2023 has unequivocally been the year of foldables gathered mainstream momentum, with launches by Oppo, Tecno, Motorola and Samsung, not to mention many more from the likes of Google, Honor, Vivo and Xiaomi elsewhere in the world.
One brand has driven the bulk of sales and mindshare, but with Samsung delivering the slightest of refreshes on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 this year, all eyes were on OnePlus and their book-style Open foldable to do what OnePlus has historically had a habit of doing in the past – disrupt the market.
After a little over two weeks of daily driving the new OnePlus Open ( ₹1,39,999), this has truly turned out to be the dark horse I didn’t expect to like as much as I did.
To be fair, while this is the brand’s first foldable, its unabashedly close ties to parent company Oppo lets OnePlus leverage all the know-how and engineering and the Flexion Hinge that has been the star of Oppo’s foldables this year. This does not feel anywhere close to a first-generation product – the device feels well put together and premium, with a chassis and flat-edged frame made of an aerospace-grade alloy of cobalt molybdenum and titanium for extra robustness without the added weight of stainless steel.
The Emerald Dusk green variant has a matte glass black, but it’s the vegan leather back panel on the Voyager Black colorway I had on hand that is the one to pick, and not just for its vintage camera appeal. The grippy texture on the rear aids grasping the OnePlus Open securely in the hand, vital for a phone with that large, protruding circular camera module on the rear.
It’s surprisingly thin too, for a foldable - 11.9mm when closed, 5.9mm when open. Even though it’s slightly bulkier than most regular phones, the 239g weight and that regular-phone-sized, 20:9 aspect ratio front screen makes it feel like a normal phone when using it in its closed state, or for that matter, when it’s in the pocket where it doesn’t feel any different than the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max (with a case on).
That normal phone form factor on the front 6.31-inch, 2K-resolution screen makes a significant difference in everyday use – unlike the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 and its awkwardly thin front screen, you no longer have to crack the Open open at the slightest provocation. Everything, from watching videos, scrolling social media or playing games, can be handily done on the outer display, leaving the bigger, inner display only for occasions when you want that expansive canvas with all its multitasking goodness.
And when you do crack it open, you get this expansive, almost-square 7.82-inch OLED display which lets you run two apps side-by-side with perfect smartphone proportions without the all-too-prevalent crease down the center of the screen at the point where the display folds. I mean, you can find it if you try, but you won’t see it in regular use or stumble upon it as you swipe sideways on the screen. In contrast, the Z Fold 5 has a very discernible crease.
The hinge allows the Open to stay open at any angle between 45 and 150 degrees – laptop mode, tripod style or anywhere in between to consume content or take photos - without needing as much force to open or close, and yet it closes fully flat.
Even so, the OnePlus Open is IPX4-rated for splash resistance, which means that it will last a heavy monsoon shower or an extra active session in the gym, just not submersion in water. OnePlus also claims that the Open has been successfully tested for up to a million hinge operations (folding/unfolding), which is a good reassurance that the hinge will outlast any reasonable usage of this phone.
Rounding off the design, it’s nice to see an infrared remote capability and the OnePlus-signature alert slider, but the side-mounted fingerprint sensor (which one used several times daily) was a tad too thin to hit accurately each time. Oh, and the large camera bump on the rear ensures that it will wobble if you leave it unfolded on a table.
Using the Open has been a revelation, and not just due to both OLED screens impressing with their crisp 2K resolutions, 120-Hz refresh rates, HDR10+/Dolby Vision support and typical/peak brightness of 1400/2800 nits. Three speakers – two at the top and a third at the bottom – produce detailed sound with about average Atmos and spatial effects.
The Open runs Android 13/OxygenOS 13.2, which should be familiar for anyone who has used a OnePlus device recently, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (and a generous 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage) keeps things running swimmingly. Classic OnePlus ‘fast and smooth’ experience -- no hiccups or stutters whatsoever.
