In 2014 OnePlus was a company that was basically unheard of. Despite that, there was great anticipation in the Android enthusiast community about a new smartphone coming from this new company. Their first smartphone ended up being called the OnePlus One, and it was arguably the first device in a trend of smartphones that tried to bring flagship specifications to devices with prices much lower than what the big players in the smartphone market demanded for their best smartphones. The OnePlus One certainly wasn't perfect, but it showed that it was possible to produce a high spec smartphone for hundreds of dollars less than Android flagships, and what OnePlus needed to improve on was their execution.

A year came and went, and OnePlus came out with the OnePlus 2. This was during a time where the Android market was still struggling to deal with the issues posed by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 808 and 810 SoCs, which put Android performance improvements at something of a standstill. In the case of the OnePlus 2, I discovered that OnePlus had put mechanisms in place that reduced web performance even further, and as I reviewed the OnePlus 2 I discovered concerning regressions in other aspects like the phone's display, and its battery life.

Moving into 2016, we now have the OnePlus 3. At this point OnePlus now has a better variety of hardware to choose from, and they should know exactly what to fix from the OnePlus 2 to make a great smartphone. However, the smartphone market gets more competitive with each year that passes, and it's no longer enough to simply put good specs in a device and fail with the execution. Finding out how well OnePlus executed with the user experience is what I'm here to tell you, but before getting in to that, it's important to see how the OnePlus 3 compares to its predecessor.

  OnePlus 2 OnePlus 3
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
GPU Adreno 430 Adreno 530
Display 5.5" 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD 5.5" 1920 x 1080 PenTile AMOLED
Size / Mass 151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85mm, 175g 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35mm, 158g
Battery 3300 mAh 3000 mAh
Rear Camera 13MP 1.3 μm OmniVision OV13860 f/2.0 16MP 1.1 μm Sony IMX298, f/2.0, OIS
Front Camera 5MP 1.4 μm OmniVision OV5648, f/2.0 8MP 1.4 μm Sony IMX179, f/2.0
Storage 16/64GB eMMC 64GB UFS 2.0
I/O USB 2.0 Type-C connector, 3.5mm audio
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1
802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.2, USB-C
Price $329 (3GB/16GB)
$389 (4GB/64GB)
$399 (6GB/64GB)

At least at a high level, the OnePlus 3 shows a great deal of promise. The move from Snapdragon 810 to 820 will certainly improve performance, especially when you consider the app detection that OnePlus was doing which crippled web performance on the OnePlus 2. There's also a whopping 6GB of RAM. I do wonder if 6GB is overkill only because the number of apps that people actually use on a daily basis may be smaller than the number that 6GB can actually keep resident in memory. It's also worth noting that there is an energy cost to adding more RAM as each memory cell has to be periodically refreshed to maintain data integrity.

OnePlus has moved to an AMOLED display with the OnePlus 3. While it was once the case that AMOLED displays that weren't on Samsung devices exhibited low brightness and poor calibration, recent AMOLED devices have reversed that trend entirely. However, moving from a 1080p RGB LCD to a 1080p PenTile AMOLED does come with a reduction in effective resolution, and I'll talk about that more in the display section.

With the cameras, OnePlus has gone back to Sony sensors. The front-facing camera moves to 8MP, and the rear-facing goes to 16MP. Lenses stay at f/2.0 which I think is a smart move given some of the problems we've seen regarding sharpness and distortion on phones that have moved to even wider apertures. There's more to the camera story than what you see on paper, and I'll be covering that as well.

As for other changes, there's now only one version of the phone which is 6GB of RAM and 64GB of UFS 2.0 storage for $399. I almost never saw the 16GB OnePlus 2 for sale anyway, so this isn't really some sort of pricing upset. As for connectivity, you still have a USB 2.0 based Type-C connector and 802.11ac WiFi, but NFC has made a return which means the OnePlus 3 will be usable with Android Pay and other applications that make use of NFC.


