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OnePlus Pad review: Solid hardware that's let down by Android

We've been down this road before.

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

I really thought we were done with Android tablets. Google itself hasn’t released one in years, though that’ll change soon with the forthcoming Pixel Tablet. Samsung has hit on a high-end formula that works pretty well, Amazon’s cheap Fire tablets technically run Android… and that’s basically it. Plenty of manufacturers have tried, but for various reasons Android tablets have never caught on.

Despite that market reality, OnePlus is taking its first shot at this market with the $479 OnePlus Pad. As the price hints, OnePlus isn’t going right after high-end tablets like Samsung’s Galaxy S8 lineup or Apple’s iPad Air or Pro. Instead, this tablet reminds me more of Apple’s 10th-generation iPad, in style, substance and price. And the fact that OnePlus is also making a keyboard folio and a stylus shows they’re serious about making a tablet built for more than just watching movies or browsing the web. But while OnePlus made a lovely piece of hardware, Android’s large-screen limitations continue to hamper the overall experience.

OnePlus

The app ecosystem for large-screen Android devices remains dire, and the experience of using Android on a tablet still does not feel fully baked.

Pros
  • Great screen
  • Well-designed hardware
  • Stylus works well
  • Excellent battery life
Cons
  • Android remains ill-suited for large screens
  • Terrible multitasking experience
  • Keyboard and trackpad aren’t the best
$479 at OnePlus

Hardware

The OnePlus Pad makes a great first impression. That starts with its striking metallic green color and subtle rounded brushing of the metal that surrounds the centered camera bump on the tablet’s back. I’m a little surprised that OnePlus isn’t offering the Pad in a more generic color like black or silver, but the green makes it stand out a bit without being something most people will object to.

Despite having a relatively large, 11.6-inch display, it’s light and easy to hold with one hand. That’s due in part to the tiny 6.7mm bezel surrounding the display. That’s slightly thinner than the one on my 11-inch iPad Pro and noticeably thinner than the one on the current Air or 10th-generation iPad. OnePlus used a rather unusual screen ratio here, 7:5, but I definitely prefer that over the 16:9 ratio so common on other devices. Movies and shows will have more noticeable black bars, but everything else benefits from more vertical screen real estate.

Photos of the OnePlus Pad tablet and its keyboard folio and Stylo pen accessories.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Besides the screen, there’s nothing else of note on the front of the Pad aside from the landscape-oriented 8-megapixel camera for video chat. On the sides, you’ll notice the power button and two volume buttons, a USB-C port and four speakers. As with most successful tablet designs, it’s a screen-first device that is light and easy to hold, which is probably the most important thing.

There’s a lot to like about the OnePlus Tab’s screen besides just the size. OnePlus says it’s a Dolby Vision panel with HDR, and its 2,800 x 2,000 resolution works out to 296 pixels per inch. Even though it’s an LCD, lacking the extreme contrast ratios you’ll find on OLED or mini-LED panels, it’s still an extremely bright and vibrant display, whether you’re looking through photos, watching a movie or playing games. It also has a 144Hz refresh rate, though most apps max out at 120Hz. Still, that’s better than any iPad in this price range.

The four-speaker system is also much better than I expected, given the Tab’s svelte profile. It can get surprisingly loud, pumping out enough volume for watching movies on your own or with a friend. But more importantly than just the level, the sound is clear and balanced. You’ll still likely want to opt for headphones during any more serious listening session, but these speakers definitely do the job in a pinch.

On the inside is MediaTek’s Dimensity 9000, a Cortex-X2 processor which runs at 3.05 GHz; that’s paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

Accessories

Unsurprisingly, OnePlus made a keyboard folio and stylus to go along with the Tab.Also unsurprisingly, the tablet isn’t bundled with either, so you’ll need to shell out extra cash to complete your rig. The $149 keyboard includes a trackpad and connects directly to the Pad via pogo pins, so it doesn’t need its own power or a Bluetooth connection. It’s thin and attaches easily to the Pad without adding any significant weight or bulk, which is a nice change of pace from the comfortable but heavy Magic Keyboard that goes along with my iPad Pro.

