The OnePlus 2 was obnoxiously dubbed the "2016 flagship killer," but it didn't even topple last year's top-tier competition. However, this year's phone is an entirely different story.
OnePlus clearly learned from its overdone bravado and the modest upgrades of last year's phone, because the OnePlus 3 is truly a heavyweight flagship that can hang with phones nearly twice its price. All that said, however, can it really stand tall against the Samsung Galaxy S7?
Released in March, the Galaxy S7 shot to the top of our best smartphones ranking, replacing the Galaxy S6 that had inhabited that same spot for the prior 12 months, and it's a serious improvement in every way. It's the ultimate, high-end desirable in the world of Android smartphones, just like its predecessor.
Can the significantly cheaper OnePlus 3 really dethrone a phone that pristine, refined, and feature-packed? Now that we've spent extensive time with both, we're putting them head to head on looks, screen, power, and more – here's the verdict.
Glass or metal?
Put any previous OnePlus phone up against the Galaxy S7 and it'd be a landslide victory for Samsung. No doubt about it: the recent Galaxy models are handsome devices that look every bit their price tags, and older OnePlus handsets tended to look the budget part.
Not so with the OnePlus 3. Finally, the company has a smartphone that looks like the pricey flagships it aspires to rival, with a stellar unibody anodized aluminium design that recalls the HTC 10. Only it's even more refined and polished-looking, making this perhaps the best Android unibody design out there right now.
Pick your preference: do you prefer Samsung's glass backing with the added curves, or OnePlus 3's aluminium backing and sharp accents? Both are stellar, so we're calling this one even.
Here's one category that the OnePlus 3 doesn't really stand a chance in: the Samsung Galaxy S7's 5.1in Quad HD – that's a whopping 2560 x 1440 resolution (557 pixels per inch) – screen is arguably the best on the market, and it's the biggest advantage you get for shelling out for Samsung's device. It's an absolute stunner.
That said, the OnePlus 3 screen is rather solid on its own merits. It's a larger display, coming in at 5.5in, albeit at just 1080p resolution. Both are OLED displays, although we found the OnePlus 3's color reproduction a bit suspect.
That point aside, it's a great, sharp sreen, but still handily outdone by the Galaxy S7. Also, the Galaxy S7 can be used with the Samsung Gear VR headset, which is a big bonus consideration.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7
Take your shot
It's a similar showdown when it comes to back camera performance. The OnePlus 3 packs a great shooter for the price: it's a 16-megapixel that we've seen on past Moto X phones and the Huawei Mate 8, and it's a speedy, mostly sharp shooter.
With automatic settings, however, the OnePlus 3 tends to crank up the ISO rather than rely on its optical image stabilisation to avoid blur, and photos sometimes come out looking overly processed. Still, for a £300-ish phone, the results are totally stellar. We are very much impressed… again, for that price level.
Nearly double the price for the Samsung Galaxy S7 and you get a much better and more reliable camera experience. It's a 12-megapixel sensor, curiously (whereas the Galaxy S6 had 16MP), but the photos show fantastic depth and contrast, and the Pro mode and RAW shooting options are a major plus for photography buffs.
You get what you pay for with phone cameras, and the Galaxy S7 could warrant the cash bump for detail-oriented, on-the-go shooters who want the best around.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7
Packs a punch
Both phones are absolute speed demons. The Galaxy S7 has an Exynos 8890 processor inside, while the OnePlus 3 opts for a Snapdragon 820; in either case, they're multi-core war horses capable of powering games and vivid media without breaking a sweat. Or overheating, for that matter.
The OnePlus 3 has an almost unbelievable 6GB RAM inside, which seems… unnecessary, really, but more is better, right? Samsung's phone "only" packs in 4GB by comparison, but we didn't notice any sluggishness in multitasking during use on either device. They're both running top-of-the-line hardware. You can't go wrong either way.
Both are also running versions of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with Samsung opting for its TouchWiz skin and OnePlus using OxygenOS. TouchWiz is much less objectionable than in some years' past and isn't overwhelmingly cluttered or ugly, but we prefer something closer to stock – and OxygenOS mostly looks the part in that regard.
Then again, you can just install the Google Now Launcher on the Galaxy S7 and overcome any qualms you might have with TouchWiz. All told, we can't pick a clear favourite in this category.
All about perks
Both devices have a 3,000mAh battery pack within and both should last you a day if you're not spending that entire balance running eye-popping 3D games and streaming video over 4G. But in our testing, the Galaxy S7 was more likely to last a bit longer, pushing past the 24-hour mark at times even with solid use throughout the day.
And the Galaxy S7 has a couple of other big perks in this year's edition that also aren't found on the OnePlus 3, namely waterproofing and microSD support. The 64GB found on the OnePlus 3 is plenty generous, but if you need more, well… you aren't getting it. At least you have the expandable option with the Galaxy S7.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7
A quick skim through our analysis reveals three category wins for the Galaxy S7 and a pair of draws. So why is the OnePlus 3 now our favourite phone in the world, just above Samsung's top-level wonder?
Value, of course: the OnePlus 3 sells for £309, while the list price for the Galaxy S7 comes in at £570. You can find it cheaper, but surely not discounted enough to really compete on that point with OnePlus' latest handset.
Nearly everything about the OnePlus 3 is really great: the build, the performance, the camera, the battery life, and even the screen. We have a few niggles, but otherwise it's far and away the best new smartphone you can get for about £300. It's an insane value, especially when other competing Android phones like the HTC 10 and LG G5 sell for more than £500 apiece as well.
True, the Galaxy S7 has some very nice perks, including that shimmering Quad HD display and the best phone camera on the market. If you don't mind spending a couple hundred more quid, then by all means – purely from a hardware standpoint, it's the best around.
But when considering the overall experience and how much price and value weigh on our happiness with a device and its desirability to our readers, we can't help but crown the OnePlus 3 the best smartphone option on the market today.
It's a well-earned, still-surprising victory for OnePlus. All hail the £309 flagship killer.
Verdict: OnePlus 3