One of the big changes OnePlus has made with the OnePlus 3 is the industrial design. Nothing about the OnePlus One's design was really exceptional, but given that it was bringing many flagship specs to a phone that costed several hundred dollars less than flagship phones of the time it was entirely understandable. With the OnePlus 2 the average price of OnePlus's flagship phone went up, but OnePlus had made some changes to the external design. The phone gained a metal frame but retained its sandstone back cover. To be honest, I wasn't really a fan of the OnePlus 2's design. The metal frame didn't do much to improve how high quality the phone felt, and the back cover wasn't coarse enough to really have an impact on how grippy the chassis was. On top of that, the fact that the display layer of the phone had a plastic border that sat above the metal frame looked kind of cheap, and the increased thickness and mass actually represented regressions from the OnePlus One in some respects. 

With the OnePlus 3, OnePlus has moved to an aluminum unibody design. In doing so they've addressed pretty much all of my issues with the OnePlus 2. Starting with the back of the device, you no longer have the sandstone finish. I'm sure many people will disagree, but the OnePlus 2 back cover didn't help me with gripping the phone at all. The OnePlus 3 feels like a much higher quality device, particularly because there are no longer three distinct sections of the phone that all have seams and gaps between one another. The unibody design means the back cover is no longer removable, but as I said in my OnePlus 2 review I think the removable back cover on OnePlus devices was a complete waste anyway because it only served as a way to access the SIM slots, which could have been implemented as a tray on the side of the device. With the OnePlus 3 they've done exactly that, and so the removable back cover isn't needed.

The back cover sees some additional changes, with some being independent of the move to an aluminum chassis. There are now lines for the antennas on the top and bottom of the phone, and the top line connects to the square-shaped camera sitting beneath it, which reminds me of the HTC One M9. On the topic of the camera, there's no longer a separate island that the camera and flash sit upon, which I think is a big improvement on what I felt was one of the least appealing visual aspects of the previous OnePlus devices. The camera does stick out significantly more than it did on the OnePlus 2 which is just a consequence of the significant reduction in thickness, and OnePlus has actually decreased sensor size with this generation so the hump likely would have been even larger if they hadn't. The only other thing to note about the camera area is that there's now just a single LED flash and the camera uses PDAF, while the OnePlus 2 had a dual LED module and an IR module for the laser autofocus.

On the left side of the phone you have the volume rocker and the mute switch, while the right side has the sleep/wake button and the NanoSIM slots. I appreciate that OnePlus has kept their volume rocker on the left side of the phone, and I think the three stage mute switch is an underappreciated feature that more manufacturers should adopt. You can see above that the phone's edges only curve to a point, at which point you have a chamfered edge that meets the display glass. I like the appearance that this provides, but it does mean that you don't have the same smooth feeling when swiping near the edges of the display that you get on a device like the iPhone 6s Plus. 

The bottom of the phone is changed from the OnePlus 2. There are no longer any antenna lines since they wrap around the left and right sides of the phone, and there aren't holes drilled on both sides of the USB Type-C port which has allowed the 3.5mm audio jack to be brought to the bottom of the phone. One thing that bothers me is how the 3.5mm jack isn't centered like the rest of the ports and screws, which kind of ruins the visual uniformity. You can also see OnePlus's pre-applied screen protector in the image above. It doesn't quite cover the entire display from edge to edge, and I noticed that a great deal of dust was collecting around the edges so I ended up removing it. It's just your typical plastic screen protector rather than a glass one anyway, although the fact that OnePlus throws it in for free is a nice gesture.

The front of the phone is similar to the OnePlus 2, but it's clear how the overall shape of the phone has changed to become more curved, while the OnePlus 2 was similar to the Nexus 5 in how it had flat sides meeting curved ones at hard angles. I have to say that I prefer the appearance of the OnePlus 3 in this regard, but it may be seen as less unique than the OnePlus 2. As for what's on the front cover, you have the earpiece and front-facing camera on the top, with three capacitive keys on the bottom. The middle key is the home button, which also acts as a fingerprint scanner in the same manner as the OnePlus 2's home key. In my experience the sensor has been quite accurate and just as quick as anything else on the market, and having it on the front of the device provides a better experience than rear-mounted scanners.