Even on Android 13, OnePlus has delivered some nifty multitasking tricks not seen on any other foldable previously, the highlight of which was Open Canvas.
It’s OnePlus’ take on split-screen multitasking – instead of running two or three apps cramped onto the screen, Canvas loads up to three apps (either side by side or two above and one full-width below), and a simple tap to the edge switches between them. Think of the extra apps as living just outside of the screen, ready to be called into action with a tap or swipe much like windows being moved around on a larger canvas. This is, without a doubt, the best multitasking experience I’ve seen on a foldable, and the fact that you can save up to nine multi-app presents means you can run Instagram, X and YouTube as one preset for relaxing, while another with email, a browser and Slack while working, and many other such use cases.
It’s multitasking on steroids, one that I can’t wait to see rolled out to other OnePlus products like tablets. It has some initial bugs, but the implementation is slick and is a strong differentiator for the OnePlus Open. OnePlus has committed to 4 android version updates and 5 years of security patches for the Open.
Battery life was another win for the Open, with the 4,805mAh battery lasting easily over a day of heavy use, with a lot more content and browsing on the inner display.
There’s absolutely no battery worries with this device, and part of that is down to the 67W fast charging with the included charger. Zero to full in just under 50 minutes, but bear in mind, you don’t get wireless charging. If wireless charging is your jam – and it’s absolutely fair to demand this of a phone priced well north of a lakh – this phone doesn’t deliver.
Personally, while I prefer the feature, and every single Rs1 lakh phone I’ve used including the Galaxys, the Pixels and iPhones include wireless charging, none of them have anywhere close to the fast charging OnePlus offers, so I consider it a fair trade.
With so many good decisions all around, OnePlus didn’t just phone it in for the camera department on the Open, and it looks like the company has stretched to put in their best shooters on this device, replete with the Hasselblad color tuning that one has grown to appreciate over the last few years of the OnePlus partnership.
There’s a new 48MP Sony LYTIA-T808 sensor (with OIS), a 48MP ultrawide/macro and a 64MP telephoto camera with 3x optical and up to 6x in-sensor magnification. Add to that, two selfie cameras in dedicated punch holes on both screens - a 32MP shooter inside and a 20MP camera inside the foldable display.
The new sensor uses what is called pixel-stacking technology, packing in pixel transistors and photodiodes in layers vertically instead of the traditional side-by-side arrangement, which allows sensors to take in more light.
In my testing, night-time shots benefited from the new sensor, taking handheld shots instantly, without having to resort to a night mode. Photos are replete with details, portraits have good levels of bokeh and the only places where I found the cameras lacking was in harshly lit conditions (where it often overexposed the shot) and in some shots where the colors were boosted, almost unnaturally so.
The main shooter holds its own against some of the best candybar phones I’ve tested, but the real star is the telephoto lens, which brings a usable periscope-style telephoto to foldables for the first time. The versatility of having a 3x/6x crop at your disposal is perfect for city shooting, and the zoom often surprised in low-light conditions as well.
The ultrawide fares well, both on color parity (with the other shooters) and low-light performance but could do with improvements on dynamic range. The two selfie cameras produce images that are soft on details – I’d highly recommend using the main cameras using the outside screen as a viewfinder. As of the time of writing, OnePlus has rolled out an update that improves camera performance, so I expect some of these issues to be addressed.
Buying a foldable isn’t an easy decision these days – they’re pricey, you have to worry somewhat about durability and the design forces varying degrees of compromise, either on battery life, cameras or performance. The OnePlus Open manages to nearly nail the brief – top notch displays, good camera, excellent performance, foldable-first software, worry-free battery life and the best design for a foldable out there.
It’s still pricey, even as it has undercut Samsung, which means it will appeal to the well-heeled enthusiast and early adopters. If you’re in the market for a foldable phone this festive season, you cannot go wrong with the OnePlus Open – it is the no-compromise foldable that we’ve all been waiting for.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, posts @2shar.