OnePlus X review: OnePlus almost made a perfect phone

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The OnePlus X is the smallest, most affordable handset in the company’s lineup. It’s not quite as big as the OnePlus One or OnePlus 2, and its hardware isn’t competing at the absolute high-end of the market, but it stands on its own with a unique design, smaller frame, and a more affordable price tag, if that was even possible for OnePlus.

This has created a unique lineup of devices for OnePlus, and helps to round out their portfolio for someone potentially buying a smartphone. The OnePlus 2 couldn’t quite keep the extremely low price point of its predecessor, but the OnePlus X matched that price and then some. Now for anyone looking for a low-priced, premium device, the OnePlus X fills that need. For someone that wants to spend a little more to get extremely high-end hardware without compromise, they’ll have the OnePlus 2 and can still save some money compared to current flagship phones from other OEMs.

The OnePlus X clearly isn’t aimed at someone that wants the latest and greatest, but for someone that wants a phone that’s an incredible value for the money. Let’s see if OnePlus managed to do that with their compact flagship.

Design

The OnePlus X sports a smaller profile than OnePlus’s other two offerings, and a slightly different design to boot. The dimensions are only 140 x 69 x 6.9mm and the OnePlus X weighs just 138g, so it’s sufficiently compact and lightweight. The back of the phone is made of glass and its encased in metal edges, which sounds like a fantastic combination on paper. In reality, the phone doesn’t quite have that extremely high-end feel in the hand, with the back almost feeling like a more premium plastic material. It’s not anything worth complaining about, especially in the price range, and you’ll never mistake the phone for a cheap, low-end device.

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On the right side of the phone you’ll find the power button and volume buttons, which are a little too close together for comfort. I frequently hit the wrong button when trying to adjust the volume or turn the screen on or off just because of how little space is present between the two sets of buttons. Above the volume buttons rests the SIM tray, which holds either two SIM cards or a SIM card plus microSD card.

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The left side of the phone features a slider for controlling notification settings. It’s almost like a sound/vibrate toggle that has three settings: the first is the normal setting, the middle switch blocks out everything but priority notifications, and the last switch blocks all notifications. It can be a little tough to move the slider, especially with a case on, but it’s a fantastic addition to the phone.

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The bottom of the OnePlus X has a micro-USB port and dual speakers, with the headphone jack resting at the top left of the device. Pretty standard configurations there. You’ll find the camera and flash on the rear of the device, and the front-facing camera and LED notification light on the front of the phone. You’ll also see three capacitive buttons on the bottom face of the phone.

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Overall, the OnePlus X has a very solid, if unremarkable, design that’s easy on the eyes and the hands. The smaller screen helps to keep the size down, which in turn makes it very easy to use one-handed.

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Hardware

The OnePlus X features a 5-inch Full HD (1920×1080) AMOLED display, Snapdragon 801 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU, 3GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage paired with a microSD card slot, a 13MP rear camera and an 8MP front-facing camera, 2525 mAh non-removable battery, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, and Bluetooth 4.0.

Bands:

4G LTE for U.S. (1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8)
4G LTE for Europe (1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 38, 40)
HSDPA (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100)
GSM (850, 900, 1800, 1900)

Note: OnePlus X is lacking in LTE bands, especially in the United States. AT&T uses band 17 for a ton of their LTE coverage while T-Mobile is switching over to band 12, neither of which are present in the OnePlus X.

Performance

With its Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 and 3GB of RAM to push only a Full HD (1920×1080) display, the OnePlus X performs as well as you’d expect. Switching between apps, web browsing, playing music and heavy multitasking are all a breeze for the phone, and gaming performance is right where you want it. OnePlus’s OxygenOS doesn’t layer much else on top of the software, so you’re also dealing with a near stock version of Android, which uses very few system resources.

I never experienced any performance problems or hitches with normal to heavy usage. And that included navigation, playing music, and plenty of social media and web browsing.

