OnePlus X review: OnePlus proves specs aren’t everything

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8.4 Above Average

The OnePlus X is quite the package, especially for only $250. OnePlus proves that specs aren't everything, with a device that houses a two-year old Snapdragon 801 processor. On the OnePlus X, the subtleties matter the most with an upgraded display and superb build quality that lead the way.

  • Design 9.8
  • Display 9
  • Sound 8
  • Performance 8.5
  • Software 8
  • Camera 7.5
  • Battery 8
  • User Ratings (3 Votes) 9.5

Two years into their existence, OnePlus has already released three devices: the OnePlus One, OnePlus 2, and most recently, the OnePlus X. The former two devices were made to challenge the strangleholds phone manufacturers had on consumers. That stranglehold was paying over five, six, or even seven-hundred dollars for a smartphone. When OnePlus came along, they introduced a device that was half the cost, but still came with class-leading specifications.

The OnePlus One was one of the most well-received devices. Not only did it cost $350, but it came with the Snapdragon 801 processor, 3 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of on-board storage. The OnePlus 2, while costing $40 more at $390, was a decent upgrade: Snapdragon 810, 4 GB of RAM, and a more premium build. The only issue is that it didn’t include NFC. For a device with that high-end of specs, it was highly criticized for lacking near-field communication, especially with Android Pay coming in full-swing.

OnePlus X box

Now, the OnePlus X has something in common with the previous OnePlus devices. It sports the timeless Snapdragon 801 processor with 3 GB of RAM, just like the OnePlus One, but also lacks NFC like its big brother, the OnePlus 2. So what makes the OnePlus X so different? Let’s take a look.

Design

Here is a full-size gallery of all the device shots

OnePlus hasn’t always been known for their build quality, but after the OnePlus X I’m sure that will change. Build quality is something that OnePlus is continually building on and they have already hit their stride on the third try. The One was more of a showcase of what can be bought at the low price tag. It had the specs and a decent plastic build, but it was nothing special. The OnePlus 2 really built on that with a magnesium alloy frame, but still had a plastic back.

OnePlus X front device

Neither of those devices can touch the OnePlus X with either build or price. Not only does the X come in at the lowest price of any OnePlus phone to date at $250, it has the best build quality. The first leaks hinted at a premium build, but I never thought OnePlus would take it to this level.

The OnePlus X comes with a solid metal frame flanked by Gorilla Glass 3 on either side. What I really like about the metal frame is that it isn’t smooth much like other devices, it has ridges all around it. It really adds grip, even with a glass back. Coming from using an HTC One A9, I was already accustomed to the smaller display, but it is a smaller in every direction than the A9.

The device itself is very thin, and reminiscent of the iPhone 4/4s days, but better. The OnePlus X comes in at 140 x 69 x 6.9 mm, which is a very manageable package for a 5 inch display. For having all of that glass and metal, the X only weighs 138 grams. I am a fan of the flat sides because you can really get a firm grip on the device. It really helps out, especially with the ridges, keeping the device secure with a glass back.

The front of the X is pretty plain, which is honestly a good thing. I am not a fan of manufacturer or carrier branding on the front of devices; we know which phone we are using, I mean we bought it right? On the top of the device the in-call speaker is in the dead center, with the front-facing camera to the left and the proximity sensor and RGB notification light to the right. On the bottom of the 5 inch display are three capacitive buttons that do not light up. There is the standard circle in the middle for home and a dash on either side for the user’s choosing.

The back of the device follows the same minimal approach as the front, aside from the standard OnePlus logo in the center of the phone. At the top left of the back is the 13 megapixel rear-facing camera with a single LED flash below it. Like I stated earlier, the back is Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Obviously with the price tag you aren’t going to get Gorilla Glass 4, so it scratches fairly easy. In the time I’ve used it, it has picked up a decent amount of blemishes. I would definitely recommend a skin for this device, or a case.

On the sides of the OnePlus X, you’ll find the standard setup. The right side of the device houses both the nano dual-SIM and microSD slots in one, the volume rocker, and the power button in that order. I must say, I am very impressed with how premium they feel. They are very tight to the frame and are equally as clicky and tactile. It honestly might be the best buttons I have felt on a smartphone for a long time. On top of that, each button has a swirled texture which is very welcome. I had no issue separating the volume rocker from the power button. On the opposite side resides the alert slider. That is something I was a huge fan of on my OnePlus 2 review, and I’m glad to see it back.

