The OnePlus 3 and Axon 7 Show Affordable Phones Don’t Have to Come at the Cost of Software Updates
In the past, purchasing a “mid-range phone” meant a plethora of compromises: weak after-sales support, few and far between updates, and compromised feature sets (and, more often than not, an ugly user interface). OnePlus devices, too, had questionable software and update support.
The OnePlus 2 took ages to get a proper marshmallow update. The OnePlus X still doesn’t have one one. However, things seem to be changing for the better as thus far with the OnePlus 3, the situation has vastly improved. In fact, while writing this article OnePlus sent out another OTA to version 3.2.7. Heading over to their official site, there are 9 software versions available for the 3. Some of these are community builds – essentially refined betas – but the experience of installing them is pretty straight forward, and they do build upon previous versions with optimizations and great features (such as the increasingly-popular scrolling screenshot) that enhance the UX without taking away from what makes it pleasant. We’ve had our worries regarding the merging of the Hydrogen and Oxygen OS platforms through a unified development team, but OnePlus was quick to listen to criticism and ease concerns by announcing Oxygen OS would keep a Stock Android look in its System UI.
My most recent experience with updating my OnePlus 3 truly impressed. My device was on OxygenOS 3.2.4 rooted, with Xposed installed, a custom DPI, and TWRP as the recovery — if you are used to these features, you know how they can often complicate updates. However, OxygenOS detected my device was rooted and downloaded the full version of 3.2.6, rather than just the OTA. My OnePlus 3 then rebooted into TWRP and updated to 3.2.6 with no data loss, no hiccups, no booting issues. This process did replace TWRP with the standard OnePlus recovery, but it’s rather simple to get back to TWRP anyway.
These frequent updates to the OnePlus 3 have added key features that the community asked for from day one such as RGB mode, but also the aforementioned scrolling screenshots, improved auto-brightness, updated 4K recording codecs (as we pointed in our OnePlus 3 review, they were a mess around the time of launch!), and improved RAM management (which, again, is something we determined to be pretty bad early on). The OnePlus 3 is also up to date with the September 1st security patches, and all of this makes for a device that has improved every few weeks in tangible ways. We aren’t sure if the merging of both ROM teams has already begun or if this continuous support is a product of that, but it’s terrific to see this effort either way, and OnePlus has so far redeemed its poor reputation on this front with this product cycle.
One of the OnePlus 3’s biggest competitors has to be the ZTE Axon 7, which actually carries some higher specifications in some areas, while still being in the same bracket. Thus far, after purchase support and updates have also been impressive as well.
The Axon 7 just received an update to version B27, and this is the third update my Axon 7 has received since launch. The phone’s only been out for a few months and we’ve already have seem updates help with UI tweaks, battery life improvements, camera enhancements, and the latest September 1st security patches. ZTE has been communicative and responsive on their official forums regarding updates and features additions, too, which is always a plus.
Of note to our audience here at XDA is that ZTE has also come up with a method of unlocking the bootloader. There are some caveats such as losing the warranty, but the having the option is great and ZTE should be commended for at least giving us the option (albeit the OnePlus 3 is certainly much better in its warranty policy for us tinkerers). More manufacturers providing this option is good for the community, but we would really like to see this not come at the cost of losing the warranty.
Overall, both of these devices offer terrific hardware packages and incredible value for the money. There was a time when a $400 device would also come with a cost of reduced software support, infrequent updates, or drastically-reduced features (quantity or execution). The OnePlus 3 and the Axon 7 both seem to be defying this trend and, in turn, changing our expectations. Both of these devices right now have the latest security patches and both are running 6.0.1, and we have no issues recommending either device based on support thus far. It’s especially reassuring to know that these companies have improved their communication channels with their respective communities, and are throwing us enthusiasts a bone or two by allowing us to tinker and customize.
Both devices should also get Android Nougat in due time, with the recent OnePlus Software AMA giving us some vague hints regarding its development. In any case, the openness of the OnePlus 3 means you can already try out Nougat on the device. Features like Dash Charging are also now available on custom ROMs, and OnePlus has also stated that they plan on finding ways to improve the camera quality on custom ROMs too, so the custom ROM experience is bound to only get better on this device. But if you don’t want to go that route, OnePlus’ official support is better than ever with promising prospects (assuming they keep their word), with more than just promises: tangible results in the form of feature-packed updates, and internal changes to accommodate for a new software model for faster updates. Devices like the OnePlus 3 and the Axon 7 are so far squashing the notion that more affordable devices come at the cost of software support, another item in the long list of preconceptions that these “flagship-killers” challenge when it comes to their price. At a time where updates are some of the biggest headaches in the Android world for a multitude of reasons, we couldn’t be happier about that.
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