Reviewing the OnePlus 3 after 6 years of use

The software got in the way

What does it mean to use a phone for 6 years? Can you even use a smartphone for this long? Every year, there is a new iPhone, there is a new Samsung, there is a new Pixel. These are great devices. But for every year that these new devices came out, I asked myself the same question. What will I be gaining by switching my old phone?

At a first glance the answer is obvious. You get the latest hardware. More ram, faster processor, newer camera, etc. But the activity on the phone remains the same. We read and write emails, we chat with our friends, we take pictures, share videos, browse the web, social media, etc. When you get a new phone and transfer the old data, you'll feel a bit underwhelmed. Especially if you use a case to protect your phone. You don't get to see the characteristics that differentiate the new device. It feels like nothing has changed, except you are short a thousand dollars.

The main difference between an old and new device is the software.

In July of 2016, I ordered a OnePlus device. The email said it will ship in 2 business days, and up to a week for the device to arrive. The very next day, USPS showed up at my door with the device in hand. That's one way to impress me.

This phone was a replacement to my Galaxy S4 that had quite a few issues. But the main one was heat. When plugged-in to charge, if the USB connection was pressed down, the phone would start heating up. A few times, I'd wake up at night to reach for my charging phone only to drop it immediately. The phone would feel like it was on fire. Maybe that's what caused the middle part of the screen to stop responding to touch. I still managed to use the phone for a while navigating around the broken parts, switching from landscape mode and back in order to type on the keyboard. It was painful.

But after watching the OnePlus 3 review by MKBHD, I jumped on the wagon and bought myself one.

The one plus was already a great improvement over the S4. There was virtually no lag while interacting with the phone. I was a bit upset that I couldn't expand storage with an SD card, especially since it only had 64G of storage. But I was OK with it since I didn't mind transferring photos and videos back to my computer. Over the following 3 years, I fell in love more and more with the device. It was unstoppable.

The camera

I'm by no means a photographer and I did take a couple classes, but a great camera does not make great pictures. A teacher once told me, great pictures come from people who can work their feet. "You have to move. Your feet need to move, like a boxer always moving to get the perfect shot."

Eisenhower office

Shot on OnePlus 3

One thing that I have appreciated most with video is the image stabilization. To make a watchable video with my old S4, I had to stand perfectly still. If I needed to move, I had to flow like melting butter or the video would jitter like crazy. Making videos was butter smooth with the OnePlus 3.

But my favorite feature was Smile Capture which was sadly removed through an update. It's inconvenient to take group selfies with friends when you have to extend one arm to get everyone in, then use the other hand to take the photo. Using a timer meant going through the camera's settings while everyone is trying to hold a smile on their face. With smile capture, you would just pose and when you are ready to take the photo, you smile. When the camera detects a smile, it starts the 3 second timer. It was an amazing feature. Not sure why it was removed.

Selfie using Smile Capture

Shot on OnePlus 3. Smile Capture and the smile that triggered it.

The camera also supported the RAW image format. You could easily export it to Lightroom or Photoshop for a much more advanced image editing. The only problem was that at 32 MB a picture, it quickly ate up storage space.

Performance

To this day, I do not experience any lag when using this device. For a whole year, I was addicted to clash of clans and playing the game was smooth. I played Sky, Children of the light, which is pretty intense with graphics. There is virtually no lag. The only problem is storage space.

Storage

The first home computer we owned had 2GB of storage, yet somehow it felt like infinite space. But you can consume 64GB on a device with ease. For the first 3 years with this phone, I would happily take pictures, then transfer them to my computer for further processing, and freeing up space. But then my twins were born. Recording videos and taking photos outpaced my ability to transfer them back to the computer. I am constantly finding myself looking for what can be deleted, or transfered to the cloud so I can take another video of the kids.

Being low on space can also be problematic when you are required to update an App before you can use it. That's one way I broke my addiction to games. Sky, clash of clans, angry bird, all have seasonal events that require app updates to continue using them. Each of these games require more than 2 GB of free space in order to update. So I'd just delete them. When it came to bank or credit card apps, I had no choice but to hunt for something to delete. At least, I didn't have to worry about the battery.

Battery

This is one of the most impressive parts of the phone. Over the lifetime of the phone, I never needed to charge it overnight. I'd go to sleep with a 20% battery. In the morning, I'd plug it in before I get up to shower. By the time I'm ready for work, it will be at 100%. On days of heavy use, I can count on a 20 minute recharge to give me an extra 60% of battery.

