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Samsung Galaxy S7 vs. OnePlus 3: Premium Android at any budget

A few years ago, you had to spend a lot of money to get a phone with flagship specs, but things have changed. There are some smartphones that have much more reasonable prices with very few compromises in the hardware department. For example, the new OnePlus 3 retailing for a mere $399. When you look at the substantially more expensive Samsung Galaxy S7, these two phones have a lot in common. Let’s see how they stack up in real world use.

The OnePlus 3 has an aluminum unibody shell, which is a departure for the company. It previously used an interesting sandstone material on the back of its phones. It made the devices grippy, but the aluminum is a more mature, premium look. You might even call it slightly boring. It is extremely well-made, though.

Samsung has meanwhile stuck to its metal and glass construction. The GS7 feels amazingly solid and dense — it might as well be a unibody phone. The glass back panel is made of Gorilla Glass, just like the display. It’s not going to scratch or break easily, but it can be cracked. The aluminum frame of the OP3 is going to be more durable (and also less fingerprint-y). However, the Galaxy S7 is water-resistant (IP67) and the OnePlus 3 is not.

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The OnePlus 3 has a Type-C USB port (see above), which I prefer at this point. It’s time to make the change, but Samsung stuck with microUSB for the Galaxy S7. You’ll need new cables for the OP3, but the connector is reversible. Samsung’s charging port supports Quick Charge 2.0, which gets you a full battery in a little over an hour. The OP3 uses a technology called VOOC (called Dash Charge here) that is a little faster, but it only works with the stock charger. Other chargers just work at normal speed.

OnePlus and Samsung have similar button setups this year. The Galaxy S7 has a physical home button dead center under the screen that contains a fingerprint sensor flanked by back and overview buttons. The home button is clicky and solid, but interestingly, OnePlus’ fingerprint sensor is faster and more accurate. That one is also in the home button, but the OP3 uses a capacitive button rather than a clicky one. There are also back and overview buttons on either side of it. However, they’re just unlabeled dots, which I find annoying.

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Inside, the Galaxy S7 and OnePlus 3 are similar specs. The OP3 has a Snapdragon 820 quad-core SoC and 6GB of RAM. The GS7 has a Snapdragon 820, but just 4GB of RAM. I mean, “just” 4GB of RAM isn’t an issue in my opinion. Even after some tweaks in an OTA update, the OP3 doesn’t really take full advantage of that 6GB of RAM. Apps are still dropped from memory faster than you’d expect in order to save battery life. It’s kind of a marketing gimmick. OnePlus has included 64GB of fast UFS 2.0 storage in the OP3, but there’s no microSD card slot. The Galaxy S7 has 32GB of UFS 2.0 storage, and there’s a card slot.

The OnePlus 3 has one other hardware quirk that most users seem to like. On the left side is a physical slider that lets you control the notification mode without waking it up. Slide up one click for priority mode and another for silent. One drawback: That means you can’t control Do Not Disturb settings in software via scheduled downtime or Android Wear.

Also be aware, the OnePlus 3 is an unlocked GSM/LTE phone. That means it won’t work on Verizon or Sprint in the US.

Most of the hardware is a close race between the Galaxy S7 and OP3, but the display is no contest. The OnePlus 3 has a 1080p AMOLED panel, which is manufactured by Samsung. However, it’s nowhere near as nice as the panels Samsung uses on its own phones. The OnePlus 3’s screen doesn’t look terrible or anything, but it’s not of flagship level.

The OP3 screen is 5.5-inches, which at 1080p is a little problematic for AMOLEDs. The subpixels in AMOLEDs have a different pattern than LCDs, and you can see a subtle crosshatch pattern because of it. This was much worse back in the days of 720p AMOLED, but you can still spot it around text and along curved shapes rendered on the OP3’s screen. The 1440p Super AMOLED on the Galaxy S7, by comparison, looks pristine even though it too has PenTile subpixels. Note: Samsung also has an Edge variant of the Galaxy S7 with a 5.5-inch curved AMOLED. It looks similarly excellent.

