Monday, May 20, 2024
Smart Phones

OnePlus Open review: right size, wrong price

OnePlus loves to tout its “no compromises” tagline, but in the case of its first foldable phone, a few more compromises would have been good.

The main problem is the price: $1,700. Is the OnePlus Open a phone that feels worthy of such a high price tag? In some ways, yes. The flat edges exude iPhone in all the right ways. It’s thin for a foldable, without the chunkiness of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5. And when you open it up, the crease down the middle of the inner screen all but disappears. It’s a lovely object to hold and use.

But the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Google Pixel Fold are each just $100 more and are IP rated for full-immersion water resistance. They also include wireless charging, which OnePlus continues to treat as an optional feature on high-end phones. 

There’s plenty to appreciate about the OnePlus Open’s hardware. There’s the handy alert slider, of course, and also the fact that the phone isn’t shaped like a remote control. It’s a happy medium between the Galaxy Z Flip 5’s portrait-first orientation and the Pixel Fold’s landscape-first format.

The OnePlus Open’s outer screen measures 6.3 inches with a 20:9 aspect ratio, which is significantly wider than the Z Fold 5’s 6.2-inch, 23.1:9 cover screen. OnePlus calls it a 2K resolution screen — it’s 2484 x 1116 specifically — and it’s an LTPO panel with a 10 to 120Hz variable refresh rate. Unfolded, the OnePlus Open matches the Pixel Fold’s thickness of 5.8mm, though the “vegan leather” black variant of the Open is 0.1mm thicker. 

The OnePlus Open strikes a comfortable balance between the formats of the Pixel Fold (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 5 (right).

The camera “bump” on the Open is more of a mountain. It’s a raised circle that occupies over a third of the back panel, with three camera lenses and a subtle Hasselblad H for style. OnePlus is making a lot of noise about its design, which is meant to catch the light like a CD, and there’s a gap between the lenses and cover glass that’s supposed to remind you of the face on a luxury watch. It certainly commands attention, but I found its best use is as a kind of pop socket to prop the phone on my finger when I was using it one-handed. 

On the inside, the display measures 7.82 inches, with a 2440 x 2268 resolution. It’s an LTPO panel, too, with variable refresh rates from 120Hz all the way down to 1Hz, and OnePlus claims the screen can hit a peak brightness of 2,800 nits in high brightness mode. That’s incredibly bright, considering most flagship phones top out around 2,000 nits.

I saw it ramp up in direct sunlight, and I couldn’t tell you if it went all the way up to the top of that range, but it did keep the screen readable even on a bright day. It maintained that brightness longer than the Pixel 8 or iPhone 15 Pro, both of which tend to darken after a few minutes to prevent overheating.

The wider format makes it feel less like a remote control than the Galaxy Z Fold 5.

The green variant Open that I tested weighs 245g, and the black version is 239g. They’re both a bit lighter than the incumbents: the Z Fold 5 is 253g, and the Pixel Fold weighs 283g. The overall effect is a foldable that feels almost like a normal phone when it’s closed. The lighter weight makes it more comfortable to hold for a long time than the Pixel Fold, and the wider format means the cover screen is more spacious than the Z Fold 5’s. 

OnePlus managed a neat trick with the crease, too. With the phone all the way open, it practically disappears unless you manage to catch a reflection at just the right angle. It’s less pronounced when you run your finger over it than on the Pixel Fold or Galaxy Z Fold 5.

The crease practically disappears with the phone fully open.

I’ve never found the crease on either of those devices to be bothersome since they mostly disappear when you’re looking at them straight on anyway. But the crease does bother some people, and the OnePlus Open is proof that a nearly creaseless foldable is possible. 

The Open’s hinge is a little less stiff than the alternatives, too. You need to open it to about 45 degrees to get it to stay open — anything less than that, and it snaps shut again. The same thing happens on the other extreme — after about 135 degrees, it flops all the way open.

The Pixel and Galaxy foldables may be heavier and creasier, but they come with IPX8 ratings

The firmer hinges on the Pixel Fold and Z Fold 5 will hold the phone open at almost any angle between zero and 180 degrees, which can come in handy. In use, I didn’t have any problem with the Open’s reduced flexibility, and it’s nice not feeling like I have to pry it open every time I want to use the inner screen. OnePlus says the hinge has been tested to withstand one million folding cycles, which is a lot more than the 200,000 folds advertised by the Pixel Fold and Z Fold 5.

