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OnePlus One to OnePlus 3T: How OnePlus phones evolved to near perfection

We compare all of OnePlus’ flagship smartphones, from the original OnePlus One to the excellent OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T, to see how each new mobile launch improved on the last.

The OnePlus brand emerged just three short years ago, yet already has taken the entire world by storm. Offering impressive value for money from the very beginning, OnePlus also became famous for its exclusive invitation-only buying system, which no doubt helped to fuel interest and that all-important desirability factor.

Of course, OnePlus has gone from strength to strength over those three years, culminating in the release of the mighty OnePlus 3T flagship handset. We were so impressed by the OnePlus 3T that we awarded it our Best Phone of 2016 prize. Quite the feat, considering it was up against heavyweight devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and iPhone 7 Plus.

Here’s a brief history of the OnePlus flagship handsets, comparing the OnePlus One, OnePlus 2, OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T phones and how the phones changed and improved with each new release.

Check out our OnePlus hub for all you need to know about these fantastic handsets.

OnePlus One: Where it all began

Phone name OnePlus One
Our review OnePlus One review
Release date July 2014
UK Price £229

This self-proclaimed ‘2014 flagship killer’ was our first foray with the brand, and already we saw the beginnings of something special. For an asking price comparable to most ‘budget’ phones of the day, the OnePlus One was seriously surprising. Initial scepticism gave way to lots of head-nodding and ‘oooh’ noises as we realised that OnePlus was for real, offering the kind of components and features normally found in handsets that were twice the price.

The sandstone design was unusual to say the least, while the then-massive 5.5-inch screen size made the phone feel rather unwieldy. However, media fans could enjoy great-looking Full HD visuals, which was basically unheard of at this price point. We also enjoyed the highly customisable CyanogenMod OS (RIP), which allowed almost every aspect of the phone to be tweaked in some way.

What really impressed us though was the seriously strong performance. The OnePlus One packed the same Snapdragon 801 processor as the Galaxy S5, backed by a massive 3GB of RAM, despite coming in at under half the cost of Samsung’s flagship device. Battery life was solid too, offering close to two days of playtime between charges.

While the camera tech wasn’t quite flagship standard, we had no serious complaints. The 13-megapixel rear cam shot plenty of detail and could even capture 4K video footage on demand.

However, the OnePlus One did come with some limitations. No microSD expandability, a lack of support for British 4G bands and the occasional graphical glitch took a little of the sheen from the final product. All the same, this was one of the best affordable phones of the year - and a clear indication that OnePlus meant serious business.

OnePlus 2: One of those rare better sequels

Phone name OnePlus 2
Our review OnePlus 2 review
Release date August 2015
UK Price From £239

OnePlus’ second device was one of the most anticipated handsets of 2015, especially as demand for the first phone smothered the supply of handsets. Sure enough, the OnePlus 2 was another stunning example of strong value for money.

Despite rocking a price tag that more or less matched the OnePlus One, this mighty mobile bettered the original in many ways. For a start, the design felt more premium - although no less hand-filling. That sleek aluminium frame was well complemented by a sandstone rear with finer grain, for a more satisfying feel in the hand. You could easily swap out that backing for a completely different texture too, including bamboo and a carbon fibre effort.

This second handset was also the first OnePlus phone to rock a fingerprint sensor. No longer did you have to punch in a PIN every time you wanted to check your messages.

The OnePlus 2’s 5.5-inch IPS screen wasn’t much of an upgrade on the previous handset and that was fine, as you still had attractive visuals at Full HD resolution. However, one big departure was the new OxygenOS interface, of OnePlus’ own design. This overlay offered strong customisation, just like CyanogenMod, along with all of the best Android features. Even better, it was less glitchy than the OnePlus One’s OS, for a smoother user experience.

Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon chipset was once more on board, this time the Snapdragon 810 - which thankfully showed no serious sign of overheating here. As a result, performance was again comparable to the most premium phones of the time. You also got near two days of battery life between charges, to match the first phone.

As for those cameras, the megapixel count didn’t change for the OnePlus 2. However, the 13-megapixel rear cam now boasted Optical Image Stabilisation to reduce blur and shake, not to mention a laser-guided autofocus to speed things up.

