Review: OnePlus X

Introduction and design

OnePlus had a fantastic 2014, but 2015 has been harder, with only a lukewarm reaction to the OnePlus 2. Now the OnePlus X is here to take the company through to the end of the year – and it’s a phone with an even more attractive price tag than the flagship range.

It inaugurates a new ‘budget’ line for the still-young firm, and it’s a chance to extend its customer base to those who like high-end specs and a nice design, but most of all a low, low price.

That price starts at £199 / US$249 (about AU$350) – around the same as the Moto G 2015, and undeniably great for the spec list you’re getting, given that the OnePlus X is superior on paper to Motorola’s cheapest handset, and most of the rest of the competition.

OnePlus X

The big problem here is the same as with everything that comes from OnePlus – you can’t just walk into a shop and buy one. To get a OnePlus X you have to grab an invite off a friend, from the internet or through a competition. It’s not particularly simple.

But many people are willing to make the effort, because OnePlus is one of the most respected phone brands right now, thanks to its combination of flagship-killer specs and low prices. But there’s the chance that dropping the price even lower will see the quality of OnePlus drop out.

Design

OnePlus X

The OnePlus X is possibly the nicest looking phone to have come from the Chinese start-up so far. The OnePlus 2 mirrored the OnePlus One quite closely, but the X has gone down a different path.

The OnePlus X features a glass back that looks great – at least until you start putting your hands on it. After using the phone for a few minutes, the back was covered in my grubby marks.

Although the back looks slippery, in use it always stayed safely in my hand.

OnePlus X

Behind the glass sits the OnePlus logo that always turns heads of smartphone fans in the pub. Anticipation for these phones is so high that friends are genuinely excited to see one in the flesh.

The rounded corners at the edge of the screen remind me of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S, but I don’t think they’d be particularly hardy. One drop is likely to scratch them up.

OnePlus X

Black bezels sit across the top and bottom of the screen, and the capacitive back, home and list keys run along the bottom next to the microphone.

OnePlus X

On the top bezel is the front-facing camera, earpiece and a little LED notification light in the top right. One of the OnePlus X’s best tricks is that you can set different lights for different functions: one colour for notifications, and another for low battery.

This is useful, as you can know exactly what your phone wants to tell without turning on the display and wasting battery.

The edges of the OnePlus X are strange. OnePlus has opted for metal around the outside that feels more premium than the OnePlus 2, but it’s a rough texture all the way around as well. When I first picked up the phone I wasn’t impressed with this – but I’ve grown to really like this while using the OnePlus X.

On the top-left edge is the notification button, which proves quite useful. Whenever your phone is buzzing and you don’t want to be disturbed, you can flick this to the off position to ensure you won’t be bothered again.

OnePlus X

On the right hand side is the volume rocker, with the power button just below it. I find these the wrong way round, to be honest. The power button is a little too low along the side of the phone, and I found myself hitting the rocker by accident on more than one occasion.

It’s something I got used to with time though, and it’s not a major gripe.

OnePlus X

Surprisingly the OnePlus X isn’t very heavy – it looks like it should weigh be more than the 138g it actually is. The phone sits in the hand really well, and is noticieably more comfortable than the slightly larger OnePlus One and OnePlus 2.

Overall, OnePlus has taken what made the iPhone 4 a great looking phone, blown it up a little, and applied its own tweaks to make a premium phone fit for the 2015 market.

I really like the design of the OnePlus X – and if you compare this look to other phones on the market, you won’t find anything near this level of beauty at this price.

Display and interface

OnePlus has been good at displays in the past – one of my favourite elements of the OnePlus 2 was the big, bright screen on the front. This time it’s a little smaller, but the drop in price hasn’t affected the quality of the screen at all.

The OnePlus X has a 5-inch display on the front with a resolution of 1,080 x 1,920 – that’s Full HD.

Considering that other ‘premium’ smartphones such as the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact are still running screens with a resolution of 720 x 1,280, it’s nice to see that OnePlus hasn’t dropped the quality of the screen for its cheaper phone.

OnePlus X

The display isn’t as big as the OnePlus 2’s 5.5-inch offering, but it’s just as bright. I’ve not had any problems viewing the screen, even in strong sunlight.

OnePlus X

On half brightness I did sometimes struggle to see the image clearly, but most of the time I kept the OnePlus X on full brightness, and it wasn’t an issue.

