OnePlus X Review

01
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Introduction

After launch of the OnePlus 2, we weren’t expecting much from the company for the remaining of the year. However, OnePlus still had a device in its pipeline for 2015 — the X. And, it’s nothing like what the OEM has manufactured before. OnePlus is known to produce high-end, flagship-grade smartphones with a not-so-high price tag, compared to what its competitors price their flagships at.

With the OnePlus X, the company is targeting a completely different market — the budget market; a market which is cluttered with devices from various manufacturers, mostly from Chinese origin. Even though OnePlus is also a Chinese manufacturer, it doesn’t operate like one, and that’s one of the reasons it has become big in such little time.

Let’s see if the OnePlus X is a game-changer or just another Chinese budget smartphone.

02
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Design and Build quality

A few noticeable characteristics of a budget smartphone are its cheap build quality and poor design, and the OnePlus X doesn’t possess any of those two attributes. OnePlus’ offering actually comes in three variations — Onyx, Champagne, and Ceramic. Onyx and Champagne models are crafted entirely out of glass and metal, something extremely rare in the budget smartphone market. The only difference between the two is the colour scheme; Onyx features a black back and front with a silver frame, while Champagne features a white back and front with a gold frame. Initially, the Champagne edition was only available in China, but recently it was made available in the US, EU, and India.

The Ceramic model, on the other hand, is actually a limited edition variant; only 10,000 units exist globally, it costs a $100 more than the standard model, it’s only available in Europe and India, and requires a special invite. The main reason behind such exclusivity is that it takes 25 days to manufacture a single Ceramic OnePlus X unit because of an immensely difficult manufacturing process. It all starts with 0.5mm thick zirconia mold, which gets baked up to 2,700ºF for more than 28 hours, and each backplate undergoes three diligent methods of polishing.

OnePlus sent me the Onyx black version of the X, so that’s what I’ll be referring to in this review.

The device features a brushed anodized metal frame which is sandwiched between two sheets of Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Due to the use of glass on both the front and the back, the device is very fragile; is prone to get scratched over time; and is exceptionally slippery. But, the Chinese manufacturer is aware of that and ships a translucent TPU case alongside the device. I found it to be a really nice touch from OnePlus, as there are a few manufacturers who don’t even ship a charger with their budget smartphone (looking at you Motorola) — slightly reducing the cost price and increasing profit margins. Furthermore, the frame has chamfered edges which gives the device a glamorous look, and is etched with 17 microcuts which enhance the grip of an overall very slippery device.

Let’s talk about port and button placement now. On the top, we have our headphone jack and secondary microphone; while on the bottom, we have our speaker, primary microphone, and a MicroUSB port. The power and volume button are located on the right side of the device, alongside the SIM/MicroSD card slot. On the left side, we have the Alert Slider, which allows the user to switch between three sound profiles: none, priority, and all. The Alert Slider first premiered on the OnePlus 2 and instantly became my favorite feature, since it was so convenient and tightly integrated with the software. Having said that, on the OnePlus X, I have noticed that the button itself is a bit stiff and requires a little bit more force to change state than the one found on its bigger brother.

Dimension-wise, the device comes in at 140 x 69 x 6.9mm and weighs 138 grams (with the ceramic edition being 22 grams heavier). It’s probably one of the easiest devices to be used single-handedly.

Just like the OnePlus One and 2, OnePlus allows the user to choose between on-screen navigation and physical capacitive buttons. I, for one, do wish that the capacitive keys had a backlit because sometimes it can get really difficult to tell them apart.

Sure, it’s obvious that OnePlus has taken design cues from Apple’s iPhone 4, but that’s not a bad thing. The iPhone 4 was one of the most good-looking smartphone of its time.

03
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Display

The most unimpressive trait of a mid-range device is its display. It’s usually packing a good amount of pixels but the quality of the panel itself is atrocious. With that being said, the display, as a matter of fact, is one of the hallmark characteristics of the OnePlus X.

