Technophile

The challenger assumes the crown

Visvaksen P | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on June 29, 2016

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OnePlus’ third smartphone elevates the Chinese start-up to the top of the segment that it helped create

Chinese startup OnePlus is now a very different beast from when it launched three years ago. And so is the Android smartphone market. The company’s first phone, the OnePlus One, was the first of its ilk – a disruptive flagship killer that promised a high-end phone at an affordable price. And while it did cause a flutter in the Android world, the first product of a fledgling company, sold in small numbers through an invite-only system posed very little in the way of an immediate threat to the big boys’ big numbers.

What OnePlus has managed to accomplish though is to inspire a rash of imitators, most of them based in China, seeking to use the same cost-effective manufacturing base to knock the established players with value for money offerings. Meanwhile, the Samsungs and Apples of the world, comfortable in the appeal that their brand and tech generates, have moved on to an even higher pedestal, leaving companies like Xiaomi, Le and OnePlus to fight it out for the crown of the best mass-market people pleaser. The new OnePlus Three is therefore no longer a David taking on a bunch of Goliaths. Its battle is very much with its peers, all of which have been built with very similar briefs in mind.

Design

The most obvious change in the construction of the OnePlus flagship is the replacement of the iconic plastic sandstone-finished rear cover with a classic aluminium panel. The new unibody construction does lend it a more premium feel and serves to elevate its aura of quality. The protruding camera module on the rear is asking for accidental impacts and scratches unless it is adorned with a protective cover of some sort.

The rest of the phone remains largely the same as its predecessor, with features like the alerts toggle, the USB-C port and the front-facing fingerprint scanner all returning. The 5.5-inch display too retains the same Full HD resolution and 401 PPI pixel density, but it is now an AMOLED instead of an LCD. This is a sideways step in terms of picture quality as the new panel has different strengths from the one it is replacing. It doesn’t get as bright as an LCD, but it offers truer blacks, better contrast and is less of a drain on the battery. The display and the back panel feature gentle curves that accentuate the subtle and classy design of the device.

Specs and performance

The OnePlus story is all about insane hardware specifications at throwaway prices and the Three keeps the trend going strong. It is powered by Qualcomm’s most powerful chipset ever, the Snapdragon 820, and is equipped with a whopping 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of onboard storage space. The combination of four Kryo cores and Adreno 530 graphics is sufficient to handle any app or game in the Play Store at its most demanding settings. And thankfully, the heating issues that plagued the previous flagship chipset from Qualcomm seem to have been resolved.

The amount of RAM on the OnePlus Three – more than what is available on many full-blown personal computers – is probably more than is strictly necessary for a smartphone. But if it ever comes down to bragging rights, there is now a clear and undisputed winner in the spec race.



Battery life

With a 3000 mAh battery unit under its hood, the OnePlus Three has the ability to carry just about enough charge to survive a day of moderate usage.

Our testing, which tends towards heavier usage patterns, typically included near constant browsing, instant messaging and push notifications from various applications mixed in with the occasional 20-minute gaming or YouTube session. We had 4G always on and the brightness set to automatic. This usually left us with a drained phone by early evening. Luckily, the DASH charger included with the OnePlus Three is capable of pushing the phone back up to full charge within an hour.

Camera

This is the one area in which the flagships in the half-a-lakh-plus price range clearly outshine the OnePlus. The 16MP Sony IMX298 sensor on the Three is equipped with optical image stabilisation and phase-detection autofocus. It delivers good results in well-lit conditions, although the level of detail on offer cannot be compared with the results produced by a Samsung S7 or an iPhone. Low light is the real differentiator, with the gulf in class becoming extremely apparent. Despite the unflattering comparison, the OnePlus does offer photographic tools that will satisfy a majority of users.

Software

With each generation of Android, the reasoning behind using a custom OS becomes weaker and weaker. And so it is with Oxygen OS.

There are a few nifty features like the Shelf (which provides quick access to recently used contacts and apps) and Dark Mode, but with previous generation headliners like permission control now included in Android there are few killer features left for OEMs to add into their glorified skins.

However, one must credit OnePlus for trying to stay as close to stock Android as possible and resisting the allure of third-party app tie-ups that bloat other devices.

Verdict

The fact that they were priced much cheaper than their competition allowed previous OnePlus smartphones to get away with a few shortcomings here and there. However, with the flagships now in a league of their own, the OnePlus Three is actually the most expensive of the usurper-class of sub-₹30,000 smartphones – leaving no room for excuses.

And for the most part, OnePlus has done a great job on this smartphone. The design and quality of materials have improved, and while the diminished battery life is a concern, it is a clear winner in terms of performance. In a close-run contest with competitors like the Mi 5 and Le Max 2, we would recommend going with the OnePlus just for the degree of future-proofing it offers.

Price: ₹27,999

Love: Design, performance

Hate: Battery life

Published on June 29, 2016
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