Now in its third generation, the OnePlus 3 is the latest phone from the popular Chinese firm. This year’s model is a stunner, with a metal design that’s thinner and lighter than its predecessors. It also comes with improved specifications, including 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a 16Mp Sony camera. Then there’s the price, which is around £200 cheaper than its rivals.
While we’ve been big fans of previous OnePlus phones, we’ve been a little put off by how bulky they have been (bar the smaller OnePlus X). The firm has addressed this with its latest offering, which is a much more slender 7.35mm and a more manageable 158g.
More obvious is the switch to a metal unibody chassis, which is manufactured from a single block of aluminium. It looks and feels like a premium device and the resemblance to a other metal phones, such as those from Apple, HTC and Huawei, is unavoidable.
What we really appreciate is the attention to detail here, and we particularly like the angles, which not only look good but make the phone very comfortable to hold. We’re also fans of the chamfered edges, which adorn the USB port and the speaker holes.
The 2.5D Gorilla Glass 4 screen meets the metal chassis in a smooth and luxuriously flush way, and the Alert Slider on the lefthand side has a solid and satisfying motion, with its textured surface.
If for some reason you don’t like the metal look or you want to protect it from scratches, OnePlus offers a range of cases, which are extremely thin, so don’t add much weight. They are available in Rosewood, Black Apricot, Bamboo, Karbon and the classic Sandstone, and are priced £19.99 each.
We’re really impressed with the OnePlus 3 in terms of design and build; it’s easily the best we’ve seen from the company. It will be a little bit big for some people, despite 5.5in being the ‘sweet spot’ for OnePlus. It’s also a tall phone, though the tiny bezels on either side of the screen help things. We’re hoping that a smaller version will come in the future but we’ll have to wait and see – perhaps a OnePlus 3 mini or new OnePlus X.
The Chinese firm has stuck with a 5.5in screen size and a Full HD resolution for this phone. What is new is a change to Optic AMOLED technology, which is the company’s take on SuperAMOLED. This looks great thanks to more vibrant colours and better contrast, and is also what enables the phone to have those tiny bezels.
Our only real complaint is that even at full brightness we occasionally found it hard to read outside in bright sunlight. This is despite a dual-polarising layer, which is supposed to make this easy.
The OnePlus 3 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, which means it joins the 820 club, whose members also include the HTC 10 and LG G5. This quad-core chip comes with the Adreno 530 GPU and is clocked slightly higher than other phones at 2.2GHz – the other two cores are 1.6GHz. The phone also comes with 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM. That’s 2GB, more than any other phone we’ve seen. In both our benchmark tests and real-world use, the handset offered slick performance. OnePlus has done a great job of making the interface feel extremely responsive and fast. The phone does everything you throw at it without hesitation.
The firm offers just one storage option – 64GB. That’s impressive when you consider that many similarly-priced rivals tend to offer 16- or 32GB. The only downside here is that there’s still no microSD card slot, which may put off some.
Fingerprint scanner, NFC and connectivity
The fingerprint scanner is still a key feature and sits below the screen. It’s extremely fast and accurate when scanning (under 0.3 seconds, according to OnePlus) and can be used to unlock the phone from sleep and mobile payments, including Android Pay.
OnePlus has also listened to its customers and brought back
NFC. This can be used for a variety of tasks, including Android Beam sharing, quickly pairing with Bluetooth devices that also feature NFC and mobile payments.
Remaining connectivity is what you’d expect at this price, with 4G LTE (Cat 6), 11ac Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth 4.2. Although there’s no expandable storage, the OnePlus 3 comes with a Dual-SIM setup featuring two Nano-SIM slots.
The OnePlus 3 has a slightly smaller battery than its predecessor at 3000mAh (down from 3300mAh), but that’s still a reasonable size. As usual, it’s non-removable.
The phone has a reversible USB Type-C port and is a supplied with the new Dash Charge charger, which provides 5V and 4A of electricity (favouring current over voltage). There’s also a Dash Charge car charger if you want to top up quickly when driving, though this will set you back and extra £24.99.
What’s interesting here is that OnePlus has moved the power management controller to the charger instead of housing it in the phone. This means the handset keeps cooler during charging and can continue to fast charge while doing things such as gaming as a result. To avoid any mishaps, when a different charger or cable is used, the charging reverts to regular speed.