Viewing angles are particularly good on the OnePlus X. Some more expensive Android phones have very limited views, but with the OnePlus X I noticed that I was still getting a good image even when looking at the phone from the side or when it was lying on the desk.

OnePlus X

Pixel-quality wise, the phone is also impressive. It offers 441ppi, and images always look gorgeous. It’s hasn’t got anything on the quality of the LG G4 or the Samsung Galaxy S6 with its 2K display, but it’s outstanding at this price point.

There were a few times when I was watching YouTube videos on the OnePlus X and it struck me that there wasn’t much difference between it and other phones that cost three times as much.

Interface

The OnePlus X follows in the footsteps of the OnePlus 2 by running Android software. It’s running Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, but I was given a few updates right away to apply some minor fixes on top of the software.

It’s a shame OnePlus has missed out on including Android 6.0 Marshmallow here, but the company has confirmed that the OnePlus X will be updated in due course.

OnePlus X

Everything has a unique look on OnePlus handsets, thanks to the company’s OxygenOS UI. Unlike other Chinese manufacturers’ efforts in this area, I quite like the overlay on the OnePlus X.

OnePlus X

OxygenOS is a simple way of controlling Android, with everything kept to a minimum and a flat design making it look and feel intuitive to use without becoming patronising. As soon as you log into your OnePlus X you find yourself knowing exactly how the software works.

OnePlus X

With some heavy overlays on top of Android, such as Huawei’s, I find it difficult to find where things sit and get used to the look of the screen. Here I find myself diving right into it, and that’s exactly what you want from this kind of phone.

There’s barely any bloatware on the OnePlus X, another welcome feature compared with some other Android manufacturers. There’s only one OnePlus home-made app on the phone, and that’s OnePlus Radio.

OnePlus X

It’s a radio player of the type you don’t find on many Android phones these days, and it’s kind of irrelevant when many of us have access to DBA stations and much more useful apps to play them on. Users in developing markets, such as parts of Asia, are likely to think it’s a great addition though.

All the standard Google apps you’d expect to see are here, such as Chrome, Google+ and the likes of Play Games, Play Movies and TV, as well as Play Music. Those aren’t going anywhere, and the logos for each fit in well with the rest of the interface design.

OnePlus X

The app drawer is simple to navigate, and the Settings menu includes plenty of options for customising your OnePlus X experience.

Head into Customization and you can choose between the default Dark Mode for the interface and a white background theme – I much prefer the dark look. You can also change the accent colour here.

Unlike with many other phones, I didn’t find myself updating the keyboard in the first few days. OnePlus has included the Google Keyboard as the default, which includes swipe functionality and sets out the keys in a simple to use way.

Performance and battery

Here’s where the OnePlus X starts to fall down. OnePlus has opted for an older chipset than in the OnePlus 2, installing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 in the OnePlus X.

While it’s an older chipset it should still be capable of impressive things – this is what powered the stellar HTC One M8 after all. But I’ve encountered performance issues with the OnePlus X.

I’ve found that some intensive activities have proved a struggle for the OnePlus X. Among other things, video could lag quite a bit, meaning that I was missing seconds of small clips – and it wasn’t just when streaming.

OnePlus X

I had a video clip on the phone for battery testing, and while running that test I saw the video freeze a few times. A phone with these specs should really be capable of making it through a video without stammering.

I’ve put the OnePlus X through some intensive gaming tests as well. I played the graphically intensive Asphalt 8 racing game on the OnePlus X and it handled itself pretty well to start with, but buckled under the pressure after a while.

I found the game stutter at some moments, and whenever something graphically complex was happening on the screen it really struggled, especially if I was trying to play music from Spotify at the same time.

You can’t really expect silky smooth gaming performance from this kind of processor, but I am a little disappointed with the performance of the OnePlus X.

At least the OnePlus X didn’t heat up while I was gaming, however – unlike with the last phone I tested, the Sony Xperia Z5.

Running the GeekBench 3 bench marking software, the OnePlus X came out with a single-core result of 909 and a multi-core score of 2408.

To put that into context the OnePlus 2 scored 4795 on the same multi-core test. The iPhone 6 scored 2905, however, so the OnePlus X isn’t that far off the pace.

