OnePlus X Review: Beauty, But Not the Beast

OnePlus X Review: Beauty, But Not the Beast

The OnePlus X is the third smartphone from OnePlus, a company that made waves with it’s first One. Featuring a classy glass and metal build, along with roughly the same internals as the OnePlus One, the device is aimed at the people who would prefer smaller and manageable phones with an exciting feature set nonetheless.

Will the X be the device that cements OnePlus’s position in the mid market? Follow along the review as we take a look at the device from all angles.

Firstly, here’s a quick look at the spec sheet of the OnePlus X:

Dimensions 140 mm x 69 mm x 6.9 mm Screen Size 5″
Weight 138 g Screen Type & Resolution AMOLED, 1080 x 1920, 441 ppi
Primary Camera 13 MP, f/2.2 Secondary Camera 8 MP, f/2.4
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU & GPU 2.3 GHz Krait 400, x4;Adreno 330
Storage 16GB Internal; expandable upto 128GB RAM 3GB
Battery 2,525 mAh NFC No, again
Android Version Android 5.1 Lollipop SIM Dual, Nano SIM
XDA VIDEO OF THE DAY

Band variations:

China E1001: GSM: 850/900/1800/1900
WCDMA: Bands 1/2/5/8
TD-SCDMA: Bands 34/39
FDD-LTE: Bands 1/3/7
TD-LTE: Bands 38/39/40/41
Asia/Europe E1003: GSM: 850/900/1800/1900
WCDMA: Bands 1/2/5/8
FDD-LTE: Bands 1/3/5/7/8/20
TDD-LTE: Bands 38/40
North America E1005: GSM: 850/900/1800/1900
WCDMA: Bands 1/2/4/5/8
FDD-LTE: Bands 1/2/4/5/7/8

Contents:

Design, Build Quality

The OnePlus X features one of the most premium builds amongst devices that can be purchased in the market right now – especially, and really stressing on this point – at the price range it currently retails at. For $249 in the USA, €269 in Europe and ₹16,999 in India, you’d be hard-pressed to find another decent Glass and Metal device. Our review unit is the regular Onyx variant, but there is also a limited-production Ceramic variant which has the back made of zirconia ceramic. There is not too much of a difference between the two, as Mathew found out during his hands-on.

Our review unit was provided to us by 28mobile.com. It came with an exterior packaging reminiscent of the OnePlus One unboxing experience, but with 28mobile’s branding colors. Inside was the OnePlus X box, sealed and with its plastic packaging intact.

The OnePlus X is a small device in an era where 5.5″ is the new normal. With a screen size of 5″, the device is just 140mm in length, 69mm wide and 6.9mm thin, making it one of the more comfortable phones to hold in-hand. The front and back of the phone is made out of 2.5D curved Gorilla Glass 3. The curved glass gives an impression of the device being thinner than what it actually is, as it blends in seamlessly with the frame. The mid-frame of the X is made of metal and has grooves etched all along the sides. Aside from the aesthetic value it adds, the etched mid frame improves the grip ability when compared to a smooth finish (on the Elephone P8000, for example).

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The Onyx/Glass variant of the OnePlus X is a beautiful device, and everyone around you would likely agree. The low weight of the phone (138 grams), the small footprint and the choice of build materials; all of it works together to give out a premium aura to the device. It feels light, it feels thin, it feels smooth and it feels rich. And that really works in the favor of the X, as this premium feeling is one of the major ‘unique selling points’ of this affordable phone.

On the front of the device, you will find the 5″ display, flanked by thin bezels on the side. On the bottom of the display are three capacitive buttons which you will barely notice as they do not have any back lighting. Centered on top of the display is the earpiece, with the front camera on the left and the sensors on the right. There’s also a notification LED near the right edge of the device.

