OnePlus Pad review: punching above its weight
OnePlus gets a lot of things right with its first tablet, the OnePlus Pad. It’s got a tremendous screen, excellent performance, sleek design, and great battery life. And perhaps most importantly, its $479 price undercuts both Apple and Samsung’s top-tier tablets.
If you know OnePlus as a brand, this story likely sounds familiar. The company came on to the scene about a decade ago with Android smartphones that had premium specs at cut-rate prices. For a long time, a OnePlus phone was the best enthusiast smartphone deal you could find. But in recent years, OnePlus’ phones have steadily gotten more expensive and harder to distinguish from their Samsung counterparts. The Pad, however, feels a bit like a return to the old OnePlus.
That isn’t to say the Pad is perfect — far from it. Though it has the standard keyboard and stylus accessories expected for a tablet in 2023, they aren’t as good as Apple or Samsung’s options. It also doesn’t have nearly the level of software features, accessories, or integrations as a Samsung tablet or iPad. It wouldn’t be my choice for a productivity-focused tablet.
But if you’re looking for an Android tablet for watching movies, playing games (either native or emulated), browsing the web, and reading, the OnePlus Pad does the job and does it well.
From its size and price, you’d think the OnePlus Pad would compete with Apple’s $449 10th-gen iPad or $599 iPad Air or Samsung’s midrange tablets. But the Pad’s specs and the quality of its screen really make it more of a competitor to Apple and Samsung’s high-end tablets, just at a price you’d pay for a lower-tier model.
The Pad has an 11.6-inch screen, putting it between the 11-inch iPad Pro and the 12.9-inch model. Thanks to its trimmer bezels, however, the Pad fits that larger screen in a footprint similar to the 11-inch Pro. Those small bezels make the Pad look great next to an iPad, but they present a real problem when using the tablet, as the screen would frequently register touches on the side where I held it. This was most problematic when using the Pad in portrait orientation to read a book or website.
The Pad’s screen is very impressive for its price
That’s a shame because the Pad’s unique 7:5 aspect ratio means it works quite well in both landscape and portrait orientations. Unlike Samsung’s Tab S8, which has a 16:10 aspect screen that’s awkward to use in portrait orientation, the Pad is as comfortable to use for reading as an iPad. Few Android tablet makers seem to understand how important aspect ratio is to the tablet experience, so I’m glad to see that OnePlus clearly thought about it here.
The display itself is also very, very nice. A 2800 x 2000 pixel LCD, it refreshes at up to 144Hz and can hit a brightness of 500 nits. That makes it as smooth to scroll around and navigate as the iPad Pro and Tab S8, which have 120Hz screens. The screen also has excellent viewing angles and bright, punchy colors, with deep blacks that are almost as good as you get from OLED screens. I was legitimately surprised at how nice the Pad is for watching movies (okay, fine, it was Beavis and Butt-Head) — the display is that good.
Accompanying the excellent display is a quad-speaker system with support for Dolby Atmos, similar to what’s on the iPad Pro and the Tab S8. The speakers are loud and clear and provide a good audio experience. Unfortunately, there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, so you’ll be stuck using Bluetooth headphones or a USB-C adapter ($9.95, not included) for more private audio.
The Pad is also surprisingly comfortable to hold for such a large device. Instead of following Apple and Samsung’s recent trend of flat sides and sharp edges, OnePlus rounded the sides of the Pad and gave it a very soft-feeling metal finish that’s easier to wrap my hand around. It’s thin, but not too thin, and though, at 558g (1.23 pounds), it weighs about 80 grams (about 2.8 ounces) more than an 11-inch iPad Pro, its weight is well-balanced and not fatiguing.
Otherwise, the Pad looks much like any other tablet, though instead of having its rear camera in the corner, it’s center-aligned at the top (when held in landscape orientation). It’s a single-lens, 13-megapixel camera with an LED flash, and it works fine for whatever you might actually want to take a picture of with a tablet (for me, that’s the occasional document scan). Also, the Pad comes in dark green and only dark green, which is an interesting, if ultimately inconsequential, choice by OnePlus. I suppose it stands out a bit from the sea of silver and gray iPads.
The Pad’s 8-megapixel front camera is located in the Correct Spot: in the bezel on the long edge of the tablet. That means when you’re on a video call and holding the Pad in landscape orientation, you’re not awkwardly off to the side like on the iPad Pro. OnePlus also has an auto-follow feature that can be used in popular video calling apps (it worked with Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom in my testing) to help keep you centered in the frame.
Inside, the Pad comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. There is no microSD card slot and no options for more storage at purchase, at least in the US. 128GB of storage isn’t terrible, at least for this price (Apple’s iPad Air is $120 more and comes with just 64GB), but I’d have liked for the option to get at least 256GB for more room for offline movies and games.
The Pad’s processor is MediaTek’s Dimensity 9000 instead of the typical Qualcomm Snapdragon we usually see in Android devices sold in the US. For most tasks, this isn’t a problem — the Dimensity provides snappy performance and good power efficiency. Websites load quickly, switching between apps is smooth, and the UI is responsive. There are, though, some poorly optimized Android apps that tend to stutter when scrolling (YouTube is perhaps the worst offender here).
The Pad’s processor is fine for most every day tasks but can’t keep up with Apple or Samsung in intense games
I’m not much of a gamer, but this is an area where the Pad’s processing power fell behind the iPad Pro and Samsung’s Tab S8, as well. In Genshin Impact, the Pad could manage medium graphics settings at 30 frames per second — far less than the 144Hz the screen is capable of and nowhere near what the latest iPads can play the game at. The Pad had a better time with Asphalt 9, an admittedly graphically less demanding game.
