Four years ago, the Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus took the world by storm. New entrants into the smartphone market, the company disrupted it by providing phones as good as flagships by other well-known companies at a price point that resonated with most average smartphone buyers. Exceptional build-quality, top-notch specification, smooth software at a price-point that undercut all of its competitors, however, came at a price; and that price was subdued marketing strategies, smart inventory control and a refined production cycle. But regardless of all of these company compromises, the users always benefitted as a result. This was also part of how a small smartphone company operating out of Shenzhen, China, created a market for itself all over the world.
But for OnePlus to disrupt the market, they had to undercut a lot of their competitors which they did by ruthlessly cost cutting their own operations budget, a strategy that could not sustain the company in the long run. As a result, the prices for OnePlus devices have slowly been increasing with each new iteration and with the new OnePlus 5 costing around $530 (Samsung Galaxy S8 costs $630), the company seems to be losing one of its most competitive advantages.
While the low retail price was one of the most important factors for the success of OnePlus, it wasn’t everything. During a time when most smartphones coming out of China were criticized for copying the iPhone, OnePlus stood out. Instead of copying the design aesthetics of the iPhone, they designed a phone that looked fresh and different. Retaining the premium build-quality and attention to detail, they managed to design a phone that looked unique but with the OnePlus 5, all of this seems to changing. OnePlus, as a company is changing, and with it, most of what made OnePlus devices unique seems to be changing as well.
The OnePlus 5 is unlike any OnePlus device we have seen before. While still a good phone with specifications that can easily rival flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the iPhone 7, the philosophy behind these phones seem to be morphing to reflect the growth of the Chinese smartphone company. The OnePlus 5 comes equipped with the Snapdragon 835 SOC, 6 to 8 GB of RAM and 64 to 128 GB of internal storage. The phone also has a dual-camera setup at the back with a 16 MP normal and 20MP telephoto lens. The screen on the OnePlus 5 doesn’t fail to impress with a 5.5-inch AMOLED 1080p display. And staying true to OnePlus’ core philosophies, the phone comes with a buttery smooth stock OS with some added functionality from the company rebranded as OxygenOS. The phone is a powerhouse and will not stutter at all during normal use. By some online comparisons, it even performs faster than the Samsung Galaxy S8.
But while the internals of the phone are impressive, the outer enclosure of the phone mimics the iPhone 7 almost completely. It has the same curved-edges on the sides, the same kind of antenna bands, identically placed front-facing camera and an almost identical dual-camera setup at the back. This makes the OnePlus 5 look like an iPhone rip-off that OnePlus had so smartly avoided in the past. Now, flaunting the new OnePlus device will look like carrying a cheap Chinese iPhone rip-off, an idea that might not sit-right with many people. The resemblance is uncanny with even the power buttons and volume rockers mimicking the iPhone.
Apart from originality, a definite lack of innovation also plagues the OnePlus 5. A reflection of the size of the company, OnePlus couldn’t implement a curved display solely because the technology was inaccessible to them. While the lack of a higher-resolution curved display can be understood, many of its other uninspired features cannot. A single bottom firing speaker has no space in 2017 since even the iPhone has stereo speakers now. The lack of image stabilization on its impressive dual-lens camera is also a contradiction to the phone’s flagship status.
As impressive as the dual-lens setup at the rear of the phone looks on paper, it fails to deliver in real-life use. The lack of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is a major letdown since the lack of this feature tends to affect overall image sharpness, producing softer photos as a result. Even the bokeh effect that it simulates is not as impressive as the iPhone 7, with weird halo like artifacts appearing on sharp edges. The One Plus 5’s photos also lack vibrancy in their pictures, producing neutral images that some might prefer but underperforms against other smartphone cameras like the one on the iPhone or even the Galaxy S8.
As a staunch supporter of the company, it pains me to write a negative review for a OnePlus device, but considering just how uninspired the OnePlus 5 is, I can barely help it. If the OnePlus had retained the same price-point as the OnePlus 3 (approx. $400) I would have easily let most of these details slide but a rise in the price range compels me to hold it to a higher standard and for now, the OnePlus 5 fails to impress. The device does not offer anything new to define the significant rise in price-point and it seems that the company is trying its best to find a sustainable business model for their company but, while exploring these options, they are alienating a huge segment of their fan-base and that might not go well for the company in the future.
The writer is The Week’s tech guru. If you have any queries, write to us at email@example.com and we will have him answer them for you.