OnePlus X top

The top of the X houses just a headphone jack and a microphone. That means no IR blaster, but that hasn’t come on any OnePlus device yet. The bottom of the device houses a symmetrical design with the microUSB port (not USB Type-C) flanked by speaker grills on either side. The left side is one that produces sound, but that has been normal on OnePlus devices.

If you haven’t caught my drift yet, I am honestly enamored with the build quality of this device. When I first picked it up out of the box, it totally caught me off-guard. Seeing the OnePlus X on the internet is one thing, but holding it in your hands is entirely different. OnePlus really hit the nail on the head when it comes to build quality, and with the way things are going, I don’t see them taking a step back in the future.

Display

The display on the OnePlus X is another area where the device was revamped. For the first time on a OnePlus device comes an AMOLED panel. That means on the 5 inch 1080p display you get amazing colors and very deep blacks. All of this comes in at a very, very respectable pixel density of 441.

OnePlus X display

I was also impressed with the quality of the display. I would assume that OnePlus used a Samsung panel, but I’m not sure, so correct me if I’m wrong. The brightness range on lower-end phones, especially ones less than $250 are usually slim-to-none, but the OnePlus X is pretty impressive. I have found that when turning adaptive brightness off, the AMOLED really shines. It can get very bright, similar to my Nexus 6P, and just as dim.

With the OnePlus X coming with an AMOLED panel for only $250, it really gives me hope for the OnePlus 3, if that’s what they’ll call it. They picked a great display for the X, not to say that the 2’s was bad, but AMOLED is just that much better.

Sound

One thing that all OnePlus devices have in common that all of their speakers are located on the bottom of the device. Like I stated earlier, even though there are speaker grills on both sides of the charging port, only one side produces sound. Even though it’s not a front-facing speaker, I’ll still take a downward facing speaker over rear-facing any day.

OnePlus X bottom and speaker

OnePlus has always had decent speaker sound, and the OnePlus X definitely continues with that trend.It may not be the loudest speaker, but at its full volume it still remains quite clear. One issue I have noticed on smartphones is that it gets very scratchy at full volume because the manufacturers push their speakers too hard, but that isn’t the case on the X. The sound isn’t anything punchy, but for coming on a $250 device I am pleased.

The  sound coming from the headphone jack is on par with most devices in 2015. OnePlus doesn’t try too hard to add their own features to sound-quality, which is something I appreciate. I am a person who will adjust the equalizer if I am not satisfied with the sound I’m hearing, so it is nice to see.

Performance

OnePlus definitely took a change of pace with the X. When the leaks first came out, it was rumored that the device would feature the two-year-old Snapdragon 801 processor. When I heard that, I definitely wasn’t opposed. Qualcomm has proved time and time again that the 801 is more than relevant, even in 2015. It can hold its clock speed for long, extended periods of time.

Normally, the Snapdragon 801 runs at a clock speed of 2.5 GHz, but OnePlus decided to dial it back to 2.3 GHz on the X to achieve better battery life. So far, I haven’t noticed any problems whatsoever. Backing up the under-clocked 801 processor is 3 GB of LPDDR3 RAM so it can multi-task well and perform the same.

OnePlus X AnTuTu Benchmark score

For not taking AnTuTu scores too seriously, I was very impressed the score the OnePlus X put up. To give a perspective, the HTC One A9 with a octa-core Snapdragon 617 processor and 3 GB of LPDRR4 RAM put up 40,519 compared to the X’s 40.746. I was really impressed and the real-world usage definitely backs that up. OnePlus definitely chose right when it came to picking a budget-friendly processor, it performs greater than expected.

Software

Back on my OnePlus 2 review, I noted the OxygenOS was a drawback on the device, especially coming from CyanogenMod on the OnePlus One. On the OnePlus X, I feel slightly different. Even though it is still the same software, my version is currently 2.1.2, I feel as if it fits the OnePlus X better. For me, it might be the price  tag that justifies it, but I’m not sure.

The one thing that I appreciate the most is that OxygenOS is very stable, aside from a few app-specific issues. The device never lags when transitioning or opening new apps, and runs better than the OnePlus One does in my opinion. Opening the app drawer, even in Dark Mode, never stutters. Sometimes on my OnePlus 2 it would lag a tiny bit in Dark Mode, but they must have worked out the kinks in the updated version of OxygenOS.

