In Brief

OnePlus 3: Reviews and specs for bargain smartphone

Brand-new flagship smartphones such as the iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy S7 are always expensive, but one phone-maker has carved out a niche

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OnePlus has been making phones since 2013 and the Chinese firm's latest device, the OnePlus 3, has been one of the most anticipated handsets of 2016. Like its predecessors, it's much cheaper than many of its rivals, but packs in all of the smartphone essentials with a punch.

Here's what the critics think.

Design

The OnePlus 3 has a large, slate form factor with a refreshed backplate and camera module - a square-shaped bump similar to that of the HTC One M9, although the LED flash is housed underneath.

Antenna bands loop around the top and bottom of the rear and the backplate tapers into curves at the edges. It's a metal casing, with long, thin, pill-shaped buttons running down the sides. Around the front is a full glass design, with the home button embedded into the bottom. Overall, it's 0.29ins (7.3mm) thick and weighs 5.5oz (156g). The only colour option for now is graphite silver, although a soft gold will be available soon.

Display

Screen size stays at an iPhone 6S Plus-rivalling 5.5ins, with a 1080p full HD AMOLED panel and 401ppi. According to PC Advisor, OnePlus claims it looks better in terms of contrast and colour.

The Guardian has had a hands-on and says the screen is "vibrant, with inky blacks and excellently white whites". While the specs can't match the quality of more expensive Android flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S7, nor is the picture quality the sharpest in a VR headset, most buyers will be satisfied.

Camera

As predicted by Alphr, the OnePlus 3 gets a 16-megapixel main camera, with an eight-megapixel selfie lens in front.

The main camera is a Sony sourced sensor and gets optical and electronic image stabilisation, as well as phase detection autofocus. It can shoot videos in 4K quality and snap pictures in RAW format, too. The font-facing camera records video in 1080p quality at 30fps and comes with "Smile Capture", which takes photos automatically via facial detection. 

The Guardian adds that the camera hardware is by no stretch of the imagination the best around, but "it's still up there".

TechRadar pitted the OnePlus 3's camera up against what it says is the best lens on the market, the Samsung Galaxy S7, in a direct head-to-head to see if the 16-megapixel snapper can compete with the thoroughly optimised 12-megapixel setup of its far more expensive rival.

It concludes that while the OnePlus 3's camera isn't of the standard of Galaxy S7, it is "easily the second best Android camera around". In terms of raw performance, it boasts rapid autofocus capabilities and very nearly matches the S7 in good lighting conditions.

It is when things get dark that the camera's weaknesses are exposed – shooting pictures in dim conditions is still something that should be left to the more expensive phones, says the site.

Software

The OnePlus 3 comes with OxygenOS 3.1.2, the company's customised version of Android 6.0.1, but the user interface is very similar to stock Android.

Recombu likes that and points out several tips and tricks users can do. Flicking right brings up the "Shelf", a customisable hub for your favourite apps, contacts and widgets, it says, and you can also play with the layout of the buttons used for navigating menus, swapping home for the back button, for example. There's also a dark mode, which changes the colour scheme from mostly white to black, as well as a set of gestures you can set up and modify to access certain features while the phone is sleeping.

Hardware

In terms of hardware, the phone gets a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset, placing it on par with flagship rivals the LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7. However, it's mated to 6GB RAM, which is more than you'll find in many of its expensive rivals. In terms of power, "there's no performance issues or hiccups", and The Verge says – it’s a fast, responsive device that can handle multiple tasks with ease.

Other hardware additions include a fingerprint scanner and an NFC chip, so the OnePlus 3 is Android Pay compliant. It comes with a 3,000mAh battery, mated to patented Dash Charge technology – the battery can be filled to 60 per cent in just 30 minutes.

There's no expandable storage – the device is locked to 64GB internal memory – but there are dual-SIM capabilities. A USB-C port sits on the bottom of the handset.

Price and verdict 

The phone's killer feature is its price tag. At £329, it's a more expensive device than the OnePlus 2, but it's still a much cheaper option than many of the most popular smartphones out there - the iPhone 6S Plus starts from £619, while the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge will set you back £639.  

Summing up, the Guardian says the phone isn't quite the "flagship killer" it claims to be, but is still very good and for the price, users will get a beautiful device with snappy performance.

Wired is also impressed and says the OnePlus 3 is "almost perfect". It adds: "We challenge anyone who currently has an iPhone not to be impressed with this device."

Alphr gives the phone five stars out of five, saying it feels like a quality item: "If you gave this to me and blanked out the logo, I’d guess it was a far more expensive handset, closer to £600 than £309."

With its "killer combination of price, performance, and design", there are very few phones on the market that can match it, it concludes.

In their review, TechRadar says "the OnePlus 3 is excellent" and that despite the price hike, it's still cheap enough to keep the more established names on their toes.

"There are a few shortcomings, but some compromises are essential in a US$399/£309 smartphone with this level of spec," it says. Nor does it find the compromises massively limiting factors. The site likes the OnePlus 3's powerful credentials and says that despite the display being a 1080p unit in a world of smartphones now using Quad HD panels, the AMOLED screen provides vibrant colours.

However, the lack of expandable storage, locking users to the 64GB base, plus a camera that, while not a poor offering, aren't as strong as OnePlus promises. But while the OnePlus 3 isn't quite a no-brainer, it's definitely worth considering.

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