OnePlus started talking a big game before its first phone even came out. The company's attitude can be irksome, but the OnePlus One turned out to be very good thanks to a combination of high-end internals and highly customizable Cyanogen software. Plenty of people still use this phone, but the OnePlus 2 does not seem to have the same dedicated fan base. It omitted several features like NFC and quick charge technology. Now, the third flagship phone from OnePlus is out, and you don't even need to beg for an invite to buy it. Is this the true successor to the OnePlus One? Let's dig in.

Specs

Processor Snapdragon 820
Memory 6GB RAM
Storage 64 GB internal UFS 2.0
Screen 5.5-inch AMOLED, 1080p
Camera 16MP f/2.0 rear, 8MP f/2.0 front
Battery 3,000mAh with Dash Charge
NFC Yes
Software Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Oxygen OS
LTE support 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17 (NA)
Measurements 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35 mm, 158g

The Good

Design The aluminum frame looks and feels very high-quality, though perhaps a little boring.
Camera It's a totally capable camera for the price with good detail and accurate colors.
Storage 64GB of speedy UFS 2.0 storage
General performance The Snapdragon 820 doesn't get too hot and apps load quickly. As fast as more expensive phones in most instances.
Gestures The screen-off gestures are useful and reliable.
Fingerprint sensor It's one of the fastest and most accurate I've used.
Connectivity Supports band 12 and VoLTE on T-Mobile, dual SIMs
Alert slider If you don't mind a few trade offs, this is a handy feature for controlling the notification mode.
Dash Charge It's fast.
Price The $399 asking price is reasonable for what you get. And no invites, finally.

The Not So Good

Display The color calibration doesn't seem very good, and you can see some PenTile artifacts at 1080p.
RAM 6GB of RAM in this phone is mostly a marketing gimmick.
Battery The OnePlus 3 squeaks by with average battery life, but OP used a smaller battery this year than it did last year.
Alert slider again Disables scheduled downtime and Android Wear notification mode control.
Buttons I dislike the tiny unlabeled capacitive buttons.
Dash Charge again You only get fast charging with the included adapter and cable.

Design And Display

OnePlus has been slowly improving the quality of its materials, and this year it's went to an all-aluminum unibody design. It shows a bit of oil from your skin after being handled for a while, but it doesn't collect fingerprints. Near the top and bottom of the metal rear housing are dark antenna lines, the positioning and shape of which are extremely reminiscent of the HTC One M7. The overall device is less angular than that phone, though.

The edges are slightly curved so as not to be sharp or uncomfortable to hold, although they are quite slim. The phone is 7.35mm thick in the middle, but it tapers down near the edges. This is a much more svelte phone than the OnePlus 2, which was 9.9mm thick. Of course, that phone and the One had the distinctive sandstone material on the back. I actually think I miss that—I get that aluminum is a more "premium" material, but the sandstone was distinctive. The OnePlus 3 looks rather generic by comparison. There's nothing wrong with the way it looks; it's just safe and understated.

By making the device thinner this year, OnePlus actually scaled back the battery capacity from 3300mAh in the OP2 to just 3000mAh. I'll get into the battery life later, but I feel like this was an all-around bad idea. By contrast, Samsung made the Galaxy S7 a little thicker this year and added a larger battery. This has the happy upshot of making the back panel flush with the camera sensor. The OnePlus 3, however, has a camera hump.

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I have to applaud OnePlus for keeping the left and right bezels nice and thin this year. The screen gets very close to the frame of the phone, and the gentle downward curve of the glass panel looks especially nice here. As for the display, it's an AMOLED this year, and still a 5.5-inch 1080p panel. A lot of upper mid-range phones are stepping up to 1440p panels, and I'm not saying that's always a good idea, but it's odd that OP isn't going that route when it is otherwise so obsessed with the spec race. Frankly, I think sticking with 1080p has a lot more to do with component cost than genuinely thinking this is the best approach.

The "Optic AMOLED" is apparently a Samsung panel, but it doesn't stand up to Samsung's own phones. The white balance looks too cool at the default calibration. Luckily, there are controls to tweak that in the settings. Not so luckily, you have to push it almost all the way to the warm side to make it look acceptable. In general, I feel like the color calibration is off with lots of inaccurate, overly saturated colors. And for the record, I consider Samsung's current generation panels to be a good approximation of "accurate," so that's what I'm comparing to. Viewing angles are excellent, though, with no substantial dimming or color cast at off angles.

