Opinion: OnePlus No Longer Makes "Affordable" Smartphones

OnePlus announced its latest smartphone, the OnePlus 6 at an event in London this week. And with the new smartphone come higher prices. Much like last year, the OnePlus 6 is more expensive than its predecessor, the OnePlus 5, which was priced at $479 for the baseline model. Now, the OnePlus 6 has a price tag of $529 for the baseline model. And while that is still less than most other flagships on the market, there are still a lot of things missing here, and OnePlus is inching closer to becoming a top-tier manufacturer like Samsung, Apple, and LG, as far as pricing practices go.

Spec-wise, OnePlus has all of the specs you'd expect from a 2018 flagship smartphone, with a 6.28-inch AMOLED display, the Snapdragon 845 chipset with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM and the choice of 64GB, 128GB or 256GB of storage on board. It also has a 3300mAh battery, along with dual cameras on the back. All of this with a starting price of $529 for the 6GB/64GB model, $579 for the 6GB/128GB model, or $629 for the 8GB/256GB model, it does sound pretty impressive on paper. But there are still plenty of things missing here. For instance, slow-motion is here, but it's not the same frame-rate as most other smartphones. While others are doing 960fps, OnePlus is doing just 480fps. Also using USB 2.0 for charging over USB-C versus USB 3.0 (that everyone else uses). And of course, the biggest thing that is missing here is an updated display panel. The OnePlus One launched in 2014 with a full HD AMOLED display, the same type of display being used in the OnePlus 6. While it is not technically the same panel, it is pretty much the same. Many will argue that this allows OnePlus to offer better battery life, there's really no reason why this spec is the exact same, four years later, while the price has almost doubled since then.

The OnePlus 6 is meant for Android fans that want the latest and greatest hardware, and that's exactly what you get here. But that's about all you get. OnePlus has slowly been raising its prices since the original OnePlus One which was priced at $299, and now sitting at $529 for the OnePlus 6, but really hasn't added anything new since the original OnePlus smartphone. Obviously, prices are going to go up year-over-year as components cost a bit more, and the costs of operating a growing company also grow. But what makes this all rather interesting is that OnePlus is raising its prices while competitors are looking to stabilize their prices, if not, drop their prices. In an effort to better compete with each other, and that's because there is really only one Android smartphone maker that is making money from smartphones and that is Samsung. But at this rate, by 2020, the OnePlus 8 is going to cost you around $629, which puts it in the same category as the top-tier smartphones from LG, Motorola, Samsung and others, and those top-tier smartphones could be even cheaper than the OnePlus 8 in 2020, which essentially negates one of the biggest selling points that made OnePlus popular in the first place.

With OnePlus raising its prices year after year, it's pretty tough to look at OnePlus as an "affordable" brand in the world of smartphones. That was what OnePlus was founded on, and it seems to have thrown all of that out of the window to raise prices and expand the company. That means people are going to start putting OnePlus under the same microscope as larger brands like Samsung, LG, Motorola, and HTC. Which is likely what OnePlus is wanting, anyways, to be seen as a major player in the space. After all, the company has been around for a little over four years now (officially founded on December 16, 2013), and it is still seen as a "startup" for many people. But OnePlus leaving the "affordable" moniker behind is likely not a good thing. Customers are always looking for a cheaper smartphone, and at $529, it gives little reason to buy the OnePlus 6 over something else like the Galaxy S9 or the LG G7 ThinQ when that launches in a few weeks. Especially seeing as they can pick up those devices from their carrier on a monthly installment plan and get a phone with many more features throughout the operating system. And with Xiaomi expanding pretty rapidly these days, there are going to be many more smartphone choices that are cheaper than what OnePlus offers.

Can OnePlus still be an "affordable" brand in the world of smartphones? Not really. That title mostly belongs to Motorola at this point, and to an extent Huawei/Honor (at least outside of the US). Motorola has its Moto G lineup which has also been rising in price in recent years, but it's still nearly half the cost of what OnePlus is offering here. Obviously, the Moto G is not a high-end flagship lineup but it's really going for that premium mid-range concept these days. Now, a more fair competitor here would be the Honor 10, which sports 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is priced at £339 in the UK while the OnePlus 6 starts at £469. That's a pretty big difference, considering the main difference spec-wise here is the RAM (4GB versus 6GB). That shows that OnePlus just isn't an affordable brand anymore. That's not a bad thing really, and it's something that OnePlus has even stopped referring to itself as. But back with the OnePlus One, it was selling its smartphones at cost, meaning that it was making very little profit, if any, off of each device being sold (and that's why the invite system existed, as it couldn't have thousands of units laying around waiting to be bought by customers). That's not the case anymore. While OnePlus will likely never say what the profit margin is on the OnePlus 6, it is definitely much higher than it was on the OnePlus One. That's expected, as the company has significantly grown since the days of the OnePlus One, which means it needs to bring in more profit.

When the OnePlus 5 and 5T were announced last year, many believed that it was the last time the company could raise prices without dramatically changing the look and feel of the device, and even upgrading some of the lagging specs like the display. But that apparently isn't true with the OnePlus 6. Now there's no doubt that the OnePlus 6 is going to sell pretty well, especially in India, the real issue here is the future of OnePlus. Can it continue to raise prices without really putting out a radically redesigned smartphone, and one that doesn't resemble something else already on the market - the OPPO R15 Pro in this case? That remains to be seen, and we likely won't know until the OnePlus 6T or OnePlus 7 comes out later this year and next year, respectively. But it's unlikely that OnePlus will do a radical redesign unless its users demand one since OnePlus is a company that listens to its customers and adds things that its customers want - most of the time, at least. OnePlus is no longer an "affordable" smartphone brand, but a brand that is looking to catch up to the price of its competitors. It's a good thing that it ditched that invite program a few years ago, or the price for the OnePlus 6 would be the least of the company's worries.

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About the Author
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Alexander Maxham

Section Editor
Alex has written for Androidheadlines since 2012 as Editor of the site and traveled the World to many of the biggest Smartphone and Technology events. Alex has a background in Technology and IT and Deep Passion for Everything Android and Google. His specialties lay in Smartphones of all budgets, Accessories, Home Automation and more. Contact him at [email protected]
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