With the OnePlus 5 launching internationally and in India this week, the latest “flagship killer” from the company that popularised the term has been met with a mixed response. For one, the price is a lot higher than previous phones such as the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 2 and secondly, specific features like optical image stabilisation (OIS) aren’t present either. At a OnePlus 5 India launch event in Mumbai, Gadgets 360 spoke to Syzmon Kopec, Product Manager at OnePlus, to find out more. We started off by asking about the higher price tag.
“The thing is, when we made the OnePlus One and OnePlus 2, we didn’t invest in marketing,” says Kopec. “We didn’t invest in redundant things like retailers. We thought we changed the way users gets their phones and the price worked out at some level.”
“Right now we’re investing on product even more and as you might have noticed, all the flagship phones are now way more expensive than they used to be three years ago,” he continues. “It’s strictly due to how expensive the supplies are to make a phone. Processors, screens – these are not getting cheaper with time, it’s otherwise. This is how the price goes up. Still, OnePlus is cutting costs on things that aren’t necessary to do like retailers.” he says.
This makes it sound like the company sees celebrity marketing campaigns as necessary, even if retailers aren’t.
“Core of our investment is product. We will still keep doing this,” Kopec responds. “Price is an equation of costs we put into the product. We don’t want to compromise quality just to keep an equal amount or lower price.”
Software updates are another area where some users have felt disappointed by OnePlus in the past. For example, the company promised to support the OnePlus 2 with updates upto Android Nougat but then it backtracked, citing the lack of a software infrastructure team in place when the phone was launched. Would this be the case with the OnePlus 5?
“I’m asked frequently about OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X,” says Kopec. “Whatever we can promise – and this still is a promise right? The only way to deliver it is keep supporting OnePlus 3 which we promised we’ll support for two years, and OnePlus 3T for two years also. Only time can really prove if we’re keeping our promise or not. Now, I can assure you that we will, but this is just another word by another OnePlus staff.”
Talking about the future roadmap for the company, Kopec also suggests the possibility of a PC convergence platform, where the phone – which has an 8GB RAM variant, more than many laptops – could power a desktop computing experience.
Samsung has tried to do this with Dex for the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, and Microsoft with Continuum for Windows 10. Kopec says that this is something OnePlus is also considering.
“We have seen Samsung doing it. We have also see the Chinese company called Jide with Remix OS and there are a lot of opportunities,” says Kopec. “We’re certainly looking into it. But the most important factor, like once again, I will keep repeating this all over again, the most important factor is real daily user experience.”
“We believe that while it would be super cool to show off, but the thing is, we don’t have it yet because we think it’s a bit of a gimmick,” he adds, taking a dig at the competition. “Daily user experience of using this feature is controversial, I would say, if you know what I mean. It does not seem at this point that it’s something that many users would use and benefit from. Obviously we’re still a very small company. We need to be focussed on what’s really important because if you try to do many things, we cannot do them well.”
OnePlus 5 camera
In terms of the one thing that the OnePlus 5 is focussed on, it’s the camera. According to Kopec this came out of market research the company conducted specifically for India. Despite having top of the line specifications, OnePlus sees this as an opportunity to improve in an area which has, in the past, been seen as its Achilles heel.
“We’re not trying shine with fancy features,” says Kopec. “We want to focus on something that will help you use your camera every day. Like fast auto focus – this is not something sounds amazing for all people but this is something that helps you on a daily basis whenever you take photos, you feel this upgrade when using our faster auto focus.”
Despite this, the camera on the OnePlus 5 is lacking in some key areas. In our review we noted that OIS was absent for taking photos or shooting video. Kopec says that due to improvements in OxygenOS, OIS is not a necessity.
“We believe OIS used to be a good solution, now with how image signal processors have improved and how much software capabilities of our phones have improved, we believe with strictly software – stabilisation for photo or video, we can handle it better than OIS,” he says.
We noticed other issues with the camera. For example, the telephoto mode seems to work only in very limited conditions, under the best lighting only.
“So far, we have come up with the feature [bokeh effect] that uses telephoto,” says Kopec. “Obviously this phone in the making for the next two years, this is how we support our device, so the camera improvements will be incrementally coming but there’s nothing I can share specific dates or features.”
Design similarities with iPhone 7 Plus
Despite saying that the camera is pretty much a work in progress, at the launch, the company didn’t shy away from taking digs at Apple, and claiming better camera performance for the OnePlus 5. However, the dual camera isn’t the only thing that’s common between the OnePlus 5 and the iPhone 7 Plus – the two phones also look very similar, and are almost identical from behind.
It’s a bit of a touchy subject for Kopec. “Go to experience store and just hold the iPhone or whatever phone he has in other hand and compare this feeling,” he says. “I can assure that they will feel the difference at this point.”
Similarities with existing phones notwithstanding, OnePlus has a large cadre of fans who would be interested in the phone any which way. However, even brand loyalists will today be worried that the flagship they buy will be upstaged in short order – as happened when the OnePlus 3T launched just months after the OnePlus 3, with a number of incremental updates. Kopec left us with this:
“We have never have announced something like the OnePlus 5T. We know some users expect it, seeing the experience from the previous year when about the same time we had released OnePlus 3 and half a year later OnePlus 3T, but there’s nothing really we can share about it.”