This is "only" 1080p, and it's a PenTile array. That means there are fewer subpixels than a standard RGB matrix, but all modern AMOLEDs do this. It's just harder to tell at 1440p. You can definitely see that crosshatch PenTile pattern on the 1080p OP3 if you know what to look for. The slight fringing is particularly evident around text and rounded icons.

The outdoor brightness is good enough—the display is readable, but it doesn't seem very smart about ramping the brightness up to maximum. It's also not as bright as the OnePlus 2 or any 2016 flagship phone. If you manually push it up, you can read the phone outside, but it's not pleasant. Likewise, the low end of the brightness scale is too bright. I still prefer to use a screen filter app in a dark room to push the brightness down lower. Switching to AMOLED does mean the blacks are perfect and contrast is fantastic. The dark UI mode really pops.

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On the bottom is the Type-C port (more on that later) and a headphone jack. This is also where the OP3's only speaker is found. It sounds a lot like the one in the OnePlus 2 (I wouldn't be shocked if it was the same part). The audio is clean for the most part, but it gets distorted when you push it past about two-thirds of maximum. There's also no bass to speak of, which shouldn't surprise you.

Buttons

I have a lot of thoughts about how the OnePlus 3 handles buttons, so let's break this out. The power and volume buttons are on the right and left edges, respectively. They're very tactile, and easy to find by touch. High up on the left side is the three-position alert slider, which debuted on the OnePlus 2. As I've said a few times, I don't particularly like this feature, but I understand why some people do. The gist is that you can slide up one click to get priority notification mode, then slide up again to get silent. The problem is that Android doesn't really support a hardware control for notifications, which causes some issues.

There is no option on the OnePlus 3 for scheduled downtime—a feature that I use on every Android device I have. I bet a lot of other people use it too. Likewise, you can't control the notification mode from an Android Wear device at all. Last year, the OP2 let you do this, but the setting didn't match the slider position. That's a whole different OCD problem, but I think I preferred to at least have the option. If you don't use either of those features, then sure, the alert slider is great.

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Again this year you have the choice of on-screen or capacitive buttons. The on-screen ones have a few small customization options, but you get much more if you use the physical buttons below the screen. For example, double-tap the home button to put the phone to sleep (I love this), or long-press one of the other buttons to launch the camera or go to the last open app. All these options are available in the "Buttons" top-level menu.

I'm not a fan of the design of these capacitive buttons, but I'm really trying to get used to them because of the additional functionality they afford. The center home button is fine, but the back and multitasking buttons are unlabeled dots. At least the OP2 had dashes. These are even harder to see outside in bright light, and I miss the visual feedback to reinforce my muscle memory. I suppose OP leaves them unlabeled so you can change the order, but what sort of savage wants the back and overview buttons on the wrong side? This will probably force me back to the on-screen buttons eventually.

The home button is also the fingerprint sensor, just like the OP2. Unlike that phone, this sensor is great. There are none of the sensitivity or sluggish performance problems present, and it's incredibly accurate. Tapping it wakes up the phone every time, and lets it check for a matching print. After registering my prints, the OP3 unlocks as fast and reliably as the Nexus 6P. The angle doesn't appear to confuse the phone like it does some others, and I've only had a handful of rejected reads. I still prefer a rear-facing sensor ergonomically, but that's just my preference.

Charging And Battery

So, OnePlus thought dropping some battery capacity was a good idea this year. Spoiler alert: that's never a good idea. The smaller battery doesn't make it a terrible device, but I think it does weaken it in some interesting ways. Before we get into all that, let's talk about the basics. This phone has a 3,000mAh battery with Dash Charge via the USB Type-C port. Dash charge is roughly as fast as Quick Charge 3.0, but it requires different hardware in the adapter and cable (it's a licensed form of Oppo's VOOC).

The phone comes with one adapter/cable combo that supports Dash Charge. They have power management and heat dispersal hardware in them, which should keep the phone cooler and allow charging and processing to continue at full speed even if you use it when it's plugged in... or so they say. Below I have some thermal images of the OnePlus 3 and Nexus 6P, both of which were charging from 30-40% battery for 20 minutes with their stock fast chargers. The temperatures of the hottest areas of the phone are virtually the same. The internal battery temperature was within a few degrees at any given time, but neither was consistently cooler than the other.