OnePlus has equipped the X with a 5-inch Full HD (1920x1080) AMOLED display with a pixel density of 441ppi. Yes, you read that exactly right. This $250 smartphone packs an AMOLED display, and a very good one too. Now, I have seen better AMOLED panels (mainly on Samsung’s flagship devices) but I have also seen worse, like on the HTC One A9 — a device which costs a lot more than the X. And, at this price point, I can’t really complain, because its competitors don’t even come close in the display department.

A display is what makes or breaks a smartphone for me; it’s the medium through which a user gets to experience the software and get a feel of the hardware’s power. And I think OnePlus made an excellent decision by going with an AMOLED panel in the X, as I wasn’t utterly pleased with its offering on the OnePlus 2.

The AMOLED display provides deep blacks, high colour saturation and dynamic range, and wide-viewing angles. It can also achieve super high and low levels of brightness, which helps in comfortably viewing the display under direct sunlight and during night time.

OnePlus 2 had an option to adjust the colour balance of the display, but there’s no such option present on the OnePlus X. And, as the display is a bit on the cooler side of the spectrum, you might or might not appreciate the punchy colours. However, that depends on your personal preference and you can always use a 3rd party app to choose a different colour profile preset.

04
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Software

The OnePlus X comes with Oxygen OS 2.2, which is based on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. Yes, it doesn’t come with Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box. Nonetheless, the company has assured me that the software upgrade is already in the works and will be rolled out in the coming months. And, when it comes to software updates, the company is really punctual in rolling them out to the public. A new software update is released almost every month with bug fixes, enhancements, and security patches.

As far as Oxygen OS goes, it’s one of my favourite Android skins of all time. Actually, I wouldn’t even call it a skin (even though I just did in the last sentence); it’s more like an extension of stock Android. OnePlus has kept the look and feel of pure Android, and at the same time enhanced it by adding useful functionality. And, when I say useful functionality, I mean useful functionality; there’s not a single hint of bloatware on the system — that’s just not OnePlus’ style. It’s like taking Google’s Nexus experience and putting it on steroids.

Due to the device rocking an AMOLED display, the OS comes with a system-wide dark theme, which is enabled by default, and can be reverted back to the standard white theme under customization settings. Also, I must say that the dark theme in conjunction with an AMOLED panel takes the user experience to a whole new level, and at the same time saves battery life. Furthermore, if the user has dark mode enabled, he/she can also choose from eight different accent colours to go along with the theme.

The stock Google launcher has been modified to include support for 3rd party icon packs, which can be downloaded from the Play Store or sideloaded. Users are also able to hide the Google search bar and change the size of the app drawer grid — 4x3, 5x4 and 6x4. Google Now panel has been replaced by OnePlus’ Shelf, it organises your favourite applications and contacts, and allows you to add more widgets to it. I rarely used Shelf and had it disabled most of the time.

The flagship feature of the operating system is its ability to switch between on-screen navigation bar and physical capacitive keys, and it doesn’t stop there. Users can associate three different actions with each physical button — single press, long press, and double tap — and the keys can be swapped as well. This is my favourite feature of Oxygen, as I don’t like using on-screen keys and prefer physical keys instead, and being able to extend them for other actions is just icing on the cake.

Just like the OnePlus One and Two, the X too comes with off-screen gestures support; I think every smartphone should have these gestures as they are extremely handy, at least in my opinion. Ambient display and Proximity wake are present on the device as well, and they both work like a charm together. Every time I took the smartphone out of my pocket, the screen turned on automatically and displayed the date, time and latest notifications; only now and then I used the power button to actually turn on the phone.

Notification centre has received a few tweaks too; it can be accessed by swiping down anywhere on the homescreen; and each individual toggle can be re-arranged, enabled or disabled. OnePlus has also back-ported an Android 6.0 Marshmallow feature and brought it to Oxygen OS, and that’s custom App Permissions. This particular feature allows the user to control permissions of 3rd party apps, and it works just as advertised. The OS also comes pre-installed with a powerful file manager, SwiftKey and Google Keyboard, and an FM Radio. Yes, the FM Radio is back and that too with a bang! I must say that the app’s user interface is very slick — minimalistic and colourful.

