With all the turmoil that 2020 wrought, one positive thing to come out of the past year was a smorgasbord of really good (and affordable) Android phones. Now that 2021 is underway, we've already been treated to early releases of the excellent Samsung Galaxy S21 lineup, and we will reportedly see the newest flagship from OnePlus — the OnePlus 9 — arriving earlier than ever this coming March. The OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro were two of the best Android phones released in 2020, and we have every reason to believe the 9 series will be just as good, if not better.
As excited as I'm sure to be to get my hands on a OnePlus 9, what I really want to see from OnePlus is a return of the OnePlus X. Why? Because I'm dying for a beautiful, well-made, small smartphone. My colleague Ara Wagoner addressed a similar topic this week regarding the Galaxy S21 lineup, but I had been having almost the exact same thoughts about one of my favorite Android OEMs — OnePlus.
For me, the OnePlus X was the first OnePlus phone that I ever used. It was really nice to look at, and it was an absolute joy to use. But more than that, it was one of the first iterations of the small, near-flagship level phones that came to life at a time when all phone manufacturers (even Apple) were pushing the sizes of their devices ever larger. It was forgotten nearly as quickly as it came, but I think the X marked the spot here, as it were. It helped to pave the way for today's best small Android phones, as well as iOS devices like the iPhone SE (original and 2020) and iPhone 12 mini.
Aside from the iPhone 4, which it was clearly modeled on, the OnePlus X just might have been the best-looking small phone ever released.
The OnePlus X was launched in late 2015, not long after the debut of the OnePlus2. It featured a metal and glass sandwich construction that mimicked the iPhone 4/4s, but in a good way. By that I mean, it looked and felt way more premium than its modest $250 price tag suggested. Along with those looks came the most current version of Android/Oxygen OS at the time, a sharp 1080p AMOLED panel, and an older even for its time but still perfectly powerful Snapdragon 801 processor. All of that was packed into a 5-inch display, which was easy to use one-handed.
I have a OnePlus 7 Pro here at my desk that I use now and again, and I have played with other recent OnePlus devices since. While they are marvels of craftsmanship, they have one thing in common that has prevented me from using them long-term: they're just too damn big. Look, I'm a big dude (6'2" and over 200lbs) with big pockets, but I'm on hashtag team small phones because I have smaller hands, and I like to text and operate my phone with one hand. My current daily drivers are the Pixel 4a and the iPhone 12 mini, and aside from price, the primary reason that I gravitated towards those devices was their size.
In 2020 OnePlus introduced a new affordable line of phones under the Nord brand, which marked somewhat of a return to the company's roots as a provider of phones that over-delivered on style and performance for the price. Some may argue that what I'm asking for is what the Nord series is all about, and I think that's valid. Offering a great phone experience for a more reasonable price was certainly one of the motivations of the original OnePlus X, so it's logical to assume that if something like the X were ever to make a comeback, that it would do so under the Nord umbrella.
The current crop of OnePlus phones, including the Nords, all have screen sizes ranging from 6-6.5-inches, which is bigger than I want. Even the rumored OnePlus 9R is said to fit into that size range. The Pixel 4a is smaller at 5.8 inches, and the iPhone 12 mini is smaller still at 5.4-inches. The iPhone SE (2020) has a 4.7-inch screen, but its giant bezels actually make it a larger device than the 12 mini. So considering this range of sizes, I'd be happy with a new OnePlus X that had a 5-5.5-inch screen. Like the Pixel 4a and iPhone SE, I'm more than happy to live with a single rear camera, and even a premium plastic rear panel. If I had to do without wireless charging or IP certification, I guess that's OK too, since neither the Pixel 4a nor the lower-priced OnePlus phones have these features either.
What about price? The Pixel 4a is $350, and the new Nord N10 5G and N100 run $180-$300. Since I want this to be a bit more premium than any of those devices, I'd be comfortable paying $350 up to maybe $450, depending on the final specs. That would actually fit nicely in OnePlus's lineup in terms of pricing strategy. It wouldn't really bump any of its siblings out of their respective spots or reasons for existing, save for the OG Nord (which I can't get here in the U.S. anyway). But that device is almost a year old, so perhaps we could get a Nord 2 and Nord 2 mini, with the mini option serving as my dream X v2.
Laugh off my love for smaller phones all you want, and tell me again that nobody really wants them. As Ara said in her editorial earlier this week, the fact that the iPhone 12 mini has underperformed in terms of sales expectations likely has way more to do with the fact that the great (and much cheaper) iPhone SE (2020) was released just six months earlier, as well as the brutal economic realities of 2020, than a lack of demand for the form factor in general. Heck, the smallish Pixel 4a is still the top-selling smartphone on Amazon right now, itself nearly six months post-release.
I will Never Settle until I see a new version of the OnePlus X small smartphone.
I think we can all agree that Samsung's flagships are among the highest-quality smartphones around and that Google's Pixel phones are uber practical in their utilitarian design. But for me, OnePlus phones are simply some of the most beautiful tech objects I've used in recent years. The deep blues of the 7Pro and 7T, the dreamy aquamarine of the 8T, and the tranquil turquoise on the Nord are something to behold, and the screens and software on the phones are equally impressive.
I want that kind of craftsmanship and attention to detail in a small OnePlus phone. Will I get it anytime soon? Who knows. But I know that I will Never Settle until I do!
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