The Ultimate #MoJo Device?

The Headlines….

  1. The OnePlus 5 has a brilliant camera.
  2. The OnePlus 5 costs £300+ less than an iPhone 7 Plus.
  3. The OnePlus 5 should be making Apple and Samsung more than a little worried.

Here’s a picture taken on the OnePlus using the ‘portrait mode’.

 

From the very first year Apple released it, I’ve used an iPhone. For a journalist it’s become part and parcel of the job.  I can record audio and video on it.  I can broadcast live on the radio and TV from it.  I can mix audio and edit video and export it in broadcast quality.  I loved my iPhones until recently…

Apple is losing its sparkle: Annual updates that offer little if anything new, price increases which have made a phone cost the same as a good laptop and a push towards a device aimed at consumption rather than creation has left a bad taste in the mouth for many users.  Don’t get me started on the iPhone 7: the only phone ever released that did LESS than the previous year’s version.  It’ll be a cold day in hell before I forgive Apple for removing the headphone socket from the iPhone – a decision which rendered much of my professional kit useless.

But… I’ve still got my iPhone 7  – even though I hate it.  Why are we so loathe to embrace change?  It’s because manufacturers like to make us feel scared – that there is no alternative.  Android users don’t want to ditch their OS so stay with Android, Apple users don’t want to ditch iOS so just buy a new phone every couple of years.  So I wanted to see how easy it is to switch.  The decision has become a lot easier thanks to the OnePlus 5.  There’s no point in flipping from Apple to Samsung – you pay roughly the same price for each device – so the only way to get people to move is to offer them a similar quality experience at a different price bracket.  The OnePlus should make Apple very scared indeed.  It has a camera that is easily as good as the one on the iPhone 7 Plus and it costs….

ALMOST HALF THE PRICE OF AN IPHONE.

I’ve been using the OnePlus 5, the company’s latest smartphone, for a fortnight.  OnePlus sent it to me to test out. There was no financial inducement and they didn’t ask me for any full-scale reviews. Neither did they tell me – or ask me – what to focus on. I contacted them asking if I could borrow one to see how it could handle the demands of Mobile Journalism. I’m sending it back because I’ve reached the end of the trial period.

You’ll often see the term ‘Mobile Journalism’ being given capital letters (like I just did).  It suggests the demands of journalists are different to other users – as if journalists work their phones harder. I seriously doubt this is the case. I don’t play games on my phones or spend hour after hour on Facebook so it’s not as if I’m hammering the chipset’s capabilities, the battery and video frame rate. All I’m doing, using a phone as a journalist, is looking for a series of things it can do, a marriage between hardware and software capability. I’m so bored of the arguments but here’s a summary of the reasons Apple users have issues with Android:

  1. The hardware changes at an alarmingly frequent rate: iOS runs on Apple devices.  It’s an operating system made by Apple who update it each year.  They build in a certain amount of headroom into the phones so that you can update last year’s phone with this year’s OS update.  Android is (for the most part) not made by the manufacturer of the phone.  Therefore you never know if your phone will ‘take’ the next OS update – often they only work when a cobbled together OS hack is created a few months down the line.
  2. Blimey, some of the apps on the Apple App Store are rubbish – but Android’s apps are like going hell-for-leather into the Wild West.  In a nutshell, you don’t know if it will work on your device and, alarmingly, neither do the app developers.  The huge number of different handsets with different chipsets and cameras and microphones makes it impossible for app developers to push out major new developments as, for the most part, they won’t work on anything but the newest phones.

 

Android devotees constantly complain about Apple’s closed-off world and how it stifles creativity.  The question is far more straightforward to me: what works best for the work I want to do?

Mobile Journalists create content on their devices.  Most non-journalists consume it on theirs. To create content for video and audio journalism you need it to do some simple jobs: take video and photographs, record audio and handle the manipulation and export of the recordings you’ve made.

