OnePlus 3 Equals an Awesome Android Phone for Under $400

Just about twice a year I leave my iPhone behind and flirt with Android phones for a period of time. Most of the time I’m happy to get back to my iPhone. Most recently, however, the transition back to iOS was tough. I was using the OnePlus 3 and absolutely loved it. Raina, however, wanted me back on iMessage.

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Judie and I both purchased the initial offering from the company OnePlus. It was a smartphone running the Android operating system that was fully featured but at a lower price than most unlocked phones one could find. At the time you needed an invitation to get one and, fortunately, we both did. And we were both impressed. It was, in fact, a relative budget Android device that had little to no budget-like compromises.

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Fast forward to the third iteration of the company’s smartphone, and they’ve got things down quite well. The OnePlus 3 is absolutely gorgeous from both a hardware and a performance perspective. Costing just $399, it is a superb unlocked, dual-SIM phone at a relatively low-cost. Add in some of the special features the company bakes into the device, and you have a smartphone that will thrill just about anyone using Android.

It’s about time for a smartphone without compromises. A smartphone conceived and built by tech enthusiasts, hand-in-hand with users. A smartphone born from amazing technology, design, and innovation. It’s about time for the OnePlus 3.
At OnePlus, we know that the best phone is the one that works exactly how you want it to. No restrictive carrier contracts or software constraints have a say in how you use your OnePlus 3. Our mission isn’t just about building a better phone – it’s about building a better way of doing things.

Let’s run down the features and how they create a superb user experience, then we’ll get to why I’m not using it as my main device.

The phone has a 5.5” AMOLED display offering 1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) for 401 Ppi. Oh, and it is made from Corning Gorilla Glass 4. It looks fantastic!

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Under the hood are 6GB RAM, a Snapdragon 820 Qualcomm processor, an Adreno 530 GPU and runs OxygenOS, an OS based on Android Marshmallow, that is, “Lighter, more powerful, and super sweet.” The phone has 64GB of storage, a fingerprint sensor, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a proximity sensor, an ambient light sensor and an Electronic Compass. It has a 3,000 mAh non-removable but, as we will see shortly, thanks to the 5V, 4A Dash Charge, battery life isn’t something you will need to worry about. As the company explains,

Our latest version of OxygenOS makes life a little bit easier and a lot more exciting. We’ve created a fast, clean, and bloat-free OS, based on Android Marshmallow. Features that give you more control to personalize your smartphone experience, like screen-off gestures and customizable buttons, are all built right in. It’s the pure Android experience you love, enhanced for customization, performance, and battery life.

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All of these components come together to create a phone that is super-fast. Honestly, in all the time I used it I didn’t experience any stutters or lags. THAT’S how far Android has come and what it can do when tweaked by a company like OnePlus, combined with superb hardware like that found in the OnePlus 3.

Add in the fact that the OnePlus 3 comes with dual nanoSIM support. That came in handy when I moved from my iPhone 6S for this review AND went to Israel for a week. I simply popped the Israeli nanoSIM I own into the second SIM slot, and I was good to go as soon as I landed! Try THAT with your $800 iPhone locked to AT&T’s network!)

We’ve taken our obsession with aesthetics, quality, and usability to a whole new level. The OnePlus 3’s metal unibody is carved from a single slab of premium aluminum, resulting in an ultra-thin design with a satisfying, solid build.

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In addition to the 5.5” AMOLED screen that takes up the entire front of the phone, it has a gorgeous aluminum body. The OnePlus 3 is constructed from a single slab of aluminum that is carved to create an ultra-thin design that is as solid as solid can be. The metal unibody process means the phone can be surprisingly thin but feel solid and substantial. Honestly, if I didn’t now how much this unlocked phone was just the construction of it would lead me to think it was far more expensive than it is.

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The phone is so gorgeous and refined that one might be tempted not to use a case. I totally get it, as any case, even the thinnest and classiest case would make this beautifully thin phone thicker an, in the process, hide the refined aluminum design. That noted, a metal body is… a metal body and will likely get scratched unless you treat it as if it were a delicate piece of art. So yes, while you won’t want to use a case you probably SHOULD use a case. Fortunately, OnePlus offers a series of cases that protect without hiding the phone too terribly much. I got to try a bunch of them out since the review kit that I received included a number of snap-on backs. Yes, they cover the beautiful aluminum, but they come in a variety of styles that not only protect the metal from scratches, but they also allow you to quickly and easily change up the look and feel of the phone. One of the backs, in fact the one I’m using most of the time, turns it into a soft black-backed phone. Others look like faux wood and one has a texture that is reminiscent of the original OnePlus that Judie and I purchased and reviewed. Here’s a gallery of the various offerings:

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These backs are a great way to change-up the look but, as I said, it also allows you to protect the phone from life’s bumps and bruises.

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Buttons on the phone are pretty much what you would expect. There’s a power button, three position mute toggle and volume rockers. There’s the single SIM slot that includes spaces for two nano-SIMS. Then there is the surprise.

