The OnePlus 3 has a hit on its hands, but does it stand up to the top dog?
OnePlus has come out swinging in 2016 and released a great phone with few compromises in the OnePlus 3. It's launching into a world where we have tons of great flagship phone choices, not the least of which being the Galaxy S7 edge.
The Galaxy S7 edge has won over the hearts of many Android fans with its great hardware, awesome performance, industry-leading camera and top-end features, but it also retails for well over $700. At a fraction of the cost the OnePlus 3 aims to hit many of those same points ... but does it succeed? We're putting the phones head-to-head to see how they stack up.
Hardware, design and display
Though the OnePlus 3 may not have as unique or interesting design as its predecessor, it certainly has stepped up its overall game in terms of quality and feel to offer something right on par from what you get in other flagships. The Galaxy S7 edge is perhaps the finest example of Samsung's renewed sense of hardware innovation, with its metal and glass body just exuding engineering excellence all around. Samsung definitely has an upper hand here in terms of looks, as the OnePlus 3 is rather generic ... the Galaxy S7 edge is an absolute standout all around.
The OnePlus 3 is generic, while the GS7 edge is rather extraordinary.
Both offer relatively small bezels around the same-sized 5.5-inch display, though the Galaxy S7 edge is a bit more compact overall in terms of height and width. Any of that gain in grip is quickly eroded by the slick glass back and curved display, though, which makes the GS7 edge a bit of a nightmare to hold and manipulate with one hand. Even though the OnePlus 3's aluminum body is slippery in its own right, there are predictable curves and a little bit of grip to be had there.
The displays themselves are both AMOLED as well, but of course that doesn't tell the whole story. The OnePlus 3's 1080p display is above average with solid colors, viewing angles and brightness, but that's just not good enough to challenge what Samsung has to offer. The QHD panel in the GS7 edge is brighter, crisper and more colorful than anything else on the market today, and no matter how you feel about the actual usability of the curved edges it sure is stunning to look at. OnePlus was fighting a battle it couldn't win here, and it's worth noting just how much better the Galaxy S7 edge's display is.
One of the nice features you can't see (of course) is the waterproof coating that the Galaxy S7 edge has, keeping it safe from any liquid you may or may not try to put it in contact with. It's one of those little things you get in a high-end phone nowadays that's often axed from less expensive models. And even if you don't feel like your phone is in danger of getting wet all that often, it really is — all it takes is one accident.
On the inside, the phones exchange leads in some areas to basically come out on the same level overall. You'll find a Snapdragon 820 processor in both, or the comparable Exynos 8 in the GS7 edge in some regions, supported by a massive 6GB of RAM on the OnePlus 3 and "just" 4GB on the Galaxy S7 edge — in all practical applications, 4GB is plenty right now. The Galaxy S7 edge has less storage with just 32GB on board to the OnePlus 3's 64GB, but the edge's SD card slot remedies that for many. Both phones have excellent one-touch fingerprint sensors, which is great, and have equally mediocre loudspeakers coming from the bottom of the phone.
Software, performance and battery life
When looking at any phone comparison that includes a Samsung Galaxy, the software section always takes a bit of extra weight — suffice to say Samsung doesn't have the best reputation for software quality. All history of questionable software design aside, Samsung's take on Android 6.0 Marshmallow is actually quite good, particularly if you want to take the time to swap out your launcher and keyboard. There are tons of useful additions throughout the operating system, and on the Galaxy S7 edge performance throughout is absolutely stellar. Perhaps the biggest drawback at this point is no longer the interface, but the huge number of duplicative apps installed that you can't remove or even disable — if you don't want to use many of Samsung's built-in apps, you're stuck looking at them forever. That's before you get to the massive piles of bloatware that its carrier partners load on the phone ... it's not a pretty picture when you open the app drawer.
Even those used to Samsung's software may find OxygenOS a nice change of pace.
On the other hand, OxygenOS on the OnePlus 3 is quite simple and easy to grasp. The subtle set of customizations made to Android 6.0 are really nice, and add a lot of the same features that Samsung does without all of the heavy-handed design changes. You get configurable options throughout the operating system, from gestures and buttons down to a dark mode and some neat little features in the stock launcher app. Performance on the OnePlus 3 is just as quick and reliable as the Galaxy S7 edge, and OnePlus only bundles a few essential apps — and you can disable all of them, if you wish. If you're at all happy with stock Marshmallow, you'll be ecstatic to see the OnePlus 3 ... and even those used to the extra features of Samsung's software may be able to see the nice middle ground here.
Samsung is surprisingly ahead in terms of software update reliability.
