ONELESS

The hardest thing to get right about smartphones is why everyone buys Apple and Samsung

“But how’s the camera?”

This is the question that nearly everyone asks me whenever we’re talking about a new smartphone. Storage, price, and whether their Instagrams are going to come out as clear as day seem to be the things most people care about, and over the last few years, this had led OnePlus, a small phone manufacturer owned by the Chinese conglomerate BBK Electronics, to produce some Android phones really worth considering. They’ve been hundreds of dollars cheaper than similar models from Apple, Samsung, Google, or HTC, with nearly the same level of build and camera quality.

But the company’s latest phone, the OnePlus 5, shows the difference that having a near-unlimited budget to spend on product development—like Apple or Samsung—can have on a smartphone. After spending a week with the phone, I found it to be solid—it’s just as well-built as the company’s previous models, and has the same useful features, like quick charging and a tap-to-wake screen. But the new dual camera system on the back, which looks strikingly similar to the setup on the iPhone 7 Plus, doesn’t quite hold up to its competitors’ flagship phones—the color and sharpness are just not as impressive:

The iPhone 7 Plus’s two rear cameras allow the phone to quickly snap portraits that can look quite impressive. And while the software that processes the photos could still use a little work, the phone quickly takes the photos generally without issue. The OnePlus 5, on the other hand, which has a similar camera setup to Apple’s flagship phone, seemed to struggle to focus on people in its field of view, and needed near-perfect lighting to produce shots similar to what the iPhone seems to be able to do in most normal indoor and outdoor settings. (It’s worth noting, however, that the software on the phone I tested was pre-production, so it’s possible the cameras’ depth perception will get better with time.)

The OnePlus 5 has a manual mode that allows users to adjust the camera’s settings as they might want, meaning if you have the patience to sit and perfectly craft a photograph, like a modern-day Ansel Adams, you’ll almost certainly be able to get the shot you’re after. But if you want a phone camera that you can tap a button, and quickly take a picture that’s in focus and looks as sharp as you expected it to, perhaps look elsewhere.

In perfect light, the OnePlus 5 performs well.
In perfect light, the OnePlus 5 performs well. (Quartz/Mike Murphy)

If the reason you’re buying a new smartphone is the camera, then it’s probably worth considering the latest devices from Google, Apple, and Samsung, as that’s where they truly stand out. The iPhone 7 Plus and the Google Pixel’s cameras are the phones’ defining features, and the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S8 is also great. The OnePlus 5 starts at $479 (€499 and £499), which is a fair bit cheaper than the $649 that the iPhone 7 and or Google Pixel start at, but with OnePlus’ new phone, you really are getting what you paid for. Still a great phone, just one that doesn’t quite hit the heights of its competitors.


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