OnePlus managed to make a great phone at an even lower price, but in this case you absolutely have to settle.
The quick take
Just like it's done with its previous phones, OnePlus is hitting a great price with the X while keeping the specs and experience on a higher level. The screen is great, the external hardware blows away other phones at this price, the software is fluid, and the internal specs are solid. To hit $249 there certainly were corners cut, but for the most part they're in relatively superficial areas — no 5GHz Wifi support, no Quick Charge, no NFC, and only offering 16GB of storage. Some of the corners — like lacking radio support for AT&T LTE and coming up short on the camera — matter a bit more. At this price, the OnePlus X is a great value — assuming you're not expecting all of the bells and whistles of a flagship phone.
- Great screen
- Simple software
- Good performance
- Great value
- Weak camera
- Below average battery life
- Glass back is slippery
- Poor AT&T compatibility
Okay, maybe settle a little
OnePlus X Full review
After only releasing two phones prior to the X, the closest thing OnePlus has to an "identity" as a manufacturer (not to be confused with its identity as a company) is offering a great value for your money, but perhaps with a few odd omissions and hang-ups in the final product. The OnePlus X falls right into that same formula, but just a handful of months after its latest "flagship killer" was released, this phone has an entirely different mission — just be a good phone for the money, without all of the hype and crazy expectations.
With lower standards and a much lower price, OnePlus aimed to put its money where it matters on the X. The build, screen, internals and software clearly took priority here. The casualties in this equation are some of the smaller specs and features, which in the grand scheme of things vary in importance from "that's an odd decision" to "I can't believe they left that out."
But when you start to push the lower end of the market, these omissions are a bit more understandable. At $249 it's all about offering a good value even if there are a few hardware shortcomings. Does OnePlus accomplish that goal with the X? We're here to answer that question with our full review — read on.
About this review
I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after two weeks using the OnePlus X, running the latest software (that's OxygenOS 2.1.2). The phone was used primarily on T-Mobile for the review process, but was also tested for several days on AT&T — in both cases, in the greater Seattle area in locations with great service from both carriers. For a majority of the review, a Samsung Level Bluetooth headset was used on a daily basis.
|69 mm||6.9 mm|
- 5-inch FHD AMOLED display
- 1920x1080 resolution (441 ppi)
- Corning Gorilla Glass 3
- 13MP rear camera
- ISOCELL 3M2 CMOS, ƒ/2.2
- 1080p resolution video; Slow Motion: 720p video at 120fps
- 8MP OV8858 ƒ/2.4 front-facing camera
- 2525 mAh fixed battery
- microUSB charging
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
- quad-core at 2.3 GHz
- Adreno 330 GPU
- 3GB RAM
- 16GB internal storage
- Dual SIM slots
- microSD storage expansion slot
- Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
- OxygenOS customizations
Spending money in the right places
OnePlus X Hardware
After getting my hands on a OnePlus 2 at its launch event back in July, it was clear that OnePlus had upped its hardware game. Thankfully, that improved design prowess has carried over to the OnePlus X, even at its lower price point. Even though we're looking at a phone that retails for $249 — $130 less than the flagship OnePlus 2 — it packs the same level of hardware componentry and high-tolerance manufacturing.
It's hardly a new design, but it's executed extremely well.
Using a basic design that takes two panes of glass and sandwiches between them a metal frame is hardly a new idea at this point, but it doesn't make it any less impressive when it's pulled off properly. It's even more impressive to see it in an inexpensive device such as this. The whole phone is pretty simplistically designed, skipping over unnecessary flourishes. All of the buttons and ports are in the standard places — power, volume and SIM slot on the right, the Alert Slider on the left, headphone on the top and micro USB (yes, not USB-C) on the bottom.
Though it's easier to grip because of its size, the smooth glass all over makes the X rather slick.
The exposed metal frame is chamfered nicely on the edges and sports etched lines around the entire perimeter to add a touch of differentiation but more importantly additional grip. The glass on both sides is nicely sculpted and smoothed down to meet the metal perfectly, and is only interrupted in two places — a small cutout for the phone speaker on the front, and one for the camera on the back. Otherwise, the OnePlus X is consistently smooth and slick all around, which can make it a tad tough to hold onto.