Overall, though, I expected better from the OnePlus X. It’s far from unusable, but I’d hoped for a slightly more in terms of performance.

Battery

OnePlus X

Battery performance on the OnePlus X is nothing to write home about – if anything it’s a little disappointing.

I’ve haven’t made it to the end of the day with anything over 30% left in the tank, and that’s even on days when I wasn’t using the phone much – and when the screen was on for much of one particular morning I found myself down to 40% battery before lunch.

It charges quickly enough, but it would have been nice to see OnePlus include fast charging – once you’ve used fast charging on a phone it’s difficult to go back to the ‘regular’ version.

Like other OnePlus devices it’s also missing wireless charging – although at least it’s understandable that this technology hasn’t made it into the OnePlus X, whereas it’s annoying that it’s not included in the ‘flagship-killing’ OnePlus 2.

The battery is also non-removable. Manufacturers are increasingly going with fixed batteries, and it doesn’t seem to bother too many people, but the absence of fast charging becomes more of an issue given that you can’t hot-swap the battery in an emergency.

I ran the traditional techradar video test on the OnePlus X, which confirmed that the battery is nothing special. This involves playing a 90-minute video, with the screen at full brightness and enabling all the connectivity options, and seeing how much battery is left at the end.

The OnePlus X had 73% left, which is the exact same score as the OnePlus 2 – and that’s quite a shock when you consider that the OnePlus 2 has a 3,300mAh battery, while the OnePlus X only has a 2,525mAh pack.

Still, that’s a drop of 27%, which isn’t a particularly good showing. The OnePlus One only registered a drop of 17%, while flagship phones with 2K displays, like the Galaxy S6, have come out with scores around the 15% mark.

I personally watch a lot of video at around 60% brightness to try and save on battery, so I ran the test again at 60% brightness and the OnePlus X came through with 79% battery remaining – that’s not a massive improvement, given how much less was being asked of the battery.

The essentials

Phone calls sounded clear on the OnePlus X, and I didn’t have any complaints from people I was talking to – the active noise cancellation within the mic probably helps here.

Like the OnePlus 2, the OnePlus X doesn’t come with NFC, something that was included in the OnePlus One. This is unfortunate, as Android Pay is about to kick off in a big way, and if you have either of these phones you won’t be able to use it.

OnePlus says it found that OnePlus One users weren’t using the NFC feature, but I personally think it’s a bad decision, as clearly people aren’t going to start embracing a technology until it has a relevant purpose other than just connecting to speakers quickly.

Payments are going to do that for NFC, and it’s a shame that OnePlus hasn’t seen fit to include the technology here after the criticism it took for dropping it for the OnePlus 2.

Security-wise there’s no fingerprint sensor on the OnePlus X. That’s one feature you’d expect to be dropped at this price point though, and there are plenty of other security options on the OnePlus X to make up for it.

You’ve got the choice of a swipe, pattern, PIN or password lock for your phone. If you do feel the need for a fingerprint sensor though, then it’s worth upgrading to the OnePlus 2 – it’s a good, secure way of unlocking your phone.

OnePlus X

OnePlus wants us to believe that it’s embracing USB-C technology wholeheartedly after including it in the OnePlus 2, and I’d be very happy if it did. It’s a much more efficient way of connecting a phone up to charge, and too few phone manufacturers are taking up the technology at the moment.

Sadly, with the OnePlus X OnePlus has reverted back to good old micro USB. While this makes it easier to get hold of a charger for the phone, it’s not as efficient as USB-C technology, and it’s a shame that OnePlus didn’t take the opportunity to future-proof the X in this respect.

The speakers on the OnePlus X sit at the bottom of the phone, and they’re pretty impressive.

OnePlus X

It’s easy to cover them up by putting the phone in the wrong position, but when they were upped to full volume I found the phone was giving out a good level of audio.

Wi-Fi and storage

The OnePlus X only includes Wi-Fi 801.11 b/g/n. In layman’s terms that means you can’t connect to faster 5GHz Wi-Fi networks – and that’s something you don’t think you’ll miss until you lose it.

Trying to connect to our 2GHz network at home was quite difficult, and I think it’s a misstep for OnePlus to miss out this ultimately vital feature.

Storage-wise OnePlus has upped its game with the X. There’s only a 16GB version of the phone and I filled this up quite quickly, but this is expandable with a microSD card.