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Dash Charge- Faster. Safer. Cooler: Not all fast charging technologies are created equal. Dash Charge for the OnePlus 3 is faster, safer, cooler – and simply better – than any other charging technology available today. Providing you a day’s power in half an hour, Dash Charge will change the way you think about charging. Dash Charge technology is only compatible with the Dash Charge type-C cable and adapter.

Yes, rather than once again going with a microUSB port, OnePlus put a USB C port in the bottom for charging. This allows it to not only work with the cutting edge cables that are reversible — no more discovering you need to flip the cable over in order to connect — but it also means that OnePlus was able to bake fast charging into the phone. (Included with my review kit was a – DASH charger that allows for fast charging AND a car charger that allows you to get superfast charges on the go. That means you don’t have to sit around waiting for your phone before you can go out and use it again and makes it even easier to make sure you have a full charge anywhere and anytime.

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The screen protector came pre-installed!

The phone has a single speaker on the bottom. It sounds good — not great but good — and certainly gets the job done.

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In addition, the review sample I received included the company’s VR headset.

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I tried it with one of the virtual-reality programs that are available and was impressed. The unit basically sits on your head in front of your eyes and the phone, as it does with other examples of this technology, snaps into place. I ran a program that is a horror story and includes twin corpses/demons/super-scary girls coming at you. I didn’t know what to expect and, quite frankly, it was so realistic that I jumped more than a few times. In fact, Raina recorded me while I was playing the game and it’s a little embarrassing to see my responses to it. It’s a fun feature but not one that I would see using on a regular basis.

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The cameras on the OnePlus 3 are no slouches either. The rear camera has a 16MP Sony IMX 298 Sensor. It has an apertures of f/2.0, can shoot 4K video at 30fps, shoots in slow motions, can shoot 720p video at 120fps and has RAW image support. In addition it has auto-HDR, dynamic denoise and, of course, lets you have manual control if that is your thing. The front camera is an 8MP Sony IMX179 sensor that does a nice job for selfies etc. In fact, it actually has an Auto Selfie mode as well as Smile Capture.

I was in Israel in the middle of July and exclusively used this phone as my phone and my camera. As previously mentioned I was able to pop in an Israeli nano SIM and use it as my phone and to have Internet connectivity. (Let me repeat something from earlier in this review- The fact that it has a dual Sim tray is a huge bonus for people who travel frequently as it means you can have your USM and a foreign sin and simply switch between them as needed!)

The biggest aspect of this phone for me is the camera. It works amazingly well and served me beautifully both while I was in Israel and for the two weeks after my trip when I traveled to various parks in the Western US with Raina.

The things I loved about the camera are the fact that it takes phenomenal pictures and shoots excellent video. More than that, however, is the use of a hardware button as your shutter. The fact that the button can be used to snap pictures makes this akin to a simple point and shoot in a very real way. The difference being the fact that the pictures it takes are better than pre-much any point and shoot I ever owned and the fact that once a picture is taken it can be edited and uploaded to social media within a few seconds. That’s not all that uncommon for smartphones with decent cameras but it is a surprise in a phone that is under $400. (I paid more than that for the last point and shoot camera I purchased and that was simply a camera?)

Here are some of the pictures I took while traveling …

My experience using this phone was quite pleasant. In fact, after going back to the iPhone there were things I truly miss. I miss the slightly larger screen which is bigger than the iPhone 6S but is smaller and more easily handled than the iPhone 6S plus. I had the iPhone 6+, and it was simply too big, but this phone has a nice large screen but is still comfortable to hold and use with one hand! I missed the Android buttons on the bottom. The capacitive buttons work beautifully and having a dedicated back button on the left and quick at switching button on the right is something I wish was available on the iPhone. Add in the fact that you can customize how you use these buttons and how you set them up for functionality, and it gives you a level of customization that you are likely not going to see on the iPhone anytime soon.

So, if I loved using this phone as much as I did, why did I go back to the iPhone? Quite simply, I went back because of iMessage. Raina and I are both exclusively on Apple devices and having a phone that was on a different platform coming problematic for our ease of communication. At one point she finally looked at me and said, “I know you like this phone, but I would appreciate it if you would go back to the iPhone so we can do the messaging as seamlessly as we always have.) That’s good enough for me. In other words, if you are not locked into one platform or another, this phone is absolutely worth checking out. If you love Android devices, then you are going to be thrilled with this sub $400 phone. If, however, you are locked into iOS and OS X – Apple’s operating systems – you’re going to have a difficult time because it is, of course, a different language than the devices you normally use. If, however, iMessage was available on Android I suspect I would be using this as my daily driver!

If you like using an Android phone and don’t want to break the bank on an unlocked device this is really a top contender. I love this phone and have little doubt you will too! Check it out!

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

What I Like: Premium unlocked smartphone with a 5.5” display, dual SIM slots and plenty of storage for under $400; Fast!; Feels great to hold and use; Camera does a fantastic job!

What Needs Improvement: I wish it were waterproof. Other than that… I am a huge fan of this phone — especially at its current price [edited]


About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.