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OnePlus' first-ever foldable makes Samsung and Google's look outdated – and it's near perfect

The OnePlus Open undercuts the competition while offering, in many ways, a more compelling foldable experience. But its few compromises are just as noteworthy.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
OnePlus Open in hand

Clearly, I'm mind-blown both by how lightweight the OnePlus Open is, and by that massive camera bump.

June Wan/ZDNET

About a month ago, OnePlus invited me and dozens of other journalists to a private demo session for its first-ever foldable phone. Unlike Samsung and Google, who have taken the more technical route with naming their shape-shifting "Fold" phones, OnePlus went practical; calling it the OnePlus "Open." Get it?

Also: Why foldable phones are still so expensive, according to analysts

That about sums up the experience that you get with the latest foldable entrant in the US, which I've had the fortune of daily driving since late September. Where others zig, OnePlus zags. With the Open, everything from the unboxing experience to the form factor and onto multitasking capabilities, charging, and price differs from its competition -- for better and for worse.

View at OnePlus

I've been fortunate enough to test just about every mainstream foldable phone over the past four years, from Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold to Google's new Pixel Fold. Not one form factor has given me as much satisfaction as the OnePlus Open's, which fields a more traditional phone aspect ratio on the outer display; it's the perfect middle-ground between Google's short yet uncomfortably heavy Pixel and Samsung's tall, baton-like Galaxy.

OnePlus Open with Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Google Pixel Fold

The Google Pixel Fold (left), OnePlus Open (middle), and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 (right).

June Wan/ZDNET

If there's one thing that truly matters with foldable phones, it's weight. The ideal device is performant, flexible enough for phone and tablet use cases, and isn't a burden to wield, whether you're on the outer screen or the inner one. The OnePlus Open clocks in at 245 grams versus the Pixel Fold's 283g and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5's 253g, making it the lightest big-screen foldable on the US market. 

Also: I tested two $1,799 foldable phones, and this basic spec made one the clear winner

The difference in weight was immediately noticeable when I first unboxed the device and attempted to record the experience with my Pixel Fold in the other hand. As soon as I picked up the Open, the Pixel felt ancient, like an Amazon Fire Kids tablet to an iPad Air. My experience was, to put it more accurately, like the Toy Story meme.

OnePlus Open in hand
June Wan/ZDNET

But there is one major flaw with the OnePlus design: that camera bump. It's big, it's bold, and it's basically a built-in pop-socket that takes up about 40% of the back panel, which is great if you want to let the world know that you're very serious about mobile photography, but horrible for just about everything else, including ergonomics. Slapping on a case, which is included in the box along with a 67W charger, can't even cover up the bulge.

Also: You can add your driver's license to Google Wallet in three more states now

A more minor caveat with the Open's design is button placement. In OnePlus fashion, you still get an alert slider that makes toggling from sound to vibrate to silent a breeze, but I find the volume rocker too high for comfort. You really have to lift your finger close to the upper corner of the phone to raise the volume, making the device more vulnerable to slipping out of your hand.

In fact, that was the exact reason why my review unit took a tumble a few days ago, as I was testing its speaker quality. Fortunately, the Open showed minimal wear, and its Flexion Hinge, which OnePlus says has been tested to sustain 1,000,000 folds, remained functional.

Also: Samsung can learn a thing (or three) from Oppo's Find N2 foldable

On the software side of things, the big call-out here is Open Canvas, a split-screen feature that reminds me of multi-desktops on Windows and Macs. With it, you can open up to three apps at once, and tapping on one enlarges it while the others are automatically tucked away. It's this seamless transition between apps that puts the OnePlus ahead of Samsung and Google's software for me. 

I find Open Canvas particularly helpful when snapping event photos, like during the Made by Google event a few weeks ago, and sharing them in ZDNET's Slack channel, all while staying in the know of the latest product announcements.

OnePlus Open in hand

There's also a "Recent files" icon in the task bar that gives you quick drag-and-drop access to photos and videos.

June Wan/ZDNET

I haven't experienced many hiccups with OnePlus' software over Android 13, but some familiar OxygenOS problems remain, including the aggressive app power management, which causes some services like Gmail and WeChat to have delayed notifications, and the frequent "This app is draining battery in the background." alert. For a device that comes with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage (double that of Samsung and Google's offerings), a little less hand-holding would go a long way for the Open's day-to-day experience.

Also: Google Pixel Fold review: Samsung's first big competitor comes out swinging

As for the cameras, I'd argue that the OnePlus takes better photos than both the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and the Google Pixel Fold. Sure, it certainly helps that its closest competitors opted for generation-old camera systems this year while OnePlus was more generous with the Open's hardware, packing a 48-megapixel main lens, a 64MP telephoto, and a 48MP ultra-wide. But I'd credit most of its success to the color science and image processing -- particularly with the 3X telephoto lens. 

OnePlus Open
June Wan/ZDNET

Something about those Hasselblad-tuned cameras just makes subjects pop a little more than usual, leaning more towards warmer and blue/orangish hues than anything else. And the new "Pixel Stacked" sensor by Sony makes it easier for the OnePlus to capture and balance various light sources while creating a natural-looking separation between foreground and background. I plan on doing a camera comparison between the Open and its domestic rivals, so stay tuned for all the photo samples.

ZDNET's buying advice

OnePlus is selling the Open for $1,699, undercutting Samsung and Google's phone-to-tablet foldables by $100. And from now until whenever the company decides to stop selling the device, it'll deduct at least $200 from the total when you trade in any phone in any condition, fundamentally making the Open just $1,499.

That's a very competitive offer, especially if you're in the initial phase of foldable phone shopping and price is a concern. But there's another thing that you should consider: the OnePlus Open will not be sold at carrier stores, meaning the same installment plans you may be accustomed to are not available here. 

Also: The best phones: Expert tested and reviewed

Wireless charging is another key omission with the OnePlus Open, which may be a dealbreaker for some. (OnePlus reasons that the addition of the feature would make the phone thicker and heavier, but I'd be more convinced if the company just said that the camera module was too big.)  

But if multitasking experience, camera performance, form factor, and charging speed are at the top of your priority list, the OnePlus Open may just be the best option right now.

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