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Color reproduction is another place Samsung excels. The tuning is accurate without looking drab. The colors are rich and bright, and nothing is blown out compared with the rest. The GS7 also has multiple rendering modes, so you can alter how the display looks. If you want the most accurate colors possible for viewing photos, for example, that’s an option.

At launch, the OnePlus 3’s display was poorly calibrated. Some colors looked almost neon and out of place. OnePlus still stands by this calibration, but an update has since added a hidden sRGB mode slider. This makes the colors more accurate, but it doesn’t really take advantage of the AMOLED’s capabilities in a pleasing way. It’s probably still better than the default though.

A software update isn’t going to make the OP3’s screen brighter, though. It’s no where near as bright as the GS7, which is one of the brightest you can get. That’s ideal for use outdoors. The OP3 is usable outside, but you’ll have to squint a little too much.

The camera is another place where Samsung has a clear advantage. The 12MP sensor on the Galaxy S7 is lower resolution than the OnePlus 3’s, but it produces better, more consistent photos. Samsung’s image processing, HDR, and autofocus are the best you’ll find on Android.

Without going into too much detail, the GS7 produces excellent photos across a wide range of lighting conditions. The autofocus, which uses all the pixels in the image as a guide, is almost supernaturally fast. The HDR mode doesn’t add a noticeable amount of time to captures, and it really improves shots taken in challenging lighting conditions.

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The OnePlus 3 is still surprisingly good for the price when it comes to camera quality. It just falls short because the GS7 is so good. The OnePlus 3 takes very good photos in bright light, though the HDR mode isn’t very effective. The noise in medium and low light isn’t bad, but there’s still more than with Samsung. Focus times are also longer than Samsung.

I’d put the OnePlus 3 on roughly equal footing with the Nexus 6P when it comes to image quality. That’s impressive when you consider the price.

Both the Galaxy S7 and OnePlus 3 ship with a build of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Samsung calls its software TouchWiz, which you’ve probably heard of before. OnePlus has a build of Android called Oxygen OS. They both have their strong point, but I think OnePlus’ software is a little more desirable.

TouchWiz gets a lot of hate, but it has gotten much better over the years. Samsung’s UI now has more mature colors and most of the nonsense broken features that cluttered older devices have been removed. The home screen is one of the better OEM modified versions, and the highly customizable quick settings are great. There are still a fair number of features you won’t use, but none of it really gets in your way.

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Oxygen OS is much closer to stock Android, which means it’s a much cleaner, faster experience. The settings UI, quick settings, and other system features are mostly untouched. You can edit the quick settings, which is nice. OnePlus’ home screen has a few interesting features, but I don’t think any of them are very useful. There’s no reason not to just use Google Now Launcher or something similar. There are a few neat things going on in Oxygen OS that you don’t get elsewhere, like the dark system UI and the aforementioned alert slider, which can be tweaked in settings. There are a few more bugs in OP’s software than Samsung’s. though.

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There is one major concern here that probably outweighs OP’s modest advantage in software: updates. Samsung is not great at updates, but OnePlus has been even worse. The OnePlus 2 had to wait about eight months for the Marshmallow update. How long with the OP3 wait for Nougat? Samsung might be slow, but it’s at least consistently 3-4 months behind the Nexus phones. That’s a shorter wait.

There’s no doubt that the Samsung Galaxy S7 is an overall better phone. The display and camera both blow the OnePlus 3 away. The design and build quality is a tossup, unless you feel strongly about water-resistance. Then the GS7 is the winner.

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Still, the OP3 is very fast, and even the less ideal attributes aren’t bad. It’s an impressive deal for $399. If you can afford the Galaxy S7, I think you’ll be happier with it in the long run. You would not be crazy to buy the OnePlus 3 and pocket the difference, though. The price for the GS7 varies by carrier, but it’ll be just shy of $700 total.

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