Today in Tedium: When it comes to operating systems, I’m a floater. I may use an Android phone full-time these days, but I’m a Mac user who flirts with both Linux and Windows throughout the day. And while you won’t catch me dead with a phone with a Lightning port, I have found room for a five-year-old iPad Pro in my life, particularly when cooking or cleaning. But it has problems, particularly in the form of lock-in it encourages. So, I’ve been known to look for alternatives in weird spots. Today’s Tedium, with all that in mind, is a review of the OnePlus Pad, a new entrant into the tablet realm that knows a thing or two about fast charging. Can it make me float between operating systems a little less? — Ernie @ Tedium
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The OnePlus Pad, in context of my journey with OnePlus
So, something you may or may not know about me is that I have a few retro tablets in my collection. The HP TouchPad and the original iPad (the latter purchased, by myself, on its release date) fill my wall of junk. I also have messed around with some more oddball choices as well over the years. I once wrote a piece about the ill-fated EO Personal Communicator, and I can tell you a lot about the history of LCDs and touchscreens.
And while the $479 OnePlus Pad won’t ultimately be entering that collection—it’s just a review unit, one I’ll be sending back to OnePlus after this is written—it fits in well with the vibes.
Now, OnePlus is a phone maker I’ve had ups and downs with over the years. I was first introduced to them in 2018, when I realized that Apple had priced me out of a larger phone size, and I ended up looking to see what the other Android options looked like. The OnePlus 6t, the first mainstream phone with an in-screen fingerprint sensor, was an excellent introduction to Android, and even better, it cost just over half the price of the other phone I was considering at the time.
That was a good phone, but the OnePlus 7 Pro was even better, with its pop-up camera allowing for a screen that didn’t have a hole punch or a notch anywhere to be seen. It was superb, but the next OnePlus phone I owned, the OnePlus 9 Pro, had some serious slowdown issues and went months without receiving updates, which made long-rumored changes to OxygenOS all the more nerve-wracking. (It did have good wireless charging, that said.)
That led me to do the Samsung thing for a year, which was fine. It had a better camera, but its fast charging wasn’t as good, and I had to switch interfaces to make it less Samsung-y. (For those who care, I swear by Niagara Launcher.) Near the end of my time with that phone, I found myself looking longingly at eBay pages for old OnePlus models, wondering if I might be better off with a downgrade.
And that led me back to OnePlus—the OnePlus 11, to be exact, which feels like a good enough phone that I might stick with it for more than a year. With its killer battery life and insanely quick charging, the OnePlus 11 feels like the start of a redemption story to me.
Thanks to its 8 gigs of RAM, a fairly decent processor (the MediaTek Dimensity 9000, which has performance comparable to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, the chip that the OnePlus 10t uses), and many of the elements of a high-end tablet at a not-so-high-end price, the OnePlus Pad has a lot of redemptive elements—though I will be clear that it is not a perfect success story.
The aspect ratio of the OnePlus Pad. Slightly narrower and taller than a traditional 8.5x11 sheet of paper, the size is intended to be a bit easier to hold than a traditional 4x3 tablet. A dimension commonly used for photo prints, it’s fairly uncommon for computer screens, which have favored 4x3, 16x9, 16x10, or less commonly 3x2.
The good of the OnePlus Pad: It feels premium, even if it’s not priced at a premium
I always think it’s a shame that the OnePlus designs look so nice, because they often end up in cases. While I can respect the folks that leave their phones unadorned, I just can’t do it.
But tablets often do not roll around in cases—they tend to get used naked. And it’s with that in mind that OnePlus chose to build a design that would look striking, making a statement, rather than something more utilitarian. After years of iPads that look the same as every other iPad, it’s a nice change of pace in this sector.
Perhaps the most striking design decision is to not hide from the camera bump, instead making it a statement piece that matches the circular design of the OnePlus 11’s bump. Rather than a modest camera in the corner as is common on the low-end iPad, the manufacturer chose a large one in the prime spot for landscape mode, reflecting a reality that it took Apple nearly a decade to admit—with tablets, portrait mode is a sometimes mode.
And given iOS’ limitations in certain areas, particularly around the browser, Android is a breath of fresh air for switchers. Being able to use my browser of choice, Vivaldi, was a significant improvement on the browsing experience, and I found key tools absolutely workable in this setting, with only some minor exceptions. (Parsec and RustDesk, my remote access tools of choice, had issues with registering clicks using the trackpad on the keyboard accessory.)