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Left: OnePlus 3 with Dash Charge, Right: Nexus 6P with fast charging

With Dash Charge, you can get a full battery (0-100) in slightly over an hour based on my testing. OP claims it's a bit faster than that. Either way, it's incredibly fast. When connected to a different charger, the phone still charges, but at slower speeds. On a Quick Charge 3.0 adapter, you're looking at roughly 2.5 hours for a full charge. The Nexus Type-C chargers use higher current (not as high as VOOC, though), so these are a bit faster. These chargers can do a full charge in a little under two hours.

There won't be any third-party Dash Charge accessories, and OP hasn't released the necessary files for ROM builders to support the technology. It's sub-optimal, but at least OnePlus has some form of fast charging this year.

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In my testing, a full charge with heavy use is good for around four and a half hours of screen time over the course of 14-15 hours. That includes lots of email and messaging, web browsing, constant Android Wear connectivity, some games, and an hour or music streaming with Bluetooth. If you're using the phone more sporadically, you can go more than a day with maybe two hours of total screen time thanks to Doze Mode. Keep in mind, this is my own usage, which might not match yours. In general, I'd say the OnePlus 3's battery life is average to slightly below average. It's not terrible, but it doesn't match some of the other phones out there.

Camera

The camera sensor on the OnePlus 3 is in a more sane spot this year, rather than exactly where I want to rest my finger on the back of the phone like the OP2. The sensor and pixel size is also a little smaller this year compared to the OP2. As I mentioned above, it sticks out of the phone a bit, which I'm not crazy about, but how does it do? It's a solid performer most of the time, but it won't blow you away with image quality.

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The OnePlus 3 takes overall good images in bright outdoor light. The HDR mode helps with that a bit. When you get just the right HDR snapshot with the OP3, the result can look really impressive. The level of detail captured in the image is good, and there's no wonky over-sharpening or smoothing. My main concern is the slight propensity for overexposing, leading to white clipping and loss of detail. That's not a huge deal, though.

OnePlus has improved dramatically compared to the OP2 when it comes to indoor photos. There's very little noise with medium and low light. It's not as good as the Galaxy S7, but it's close to what the Nexus 6P can do. Although, white balance in most indoor situations tends to be too warm. I think this is probably the most noticeable problem. I'm also not completely happy with the autofocus. It's phase detection this year instead of laser-assisted, and it's a bit on the sluggish side.

OnePlus also has a capable camera app with a full manual mode and support for RAW capture. This sensor is competitive considering the price, and it can even hold its own compared to much more expensive phones.

Performance

The Snapdragon 820 SoC has been covered before at great length, so you probably know what to expect. It's an improvement over the Snapdragon 810 from last year's OP phone, which could get quite toasty. The OnePlus 3 seems to remain faster for longer, and it's at least as fast as the Galaxy S7. At least for general tasks. I've seen a few minor performance hiccups, but nothing dramatic. There are some benchmarks below for your perusal.

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The issue everyone is probably wondering about is how the 6GB of RAM does in this phone. If you follow the news, you know there's some concern about this. Right from the moment I started using the OnePlus 3, I could tell the RAM management was odd. A phone with 6GB of RAM seems like it should be able to hold a lot of apps in memory, but the OP3 doesn't. It closes apps at least as aggressively as other phones, and in some cases even more so than a device with 4GB of RAM.

Even opening apps in quick succession, I was unable to get the OP3 to consume more than 4GB of RAM. Without exception, leaving the phone sit for several minutes or using it normally after trying to overload the RAM would see memory usage drop back down to 3GB or less. OnePlus' co-founder has responded to this issue, which is where we bring the battery back into things. According to Carl Pei, the OnePlus 3 limits the number of running apps in order to benefit the battery. As I explained above, the battery life is fine. Were OP to really use those 6GB of RAM, maybe battery life would go from being acceptable to garbage.