In our tests, the OnePlus 3 charged 61 percent over 30 minutes and was only warm to the touch, despite having a case on during charging. We recorded a benchmark time of six hours, 13 minutes in Geekbench 3 with a score of 3735, which is decent but a little way of some rivals which have hit nine-, 10or even 11 hours.
Going by specifications alone, you’d be forgiven for getting excited about the OnePlus 3’s main camera. It has a 16Mp Sony IMX298 sensor (the same as in the Xiaomi Mi 5) and a lens with an f/2.0 aperture. There’s optical image stabilisation (OIS), electronic image stabilisation (EIS) and phase detection autofocus.
OnePlus claims the camera will give you clear shots in just 0.2 seconds, so you’ll easily catch a Formula 1 pit stop. There’s support for shooting in RAW, as well as JPEG files, plus a new manual mode if you want to take control of the
ISO, shutter speed and focus. The camera app’s interface is minimal, so it takes a while to figure out how to find the settings, though you’ll have to resort to the manual to understand why there’s an HD button at the top, which, when tapped, disables HDR. To save you the effort, HD mode enhances detail, sharpens lines and increases clarity – much like you can in an image editor such as Snapseed.
Overall, we were impressed with the camera. That fast autofocus means photos were generally in sharp focus, although pushed to the limit (when attempting macro shots) it can be hard to judge whether your subject is too close and blurry.
Colours are lifelike without being overblown, and dynamic range seems good even without using the HDR mode. A feature that works effectively is Dynamic De-noise. Our shot in a dimly lit bar (above right) shows no noticeable noise, but another taken in our office during the day proves the algorithm does work well in all scenarios.
We took several comparison shots to see the difference between HDR and HD (above left), but none existed. Whether looking at our usual framing of St Pancras or a macro photo, it was impossible to see any improvement in clarity or detail when using the new HD mode.
The rear camera is also capable of recording video in up to 4K, but while there’s OIS for photos, this doesn’t appear to be used for video, which relies on EIS. It’s reasonably effective if you stand still, but start walking or moving the phone around and you’ll soon find its limitations, with slightly jerky movement and odd sparkling effects in skies. 4K video quality is very good, though: sharp and packed with detail. What’s unimpressive is the soundtrack. Voices sound distant and muffled, as though underwater – this could well be a failure of the noise cancellation of the dual microphones.
At the front is an 8Mp camera with 1.4μm pixels. It can record 1080p video at 30fps. Selfies are sharper than we expected, and the field of view is easily sufficient for two people at arm’s length. A Smile Capture option saves you stretching for the shutter button.
This phone comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out-of-the box. OnePlus provides its OxygenOS 3.1, which is a very close to stock Android with a few different features and ways to customise the interface.
Open it up and you’ll notice that there is next to no bloatware installed on the phone. You get the usual suite of Google apps, plus the odd duplicate from OnePlus such as Gallery, Music and Files. Control over apps is very good as OxygenOS allows you to set permissions for individual apps as well as control notifications, too.
Not a great deal has changed with OxygenOS for the OnePlus 3 – a key new software feature is the latest camera app as detailed above, but that’s not a bad thing. It offers a slick and easy-to-use interface with a great deal of customisation.
Gestures are still available to switch on in the settings to do things like wake the phone with a doubletap, open the camera by drawing an ‘O’ and toggle the flashlight with a ‘V’. You can also draw different shapes to control music playback. We like existing features such as the dark mode, an accent colour for the themes, customisable LED notifications and the Shelf, which is a swipe away from the home screen. It lets you quickly access apps, contacts and information, and you can also add widgets like you would on the homescreen.
Either side of the fingerprint scanner are two capacitive buttons, similar to the Galaxy S7, though you can choose which one is use for back and recent apps. In addition, you can choose for shortcuts for long presses. Furthermore, you can use on-screen buttons if you want.
Other options include the ability to rearrange the quick settings, customise the Google search bar or remove it and make use of the proximity sensor to activate the screen when you wave in front of the camera. The latter is turned off by default.
You can also customise the size of icons, the grid in the app draw and switch features like quick search (swipe up) and quick notifications (swipe down once instead of twice).
The OnePlus 3 is another amazing smartphone from the Chinese company and is easily its best effort yet. It’s a little bit more expensive than its predecessor, but it’s still great value considering the design, build and hardware on offer, which not only matches rivals but beats them in some areas. There’s very little to dislike here unless you really need expandable storage.