There were certain apps I use that I couldn’t get installed from the Play Store because they hadn’t been updated recently, but overall, it was a pretty chill experience.
The strong points of this tablet are very clearly the screen, a fairly bright IPS-panel screen with 144Hz refresh rate, and the rounded-off design, which has a grip closer to some of the earlier iPad models, such as the original iPad Mini. It’s also quite a loud tablet, carrying a surprising finding of my OnePlus 11 to the larger format.
Also quite good was the stylus, clearly inspired by the second-generation Apple Pencil. The magnet was quite strong, and the pencil never fell off on its own. But Android’s relative inexperience with this form factor showed at times. Pressure sensitivity was good and input lag minimal, though one app in particular, Krita, seemed to want a LOT of pressure before it would register a line. So expect some app-specific headaches, as is the norm with Android stuff. Your mileage my vary.
The bad of the OnePlus Pad: Where the cut corners cut too deep
Of course, to get the experience of the fast processor and nice screen, some elements had to get cut, and the most obvious place that saw a trim was with the cameras. With just a 13-megapixel shooter on the back and an 8-megapixel camera on the front, this device is simply not built to take photos, and while serviceable for, say, Zoom calls, it doesn’t have anything like the iPad’s Center Stage to recommend itself. (That front-facing camera is in the right place, in a spot intended for landscape mode, on the plus side.)
Statement piece design aside, I might even argue that OnePlus should have put a higher-quality camera up front at a sacrifice to the rear camera. After all, that’s what the entry-level iPad does.
That’s the only significant quibble I have with the tablet itself—the cameras are not as good as they could be. But the thing is, I think it’s a bet that this is a lightweight content consumption device, and that regular people will likely have a OnePlus phone sitting around that they can use instead if they actually need to take a picture.
A less significant quibble but one still worth noting is the speed of the USB-C port. One disappointing downgrade of the OnePlus 11 is the fact that, unlike some of the prior Pro versions, the port was only USB 2.0 capable, cutting transfer speeds as well as any video-out capabilities. This also, unfortunately, seems to be the case for the OnePlus Pad, as I could not get it to connect to a monitor over HDMI. I would argue that it’s missed more here, especially as people tend to use tablets like these as lightweight desktop replacements, and the OnePlus leaves itself out of that category entirely by not including video-out capabilities via USB-C, something that Samsung’s tablets excel at. (It is capable of screen-mirroring, but that’s not exactly the same thing.)
But honestly, given its price point and general pep, I think people can live with this.
What people may not be able to live with is the $149 keyboard accessory. Certainly, it works—it sits on a desk and allows you to type, and the key feel is decent for a tablet add-on. The trackpad is also quite nice, though as I noted above, it doesn’t seem to play nice with remote-access apps. From a being-a-keyboard perspective, it’s solid.
But OnePlus made a couple of design decisions which I think make it difficult to recommend. The big issue: OnePlus chose to put the pogo pins on a stationary spot on the keyboard that can’t be adjusted. That means that the keyboard is stuck in a single position during use, making it uncomfortable to use in any setting other than sitting at a table. Since tablets tend to be used in a chair or even laying in a bed, that kills much of its flexibility.
There are other smaller issues as well. The magnets are strong on the rear of the tablet, but not the front, meaning the front of the keyboard has a tendency to slide across the screen when in a bag, for example, making it more likely dust will get on the screen and in the keys while it’s in your bag. Given that tablets are naturally fingerprint magnets, that doesn’t help matters. And the lack of backlight makes it a bad choice for late-night key-punching settings.
I admit, to some degree, I’m spoiled, because I’m coming at this from basically the best keyboard ever made for a tablet, Apple’s Magic Keyboard. That accessory costs twice as much as the OnePlus option, and while the OnePlus keyboard accessory actually looks more outwardly attractive, the lower cost shows from a usability standpoint. The Magic Keyboard has adjustable angles, backlighting, strong magnets, and relatively limited flex—four things OnePlus could learn from the next time they do this.
(That said, I do have a suggestion for the tablet itself: For their next iteration of the OnePlus Pad, I’d recommend putting the pogo pin connectors on the back of the tablet to bring back some flexibility to keyboard placement. After all, that’s what the iPad Pro does.)
