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OnePlus X review: The best £199 phone that you can't buy

Alphr logo Alphr 13-11-2015 Sasha Muller

OnePlus shook up the smartphone world with the OnePlus One, then the Two, and now it’s ready to do it all again with the OnePlus X – a 5in slab of premium-feeling glass and metal. If you’re wondering what the X factor is in this instance, then it’s pretty simple: the OnePlus X unites a clutch of last year's high-end hardware with a scorching AMOLED screen for a mere £199. 

Yup, that's only £40 more than the Motorola Moto G. If only buying a OnePlus X was as easy as clicking a Buy Now button, I suspect they’d sell millions of the things.

OnePlus X: Design

OnePlus' press release doesn’t pull any punches with its description of the X. It is described, quite simply, as “a work of art”. Ahem. Unless your idea of art is a slightly-squished iPhone 4s, then this statement is probably a little wide of the mark.

"Arguably, it has metal and glass and plasticky bits in all the right places."

OnePlus sent us the Onyx black model for review, and it’s a nice-looking, if entirely unremarkable phone. Arguably, it has metal and glass and plasticky bits in all the right places. It weighs an unremarkable 138 grams, and the textured metal edges serve the dual purpose of both looking good and providing enough grip to stop it sliding out of even the sweatiest of hands. If you have really, really sweaty hands, or are just very clumsy, then you’ll be overjoyed that OnePlus includes a basic, rubbery plastic case in the box – this makes the phone even grippier and a tad more drop-resistant. And in a nice touch, a screen protector comes pre-installed to keep the layer of Gorilla Glass 3 scratch-free.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Like an increasing number of smartphones, the OnePlus X has a layer of glass on its back. If glass just doesn’t do it for you, though, then OnePlus is making a limited run of OnePlus X’s with a ceramic rear. The press release is keen to stress exactly how painstaking (read: boring) the process is. The abbreviated version is that the ceramic layer takes 25 days to create, it involves a searingly-hot oven and (wait for it) a lot of polishing is involved. It still looks like glass. OnePlus are keen to stress that it’s far stronger, though – nearly as hard as sapphire glass, in fact. OnePlus will be making 10,000 of them, and you won’t just need an invite to buy one, you’ll need a specific invite for the ceramic model. Oh, and it’s 21 grams heavier, if you’re worried about that kind of thing.

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OnePlus X: Features

In far more exciting news, the OnePlus X has a microSD slot. Pop out the tray and you can either install a microSD card and a single SIM, or dual SIMs, which is handy. The USB-C connector from the OnePlus 2 has gone though, and has been replaced instead by a bog-standard microUSB connector with two speaker holes on either side. Wireless support is a bit underwhelming, though, with single-band 802.11n, Bluetooth 4 and no sign of NFC.

Still, the OnePlus X doesn’t disappoint on the camera front. There’s a 13 megapixel snapper at the rear, and a generous 8 megapixel sensor at the front. Super-detailed selfies ahoy! I’ll get into the details later on in this review, but for now, suffice to say that they’re both pretty good – certainly not up to the standards of the new iPhones or Google Nexus handsets, but decent enough.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

OnePlus X: Display

OnePlus has equipped the X with a 5in, Full HD AMOLED screen. It’s sharp in all the right ways, and the AMOLED technology means that images and icons glow with intense, saturated colours. It’s not quite as over the top as some AMOLED displays I’ve seen, but if you’re not a fan of the technology then this won’t change your mind – it really is like the colours have all been cranked to 11.

It doesn’t go that bright (it tops out at a modest 328cd/m2, which is some way short of the best), but as the AMOLED technology serves up lovely deep, inky blacks, images still really pop off the screen. The only downside? Unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Edge and Note phones, there are no display presets to calibrate the screen, so you’re stuck with the oversaturated, overblown colours whether you like it or not. And despite the panel covering 100% of both the sRGB and Adobe RGB gamuts, it’s not especially accurate – reds are a little too red, greens too green and so forth.

OnePlus X: Oxygen OS, Performance and battery life

One of the most refreshing things about OnePlus’ phones is that the Oxygen OS does very, very little to stock Android Lollipop. The main thing you’ll notice is that the default ‘Dark’ theme swaps all the background menu colours from white to black to save energy – the AMOLED screen’s pixels actually switch off completely when displaying black, so this is a very sensible thing. Personally, I found it much easier on the eyes, too. Don't like it? Turn it off.

Swipe right from the homescreen and the Shelf pops up. This displays frequently used apps and contacts – it's moderately useful, but I wasn't too bothered by it. Don't like it? You know what to do.

