Opinion: Why does the OnePlus 5 exist, again?

We’re approaching four years of life with OnePlus, and its 2017 flagship confuses me.

Back in 2014, OnePlus was a company with a single mission: create a flagship phone better than current flagship phones at a fraction of the cost. The OnePlus One was slugging it out with the Galaxy S5, LG G3, and HTC One (M8), and for the most part it succeeded.

The OnePlus One launched with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM, and up to 64GB of internal storage, which is still a pretty decent little phone in 2017. Sure, there was no fingerprint scanner, the battery wasn’t removable, and you couldn’t expand the memory, but it launched at just $299 (or $349 for the 64GB model) which was significantly cheaper than other flagships around.

Now, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine when the device launched thanks to some seriously stupid marketing campaigns from OnePlus and a terrible invite system that literally everyone on the internet hated. But hey, it was the company’s first device, so they got to make a few mistakes with that incredibly attractive price tag. The phone cemented OnePlus as a brand that was bucking trends and competing on margins that you’d never see Samsung or LG try to match.

Fast forward to the next year, and we got the OnePlus 2. It offered some improved hardware, including a mediocre-but-functional fingerprint scanner, but the price went up a bit and, uh, where’s the NFC? Despite OnePlus’ aggressive “Never Settle” motto, the OnePlus 2 really felt like it, well, settled. The pricing was still pretty great, starting at just $329 and going up to $389 for the 64GB model, but corners had to be cut. It also kept the awful invite system and didn’t see great software support, but when the device was half as expensive as a Galaxy S6, it got a pass.

Next came the OnePlus 3 and the OnePlus 3T, which also came with another slight price hike. The OnePlus 3 launched at $399 as an all-around fantastic device, including a Snapdragon 820, 6GB of RAM, and a consistent fingerprint scanner. The camera was still pretty meh, and despite the longer software support, it’s really not a massive jump from the OnePlus 2. They did address some key concerns (lack of NFC, high-speed charging) but it wasn’t an upgrade worthwhile for anyone still hanging onto a generation old model. Then we got the barely upgraded OnePlus 3T less than a year later, which also came with another price increase to $439.

Today the OnePlus 5 is official with a big marketing push, a great camera, and specifications that will go toe-to-toe with flagship phones of the future. And, yep, another price increase. You’re shelling out $479 or $529 for either the 64GB or 128GB models this time.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s still an attractive price for the kind of hardware you get from the OnePlus 5, especially considering it has a very powerful dual-camera system. But five hundred bucks? That is not a flagship killer price tag. That’s a flagship price tag.

OnePlus 5: Unboxing & Hands On

If you’re budget-conscious but still want a high-end device, you can snag a Galaxy S7 for a little over $300 at Best Buy right now, and promotions run all the time for older devices. If you want something more current, like the Galaxy S8 or LG G6, there are some pretty solid deals to be had there, too. T-Mobile is offering the G6 for $500, and Samsung ran a buy-one-get-one promotion on the Galaxy S8 just a few weeks back.

Deals like that put current flagships right in the same market as the OnePlus 5, and that’s dangerous. It’s a great phone, but without that attractive undercutting price, you’ll have a hard time convincing most people that a similarly priced Galaxy device isn’t a better deal. Carrier support is also subpar compared to the other devices, at least in the United States. The OnePlus 5 can’t be used on Verizon’s network, eliminating the single largest carrier in the country.

Missing Verizon compatibility isn’t really a huge deal, though, if you’re like OnePlus and focusing on the rest of the world. No other region uses CDMA or Verizon’s LTE bands, so why bother if that’s not where you’re primarily trying to sell your device? That part makes sense, but what doesn’t make sense comes back around to that price tag. Other markets are gravitating towards cheaper powerful phones, not phones that keep getting expensive. You have two opposing ideas clashing hard with each other in the OnePlus 5, and it’s strange.

Speaking of those cheaper phones, they’re pretty accessible in the United States, too. You can get the fantastic Moto Z Play for less than the OnePlus 5 costs, and even if it has lesser specs in some areas, it matches the OnePlus 5’s display, beats it in battery life, and has those nifty Moto Mods. Plus, it works on Verizon’s network. If you want to get even cheaper, there are plenty of solid devices in lower price ranges, too, which is where OnePlus once stood.

None of this is to say that the price increases weren’t justified, either. The OnePlus 5 is a top-tier phone in almost every regard, especially now that they’re taking the camera seriously. But, with higher price tags reaching the flagship category, you’d think we’d see fewer corners cut. That’s not the case, though, with the OnePlus 5 featuring an upside down screen with a funky jelly scroll effect, and speakers that mix up left and right audio channels. There’s a weird 911 bug, too. “Never Settle” has always been kind of an awkward slogan for a company that made their name by offering a slightly downgraded product to save money, but now it’s just painfully ironic.

The OnePlus 5 looks like a great phone, and I personally own a OnePlus 3T, so I do like their products. But why does the OnePlus 5 exist?

It’s not to undercut flagship phones on a budget; the price is too high from where the OnePlus One started.

It’s not offer a no-compromise flagship; no wireless charging, no water resistance, and a 1080p screen certainly isn’t a combination that’s going to scare Samsung.

From the outside looking in, the OnePlus 5 looks like an upper-mid-range smartphone with 8 out of 10 specs that should be aimed at a market like the United States but instead completely forgoes that market’s biggest carrier. That’s hard to fit into a slogan, but even harder to sell.

About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid, but the tech enthusiasm currently covers just about everything. He likes PC gaming, Lenovo's Moto Z line, and a good productivity app.

  • Dan

    Sorry but I disagree with a lot of what you said. They don’t market the phone as a ‘Flagship Killer’ anymore.

    In many respects it’s a better phone than the S8/G6/U11, and being cheaper than some of the competition is just a bonus. The issues you list are either fixable via an update (the 911 bug has already been fixed) or in the case of jelly scrolling it’s a complete non issue that’s been completely blown out of proportion.

    There’s been a lot of unjustified hate towards the Oneplus 5 online and it’s a bit of a joke really, if you read posts from people who actually own the phone the overwhelming majority love the device. I know I wouldn’t swap it for any other on the market right now.

  • JC

    This is the most accurate opinion piece I’ve seen. I quit after the One plus 3. For the slogan to be “Never Settle” corners have been cut from day one. I went to the Galaxy S8 and never looked back. 1080p is ridiculous for the price of the Oneplus 5 in 2017. The Honor 8 Pro is the phone to beat in the upper mid-range sector this year.

  • Farmers (Mansfield)

    I tried the 3T, and it felt a nice phone mostly, except the fingerprint reader felt slightly wobbly and wouldn’t register all the time. It would unlock fine 3 or 4 times on the trot, and then keep asking me to try again before finally dropping to the PIN number screen. In the end, I sent it back. Maybe I was just unlucky. Although the returns process didn’t give me confidence in the company either. The first time I sent it off it was returned 4 days later as it had been refused by export control, needed some paperwork. The second time I was sent some paperwork to send with the phone, and told to use the same Courier label as before, which sounded strange but they assured me it would work. Sure enough, during the next week, the tracking info showed it went to Germany then back to the UK twice, before finally coming back to me. When I checked with the courier they told me using the same shipping label again had played havoc with their systems. After another week of chasing, Oneplus provided a new shipping label and the phone went off. It was still almost another week before I received confirmation they were refunding me.