Ultimately, the keyboard is a bit of a bummer, because the tablet itself is quite nice, and the keyboard takes away from it to some degree and makes one hope that there are some good third-party alternatives on the way. But as a writer, I take keyboards pretty seriously. (One potential redemptive arc: OnePlus has a mechanical keyboard coming out as well—perhaps they could integrate it with the tablet?)
General comment: Android’s handling of external keyboards needs a serious rethink
One of the elements that made using Android a bit frustrating was actually out of OnePlus’ control to some degree.
Certainly, from the perspective of an iPad switcher, Android is imperfect. The floating screen approach that Android uses makes a lot of sense here, but the split screen experience is a bit lacking, if only because there is no 70-30 or 75-25 split, meaning that you can’t have a thin window for taking notes next to your browser window. For all the complaints iPadOS gets for not being a good desktop replacement experience, Android is sadly just a step or two behind the market leader.
But the biggest problem may be, in fact, the keyboard experience. Simply put, if Android is going to win over iPad switchers long-term, it needs to treat external keyboards as something that people are going to want to use as a primary input device. Currently, they do not, and the reason I know this is that I wanted to switch the control and alt keys, and it was significantly more of a pain than it should have been.
Having used Macs for the past 20 years, I am very particular about my key layout—I want to be able to have my command key in the spot where the left alt key usually is, as it is arguably easier to put your thumb in position there than to move your pinky all the way to the side of the computer to, say, open up a tab.
When I tried doing this in the OnePlus interface, not only did I not find an option there to do so, I found that the only way I could actually do this was to customize my keyboard using a weird website, then to sideload an APK file, which then added a key setup with my preferred option for copy-pasting.
Manufacturers have been making Android tablets for more than a decade. After all this time, how is this acceptable?
Another factor that makes Android kind of a bummer from a writing standpoint is that external keyboards don’t easily support a third-level layout, which means that common special characters like long dashes, curly quotes, and accent symbols are just not all that easily accessible, despite the fact that Android’s software keyboards, particularly Gboard, make this quite easy. (This is also one of my biggest problems with Windows, by the way. You can at least say my complaints are consistent.)
This may seem like a small thing, but as someone who floats between ecosystems and tends to write a lot, you can definitely tell that not much TLC has been put into the external keyboard experience on Android, which means that one of the best possible use cases for this otherwise quite-good tablet has been left off to the side. Sure, Genshin Impact loaded. It was fast and vibrant and fully capable. And it worked well for watching YouTube videos. But when it comes down to it, I want to use a tablet like this to write, and feeling like most of my tools aren’t there makes it hard to want to switch.
If OnePlus (or more broadly, Google) wants people to move to Android tablets, they need to make the keyboard experience as good as it is on an iPad Pro, if not better. And it should not be the settings menu that is holding that experience back.
So, what we have here is not quite a pro-level tablet, but one that punches above its weight class in some important ways, just like many of the phones that OnePlus sells.
One of the accessories is great. One of the accessories is not so great. The cameras are a bit more workmanlike than you might expect from a category-killer OnePlus device in 2023. And while OnePlus’ lightweight take on Android is welcomed here, it also feels like they may want to add some elements of flexibility to make it a better device for non-content-consumption tasks.
Would I recommend this device, knowing that their primary Android competitor, Samsung, has had many years under its belt, and that it is possible to get a used iPad Pro with similar capabilities for roughly the same price?
Honestly, I think it’s got plenty to recommend, particularly given that the price isn’t that far off from a base-model iPad. It feels like a good Android tablet at a time when that part of the market has been somewhat lacking for non-Samsung users, and for OnePlus users, it will naturally fit with their existing devices. (There are some integration capabilities that this device supports that, alas, weren’t ready for the review. But they sound pretty promising.)
It’s an excellent first attempt, and while OnePlus is moving away from “Pro” versions, I do think that, down the line, I would love to see a higher-end version of this with nicer cameras, a full-fledged USB4 port, and a reconsidered keyboard accessory. If it adds $200 to the price, that’s fine. After all, that would still be cheaper than the entry-level iPad Pro while offering an arguably less-constrained experience.
Overall, though, in a world where we haven’t gotten a truly unique take on the iPad model in quite a few years, we needed the fresh splash of color.
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