OnePlus 3 review: The best smartphone in its price range

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  • Editors' rating
    9.0 Outstanding
  • $429.00

Pros

  • Android 6 and OxygenOS nicely combined, without software bloat
  • Fast charging adds useful extra features
  • Well-built and sturdy
  • 6GB of RAM

Cons

  • No MicroSD card slot
  • Fast charging requires OnePlus power brick and cable

Let's be upfront about this. The OnePlus 3 isn't faultless, but for £309 (inc. VAT) its imperfections can be classed as minor niggles: it's without doubt the best smartphone in its price range right now. One caution for buyers in the UK: if you're tempted by the OnePlus 3, get your order in as soon as possible, in case the volatile state of the GB pound following the unexpected EU referendum result forces the company to raise the price.

The OnePlus 3 has an aluminium unibody design that gives it the appearance of a flagship handset. By contrast, the OnePlus 2 was a design copy of the original OnePlus One, with a grip-friendly finish to the back that I likened to 'wet and dry sandpaper'. Getting the OnePlus 2 out of its box for a comparison reinforced that original impression.

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The 5.5-inch OnePlus 3, which weighs just 158g, is powered by a Snapdragon 820 processor with a generous 6GB of RAM. Its Dash Charge feature can deliver 60 percent of a full charge in 30 minutes.

Images: OnePlus

Looks matter, and the OnePlus 3's design is a big advance. But there's more to the aluminium unibody than just looks. It's a tough material that's reasonably grippy, although downside is that it lacks individuality -- it most resembles the HTC 10 at first glance.

The OnePlus 3 fits a 5.5-inch screen into a chassis that's 152.7mm tall and 74.7mm wide. There's almost no bezel at all on the screen's long edges. The handset is just 7.35mm thick and weighs 158g. These are pared-down dimensions, and it's no wonder that the camera lens protrudes a couple of millimetres from the back of the chassis as a result.

The high build quality carries over into the side buttons: the power button is on the right edge and the volume rocker on the left, and both are firm and responsive.

Above the volume rocker is a welcome feature carried over from the OnePlus 2 -- the Alert Slider. This has three positions corresponding to all, priority or no notifications. The slider needs a fair push to move it, so there's no danger of accidentally making selections when the phone is in a pocket, and it gives a little click when pushed into position. The click is a small thing, but many will feel it's a premium-grade feature. The slider's pocked finish makes it easy to find just by touch, and I was able to switch between modes without taking the handset out of a pocket.

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The Alert Slider above the volume rocker lets you quickly switch between notification preferences -- all, priority or none.

Image: OnePlus

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A ceramic button beneath the screen returns you to the home screen from other activities with the gentlest of touches. It contains a fingerprint scanner, and OnePlus says you can use a fingerprint to unlock from sleep in 0.2 seconds. I couldn't measure that time, but can confirm that it's very fast.

The 3.5mm headset slot is on the bottom edge, next to a speaker that delivers fair quality at the highest volume level. The USB Type-C port for battery charging is also on the bottom edge.

The longevity you'll get from the 3,000mAh battery obviously depends on your usage pattern. After few days' testing with relatively light workloads, I found it would last through the day with no trouble, and might even get half-way through the next day. That's not class-leading, but it is above-average.

What really lifts the OnePlus 3 into the realms of better battery performance is Dash Charge. This is the name for OnePlus's take on fast charging. The charge cable and power brick combo supplied by OnePlus can deliver more than 60 percent battery charge in half an hour. That's impressive, and I found it worked well.

Moreover the charging combo is designed to handle most of the heat generated when charging, keeping the handset cooler and avoiding the need to throttle back the processor. That's useful if users want to continue processor-heavy activities while charging. The downside is that to take advantage of all this requires carrying the OnePlus charge cable and power brick in addition to any generic chargers.

As already noted the OnePlus 3 has a 5.5-inch screen. The full-HD (1,920 by 1,080) resolution is not leading edge, but it's perfectly adequate for delivering even full-screen video at a good enough quality to watch with satisfaction. At 401 pixels per inch (ppi), text looks fine too, and the AMOLED technology delivers saturated colours. Indeed, OnePlus has tweaked AMOLED into a version it calls Optic AMOLED -- essentially, OnePlus has tweaked the contrast and colour temperature of a regular Super AMOLED panel. I can't say I noticed a stunning uplift in quality compared to other handsets, but the screen is perfectly good.

