OnePlus 3 review: Third time’s the charm

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OnePlus has had a history of creating great products with an Achilles Heel, dating back to their first flagship device a couple years ago. The original OnePlus One was a fantastic phone that was incredibly difficult to actually buy thanks to its invite system. The OnePlus 2 was good, but took steps backwards on many things (looking at you, NFC) and still didn’t ditch the invite system.

We’ve also had the spinoff OnePlus X, which was also pretty great, but lacked decent storage options and LTE bands for AT&T. “It’s good, but…” seems like it should be the motto of the company at this point. Everything might just be different this year.

Hit the break for our review of the OnePlus 3.

The OnePlus 3 is the third stab at a flagship device from the company, and on paper this one seems like a home run. The $399 price tag is great, the specs are more than enough to stay competitive for a few years, and it’s not missing any crucial features like LTE support, a fingerprint scanner, or NFC. Best of all, you can actually buy the thing without having to enter a stupid contest to get a chance to buy one.

Design

When you look at the OnePlus 3, you’re probably going to see a bit of the HTC One (M8). That’s not a bad thing, because the M8 was praised as a fantastic device, but if you were looking for something that stuck with the older designs of OnePlus hardware, you might be a little disappointed.

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Moving past design inspirations, this phone looks good. It’s made of anodized aluminum in graphite or soft gold, and both options are easily some of the most attractive smartphone designs on the market. The antenna lines on the top and bottom of the rear of the phone accentuate design well, the square camera matches the squared off edges of the body of the phone, and the buttons all seamlessly blend into the aluminum. You might be crazy about the phone if you prefer the rounded edges that everyone seems to go for these days, but if you don’t mind square, the OnePlus 3 is hard to beat.

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On the sides of the device you’ll find your typical buttons. The right side houses the power button, while the left has the volume keys. There’s also OnePlus’s famous notification mode switch just about the volume buttons that you can toggle to turn off notification sounds completely, or only allow through important notifications that you set. That’s one of the more unique features of the OnePlus flagships, and it’s still great to have here.

The bottom of the device is home to your speakers, USB type-C port, microphone, and a headphone jack. OnePlus is sticking to type-C here, and they’re not abandoning the 3.5mm port just yet.

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It would be nice to say that the feel of the device matches how good it looks, but some people are going to have a hard time with this phone, mostly due to its size. The OnePlus 3 has a 5.5-inch screen, so it’s a fairly large device. The anodized aluminum is really not grippy at all, and the squared edges seem like they can be counterintuitive to actually holding the phone. OnePlus did slightly curve the backside of the device so it rests a little better in your palm, but I always struggle to maintain a perfectly safe grip with how I tend to balance the bottom of the phone with my pinky while using it.

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I found myself using the OnePlus 3 with two hands more often than not. Walking and texting just felt too dangerous, but if you’re used to phone on the bigger side (or you stick a good, grippy case on it) you might not have as much of a problem with it.

Hardware

 OnePlus 3
AnnouncedJune 14, 2016
ReleaseJune 2016
Display5.5-inch Full HD (1920x1080) Optic AMOLED with Corning Gorilla Glass 4
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 820
RAM6GB of RAM
Storage64GB
Rear Camera16MP with phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization, LED flash
Front Camera8MP
Battery3000mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB Type-C with Dash Charge
SoundBottom-facing mono speaker
SoftwareAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow with OxygenOS
ConnectivityNFC, Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, compass, gyro, barometer, fingerprint
Measurements152.7 x 74.7 x 7.4mm
Weight158g
ColorsGraphite, Soft Gold

Performance

The OnePlus 3 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 and 6GB of RAM, and like most other flagship devices from this generation, you won’t find anything to complain about with performance.

Moving through apps was a breeze, and heavy multitasking and gaming didn’t make the OnePlus 3 skip a beat. It hammered the battery, but the 820 kept up without breaking a sweat.

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When the device first came out there some complaints about aggressive memory management that didn’t allow the device to use all 6GB of RAM that it had. Unused RAM is wasted RAM, you know the saying. Since then, OnePlus has updated the device with reworked RAM management, and in my usage I couldn’t find anything to complain about. Apps and games stayed in memory for an extremely long time, with the exception being apps that refreshed because of network timeouts. Shopping apps in particular are prone to that.

But hopping back and forth between emails and social media, or jumping back into a Reddit thread after getting wok were seamless. If you play a ton of heavy games you can probably congest things and cause apps to start reloading, but I don’t think that will be the case for most people.

The fingerprint scanner on the device is also blazing fast. The button (which also doubles as a home button if you don’t use on-screen keys) will quickly recognize fingerprints even while the screen is off, skipping your lock screen and opening your phone. I never had issues with fingerprints not being recognized, and that speed is really something OnePlus should be bragging about.

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With specs like these, you’d probably expect an uber high-resolution screen, but OnePlus dialed back the resolution to just 1080p. That’s an odd move in a market that screams for higher resolution displays, but honestly, you wouldn’t notice the difference using the phone. It’s an AMOLED display with bright, punchy colors, great black levels, and beautiful contrast, and not once did I ever stop and think text or images looked blocky. The display is probably going to hamstring any dreams of the OnePlus 3 doing virtual reality, but if that’s not something on your list, it won’t bother you a bit.

Battery

OnePlus actually shrank the size of the battery for the OP3, so you’ll only get a 3000mAh non-removable battery here. That’s smaller than what was in both of its predecessors.

Like its predecessors, the battery life on the OnePlus 3 is okay. With moderate usage you’ll probably make it all day, but heavy usage will have you scrambling for a charger not long after the sun goes down. I’m worse on phone batteries than the average user, and I pretty consistently ran the phone dead well before bedtime. This was actually a little surprising considering OnePlus sprung for a 1080p display instead of something higher resolution.