Build Quality

For years I’ve bragged about the build quality of the iPhone as if it was something to do with me.  I laughed at the flimsy plastic-backed Android devices that fell apart after 12 months and were out of date before their owners had even worked out what they could and couldn’t do.  Well, the OnePlus 5 has blown everything out of the water.  It’s really well built. It’s metal backed, the screen is brilliant (in every sense of the word).  It isn’t waterproof but that’s what pockets are for.  It feels more balanced and easier to handle than an iPhone.  The USB-C connector is beautifully designed and the connection, once made, feels as secure as a lightning adapter.  The buttons move with the assured action of something that, long term, will do the job they were designed to do. The form factor is on a par with the ‘Plus’ iPhones but the OnePlus feels so much better than Apple’s offering. Put it this way, I haven’t dropped the OnePlus once and I couldn’t keep hold of the 6 Plus without it flying out of my hands. It took me three weeks to break the screen of the 6 Plus – at that point they didn’t even have replacement screens available.  The OnePlus is let down slightly by the quality of the official accessory case I tried: a fortnight of use saw the finish start to flake off – if this was an official Apple accessory you’d hear the complaints from here to Cupertino.

Operating System

I’ve nothing really to compare it with but OnePlus’ version of Android seemed rock solid – I didn’t have any of the reboot-or-else nightmares that Android used to suffer from.  It ran smoothly and was as responsive as an iPhone.  Again, that’s a big compliment.  There is nothing to criticise really.  The fact that, with both an iPhone and a OnePlus on the table I reach for the Android device first if I want to check the latest news says it all. Everyone warned me about lag, everyone warned me about buggy software but I’ve not seen any evidence of it at all – OnePlus seems to have matched their version of the OS to their hardware perfectly.

So how does it handle the content creation side of things?

Let’s nail this now: the camera is simply brilliant.  It’s easily as good as the one on the iPhone 7 Plus.  It lets bog-standard work-a-day fake-photographers like me take half-decent photos.  The shallow DoF works staggeringly well and for shots where you want a viewer to focus on a face or a particular area it saves you switching lenses and faffing around (to use a technical term).

The video camera can film in 4K.  Again, the shots are staggeringly good. This sequence of a group of people singing in Southern Spain was shot late at night with the street light as the only source of light. The lack of image stabilisation can be seen in a couple of wobbly shots but as a content creation device it more than holds its own.

I wanted to edit the footage using the video editing app KineMaster.  Annoyingly the camera may be brilliant but the chipset couldn’t deliver two 4K streams to KineMaster – it isn’t fast enough.  The developers of KineMaster tell me they’ll try to squeeze out enough performance but for now the footage needed dropping from 4K to 1440 before it could be edited.  Colleagues like @smartfilming, who use Android more than me, suggest Power Director may be able to handle the 4K streams better than KineMaster (but again the issue is that there doesn’t appear to be enough headroom in the phone’s capabilities to get it to be able to film in 4K and edit in it too).

Some people will rightly say there is little point in shooting in 4K if your broadcast stream can only handle 1080. We don’t broadcast news in 4K in the UK.  They’ve got a point to a certain degree but I like to shoot in 4K because of the ability to digitally zoom in afterwards and still maintain better than 1080 quality. You can set a phone up for a wide shot at a news conference where three people are sitting in a row. From the one camera shot in 4K you can then zoom in during the edit and get six different shots.

Wide Shot
Close up on Guest one
Close up on Guest two
Close up on Guest three
Mid shot on Guests one and two
Mid shot on Guests two and three.

All the shots will still be in better than 1080 resolution and you’ll avoid the blocky-ness you’d get if you’d shot, originally, in 1080 and then zoomed in during post.  Thanks to @marcsettle’s addition skills: when I counted up the number of shots you can get from a single wide I made it 5.  He, quite usefully, can add up to 6.

Broadcast Quality?

Can the OnePlus shoot footage that is broadcast standard? Yes. Not for every shot in every eventuality but for simple shots and slow moving or static interviews, yes.  The camera is simply gorgeous for both video and stills. Much better in low light than the iPhone – far less grain and blur – and with the portrait mode flicked on it creates a shallow depth of field to make the subject of your shot really stand out.

A recent update has brought image stabilisation to video shot in 4K.  It came too late for me to test but it should make walking video or handheld filming a bit better than it was.  Still, my oft-repeated caveat: keep the camera still and film stuff that moves.

