OnePlus 7 Review: The Practical, Reliable, but Unexciting Choice for a 2019 Value Flagship

OnePlus 7 Review: The Practical, Reliable, but Unexciting Choice for a 2019 Value Flagship

In 2019, OnePlus has increased its ambitions in an unprecedented manner. The company’s affordable flagships were always meant to deliver the best of OnePlus hardware and software at a set price. In previous years, this price used to be substantially lower than the average price of the “traditional” top-tier flagship. While the prices of OnePlus phones have steadily crept upward, the release of the OnePlus 7 Pro in May upended this thinking. It’s the first true top-tier flagship from OnePlus that features premium components, and it comes with a significant price increase from the OnePlus 6T. OnePlus is clearly proud of the OnePlus 7 Pro, and as expected, it occupies center stage in its marketing. Where does this leave the regular OnePlus 7, then?

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OnePlus has opted to bifurcate its device portfolio on a regional basis. In the US, OnePlus doesn’t sell the OnePlus 7 and instead continues to rely on the generation-old OnePlus 6T as a cheaper alternative to the OnePlus 7 Pro. In India, China, and Europe, the OnePlus 6T is on its way out, and it has effectively been succeeded by the OnePlus 7. We will get into pricing differences at the end of this review, but suffice it to say that price is the biggest factor of the regular OnePlus 7. In China and India, OnePlus’ top two markets, the non-Pro is intended to fulfill the role of the “affordable flagship” at a time when the OnePlus 7 Pro tries to compete with the big leagues.

The affordable flagship market is more competitive than ever, though. In the face of strong competition from the likes of the ASUS ZenFone 6 (ASUS 6Z in India), the Xiaomi Mi 9, the Honor 20, and the upcoming Redmi K20 Pro, can the OnePlus 7 stand out? OnePlus enjoys a dominant market position in this particular segment, but can the OnePlus 7 help to prolong this success? Will it continue to be the recommended choice, or has the calculus of buyers changed? Let’s explore the answers to these questions in our review.

OnePlus 7 Specifications - Click to expand

Category Specification Category Specification
Dimensions & Weight 157.7 × 74.8 × 8.2 mm, 182 g RAM 6GB/8GB LPDDR4X
Design & Colors All-Glass (Corning Gorilla Glass 5)

Mirror Gray/Red/Mirror Blue

Storage 128GB/256GB UFS 3.0 Dual-Lane
Display 6.41-inch 2340×1080 (19.5:9) 60 Hz Optic AMOLED display. Supports sRGB and DCI-P3. Battery 3,700 mAh (non-removable)
Camera (Image) Front: Sony IMX471 (16MP, f/2.0, 1.0μm) with EIS.

Rear (Primary): Sony IMX586 (48MP, f/1.7, 1.6μm) with OIS and EIS.

Rear (Telephoto): 5MP, f/2.4, 1.12μm.

Dual LED Flash

PDAF

Charging OnePlus Quick Charge (5V 4A)
Camera (Video) Front: [email protected], time-lapse

Rear: [email protected]/60, [email protected]/60

Rear (slow motion): [email protected][email protected]

Ports USB 3.1 Type-C

Dual nano-SIM slot

Software Android 9 Pie-based OxygenOS Audio Dual stereo speakers. Audio tuned by Dolby Atmos.
System-on-chip Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU (1x 2.84GHz Kryo 485 + 3x 2.42GHz Kryo 485 + 4x 1.8GHz Kryo 385) with Adreno 640 GPU Multimedia Codec Support Audio Playback: MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, WAV, FLAC, APE, OGG, MID, M4A, IMY, AC3, EAC3, EAC3-JOC, AC4

Audio Recording: WAV, AAC, AMR

Video Playback: MKV, MOV, MP4, H.265(HEVC), AVI, WMV, TS, 3GP, FLV, WEBM

Video Recording: MP4

Image Viewing: JPEG, PNG, BMP, GIF

Image Output: JPEG, PNG

OnePlus 7 Pro connectivity and LTE band information

Category Specification
Connectivity Wi-Fi: 2×2 MIMO, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz/5GHz

Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5.0, with Qualcomm aptX, aptX HD support, LDAC and AAC

NFC: Yes

Positioning: GPS(L1+L5 dual-band), GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo(E1+E5a dual-band), SBAS, A-GPS

LTE Features Supports 5xCA & 4x4MIMO.

Supports up to DL CAT16 (1Gbps)/UL CAT13 (150Mbps) depending on carrier.