With quite a bit less going on in the software, OnePlus manages to get really solid battery life out of what is a notably smaller battery than the Galaxy S7 edge. The 3000 mAh cell can handle a full day's work or play without complaining, putting it on equal footing with the 3600 mAh in the Galaxy S7 edge in all of my time using it. The OnePlus 3 seems to slip into Marshmallow's Doze mode for battery savings a bit quicker as well, which in my eyes pulls it ahead of Samsung's implementation. With both phones having a quick charging solution you can top up either one super quickly, but Samsung's cross-compatibility with Quick Charge 2.0, as well as inclusion of wireless charging, definitely give it a leg up there.
In an interesting turn of events, it actually seems as though Samsung is in the lead when it comes to software updates. Based on the past few months, Samsung has shown a solid amount of skill in pushing out monthly security updates to most of its flagship devices, though some carriers have generated exceptions to that case. In turn, OnePlus hasn't had the best record of pushing either monthly security updates or large platform updates to its phones, with the OnePlus 2 taking several months to receive Marshmallow and at the time of writing the OnePlus X still not having its Android 6.0 update. That could definitely change with the OnePlus 3, but right now this is one area where Samsung is actually in the lead.
Even with its general side-step in quality from the Galaxy S6, the Galaxy S7 is easily one of the best all-around smartphone cameras out there today. It's amazingly quick to open and capture photos, and the end results are pretty fantastic. Its 12MP sensor has big 1.4-micron pixels, a fast f/1.7 lens and optical image stabilization, which on paper puts it nicely ahead of the OnePlus 3's 16MP sensor with 1.12-micron pixels and f/2.0 — the difference in megapixel count is basically irrelevant at these resolutions.
The GS7 edge takes a slight lead on paper ... and in real-world results.
When it comes to the camera interfaces, Samsung has the slightly busier of the two, but that doesn't make it worse. Both make it super easy to just launch the camera (a double-press of the home button on Samsung, the power button for OnePlus) and start taking photos, but you can quickly toggle settings or switch between modes as well. Both offer RAW image capture and full manual modes, but Samsung takes the slight advantage here with myriad shooting modes to download and choose from.
While the OnePlus 3's camera is very quick to open and capture photos, it's still beat by the unbelievably fast Galaxy S7 edge. Whatever magic Samsung is working with the camera is baffling, as it can capture photos with absolutely zero delay, even when shooting in HDR, and let you get onto sharing them or taking more photos in a flash.
Now, how about the photos themselves? Here's a handful of side-by-side comparisons to check out.
As I've noted many times, the Galaxy S7 edge still tends to take photos that are a bit too warm and more saturated than the actual scene, and that's definitely evident against the more true-to-life OnePlus 3. Some people prefer the punchier colors that Samsung reproduces, but I tend to like something a little closer to natural.
In good lighting situations, the differences between these cameras is basically imperceptible — both take great, sharp photos that look awesome on everything from Instagram to locally on your desktop computer monitor. In more difficult lighting situations — ranging from indoor lamp-lit scenes to night scenes — the differences are more pronounced. The Galaxy S7 edge still pulls ahead in really dark scenes, though it still often goes overboard on softening noisy areas, whereas the OnePlus 3 keeps some of the noise in what looks to be a more natural photo in the end. The Galaxy S7 edge is also not always absolutely tack-sharp on close-up images, which the OnePlus 3 can sometimes best it at.
Overall, I have to say the Galaxy S7 edge offers the better of the two experiences, but the differences aren't all that notable until you set the resulting images next to each other. Using the OnePlus 3 standalone I never once took a photo that I wasn't happy with, nor did I ever wish I was using the Galaxy S7 edge's camera again.
For a lot of people, this comparison starts and ends with the price. There's the group that wouldn't ever consider a phone that costs more than $400, then the group who will pay more if they perceive extra quality is there, and the last group who will spend top-dollar and don't necessarily care about the "value" offered.
The GS7 edge is better ... but how much extra do you want to spend?
That first group won't be considering the Galaxy S7 edge at $800, they just won't even bother. They'll get the OnePlus 3 or some other solid phone with a great price. The high-end users will probably gravitate toward the Galaxy S7 edge — it has all of the bells and whistles, great hardware and comes from a name they trust.
It's the middle group — which is probably the biggest, for what it's worth — who actually have a serious decision on their hands when looking at the OnePlus 3 and Galaxy S7 edge as potential phones for them. For most of the people who are trying to equate what they're getting with how much they're paying, the Galaxy S7 edge is a tough sell here. Sure you could like the sleeker design with the glass back, and you can appreciate the waterproofing or the nicer display, or want a camera that's a little bit better ... but for what amount of money? Is that worth $300+ to you? Chances are it isn't.
Because for just $399, you can buy the OnePlus 3, and spend that difference in cash somewhere else — perhaps on an extra charger, a nice set of headphones, a case ... well, anything, really. And in the end you're going to enjoy that experience just as much as what you get from the Galaxy S7 edge, or maybe more knowing you saved some money doing it.
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