OnePlus 5’s camera shows us the delicate balance of setting and meeting expectations

It’s tough to hype up a phone while also keeping things realistic.

With the launch of the OnePlus 5 this week
, we got to see a perfect example of what a delicate balance companies navigate in setting expectations and delivering on promises. OnePlus has always talked a (strategically) big game about many aspects of its phones — this year, it was all about the camera. Even during the launch event, at which point reviewers had been using the phone for over a week, the presenters espoused the wonderment of the new dual camera setup.

The only ‘issue’ here is the camera not reaching the great heights OnePlus claimed.

Reviews of the OnePlus 5’s camera were slightly
mixed, but in general came to the consensus that it’s merely good, not great — and not challenging phones like theGalaxy S8,LG G6 andHTC U11. That’s a problem, but not necessarily one with the camera itself — it mostly stems from the marketing of the OnePlus 5 that centered around the cameras and set unreasonably high expectations. It’s a fine line: as a company, do you play it cool and then over-deliver? Or do you talk a big game to boost sales and run the risk of coming up short?

I think this time OnePlus overextended itself a bit too much in terms of claims about camera performance. Cameras are really
hard to get right, and just about impossible to perfect, even for companies that have been at this for a whole lot longer
than OnePlus. That’s what made this strategy so risky — despite the OnePlus 5’s camera actually being pretty
good, the deck was stacked against OnePlus launching a game-changing camera experience.

Despite the hyper-analyzing of the camera performance this week, I still stand by the conclusionin my review:

Measuring the OnePlus 5 on its main camera alone, it’s a capable shooter that improves from last year but also doesn’t perfectly match up to the top-end flagships out there today that can offer better, more consistent performance in a variety of shooting conditions. The secondary camera gives a small bump to the OnePlus 5’s overall camera experience, enabling new shooting options and a fun-to-play-with Portrait Mode, but it really doesn’t seem like adding this second camera was worth losing OIS (and perhaps larger pixels) and the potential for better photos out of the main camera.

For a $479 phone, that’s definitely good enough. Seeing improvement from last year and generally good camera performance is what you expect for that price. The only “issue” here is the camera not reaching the great heights that OnePlus claimed it would.

Now, on to a few more points from the week that was:

  • For even more OnePlus 5, be sure to listen to our latest podcast
    — Daniel, Alex, Michael Fisher and I talk for well over an hour on the phone.
  • Now that Bixby Voice is out in the world
    for more people to test, we’re starting to get a feel for what this service will really
    be like. Let’s see how much it improves prior to a proper consumer launch.
  • Regardless of how good Bixby Voice ends up being, it’s hard to see things any other way than Samsung dropping the ball not having it ready to launch with the Galaxy S8, though. This is way
    too late — and I’m sure it’s been bothering a lot of people internally at Samsung.
  • Then there’s the bigger question: even if Bixby Voice is great, does that make us at all want to use Bixby Home or Bixby Vision? Because those continue to be lackluster products.
  • On a personal note, my brother Kris and his wife Alisa got married on Friday. Not only are they wonderful for each other, but it’s quite amazing how they have brought together two very
    large families. The future’s going to be great.

That’s it for now. Have a great week, everyone.

-Andrew

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