The keyboard is a bit of a mixed bag, though. On the plus side, it’s just big enough to be comfortable to type on for extended periods of time. Like the keyboard on the similarly-sized iPad Air or Pro, there’s a little learning curve, but the keys are a good size and have decent travel. The space key was a lot less reliable than I hoped, though (apologies to my editor who had to fix the numerous missing spaces in this draft). The trackpad, on the other hand, was a bit more problematic. It wasn’t great at rejecting input from the edge of my hands, so it often moved the cursor randomly around as I was typing this review. It was incredibly frustrating and almost made me give up on it entirely. I eventually managed to hold my hands to minimize the mistaken input, but it still happened often enough to be maddening.

Photos of the OnePlus Pad tablet and its keyboard folio and Stylo pen accessories.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The trackpad itself was generally fine for moving through the OnePlus Pad’s interface, but it felt just a little slow to respond to everything I was doing, whether scrolling, swiping or clicking on things. This is a recurring theme with the whole OnePlus Pad experience, unfortunately. The trackpad itself is small, but I’m plenty comfortable with a similar-sized one on my iPad.

The last nit I’ll pick about the keyboard folio is that you can’t adjust the angle of the screen at all. The folio holds it in a fixed position, so hopefully that works for you. This isn’t dissimilar to some other keyboard folios for other tablets in this price range, so I will only complain so much, but it would still be nice if it was adjustable.

There’s also a stylus available for the Pad, the $99 OnePlus Stylo. Like the second-generation Apple Pencil, the Stylo magnetically attaches to the top of the Pad for power and convenient storage. I love this trick on the iPad, and I love it here as well. The Stylo itself is a round (aside from the flat charging edge), fairly nondescript piece of hardware that serves its purpose well.

I have zero visual arts skills, so I can’t say exactly how it compares to using an iPad and Apple Pencil for serious creative work. But, OnePlus says it has 4,096 levels of pressure and 60 degrees of tilt, which should make it a versatile instrument. And in a little testing taking notes and scribbling around in the OnePlus Notes app, I was immediately impressed at the total lack of lag. If you can find the right drawing software, the OnePlus Pad and the Stylo could make a reasonably affordable and powerful drawing kit.

Photos of the OnePlus Pad tablet and its keyboard folio and Stylo pen accessories.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Software experience

As with basically every Android tablet I’ve ever used, the thing that is holding the OnePlus Pad back isn’t its hardware, but the software. The Pad runs Android 13.1 with OnePlus’ Oxygen OS on top of it. For the most part, Oxygen OS represents a minor re-skinning of the Android UI, along with a couple custom OnePlus apps as well as some handy tricks if you also use a OnePlus phone. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to a OnePlus phone for this review, but these features are worth noting.

For starters, OnePlus has a cellular data sharing feature that lets the Pad jump onto the 5G signal from a OnePlus smartphone. It’s automatically enabled when the phone is near the Pad. Obviously, tethering another device to a smartphone signal isn’t new technology, but OnePlus is definitely trying to make it more seamless. Furthermore, OnePlus built in an “Auto Connect” feature between the Pad and a compatible phone, which means you can receive notifications, share clipboard data for instant copy and pasting, and see text messages and phone calls on the Pad. If you’re in the OnePlus ecosystem already, this is a solid reason to consider the Pad over another competing tablet.

OnePlus also did a decent job of including some apps that take advantage of the Pad’s screen – the Notes app uses multiple panes to show your list of notes as well as whatever you’re working on, or you can go into a full-screen focus mode. It also has a to-do app built in and works well with the Stylo if you want to draw or take handwritten notes. The Weather app, meanwhile, feels like a clone of what you might find on the iPad, but it’s still useful and takes advantage of a bigger screen, rather than feeling like a blown-up phone app.

Photos of the OnePlus Pad tablet and its keyboard folio and Stylo pen accessories.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Naturally, Google has done a great job of making its apps work on a larger screen, as well. Chrome, Gmail, Photos, Drive, Docs, Meet and basically anything else I tried from Google felt native, which goes a long way towards making the OnePlus Pad feel useful.