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The capacitive buttons are barely visible as they have no backlighting

The capacitive buttons are barely visible as they have no backlighting

The camera is very slightly recessed inside the main body

The camera is very slightly recessed inside the main body

On the back of the device, you will find the camera towards the left edge, sitting a hair’s breadth inside the main frame of the device. A single LED flash accompanies it, sitting flush with the rest of the body. The most prominent aspect of the back is the silver, shiny OnePlus logo, which reflects back light giving your phone the bling in lighted environments. On the very bottom are very faint markings for FCC certification as well as the device model. Both the markings and the OnePlus logo are below the glass, so they will not gradually fade away with repeated use and touch.

The right side of the device has the power button around the middle, and the volume rocker positioned above it. This is also where you will find the slot for SIM cards and microSD, as the phone bears a configuration that we are seeing more and more devices follow: that of either dual SIM, or one SIM and one microsd. The positioning of the power button would have been perfect, had this been a larger device.

In its current form factor, your thumb will come to rest on the volume up key, meaning that you will have to bend your thumb to reach and press the power button. This is an action that is not very comfortable to undertake on a repetitive basis, which makes us wish for a repositioning.

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On the left of the phone, you will find the differently-patterned Alert Slider, as seen on the OnePlus 2. The bottom position of the slider sets it on all alerts/general mode, middle position sets it on Priority Interruptions Only, while the topmost position sets the phone on silent mode. This behaviour is non-customizable, sadly.

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Top of the device bears the headphone jack on the left, a secondary microphone and a plastic antenna strip.

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The bottom of the OnePlus X has holes drilled in symmetrically on either side of the micro USB slot, but only the left serves as the speaker, while the right side packs in the primary microphone.

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Included in the standard box of the OnePlus X was a Quick Start Guide, a User Guide, a Power Adapter, OnePlus’s flat style USB cable, pin for SIM tray removal and a clear silicon case which is more practical than it is beautiful.

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Thankfully, not my phone

Thankfully, not my phone

The OnePlus X reminds us of the Nexus 4, or the iPhone 4 if you are from the other side of the river. Although the glass back just feels so good to touch, the practicality of it is very limited outside of the aesthetic value. The phone is a nightmare to photograph — smudges and fingerprints constantly grace either of its main sides, giving it a very “dirty” appearance. The phone also tends to slide at the slightest of movements. The smooth, curved glass offers very little friction on flat surfaces, meaning that there’s a very good chance your phone will slide right off any surface with the slightest of inclines. You do have to be careful with the device and use a good case, lest you wish to end up like this:

The OnePlus X marks a shift in the choice of the build material that OnePlus became uniquely known for — the Sandstone textured back. If OnePlus had to choose a texture radically different from the Sandstone feel, it would be Glass. And that is exactly what they did.

As far as feel-in-hand is concerned, the OnePlus X seems entirely disassociated from the OnePlus One. The X is light, flat, small and slippery; while the One is comfortably thick, big and sturdy. The use of glass acts like a dual-edged blade for the phone. On one hand, the OnePlus X feels really premium to anyone who holds it; on the other, you simply do not get the confidence of using the phone or giving it to someone else without a good case, which kind of defeats the premium feel that OnePlus spent so much effort into.

After having used both the phones for a considerable amount of time, the decision to make such a U-turn on a lot of fronts, including the size, feels justified. The design language that OnePlus opted for the X works well in conjunction with the screen size and the overall footprint of the device. Had the device been 5.5″ or more, the phone would have been very difficult to handle. With a 5″ display and the evenly distributed weight, the phone gets a comfortable grip in the hand. And since the phone bears roughly the same internals as the OnePlus One, going for the same design would give you nothing but a OnePlus One Mini. Mixing things up a bit has given the company a new product to add in their portfolio, a product that does indeed have its own identity.

Software UI & Features

Screenshot_2016-02-09-15-29-52The OnePlus X comes with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with OnePlus’s own OxygenOS skin on top. OnePlus has promised an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow for the device, but as is the case with OEM skins, the update will come when Marshmallow will be more than a few months old.