There’s a catch. The Pixel and Galaxy foldables may be heavier and creasier, but they come with IPX8 ratings, meaning they can withstand full immersion in water. That is not the case with the OnePlus Open. It’s merely splashproof, with an IPX4 rating. On top of that, long-term durability is a concern with any folding phone. The technology is still relatively new, and it’s hard to say exactly how well they’ll hold up in the long run. Samsung and Google foldables have certainly experienced their share of problems, even with full water resistance. Not to mention that it’s a little unsettling to run around with a $1,700 that could meet an untimely end if it ever fell into a puddle or toilet bowl. 

For what it’s worth, I haven’t encountered any serious problems in the last week that I’ve been using the phone, and I haven’t been overly cautious with it. The phone stands up to a little rain just fine, and I haven’t seen any sign of dust intrusion causing problems with the display or hinge.

OnePlus has included some measures to reduce the chances of disaster, like drainage holes in the hinge so that water can exit quickly. Some internal components include a dispersive water-resistant treatment, too. There’s a case included in the box, which is nice, but it’s a flimsy sort of frame for the front panel and cover for the back panel, so I wouldn’t trust it to provide any additional protection. 

The Open’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset keeps it running efficiently and without a lot of extra heat.

The OnePlus Open does the more pedestrian phone stuff well, too. It comes with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset and a hefty 16GB of RAM for speedy daily performance and easy handling of processor-intensive tasks. The 8 Gen 2 seems to run cooler than either of the 8 Gen 1 models and manages battery life well.

I had no problem at all getting through a full day of use on the Open by a comfortable margin — a day that comprised four hours of screen-on time, including about 45 minutes of Pocket City 2, only drained the battery down to 38 percent by the end of the day. I spent my time with the Open’s always-on display enabled full time, which didn’t come with any serious battery life penalties.

A phone at this price really should include convenience features like wireless charging

Fast wired charging is still very much OnePlus’ deal, and the Open supports 67W charging with the included cable and charging brick — you’ll still get fast charging if you swap out the proprietary cable or brick, but you need both to reach the full 67W. You’ll get a full charge in well under an hour, which means you can skip the charging overnight and power up while you go about your morning routine, if you want.

But wireless charging is conspicuously missing from the Open’s spec sheet, and that is a real bummer. Both the Z Fold 5 and Pixel Fold include wireless charging — as does virtually every other phone sold in 2023 that costs more than $700. Some people will be perfectly happy with fast wired charging, but a phone at this price really should include convenience features like wireless charging.

The Open includes a taskbar to easily jump between apps and open them in split screen.

The OnePlus Open runs OxygenOS 13.2, which the company says it will support with four years of OS upgrades for the Open and five years of security updates. That’s a welcome improvement on its policy of previous years, and it matches Samsung’s commitment to the Z Fold 5. This iteration of OxygenOS comes with some thoughtful multitasking features to make use of the large inner screen. You can open two apps in a split view, as you’d expect, but you can also add a third app that sort of hovers on the side of the display so it’s partially visible and you can tab over to it quickly. App pairs and trios can be saved as homescreen shortcuts, too. 

It’s not quite as flexible as Samsung’s four-app multitasking, but it’s better than the split screen or nothing that the Pixel Fold offers. There’s a taskbar that you can display and hide easily, and it includes recent apps as well as a folder of recent documents. There’s also support for floating windows, which you can position anywhere on the screen, resize to your taste, and minimize to a tab at the side of the screen so you can easily fetch them again. 

It’s better than the split screen or nothing that the Pixel Fold offers

By default, when you open an app on the inner display, it will expand to fill the whole screen. Opening a second app in split screen view doesn’t automatically resize the first app to display on half the screen, though. The first app kind of scoots over, and your view of it is cut off.

