OnePlus 5 review: Not the OnePlus 4, but still the best OnePlus yet

OnePlus has fashioned itself as the flagship phone killer jumping out of the midrange bushes. Every OnePlus device to date has been defined by premium specs at bargain prices, but that changes with today’s OnePlus 5. Starting at $479 with 64GB of storage, this new flagship can no longer be mistaken for a super-specced midrange handset. And even though it doesn’t cost quite as much as a mainstream mainstay like the Galaxy S8, that’s exactly the sort of phone it will be compared against. This is the priciest OnePlus device yet, and it’s falling in line with its more traditional competition: you pay more to get more.

There’s no questioning the specs of this phone: it’s powered by the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 835 processor; comes with a combo of either 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage or a laptop-rivaling 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage; and it has a total of 52 megapixels of image-taking prowess between its three cameras.

The OnePlus 5 continues the firm’s flagship-killing tradition, but raises the asking price

What I see when I look at the 2017 edition of the OnePlus flagship is a necessary maturation and refinement. The ruthless cost cutting of the past was never going to be sustainable, and now that the company is facing the exigencies of being a global operation with costs that go beyond basic distribution and marketing, OnePlus is growing up in both price and quality.

But as it develops into a new kind of phone, the OnePlus 5 is also starting to feel divorced from its predecessors, inheriting only the physical switch for alert modes and the Dash Charge rapid-charging technology. It now looks like a OnePlus 3 that’s put on an iPhone 7 Plus costume: still roughly the same proportions as before, but now with more rounded edges, curved antenna lines, and the same dual-camera setup as the iPhone. It’s more than a passing resemblance, and it frankly makes me uneasy.

Until today, OnePlus could confidently say it was different from all the other Chinese upstarts that, consciously or not, aped the iPhone to a point of losing their own identity. OnePlus phones always had character, rooted in no small part in their market-breaking low prices. But the 128GB Midnight Black phone I’m reviewing today costs $539, which is a stone’s throw away from Samsung’s Galaxy S prices. Without the unique selling point of massively undercutting everyone, and with the baggage of looking like a cynical iPhone rip-off, can the OnePlus 5 retain the small-company charm that’s made its maker popular all around the world? I’m not so sure.

ONEPLUS SWEATS ALL THE LITTLE DESIGN DETAILS, RIGHT DOWN TO PAINTING THE INSIDE OF THE USB-C PORT
OnePlus demonstrates its upgraded meticulousness in a couple of subtler ways: the fingerprint reader now has a ceramic cover, the camera lenses are protected by sapphire glass, and the notification LED and the capacitive key backlights are perfectly disguised so as to be totally invisible when not active. Mix that in with the midnight-black paint job of the pricier model and the perfect blacks of an AMOLED display, and the OnePlus 5 starts to look every bit the high-end flagship smartphone that it aspires to be. Even the USB-C port at the bottom has been filed down to a smooth finish (unlike, say, the Google Pixel, which has an annoyingly sharp edge around the port) and painted black on the inside.

 

   
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