The OnePlus 2 didn’t have microSD support, so it’s good to see it here. You’ll be able to use cards of up to 128GB, and I’d recommend making use of it, as I found that I’d filled the internal storage within a few hours of setting up the phone and downloading a few biggish apps.

Camera

Usually when a company releases a cheaper handset, the first thing to take a knock is the camera sensor. The OnePlus X, however, comes with a 13MP shooter – that’s just as many pixels as we’ve seen on several high-end phones, and the camera has a resolution of 4128 x 3096.

That OnePlus can afford to include such a strong sensor in the OnePlus X is hugely impressive.

OnePlus X

The OnePlus X’s camera is great for daytime shots – the high resolution is evident, and my test images had fantastic clarity. You really wouldn’t think you were using what’s essentially a budget handset.

Close-up shots were incredibly detailed, and landscapes also came out well. Take the shot below, of a bridge near our offices in Paddington – you can really make out a lot of the detail, something you wouldn’t usually get from a phone at this price point.

OnePlus X

Click here for the high-res image

The OnePlus X camera really falls down at night though. As soon as the natural light starts to fade the camera struggles, and even the pixel definition drops right down. There’s a flash, but that’s not going to help with landscape shots.

I was quite unimpressed with the low light performance of the main camera on the OnePlus X – but then you can’t expect everything at this price point.

Just as impressive as that daytime performance of the primary camera is the quality of the front-facing selfie shooter.

OnePlus X

OnePlus has come up trumps here with an 8MP unit, which is quite surprising considering that the OnePlus 2 only has a 5MP front camera.

OnePlus clearly wants to up its selfie game, and it’s going the right way about it – I personally haven’t used a phone with this quality of camera on the front before.

OnePlus X

There’s also the requisite ‘beauty’ mode, which zaps your blemishes and makes you look like a Photoshopped alien.

OnePlus X

All in all, the OnePlus X has an impressive camera considering the price point of the phone.

It’s not going to give you the image quality you’d get from the Samsung Galaxy S6 or the iPhone 6S – but considering that it’s at least a third of the price, that’s hardly a deal-breaker.

Camera samples

OnePlus X

Click here for the high-res image

OnePlus X

Click here for the high-res image

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Click here for the high-res image

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Click here for the high-res image

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Click here for the high-res image

OnePlus X

Click here for the high-res image

OnePlus X

Click here for the high-res image

Hands-on gallery

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The competition

So what other phones might you be considering if you’re in the market for a OnePlus X? Here’s our round-up of the phones we see as the main rivals to the latest and cheapest handset from OnePlus.

Moto G 2015

Moto G 2015

Motorola’s latest cheap but powerful phone is the company’s third attempt at a budget handset, and while there are no big differences over previous phones a few tweaks have improved this model, and it offers an impressive spec list for this end of the market.

This time around we loved the camera, there’s a water-resistant design and it delivers pretty good performance. It is a little bulkier than before, and it’s thicker than the OnePlus X – and there are no front-facing speakers.

The Moto G costs £209 / $219 / AU$306 for the 2GB RAM and 16GB storage version, or £179 / $179 / AU$250 for the 1GB RAM and 8GB storage edition. And of course it’s much easier to get your hands on a Moto G than a OnePlus X.

Moto E (2015)

Moto E 2015

If you’re looking for an even cheaper Motorola handset, the Moto E has the lowest price in the range coming in at only £99.99 (around US$120, AU$190). This may be a good choice for you if you’re looking for a low price phone, but you will miss out on the high-end spec you get with the OnePlus X.

The phone includes a 4.5-inch display with a pixel resolution of 520 x 960, a little lower than the 1080p OnePlus X screen. You can also get an LTE version of the phone that comes with super-fast internet connection and a strong quad-core processor under the hood.

Camera wise it includes an 8GB rear facing shooter and on the front is a 5MP shooter. The spec isn’t fantastic on the Moto E, but it’s at least half the price of the OnePlus X so maybe it’s a better choice for you.

OnePlus 2

OnePlus 2

The bigger brother to the OnePlus X, the OnePlus 2, was released earlier this year. It’s not much more expensive than the OnePlus X, starting at £239 / $329, and offers a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a better processor than that in the OnePlus X, and a far stronger camera setup.