You can work around this in settings by dictating how each individual app should display on the main screen — in 16:9, 4:3, or full screen. Switching to 16:9 makes room for another app on the unoccupied portion of the screen without cutting off the first one. It’s a little inelegant, and I prefer the way the Galaxy Z Fold 5 resizes apps as you go to fit everything in one view.

Maybe it’s because I just switched from a Pixel phone, but the thing I’m appreciating the most about the OnePlus Open’s camera system is its color rendering. The hardware is respectable, including a stabilized 48-megapixel main camera, 64-megapixel 3x telephoto with optical image stabilization, and a 48-megapixel ultrawide.

It all comes with Hasselblad branding and, according to the two companies, Hasselblad’s influence on the camera’s color science. And it really is nice — it’s not afraid to embrace warm tones and handles mixed lighting better than most phone cameras. 

It’s a great camera system for static scenes, but I wish it handled moving subjects better. The camera tends to use too-slow shutter speeds in moderate and dim light, so you end up with a lot of photos where your subject looks soft. Forget trying to get a low-light shot of a moving subject. 

Portrait cutouts are usually convincing, with the stray error here and there. The telephoto lens offers a 6x lossless crop zoom mode, which is — again — just fine if your subject isn’t moving but struggles with motion. I took some pictures from the stands at an NHL game, and it couldn’t manage a sharp shot of any of the players as they took the ice, even though they were illuminated with a bright white spotlight. One of my shots has some unusual artifacts where it looks like the system tried to piece together the moving subject from multiple frames and couldn’t quite get it right. 

There’s a standard 32-megapixel selfie camera on the front screen and a 20-megapixel camera on the inner display that’s mainly for video calls. The camera is tucked into the corner of the display, which I much prefer over the under-display camera on the Z Fold 5. The only problem is you can lose track of where it is — helpfully, it’s illuminated by a flashing ring for a moment when you turn the camera on so you know where to look. 

Video recording with the main camera tops out at 4K 30 / 60p, but you’ll need to drop down to 1080p to use the more robust stabilization mode, which does a good job of smoothing out jerky motion from walking. The front-facing camera on the cover screen records up to 4K video, but there’s a bit of a wobble whenever you move the camera slightly, like the electronic image stabilization is fighting back against the movement. That’s not something I noticed with the main camera, and if you’re going to record selfie video, your best bet is to unfold the phone and use the rear camera with the image preview on the cover screen — one of the best tricks a folding phone can do.

The OnePlus Open might be a sign of good things to come for foldables.

The OnePlus Open gets a lot right, but it’s hard to recommend when an extra $100 will get you better water resistance, wireless charging, and — in the case of the Galaxy Z Fold 5 — a more mature foldable software experience. The Open stands to make OnePlus fans who have been hoping for a folding phone quite happy — at least those who are sticking around in the company’s Oppo-ified era. 

You don’t have to be a card-carrying Red Cable Club member to appreciate the device’s shape, either. It splits the difference between the long and skinny Z Fold 5 and the wider Pixel Fold and comes up with something better than either. It’s lighter, and it feels more natural to use as a regular smartphone when it’s closed. It’s all supported by solid performance, high-quality screens, and a nice camera system. But at $1,700? When the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 is right there for $1,800? That’s tough.

Why not just make the phone’s MSRP $1,500?

OnePlus would be quick to tell you that the $1,700 price tag can be offset by trading in any phone — any old phone at all! — for a quick $200 discount. That’s not an introductory deal, either; the company says it will offer this discount throughout the life of the phone. That’s nice and all, but then why not just make the phone’s MSRP $1,500? And it’s not as if OnePlus’ competitors are shy about offering promotional pricing. At the time of this writing, Samsung is offering $300 off a Galaxy Z Fold 5 if you trade in an old phone — even one that’s cracked.

I think the best thing the OnePlus Open can do is push Samsung and Google to more aggressive innovation on their phones. We don’t need to imagine what a foldable might look like if it occupied the middle ground between the Galaxy and Pixel foldable designs — it’s right here, and it’s great. The price gap between the Open and the competition isn’t much, but it’s something at least. If nothing else, it puts the pressure on Samsung and Google to convince us the next time around that their devices are definitely worth the extra money. They are right now, but I’m beginning to see where OnePlus could really open up some new possibilities in the market.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge


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