Battery life was never a concern in the multiple weeks I tested the OnePlus Pad. I was able to easily get through a full day of use, and even when I left it unused for a couple of days at a time, standby drain was minimal. Few tablets have real issues with battery life at this point, but it’s nice to see that it’s not a problem for OnePlus, either. In the box is a 67W wall charger that takes about 80 minutes to fully charge the Pad.
The OnePlus Pad comes with OnePlus’ OxygenOS software built on top of Android 13. It’s a lightly customized take on Android that mostly relies on Google’s implementation of things like multitasking. The company is committing to three years of OS updates and four years of security patches on the Pad, both a year less than what it provides for its phones.
On a phone, a lighter software touch is often welcome, but in the case of the tablet, it holds the Pad back from being as useful as Samsung’s options. While the Samsung Galaxy Tab provides a full-on desktop windowing environment and can be plugged into an external display for more real estate, the OnePlus Pad has a basic homescreen-plus-app-drawer layout. There are options for gesture navigation to move between apps, and you can do some basic split-screening. There’s also a floating window mode that you can invoke with a four-finger pinch on the screen, but that doesn’t work across all apps and feels a bit hit or miss. (It’s useful for utilities like a calculator, however.)
The perennial complaint with Android tablets is that there are so few apps that take advantage of a tablet’s larger screen, which makes them a hard sell compared to the iPad. That doesn’t change with the OnePlus Pad — Google’s apps like Chrome and Gmail and Microsoft’s Office apps work well, but there are still far too many apps that just behave like blown-up phone apps on a large screen. Popular apps I use every day, such as Slack and Pocket, look comical on the Pad’s nearly 12-inch screen and are a far cry from how they work on an iPad.
Making matters even worse is the downright abysmal support of keyboard shortcuts across the Android app world. Even Google is dropping the ball here: there are no functional keyboard shortcuts in Gmail to help manage my inbox. There are a handful of systemwide keyboard shortcuts for going back to the homescreen, taking screenshots, and other simple navigation, but they don’t make up for the fact that Android apps just don’t consider keyboard navigation to be a priority.
All of this combines to make the Pad feel much more comfortable being used for content consumption than any kind of productivity or creation work. Sure, you can knock out the occasional email and catch up on Slack messages, but I’d have a lot of trouble trying to replace a laptop with the Pad. You’ll have a much better time using Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Paramount Plus, YouTube TV, or other streaming services to watch movies and TV shows. (But not Apple TV Plus, unfortunately. I couldn’t even get it to work in the OnePlus Pad’s Chrome browser. No Ted Lasso here.)
Both Samsung and Apple have developed features to make their tablets integrate with other products they make, and OnePlus is attempting to do something similar. The company says the Pad will be able to support features like hotspot data sharing, clipboard sharing, and call, messaging, and notification sync with OnePlus phones in the future. But that wasn’t available to test for this review and will only work if you have a OnePlus phone, so owners of other Android phones won’t be able to take advantage of it.
Like the iPad Pro and Samsung’s Tab line, you can outfit the OnePlus Pad with accessories to extend its functionality. There’s a $39 folio case, a $149 keyboard case, and a $99 stylus that can magnetically attach to the side of the Pad for storage and charging, just like the Apple Pencil and the iPad. I had the opportunity to test both the OnePlus Magnetic Keyboard and the OnePlus Stylo.
Starting with the keyboard, there are both things to like and things to criticize. It comes with a comfortable layout and decent enough key travel for accurate typing. Its integrated trackpad is small but supports multifinger gestures and scrolling without any issues. I also didn’t have any problems with palm rejection while typing. The key layout lacks a dedicated function row, but basic system controls like display brightness and volume are available as a function layer on the number keys. It’s a step up in functionality from Apple’s completely function-keyless Magic Keyboard.
The keyboard attaches to the Pad magnetically and connects through pogo pins, so you don’t have to worry about pairing or charging it. Unfortunately, it only has one viewing angle, which is too steep for my lap and only really works when it’s set up on a table, and the keyboard lacks a backlight. Otherwise, for the price, the keyboard is perfectly acceptable and useful for sending emails or typing documents on the Pad.
The Stylo is effectively the same thing as Apple’s second-generation Pencil, complete with support for both tilt and pressure sensitivity. It even supports switching between writing and erasing by double tapping on its side, just like Apple’s Pencil.
Writing with the Stylo on the Pad’s screen is responsive with no perceptive lag or wiggle. But full support for its features, such as quick tool switching and lower latency, is currently limited to OnePlus’ bundled Notes app, a bare-bones affair that doesn’t sync with any cloud services. The company says it has developed an SDK for the Stylo that other apps can integrate for better support, but there currently aren’t any third-party apps that do. Most people can probably skip the Stylo with the Pad.
Overall, if you’re shopping for a tablet in 2023 and, for whatever reason, don’t want an iPad, you could do far worse than the OnePlus Pad. Its display and speakers are as good as Apple and Samsung’s top-tier 11-inch tablets, and it’s an excellent device for watching movies or reading on. And you can get those premium-level tablet features, like quad-speaker and fast-refresh display, for a lot less than the price of an iPad Pro or Tab S8.
Of course, if you have an iPhone or Galaxy phone and want a tablet that integrates well with it, the OnePlus Pad won’t cut it. Nor is it really a great laptop replacement — this is a tablet that’s best at the traditional tablet things, and that’s fine.
The Pad isn’t the only new tablet in the Android space this year, as Google’s long-awaited Pixel Tablet is expected to arrive imminently. Google is apparently targeting a bit different use case with it, though, and until we get our hands on it, it’s hard to say how much overlap there will be with the Pad and other tablets.
But as a nice tablet that does tablet things well for a reasonable price, it’s hard to find too much fault with the OnePlus Pad. It’s nice to see the old OnePlus again.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge