“The OnePlus X is a compelling blend of style and substance”
Apple has been obsessive about one-handed usage on smartphones since the very beginning, which is why it took a long time to launch its own large-screened phone, the iPhone 6 Plus (review), despite the word’s preference for phablets. While there’s a lot of action in the affordable space as far as compact phones are concerned, most flagships available today have moved beyond the 5-inch screen size, which is really the sweet spot if you ask us. This means you’d be hard pressed to find a daily driver if you’re after a pocketable option that doesn’t compromise on specs. The Xperia Z5 Compact that was launched at IFA looks like a sweet contender, but Sony doesn’t seem to be interested in bringing it to India anytime soon. And even if it does make it to our shores, the expected pricing could be hard to digest, which is exactly the reason why the brand is sceptical about launching it in the country. The recently-launched OnePlus X (first impressions | FAQs) fits the bill nicely though, and while it may not really be a true flagship with chart-topping hardware, it does bring to the table a respectable set of specs. The fact that it’s also quite stylish bodes well for it too, and a review without mentioning its colourful lineage would probably be incomplete as well. We’re referring to the brief, but still notable legacy it brings, thanks to the OnePlus tag – a name that’s managed to create quite a buzz for itself in a very short period of time. With just two, but compelling offerings, the OnePlus One and the OnePlus 2, under its belt, and the invite-based selling model that’s still potent enough to raise eyebrows, any new device from the brand makes us sit up and pay close attention.
The OnePlus X comes in two variants – the glass-backed Onyx, and the pricier, limited edition Ceramic. Our review is largely based on the former, but we would like to mention that apart from the material used for construction and the resultant change in feel, build quality and weight, there’s really no difference between the two. With that setting the background, we’ll now get into the specifics and see if the OnePlus X has the X factor we’re looking for.
Specs at a glance
- Measures 140 x 69 x 6.9mm
- Weighs 138g
- 5-inch AMOLED display with full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 441ppi)
- 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor
- 3GB RAM
- 16GB storage, expandable by another 128GB
- 13MP primary camera with LED flash
- 8MP front camera
- 2,525mAh battery
- OxygenOS with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
Design: drips style, oozes class
Dimensions: 140 x 69 x 6.9 mm
Weight: 138 grams
The choice of material used plays a vital role in not only the design and build quality of a smartphone, but also its feel and flaunt-worthiness. The first offering from the company, the OnePlus One, used a unique sandpapery finish (on the 64GB variant) and offered very good build. Its sequel stuck to the same material, but added a metal frame to the mix. With the OnePlus X Onyx, the company is moving to a mix of glass and metal, that looks oh-so-sexy. It’s not that we haven’t seen something like this before – even Samsung moved to glass and metal with its premium flagships, and many others have used the same combination quite effectively as well.
In the OnePlus X’s case, you get a 5-inch AMOLED display layered with 3rd-gen Gorilla Glass at the front, and a mirror-finished, piano black glass rear. Between the two, there’s a metal frame that comes with tiny microcuts (17 of them, to be exact), adding to the allure, not to mention grip. Still, that glossy back makes the phone quite the slippery eel, and also prone to smudges and fingerprints. (Well, at least there’s something to capture your fingerprints, since there’s no fingerprint scanner here). For most of our review period, we ended up using the provided rubber back cover (OnePlus X unboxing) that offers better grip, but that meant giving up on the bragging rights usually associated with carrying a sexy smartphone.
Measuring 140 x 69 x 6.9mm and weighing 138 grams, the phone is quite compact and nestles in the hand really well. This also means that one-handed usage is a breeze, and unless you prefer skinnies, you shouldn’t have any issues carrying it around ensconced inside the front pocket of your jeans.
There are no surprises as far as the placement of ports and controls is concerned. The volume rocker and power key are on the right, along with an ejectable tray that can gobble up a pair of nano-SIMs. Since this is a hybrid dual-SIM device, you can choose to forsake its dual-SIM capabilities and pop in a microSD card in place of the second SIM. The top is home to the 3.5mm audio socket, along with the secondary microphone, while the micro-USB port finds its place at the bottom. This is flanked by precision-drilled holes hiding the primary mic and the phone speaker.
On the left is the Alert Slider, the same three-way sliding key we saw on the OnePlus 2. It switches between all alerts, priority interruptions and no interruptions, but as with the OnePlus 2, we can’t say we found it extremely useful. It could be just us though, and it’s possible other users find it handy. We’d probably fall head over heels for it if OnePlus were to make it a little more customisable.
