A barebones flagship that covers the basics the best

OnePlus 7 256GB Detailed Review

With the OnePlus 7 Pro becoming the company’s de facto flagship, 2019 OnePlus is a changed company with one foot on the premium side, while still dragging along the lines of a budget flagship. Not to forget its roots, OnePlus announced the regular OnePlus 7 alongside the Pro version with a marked downsizing. The company went from launching one flagship smartphone a year to a six-month refresh cycle, and now we have two OnePlus phones vying for your attention at the same time. It is no longer the case that one device gets all the attention. Instead, the focus was split between two: Everything’s that’s premium (90Hz display, triple cameras) will be present in the Pro variant, while everything that isn’t (a regular AMOLED display, dual cameras) will be reserved for the regular variant. Does this bode poorly for OnePlus fans? You still get the flagship Qualcomm processor along with more RAM and storage that you could potentially use, but here’s the thing. The successful model of OnePlus is now copied by almost everyone. In the second half of 2019, we’ll have more flagship phones south of Rs 50,000 than above it, and while that’s certainly a good thing for consumers, it’s something OnePlus would probably spend a lot of sleepless nights thinking about. So with the OnePlus 7 now coming into a crowded space, does it still hold the same promise as before? Let’s find out.

OnePlus 7 vs Competition

The OnePlus 7 will take on the Asus 6z, Oppo Reno 10X Zoom and the Black Shark 2. The upcoming Redmi K20 Pro will also bring stiff competition to the smartphone. All these devices are powered by the Snapdragon 855 processor and as such good flagship performance is more or less guaranteed. Where the OnePlus 7 excels is offering a good software experience. It’s better than most budget flagships out there. OxygenOS 9 is regularly updated, offers smooth, lag-free performance and a minimalist design. However, the OnePlus 7’s camera may not be to everyone’s taste. The Oppo Reno 10X Zoom’s camera, in my opinion, offers more powerful, more vibrant colors and the flexibility to go up to 10X zoom and 120-degree wide-angle. The Asus 6z is also unique in its own way. The flip camera on the phone doubles as a rear and front camera, with the same 48MP camera on both sides. The OnePlus 7 therefore stands out, because it covers the basics very well and offers just a little more in terms of uniqueness.

Performance and battery

Let’s start with the most important aspect first. The OnePlus 7’s performance is quite impeccable, while the battery life is enough to get you through the day. The Snapdragon 855 in the phone is paired with up to 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage. There is no question that the phone will slow down quickly. The components OnePlus has used in this are the same as the Pro variant, apart from the lack of a 12GB RAM variant. As a result, the phone’s performance is one of the best on an Android device. Credit should also be given to OxygenOS which is based on Android 9 Pie and brings interesting optimizations on board that ultimately result in faster app launches, unlock and boot and the like. That said, if you’re coming off the OnePlus 6 or the OnePlus 6T, you probably won’t notice a significant speed increase.

Benchmark analysis reveals that the OnePlus 7 is just as fast as its sibling and in some cases even ahead compared to other Snapdragon 855 phones. You can see the projected scores in the graphs below to get a better idea from where the OnePlus 7 stands. For a more detailed analysis, check out our performance comparison between the Asus 6z, Oppo Reno 10X Zoom and the OnePlus 7.

Part of OnePlus 7’s blazing speed is also due to the software the phone uses. It’s a modified version of Android 9 that’s very close to the stock Android interface in terms of aesthetics, and there are deep-rooted optimizations that make the phone run super smooth. Moreover, there are now a handful of India-focused features such as parking location, live cricket scores and a special game mode that frees up resources, puts calls and notifications on hold and the like. Then there’s the Zen mode which I found particularly useful. When the mode is on, you won’t be able to do anything on your phone for 20 minutes. The goal is to help users get rid of smartphone addiction, and while that was virtually impossible in my case, the mode allowed me to focus much better on my work.

The 3,700 mAh battery on the OnePlus 7 is the same as its predecessor. But while the capacity is the same, there is a slight increase in screen-on time, thanks to the 7nm efficiency that the Snapdragon 855 brings to the table. Geekbench Battery Test took about 10 hours and 15 minutes to drain the battery, while 15 minutes of PUBG Mobile drained the battery by about 5 percent. On the other hand, 30 minutes of Netflix (with HDR on) drained the battery by 7 percent and an hour of navigation dropped the charge by 8 percent. These are decent numbers and in line with most other Snapdragon 855-powered phones, so efficiency is more or less comparable to other budget flagships out there on the market.