The display has a relatively high pixel density of 441ppi, and it offers one of the best displays on a mobile device, especially if you’re a fan of bright colors. It’s not quite Samsung-caliber, but it’s close. Watching movies and viewing pictures were incredibly enjoyable, and the colors popped more than on other similar phones like what you’d find from LG or even Apple’s iPhone.

The speakers on the phone are nothing to write home about. They’re not bad but not great. They do have a dual-speaker setup with two speakers firing downward from the bottom of the device, which offers an above average stereo sound.

Battery

Battery life on the OnePlus X is also fairly middle-of-the-road. With medium usage I managed to squeak out an entire workday on a single charge. You won’t be going multiple days with the OnePlus X, but if you’re used to charging the device at night and keep a spare charger around during the day for emergencies, you’d manage with its smaller battery.

Because of the OnePlus X design, you won’t be able to swap the battery out. No hot swapping in the middle of the day, and no replacing the battery yourself if it wears out in a couple years. Not a huge deal for most people, but worth considering for power users.

Software

The OnePlus X runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with OnePlus’s own OxygenOS. For the most part, it’s a pretty standard, stock Android experience with just a few tweaks. Most people don’t need to know how an outdated Android 5.1 runs and works, but if you need a recap, it’s fast. There’s Material Design everywhere, and OnePlus didn’t really change anything, especially in the aesthetics department.

The only change to the interface really comes from OxygenOS’ configurable dark mode, which replaces all of the white of Google’s mobile operating system with a much darker shade of a gray. You can even tweak the accent color in the interface to really find a combination you like, although that’s only available in the dark mode. I personally prefer the standard white shades that Google has implemented by default, but many people enjoy darker screens, especially on a display like this.

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Everything else is pretty standard for Android. The camera app is nearly identical to Google Camera, and the stock apps are all Google’s offerings: Messenger, Photos, Chrome, and so on. One of the only OnePlus apps pre-installed is the Files app, which actually really well and even hooks into your Google Drive account.

OnePlus includes a few tweaks to help you customize the phone, including custom navigation keys. You can switch back and forth between hardware and software keys, so if you like having the navbar at the bottom of your screen, you can use that and it will completely disable the capacitive buttons on the device. However, those capacitive buttons are much more customizable, and you’re able to swap the Back and Recents, plus assign actions for long-pressing or double-tapping any of the three buttons. Double-tap the home button for camera, anyone?

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The only issue with the capacitive keys isn’t really a software problem, but they’re extremely hard to see on the Onyx model of the device. They aren’t backlit, causing them to blend in with the phone if you aren’t looking for them. On the flip side of that, if you’re using software keys, you’ll be grateful that the capacitive keys are mostly hidden away.

On the launcher app, OnePlus offers what its calling a Shelf for your frequently used apps and contacts. Swiping all the way left takes you to a separate page, which is the Shelf, that you can set up with widgets and wallpapers. It shows your frequently used apps as well as frequent contacts, and you can set up any widget you’d like in a vertical scrolling page. It’s a much more customizable take on the extra home screen as opposed to Google’s mandated Google Now page and Samsung’s flaky Flipboard offering, and makes a pretty compelling shortcut page if you’re willing to spend the time in setting it all up.

The last useful addition that OnePlus baked in includes gestures. If you’ve used an LG or HTC phone recently, you’re probably familiar with these. While the screen is locked, you can double tap to wake the phone up, for example, or draw a circle to open the camera app. There’s a ‘v’ gesture for the flashlight, and a few gestures for media controls. The OnePlus X isn’t difficult to maneuver with its 5-inch screen, so the gestures aren’t necessary like they are on some bigger phones, but they’re very nice to have included at the system level.

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Camera

Camera performance on the OnePlus X is average. Outdoor shots all turn out fine, and the phone snaps photos pretty quickly as long as you’ve got a decent light source nearby. Colors are vivid, although things can seem a little washed out at times. Shutter speeds are quick, and for your everyday usage, most people won’t be disappointed with the image quality here.