Coming back to the design, the front holds the screen, the usual earpiece, notification LED, front cam and sensors on top, and three capacitive navigation keys below. These keys aren’t backlit, and this a big bummer as far as we’re concerned. Even more so, since the key indicators are really faint, and you can’t make them out against the black bezel. Sure, one gets used to the key placement after using the phone for a few days, but it’s still something we would count as a negative. Also worth mentioning here that the software lets you switch the functions of the back and recent apps keys, and in case you prefer, you can even enable onscreen navigation keys instead of having to use the hardware ones.
The rear is all about the glossy glass – a sea of black with just a shiny OnePlus logo in the middle, and the primary camera lens and LED flash placed on top left.
All said and done, the OnePlus X looks rather fetching, and feels more premium than what its asking price would have you believe.
Screen: getting amorous with AMOLED
Size: 5.0 Inch
Resolution: Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)
Display Type: AMOLED
Pixel Density: 441 ppi
The 5-inch AMOLED display on the OnePlus X is a beauty, with vivid colours and deep blacks. That’s the AMOLED goodness for you right there. Sure, phablet lovers might not love it for its size, but 5-inches is the right compromise between ample real estate for all your gaming and web browsing needs, while keeping the overall dimensions in check for one-handed usage.
The touch response is excellent, and you won’t find any issues when it comes to sunlight legibility or viewing angles.
Software: a dose of O2
Operating System: Android
OS Version: 5.1.1, Lollipop
If the outer casing is the phone’s body and the internal hardware is its guts, the software platform is the air it breathes. This crude analogy works well in the case of the OnePlus X, as handily, the software platform it utilises is dubbed OxygenOS. Just like its bigger sibling the OnePlus 2, the X runs the latest version of OxygenOS, with the underlying platform being Android 5.1.1. It won’t be a bad idea to jump to the software section of our OnePlus 2 review to get the full lowdown, since the interface and the features on the X are just about the same.
In effect, you get a near-stock Lollipop user interface, complete with Material Design, multiple home screens and a dedicated app drawer. Anyone who’s ever used stock Android should feel right at home. The handset comes devoid of bloatware – apart from Google’s suite of apps, you just get a file manager, and SwiftKey keyboard for text input. Oh, there’s a OnePlus Radio app as well, since the device features FM Radio.
Of course, apart from all the stock goodness, OxygenOS has a few useful features to offer too, with most of them tucked neatly inside the settings menu. There’s an option to customise the buttons and enable onscreen keys instead of the hardware navigation buttons. You can also swap the functions of the back and recent apps buttons. In addition, you can specify functions for all three keys (home, back and recents) for long press and double tap actions.
There’s support for basic screen-off gestures, including double tap to wake, quick access to the camera and the flashlight, along with the ability to control music playback. You’ll find options to enable Ambient display and Proximity wake hidden inside the display settings menu. The former lights up the display in a white-on-back mode when you get notifications, while the latter awakens the device from slumber when it detects activity near the proximity sensor. There’s a battery saver function available under battery settings.
The customisation menu option under settings lets you turn the dark mode off (comes enabled by default) in case you’d like a white background for your app drawer, and also lets you change accent colours and tweak the colours for the multi-hued LED notification light. There’s a permissions manager to control the access granted to installed apps as well.
For customisation, you can also utilise third-party icon packs, and the option to switch to installed ones is available in homescreen settings, accessible by long pressing on a vacant area on any homescreen. Then there’s Shelf, the special panel that slides out from the left of the default homescreen. This presents a list of most used apps and contacts for quick access. It seems like a useful feature, but frankly, we didn’t find ourselves using it extensively during our review period.
Camera: could be better
Primary camera: 13 MP
Flash: LED Flash
Secondary camera: 8 MP
The camera chops on the OnePlus X comprise a 13-meg rear shooter featuring an ISOCELL sensor and phase detection autofocus, while an 8MP snapper stands guard at front in case you’re in the mood for a selfie or need to make a video call. The app is the same basic affair we saw on the OnePlus 2, offering modes like Clear Image, HDR, beauty, time lapse, slow motion and panorama. Sure, there are tons of third-party shootings apps on the Play Store, but the default camera app on the OnePlus X just seems too minimalist for our liking. At least in the OnePlus 2’s case, the image quality made up for the lack of features, but the scenario is a tad different on the X.
