As much as we prefer ranking smartphones by their price range, there’ll always be that one handset that disrupts the system. Month after month, it’s been whatever OnePlus has in its stable.

Like its predecessor, the OnePlus 3T, the OnePlus 5 slid into our definition of “midrange” despite having specifications and features at the level of phones in our premium segment. A starting price of only US$ 479 does that, and sets the latest OnePlus as the go-to, bang-for-buck performer of 2017 thus far.

And yet, in spite of being superior on paper, the OnePlus 5 isn’t a clear-cut upgrade over the 3T — or any of its closest rivals, for that matter. Let me explain.

A borrowed design just doesn’t do it for me…

For a brand that follows the “Never Settle” philosophy, it’s strange to see its flagship smartphone borrow so many design cues from other manufacturers.

Setting aside the expected iPhone 7 Plus comparison, the OnePlus 5 has a strong, strong resemblance to the OPPO R11. So much so, that the case provided by OPPO for the R11 fits on the OnePlus 5. Had the OnePlus 5 come first, this wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but for it to have the same build as a lower-tier phone merely weakens the impact.

Two nano-SIM card slots, yes. Storage expansion using a microSD card, no.

While I understand that OPPO and OnePlus are sister companies, it’s inexcusable for me to see a borrowed design for a phone which appears only once per year.

On the bright side, if OnePlus really had to imitate, this was a good choice. The smooth edges along the 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED display have a satisfying relationship with my hand, and the generous amount of front bezel didn’t bother me once. I just wish there were a bundled case; a week of bare yet careful usage caused scratches on the rear camera bump.

… and not much has changed on the surface…

The usual niceties of OnePlus are still here, from the near-stock Android skin and super-sensitive fingerprint sensor that doubles as a non-clicky home button, to the ultra-fast Dash Charge.

Beginning with the user interface, this is as clean as it gets. The only out-of-place app is Community, which seamlessly connects you with fellow OnePlus users, but is just as easy to uninstall in case you don’t really want it.

Like fellow Chinese brands OPPO and Vivo, the OnePlus 5’s fingerprint sensor is a blast to use. Not once did it fail me, and I appreciate how it’s so well sized and placed in front for easy access while on top of a table.

Lastly, the phone’s fast-charging technology continues to be the best in the industry. We have a nerdy explainer on the differences between each charging tech, but the gist is Dash Charge is the most appreciated for allowing the wall charger to heat up instead of the phone itself — not to mention it’s the fastest tech by far.

As usual, what it sorely lacks is water- and dust-resistance, a pair of features that have become common in the smartphones the OnePlus 5 strives to compete against. Once the next Pixel phone brings waterproofing in, the OnePlus 5 will be the only truly high-end handset to be left out.

… but the experience is so much better.

So, a borrowed design from competitors and same-same features from its predecessor — what’s there to be excited about? Two things: the best smartphone processor in the Snapdragon 835, and a brand-new pair of cameras at the back.

This thing is seriously fast — like unbelievably fast. I’ve had the pleasure of using the Snapdragon 835-equipped Samsung Galaxy S8 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium as long-term daily drivers, but the OnePlus 5 still manages to smoke them in terms of raw performance. The animations are a lot more fluid, apps almost never crash, and everything simply works smoothly.

The 3.5mm audio port is still here!

It’s not that this chip is a battery-draining powerhouse, either. In fact, the OnePlus 5 would last me a whole day of heavy usage with at least five hours of screen-on time. That includes everything I do, from listening to tunes on Spotify while editing articles on WordPress, to browsing the web on Chrome and taking pictures every now and then.

A lightly skinned interface, adequate 3300mAh battery capacity, and highly efficient chipset coupled with up to 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage are reasons behind its overall great performance. The model I reviewed is a half step down with 6GB of memory and 64GB of storage, but not once did it fail me.

And, of course, we have the dual-camera setup on the rear. If you’re familiar with the iPhone and R11’s implementation, you’d know what you’re in for: The secondary lens enables you to zoom in on subjects without a drastic loss in quality and add some background blur to your photos.

Sounds good on paper, but how well does that work in practice? Have a look:

OnePlus worked closely with imaging specialist DxOMark to maximize this phone’s imaging powers, and even though it didn’t trump the competition, we must say the quality is quite good.

Both the rear cameras and selfie shooter show notable improvements over their predecessor. Colors have a little more pop; subjects are definitely sharper; and most of all, there are separate portrait and pro modes that’ll allow you to do more. I honestly didn’t have to rely on pro mode — auto settings always did the trick — but applying a shallow depth look through portrait mode did wonders to subjects standing a few feet away.

And then we have the optical zoom from the secondary main camera. We went into detail about it during our hands-on review in China, and the technique is no gimmick. There’s a slight drop in quality when zooming in under lousy lighting conditions, but the outdoor shots are perfectly fine.

Check ’em out:

 

Is this your GadgetMatch?

I could rave on and on about how the OnePlus 5 is everyone’s GadgetMatch, but like with the OnePlus 3T, you have to consider a couple of caveats.

As mentioned earlier, water resistance is missing and the overall look is far too similar to other flagship devices. I failed to expand on the lack of microSD card expansion, but that’s something you can cure with cloud storage.

There are two variants available: The configuration with 6GB of memory and 64GB of storage retails for US$ 479, while the 8GB, 128GB version costs US$ 539. Although significantly more expensive than OnePlus 3T pricing, you’re still getting a noticeable bump in performance and features, and that’s another plus for us.

Our particular review unit came from Digital Walker. The model with 64GB of storage is valued at PhP 26,490, and the one with 128GB storage is priced at PhP 30,990.

SEE ALSO: OnePlus 5 Unboxing: Almost too familiar

SEE ALSO
OnePlus 5 Unboxing: Almost too familiar