It has been a fantastic run of 5 years of iPhone ownership, but now I own a OnePlus 5T costing less than half the price of an iPhone X. What happened?
In September 2016 I bought a new iPhone 7, and returned it a week later because the battery life was terrible. It looked great in it’s new all-black finish, but I’d lost the headphone jack and the battery was worse than the two-year old iPhone 6 I foolishly traded in on the assumption that it’s replacement was a better phone.
After returning the 7 I bought a 7 Plus, figuring that the benefits of a bigger battery and better camera would outweigh the more inconvenient size. It turned out to be true — the Plus is a phone so big I’d have laughed at anyone for owning one not that long ago, but ownership changed my perspective. The size soon felt normal, and the camera is really, really good. On battery life, the whole “power user” badge is a bit cheesy, but I use Google Maps for 2 hours a day while driving, listen to streaming music via AirPods for hours, and have an Apple Watch. There’s also the usual gaming and surfing in the evening. Power user or not, the 7 Plus took it all in it’s stride. It was a boring phone, but a solid and trustworthy one.
When it was nearly a year old, I could see that the battery wasn’t quite as strong as it was, but there was still plenty headroom and it easily got me through the day. Then iOS 11 arrived. Straight away the phone was struggling with battery life, with the low power warning at 20% appearing every evening. It now felt like owning a Plus-sized phone but with standard iPhone battery life. A 12-month old phone that cost £819 was no longer performing as it should.
Annual iOS updates often have bugs or efficiency problems, and that’s fine to start with as long as they are eventually fixed. When Apple ships new iPhones and a new iOS, it’s perfectly reasonable for the new models to get top priority for tuning and fixes. What usually happens is that older devices get some love in a point release. But 11.1 and 11.2 came and went, and still no improvement. I tried various wipes and resets, even a clean install. This is not an unusual experience either, forums and social media are full of user complaints since iOS 11 shipped. Meanwhile, I spoke to friends on a different upgrade cycle who bought the 8 and 8 Plus, and they have no problems at all.
After 11.2 was released, I came to the conclusion that Apple wasn’t going to fix this, and started to look at alternatives. Buying an iPhone 8 Plus wasn’t attractive because it would be the third phone I’d bought with the same design, and it was too minor an upgrade to justify the cost. The iPhone X is a nice phone, but I don’t think it’s worth the money. Apple is clearly experimenting with how much people will pay for a phone, and as a disappointed Apple owner, it was out of the question to hand them so much money. Also, I don’t like the notch. Not because it actually bothers me, but it appears to exist purely to give the phone a unique appearance for branding and marketing. In the end, I decided that the current range of iPhones doesn’t interest me, and that isn’t going to change until September 2018. It was time to have a look at Android.
Too much choice, and none of them are perfect
Over in the Android world, choosing a phone is a lot more complicated because nobody makes a phone as as well-rounded as an iPhone. The Pixel range is probably the closest, with great software and camera, but the Pixel 2 XL is very expensive and the screen isn’t up to scratch. Eventually I settled on the OnePlus 5T. Although not a cheap phone, it’s price is more appropriate for someone looking to try Android but perhaps not stay there — it represents amazing value at £449/499 and I knew I could sell it for close to the new price if things didn’t work out.
But the interesting part of this is that it has worked out. Apart from one major drawback, the phone hardware is excellent. Performance, screen quality, battery life are all superb. It even has a headphone jack. And Android? It’s a real surprise. In the Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich era, Android had some advantages but couldn’t complete on polish and usability. By the time Lollipop arrived, app quality was on a par with iOS, and Android wasn’t far behind. Nougat on the OnePlus 5T is simply excellent. Apple’s processors are the most powerful on the market, but the OnePlus feels faster in normal use. It’s got a ridiculous amount of RAM and can keep lots of apps in memory, so switching between them is really fast. Even better, those long standing issues with lag and dropped frames are no longer part of Android due to serious effort put into fixing this with 7.1. Even games run great.
So what’s the major drawback? It’s the camera of the 5T. I knew this was a problem area prior to buying, but it was hard to judge just how good or bad it would be. Professional reviews warned it was pretty bad. Other reviews thought it was ok, and of the sample images I checked, quite a few pictures looked perfectly reasonable. Now I own the device, I really dislike the camera. Outside shots are passable, but inside shots are really bad, being gloomy and underexposed even in bright light. And if you zoom in even slightly on them, there’s tons of noise. That ugly digital watercolour effect is very strong.
The other downside is that I can’t use my Apple Watch any more, which is a disappointment. But, that’s not Android or OnePlus’s fault, it’s Apple’s. In my five years of iPhone ownership I brushed off the whole story of Apple having a closed ecosystem or walled garden. But it’s true. It’s just that you don’t notice it from the inside.