The experience isn’t so great once you start using third-party apps, though. If you’ve ever read a review of an Android tablet, you’ve heard this complaint before. There just aren’t enough Android apps designed to take advantage of a bigger screen. Comparing things like Slack and Twitter to their iPad counterparts shows that the developers haven’t taken larger-screen Android devices into account. On the iPad, both apps have multiple panes which makes it much easier to get things done. On the Pad, Slack just shows any conversation you’re in at full width. Similarly, tweets stretch across the entire screen and images or video aren’t scaled down at all. Todoist, another app I use constantly, has a sidebar, but it automatically hides whenever I tap on an item, so I have to keep resummoning it.

There are also numerous apps, like Reddit and Instagram, that simply don’t run in landscape orientation at all. Even worse, some apps throw you from landscape into portrait mode. For example, HBO Max seems to work fine in landscape mode, but when I exit a movie, the screen jumps to portrait mode. There are also plenty of strange bugs throughout the system. More than once, I tried playing a video in HBO Max or the Google TV app only to have it refuse to load. This happened in both apps back-to-back and was only cleared up after rebooting the tablet. Another fun one is the notification I get every single time I open up the keyboard folio that tells me to “configure physical keyboard,” which brings up a menu with basically nothing you can actually configure.

Probably the most frustrating thing for me was simply trying to work across multiple apps. Pressing alt-tab brings up a view of recently-used apps, but the implementation is poor. If you tap alt-tab once and don’t hold anything, all it does is zoom out of the app you’re in and then drop you back. On basically every other computer I can think of, this key command brings you straight to the last app you were using. If you keep holding alt and press tab again, you’ll start cycling through your recent apps – but there’s absolutely no visual indicator to show which you have selected, so it’s useless. Swiping up on the trackpad with three fingers and holding for a second also drops you into this view, and you can then swipe around with the trackpad and click on the app you want. That’s marginally better, but not having a reliable keyboard shortcut for moving between apps is infuriating.

Just as you can on an iPad, you can split an app view and run two apps side-by-side. This generally works fine – but if you exit out to the home screen, the only way to get that dual view back is by going into the aforementioned app switching view. Tapping the app’s icon on the home screen will bring that app back up in full screen, forgetting the configuration you had before

Despite all this, the OnePlus Pad is fairly responsive, at least. Websites and apps loaded quickly, but scrolling through sites or my long list of emails felt a little bit choppy. That’s despite the screen’s high refresh rate. Similarly, games I tried (including Genshin Impact, Asphalt 9 and my go-to Alto’s Odyssey) mostly worked fine, but had occasional moments where it felt the hardware was struggling slightly. For a tablet priced under $500, the OnePlus Pad more or less met my expectations – but it’s not as smooth as even the most basic iPad.

One area where the OnePlus Pad is definitively great is on battery life. I can get about 10 hours doing my normal work routine on the device, jumping between multiple apps, playing occasional games, watching some videos and streaming music. More extensive gaming sessions will always run the battery down quicker, as will jacking up the screen brightness, but I don’t think anyone who tries this tablet will need to worry about reaching for the charger too often.

Photos of the OnePlus Pad tablet and its keyboard folio and Stylo pen accessories.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Wrap-up

After using the OnePlus Pad for a few weeks, I’m left struggling with who this device is for. Die-hard Android fans are probably better served by a Samsung tablet, though people who use a OnePlus phone will appreciate the way the two devices work together. For the price, the OnePlus Pad does a fair few things well, at least. The battery is very good, the Stylo is a solid drawing tool and the screen is better than one you’ll find on a similarly-priced iPad.

But the app ecosystem for large-screen Android devices remains dire, and the experience of using Android on a tablet still does not feel fully baked. Most Android users who have a passing interest in using a tablet will likely still be better off with an iPad. They’re faster, less buggy and have a wildly better app ecosystem. And the price comparison doesn’t exactly work out well in the OnePlus Pad’s favor, either. The kit I tested cost $730, while you can get a 10th-generation iPad with its keyboard folio and pencil for $800.

If you’re absolutely not willing to consider Apple hardware, we’re just a few weeks away from Google taking the wraps off the Pixel Tablet. While that won’t solve the third-party app issue (after more than a decade, I don’t know what will), I do think it’s worth waiting to see what Google has in store before committing to new hardware. Unless, of course, you’re a die-hard OnePlus fan – but even those folks should think long and hard before pulling the trigger here.