Unfortunately the glass back is problematic for keeping the phone safely on a flat surface as well. Because the back is completely flat (the camera doesn't protrude), the OnePlus X manages to slip around and slide off of flat surfaces. Much like the Nexus 4, you can be startled by the sound of your OnePlus X falling onto the floor after you thought you had placed it on a table safely. My review unit took two such tumbles off of tables, which resulted in a few small scratches and one ding in the metal ... and then made me a bit more paranoid about leaving the phone unattended on a flat surface.
OnePlus made a very bad decision, and it means you shouldn't buy the OnePlus X if you use AT&T. The phone is missing LTE Band 17, which is the primary band for AT&T's network — and without it, you really won't get a great network experience.
If you find the OnePlus X dangerously slick (I wouldn't blame you) you can slip it in its included plastic case, which is nice to see in the box. If you want something a bit more stylish you can go to OnePlus and pick up a $15 silicone case or flip cover in a variety of colors, or a $25 hard case in a variety of materials.
Slickness aside, I think OnePlus did a solid job with the design on the X. It clearly gave up some ergonomics in order to execute this nicely symmetrical, clean and understated design, but in a phone of this smaller size the downsides are a bit easier to deal with. It's also great to get this solid of a build on a phone that costs $249, without a millimeter of plastic touching your hand.
OnePlus refreshingly decided to go with a tame screen size on the X, with a 5-inch display that bucks the trend of these less-expensive devices trying to get the largest screen for your money. What it doesn't have in size it makes up for in quality — the 1080p AMOLED panel is actually great, with wonderful colors, crisp resolution, good viewing angles and plenty of brightness. And while the software doesn't offer any fine-tuning of the display like some other phones, I didn't ever feel the need for it — I really like the screen on the OnePlus X.
This is a great screen, and the smaller size will be refreshing for many.
Not only does AMOLED offer punchier colors and better contrast when compared to an LCD, it also lets OnePlus offer a few extra features when combined with good software choices. An "Ambient display" mode lets the screen come on and periodically remind you of your notifications, which simply sips power on an AMOLED display because a full display backlight doesn't need to come on, and OxygenOS also includes a "Dark mode" to flip the primary colors of the interface to black from white, again saving you some power through the course of the day.
I found myself using the default lighter interface because I just prefer the look (and didn't want to give it up to pinch percentages on the battery), but every once and a while I'd choose to flip to the dark mode at night to save my eyes some strain. When you're on the dark mode you can also choose between eight different accent colors for the interface — a nice touch.
When you have a phone that's under 7 millimeters thick, there are going to be restrictions — and in this case one of those is the speaker. Though there are two sets of symmetrical holes drilled into the bottom of the OnePlus X on either side of the micro USB port, only the left set work as a speaker. Considering the size of the holes and the tiny space behind them to fit a fully-functioning speaker, it isn't shocking that you don't get room-filling sound out of the X.
I put the speaker right on par with something like the Nexus 5X or Samsung Galaxy S6 — there's enough to get notifications, make speakerphone call and watch YouTube videos, but you won't be doing anything more than that. That means the speaker is doing its job for most people out there, and no matter what phone you have you'll want a speaker or headphones for the best listening experience — I can't knock OnePlus too hard for not having an amazing sound experience in such an inexpensive and compact phone.
Some hardware odds and ends
- The OnePlus X can be used with either one SIM and an SD card, or two SIMs
- The Alert Slider works just like the OnePlus 2 — quickly toggle between all/priority/none notifications
- You only get 802.11n and 2.4GHz Wifi — no 802.11ac or 5GHz support
- There's no Quick Charge support
- The capacitive keys below the screen don't have a backlight
- You don't have NFC here, either, which honestly isn't surprising
Clean, with just the right additions
OnePlus X Software and Performance
OxygenOS is a known quantity at this point, as it's been powering the OnePlus One for some time now and was the launch OS on the OnePlus 2. The base of Android 5.1.1 is augmented and improved upon in just a few areas, leaving most of the rest of the customization to you with the apps you grab from Google Play. OnePlus doesn't mess with a proven formula, and actually uses Google's apps for most of the phone's basic functions. Clock, Calculator, Phone, Contacts and Messenger are all as you'd find on a Nexus, and there aren't any duplicative OnePlus apps or services getting in the way.
OxygenOS is a great take on Lollipop, with just the right amount of change and customization.
The only apps that have been added are a new camera app, file manager, FM radio and the inclusion of SwiftKey as the default keyboard. Even the default launcher is nearly stock-like (though I still tend to go with Google Now Launcher myself), with the single inclusion of the quick app launcher "Shelf," which you can choose to disable. The notification shade is unchanged, aside from being able to customize the quick settings, and the phone's settings menu is a stock-like experience as well.
