Review: the OnePlus 3 is the best phone for its price

The OnePlus 3 has much to live up to. The OnePlus 2 was one of the hits of 2015. Immediate impressions are positive. Although the phone has the same 5.5in-sized screen as the OnePlus 2, upgrades abound elsewhere: there’s a faster, more efficient Snapdragon 820 processor, RAM doubles to 6GB, and there’s NFC in addition to a front-mounted fingerprint reader, allowing it to be used for contactless payments via Android Pay. Even the camera sees an upgrade.

While it looks bland from a distance, that all changes once you lay your hands on it: the OnePlus 3 feels robust and refined in all the right ways. It’s lighter and slimmer than the OnePlus 2, shaving 17g off its predecessor’s weight and 1.5mm off its thickness. The edges of the screen are slightly rounded, the buttons have a solid, positive click, and the do-not-disturb slider on the left edge has a lovely mechanical snick. Being able to put the phone into silent mode at the flick of a switch is so useful that you have to wonder why more Android manufacturers haven’t done it before. There’s also a dual-SIM slot on the left-hand edge, although you don’t get a microSD slot to expand the phone’s 64GB of internal storage.

Its Snapdragon 820 processor, backed by 6GB of RAM, kills the competition stone-dead. You have to move up to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s Plus before you find a handset that can compete. As you might expect, the phone feels ultra-responsive.

The big question is: how does all this power affect battery life? In our video-rundown battery-life tests, the OnePlus 3 outlasted every one of its mid-price rivals once again, sailing past the Moto G4’s time of 13hrs 39mins by an impressive 3hrs 17mins.
OnePlus’ new Dash Charge quick-charging technology is almost as impressive. Using the charger in the box, the OnePlus 3 reached 50% in 23 minutes, 75% in 35 minutes and 100% in 1hr 14mins. So even when you do run out of juice, you’ll be up and running in short order.

The screen uses a Super AMOLED panel with a bunch of software and colour “optimisations” by OnePlus, but performance was mixed in our tests. Brightness is respectable. In fact, it’s brighter than most AMOLED screens, reaching 415cd/m2 with the brightness slider adjusted to the far right. I’ve only seen Samsung’s AMOLED-equipped phones reach higher.

Put simply, you should be able to read the screen comfortably in all but the sunniest of conditions, and since the panel is AMOLED and has perfect contrast, colours are strong.
The negatives principally surround colour balance and colour accuracy. OnePlus hasn’t been able to tame the tendencies of AMOLED to oversaturate colours. While the screen covers 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, ensuring vivid tones and lots of subtle variations, colour accuracy is way off beam, and that translates into certain graphics and icons taking on a strangely candy-colour, neon quality. This isn’t the huge problem some have made it out to be, but the OnePlus 3’s screen doesn’t reach the same heights as the very best displays. 

The same can be said about camera quality. The 16-megapixel rear camera is an upgrade on the OnePlus 2’s 13-megapixel unit, and also beats the Nexus 6P and 5X. However, quality is affected not solely by the number of pixels but also by the strength of the autofocus, how much light the optics let in, and how well the software exposes the image.
The OnePlus 3 has all the right elements in place. It has a fast phase-detect autofocus system that locks onto subjects in a jiffy, without hunting back and forth. It has a bright aperture of f/2, and there’s also optical image stabilisation (OIS) to keep images crisp in low-light conditions.

The Nexus 6P doesn’t have OIS, but its 1/2.3in sensor is larger than the OnePlus 3’s 1/2.8in affair. In practice, this means the Nexus 6P’s camera holds the edge in outright quality, with slightly less noise marring the fine details and more refined colour reproduction, but the OnePlus 3’s camera wins in terms of reliability. When you hit the shutter button on the OnePlus 3, the resulting image is less likely to come out blurry.
The OnePlus 3 is a superb phone. It marries top-level performance, an excellent camera and great design with a refreshingly simple Android skin to deliver a flagship phone for silly money. It isn’t quite perfect. The colour balance of the screen is a little off, and there’s no way to replace the battery or add extra storage via microSD. But you do get 64GB as standard, so can’t complain too much.

In fact, the biggest barrier to mass adoption of the OnePlus 3 is that you can’t  buy one on contract. Nor can you currently order one direct from the company online for delivery to Australia, however there are many importers in Australia selling the OnePlus3, just Google it, hit the shopping tab and you’ll find there’s plenty of choice and the prices are very good. It’s for this reason that we’re giving you this review, and we feel that supply is plentiful enough locally to warrant placement of this handset into the A-List, where it’s our new top smartphone. The OnePlus 3 represents a killer combination of price, performance and design, and no other phone comes close. 

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