Audio

Audio is another area where, traditionally, Android has been rubbish – not because of the operating system but because of the plethora of handsets using different microphones and the lack of support from app developers. There is nothing on Android that gets anywhere near the usefulness for speech recording that the Ferrite app brings to iOS. Yes there are multi track audio recorders and editors on Android but they’re all, as far as I’ve found, designed for musicians, not reporters. Apps that are designed for audio recording and editing are simple single track editors – meaning your amazing, computer-in-a-handset phones are just about as good as a minidisc player from the 1990s. What radio reporters need are apps that allow you to move audio around, mix it together, create audio landscapes and while that may be possible on Android it just ain’t as easy as it is on iOS. The good news is that the OnePlus 5 microphone seems really good – not sibilant. It records at a decent quality meaning you could send out raw, unedited audio from the handset even if you can’t mix it as easily as you could on an iPhone.  Like the one found in  Apple’s handsets, it’s prone to wind noise but a cheap windshield will sort that out.  USB-C microphones are more of an issue although you might be able to play around with some connectors to get an iRig Pro audio interface working.  I’ve not tried it yet.

Upto now I’ve been selfish – thinking about the use of the phone for broadcast journalists. What about the rest of the industry? For most journalists the eventual destination for their creations is online. They’re not governed by the need to shoot at 25 FPS, their content will be delivered onto screens that are, for the most part, much smaller than a TV screen so resolution isn’t as big an issue for them. Online journalists will face similar issues to their broadcast colleagues if they use an Android device: they’ll have one creative arm tied behind their backs because of the lack of app support although apps such as KineMaster or Power Director will allow them to edit their material on the phone. Audio will face the same issues for them as for the broadcast reporters – poor app support when compared to iOS. But in terms of content creation Android can hold its own – it’s just when it comes to the processing that it has problems.

So…

…would I use the OnePlus instead of an iPhone? The lack of app support for what are sometimes called ‘pro’ uses is a huge issue on the face of it. But if we look at our workflows then things become a little clearer and less elitist.

Most journalists use their devices to capture events. Then they do the following:

Upload them raw to social media or their own websites
Upload them to their desktops for processing
Do some low level manipulation and then file the material

Very few people capture events on audio or video, then process on the same device and then output without it going through a desktop process. When did I last do a full mobile run? Probably in South Sudan earlier this year – this piece was shot on iPhone and Sony a6300 and edited on an iPad using Luma Fusion.

But most of my work now is shot on phones and cameras and then ingested, at some stage, into a laptop or desktop for processing. As such, I come back to the central question: could I use the OnePlus for content creation?

Yes.

Can I use it for all the onboard editing and mixing I (and a very small band of merry women and men) need?

No.

But for most users … and most creators … it does everything you could possibly need AND it’s got a TRRS headphone socket. The build quality and user experience put it right at the top of the tree alongside Apple and Samsung’s newest phones. The camera is as good as Apple’s… probably better. I’ve not had the chance to test out the Samsung.

Not only is it capable but it has something that puts it ahead of the two companies that supposedly head up mobile phone handsets: an affordable price tag.

iPhone 7 Plus 128GB costs £819
Samsung S8+ 64Gb costs £779
OnePlus 5 128GB costs £499

The difference would pay for a copy of Final Cut Pro X for Mac and leave quite a bit to spend on something else.

With the vast majority of procedures carried out on phones via apps, the truth is that the OnePlus does away with the need to buy an iPhone to get a smooth user experience. It opens apps quickly, it takes photos without lag, video and sound are in sync… it works just as it’s supposed to.

Most apps these days are OS neutral: they look and act the same on either of the main Operating systems: iOS or Android. Amazon’s app on an iPhone works just as well as the Android version on the OnePlus. Likewise Twitter, FaceBook, eBay, PayPal, Netflix, iPlayer etc etc etc. Think about what you do on your phone… do you really need to spend £300 more than you have to? Here is a brutal fact: if your company bought 1500 members of staff a OnePlus 5 instead of an iPhone 7 (not even a 7 Plus) you’d save £250,000 – a quarter of a MILLION pounds – and almost none of your staff would lose any operational ability at all. After a week of playing about on it they wouldn’t even miss their old phone. Yes, of course you’d lose a couple of apps, you’d lose a bit of ease of deployment. But £250,000 is a lot of money … and there’s no getting away with it: despite all the snobbery involved with phone ownership, the days of simply choosing to stick with one phone manufacturer and OS have just been kicked right up the backside.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *