OnePlus: We're Ready for the Big Leagues

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OnePlus is best known for invitation-only, cult smartphones that offer flagship specs at surprisingly low prices. But you can't be a weird little start-up forever. With this year's offering, the Snapdragon 820-powered OnePlus 3, the company is selling its phones the regular way: through Amazon and through its own website.

"In our first and second years, we were still trying to figure things out. In our third year, this excuse becomes no longer valid. In the end, it's about taking more responsibility," OnePlus founder Carl Pei said.

That's great to hear. Two years ago, we had to retract our Editors' Choice for the OnePlus One because it was just so frustrating to actually buy.

The OnePlus 3 goes back to OnePlus's original market of early adopters, Pei said, with a premium metal build and the fastest processor possible.

"With the OnePlus 2 our product definition was a little more mainstream, but with the OnePlus 3 we're kind of going back to the tech early adopter again," he said.

Some of OnePlus' spec choices don't quite match up to more expensive flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S7, but Pei had a comeback for each one of them. Take the 1080p screen and the lack of expandable memory. Pei said that built-in storage was much faster than MicroSD, that few people use more than 64GB, and that a high-res screen is just a battery drain for most users.

"We don't think VR on a smartphone is a major use case, and the only reason why you'd want a 2K display is to do VR better," Pei said.

Similarly, Pei asserted that OnePlus's fast "dash charging" is better than either Qualcomm's QuickCharge 3.0 or wireless charging. Dash charging allows fast charging while using the phone by moving power management to the AC adapter, he said.

"If you commute for half an hour, you can eventually get a day's charge out of that. With Dash Charge, we found that more and more people just charge whenever they need to, as opposed to at a fixed time," he said.

We have a full review of the OnePlus 3, and a 360-degree hands-on (above) with the phone and its accessories. Take a look at those stories for a complete rundown on this $399 phone, which is the least expensive unlocked flagship in the U.S. OnePlus intends to stick with the unlocked market, rather than throwing itself at carriers, which still control about 90 percent of US phone sales, he said.

"In 2015, the sales of unlocked smartphones in the U.S. grew by 150 percent," Pei said. "We're here for the long term, and over the next five to 10 years, how large is the likelihood that more and more people are going to get smarter about their purchases?"

OnePlus may be getting a little more conventional, but don't expect it to become boring. The OnePlus 3 was launched through a "VR experience" 10 months in the making, and tomorrow, OnePlus executives will be selling phones in person at pop-up shops in New York, London, Berlin, Paris, Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi. That will keep the OnePlus community buzzing. The phone goes on sale online today.

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