OnePlus 5 review: The OnePlus 5T is even better with no price increase

£449
Price when reviewed

OnePlus 5 review: Performance

One of the main reasons behind OnePlus’ continuing success has been its ability to include the very latest flagship Qualcomm chipset while keeping a lid on the price. That continues with the OnePlus 5. Inside is an octa-core Snapdragon 835 (comprising a pair of quad-core CPUs, one running at 2.45GHz, the other at 1.8GHz) and either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, depending on whether you choose the model with 64GB or 128GB of storage.

You’ll not be surprised to find that this produces stonking benchmark results and the OnePlus 5 feels ultra-slick in use. That doesn’t surprise me and it shouldn’t surprise you either. Here’s how the benchmark results stack up against a few of the OnePlus 5’s key rivals:

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Basically, the OnePlus 5 matches the Samsung S8 (Exynos 8895 model tested) and the HTC U11 (Snapdragon 835), give or take, with the OnePlus 5 edging in front marginally. Interestingly, there have been reports that OnePlus has been manipulating the benchmarks; even if this turns out to be true, the difference is so small (below 5%) that you’d never notice it anyway.

As for graphics performance, that’s good enough that it’ll handle anything the Google Play Store can throw at it and then some. Once again, here’s a quick comparison chart:

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You’ll notice here that the OnePlus 5’s onscreen result is better than the S8’s by quite a margin. Why is this?the simple answer is the S8’s extra screen resolution; this test was run at 2,960 x 1,440 where the OnePlus 5 only needs to render 1,920 x 1,080 or more than double the number of pixels. However, it is worth bearing in mind that, in the hunt for more performance, it is possible to reduce the resolution the S8 renders to either 2,220 x 1,080 or 1,480 x 720.  

Perhaps a more significant performance indicator, though, is the speed of the OnePlus 5’s integrated flash storage, which dictates how fast apps launch and large files load. Just like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the OnePlus 5 uses two-lane UFS 2.1 flash and it’s super quick. In raw numbers, it delivers sequential read and write speeds of 731MB/sec and 213MB/sec, which is far quicker than the OnePlus 3T (420MB/sec and 168MB/sec) and around the same ballpark as the S8 (763MB/sec and 180MB/sec).

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The final aspect of performance, but possibly the most important one, is battery life, and first impressions are that it’s stupendously good. In our test, we set the screen to a brightness of 170cd/m2, engage flight mode and ensure no background tasks are taking place, the OnePlus 5 lasted an incredible 20hrs 40mins. That’s more than twice as long as the Sony XZ Premium in the same test and in the same ballpark as the most excellent Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus.

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And when the phone does run dry, this phone charges incredibly quickly – as long as you use the boxed Dash Charge 3 charger. One evening I plugged it in at 0% and in 12 minutes it had reached 21% and after 39 minutes it had charged to 75%. It slows down thereafter, reaching 93% in a less impressive-looking 1hr 28mins (from 0%) but if you need to give your phone a quick boost before you go home, the OnePlus 5 will oblige.   

OnePlus 5 review: Dual-lens camera

So far, so good, but the OnePlus 5’s biggest main new feature is its new dual-lens rear camera. The specifications look pretty decent on paper, with one 16-megapixel f/1.7 main camera and another, dimmer, 20-megapixel f/2.6 telephoto camera making up the duo. There’s phase-detect autofocus, so it should lock onto your subject superfast, and, thanks to a recent patch, you now get Electronic Image Stabilisation for video as well.

Just like on the iPhone 7 Plus, the regular camera is your main shooter, with the 20-megapixel snapper offering a 2X zoom for when you need to get closer to your subject and, again like the iPhone 7 Plus, they can work together to produce portrait photos with a blurry bokeh effect in the background. I found this feature worked rather well, as long as I was careful to shoot my subject against a background a reasonable distance away.

Here’s one example; you have to look pretty close at the edges of my victim’s face to see that it’s an effect rather than a true SLR wide aperture shot.

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The OnePlus 5 also features improved HDR algorithms, but this is considerably less successful. Not only is the effect subtle to the point of being nigh-on invisible, it’s also prone to double-vision effects. If your hands, or your subject, move even a little you’ll see a little fringing around the edges of objects in your photographs. And in some shots I noticed colours going completely awry. Take a look at the Tube sign below: you’ll see that, in the OnePlus shot, the no smoking sign is grey where it should be red. 

Not good; in fact, I’d go so far as to recommend you don’t use HDR at all; it’s no match for the Google Pixel’s stupendous HDR+ mode, which rarely produces such artefacts.

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Otherwise, the OnePlus 5 produces decent-looking photographs that are well exposed and reasonably crisp. Close inspection reveals a touch more unnatural processing than the equivalent Google Pixel shot, while in low light the OnePlus’ shots exhibit a more grainy, oversharpened look, but despite lagging behind the Pixel, the results are pretty good.