Oxygen OS also add a few gestures to the mix – for instance, you can double tap the screen to wake the phone; open the camera by drawing an O onscreen; toggle the flashlight on and off by drawing a V; or play and skip through music with a handful of other gestures. Don’t like the idea? Not a problem. You can disable gestures one-by-one, or turn them all off in the menu.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Really, though, there’s precious little to whine or moan about. This is largely unfettered, lovely Android Lollipop. My everyday phone is an Apple iPhone 6 Plus, but the OnePlus X reminded me why I still have a place for Android in my heart. There are no annoying apps pre-installed, everything is clear and logically laid-out and I absolutely love the swipe-to-type keyboard – it’s superb. Ah, Android, how I've missed you.

Benchmarks

Nexus 5X

OnePlus 2

OnePlus X

Geekbench 3.1 - single-core

1,235

1,206

929

Geekbench 3.1 - multi-core

3,489

4,508

2,459

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan onscreen

16fps

23fps

10fps

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan offscreen

16fps

23fps

8.6fps

I did experience the odd stutter here and there, and this is down to the fact that OnePlus has employed 2014’s smartphone hardware of choice, the trusty Qualcomm SnapDragon 801. With four cores running at 2.3GHz, 3GB of RAM, an Adreno 330 GPU and 16GB of eMMC storage, the OnePlus X is capable enough to not prove a nuisance in everyday use – but as you can see from the benchmarks above, it’s just not up to the standards of the latest smartphone chipsets for silky smooth performance.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

There was also the odd occasion where adjusting the volume during gaming sent the OnePlus X into a tailspin – I tried to lower the volume while playing the surprisingly demanding Hearthstone, and it juddered to an ugly halt for a few seconds. Given that three software updates arrived during my time with the phone, I suspect there simply may be some software gremlins at work. Oh, and one more thing: the OnePlus X has a tendency to get pretty warm. Get immersed in a game and the glass back becomes noticeably toasty to the touch.

So, battery life then. Here the OnePlus X’s 2,525mAh battery doesn’t throw up any surprises. In Airplane mode, the OnePlus X played our test movie on repeat for 13 hours 6 minutes. That’s 15 minutes less than the similarly-sized Sony Xperia Z5 Compact, but a couple of hours longer than the larger, more powerful OnePlus 2. How does this translate to everyday usage? Well, expect to be charging the OnePlus X every night without fail. Spend too long playing games, streaming audio over Bluetooth or hammering the GPS, and you will find yourself running low even before the evening is out.

OnePlus X: Camera

It’s fair to say that the OnePlus X’s camera isn’t going to blow anybody away. Nor is the stock Lollipop camera app particularly feature-packed – you can choose between HDR, Clear image and Beauty shooting modes, as well time-lapse or panoramic options, but there are no manual modes whatsoever. Video recording allows you to record 1080P footage, or shoot slow-motion 120fps clips at 720P resolution.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

The 13 megapixel snapper at the back has an f/2.2 aperture, and the 8 megapixel sensor at the front goes with an f/2.4 aperture. The results from both are fine, without really being likely to to get photo buffs excited. The phase-detection autofocus is lightning-quick in most scenarios, but although the snaps are speedy, there’s alot of noise-reduction and edge-enhancement going on in the photographs.

Side-by-side with shots from my iPhone 6 Plus, the OnePlus X looked noticeably over-processed. Colours are a tad too plummy and dark, and although the camera is capable of ekeing out some pretty decent shots in the daytime, the image processing kicks up a gear once the light goes down. In darker scenarios, photos begin to swim in nasty, smeary noise-reduction artifacts and detail is replaced by a horrid digital fug. Yuck. In these situations, you're left with only one option: resort to the single-LED flash. 

OnePlus X: Verdict

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

The OnePlus X is a (relatively) compact slice of smartphone loveliness for £200. No, it’s not the fastest phone in the world, nor is it the best in any category, but it is a good all-rounder. I’d quibble if it were £300 – in fact, I’d tell people to go buy a Nexus 5X instead if it cost that much – but at this price, I’m inclined to give it a pretty easy ride. In fact, the only stern challenge comes from its own stablemate, the £239 OnePlus 2, or since-deposed flagships such as the LG G3 – which, incidentally, is now available for around £250, and is crucially far, far easier to get hold of.

"The OnePlus X is yet another good, if not quite great, phone."

And that’s pretty much the crux of it: the OnePlus X is yet another good, if not quite great, phone, that's marred by one incredibly, outrageously aggravating flaw – it’s infuriatingly difficult to actually buy the damn thing. If you’re one of the lucky ones who get an invite, or nab one in the flash sales, then you’re onto a winner – but you'll need to be patient if you’re intent on bagging yourself a smartphone bargain. Best of luck, eh.

Patience not one of your virtues? Click here to check out our list of the Best Smartphones of 2015 – it covers everything from budget handsets to the latest flagship smartphones, so there's something for everybody. 

OnePlus X review: The best £199 phone that you can't buy© Alphr.com OnePlus X review: The best £199 phone that you can't buy

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