OnePlus held its first ever in-person launch event in New York City this past week. The OnePlus 5T clearly wasn't a groundbreaking product deserving of a launch event in itself, but OnePlus used this gathering more so as an opportunity to talk directly to fans and curious onlookers alike. Presenters took an inordinate amount of time talking about things the company had already done. Talking about the history of how OnePlus phones are made, and how OxygenOS was born out of user feedback. The core of the presentation focused on the philosophy inside OnePlus that the customer comes first — not just in how they're treated when buying the phone, but how the phones are made from the start.
If OnePlus wants to grow beyond the enthusiast community, does it have to start being a bit more opinionated?
OnePlus says that development of OxygenOS begins and ends with community engagement, coming up with new features that are fed to beta testers who give feedback that is directly integrated into the future builds. Tweaks and changes to amazingly mundane things like interface colors, animations and boot sequences all have hundreds of community members chiming in with strong opinions. The name "OxygenOS" itself was chosen as a suggestion from a OnePlus forum member. And OnePlus isn't shy about the fact that it listens to the same community when it comes to making hardware decisions on its phones. It's the reason why the OnePlus 5T has 8GB of RAM, a headphone jack, a physical mute switch and the like.
For an enthusiast-driven company like OnePlus, it makes sense to lean on the very fanatics buying your phones for input on what those products should be. The feedback loop can be powerful, and it almost guarantees sales up to a certain point. But the question is, if OnePlus wants to grow beyond this enthusiast group, does it need to start being a bit more opinionated again?
OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei said that the company learned a big lesson with the OnePlus 2. After seeing wonderful success with the OnePlus One, the company "got cocky" according to Pei — this led to some questionable decisions, like the ever-frustrating set of hoops to jump through to get the phone, and odd hardware choices like the removal of something as simple as NFC. OnePlus has certainly swung back in the other direction now, with wide open sales, much-improved customer service, and phones that don't skimp on the necessities.
OnePlus has completely changed how it treats users, but now it needs to move forward.
Now with that equilibrium achieved, I think it's time for OnePlus to take the reins once again. Looking at the progression from OnePlus 3 to the OnePlus 5T, I just don't see enough innovation happening. Some 85% (or thereabouts) of the phone experience is identical over the course of 18 months. That's a nod to how good of a phone the OnePlus 3 still is today, but also a point of realization that OnePlus needs to step up the innovation a bit. The OnePlus 5T is a good, solid phone for a really great price in a world of ever-more-expensive flagships — but it sure isn't innovative, new, exciting or important in the market in any respect.
OnePlus has worked out the kinks, got things running smoothly and most importantly shaken (most of) the bad blood the public has from past poor decisions. So now, I'm looking for OnePlus to do something truly new, fresh and exciting. There's a fine line between consistency and complacency, and that's precisely where OnePlus is walking right now.
And with that, a few more lingering thoughts on the week:
- In reviewing the OnePlus 5T, I've taken a break from writing about the Pixel Buds. Rest assured a proper "review" will be landing soon, though.
- Google got many things right with the Pixel Buds, including the comfort, battery life, and sound quality. But they're very expensive, and the advanced features leave something to be desired.
- I'm initially quite satisfied with the Pixel 2 XL's display after the latest software update to improve the tuning via a "saturated" display mode.
- It still isn't a drop-dead gorgeous panel, but it sure is above average. The display stands in the way of the Pixel 2 XL being a truly great phone, but I don't find it a big enough issue to stop me from recommending it at this point.
- You'll notice that after initially pausing our recommendation of the Pixel 2 XL in our review, we've moved back to recommending it as originally found in the first testing period.
- All that being said, I still like the smaller Pixel 2 more. I'm a sucker for a "small" phone, and it's just a much more compelling device with its much lower price.
Have a great week, everyone — particularly those of us in the U.S. who are likely to spend some time with family for the long Thanksgiving weekend.
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