I like the OnePlus 5’s “Pro” mode as well, although there are some issues with this. It allows you to manually adjust focus, ISO sensitivity, shutter speed and white balance and handily displays a live histogram and levelling gauge onscreen. The latter looks especially useful, allowing you to frame your shots more accurately, avoiding wonky horizons as you shoot. In practice, however, I found it slightly out of skew: whenever I took a shot with the gauge level, the resulting photograph always seemed to be tilted a few degrees to the right.

This wouldn’t be a problem if you could calibrate the gauge, but there doesn’t appear to be any way of doing that within the OnePlus camera app. A shame, because this would otherwise be a handy feature. 

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The camera can also shoot in RAW but there’s a problem with this as well. When I tried loading the .raw photos into Photoshop, it didn’t know what to do with them and although Lightroom happily dealt with the same files, I found that JPEGs of the same scene looked cleaner and less noisy.

Still, the video stabilisation (added through an update a month or so after launch), does work extremely well. It smooths out handheld video footage all the way up to 4K resolution so successfully that it can look as if clips were captured on a proper Steadicam. On this front, the OnePlus matches phones such as the Google Pixel and Pixel XL. It’s amazing what a little software update can do.

As for the front-facing camera, that’s an impressive 16-megapixel snapper with an aperture of f/2. That’s more than detailed enough for your pouty Instagram selfies, but there’s another small glitch here. Where with most smartphones the preview shows you a mirror image, then reverses it once the picture is captured, the OnePlus 5’s camera software leaves it reversed. It’s a bit daft, evidence not of a bug, but some wonky thinking at OnePlus: you can, in fact, have the camera behave normally if you look at the settings and flick the Selfie > Invert photo switch to the off position.

OnePlus 5 review: Software and other features

Manufacturers always seem to add an extra feature or two on the software side of things, whether or not they’re needed, and that’s very much the case this year with the OnePlus 5. As usual, the phone runs the firm’s own Oxygen launcher and that’s lies on top of Android 7 Marshmallow.

The most interesting new feature is Reading mode, which OnePlus seemed to claim works like Apple’s TrueTone, analysing ambient lighting in order to set the screen’s white balance. You can set which apps you want this to work with in the phone’s display settings.

In reality, though, all it seems to do is turn the screen monochrome. It’s a touch disappointing and it isn’t the only gripe I have with the display software. The other is that the brightness slider has a very small range of adjustment at the low end, which makes it tricky to set the right brightness level for late-night reading.

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Elsewhere, the app drawer is now semi-transparent, which is supposed to make it feel less separate from the rest of the UI, but in reality is the most minor of minor updates. More significant is the new screenshot facility: swipe down on the screen with three fingers and Oxygen grabs a screenshot, offering you a number of options along the bottom of the screen as you do so.

You can choose to share the screenshot immediately, edit it, delete it, or – and this is cool – if you’ve grabbed a portion of a vertically scrolling app, menu or web page, tap an icon to have the phone scroll down and capture the entire thing. Just tap when you want it to finish.

I’d love to show you how this works through a series of screenshots, but ironically you can’t screenshot the screenshot tool, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Elsewhere, Oxygen retains all the features that make it special, including the ability to use onscreen navigation buttons instead of the capacitive buttons that flank the fingerprint reader, quick gestures for launching the app of your choice or pause and play music, plus flip to mute.  

One final change is that OnePlus has changed the phone’s vibration component so that it delivers a stronger, yet shorter buzz. This is another subtle improvement but a welcome one nonetheless.

OnePlus 5 review: Verdict

There are plenty of people looking to knock the OnePlus 5, principally due to the price rise. And, yes, it’s disappointing the OnePlus is now more of a mid-range than a budget handset. However, if there’s a better phone for £450 I haven’t seen it.

The OnePlus 5 is beautifully designed; it’s fast and battery life is fantastic. The camera isn’t top class but it still takes cracking photographs most of the time. The display is spot on, eschewing unnecessary pixels, instead providing perfectly sharp images with excellent colour rendition and low power consumption. 

With rivals – particularly from Honor and Huawei – producing excellent smartphones for £500 and below, competition for the OnePlus 5 is steeper than ever but there’s still nothing to touch it at this price.

OnePlus 5 specifications

ProcessorOcta-core 2.45GHz / 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM6/8GB
Screen size5.5in
Screen resolution1,920 x 1,080
Screen typeAMOLED
Front camera16-megapixel
Rear camera20-megapixel, 16-megapixel
FlashDual-LED
Storage (free)64/128GB
Memory card slot (supplied)No
Wi-FiDual-band 802.11ac
Bluetooth5.0
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions154 x 74 x 7.3mm
Weight153g
Operating systemAndroid 7.1
Battery size3,300mAh

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