OnePlus 5 again redefines the price for a high-end phone


— 1:54 PM on June 20, 2017

In the last three years since its debut, OnePlus has done a bang-up job of shaking things around in the smartphone market. The company just announced its new flagship smartphone, the OnePlus 5, and it looks like a treat. OnePlus says the 5 is its thinnest phone ever at just 7.3 mm. Despite its svelte body, the handset packs a Snapdragon 835 SoC, 6 GB to 8GB of LPDDR4X memory, a 3300-mAh battery, and a dual-sensor camera system.

Carl Pei, one of the co-founders of OnePlus, spoke at length about the company's "obsession" with design. Pei said that designing the OnePlus 5 took more than a hundred physical iterations before reaching the final model. The phone's components are encased in an all-aluminum unibody with the alert slider first seen on the OnePlus 3. The company dinged Apple by pointing out that it still managed to include a 3.5-mm headphone jack on the ultra-slim device, too.

For the 5's display, OnePlus selected a 5.5" AMOLED screen with a resolution of 1920x1080, which works out to a standard-issue 400 PPI. The company didn't elaborate on this choice, but higher-resolution displays require more power to run. OnePlus vaguely mentions a DCI-P3 display mode in its list of specifications, so it's possible that the OnePlus 5's screen is of a wide-gamut variety.

The OnePlus 5's dual-rear-camera is pretty interesting and takes a page from the iPhone 7 Plus. The camera combines a 20-MP shooter with a 16-MP IMX398 sensor that Pei said was custom-developed in collaboration with Sony. The main sensor has an optical telephoto function, while the smaller one has an exceptionally wide aperture of f/1.7. Combining the two allows the OnePlus 5's "Smart Capture" software to perform some fancy photography tricks, like rapid auto-focus and automatic de-noising.

Phone batteries have only gotten larger over time, and the 2.5 W supplied by standard USB 2.0 just doesn't cut it. Like the OnePlus 3 and 3T before it, the OnePlus 5 supports the company's "Dash Charging." This feature is implemented in the charger rather than the phone, and increases the current supplied to the device rather than the voltage.

The company demonstrated the benefits of Dash Charging over the standard Qualcomm quick charge by showing a time-lapse recording of the OnePlus 5 next to Samsung's Galaxy S8. The OnePlus phone charged over three times as fast as the Samsung handset in the demo, and was almost halfway charged in thirty minutes. Meanwhile, the Samsung phone was only 12% charged. That's impressive stuff indeed, although the downside to Dash Charging is that you must use the supplied charger and USB Type-C cable—other parts aren't certified to handle the increased current supply. 

Kyle Kiang, the head of OnePlus' marketing team, says that "smoothness" was one of the design pillars for the OnePlus 5's user experience. Mr. Kiang said that the OnePlus 5 uses a UFS 2.1 dual-lane interface. That connection is capable of pushing up to 1.2 GB/s of data to the phone's 64 GB or 128 GB of storage. That's a theoretical maximum, but at least the interface won't be a bottleneck to the OnePlus 5's storage peformance.

OnePlus says it implemented an aggressive application priority manager on the OnePlus 5. In theory, that should keep background applications from causing hitches and stutters in foreground apps. The company said it also took special care to address the issue of touchscreen input lag on the OnePlus 5, going as far as developing its own methods for testing input responsiveness. According to Carl Pei, the result is a buttery, lag-free experience.

The application priority manager and Smart Capture app aren't the only new software features on the OnePlus 5. There's also an extended screenshot feature (scroll to create "panoramic" screenshots) and a specialized reading mode that uses the front-facing camera and light sensor to adjust the display to match nearby lighting, much in the same way that a paper page would be colored by lights around it. Mr. Heinz says that the this mode should result in an less-tiring reading experience similar to the one offered by e-paper readers.

Having a single handset model caused some headaches to OnePlus in the past, due to regional differences in the type and quality of nearby cellular networks. This time around, Carl Pei says the OnePlus 5 is a "true world phone." That means it supports no less than 34 network bands, including the 600 Mbps CAT12/3CA LTE Advanced standard. OnePlus says the phone should be able to find something to connect to anywhere in the world that has cellular service. The OnePlus 5 can accept two SIM cards simultaneously, too. Wi-Fi connectivity comes by way of a 2x2 802.11ac adapter and Bluetooth 5.0. There's also an NFC reader, to boot.

Like its older cousins, the OnePlus 5 will be sold directly to end users. It might not tick every box that every user has on their list of "perfect smartphone features," but the OnePlus 5 hits a lot of the right notes. Its feature set looks all the more compelling in light of its price: $479 in the US for a handset with 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage, or €499 in Europe. Those figures substantially lower than what similar high-end handsets command. If you want more of both RAM and storage, a model with 8 GB and 128 GB of flash goes for $539. You can head to OnePlus' website and get in on the "early drop" pre-orders with the code Clearer Photos, or you can just wait until June 27 when the phone becomes generally available.

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