LTE Bands – CN/IN/EN

FDD LTE: B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/18/19/20/26/28/29/32

TDD-LTE: B34/38/39/40/41

TDS: B34/39

UMTS: B1/2/4/5/8/9/19

CDMA: BC0/BC1

GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz

About this review: OnePlus India sent me a review unit of the Indian 8GB RAM/256GB storage variant of the OnePlus 7 (GM1901). OnePlus is a sponsor of XDA, but this article was produced independent of the sponsorship. All opinions in this article are my own.

OnePlus 7 Forums


OnePlus 7 Design

It would be a disservice to the OnePlus 7 to dismiss its design as a rehashed version of the OnePlus 6T. And yet, that statement has a certain degree of truth to it.

On its own, the OnePlus 7’s design looks the same as the OnePlus 6T. The OnePlus 7 Pro has a new design with smaller bezels, a pop-up front camera, and a curved display. These are three big points of differentiation versus the OnePlus 6T’s design. With the OnePlus 7, however, OnePlus opted to play it safe. This can be thought of in a positive manner, as the OnePlus 6T’s design is still one of the better designs even in 2019. However, this stagnancy in design also comes with a negative aspect, as it allows competitors like Xiaomi, ASUS, and OPPO to leapfrog OnePlus by shipping full-screen displays at the same price point with no notches thanks to innovative solutions such as a flip camera, for instance.

In terms of build quality, there’s not much to say about the OnePlus 7. It features Corning’s Gorilla Glass 6 on the front and Gorilla Glass 5 on the back, while a glossy metal frame is sandwiched in between. The fit and finish of the construction here continues to be good, although the camera bump features noticeably sharper edges than the OnePlus 6T’s camera bump. Glass is here to stay now as the build material of choice, and OnePlus’ build quality has matured to the point where it’s nearly indistinguishable from flagships costing two times more.

The OnePlus 7 does feature minute but significant design changes from the OnePlus 6T. The first can be seen on the front. The earpiece is now significantly wider than the OnePlus 6T, just like its more expensive brother, the OnePlus 7 Pro. This marginally improves the experience of phone calls, but the difference in functionality is that it now does double duty as a secondary speaker to deliver stereo sound. I will have more to say on the audio quality from the speaker in the audio section.

There are no pop-up cameras, flip/rotating cameras, or any display punch holes to be seen here. Instead, the phone continues to go with a waterdrop notch, just like the OnePlus 6T. The design of OnePlus’ waterdrop notch is subjectively more pleasing to me than the U-shaped notch used by Xiaomi and Huawei, for example. The top bezel is fairly thin, and so are the side bezels. OnePlus continues to gain plaudits here by having a thin chin. In comparison, the ASUS ZenFone 6 has a bigger chin, for example. The fingerprint sensor is hidden beneath the display, and I’ll comment on its speed and accuracy in the performance section. Unfortunately, there is no notification LED here, something which OnePlus removed starting with the OnePlus 6T. The ambient display does a fair job, but it’s not a complete replacement.

The top of the phone features the secondary microphone. Moving to the right-hand side, we find the alert slider and the power button. Compared to the OnePlus 6T, the alert slider is significantly easier to operate on my OnePlus 7 unit, and it can be operated with a single hand. The OnePlus 7 Pro features a slight advantage here in terms of usability, but the OnePlus 6T’s slider was positively difficult to use in comparison. The alert slider works as well as ever in terms of functionality, and it’s still astonishing to me that no other Android vendor has opted to copy such a great feature. The alert slider on OnePlus phones means that silencing the phone is not only easy, but it’s also fun to do as well.

The SIM tray and the volume buttons are located on the left-hand side. The SIM tray contains dual nano-SIM slots, and as expected for OnePlus phones, there is no microSD card slot. In order to mitigate this issue, the phone’s base variant comes with 128GB of storage. The build quality of the power and volume buttons is great, as they require just the right amount of force to press. The phone doesn’t have an IP rating, but the SIM tray is sealed against water and dust. In terms of water resistance, OnePlus says that the phone will probably survive an accidental splash, but it’s best to not take any chances as water damage isn’t covered in the warranty.

The phone features two speaker grilles that sandwich the USB Type-C port on the bottom, as the left speaker grille contains the primary microphone. Carrying forward from the OnePlus 6T, the OnePlus 7 doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack, and I’ll have more to say on the ramifications of this in the audio section.

The 48MP and 5MP rear cameras are placed on the center of the back alongside the LED flash in a camera module. This is a point of design differentiation from the OnePlus 6T, where the LED flash was placed below the camera module. The camera bump here is also thick. It’s much thicker than the camera bumps of the OnePlus 6T and the OnePlus 7 Pro, but this is expected as the phone itself is quite a bit thinner than the OnePlus 7 Pro while featuring the same primary 48MP Sony IMX586 image sensor, which has a 1/2″ sensor size.