OxygenOS includes a handful of OS-level customization options, including a dark theme for the entire system with customizable accent colors, the ability to switch between capacitive and on-screen navigation buttons (each of which is also customizable), and app-by-app permission control. It's also a bunch of little things, like being able to choose a few different battery indicators for your status bar, that make OxygenOS really slick and useful.
Compared directly to the Android Lollipop experience you got on a Nexus before the Marshmallow rollout began, OxygenOS compares very nicely. There wasn't a single time I was using the OnePlus X that I was longing to get back to a Nexus experience, nor were there any situations in which I was willing to give up the simplicity of OxygenOS to get more customization and features found on phones from the likes of LG or Samsung.
Speaking of Marshmallow, there is a bit of a hang-up there — at the time of this review being written, OnePlus actually hasn't been able to commit to a time frame for the update to Android 6.0 on the X. We know it's coming for the other two OnePlus phones in Q1 2016, and for that reason wouldn't expect the X to be far behind, but not knowing always makes the wait a bit tougher.
Of course if you're someone who is dead set on having the latest version of the operating system you're likely to have a Nexus — or perhaps go the custom ROM route — anyway, but if you're content with Lollipop you're getting a great take on that platform with the OnePlus X.
For a phone launching in November 2015 it seemed a bit odd at first that OnePlus went with an older Snapdragon 801 processor — found in the Galaxy S5, Moto X 2014 and LG G3 (among others) — rather than a newer model like a Snapdragon 808 or perhaps even a Snapdragon 617 to save some money. But at the launch event, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei laid it out pretty simply — the 801 straight-up outperforms most processors out there today in the new mid-range segment, and because it's a bit on the older side it isn't expensive to use in a phone like the X.
This shouldn't be surprising, but performance is great on the X
When paired up with 3GB of RAM and driving just a 1080p display the Snapdragon 801 performs fantastically, actually, and that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise considering OnePlus has lengthy experience with the chip from its use in the OnePlus One. Of course proper software optimization makes a difference here, and because OxygenOS is quite lightweight there isn't a ton extra for the chip to do — but no matter the reason the X deserves praise for being extremely quick and smooth.
Both basic app usage and heavier 3D games were handled just fine, though the glass back does transfer quite a bit of heat if you've been stuck in an intense game for more than 30 minutes or so. I never saw a single issue starting up apps or switching between them quickly, nor did I have a single app crash or forced reboot in two full weeks using the phone as my primary device.
Get you through an average day
OnePlus X Battery life
Even though it's powering just a 5-inch display, the 2525 mAh battery inside the OnePlus X is a little on the small side. The Snapdragon 801 hasn't gotten any more efficient since it was released, and the battery inside the OnePlus X is considerably smaller than other phones (18 percent smaller than the OnePlus One) using the same processor.
That translates to just average battery life in the OnePlus X, on the order of "about a full day" in my time using it. With my typical use of keeping up with email, messages, social accounts, podcast listening and browsing, with about two or three hours of screen-on time, the X was good for about 12 to 14 hours of battery life depending on how intense and frequent my usage was. Most days spent primarily on Wifi and not hitting the phone hard were just fine, and I could end my day with double-digit percentage left. But depending on the demands of the day, like when I needed to do lots of navigation, streaming or consistently keeping the screen on for long periods, I'd be reaching for a charger around dinner time. That's a bit shy of the required battery life for some folks out there.
You'll likely get through an average day, but harder use will probably have you charging at dinner time.
When it comes to charging up the OnePlus X you're stuck with a standard 5V/2A charger, as the phone doesn't support any sort of quick charging standard or wireless charging. That doesn't end up being too big of an ordeal considering the battery capacity isn't that high in the first place, but I would've liked to see at least some kind of quick charge support to give it that extra little boost at the start of charging.
Going into reviewing the OnePlus X and looking at the spec sheet I didn't expect much more than what I eventually got out of the battery on this phone. Would I have maybe preferred the body be one or two millimeters thicker and add another 500 mAh? Sure, but it isn't always that easy — and remember that with the overall small size of a phone like this, it's tough to get much in terms of battery in there. Perhaps the phone will be a bit better in the battery department once the power-saving upgrades of Marshmallow hit it — whenever that may be.