Nothing is perfect, neither is Oxygen OS — it’s close, though. Oxygen isn’t the most tried and tested operating system out there, it’s still relatively young, so you are destined to find a few bugs. But, as I said earlier, OnePlus is constantly rolling out software updates with bug fixes and optimisations, so the bug’s life span won’t be that long.

I would really like the company to implement an advanced volume system, which would allow me to adjust system, notification, media, and ringtone volume just by pressing the volume rocker. Initially, I had a few problems with SD card integration but that was soon fixed through a recent software update.

05
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Camera

This time around, OnePlus decided to go with Samsung for its 13 megapixel ISOCELL sensor (S5K3M2) with an f/2.0 aperture, instead of OmniVision (like in the OnePlus 2). The sensor itself is capable of shooting video at 1080p and 720p; you won’t be shooting 4K with the X. The device doesn’t suffer from the shutter lag; unlike its bigger brother, which made a big impact on picture quality. The autofocus system is a tad slow, both in video and picture mode, but it’s on par with devices in its category. There’s also a single LED flash bundled alongside the camera.

The actual quality of the camera is, I would say, good enough. It gets the job done with adequate sharpness and detail, but requires a ton of light to do so. The dynamic range is pretty weak, hence the colours won’t have that oomph. It also tends to overexpose objects under direct sunlight. During night time, the camera completely falls apart with pictures resulting in a lot of noise and artifacts. There’s no optical-image-stabilisation (OIS) on-board and as a consequence the videos turn out a bit shaky.

I’m not a big fan of OnePlus’ stock camera app, I think it’s unintuitive and looks too generic. There are various shooting modes available, such as: time lapse, slow motion, photo, video, panorama, and manual. The OnePlus X initially actually didn’t ship with the Manual Mode, it was implemented in the latest Oxygen OS 2.2.0 update. It allows the user to manually control the shutter speed, focus, ISO, and white balance.

The front-facing camera is an 8 megapixel shooter and is capable of capturing Full HD (1080p) and HD (720p) video. There’s also a beauty mode which will help even-out your complexion. You’ll be able to take some pretty high-quality selfies with this sensor, just make sure you have plenty of lighting available at your disposal.

Camera samples coming soon.

06
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Performance

There were quite a few people who raged when OnePlus announced the device with a year old SoC — Snapdragon 801. Everyone was expecting the OnePlus X to be equipped with a Snapdragon 6xx series processor, but the company decided to go through with the  S801 instead, as it proved to be faster in internal testing. I, myself, can confirm this as well; at least as far as single-core performance goes. The S615 and S617 performed slightly better in multi-core tests. But, that was destined as these processors pack four additional cores.

Also, keep in mind that Qualcomm designed the Snapdragon 801 chip for high-end devices, while its S6xx series is meant for mid-range handsets. Fun fact: Samsung used the same exact chip in its 2014 flagship device, the Galaxy S5.

The Chinese manufacturer has combined the Snapdragon 801 with 3GB of RAM, an Adreno 330 GPU, and 16GB of internal storage —  which is expandable via a MicroSD card slot. The X is OnePlus’ first smartphone to feature expandable storage, and that too in a very unique fashion; more on that later.

Basically, OnePlus is shipping the X with the insides of the One, albeit the CPU was clocked 200MHz higher on that device. But, the slight decrease in clockspeed doesn’t impact the performance significantly. It was able to keep a bunch of apps in memory for a relatively long period of time; apps loaded almost instantly; and the user interface was smooth and responsive 99% of the time. The X does suffer from the usual Android lag, but all other Android-based smartphones do so as well.

The only performance-related issue I encountered was with graphics intensive games, where the device constantly dropped a few frames here and there, therefore I had to bring the visual quality down a notch to make the game playable. The company is aware of the issue and will be fixing it in an upcoming software update.

