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Time for OnePlus to stop faking it with Oppo’s phones

by Justin Herrick | November 17, 2017November 17, 2017 7:00 am PST

Everyone already knew what the OnePlus 5T would be like. No, that isn’t a reference to spot-on leaks. Those weren’t necessary to know almost everything about the OnePlus 5T in advance of its announcement. There’s something about the brand constantly overlooked. Its founders, though, refuse to embrace an integral part of its history.

See, OnePlus isn’t this scrappy startup trying to make a name for itself. What you saw from OnePlus in the past and what you’re continuing to see now is new in name but not in design.

Perhaps to your surprise, the latest flagship is nothing more than an existing phone with a fresh coat a paint. But you won’t hear that from Carl Pei and Pete Lau. They prefer to describe themselves as industry veterans who unchained themselves from big corporations and embarked on a mission to create phones influenced by you. So the world sees OnePlus’ journey over the last four years as a rare success story in a fierce, crowded space. That’s simply not true.

OnePlus isn’t even a startup. It’s just a brand using startup-like tactics to make noise. And, while OnePlus has indeed created a loyal, close-knit community, its products are far from original. Hardware is reused, and software is identical to stock Android.

You’ve probably never heard of BBK Electronics, the massive Chinese company manufacturing different types of products — phones, cameras, televisions, and media players. But although you don’t know BBK Electronics’ name, you do know its brands in the mobile industry. A number of Asian markets are actually dominated by them. Oppo and Vivo, the first consumer-facing brands within the Oppo Electronics division, were joined by OnePlus in 2013.

To this day, OnePlus has never publicly acknowledged its relationship with BBK Electronics. Why have we only learned of it through business filings? Aside from the undesired association with a conglomerate, Pei and Lau don’t want you to know OnePlus receives leftovers from Oppo.

If you weren’t already aware, OnePlus asks its parent company to provide phones and then replaces a few components.

Look at Oppo’s R11 (seen above). Specifications include a 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED display, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 660, and 20MP and 16MP cameras on the back. It was announced and released in June 2017. Maybe some of those specs sound familiar. That’s because the OnePlus 5, which arrived in the same month, is a tweaked R11. OnePlus debuted its 2017 flagship with the same display but added “Optic” branding to the AMOLED technology, exchanged the processor for a Snapdragon 835, and slightly modified the cameras. From the outside, the R11 and OnePlus 5 are identical.

Critics and consumers started catching on to what OnePlus was up to, but the brand didn’t stop. The OnePlus 5T, too, is new in name but old in design. It borrows just about everything from the Oppo R11s. Both phones have 6.01-inch Full HD+ AMOLED displays, Qualcomm-made processors (albeit belonging to different series), and dual-camera systems on the back. The big change from their predecessors is the reduction of the top and bottom bezels.

Yet again, OnePlus took the easy route but praised its nonexistent efforts to design a beautiful phone. It’s weak and those who know the truth aren’t enthusiastic about the brand’s products anymore.

By the way, no one should knock the OnePlus 5T or its predecessors when viewed in a vacuum. I, despite being someone sharing a frustrated opinion toward OnePlus, have loved the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 5. Both are really good phones in my eyes. I’m also likely to be impressed by the OnePlus 5T. It’s OnePlus’ messaging drawing criticism from me.

The hype is only hype. No matter how good OnePlus’ phones are, the brand will never rival any serious players in the mobile industry unless BBK Electronics gets serious. Will OnePlus ever earn a big marketing budget? Maybe, but it’ll remain a fraction of what the competition spends. That’s not what OnePlus needs anyway. OnePlus needs its own phone.

Pei and Lau should be able to take a stage, present something we’ve never seen before, and have people genuinely excited to find out if this is the best phone we’ve ever seen. The current state of OnePlus, unfortunately, means we see a phone, think it’s new, and then discover OnePlus didn’t have to try very hard. The appeal beyond loyalists stops because there’s no groundbreaking innovation. OnePlus knows how to create momentum amongst its base for a launch, but it has no clue how to gain the attention of iPhone and Galaxy buyers.

BBK Electronics enjoys deep pockets, and the brand loyalty built over time should prove to the parent company that OnePlus is worth every penny. The story would be different if OnePlus was indeed a little startup scraping the floor for money. Today, getting the brand to the next level will require an investment in research and development to create ambitious, unique products.

OnePlus pushes “Never Settle” as its motto, but it does settle for whatever BBK Electronics sends its way. Here’s to hoping 2018 is different. I’d love to see a OnePlus 6 that doesn’t look like an Oppo phone.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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