Never Settle: First Impressions of the OnePlus 3

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Two years ago, OnePlus was a fledgling company with a very small — yet passionate — following. The first device produced by the Oppo-owned company, the OnePlus One, was positively received and seems to have started a trend wherein there are more and more smartphone options available boasting top-shelf specs at mid- to low-tier prices. Although it didn’t out-perform flagships from the likes of Samsung, HTC, and LG, the OnePlus One was unique in that it was a device that users were encouraged to play with, making it very developer-friendly and a favorite of anyone who likes to personalize their gadgetry.

The following year, OnePlus released two new smartphones: The OnePlus 2 — a direct successor to the OnePlus 2 and their official flagship for 2015 — and the OnePlus X, an even more budget-conscious model that still offered impressive hardware for a sub-$250 price tag.

OnePlus lineup
Photo courtesy of OnePlus

Although it was generally well-received — including by yours truly — and retained the sandstone-textured construction for which OnePlus has become known, the OnePlus 2 wasn’t without its shortcomings. OnePlus’ slogan might be “Never Settle”, but the company got the reputation for cutting corners with their second so-called flagship killer. Lacking expandable storage (admittedly a common theme among 2015 flagships), omitting NFC, and featuring an IPS LCD panel instead of the widely preferred (and more battery friendly) OLED display, the OnePlus 2 seemed to disappoint a very vocal subgroup of its userbase despite having specs that were favorably compared to the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the LG G4.

When 2016 rolled around, there were audible whispers all over the internet as fans and critics speculated what OnePlus might be doing with the third official flagship and fourth overall device. Unfortunately, a number of early leaks ruined the surprise so that by the reveal of the OnePlus 3 during its June 14 launch in virtual reality, there was significantly less buzz for the OnePlus 3 than there was for prior phones. Without the “big reveal”, the focus become the device’s shortcomings rather than its strengths. While there aren’t many shortcomings to speak of, some pretty daring decisions went into the making of the OnePlus 3 that may or may not hurt the OnePlus 3’s reception.

As I’ve only had my OnePlus 3 for a week, I’m not yet ready to write my full review. However, I want to go ahead and offer some initial impressions after having some limited time with it. In particular, I want to talk a bit about the fresh look the OnePlus 3 is rocking as well as some initial thoughts about actual usage. So without further ago, here are some of my first impressions of the OnePlus 3.

New Design Language

OnePlus 3
Photo courtesy of Anandtech

The most obvious change from the OnePlus 2 to the OnePlus 3 is its design, which seems to have gotten a complete overhaul. This has been a major point of contention with people either loving the new look or finding it too derivative.

While the company’s first two flagships had a very distinct and consistent design language, OnePlus has clearly been inspired by the iPhone 6, HTC 10, and maybe some recent Huawei handsets, including the Huawei Nexus 6P. The OnePlus 3 features an all-metal chassis rather than the removable sandstone battery cover of the One and 2. Constructed from a space-grade aluminum unibody, there’s no question that the OnePlus 3 feels very premium in the hand, which is also a testament to its extremely slim profile at just 7.3mm thin. (For a comparison, this is the same thickness as the Huawei Nexus 6P while the iPhone 6 is barely thinner at 6.9mm.)

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OnePlus 3 and Nexus 6P
Photo courtesy of Android Pit

However, despite being made of metal the OnePlus 3 is surprisingly light. Coming from a Nexus 6P, I now feel that the Nexus is a bit too heavy (178g versus the OnePlus 3’s 158g). In many instances, a phone that’s notably light will make it feel hollow and cheap, but the lightness of the OnePlus 3 doesn’t give that impression. Instead, it’s more comfortable to hold and use.

The OnePlus One and OnePlus 2 notably had rounded edges. When you looked at those phones straight on, you saw that the top and bottom edges of the phone curved outward slightly. This is absent from the OnePlus 3, which is more squared off from the front. But this is offset by the actual outward edges of the phone being very rounded. The front display doesn’t have a thick bezel like other phones; instead, the edges of the screen curve outward and form a smooth connection with the aluminum, which continues the curve onto the back of the phone. This makes the phone feel very rounded and smooth while appearing to have very harsh edges.

OnePlus 3 camera module
Photo courtesy of Android Headlines

On the rear, the OnePlus 3 has a camera module that protrudes outward from the back of the phone a couple millimeters. This is an engineering decision that’s been seen in other devices — iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7 are the most well-known — and is almost always a point of contention. Understandably, users display how a protruding camera module prevents the phone from lying flat on a table or other surface. It also makes the camera module more vulnerable to damage. It’s not such a major deal to me, especially since the cases OnePlus sells for the OnePlus 3 compensate for the protruding camera, making the camera flush with the cover. But if you’re someone who doesn’t use cases or other phone protection, you make take issue with it.

It’s gotten popular to put fingerprint sensors on the back of a phone where you’re supposed to be able to take a fingerprint reading while putting your finger in a somewhat natural holding position. Last year’s Nexus phone have fingerprint sensors on the back and so does the pseudo-modular LG G5. Personally, I still prefer a fingerprint sensor installed in the physical home button on the front of a device, and this happens to be exactly where the OnePlus 3 fingerprint sensor is found.

The home button/fingerprint sensor of the OnePlus 3 is made of ceramic, which is supposed to be for both durability and aesthetics. In practice, the fingerprint sensor is lightning fast, able to take a reading, unlock the phone, and load the home screen in 0.2 seconds or less. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that the fingerprint sensor learns from you and actually improves as you continue using it over time.

Using the OnePlus 3

OnePlus 3 OxygenOS
Photo courtesy of Digital Trends

Again, this isn’t intended to be a full review. However, after using the OnePlus 3 for almost a week now I feel that I have a solid grasp of the user experience.

With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor — the same processor that’s in the HTC 10, the LG G5, and the U.S. version of the Samsung Galaxy S7 — the OnePlus 3 is a serious powerhouse. It goes without saying that it’s a faster, more capable phone than its three predecessors with a Snapdragon processor that’s two to three generations newer, but in day-to-day use the phone typically flies. Apps load fast, switching from one app to another is fast, and the phone is generally very responsive.

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The OnePlus 3 also has 6GB of RAM under its hood. Many have said that this is OnePlus’ way of “flexing” since the Android operating system isn’t really able to take full advantage of that much RAM, but there’s no denying that having 6GB of RAM means being able to store more apps in memory. Or at least it does after you tweak a setting that’s buried in lines of OxygenOS code.

When I was using the OnePlus 2, I remember being impressed with how peppy the device was. In fact, the OnePlus 2 has a lot of avid fans and devoted users still today. However, the OnePlus 3 definitely ups the ante.

OnePlus 3 Review Checkpoint

In the full review I’ll be posted soon, I’ll go into more depth concerning the performance of the OnePlus 3. Specifically, I’ll be running some benchmarks and comparing them to other flagships available now with which the OnePlus 3 is competing. I also want to discuss the camera, which has been getting solid reviews and favorable comparisons to the cameras of other flagships.

If you have any specific questions about the OnePlus 3, please feel free to post them below and I’ll either answer in a response or incorporate the answer into the full review.

The OnePlus 3 is currently available — completely invite-free!— on the OnePlus website for $399. It’s currently available in Graphite (silver) with 64GB of internal, non-expandable storage. Sometime in July, there will be a Soft Gold variant of the OnePlus 3 available.

About the author

My name is Dane. I'm a writer at Android Authority as well as a tech journalist in general. As well, I'm a marketing guru, designer, and a budding web developer. My passions include portmanteaus, artisanal coffees, jackets, and the smell of fresh technology in the morning.