OnePlus came out of nowhere last year with its sensational flagship killer, the OnePlus One, which offered high-end smartphone specifications at a third of the price most tier one brands would command. This year the company launched the OnePlus 2, which received mixed reviews. However, OnePlus had one last trick for the year – a mid-end smartphone focused on premium design and build quality. A lifestyle smartphone, if you may. Say hello to the OnePlus X.
I have been using the OnePlus X as my primary smartphone for nearly three weeks now. I love the idea of a smartphone that actually fits in your hand and is capable of handling most tasks while looking great at the same time. Not many smartphones can do that these days, which is really a pity. I had high expectations from the OnePlus X given the rare combination of right specifications, design and price. Did it manage to live up to my expectations? Let’s find out.
OnePlus is not renowned for its design but it has shown its industrial design chops with the X. Yes, the OnePlus X does look familiar – the iPhone 4s immediately came to my mind – but the designers have added their own little touches. The front and back both have a 2.5D glass layer where the glass curves slightly towards the edges. Surprisingly, the rear glass cover didn’t get as smudged with fingerprints as I expected. I got the Onyx variant, the more expensive Ceramic variant however, got smudged really easily during the few minutes I spent with it at the launch event. The glass has not picked up any scratches either, though I have been extra careful about handling it.
The drawback of the tiny footprint and having glass front and back is the phone gets super slippery. To counter that, the metal frame running around the device has lined markings to offer more grip. But it doesn’t help much. Thankfully, the box comes with a cheap, translucent and flexible silicon cover. It kills the design – a major reason why you’d buy the OnePlus X in the first place – but something that you cannot escape. OnePlus had announced some premium cases for the smartphone but they are not available in India, yet.
In terms of hardware elements, you get a 3.5mm audio jack up top and the micro-USB port on the bottom. On the right spine there is the hybrid dual nano-SIM tray, the volume rocker buttons, followed by the power button. I found the placement of the keys a bit uncomfortable as the volume rocker keys are placed a bit lower to accommodate the SIM card tray. The power button is placed lower still, which I kept pressing accidentally all the time. Owing to the small footprint of the phone, the power button could have been placed on the top.
It is a bit strange to see all the clutter on the right edge whereas the left edge only has the slider button for notification settings, which was first introduced with the OnePlus 2. I have never felt the need to use that slider button and it not being customizable is such a waste.
The OnePlus X has a 5-inch 1080p AMOLED display that’s a treat for the eyes. Some people have complained about it being too blue but I have had no qualms with it. The display is bright, blacks are deep and whites do come across a bit cold but nothing worth complaining. The display’s legibility is good irrespective of the ambient light you might find yourself in – even under the harshest, brightest sunlight.
The OnePlus X has capacitive buttons under the display but their existence is baffling. Yes, some people might still prefer those dedicated buttons instead of the onscreen variety but they are not backlit, making them completely useless. OxygenOS thankfully provides the option of using onscreen buttons.
Talking about the OS, the OnePlus X runs on its home brewed OxygenOS 2.1.2 running on top of Android Lollipop 5.1.1. Like we saw in the OnePlus 2, the OS is almost stock Android with minor changes, You get the dark mode theme, you can set app permissions (which is now a stock Android feature in Marshmallow) and you can choose to turn on Ambient display function that lights up the display every time you get a notification.
OnePlus has been building OxygenOS ever since its fallout with Cyanogen last year, it remains to be its biggest undoing. Since I have started using the OnePlus X, I have received at least three software updates. Once, when I got off a call, I realized that all my data, apps and settings had been deleted somehow. Another day, the phone stopped getting any network connectivity while it was in online mode. I realized it only when my phone had not buzzed in a couple of hours. I rebooted the phone and it again latched on to the network. Yes, it is bizarre.
The OnePlus X has a 13-megapixel f/2.2 rear camera. OnePlus describes the camera like this on its official product page – “Equipped with ISOCELL technology, light sensitivity is increased for sharper images and less noise.” In my experience it couldn’t be farther than the truth. Photos clicked from the OnePlus X lacked any details whatsoever. The camera had difficulty to focus and at times I ended up getting out of focus photos even when the onscreen viewfinder would show it had locked focus.
Ironically, the front 8-megapixel camera fared much better with impressive selfies in good lighting conditions and passable ones in low light. I am not sure if the rear camera issues are something that can be tweaked via software updates but it is by far the biggest deal breaker for me.
The OnePlus X runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset with 3GB of RAM. It is a fairly tried and tested combination, yet somehow it doesn’t quite seem quite right on the OnePlus X. While most apps would run fine, I encountered frame drops on games like Asphalt 8: Airborne.
Another bit that amuses me is the company’s insistence on not incorporating a feature like QuickCharge even when the chipset supports it. I had encountered that in the OnePlus 2 as well and not surprisingly, it doesn’t feature in the OnePlus X either. The 2,525mAh battery takes nearly three hours to charge from zero to 100. Charging it for an hour only takes the battery to about 30 percent. So if you are running low on battery and want to head out somewhere, you can’t just plug it in for 30 minutes and get going.
Having said that, the battery performance of the OnePlus X has improved after an OTA software update. If I have the phone at 100 percent charge at 9AM, it usually lasts me till about 5PM with some heavy usage like three email accounts set to push, two Slack accounts and an overactive Twitter account. During one battery cycle, I would typically have about 5 hours of display on time, an hour of calls and about three hours of online browsing. I have been able to spend almost an entire weekend with minimal usage and not having to charge the phone even once.
So should you buy this phone?
There are lot of things going for the OnePlus X. The design and form factor being its biggest USP. The battery is another thing that I have come to love on the OnePlus X. At Rs 16,999, the pricing isn’t bad either.
But there are quite a few deal breakers too. The camera is a serious disappointment. Then there is the OxygenOS, which continues to be unreliable. The absence of QuickCharge is also a serious shortcoming, if you are the sorts who is always on the move.
Given the shortcomings, I would recommend holding on for a bit before spending your money on the OnePlus X. One thing that needs to be seen is whether OnePlus can fix the rear camera with software updates or not.
In the meanwhile, if you are in the market to buy a compact smartphone with premium design, the Lenovo Vibe S1 would be worth considering.