Overall, I’m glad that OnePlus chose this specific performance package for the X — it’s fast, well-optimised, and responsive. The only thing wrong with it is that it’s not future-proof. Even though it’s performing really well in the present, we can’t deny the fact that it’s still a two year old SoC.

07
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Connectivity

This is the category in which the OnePlus X wasn’t able to impress me too much. Just like the OnePlus 2, there’s no NFC support, which means you won’t be able to use Android Pay. According the the Chinese manufacturer, people don’t really use NFC and that’s why it decided to not include it. However, as Android Pay grows, more and more people would want to use it, but won’t be able to with the OnePlus X.

It also doesn’t support dual-band Wi-Fi, which was a big issue for me. I live in an area where the 2.4GHz band is very congested, so you barely get any usable internet speeds. Fun fact: I was getting better speeds while I was on my 4G connection than my lightning fast broadband at home. But, here’s the thing: the Moto G 2015 doesn’t sport dual-band Wi-Fi as well, and it’s the next best thing after the OnePlus X. Companies really need to stop cutting costs on the Wi-Fi module.

Then there’s the lack of band 12 and 17, which makes the device not able to use AT&T or T-Mobile’s LTE service. So, if you live in the US; are on the aforementioned carriers; and LTE is a requirement of yours, then think twice before buying the OnePlus X. Anyhow, the international coverage (EU and Asia) is pretty good and you shouldn’t have much problem getting 4G on the device; I live in the UK and had absolutely zero issues with 4G.

The OnePlus X is also a dual-SIM smartphone, which means you can use two SIM cards on two different networks (or the same network), simultaneously. And, the user can choose a preferred SIM card for mobile data, calls and texts, respectively. But, there’s a catch: you won’t be able to use two SIM cards, if you have a MicroSD card installed. That’s because the company is utilising the SIM tray for both SIMs and a MicroSD card, hence at once you can only use a combination of one SIM card and a microSD card or two SIM cards.

08
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Speaker and Call quality

The OnePlus X comes equipped with two microphones and a very clear and loud earpiece, and during my testing I had no problems with call quality. There are two speaker grilles on the bottom; left side houses the loudspeaker and right side possess the microphone. And, that’s where the main problem lies. Whenever I held the smartphone in portrait mode, my pinky finger covered the speaker grille which disturbed the listening experience. I wish the company has swapped the location of the two.

Quality-wise, the speaker is quite loud and doesn’t distort much at maximum volume, however, the actual sound output is a bit bland with no depth at all. Moreover, unlike the OnePlus 2, there’s no WavesMaxx Audio integration, as a result you won’t be able to tweak the profile to make it sound any better. You can always use a third party audio tuner, though.

09
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Battery Life

Powering this compact beast is a 2,525mAh liPo battery, and the battery life is not amazing nor is it terrible; it’s acceptable.  The maximum screen-on time I could get out of this thing was 3 hours and 30 minutes, after that it would just die on me. It barely got me through an entire day, but I consider my usage to be pretty high.

Even though OnePlus has switched back to using a MicroUSB port from the USB Type-C on the OnePlus 2, we still don’t have Qualcomm’s QuickCharge feature on-board. Therefore, it takes around two and a half hours to charge the device from 0-100%. I really missed this particular feature on the OP2 and still do on the OPX. Wireless charging is nowhere to be found as well.

10
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Conclusion

With the OnePlus X, the company’s goal was to produce a smartphone with premium build quality and aesthetics for under $250, and it has accomplished that goal. But in order to achieve that goal, it had to cut some corners and that’s clearly visible in the execution. The OnePlus X doesn’t have NFC, wireless charging, Qualcomm QuickCharge, or dual-band Wi-Fi support; that’s how OnePlus has managed to deliver this exquisite package at such an impressive price tag.

All in all, OnePlus X is the most beautiful and well-built budget smartphone of 2015. Period.

There’s no way you can get this kind of build quality, design, and gorgeous AMOLED display in any device under $250, other than the X. And, you no longer need an invite to buy one, so what are you waiting for? If you’re looking for a budget smartphone, look no further; the OnePlus X is worthy of your every single hard earned dollar.