OnePlus 7 Mirror Black

The texture of the back depends on the color options. At launch, OnePlus made the phone available in Mirror Gray and Red colors. Both colors have a glossy finish on the back glass, instead of going with soft touch glass as seen in the OnePlus 6T’s Midnight Black variant. The Mirror Gray variant is available in all storage variants, while the Red variant is only available in 8GB/256GB. The Red variant is also available only in India and China. In India, OnePlus has now announced a new Mirror Blue color (available only in 6GB/128GB), which looks pretty similar to the OnePlus 7 Pro’s Nebula Blue color, except that it trades out the muted and matte finish on OnePlus 7 Pro for a much more glossy look.

I have the Red variant for review, and it stands out very much. The color is different from the OnePlus 6’s red finish last year. The red color is applied to the sides and the back, while the all-black front stays as it is. The color will certainly divide opinions. I don’t happen to like red phones, but I can see it becoming popular among a certain segment of the market. It’s hard to describe how deep red the color is. It’s a few notches lighter than a maroon shade, and it’s glossy and reflective. It catches light in a manner that draws attention, which means that it’s fair to say that it is flashy in a way that leaves even Huawei’s latest phones behind, just because of the color. For some users, this will be what they want. For the rest of us, the Mirror Grey variant or the new Mirror Blue finish will suffice.

The OnePlus 7 has gently curved sides, which makes the phone fit well in the hand. This is a lot more important for ergonomics than it sounds as phones with flat sides feel much thicker and more uncomfortable in the hand, even if their volume is lesser. It’s also noticeably thinner and lighter than the OnePlus 6T while having the same battery capacity. Compared to the OnePlus 7 Pro, the OnePlus 7 is a completely different phone on the basis of size and volume. It’s shorter, narrower, thinner, and significantly lighter. The two phones are in different price brackets, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Users happy with the size and feel of the OnePlus 6 and the OnePlus 6T will feel right at home with the OnePlus 7, which is a good thing.

Ultimately, the OnePlus 7’s design is a safe choice. The way things are speeding forward in terms of smartphone design, it’s natural to expect a new design from the phone’s successor, but a refreshed version of the OnePlus 6T’s hardware is still borderline acceptable in July 2019, even in the context of pop-up cameras making their way to lower price points.

The OnePlus 7’s box is a noticeably spartan package. We get a 20W OnePlus quick charger (formerly known as Dash Charger) and USB Type-C to USB Type-A cable, which is the same we have been seeing since the OnePlus 3 days. (The phone doesn’t feature support for the Warp Charge 30W protocol, which was introduced in the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition before making its way to the OnePlus 7 Pro.) A black transparent case is included, but that’s it.

OnePlus is known for not bundling earphones, but the box doesn’t even have a 3.5mm to USB Type-C adapter for users having 3.5mm audio equipment. This leads to the reality where users who don’t have USB Type-C earphones or Bluetooth earphones/headphones have no way to listen to wired or wireless audio from the OnePlus 7 without buying accessories. OnePlus still sells the adapter separately, but in my opinion, this is the very definition of an anti-consumer move. Sadly, more and more companies are traveling this same road.


OnePlus 7 Display

The OnePlus 7 has a 6.41-inch Full HD+ (2340×1080) AMOLED display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and 409 pixels per inch (PPI). The display’s dimensions are 147 mm x 68 mm. The tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio means that the display isn’t actually as unwieldy as the numbers make it seem. The display’s width, thanks to the taller aspect ratio, is no wider than a traditional 5.5-inch 16:9 display. The added length does become enormously useful, and this is probably the optimal screen aspect ratio for one-handed usability. Going to an even taller aspect ratio (such as 21:9, as seen on the Sony Xperia 1 or Motorola One Vision) has to be questioned at this point as screen width plays an important part of not making the display feel cramped. A plastic screen protector is pre-applied on the OnePlus 7’s display, and it can be easily removed.

The OnePlus 7’s display is an understated upgrade from the OnePlus 6T’s display, which was already one of the better displays at its price point. The display doesn’t support either of the HDR standards in the form of HDR10, HDR10+, or Dolby Vision, unlike the OnePlus 7 Pro, which supports HDR10+. It is also a flat display instead of being a curved display, but this is actually a plus as a flat display is less affected by glare, distortion, and accidental touches. Thankfully, curved displays have yet to arrive at this price point.