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OnePlus has a trick up its sleeve for mediocre battery life, though. The OnePlus 3 supports Dash Charging, which is faster than Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0. They managed to pull it off, too, as the device can pull over 60% of a charge in under thirty minutes.

You’ll need a certified Dash Charger to make this work, but as long as you have one handy, you won’t need to worry about battery life as long as you can find a wall outlet during the day. Being able to quickly pull over half of a battery charge over a lunch break should keep most people going all day.

Software

If you’ve used a recent OnePlus device, you’ll feel right at home with the OnePlus 3. It uses the company’s own OxygenOS that’s essentially a very lightly skinned version of Android 6.0.1, and you’ll find very little to complain about. The software is relatively close to vanilla Android, although OnePlus does add in a few key tweaks and improvements that are non-intrusive and mostly useful.

The launcher, for starters, is one of the more easily customizable launchers that come preloaded on a device. You can change icons and labels for your apps, and OnePlus has a nifty Shelf feature that hangs out on the far left home screen. You can fill it up with widgets, contacts, and frequently used apps, plus it gives you a quick place to write out a memo. The launcher itself runs very smoothly, even with multiple home screens and tons of widgets.

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OnePlus also gives you the choice between a light and dark mode, allows you to change the accent color of everything in the dark mode, plus has a menu for turning off certain status bar icons. If you don’t want to see the Bluetooth icon all the time, feel free to turn it off. Pretty much everything that shows up in the top right of Android’s status bar can be toggled off. Like other OnePlus phones that feature hardware keys, you can turn the software navigation buttons on and off, plus change what the long press and double tap on each of the physical buttons do. Double tap the home button for the camera, anyone?

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You’ll also find a few gestures tucked away in the settings menu, like double tap to wake the device (which is actually pretty useless now that the fingerprint scanner handles everything) and the option to draw letter to open the camera, toggle the flashlight, and control music. Everything can be easily disabled, so if you want a bone stock experience, you can get that. If you’d like to do a little customizing, you can do that, too.

If you’re a purist, you may not like that OnePlus has doubled up on a few apps on the phone. You’ll get Google Photos and a Gallery app. There’s a music player, plus Google Play Music. It’s not a huge deal, but I always prefer it when OEMs just use Google’s offerings and then put their own apps up on the Play Store for the people that do want them.

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Best of all, the lightweight software means you’ll never run into performance problems from bloat. It’s not a Nexus device, but it’s close, and OnePlus does a decent job of sending out patches and updates when issues crop up, even if they aren’t major software versions.

Camera

It’s easy for a company to cram high-end specs into cheaper and cheaper phones. We see it happen all the time on budget phones from China, and even OnePlus does it. What do these phones all tend to have in common, though? They almost universally blow it when it comes to camera quality.

Here’s the good news: OnePlus did not blow it. It’s not the best smartphone camera in the world, and it’s probably not going to outshoot your buddy’s Galaxy S7. But when you remember that you only spend $399 for the OnePlus 3 and you have a 64GB device to store all of these 16-megapixel shots, that’s not a problem at all.

Outdoor shots turned out well. The OP3 sports a very high-resolution 16-megapixel camera, so you’ll easily manage to capture a ton of detail if you’re dealing with a ton of natural light.

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Low light shots aren’t great, but they’re not bad, either. The OIS here definitely helps to smooth things out, and in most situations, the flash on the camera doesn’t blow things out too badly. It’s not impossible to take a bad shot, but the camera software does a pretty good job of doing the best it can with what you give it. HDR helps quite a bit, too.

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Macro shots also come out surprisingly well. The OnePlus 3 focuses extremely quickly and captures shots just as fast.

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The fast shutter speeds mean you don’t need to worry about positioning for a perfect shot. Just point and click, and you’ll get a good quality photo in all but the most extreme lighting situations.

If you’re brave, OnePlus has a manual mode built into the camera app. It’s much less daunting that what LG uses, fortunately, so if you don’t mind fiddling with some settings you can correct for some of the weaker points of the camera in low light.

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On the video side of things, you can shoot in 720p, 1080p, or 4k, although all three options are strangely locked to 30 fps. The HD and full HD options are great, and pretty much what you’d expect from a high-end camera, while the 4k option is decent. The framerate holds steady pretty consistently, although the videos aren’t going to top phones in higher price ranges.

Closing

It’s hard to find an objective fault with the OnePlus 3. I’m not a fan of the larger screen, but for most people, that’s going to be a big plus. If the phone has a weakness, it’s probably the battery life, but the insanely fast Dash Charging is a good compromise from OnePlus.

Otherwise, $399 is going to buy a phone that’s every bit as good as phones that are twice as much money. Performance is top notch, battery life is about on par with most flagship devices, and the camera is fantastic in day-to-day usage. Plus, you’re getting 64GB of internal storage, which is something that almost everyone can benefit from.

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OnePlus still had to cut corners somewhere, which is why you’ll only get a 1080p display that’s likely not suitable for serious VR, there’s no microSD card slot, and the device isn’t waterproof and doesn’t support wireless charging. Are those things worth an extra $300 to $400? For most people, the answer is probably no. Corners were cut, but they were corners that most of us can probably live without, and that makes the OnePlus 3 very hard to beat for the price. Third time’s the charm, right?

Buy it now: OnePlus


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 and an unhealthy obsession with fixing things that aren't broken. This accidentally led to being the go-to guy for anything more complicated than a toaster, which he considers more of a curse than a blessing. Jared is enrolled in online classes at the University of Phoenix, and spends his spare time on video games and listening to music.


  • Draken Blackknight

    The OnePlus 3 is insanely easy to root, too.