You’ll still have the same issues when it comes to getting a hold of a OnePlus 2, but if you don’t mind spending a little extra money, the OnePlus 2 is a far superior phone to the OnePlus X.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Here’s another 5-inch phone that may be more to your tastes. As it’s a Sony phone there’s a big focus on the 13MP camera, but the processor isn’t as strong here, with a Snapdragon 615 under the hood and 2GB of RAM.

The big bonus here is in the design. Unlike the OnePlus X, it’s waterproof and dust-proof – you wouldn’t go scuba diving with it, but it’ll easily withstand splashes and brief immersion at the beach.

You can get a Sony Xperia M4 Aqua for £170 (about US$285, AU$435). We wouldn’t particularly recommend it over the OnePlus X, but it’s certainly a decent alternative.

LG G4c

LG G4C

One of the biggest flagship phones of the year, the LG G4, has been shrunk down into a smaller package called the LG G4c. It includes a 5-inch 720p screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 and an 8MP rear-facing camera.

When you compare its spec list to the OnePlus X, it doesn’t look especially impressive. But you may much prefer the design of the LG G4c, and it comes in at a similar price point to the OnePlus X.

And once again, the LG G4c is a much easier phone to get your hands on. If you’re looking for a quick buy and decide that trying to snag a OnePlus invite isn’t worth the effort, this could be the phone for you.

Verdict

OnePlus has managed to create its third very good smartphone on the trot. The OnePlus X does have some performance issues, and it’s certainly not as impressive as the OnePlus 2, but I like it all the same.

I didn’t think OnePlus could make a phone any cheaper than it has done with its flagship range, but it has – and you won’t particularly miss the features that have been sacrificed in order to hit this price if you don’t need the best setup on the market and price is a bigger factor.

We liked

OnePlus X

The display on the OnePlus X is big and beautiful. If you’re looking for a larger phone it may be worth going for the OnePlus 2, but for those who like smaller screens the 5-inch version will do very nicely, and it’s great to look at.

The design of this phone is quite different to OnePlus’s flagships, but I think it’s a good move. Mirroring an older iPhone design is an interesting decision, but it seems to have paid off. It feels great in the hand, and definitely catches the eye of phone fans.

OxygenOS is another nice touch. We’ve seen it before, but it still surprises me how good it looks compared to other overlays from some of the larger manufacturers.

And of course the best part is the price. Picking up the OnePlus X for £199 / US$249 feels like a minor crime. Compare the spec list here to everything else in this price bracket and it’s quite amazing what OnePlus has been able to achieve.

If you’re looking for a high-end phone on a budget, the OnePlus X is one of the best choices out there.

We disliked

There are issues with the OnePlus X, and one of the them is the processor. That stuttering while playing high-intensity games, and even during video playback on occasion, is a real concern.

The lack of NFC means Android Pay won’t be supported on the OnePlus X, and the lack of fast charging, wireless charging or microSD support are notable omissions across the OnePlus range.

These kinds of features aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they’re the sorts of things we’d like to see manufacturers embrace, as they really help to enhance the day to day user experience.

Plus, of course, getting hold of a OnePlus X is a pain. The process of obtaining and using an ‘invite’ is a faff that customers in the fast-moving phone market can do without, and if OnePlus doesn’t work out a better system soon it’s going to lose potential purchasers to competitors whose handsets can picked up, played with and taken home more or less on demand.

Verdict

OnePlus X

If you’re already a fan of the OnePlus brand, you’ll know how well the company has done in producing cheap handsets that boast high-end specs. Both flagship OnePlus products have impressed, and targeting users who are even more budget-conscious is a smart move.

It’s a shame, though, that OnePlus opted for an older processor in the Snapdragon 801, as it does cause some problems. Other issues, such as the lack of NFC, are annoying, though hardly troubling – but it’s hard to recommend the OnePlus X to those who want a phone capable of high-intensity tasks.

But the stand-out feature of the OnePlus X is that price point. Producing a phone of this quality, for this price, is quite an achievement by OnePlus.

The elephant in the room is getting your hands on one, and if you’ve managed to beg, steal or borrow an invite I’d recommend this phone. But if you’re still waiting for an invite, it could be that one of the rivals to the OnePlus X turns your head in the meantime.

First reviewed: November 2015

 

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