Specifications are pretty impressive for a handset at this price point. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and Adreno 530 GPU are supported by a very generous 6GB of RAM. There's 64GB of internal storage, of which 52.7GB was free out of the box on my review sample. Nestled on the right edge is a caddy for two Nano SIMs, but OnePlus has not followed the current trend to double one of these up to accommodate MicroSD storage expansion. Wi-fi (802.11ac), Bluetooth (4.2) and NFC are built in.

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The OnePlus 3's main 16-megapixel camera features electronic and optical image stabilisation, HDR and RAW support and 'dynamic de-noise' technology.

Image: OnePlus

There's a 16-megapixel main camera and an 8-megapixel front camera. There are plenty of camera features, and it is easy to work with them. For example, there are simple touch toggles for flash, HDR and HD quality, and slider wheels for white balance, ISO, shutter speed and focus. These allow for adjustments to be made quickly photo by photo. A swipe on the screen toggles stills and video modes, and a further menu gives easy access to time-lapse, slow-motion and panorama shooting. Meanwhile, the front camera can be set to take a photo automatically when its subject is smiling. This isn't always ideal as only one person in a group needs to smile for the shot to be taken. The old-fashioned method of manual image capture might be better for group selfies.

Android 6 is integrated with OxygenOS, but the overlay is not riddled with oodles of apps and extras, as some handset customisations are. Instead, the additions are about usability, and they're quite understated. Consequently the user experience is very close to that of stock Android, but beefed up with extra features.

For example, a sweep left on the home screen takes the user to Shelf, an area where various widgets, notes (with or without alarm reminders) and frequently-used contacts and apps can be stored for easy access. The list scrolls vertically as it grows.

Other nice features include the ability to swap the order of recent and back buttons in hardware, set the screen to 'dark mode' to help save battery power, and even customise LED notification colours.

My favourite tweaks are gesture based, and all can be configured individually. When the screen is off you can get a brief peek at the current time by waving across the front camera; a double tap can be used to wake the handset up; a drawn 'O' starts the camera, while a 'V' toggles the flashlight; pulling two fingers down the screen starts music; and drawing '<' or '>' with a fingertip controls playback.

Conclusions

The mix of hardware design, features, performance and Oxygen OS extras is very well balanced in the OnePlus 3, and the result is an excellent all-rounder with some very attractive capabilities. Anyone looking for a new handset off-contract should consider it. The OnePlus 3 is quite simply the best handset in its price range right now.

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Specifications

Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, call timer, conference call, flight mode, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, proximity sensor, digital compass, gyro sensor
Additional Features DLNA Certified, sharing media via DLNA
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS) / TD-SCDMA
Type Smartphone
Integrated Components audio player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, BeiDou, GLONASS, GPS
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, MetroPCS
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
SIM Card Type nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty dual-SIM
Input Device Multi-touch, capacitive
Details
SAR Value 0.645 W/kg (body) / 0.995 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, audio player, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Graphite
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, digital compass, gyro sensor, proximity sensor
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, EV-DO, FDD-LTE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE
4G LTE Band Band 1, Band 12, Band 17, Band 2, Band 30, Band 4, Band 5, Band 7
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP)
Processor
Clock Speed 2.2 GHz
Type QUALCOMM Snapdragon 820
Processor Number MSM8996
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Quad-core
64-bit Architecture Yes
Display
Technology Optic AMOLED
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Pixel Density (ppi) 401
Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 4 (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards XviD, MPEG-4, DivX, H.265
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, WMA, MP3, FLAC, eAAC+
Multimedia
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 530
Battery
Technology Lithium ion
Digital Camera
Special Effects HDR
Header
Brand OnePlus
Product Line OnePlus
Model 3
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Touchscreen Technology capacitive
Features
Sensors accelerometer, digital compass, gyro sensor, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Additional Features DLNA Certified, sharing media via DLNA
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards FLAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, eAAC+
Supported Digital Video Standards DivX, H.265, MPEG-4, XviD
Sound Enhancements Dirac sound technologies
RAM
Installed Size 6 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 64 GB
Graphics System
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 530
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 16 megapixels
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 8 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/2.0
Focus Adjustment focus free

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Where To Buy

OnePlus 3

Part Number: CNETONEPLUS3GRPHT