Referring to the in-app issues, the two apps I have had issues with are Facebook and Snapchat. As far as Facebook goes, the app will not load content and will usually crash after a few minutes of usage. With Snapchat, I’m running into the same issue I had on the OnePlus 2. When on-screen navigation is enabled, the buttons will not disappear in expanded desktop mode. Hopefully it gets updated soon, but until then I use the capacitive keys.

Another issue I had was using my microSD card. I know that OnePlus has an update on the way, but it is worth noting that my X wouldn’t recognize my card. I am patiently waiting for the update, but it has yet to come.

The Shelf homescreen is the same as seen in the past, which is OnePlus’s take on Google Now. I tend to use it more this time around, as you can customize it with widgets and frequently contacted people. It doesn’t touch Google Now integration, but it is a good start to the OnePlus-made OS.

I have used OnePlus’s OxygenOS since their first iteration, and while it lacks the killer features that other ROMs use, it is by far the most stable. They are continually making it better and I really hope to see features seen in the past on CyanogenMod make their way over to OxygenOS.

Camera

Before the release of the OnePlus 2, one of the most talked about things was the 13 megapixel shooter on the back of the device. With the OnePlus X, the camera didn’t receive anything close to that amount of attention, from OnePlus or the media. Now, the OnePlus X features a 13 megapixel camera, but it only has an ƒ/2.2 aperture whereas its big brother features an ƒ/2.0 aperture with optical image stabilization.

Obviously with a device coming in at $250, price is a factor so OnePlus had to cut some corners on the X, and that is in the camera department. Backing up the 13 megapixel camera in the rear is an 8 megapixel camera with an ƒ/2.4 aperture, which is appreciated.

When focusing on just a few objects the image quality is decent, but when faced with a more general focal point, the quality drops drastically. Like I stated earlier though, this is coming on a $250 phone, so you can’t really complain much. For the price you are paying, it is more than a decent camera. Obviously comparing it to high-end flagships is not fair, but it still holds its ground.

If you would like to see the full resolution of the images, you can do so at this link.

Battery

With budget phones, battery life is usually hit-or-miss. You could have massive battery, but if the software isn’t very good it won’t matter. With the OnePlus X, you get a 2,525 mAh battery that definitely gets the job done. Although battery is much smaller than the OnePlus One’s 3,100 mAh battery or the OnePlus 2’s 3,300 mAh battery, it still lasts decently long.

Like I stated earlier in the software section, OxygenOS is a well-rounded stable operating system so it definitely shows in the battery life, specifically standby time. I am pretty pleased with the size of battery OnePlus fit within the X, especially since it is only 6.9 mm thick. To compare it to the A9 I just reviewed, it has a 2,150 mAh battery in a casing that is 7.3 mm thick.

OnePlus X Battery stats

Since it was over the holiday week, I haven’t been using the phone as much, but the overall longevity is decent. In the one screenshot I gathered from a full charge, I had just over an hour of screen-on time, while being at 67% with almost 10 hours of up-time. 3-4 hours of screen-on time with WiFi enabled is definitely within the ballpark.

When I test a phones battery life, I always make sure to turn WiFi off, but for some reason on a few Android devices there is a bug where it always shows that it is on. That is the case on the X. I even made sure that WiFi scanning was disabled, restarted the device, and the misread stat still existed. Oh well. For a device with a sub-$250 price tag the battery life is more than reasonable.

Conclusion

We all knew that OnePlus was going to release a lower-end, smaller device in the latter portion of 2015, but I honestly did not expect this. Even though the device features a processor that is over two-years-old, OnePlus shows that specifications don’t mean everything. With proper software integration and an amazing build quality, a $250 phone doesn’t have to be cheap.

The battery life is above average and the camera is decent, but the highlight on the OnePlus X for me will always go back to the build quality. When I first picked it up I was amazed and still am days later. I find myself just picking the device up just to hold it.

If you can get your hands on an invite and are looking for a device that is more than specs at a budget price, the OnePlus X should definitely be your phone of choice. If you have a GSM carrier in the US that piggybacks off T-Mobile, you will not have a problem with connectivity. OnePlus shows once again that they are the kings of budget phones and that they are here to stay.

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About Author

I skateboard, listen to metal, write on my website Phone Probe, and love messing with new phones. Currently I'm using a Nexus 6P running Chroma with franco.Kernel as my daily driver running stock Android. Find me on Reddit at /u/kinnesotan

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