Camera

The camera is the second most important part of a smartphone. It immediately becomes clear that the OnePlus 7 Pro was what the company was more focused on, while the OnePlus 7 camera comes as an afterthought. The 7 Pro’s triple camera offers flexibility with an ultra-wide angle lens, a 3X telephoto lens and a 48MP primary sensor. For the OnePlus 7, only the 48MP sensor was taken down and paired with a 5MP depth sensor. By default, you are limited to taking regular wide-angle photos or portraits with blurred backgrounds. There is 2X zoom, but it is Gadgetlinkally acquired and does not offer the same quality as optical zoom.

As for the images themselves, they carry the typical OnePlus look. Neutral colours, excellent HDR performance and now extra sharpness thanks to the pixel binning that the camera performs by default every time it takes a picture. As such, the OnePlus 7 camera is fairly reliable at capturing landscape shots, but struggles to take close-up shots. The AF system in the 48MP sensor struggles to lock focus, even after tapping the area you want to focus on. For example, in the photo below, you can see that the branch is sharp while the flower is blurry, despite both being roughly the same distance.

There’s OIS in the camera which helps in getting a stable shot when zoomed in, but it especially helps when shooting videos where the OnePlus 7 does a good job and focusing is much more reliable. This could just be a bug in the camera software and if flagged it can be fixed via an OTA update.

Then there is the portrait mode. The feature has usually worked well on previous OnePlus phones, at least when there’s enough light, and on the OnePlus 7, it works well in objects near the camera. Objects slightly further away have inconsistent subject separation, which is ironic given that the only use of the secondary 5MP depth sensor is to get a better depth of field.

There’s also the nightscape mode which works quite well, but not without its own flaws. First, it takes a long time to get the shot regardless of the amount of light available. For example, we observed that Huawei phones take less time to capture multi-frame night mode images when there is at least some level of illumination. In the case of the OnePlus 7, the number of shots, and therefore the recording time, is a constant. Fortunately, there are algorithms that control the amount of exposure the shot needs. Shots are also sharper when shooting in night mode (provided the subject is still for the time it takes to shoot), but don’t expect too much. If you zoom in on a night scene, the details are artificially rendered and updated with a lot of noise reduction.

As such, the OnePlus 7’s rear camera stack is reliable, but not exciting. Around the price of the OnePlus 7 you have phones equipped with a wide-angle camera, and if you pay a little extra you get all three lenses, including a telephoto lens with 10X hybrid zoom.

Design and display

Although the OnePlus 7 is made of glass, it feels quite solid. There’s Gorilla Glass 5 on the back and Gorilla Glass 6 on the front, which offers at least some degree of protection. There is a screen protector built into the screen which is easily scratched and the mirror red finish we received for review looks pretty good. Unlike the OnePlus 7 Pro which offers a new design, the OnePlus 7 is quite identical to the OnePlus 6T: a waterdrop notch, thin bezels, a curved back panel and a sturdy aluminum frame. What has changed is the giant bump around the camera module that causes the phone to wobble when placed on a flat surface. Otherwise, the quality of the buttons and the tactile response is quite solid and gives a feeling of longevity.

The OnePlus 7 doesn’t have an advertised IP rating, but OnePlus has made sure that there is some degree of water resistance, but water damage is not covered by the warranty. What’s missing is the 3.5mm headphone jack, but the dual stereo speakers have also made their way to the OnePlus 7, along with support for Dolby Atmos. There’s also an in-display fingerprint sensor which is visibly faster than the OnePlus 6T, as well as quite accurate. However, face unlock still works faster and I barely got a chance to use the in-display fingerprint sensor on the phone.

The OnePlus 7’s display will be a major compromise when you get your hands on the OnePlus 7 Pro. First, this is a smaller 6.41-inch AMOLED panel interrupted by the water-drop notch in the center. It’s FHD+ instead of QHD+ on the Pro and the screen refresh rate is 60Hz instead of 90Hz. Not that all that makes the OnePlus 7 look bad or anything, but once you’ve used the screen on the Pro, there’s no going back to normal. That said, the OnePlus 7’s display is bright and vibrant. It has an HDR rating and also supports Netflix HDR.

bottom line

The OnePlus 7 is the budget flagship OnePlus was known for before they got into the segment they wanted to kill. The good thing about it is that while the OnePlus 7 Pro crosses the Rs 50,000 mark, the OnePlus 7 starts at a lower price point than the OnePlus 6T. For a lower price, you not only get the same raw performance as the OnePlus 7 Pro, but also an HDR display and a sturdy build. One of my colleagues even told me that he found the OnePlus 7 more convenient than the OnePlus 7 Pro because of the form factor it retains from its predecessor. The OnePlus 7 Pro, on the other hand, is heavier and the curved screen often results in accidental touches. If OnePlus is your favorite brand and spending over Rs 50,000 is out of the question, the OnePlus 7 is the phone to get.

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