The OnePlus 11 is official — in China, anyway. The latest OnePlus flagship will arrive on Western shores next month, so while we twiddle our thumbs, I thought about the future and what we can expect in 2023.
OnePlus made a big splash in 2014 when it launched the OnePlus One and has climbed in popularity since then. The company as it stands today is a far cry from the upstart nearly a decade ago, but that has come with an increase in phone quality.
The OnePlus 10 Pro last year was far and away the best device that OnePlus has ever released, mostly because it started to close the gap between it, Samsung and Google.
But Google and Samsung still hold a lead over OnePlus in two key areas: software and cameras. It's here where OnePlus needs to succeed to best its best Android phone rivals.
I'll come right out and say it. OnePlus' software has taken a drastic downturn in the last year or so. The latest version of OxygenOS is an exercise in frustration and bad UX. It's cluttered, clunky, and the opposite of what made OxygenOS great back in its heyday.
OnePlus also lags behind Samsung and Google when it comes to update timeliness. It's quite a bit slower, though comparing it to Google isn't exactly apples to oranges. But Samsung puts out updates at a blistering pace for its most recent phones; even its older handsets get their upgrades within a month or two typically.
Considering the kinda-merger with Oppo, I would expect OnePlus to get updates out much faster with the weight of its sister company behind it. I can see improvement in this area, but there remains a delay between a major Android release and when OnePlus pushes out the update.
OnePlus has historically lagged behind its competition in the photography department, but as I sat down to write this article, we got to see the first camera samples from the OnePlus 11. Assuming they're legitimate and not heavily edited, I think Google and Samsung might want to look out.
I went in-depth with some of the better OnePlus 11 photos from the suite we got on Twitter. They impressed me, especially the low-light shots. OnePlus has historically struggled with situations like these, even as recently as the OnePlus 10 Pro. That phone often cast low-light photos with a sickly, yellowish tinge.
But OnePlus has a steep hill to climb to beat Samsung, let alone Google. Those two companies have a lot of time and resources invested into the post-processing algorithms that produce the final images. OnePlus has lately done better in optimal conditions, putting out pictures with reasonably accurate colors and good dynamic range.
But in the third year of the Hasselblad partnership, I think 2023 could the year that OnePlus rights the photography ship and gives more than a competent camera phone.
OnePlus 11 outlook
OnePlus has steadily improved in the last few years. For example, on the software front, the company is matching Samsung's update policy by offering four years of Android upgrades and five years of security patches for "select" devices going forward, which presumably means the OnePlus 11.
I'm excited to see what OnePlus does in 2023, especially since I wonder if it's taken some of my criticisms about its crowded portfolio to heart. (There is no OnePlus 11 Pro coming, as confirmed by OnePlus China's president.) I'm not so arrogant as to think I had such an impact, but I'll take a more streamlined product lineup whatever the reason.
Cameras and software are the major battlegrounds for smartphones nowadays. Battery life is close behind them, an area where OnePlus does not struggle. But if the phone maker wants to make a bigger splash in 2023, it needs to master those two factors to prove itself an equal with Samsung and Google.