After 6 years, yes the battery gets depleted much faster. But unless I'm going on a road trip or am playing a heavy game on the phone, I don't have to worry about the battery. I can charge it for a few minutes and expect it to last for the rest of the day.

I often read online that people worry that fast charging may damage the battery. I can assure you that with the OnePlus 3, fast charging does not cause any long term issue. 6 years in, and I can still count on my battery to last all day.

Software Update.

The first thing I do when I get a phone is turn off automatic updates. I do not download an app unless I am required to. I'll rather go to the website, and use desktop mode if I have to. I'm perfectly capable of updating an app myself. And I refuse to do so when developers decide on a whim whether they should add or remove a feature.

I've been burned in the past when app developers decide that now you need to login in order to use a specific feature. So now I don't use these apps anymore.

OnePlus 3 runs on Oxygen OS, and the last OS update was in November of 2019. The support for this device has ended ever since. You'd have to feel comfortable with that if you are going to use an old phone.

Durability

I don't give my phone the best care. When I get home, I often toss it in the room. Many times the phone hits the night stand, bangs the bed frame, or just falls off the table. Yet, after 3 years of use, I didn't have a single scratch. I changed the protective cover and screen every couple years for good measure. I also never put my phone down in the kitchen. You never know.

I always felt my phone was indestructible, until my twin boys were born. They may not have the upper body strength to bend my phone in half, but they found their own way to make my phone unusable.

Raziel

Twin 1 of 2 - Destroyer of Phones

The first malfunction happened when Raziel was teething. The poor kid had swollen gums and was looking for anything that could relieve him. My phone had this nice rubber outer protection that must have been soothing to gnaw through. The problem was that as his pain was relieved, he salivated a whole lot. So much so that it went straight into the USB-C port and audio, and fingerprint reader. By the time I found him with my phone, the device had just decided to call it quits and shut itself down.

Hours later, after trying to dry the phone as best as I could, I was able to turn it back on. The fingerprint reader was fine. The USB-C port would work, but warp charge was no longer available. It came back after a day. The audio also started working the next day. But the two capacitive buttons on the bottom of the screen were done for.

Luckily android supports on screen buttons as well. It takes up more screen space, but I had no other choices.

At 3 years old, my son is much bigger and has teeth. He would often bite through the screen, leaving cracks. Salivate through the other buttons, both volume up and down buttons no longer work. And just toss my phone around like it was a horseshoe.

Cracked oneplus phone

Protective Screen is cracked, but the actual screen is still fine.

It's been 6 years. The phone is still alive. I use on-screen buttons for everything. I use the power button to take screenshots, even though I accidentally turn it off sometimes. Controlling the volume is the most annoying, but you can still do it by going through settings. I wish I could push it longer, but it has become just too inconvenient to use this phone.

What phone should I get now?

Alas the time has come to get a new phone. I understand that the world in which I had purchased this device is no longer the same. The OnePlus I knew does not exist anymore. It's not an underdog trying to make a name for itself. It's only a brand that operates behind a larger company. They no longer cater to me.

No one will make a phone with an audio-jack. If they do, they won't have fast charging. If they do, they won't have a UI I can customize to my liking. I don't want that swipe left Google menu. I don't care for Google Assistant. I want a phone that steps out of the way and lets me do what I want. After all, I'm paying for it. But everyone has to put a bunch of bloatware I can't easily remove.

De-googling a phone is not a trivial task. I like some of the google services, but I don't want them all. But that's not a choice I have anymore.

I ended up buying a OnePlus 9 pro with 256 GB storage, that's my compromise. The OnePlus 10 is basically an Oppo phone with a OnePlus logo. I had that feeling when I transferred all my data. Yes, I have more storage now. Yes, on paper this phone is faster. But I lost a few things along the way. I can't even use the weather app I like. Most apps were updated automatically, meaning most of them have cool new In-App purchase features now. I ended up deleting a bunch of them.

I don't have the enthusiasm I felt when I got the OnePlus 3. I don't have the confidence that this device will last me 6 years even though I paid twice the amount to get it. The main difference between a phone you buy today and one that is 6 years old, is that the software in the new phone will step in the way. But who knows? I could be wrong about this new phone.

Either way, rendez-vous here in 6 years, or whenever this one breaks.


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