OxygenOS should feel right at home to whoever has used AOSP in the past. The skin is very close to stock Android, with a few useful additions on top of it, most of which are genuinely useful and non-gimmicky. OxygenOS started off as a replacement for CyanogenOS for OnePlus devices sold outside of China, and is shaping to up be a good contender for a ROM for the average user. The OnePlus X ships with OxygenOS v2.1 out of the box, but a few OTA updates have bumped up the current version to v2.2.0.

Note: My device had to be rooted and had to have Xposed installed for it to fit perfectly into my own use scenario (YouTube Background Playback, App Settings, Titanium Backup). Care was taken to not touch anything outside of these parameters. As such, the review should be representative of an otherwise stock experience with stock settings.

The X starts off with the standard Android 5.1 Lollipop setup wizard, and then proceeds to guide the user through OxygenOS additions such as enabling software buttons instead of the hardware keys, utilizing the “Shelf” homescreen feature and enabling screen off gestures.Screenshot_2016-02-09-01-51-06

Launcher & UI

The default Launcher on the OnePlus X is not feature-backed, opting for a bare-bones approach. It offers a limited set of choice in the grid size in the App Drawer and supports icon packs as well. You also get some built-in gestures, as swiping down on the homescreen pulls down the notification shade, and swiping down from the right-end on the statusbar directly pulls down the Quick Settings toggles. These gestures are not explicitly mentioned, nor are they customizable, meaning you are stuck with quick pulldown. But other than these and the Shelf Widget, there is nothing more to the Launcher.

There was one bug with the Launcher which took me far too long to narrow down and replicate than I’d care to admit: disabling the Google Search bar on the stock Launcher will leave the launcher unusable. The launcher will keep on closing as soon as you as open the app drawer. The cause of it does not become immediately apparent, as I presumed it to be because of me somehow messing it up while installing Xposed/App Ops. Accessing the settings for the Launcher could also have been simpler, as the settings icon only appears on a long press on homescreen, and is indistinguishable as an icon to the actual phone settings that a normal user would expect to see.

Here is a quick demo of the Launcher bug, along with the broken Shelf mentioned below:

Google Now Widget on Shelf -- Broken, does not populate on OxygenOS v2.2.0

Google Now Widget on Shelf — Broken, does not populate on OxygenOS v2.2.0

When it comes to Shelf, it is nothing but a glorified Widget page on your homescreen, accessible from swiping left from the Launcher. You will find your frequent contacts and ten of your frequently launched apps over here, offering an easy to way to access your daily app routine. You can also add other widgets to Shelf, like I did with Google Now. But as of OxygenOS v2.2.0, Shelf is broken as it does not update any external widgets. This was not the case in previous OxygenOS versions, so the feature should be fixed again in future updates. But for my usage period, Shelf was nothing more than a gimmick.

UI Additions

Outside of the Launcher, the OxygenOS experience has been quite bug-free. The other features integrated into the OS are non-gimmicky and work as intended, and there’s plenty of tiny hidden functionality all over the Settings.

