OnePlus Open review: New benchmark for foldable phones with key software smarts - Hindustan Times
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OnePlus Open review: New benchmark for foldable phones with key software smarts

Oct 26, 2023 10:17 AM IST

We’ve spent years willing Samsung to push innovation with foldables. That’s changed. OnePlus’ fresh take will now have them pushing the innovation envelope on Samsung, Google and everyone else

Foldable Android phones needed a new tune. A fresher perspective. For customers, another viable choice. Finally, there is one, albeit that took quite some time to materialise. OnePlus joining the foldable phone bandwagon (remember, it’s a book-style foldable; not a flip fold) will pose the biggest challenge yet for Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold phones. It will not be easy. This is a first-generation foldable from OnePlus. Samsung’s ticked off five generations of refinement. Experience fructifies with time, but OnePlus managing slightly larger screens despite smaller footprint and lesser weight, is praiseworthy.

The new OnePlus Open. (Vishal Mathur / HT Photo)
The new OnePlus Open. (Vishal Mathur / HT Photo)

Comparisons are inevitable. It is little surprise that OnePlus is commencing the counteroffensive, with the price tag. OnePlus Open costs 1,39,999 for 16GB RAM and 512GB storage spec. That is the only variant on sale in India for now. Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5 prices start at 1,54,999, and there is no 16GB RAM spec. You’ll be paying 1,64,999 for the corresponding 512GB storage. Expect Samsung to reconfigure pricing soon.

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Also read:Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 is all about polish, a new hinge and benchmark refresh

OnePlus hasn’t really left much to chance with the spec sheet, which inevitably plays a large part in defining experience. There’s the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen2 chip with 16GB RAM, two displays that they label as ‘ProXDR’, and for once, top-notch cameras. A few things amiss too, such as no wireless charging and limited water resistance capabilities (a contrast to Samsung’s IPX8 cover). The former isn’t a big miss (though it feels amiss in this time), since the 67-watt wired route will be faster.

A lot of attention has been given to proprietary materials, including cobalt molybdenum alloy, metal alloy and titanium alloy. No costs cut with glass protection layers too, both screens having a layer of the Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. This impressive design does have a foundation that blends experimentation with logic, of simplification of moving parts such as the hinge, a better bet for longevity. An old favourite, the alert slider, is back too.

You’d likely be more concerned about dust resistance. From what we saw with the OnePlus Open, dust ingress, particularly around fold hinges, doesn’t seem to be as big a concern as it perhaps was with previous generation foldables. The Flexion hinge itself is a different composition, of design and lesser moving parts, which further takes away anxiety about long term resilience. Time will testify to whether the redone architecture has definitive advantages, but a single spine instead of three different parts coming together, should have structural advantages.

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Just as OnePlus gets going with open book foldables, it seems to have a grip on design and ergonomics. The OnePlus Open is less tall than the Galaxy Z Fold 5, and feels thinner, folded or unfolded. Those millimetres shaved off, of which there are quite a few, are coupled with significantly lesser weight (239 grams, compared with 253 grams) will translate into an ergonomic advantage. Think about it, the Open is just 11.7mm thick when unfolded, compared with 13.4mm we’ve been used to with its biggest competitor.

There is a definite resistance with this hinge’s mechanism, and you’ll be more attentive. Unfold it around 54-degrees and it’ll hold, but anything lesser, it’ll snap shut. It’ll protect against an errant object in the bag or pocket. But there is a certain extra pressure (and attentiveness, which we’ve mentioned) you’ll need to fold the OnePlus Open. Leverage from the sides of the screen isn’t an option, since that’ll be detected as a long press by Android.

The only real gripe we have with the design is the massive camera module. We’ll get to the camera system’s advantages in a bit, but this module poses a dual problem. First, it often finds itself in the range of your fingers as you hold the phone, which means it’ll be smudged quicker than you’d expect. Secondly, the phone resides on it and if you place the OnePlus Open on a table in the unfolded state, it gets disbalanced at the slightest touch.

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Both screens on the OnePlus Open are the AMOLED type, with refresh rate switching depending on content, to reduce power consumption. It’s a slight size up for the 6.31-inch cover screen and the 7.82-inch main foldable screen – the Galaxy Z Fold 5 squares up with 6.2-inches and 7.6-inches. Higher resolution, and more pixel density, comparatively.

It is the cover screen’s increase in real estate which makes it significantly more usable – something you couldn’t always do comfortably on the more vertical (and therefore less wide) approach taken by Samsung. Using the OnePlus Open even when folded, wouldn’t feel out of place. In fact, this screen is large enough to drive interaction with most apps, akin to any Android phone. Key here being, it is as broad as conventional phones. Essentially, two phones in one?

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset with 16GB RAM should hold it in good stead. Neither will it slow down, now would you likely run out of storage space. With 512GB, OnePlus isn’t leaving you to the mercy of cloud storage either.