OxygenOS provides many ways to customize the phone, so you also have the option to switch the order of the back and recent apps buttons, and if you want software keys OnePlus provides that as an option as well. I covered the major points of OxygenOS in my OnePlus 2 review, and I haven't seen any major changes to it so I'll just refer to that rather than going over the features a second time. The one thing that has changed is that the UI no longer feels unbearably slow and sluggish, and in the next section you'll see exactly why that is.

System Performance
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  • JimmiG - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    Still got my OnePlus One and it's working great. I felt the OP2 was completely uninteresting because it was a regression from the OPO in so many ways. The OP3 at least looks like a proper upgrade of everything except the display. If they aren't going to increase the resolution, why not stick with the same proven IPS panel from the OPO, which they know looks good?

    Anyway no need to upgrade from my OPO. With Android 5.x, battery life and performance were horrible compared to KitKat, but now that it has got Android 6.x finally, performance and battery life are back to normal levels.
  • caplus12000 - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    Can the display be calibrated to RGB?
  • - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    so can this display issue be resolved just by software updates ? and u mean to say its just a software issue not hardware issue ?
  • victorson - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    Great review, but I find it funny when you guys say absurd things like 'The phone charges in 1.44 hours.' Um okay, what the fuck is that supposed to mean? Can you just write it in a human-readable way?
  • - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    that means a lil less than one and a half hour... any human who ever went to school would understand this...
  • victorson - Friday, June 24, 2016 - link

    No kidding? We, humans, however, tend to speak in hours and minutes. Or maybe you go on about your life and tell your friends to meet at 7.89pm? Have some common sense.
  • BenSkywalker - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    Why do you use the incredibly narrow sRGB standard versus AdobeRGB(or NTSC for that matter)?

    sRGB is inferior- this is not questionable- it is a point of fact. Anyone who works with real video or photo editing knows this is a garbage standard created for low end devices that couldn't handle the wider color gamuts. You can make the argument on which you should be aiming for, ARGB or NTSC- but championing the- in every single way- inferior sRGB borders on insanity.

    When Rec 2020 is the target for new phones are you going to test it using black and white calibration?

    Something matching sRGB simply means it is a device aimed at the low end. It is not a good thing. Now if you tested it versus what it claims to be shooting for- NTSC- and it failed to match the standards you would have a compelling argument- as it is you come of as someone who is either utterly clueless, or simply trying to spread misinformation and your preference for low accuracy, low color, low contrast displays.
  • JoshHo - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    If you can control the colorspace target from capture to the end device then wider gamuts are better and possible. However the nature of the web is such that you cannot assume that your target device will have the gamut you intend or have proper color management at all. Windows and Android don't support proper color management as an ecosystem so the default fallback is sRGB.

    I don't think we claim that sRGB is better, but that it is just what the standard is for most content.
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    And just to add to that, for displays that actually get reasonably close to an expanded space, we certainly test for that. See our iPad Pro 9.7" review for an example of that.

    Going forward, I'm expecting that more mobile devices will support DCI, in which case they'll get the iPad treatment. Conversely however, it doesn't make a ton of sense to test displays against DCI when they aren't actively trying to support it. Since content is authored for sRGB and needs mapped into DCI, treating a device like it's DCI when it's not would in practice harm sRGB as well.
  • BenSkywalker - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    So you'll test if it's an Apple product using a standard created for projectors, OK. The Galaxy Tab S was touted as supporting the Adobe RGB standard- you didn't test that(either generation). This phone said it was shooting for NTSC which is also a wider color standard and one used far more commonly than DCI- also not tested.

    At this point we are discussing all outdated standard regardless- Adobe now has their wide gamut standard because even AdobeRGB isn't wide enough, and we have Rec2020 which is another wider color standard. Out of all of these color standards the one you test for is the one made for projectors.... I'd love to hear the reasoning behind this. If not using projector standards- use the lowest common denominator?

    The reality is that everyone else seems to think the display looks pretty good- except you who seem to base your assessment entirely around your very narrow personal preference for sRGB. If that's what you like that is fine- passing off what you like as the only right way to do it(outside of using a projector standard for tablets?) isn't very objective.

    Not questioning your summation of the display- pointing out that it couldn't be more self obviously biased based on your very narrow standards for what you want in a display. Nothing is wrong with that, but it is very much subjective.

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