OnePlus has taken a giant leap into the unknown with its latest flagship-bothering smartphone.
Unlike previous efforts, where the aim was to find that perfect balance between a bargain price and flagship-grade performance, the OnePlus 5 has its sights fixed firmly on the more expensive competition.
It has taken improvements across the board and dual cameras to make that happen, along with a significantly higher price.
OnePlus has never had a more tempting alternative to the iPhones and Galaxy S8s of the world, but at £450, is it now simply too expensive to be considered the value alternative? And has it now become a flagship phone in its own right? Actually, it’s a bit of both.
It doesn’t cut as mean a profile as the bezel-busting Samsung Galaxy S8 or LG G6, but a series of style refinements helps the OnePlus 5 keep pace with the rest of this year’s big hitters.
MORE: Samsung Galaxy S8 review
Curvier corners, a more sculpted rear panel with stealthy antenna lines, and a matte finish on the all-aluminium chassis add a touch of class that was missing from last year’s OnePlus 3T.
Even the dual cameras on the back give it an unmistakably iPhone-esque vibe.
Trademark features like the Alert Slider switch for loud, silent and priority-only volume profiles return, as does the 3.5mm headphone port – you won’t find any dongles here.
The fingerprint scanner is super-quick too, skipping past the lock screen faster than the iPhone 7.
MORE: OnePlus 3T review
Style upgrades aside, though, our misgivings about the OnePlus 3T haven’t been remedied here.
That means a dual SIM tray that still doesn’t support microSD cards, so if the 64GB Slate Grey model just isn’t big enough, you’ll have to fork out £500 for the 128GB Midnight Black model.
It’s an Apple-like move that few other Android phone makers are guilty of. There’s still no waterproofing either, which feels like a major omission.
Even with an increased budget this year, OnePlus still hasn’t found the funds to overhaul the screen. That means the OnePlus 5 packs in the same 5.5in AMOLED display as last year, complete with the same 1080p resolution.
That wouldn’t have felt like a major sacrifice in 2016, but with the competition making the leap to QHD (or even 4K), it’s beginning to feel decidedly old hat.
The stock colour balance errs on the cool side of neutral, though you can switch to the sRGB or DCI-P3 colour gamuts, or adjust the screen temperature manually on a sliding scale.
The default balance is probably the best middle-ground, even if things aren’t as deep or saturated as we’d like.
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At least the AMOLED panel delivers excellent contrast, helping the darker space scenes of gloomy sci-fi Elysium hit with much more impact.
The darkness of space has real depth here, while the glistening white space station itself stayed sharp. It has the edge over the LCD-equipped Huawei P10.
Details are merely good, though, rather than great, with more action-oriented scenes losing some of their impact. This is also where minor issues with motion appear, lacking the kind of smoothness and stutter-free playback we’d expect from a top-end phone.
The factory-fitted screen protector is a nice touch, though, helping to keep the Gorilla Glass 5 front panel free from scratches.
MORE: Huawei P10 review
Like its predecessor, the OnePlus 5 is a spirited performer in terms of audio ability, if a little too energetic at times.
It’s decent enough, but whether we were streaming a Spotify playlist or playing our test tracks directly from the phone’s storage, it didn’t take long to discover a lack of fine detail.
Vocals feel a bit crowded by the mid-range, with a slightly overbearing high-end that lacks subtlety and could use some refinement.
Without the resolution to reveal low-level information, the general presentation of Hans Zimmer’s Planet Earth II suite lacked the punch we’d expect.
MORE: Spotify review
The dynamics feel quite enclosed, lacking the finesse we’d expect from James Blake’s Retrograde. Timing can be an issue, with certain genres suffering worse than others as it struggles to communicate momentum.
Hi-res tracks are supported, but they fall victim to the same treatment. It’s by no means a bad performer for the money, but it doesn’t punch above its weight either.
The single speaker at the bottom does its job when you’re catching up on YouTube videos or listening to podcasts sans headphones. Dialogue is clear, it can pipe out surprisingly loud audio, and doesn’t sound thin when you crank up the volume.
MORE: High-resolution audio - everything you need to know
OnePlus’s decision to pair up with imaging experts DxO has really paid off: the OnePlus 5 is a fantastic smartphone snapper. It’s also because of the new dual-sensor setup on the rear.
The 16MP primary sensor is paired with a secondary 20MP one, which combine together to give detail a boost.
The selfie camera sticks with the same 16MP sensor as last year, albeit with electronic image stabilisation and auto HDR added into the mix.
In Auto mode, the Camera app is simple, with little to get between you and the shot. Slow Motion and Panorama modes are welcome new additions, and HQ and HDR modes return with speed improvements.
Manual mode is a real improvement, with extras like a histogram and reference line for perfecting your exposure and composition.
Outdoor photos have vibrant yet realistic colours, with the automatic HDR mode helping create accurate contrast. It comes close to matching the Samsung Galaxy S8 or Google Pixel – an impressive achievement, given the much lower price.
With no optical image stabilization, the OnePlus 5 runs into trouble in low light. Clarity and definition both take a hit, and the automatic white balance struggles when the scene has multiple light sources.
MORE: Google Pixel XL review
Android 7 Nougat feels smooth and responsive, thanks to the 2.45GHz Snapdragon 835 CPU and mammoth 8GB of RAM at its heart.
The accompanying Adreno 540 GPU is the perfect match to that 1080p display, too, ensuring every app and game runs perfectly without any slowdown or skipped frames.
The custom OxygenOS interface helps too – it’s a minimal take on Android that doesn’t stray too far from Google’s stock UI, but the few additions OnePlus has made are useful.
Night Mode now kicks in automatically, lowering the amount of blue light the screen shows in the evenings. A black and white Reading mode comes as close to a Kindle as we’ve seen from an AMOLED display.
The 3,300mAh battery is a slight step down from the OnePlus 3T, but the more energy-efficient CPU means battery life has actually gone up.
Streaming an hour-long video from Netflix over Wi-Fi at half brightness sees a mere 6 per cent drop. In comparison, Huawei’s P10 dropped 13 per cent.
OnePlus’ Dash Charger makes a return, giving you enough juice for the day in 30 minutes, or back up to full in around an hour.
It might be the priciest phone OnePlus has ever made, but it justifies the extra cash with a slicker design and much-improved cameras.
Combined with fantastic performance and great battery life, it’s one of the more convincing packages you’ll find for the price.
The OnePlus 5 isn’t perfect, though. Extras like expandable storage and waterproofing are still missing, and video quality hasn’t received a noticeable boost over last year’s OnePlus 3T. That means it has been left behind by 2017’s true flagship phones.
You might not find better for less, but spend just a little more and you’ll get a lot more phone for your money.
See all our OnePlus reviews