To make use of the large, foldable screen, OnePlus has baked in software smarts within Oxygen OS. They had to, since Android’s own capabilities on this front are quite limited despite Google’s own foldable phone (Gmail app doesn’t have the two-pane view in portrait mode, even now). Open Canvas is one such example. Apps that aren’t primed for this larger and square-er real estate get some assistance. Instagram for example, gives you the choice of thick black borders on either side or a weird, blown-out look, on most foldable phones. With Open Canvas, the interface gets a left sidebar which is very similar to their desktop interface. It just feels things are better placed.

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Then there are Triple Splits, which seems akin to a very handy cheat code to have three apps take up your screen space, instead of the traditional two. A third app can be placed out of frame for the most part, but ready to be slid into view – useful for messaging apps, emails or even sports scores you may be keeping an eye on. Not all apps will play ball with Triple Splits, or Open Canvas, from the outset. Much like how developers primed updates for Samsung’s foldable phones over time, the same cycle will repeat with the OnePlus Open too.

While these cool features do add the sort of utility you would expect after having spent top money on a OnePlus Open, each phone maker’s own take on multitasking leaves little to consistency. There will be some learning curves, as you get used to using Triple Splits to handle an app that can also be resized to the full screen, or how to get these app bundles as presets to quickly get them up and running. Is it something you are okay investing effort in?

While Samsung has shied away from giving its foldable phones the sort of camera specs that the Galaxy S flagship phones do (despite foldables being more expensive), OnePlus’ approach is logical. The troika consists of a 48-megapixel wide camera that’s the Sony LYTIA-T808 with pixel stacking, a 64-megapixel telephoto and a 48-megapixel ultrawide. There’s a 20-megapixel front facing camera if you’re using the OnePlus Open unfolded, while a 32-megapixel selfie and video call camera resides beneath the cover display.

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Numbers aside, it is the “pixel stacked” technology that will hold you in good stead. The exact description of this technology is extremely complex and long-winding, but what you need to know is, the underlying advantage is better handling of light that’s captured by each pixel, which should have a positive spin on dynamic range and detailing. Particularly in photos where lighting is inconsistent. Hasselblad’s photography prowess plays a big part in tuning image processing algorithms, which is why it is easy to be impressed by the sort of colours the OnePlus Open can replicate.

In particular, for photos in good lighting. In my experience with daytime and outdoor shots, it compares well with the Google Pixel 8 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra for the most part – but as is true with any smartphone camera performance comparison, no single phone has a definitive advantage in every scenario. The OnePlus Open has certain advantages with landscape and close-up photos, as well as any frame that has a multitude of colours to work with.

OnePlus Open takes photos that are brilliantly detailed, and easy on the eye. That said, there are occasions when the OnePlus Open needs to be prodded manually to get the focus locked in, or even at the correct place. This means it still must evolve (software updates, mind you) to become a camera that you simply point and shoot. At the same time, try to click the night sky, and the OnePlus Open illuminates stars you wouldn’t see with the naked eye, and doesn’t make a mess with trying to over-brighten the inky blacks, à la the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Also read:Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5’s pursuit of refinement drubs Motorola’s Razr 40 Ultra

Quite distinctly, the OnePlus Open cannot seem to get a grip on moving subjects. Hyperactive children, for instance. Or a butterfly. This is a shortcoming with many Android phones, including flagships. We’d hope camera updates can sort this, because the pipeline (that includes the Qualcomm chipset) doesn’t have any limitations that’d lead to this.

At the risk of repetition, we must weigh the OnePlus Open as a first generation foldable. With that as the backdrop, it has more power than you may expect, more refinement than you may assume and a greater potential for longevity than you may hazard a guess. The fact that it undercuts its only genuine competition, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 by a considerable margin too, only makes the argument stronger.

Yes, there are conventional form factor Android flagships that cost a bit lesser than this, examples being the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, the Google Pixel 8 Pro and even the very competent photographer, the Vivo X90 Pro. But that isn’t how you should look at this evolving picture. You’d consider a foldable phone because you genuinely want a foldable phone. Hold that thought, and compare between what OnePlus and Samsung offer, and total those discounts, cashbacks and exchange bonuses.

Also read:OnePlus 11R is an alternate Android flagship, with surprisingly few compromises

You may just find yourself leaning towards the OnePlus Open. It may be a first effort, compared with the years Samsung has spent refining its foldables. Yet, OnePlus has managed to give you larger displays to work with, while reducing overall size and weight. And genuinely utilitarian layers for multitasking. It does leave a few things perplexingly incomplete, such as the lack of wireless charging and limited water resistance.

All things considered, the OnePlus Open just does many things as well, or better than the Galaxy Z Fold 5. If I had the money (and the willingness to buy a foldable phone), I’d be leaning towards splashing that bundle on a OnePlus Open. It just definitively feels a well-polished, more likeable foldable Android phone. The camera system, in particular, is well and truly from the present generation – the OnePlus Open’s cameras are very good already, and it’ll only become better with time.

We’ve spent years willing Samsung to push Google and the rest of the foldable ecosystem to innovate. That’s changed. OnePlus’ fresh take on foldable Android phones will now have them pushing the innovation envelope on Samsung, Google and everyone else who wants to follow the market.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.

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