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Things really start to struggle when the lighting isn’t perfect, however. Without decent lighting, pictures are extremely grainy past the point where they’ll be repaired with photo editing.

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Low light shots rarely come out well, unless you use the built-in HDR mode in OnePlus’s camera app. That has the drawback of drastically increasing the amount of time it takes to snap a photo, and even then the images don’t really compete with heavy hitters from Samsung or LG. Fortunately, the flash on the phone works well most of the time. I’ve used some phones where turning the flash on completely washed out your photo where it wasn’t ever worth turning on. That’s not the case with the OnePlus X.

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There’s a manual mode in the camera app that will let you adjust things like ISO settings to try and force some better pictures, if you know what you’re doing. Tinkering with things produced better results than the auto modes did, but most people aren’t going to want to open up that section of the camera and play with things before taking a picture.

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Shooting video worked fairly well, although the app doesn’t offer many options to customize your recording. You can pick either 1080p or 720p, and… that’s it. No adjustments on frame rate or anything, just regular HD or Full HD. Fortunately, videos do turn out pretty clear.

Closing

OnePlus came extremely close to creating the perfect phone with the OnePlus X, especially considering its exceptionally low price point of $249. That gets you solid performance with solid battery life, a fantastic screen, and a clean Android experience.  The camera is good enough for most people, and the design is premium enough that you won’t complain that it feels too much like a cheap prepaid phone.

In its price range, the OnePlus X holds it own and sometimes outperforms almost all of the competition. The 16GB Nexus 5X typically starts at $349, which is a full $100 more for only a handful of extra features. Granted, those features include things like a fingerprint scanner, USB Type-C port, and updates directly from Google, but for many users that’s probably not worth the extra hundred bucks. Even higher sits the Moto X Pure Edition, which costs $399 for extremely similar hardware to the Nexus 5X but also lacks the fingerprint scanner and USB Type-C port. Against the $249 OnePlus X, it can be tough to justify spending a couple extra hundred on those few features.

On the lower end, it’s exceptionally difficult to find anything comparable to a flagship Snapdragon 800 series processor for less than $200, and that doesn’t even touch the Full HD screen and 3GB of RAM. Alcatel OneTouch and BLU have some phones that get close but don’t quite cut it, and they aren’t significantly cheaper, either.

But because of its lower price tag, OnePlus clearly had to make some concessions on the phone. There’s no fingerprint scanner here, we’re missing a few LTE bands, and there’s only 16GB of internal storage with no way to opt for a higher storage capacity directly from OnePlus. If you can live with those things in 2016, you won’t find a better bang for your buck than the OnePlus X.


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.


  • Harley

    Looks sleek, dunno if I can go back to 5″ after now using my 5.5″ on my OPO for so long now.

    Also a little bit of a typo under the hardware specs;

    “The OnePlus X features a 5-inch Full HD (1920×101080) AMOLED display”

    • Justin_Herrick

      Thanks for noticing the typo!

  • crhylove

    It’s got an SD card slot, so 16gb is fine!

    • Justin_Herrick

      My Nexus 5X, also 16GB, is starting to get full….

      • crhylove

        This is why I’ll never buy another Nexus: No SD card slot. What a ridiculous scam!

        • Gordo

          Yeah a lot of companies are doing that plus the battery not being able to come out they are also going to make it to where you can’t change a port so therefore wireless charging is going to make it worse just wait until one of those fingerprint sensors goes out we charge $480 to fix one

    • Gordo

      Not now 16 gigs will barely get you 20 apps and then you’ll be emptying out your files and hate to say it but if you don’t have at least 64 gigs nowadays you aren’t in the game everyday

      • crhylove

        If you have an SD card slot, you can add more gb. Or even a TB…. That’s my point. The SD card slot makes the situation fixable short AND long term.

  • zamir yusof

    I almost bought OPX if not for LG G3 is still available and at almost the same price. Since my father also looking for a new phone now and he ask me to recommend him a phone that can be use single handed easily so OPX has no contest here – though G3 has a more to offer but priority is a priority.