The OnePlus 2 wasn’t quite perfect, of course. Memory card support was once again shunned and strangely NFC was also ditched, although Android Pay wouldn’t hit the UK until May the following year.

OnePlus 3: Dash-ing and dazzling

Phone name OnePlus 3
Our review OnePlus 3 review
Release date June 2016
UK Price From £309 (£329 post-Brexit)

When the OnePlus 3 hit the UK in June 2016, we’d already been won over by the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and the HTC 10. However, although this third phone featured a jump in price over previous models, it also offered premium specs and features to compete with the best Androids on offer.

The OnePlus 3 was once again a 5.5-inch phone, but this time you got a full metal jacket for a seriously solid, top-end look and feel. You could no longer detach the back plate, but OnePlus still offered a selection of funky covers for customising the design. Not quite as neat a solution, but it did the job.

That 5.5-inch screen was upgraded to an AMOLED panel, which pumped out more attractive, vibrant visuals than earlier models. With its Full HD resolution, images were just as crisp too. Of course, you still couldn’t pack on a massive media collection, as microSD support was once again MIA. Still, 64GB of storage was now the standard, with the 16GB model ditched entirely.

We were happy to see NFC make a return too, in time for us to use our phones to pay for stuff. Sadly this led to a slip of the tongue in our review, as we claimed that the OnePlus 3 was the first phone in the series to sport the tech - forgetting that it had been present in the original handset. The consequences were most dire…

As usual, performance was simply unbeatable for the price. The super-powered Snapdragon 820 processor was backed by a massive 6GB of RAM, offering silky smooth performance even when blasting through seriously demanding games.

Battery life dipped compared with previous models, so we only just managed a day and a half of regular use compared with almost two full days. However, this was helped by the incredibly fast and efficient Dash Charge feature, which powered the OnePlus 3 to full capacity in under an hour and a half and offered almost a day of use from just 30 minutes. All while the phone remained pleasingly cool.

As you’ll see from our full OnePlus 3 camera review, we rather liked the new 16-megapixel snapper too. You now had full Phase Detection Autofocus, for a supremely quick shutter speed. The larger camera sensor made for better low light photography too. And with a recent OnePlus update, the image stabilisation when shooting video was dramatically improved.

OnePlus 3T: Phone of the year

Phone name OnePlus One
Our review OnePlus 3T review
Release date December 2016
UK Price From £399

OnePlus hit peak awesomeness just a few months after the OnePlus 3 hit the UK, with the surprise launch of the OnePlus 3T. This halfway model wasn’t a massive leap over the OnePlus 3, but boasted enough solid improvements to make it an instant critical success. In fact, we threw this flagship phone our Best Phone of 2016 award, beating off stiff competition.

The OnePlus 3T looked and felt exactly the same as the previous handset, although the new Soft Gold and Midnight Black colour schemes were very nice additions.

With another 5.5-inch AMOLED screen on board, the display tech hadn’t changed up either. However, the OnePlus 3T did introduce a new 128GB model, packing twice the storage for a few extra pounds. Just as well, because - shock, horror - the microSD memory card slot was non-existent.

You also got the all-new Snapdragon 821 processor (admittedly not a massive leap over the 820, offering a mere ten percent performance increase and not much else). This was once again joined by a whopping 6GB of memory, for blistering speed. Meanwhile the battery was boosted from 3000mAh to 3400mAh, to get you well into a second day of use.

Around the back of the OnePlus 3T, the 16-megapixel snapper wasn’t altered much. We found that image stabilisation had been improved, as had audio capture, but this was more or less the same dependable camera as the OnePlus 3’s. However, professional pouters were thrilled by the upgraded selfie camera, which was boosted from an 8-megapixel shooter to a 16-megapixel effort.

Check out the full OnePlus retrospective in video form here:

OnePlus 5: Phone of the year 2017?

OnePlus is set to launch its next big flagship phone very soon indeed. We already know that the firm will skip the OnePlus 4 moniker and instead unveil the OnePlus 5, some time in late spring or early summer. Rumours are circulating about the specs and features of the fifth OnePlus phone, so head over to our full OnePlus 5 preview to see what you can expect.

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