The OnePlus 7’s Full HD+ resolution at a 6.41-inch display size diagonal may raise a few eyebrows. However, it’s not all that it seems. Undeniably, the display is less sharp than the QHD+ display of the OnePlus 7 Pro, as well as other QHD+ displays such as the Google Pixel 3 XL and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. All these phones are more expensive than the OnePlus 7, though, and to its credit, this is an excellent 1080p display. OnePlus’ text rendering continues to be excellent, and subpixel anti-aliasing has advanced to the point that the PenTile matrix is hardly visible at such sizes. Effective color resolution may be lower than an LCD having the same resolution, but this no longer makes a difference in the real world.

The OnePlus 7’s display continues its good performance in the brightness section. Its display can go to an approximate maximum brightness of 450+ nits at high APLs using manual brightness. The maximum brightness of the display is higher than the OnePlus 6T’s display. High Brightness Mode is accessible in a stock state this time around, and the display can reach 550+ nits in sunlight thanks to it, just like the OnePlus 7 Pro. The sunlight legibility is great, helped by OLED’s high contrast.

The contrast of the display remains a plus point because of OLED’s inherent characteristics. LCDs in phones like the ZenFone 6 will be noticeably inferior here, as the affordable flagship market slowly moves towards all-OLED. The viewing angles of the Samsung-sourced panel are the same as the OnePlus 6T’s display. This is a bit disappointing to see as the rainbow out effect at extreme angles is still present. The OnePlus 7 Pro features a higher quality display with negligible contrast deterioration and color shift even at extreme angles, while the OnePlus 7 doesn’t move the goalposts forward in this respect. Being an OLED display means that brightness and contrast degradation are significantly lesser than even the best LCDs, so it’s a matter of different strengths and weaknesses.

The color accuracy of the display is where things get interesting. The OnePlus 7’s display supports automatic color management in the Natural display mode. Users are asked to choose the display gamut right at first boot, and the available options are the Natural and Vivid presets, as well as the Advanced mode. In terms of color options, the OnePlus 7 is a nice step forward as OnePlus shows a meaningful understanding of color accuracy that seems to evade some other device makers.

The Vivid display mode targets the DCI-P3 gamut, and it supports color management in an incorrect manner, which means colors are stretched out. It can be used for enjoying oversaturated, boosted colors. The Natural mode, on the other hand, does support color management, although color management in Android is still at a nascent stage. This means that it’s calibrated to both the sRGB and DCI-P3 gamuts, but the white point is warmer than it should be. The Natural mode is a reference mode for color accuracy, and it’s hard to find any complaints apart from the warm white point (which is closer to 6100K than 6504K). Grayscale, saturation, and gamut coverage are all good.

The Advanced mode provides options for sRGB, DCI-P3, and “AMOLED Wide Gamut” (which is the native gamut coverage of the panel, and which is, therefore, a lot wider than sRGB). The default white point in this mode is extremely cold, although OnePlus does provide a color temperature slider. Most users will be better off sticking to the Natural mode for an optimal viewing experience.

The next display aspect is the display refresh rate. 90Hz displays are arriving in Android phones. The Razer Phones first showed off high refresh rates, but it is only now that the technology is taking off on smartphones. The OnePlus 7 Pro’s QHD+ AMOLED display is a phenomenal display, and a large factor in making it phenomenal is the 90Hz refresh rate. 90Hz is perceivable during scrolling, and it significantly improves the fluidity of the phone. To a lesser extent, it also improves the gaming experience in games that support 90Hz. The Nubia Red Magic 3 has a 90Hz Full HD+ AMOLED display for nearly the same price as the standard OnePlus 7, which gives it an advantage. The OnePlus 7’s 60Hz display is still fine for now as the displays of most competitors also have the same refresh rate, but OnePlus is highly advised to include a 90Hz panel in the phone’s successor. It can’t be overstated: the 90Hz refresh rate transforms a phone’s user experience.

The OnePlus 7’s display has support for DC dimming, which is an alternative of PWM. DC dimming has yet to become a full-fledged replacement for PWM, as it has its strengths and weaknesses. However, we have been seeing quite a few vendors add support for it as an option. The display also has support for night mode and OnePlus’ reading mode, which turns the display grayscale to mimic the experience of an e-reader.

The waterdrop notch of the OnePlus 7 provides a good experience in terms of usability. A hole punch display provides pretty much the same experience, depending on the execution. However, a notchless display is even better. With pop-up cameras arriving in affordable flagships as seen on the Redmi K20 Pro, this is a bit of a sore point for the OnePlus 7. A safe choice? Absolutely. Could OnePlus have done better? Yes. In what has become a recurring theme in this review, the waterdrop notch is still acceptable but true full-screen displays are slowly starting to become more popular.

Overall, the OnePlus 7’s display quality is competitive for its price point. Both the OPPO Reno