  • Customize Quick Settings Toggles: You can enable and disable certain shortcuts as well as re-arrange them
  • SIM Card Manager: Allows you to enable and disable SIM’s separately, without removing them from the device. You can also set up preferred SIM card individually for Calls, SMS and Data
  • Button Customization: Choose between using onscreen buttons or capacitive buttons. You can also swap the order of back and recents on both of them, which is very handy if you like the back key on the right. Further customizations on long-press and double-tap are available for the capacitive buttons.
  • Screen-Off gestures: Included inside is the familiar double-tap-to-wake gesture, along with gestures for camera, flashlight and music control. There are no options to add your own gestures, however.
  • Ambient Display: Wakes part of the screen when you get notifications. Works well with the AMOLED display.
  • Proximity Wake: When Ambient Display is enabled, you can also enable Proximity Wake, which wakes the screen when your hand slides above the proximity sensor even when there are no notifications. This is more of a gimmick than a feature, as the practicality of this feature is limited.
  • Battery Indicator: Hidden within the Battery menu is an option to choose from various battery indicator icons on the status bar.
  • System-Wide Dark Theme: This is one feature that makes a lot of visual impact, and is particularly useful for AMOLED displays. If you do not like stock Android’s obsession with white for background, you can choose to have a pitch-black UI background. This applies system-wide, including the Quick Settings Toggles. When enabled, you can also choose the secondary accent color.
  • LED Notifications: You can set the notification LED color for Global notifications and a few battery states. We wish there was more control for LED, like per-app profiling, but some customization is better than none.
  • App Permissions: This feature is available on stock Android 6.0, but OnePlus has a similar implementation already in OxygenOS on Android 5.1. You can deny permissions on a per-app basis which works as a basic privacy guard. Apps can break if you disable permissions crucial to its working.

OxygenOS is not the most feature-ridden ROM you will find. In fact, it sits in stark contrast to skins that other Chinese manufacturers prefer, as it leaves majority of stock Android untouched. The customizations that they do add are nice touches which improve the overall UX of the device. The ROM in its current state also has a surprising lack of bugs, other than those on the Launcher and Shelf. To this we say, good job OnePlus. If only the device had Marshmallow at the moment…

Performance & Memory

The OnePlus X bears the tried and tested Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 — a processor considered one of the best during its prime time. But the good old days were more than a year ago. In its current form, the Snapdragon 801 is best used on a mid end device that is not expected to compete with the top cream of the market.

The Snapdragon 801 on the OnePlus X is a different variant than the one found on the OnePlus One. The One bears the MSM8974PRO-AC while the X bears the MSM8974PRO-AA. Here’s a quick comparison table from AnandTech explaining the differences between the various versions of Snapdragon 800 and 801:

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As noted in the table, the AA on the X has a slightly lower maximum clock speed, capped at 2.3 GHz (2265 MHz) while the AC on the One can go up to 2.5 GHz (2457 MHz). The table from Anandtech mentions lower GPU maximum frequency as well. However, apps on the X report the standard 801 maximum GPU clock speed of 578 MHz (checked with CPU-Z and Kernel Adiutor), which implies that either OnePlus may have chosen to overclock the GPU on stock OxygenOS, or there is a misread on the app’s part.

Nonetheless, the four 32-bit Krait 400 cores , the Adreno 330 GPU and the 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM — combined, they make for a smooth overall experience in the mid end. Benchmarks, on the other hand…

The benchmark scores speak for themselves: the OnePlus X is no flagship killer. The device scores just about the OnePlus One in several areas, and that was a flagship killer 2 years ago, not today. You’re looking at theoretical performance that sits in the mid-end, ahead of devices like the honor 5X and the Moto G 2015, but behind others like the ASUS Zenfone 2 ZE551ML, the Xiaomi Mi 4C, the LG Nexus 5X and understandably, its flagship brethren, the OnePlus 2.

Coming to practical performance, the OnePlus X will survive all the apps that you can feasibly throw at it. As of OxygenOS v2.2.0, there are no hiccups in launching apps from a cold start, no jitters in animations and no lag while swiping or scrolling. The UX is fluid, with no anomalous behaviour to report on when it comes to actually using the phone. In this regard atleast, OxygenOS has matured from its early days of jankiness to its current form where the phone works just as brand new even with over 30 apps installed. The processor and the RAM work out very well to give you a smooth experience on the app side of the experience.

The GPU found on the OnePlus X is the Adreno 330, and it just about chugs along. Less intensive games like Bloons Battles TD 5 (till level 85 on normal speed) run at a solid 60fps, while Ingress on portal-sparse areas runs consistently at 30fps. The GPU, or the CPU for that matter, rarely run on 100% and its not really needed for these instances.