Let's start this off with a list of things that, despite what you might have heard, the OnePlus X doesn't actually look like:
- The Apple iPhone 4
- The Apple iPhone 4S
- The Apple iPhone 5
- The Apple iPhone 5S
That's not to say that there aren't elements of Apple's design here, but they're just elements. When combined with other constituents, they bond to form something wholly different. So much of Apple's design philosophy over the years has involved borrowing, refining and remixing other companies' work. If you don't have a problem with that, you can't suddenly take issue with OnePlus for wrapping a glass phone in a metal band and drilling some holes at the bottom.
Writing an impassioned defense, for what it's worth, doesn't mean that I actually like the way the X looks -- I don't. It's so pedestrian; a glossy glass slab with the metallurgic equivalent of pinstripe etched into its metal sides. The build quality is admirable, from the phone speaker cutout to the three pristine capacitive buttons below the display, but it feels as if the designers created a mood board for "luxury" and then picked the things they liked from it. And those aforementioned Apple elements actually infect the OnePlus X with some of the best and worst things about Cupertino's designs over the years.
The "iPhone 4" glass covering, for example, looks nice enough, but the glossy back picks up fingerprints by the millisecond, and although my unit is pristine, we noticed scratches at the device's UK unveil. It's also very slippery, but that's somewhat mitigated by the metal band, which although not particularly attractive, helps improve the grip. And those "iPhone 5" drilled holes -- one side serving a speaker, the other a microphone -- are easy to obstruct if you're "holding it wrong."
At $249 the OnePlus X offers a compelling spec sheet
Within the staid shell, however, things get far more interesting. While the OnePlus X isn't in danger of outpacing the new "2" flagship, at $249 it offers a compelling spec sheet, which is roughly the same as last year's OnePlus One. That means a 2.3GHz quad-core SnapDragon 801 processor paired with Adreno 330 graphics, 3GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, dual SIM slots and a 2,525mAh battery. The screen is smaller than last year's model -- a 5-inch display rather than a 5.5-inch -- but it's still 1080p. There's neither the fancy fingerprint reader nor the reversible USB Type-C port of the OnePlus 2. There is space for a microSD card inside the SIM tray, however, OnePlus' excellent alert slider is present, and there's a neat multicolored notification light that I'm quite enamored with.
There are two welcome additions inside the box. The first is OnePlus' micro-USB cable. It's the same as the cord packed in with the 2: a flat, red affair with a reversible (at the charger end) USB. It would've been easy for OnePlus to bundle a basic white or black lead here and call it a day. Even if it's just a cable, it's nice that budget-conscious shoppers can still enjoy the luxury. The second addition is a translucent silicone case. I've never put my phones inside cases, but I will slip one on if I'm going to a place where I may drop or damage a phone irreparably; something like a busy event or an alcohol-fueled night out. Including a basic thing that protects the X probably costs OnePlus $0.20, but it's a nice touch.
The X's 5-inch display is a 1080p AMOLED, which typically means superb viewing angles, bright colors and blacks beyond the event horizon. There's no sea change here. Colors are indeed punchy -- a little too gaudy for my taste, but your mileage may vary -- viewing angles are great, and of course, since AMOLED doesn't have a backlight, blacks are fantastic.
While it's a good display for the price, this is not AMOLED's finest hour. I'm perhaps spoiled by flagship panels. It's not a matter of resolution -- that's absolutely fine -- but the screen itself has some idiosyncrasies. It's not laminated, and there's quite a gap between the display and the coverglass. It's not a huge issue, but it's there. I also take issue with the color balance of the display. The company has form here -- the OnePlus 2 has one of the bluest displays I've ever seen on a phone -- but to my eyes the X has an even higher white point.
This is not AMOLED's finest hour
It's worth noting that Samsung, HTC and other companies that offer AMOLED displays all include various color modes to account for differing tastes, and there's no way to adjust the temperature out of the box. Without jumping through complex loops, third-party options to fix this are only ever going to be crude color filters. Again, this is personal taste, but I can say for sure you're definitely not going to be viewing photos and movies the way their creators intended them to be seen.
My final complaint is that the display is also a little on the dim side, even at full brightness. Autumnal London doesn't exactly provide the best conditions for a daylight readability test, but while I haven't had any problems to note, I am concerned this phone won't do well in sunnier climates.
OnePlus' Oxygen OS is very good. I hadn't really spent time with it before the X arrived -- unless a cursory swipe across home screens on a OnePlus 2 counts -- but I'd like to spend more time with it now. If you've used stock Android, you won't find too many differences visually, but there are some additional, genuinely customization options on offer.
By default the phone has a "dark" theme, which changes the menus to a deep black and the app drawer to a dark gray. In theory, due to the peculiarities of AMOLED technology, this uses less power than the regular white Android theme. In practice, white text on a black background hurts my eyes, and I'd rather just charge slightly more often. Changing this theme is a simple affair, as is modifying the accent colors. I do think OnePlus could go a little further with the customization options, especially by pulling in some third-party ideas like having specific color notifications on the LED for your favorite apps.
In the same settings menu you'll also find some other options, one of which lets you deactivate the capacitive buttons and opt for on-screen instead -- which I did almost immediately, chiefly because the capacitive ones aren't backlit and I was tired of fumbling for the back key in the dark. Other than that, though, this is just Android really. There are a few token gestures for when the screen's off -- double-tap to wake up, draw a V for flashlight, an O for Camera, etc. -- and a weird "Shelf" thing for storing frequently apps that I switched off, but you're mostly just looking at Android Lollipop, for all its good and bad points.
One thing I was slightly concerned about were the broken apps and restarts that marred the early days of Oxygen OS. These were present when we reviewed the OnePlus 2, but I'm happy to report that these teething problems seem to have subsided; I encountered no random reboots and no rendering issues even after purposefully running down the list of previously affected apps. For the record, the phone was running Oxygen OS version 2.1.2, and Android version 5.1.1.
The OnePlus X's camera may have the same megapixel count as its more expensive brethren, but the similarities end there. Yes, it's got a 13-megapixel sensor, but it's a smaller sensor than the OnePlus 2's, and so lets in less light. It's also placed behind an f/2.2 lens, which is a third-stop slower than the lens on the 2. The result of these concessions is a much poorer experience.