You see, while the image quality should be fine for most casual photographers and for images shot in ample light, the OnePlus X can’t really deliver consistent results in terms of colour reproduction, with some shots looking a tad washed out and lacking punch. Close-up shots turn out well, and so do the images from the front camera, as long as the lighting is good. Low-light shots are noisy, though to be fair, most smartphone cameras are fallible after the sun goes down. A software update can possibly help in making the camera results more consistent, and that’s exactly what we’ll look forward to from OnePlus. We have a few image samples and more details on the camera performance of the OnePlus X in our camera review. Here are some more cam samples for a quick look.
Performance: a speed junkie, almost
CPU: Quad core, 2.3 GHz, Snapdrago…
GPU: Adreno 330
RAM: 3 GB
Memory: 16 GB + Up to 128 GB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
Battery: 2525 mAH
Coming to the guts, the hardware inside the OnePlus X isn’t too different from the brand’s very first smartphone. So you get a quad-core 2.3GHz Snapdragon 801 chip, mated to 3 gigs of RAM. This is the same combo that powers the OnePlus One, and also Xiaomi’s Mi 4. In fact, since the Mi 4 also features a 5-inch FHD display and is priced similarly, it’s one of the closest rivals to the OnePlus X. Now the 801 is a couple of generations old, and doesn’t even support 64-bit processing, a feature brought in by Android Lollipop and now offered by almost all recent chipsets from chipmakers like Qualcomm, MediaTek, Intel and others. Don’t let that act a deal breaker though, since it’s no wimp when it comes to number crunching.
In real-life usage, the OnePlus X hardly falters and offers smooth performance, be it for usual tasks like productivity /social apps or heavy-duty stuff like intensive gaming.
As far as connectivity is concerned, you get dual-SIM with 4G support, and the other bare essentials like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and A-GPS. You’d be disappointed if you expect fancy stuff like NFC or support for 5GHz Wi-Fi. Even the Wi-Fi ac standard isn’t supported.
USB OTG support is there though, and you can add on to the 16GB internal storage by popping in a microSD card of up to 128GB capacity. Bear in mind that you’ll lose the second SIM slot if you do this, as the X is a hybrid dual-SIM phone.
The 2,525mAh battery doesn’t sound too beefy in terms of rating, but delivers reasonable results. During our review period, we usually returned home with about 40-50 percent battery in the kitty, but that was when our phone usage was moderate. On days with heavy usage and with 3G connected, we were still able to see the full day through, but just about. Our video loop test ran for almost 12 hours, which is quite respectable.
Worth mentioning here that the call quality on the OnePlus X was average, and our review unit also had a temperamental proximity sensor that occasionally refused to switch off the screen during phone calls, but we’re willing to give it the benefit of doubt in this case and hope this issue is just limited to the device we have with us.
The OnePlus X is priced at Rs 16,999, and can only be bought if you have an invite… which means you can’t buy it outright as and when you want. For us, the camera quality and the iffy proximity sensor were the key pain points, but otherwise, we think the phone has enough to be a compelling option in the mid-range.
The performance is smooth, and the battery life is decent. Its stylish design is the real feather in its cap though – the phone definitely feels great in the hand and oozes oomph. The Xiaomi Mi 4 (review), despite being in the market for a long time now, is still a very strong rival, but loses out because it’s a single-SIM device, comes with non-expandable storage, and most importantly, doesn’t support 4G. Basically, if you want a stylish, capable and compact daily driver, the choice in the sub Rs 20,000 segment boils down to the OnePlus X and the Lenovo Vibe S1 (first impressions). Note that the key word here is ‘compact’, because otherwise, even the OnePlus One could count as a rival. While our Vibe S1 review is in the pipeline as you read this, we think it’s going to be a very close fight, as Lenovo’s contender is also quite a looker, and can match the OnePlus X in terms of specs closely. It has double the storage to offer, and double the selfie fun, thanks to dual front cameras. We’d still leave you with a clear verdict though – unless you’re enticed by the selfie shenanigans promised by the Vibe S1, we think the OnePlus X is a slightly better option. However, the premium Ceramic variant of the X can be given a miss, mainly because it doesn’t have anything too substantial to offer over the Onyx, especially considering the Rs 6,000 price difference between the two.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Fetching design
- Smooth performance
- Near-stock Android, spiced up with a few useful tweaks
- Fingerprint magnet and slippery
- Non-backlit navigation keys
- Average camera
Photos by Raj Rout