in the hand

The OnePlus 5 feels great, with a solid unibody aluminum design and a slender bezel along the sides of the 5.5-inch screen – making it look tall but not cumbersome. That’s the design trend these days with premium larger-screen phones, to ensure they’re not too wide for your average hand.

Admittedly the handset isn’t quite as sleek and compact as Samsung’s Galaxy S8, which crams a slightly larger 5.8-inch display into a slightly smaller body thanks to the bezel-less design. The OnePlus 5 is roughly half a centimetre taller and wider, yet still manages to be a tad thinner and lighter.

The big trade-off is that the OnePlus 5 only offers 1920×1080 Full HD screen resolution, which is nothing to be ashamed of but still falls short of flagship rivals. It’s an “Optic AMOLED” screen – taking Samsung’s Super AMOLED display and tweaking the contrast and colour temperature while optimising it for outdoor viewing.

There’s more to picture quality than raw resolution and the OnePlus 5 looks very impressive. The screen produces deep blacks, great contrast and vibrant colours, with the choice of colour spaces including sRGB and DCI-P3’s wider colour gamut.

It’s also bright enough to be useable outside on a sunny day without too much screen glare. The screen is tough thanks to Corning Gorilla Glass 5 but unfortunately the handset isn’t waterproof.

Under the bonnet

Run your eye down the OnePlus 5’s spec sheet and there’s plenty to like:

  • USB-C
  • standard 3.5mm headphone jack (but no headphones in the box)
  • fingerprint reader (in the front button)
  • dual 16/20MP rear camera with 1.6x optical zoom, 16MP front camera
  • dual nano SIM
  • 4G LTE + Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
  • NFC + Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE, aptX HD
  • 8-core Qualcomm MSM8998 Snapdragon 835 CPU + Adreno 540 graphics
  • OxygenOS 4.5.5 based on Android 7.1.1

Rather than applying a skin to Android, OnePlus actually rolls its own flavour dubbed OxygenOS – which has a clean and minimalist look, unlike the cheery and chirpy Android skins favoured by some smartphone makers. Right now the OnePlus 5 ships running OxygenOS based on Android 7.1.1, but OnePlus is already beta testing a version based on Android 8.0 Oreo so it’s definitely coming – straight from OnePlus rather than waiting for your telco to push out an update.

All that grunt under the bonnet makes Android incredibly fluid and responsive, assisted by the slick OxygenOS which doesn’t waste any of that grunt on unnecessary cutesy effects. As a result the phone unlocks quickly, even using the fingerprint reader, while there’s no lag in the menus and apps are quick to load.

OxygenOS adds a few nice touches without getting in the way such as a programmable vibrations, gestures and LED notification lights as well as the choice of placing the navigation buttons on the screen or the bezel. They can be a little too easy to tap by accident when they’re on the bezel. You can also pull down the notifications bar by flicking down anywhere on the home screen, rather than reaching to the top.

Fire up the Google Play app store and you can feel the performance when browsing the store and installing apps. The phone handles graphics-heavy games like Real Racing 3 without missing a beat, along with high-def Netflix streaming – although the single speaker sounds a little thin and lacks the low-end punch to really do a movie soundtrack justice.

Power up

Of course great performance needs to be backed by a great battery and here the OnePlus 5 doesn’t disappoint – packing a 3300mAh battery which should get you through the most demanding days.

It supports rapid charging, able to draw half a day’s power in only half an hour, but only if you use the supplied USB Dash Charge cable and 5 Volt, 4 Amp charger – which frustratingly comes with a European plug so you’ll want to invest an international power adaptor. That might change once OnePlus gets beyond the Australian soft launch phase.

Strike a pose

The phone’s snappy performance extends to the camera, which launches in a split-second with a fast autofocus that doesn’t leave you hanging when you press the shutter button.

This is the first OnePlus phone to feature a dual-lens rear camera. The primary lens offers 16MP with an f/1.7 aperture, while the secondary lens delivers 20MP with an f/2.6 aperture, and it’s easy to jump between them. Unfortunately the phone lacks optical image stabilisation.

Meanwhile there’s a generous 16MP front-facing camera which takes crisp, vivid images – although skin tones can lack a little detail even before you engage the adjustable “beautification” mode which makes you look like you’ve been smothered in layers of foundation.

You’d expect better from a 16MP front camera – it seems OxygenOS is still applying a little beautification even when it’s supposedly disabled, but images also a little soft even using third-party camera apps. When it comes to skin detail I’ve seen better selfies from front cameras with much lower pixel counts, but I guess not everyone wants a brutally honest selfie.

You’ll naturally get better portraits from the rear camera, which isn’t as quick to hide blemishes. Whether you’re taking portraits or landscapes, it captures great shots with little noise, even in dark scenes.

The colours are a touch saturated, although they’re not the worst I’ve seen – it certainly isn’t enough to bother your average happy snapper, as blue skies and green grass still look real. Serious shooters can engage Pro mode with access to ISO level, shutter speed, focal distance and white balance while saving in the raw DNG format.

Switching to Portrait mode takes advantage of the dual lenses to put the background into soft focus, looking more natural than the overly-aggressive bokeh software filters on which some phones rely. You can also take advantage of the second lens when taking macro shots, but you can’t go back and change the focus after you’ve taken a photo.

After dark the camera offers impressive low light performance and HDR mode, with an excellent flash which offers even, neutral lighting without being overpowering. The rear camera can also shoot 4K video, while the front offers 1080p.

So what’s the verdict?

The OnePlus 5 is a great handset, making it harder to justify spending north of $1000 on a flagship smartphone. It’s a serious Android powerhouse with a generous battery, impressive screen and great camera, while OxygenOS walks that fine line of being useful without becoming intrusive.

This phone obviously isn’t for everyone and at the $599/$699 mark is certainly overkill for those with basic needs. It’s still hard to beat something like a Moto G if you’re after a great budget Android phone for less-tech-savvy friends and relatives.

Meanwhile if you’re a flagship shopper looking to find fault with the OnePlus 5 then you can point to plenty of shortcomings compared to Samsung’s Galaxy S8 – but remember the S8 about twice as expensive. If you expect plenty of change from $1000 when buying a great Android smartphone, the OnePlus 5 needs to be the benchmark by which you measure all contenders.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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