I feel like OnePlus should have either stuck with a larger battery or gone with 4GB of RAM. As it stands, 6GB of RAM on this phone is essentially useless. It looks nice on the specsheet, but there are no benefits in daily use. Custom ROMs will be able to modify the RAM management, but that doesn't make OP's decisions here any less wrong. Why not use less RAM and make the phone cheaper? You're basically paying for hardware that isn't being fully utilized.

Software

Not much has changed since last we looked at Oxygen OS. It's based on Marshmallow now, which is a vast improvement. That means OP's custom permission manager is gone now in favor of the stock Android version. Otherwise the feature set is very similar. I feel a vague desire to complain about the lack of innovation, but considering how long it took OnePlus to update the OP2 to Marshmallow, maybe keeping it simple is the best course of action.

Oxygen OS is very close to stock Android, so at least in that way I'm a fan. OnePlus hasn't gone out of its way to change the UI or add a bunch of custom apps that don't need to exist. I mean, there are a few, but it's nowhere near as cluttered as a phone from any of the larger OEMs (even unlocked ones). OnePlus doesn't bother making its own keyboard (SwiftKey is bundled) or an SMS client (it has Google Messenger).

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OnePlus does still insist on making its own home screen, and I'm not sure why at this point. It only offers a handful of customizations like icon packs, drawer grid size, and the Shelf UI. The Shelf is basically a place where you can line up a bunch of widgets in a vertical scrolling stack. It can get awkward with more than a few widgets, especially if you try to add widgets that scroll vertically themselves. There's not enough functionality here to convince me that OnePlus needs to be spending time on a custom home screen; is not even the same UI OnePlus uses in the Chinese market. Slap Google Now launcher on it and be done.

There are a few customizations in Oxygen OS that I think are done well. The dark mode is great for people who want that. You can flip to a true AMOLED black UI for all the system settings screens with a configurable accent color. The screen-off gestures are well done too. You can double tap to wake (boring, but nice), draw a circle to wake the camera, draw a V to toggle the flashlight, and draw playback controls (=, <, >) to control your media. That last one in particular is very neat, especially if you're casting media from your phone. The easily rearranged quick settings are great too.

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Oxygen OS is a solid Android ROM mostly because of how close it is to stock Android. A handful of OP's tweaks are useful, but others are unnecessary. I'd still use it without hesitation over something like MIUI, EMUI, or ColorOS.

It would be foolish to discuss the phone's software without at least talking briefly about the elephant in the room—updates. It took OnePlus eight months to get Marshmallow to the OnePlus 2. That's an unlocked phone, and even carrier versions of other phones had gotten 6.0 before that. This is unacceptable, and I think OP knows it. There's a legitimate worry that OnePlus just doesn't have the capacity to produce a production-ready major update in a reasonable amount of time. You shouldn't have to wait the better part of a year for an OS update on your unlocked phone. I'm not saying this will happen with the OP3, but you should consider it a possibility.

Conclusion

While OnePlus has never talked specifics, I suspect the OnePlus 2 was a bit of a flop. OP had to turn things around in 2016 to stay afloat, and I think it's done that with the OnePlus 3. It's not a perfect phone—corners have been cut, and some of them really annoy me. However, there's more right with this phone than wrong with it. OnePlus has learned to cut the right corners to avoid most big deal breakers.

The metal design of the OnePlus 3 is subdued, but I can't really call that a bad thing. It looks like a mature and understated smartphone. The fingerprint sensor is fantastic, and the camera is surprisingly capable. It's a very fast phone in general use too. I also really like having the option to fast charge this phone, but the hardware limitation is annoying. If you don't mind losing downtime and Android Wear control, the alert slider is neat—OP is the only OEM to offer it.

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I think OnePlus could have done better balancing the battery, display, and RAM. The 1080p AMOLED panel (supposedly chosen for better battery life) has strange calibration and you can see the PenTile fringe. It's not like phones with 1440p displays can't have excellent battery life anyway. The smaller battery is good enough for a day, but apparently that's only because the 6GB of RAM is not being put to proper use. The OP3 kills apps much faster than I expected, making the RAM little more than a bullet point on the spec sheet.

I have no real objection to Oxygen OS except to say it's not advancing much over time. The real test is going to be updates. If it takes OnePlus ages to update this phone to N, you might regret buying it. That said, you would not be crazy to pick up the OnePlus 3 right now, especially if you've been looking for a OnePlus One replacement. And hey, you don't need an invite.