It’s quite normal for TV brands to flex marketing jargon in their promotional material and when you’re trying to pack in as much as you can on a budget, that need is only amplified. OnePlus knows it has to stand out from the crowd… and it is a crowded place out there for mid-price 4K TV choices.
But set your eyes on the new U-Series 4K LED TV and you’re instantly drawn to its incredibly slim profile. At only 6.9mm for the most part, from the side, it’s almost invisible! I say almost because that svelteness does broaden a bit around the hips to accommodate for all the connectivity. But even that is smartly wrapped in a carbon-fibre textured panel and a neat flap conceals all the ports as well. As far as attention to detail in the design goes, the U-Series wins this round over anything else out there. Even one of the biggest criticisms of the first-generation Q-Series TV, the wonkiness of the panel on a table stand, has been addressed firmly with a pair of legs that confidently plant this TV on any surface you choose to put it on.
Based around Android 9.0, OnePlus uses the same customisation protocol on its TVs as it does on its phones, which is to say, make a stock system better. Instead of adding bloatware and useless apps, all it has are utterly usable bits scattered across the OS that make living with the U-Series a genuinely pleasant experience, especially if you’re a household of many. Things like Kids Mode, which let you set a password and only show the apps you wish to be viewed by children, is a great addition. The OnePlus Connect app that harnesses the ecosystem if you have a OnePlus phone is another great example of this brand making a genuine effort to go the Apple way and provide its customers with dividends if they stay in the family. The app doesn’t just offer remote control capabilities, but it is rich in detail and information, letting you browse through movies with cover art and simply tapping one to start playing. If you do want to use it as an additional remote control, it also gives you a real-time visual of the on-screen commands and menu, including the mute symbol on the bottom left of the screen… yes, it’s replicated on the phone remote!
If you just like physical remotes, the redesigned mini-remote works well on the U-Series. It has large-ish volume control buttons (like how they should be) and mute button right under it, thank heavens! Direct access keys to Netflix and Prime Video speed things up considerably with quick load times.
The UI remains practical if not the most intuitive. Certain important controls like picture settings cannot be accessed by just going into the Picture menu. It shows you all the presets and custom mode, but to make changes to the Custom mode, you have to go into the main TV settings. Perhaps this is a design decision to keep things simple for the vast majority of owners, and I get it. Personally, I like everything in a single menu, though. OnePlus’ Oxygen Play Store is well stocked with recently forged partnerships, including ErosNow, Hungama, Zee5, SonyLIV, Voot and Amazon Prime Video.
OnePlus uses the term “burden-less design” and from the front, the U-Series is certainly all-picture, with a screen-to-body ratio of 95%. Only the lower edge of the 55in TV has a border that is visible, but the sides and top are remarkably thin, making for a smart piece of industrial design. OnePlus throws a lot of jargon to sell its picture quality, but the headlining features are support for Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and HLG while covering 93% of the DCI colour space. Of course, there is motion processing in the form of MEMC (Motion Estimation, Motion Compensation) that aims to interpolate frames in between actual frames to offer a more fluid viewing experience. The opening sequence of Bad Boys For Life is perfect for this as a navy blue Porsche 911 wielded by Will Smith rips through the streets of Miami. Even at its lowest setting, the grandeur of heli-cams and stunt driving was reduced to looking like a daytime soap opera scene, so Ultra Smooth Motion is still best left off. It’s acceptable on reality shows and dramas, but stay away from it for any fast action, ironically.
OnePlus’ claim on the colour fidelity is two-faced. Sitting on-axis, directly in front of the screen and the palette is rich and vibrant, HDR doing full justice to ‘Dear - Stevie Wonder’ on Apple TV+ where the legendary singer is being interviewed against a backdrop of a live venue bathed in red and blue light. The hues reflected back from his dark glasses have a superb tonality to them, making it feel ever so real. Problem is, when you start moving off-axis to the sides of the couch and watch the U-Series from an angle of 30-60 degrees, this colour palette starts getting washed out rapidly. So much so that faces of news readers appear white as a ghost when I was watching the TV from my dining table. This inconsistency is surprising given the fact that the OnePlus performs quite well in every other area, on-axis. I was given instructions many a times by people watching from the far end of the room to adjust the “settings” of the TV, when in reality it was perfectly fine from where I was sitting, in front of the TV!
Dynamic and tonal contrast is impressive without any artefacts and it preserves detail in the shadows and highlights. Skin tones are displayed accurately, too, but you do have to rely on custom settings for the best results. Choosing Cinema from the presets, for instance, turns on Ultra Motion, taking away the 24fps cinema “feel” of a movie, in fact. Spend some time fine tuning the picture and the OnePlus will yield great results with vivid colours and decent detail in the blacks. Just make sure you don’t veer away too far to the sides of the screen!
Sonically, It’s not going to create any new benchmarks. The speakers are rear-facing but with a OnePlus spin on it which adds a “reflective film” to aim it downwards. I’m not sure what this is supposed to achieve in terms of increased bass response, but it falters on that front quite obviously. There’s a hollowness to the sound in whichever preset you select, although using the Surround option gives it more spread and forwardness. But it’s still weak sounding with an incoherent response that is fatiguing after a while. Factor in a pair of bookshelf speakers or a sound bar with a wireless subwoofer if you really want to maximise the effect of buying a new, big-screen TV.
As far as smarts go, the OnePlus skin on Android works well with every part of the UI accessible within 2 or 3 clicks. Features like Data Saver, Kids Mode and the OnePlus Connect app with its host of advantages. Unique features like screenshot (whatever’s on the TV), images via the OnePlus cloud and easy casting make it a great option for OnePlus or Android phone owners in a way that Apple adds value to its ecosystem. Support for the Google Assistant and Alexa is also in place, so it ticks off all the right boxes for anyone looking to buy a relatively future ready telly.
Anyone looking for a 55in TV is spoilt for choice these days, so why should you consider the OnePlus U-Series? Firstly, if you have a OnePlus phone and wish to continue using their devices, it’s a no-brainer. Secondly, it’s a genuinely good-looking television if you want to flaunt it out in your living room. And as long as you have just one 2-seater couch, it’s going to make you go wow with its picture quality too. Its poor viewing angles and less than stellar sound are its only downsides. Work around those and it makes for one of the best budget TVs out there and the only reason we had to drop a star from an otherwise fantastic product, especially given its hugely attractive price tag.