OnePlus is a company that says it cares about the products it builds and wants to create culturally significant devices. It has stepped back from plans to expand into the wearables and speaker markets to focus entirely on its smartphone efforts, and if the OnePlus X is anything to go by, that was a very smart decision.
The OnePlus X, available in the U.S. starting Nov. 19, is a hugely impressive smartphone, and that is even before you consider it costs just $249. I liked the company’s bigger and more expensive OnePlus 2, which it launched just a couple of months ago, but I like the X a whole lot more.
The phone is pretty much the definition of the black slab of glass and metal many cite as being the problem with the copycat smartphone industry today, but what OnePlus has done is focus on the details so that the final product is beautiful, and a pleasure to use.
The main issue I had with the design is that the OnePlus X is so uniform and symmetrical, I sometimes had difficulty figuring our which side was which -- even after picking it up. The only thing to break the straight lines and flat surfaces is the white OnePlus logo on the back.
Having been used to using much bigger phones, the best thing about the OnePlus X was its size. It has a 5-inch screen housed in an incredibly slim (6.9 mm) and lightweight (138 grams) body, which means I didn’t have to force it to fit into my pocket, and it wasn’t always poking me in the hip when I bent over, like the bigger iPhones or Galaxy Notes.
Sharp And Bright
Unlike all other phones at this price point, the OnePlus X is all metal and glass, with the metallic frame featuring micro-grooves to help prevent the phone from slipping out of your hand. While this does work, there is also a slightly sharp edge to the phone that makes swiping across the slightly raised screen not as great as it could be.
Speaking of the screen, it is a Full HD AMOLED panel which is both bright and sharp, and unlike some AMOLED panels we have seen from Samsung in the past, the colors here are not oversaturated. Blacks are also deeper and for a $249 phone, this is an excellent smartphone screen.
Obviously at this price point there had to be some compromises, so don’t expect a fingerprint sensor, NFC or the fastest chipset on the market -- indeed OnePlus is using an 18-month-old Snapdragon 801 chip from Qualcomm that I worried would not be able to handle some tasks. Having used the phone for over a week now, I can’t say the performance is flawless, but some early niggles have been mostly addressed with a software update from OnePlus.
While there were some stutters when switching apps and navigating the interface, I found more power intensive tasks like streaming video and playing games to work perfectly and the phone also never got noticeably warm, which I was worried about, given its slim profile and metallic frame. The older chipset is also helped by a beefy 3GB of RAM.
Battery Life And Camera
In terms of battery life, the phone’s lightweight 2525 mAh battery does well to just about get through a full day’s use, and considering this is all you can expect from the vast majority of phones these days, that’s not a bad effort.
Typically where flagship smartphones shine is with their cameras, with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, LG G4 and iPhone 6S all leading the pack in 2015. OnePlus cannot match these devices, but what it does offer is a decent 13 megapixel sensor and the promise of a very fast autofocus system. While the camera is responsive, it is still behind the best-in-class though it will produce some really great images in the right conditions.
Low light performance is again one of the areas where the OnePlus X can’t match the big guns, and just like the OnePlus 2, the time it takes for the phone to process the images after you hit the shutter button is just too long, and means you could miss out on the shot you are looking for.
The camera app, just like the minimalist design of the phone, is stripped back and bare bones, but that also means it is pretty easy to use and you are not faced with a million options to tweak before taking your shot. Video is available in 1080p, as well as slow-mo and time-lapse options. The front-facing camera features an 8 mp sensor and produces some great detailed images -- along with the now obligatory beauty mode.
On the software side of things, the OnePlus X comes with the company’s own version of Android called OxygenOS but unlike some Android skins, it is pretty light and adds some genuinely useful features, most notably the ability to draw a letter on the locked screen to automatically launch certain apps, such as an ‘O’ to open the camera and a ‘V’ to turn the flashlight on and off. You can also control music playback in this way. Finally the OnePlus X also adds an FM Radio app, which may seem like a throwback, but could save a lot of data charges, especially when roaming.
There is so much to like about the OnePlus X even aside from the price. It is a stripped back, minimalist smartphone that is small, slim and lightweight. In a world where we are surrounded by ever bigger phablets, it is great to use a phone that has such a small footprint. The premium build quality and material speaks to the company’s focus on craftsmanship, and you are not going to get anything like this at this price from any other manufacturer.
Regarding that competition, there are an increasing number of manufacturers looking for a piece of this price bracket. Motorola flanks the OnePlus X with the $180 Moto G, which offers a lower-resolution screen, and the Moto X Style, which delivers a bigger, higher-resolution screen but costs $400. HTC’s Desire 626 again features a lower-resolution screen for $239. Fellow Chinese brand Alcatel’s OneTouch Idol offers similar specs for the same price but can’t match the OnePlus X in quality.
The biggest challenger to the OnePlus X could of course come from the company itself, with the $329 OnePlus 2 and its bigger screen, fingerprint sensor, faster processor and the option of more built-in storage, but it is also more expensive and considerably bulkier.
The U.S. smartphone market is dominated by mobile networks with more than 90 percent of smartphones sold through AT&T, Verizon and the like, but that is slowly changing. A lot of people no longer want to be tied to long-term contracts, but buying an iPhone from Apple or Galaxy S6 from Samsung is going to set you back a lot of money. That is where the OnePlus X comes in. It may not be able to match the market leaders in all respects, but for $249, this is a lot of phone.