A real pain point
OnePlus X Camera
Despite talking a big game about the 13MP camera sensor packed into the OnePlus X (a Samsung ISOCELL 3M2, same as the Oppo R7), it's clear that this is one of the places that corners were cut. With a total device thickness of just 6.9 mm there isn't much room for a big camera sensor or elaborate lens array — this one is f/2.2 — and cost restraints likely factored into OIS (optical image stabilization) being dropped from the offering as well. Pair that with a historical lack of camera expertise on the part of OnePlus (not a huge knock — this stuff is hard) and you get a rough experience.
OnePlus just hasn't figured out camera software yet, and the lower-end sensor compounds the issues.
The camera app is about on par with what Google offers in its stock app, which is to say it's quite a bit behind the rest of the manufacturers out there. The basic interface lets you swipe to quickly switch between time-lapse, slow motion, stills, video (720 or 1080p) and panoramas, and when you're in either photo or video mode you can tap a menu button to access quick settings. Beyond that, you don't get much in the settings — just a few toggles to save location, turn off shutter sounds and show a grid in the viewfinder. I'm a fan of simple camera apps so long as the pictures they output are good, but as I'll get to below, they get a bit more frustrating when the end product isn't there.
HDR should help in compromising light conditions, but this one doesn't work at all.
When it comes to shooting stills, you don't have a ton of tools at your disposal — just tapping to focus, tapping and holding to lock focus and then adjust brightness, 20 frame burst mode (just hold the shutter down), and then three toggles to turn on Clear Image, HDR or Beauty modes. The X is actually really fast to open, focus and take pictures, but the results are just average in quality, and suffer quickly in low light situations down to the point of being pretty poor at night. Pictures can get grainy in all but perfect lighting, which is really a step below what we expect of cameras nowadays.
HDR and Clear Image modes are both supposed to help in these tougher lighting situations, but unfortunately that isn't the case here. Despite being very quick to take single shots, the OnePlus X struggles to quickly capture multiple exposures for these shooting modes, leading to blurry shots no matter how steady you hold your hands — you'd literally need a tripod for the phone in order to take clear HDR shots. After several days trying to get HDR to do anything of use for me, I ended up just sticking with the automatic mode, which consistently offered better results despite the sensor's shortcomings in low light.
Putting it all into the perspective of a $249 phone you can't be too upset with the image quality here, and I was able to take plenty of solid pictures with the OnePlus X during my testing of it. It's just really upsetting to feel hamstrung by the lack of a capable HDR mode, which if done well can help bail out an otherwise low-quality sensor. OnePlus has yet to show me that it can make a great camera app with good processing, and things do have lots of room to improve — whether or not they actually do has yet to be seen.
On the front of the phone is a run-of-the-mill 8MP camera with an f/2.4 lens. It's basic, and the software interface is unchanged when you switch it up to the front-facing shooter. The results look like every other mid-range phone, just at a bit higher resolution on account of having eight megapixels to work with.
A nice value option with some shortcomings
OnePlus X Bottom line
OnePlus executed a great plan with the X, making an inexpensive phone that in no way feels or performs like the price tag would lead you to believe. The experience of having the OnePlus X in your hand and using it on a daily basis is top notch, no matter the price class. Money was clearly spent in the right places, offering great external hardware, high-end essential components on the inside, and an awesome screen. That's backed up by a really slick software experience that takes stock Android and adds in a handful of really useful customizations without bringing bloat or useless features.
Of course that means corners had to be cut somewhere to meet the $249 price, and the OnePlus X doesn't come with all of the bells and whistles that other phones do. There's no quick charging available, no NFC, no advanced Wifi support, a weak speaker, just average battery life, and unfortunately a subpar camera experience. And of course as I noted earlier, there are real concerns about using the OnePlus X on AT&T here in the U.S.
With all of those downsides in mind, I still think the OnePlus X averages out to be a good value for the money, and in this price bracket there are bound to be trade offs that make you think about which ones you can live with.
Should you buy the OnePlus X? Sign up for an invite
If you're in need (or want) of a compact, inexpensive device that offers a great hardware experience and day-to-day usage, and you place those features on a higher level than the ancillary things on the fringes of your use, the OnePlus X is a good one to go with. OnePlus has just opened up invites for the X, which will last until the end of December, so if you're interested in one you should go get yourself in line.
You don't have to commit to buy when you sign up, so I'm going to recommend you do so, and while you wait the handful of days (or a couple weeks) for the invite to come in you can decide if the OnePlus X is right for you. Even without all of the extra features and spec sheet line items that phone manufacturers usually try to sell their devices on, the X offers a great value at $249.