Every time he steps on the court, he will see my shadow on it

Those were the words Jimmy Connors used in the seventies to issue one of the most public challenges in sports history to Sweden’s Bjorn Borg. A lot of cellphone manufacturers today would understand where the American was coming from. For, in the past few weeks, no matter which flagship device brands launch, they have always ended up being compared – and almost always unfavourably – with a device that hit the market in mid-2016. Not that this is a new phenomenon. It happens as regularly as clockwork. Every year there comes a phone with which all phones get compared.

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It is what we at TechPP like to call the “why should I buy that phone if I can get this phone for a lot less money” phone. The device which is held up mainly by consumers, and sometimes even by pundits, as being the ultimate blend of performance and price. The device with which almost every new high-end device is compared, and we are not talking about the phone from Cupertino, with whom comparisons are now relatively confined to PowerPoint slides, that are expected more than anticipated (“The iPhone crowd is now a separate zone,” an executive of a rival smartphone brand once confided, conceding that comparisons with the iPhone now were more a formality now. “It is a sort of Batman-Joker routine the audience expects!“).

No, we are referring to phones from within the Android fold, which are held up as paragons of virtue whenever a new flagship device is announced. These are generally well specced and well designed devices with relatively inexpensive price tags. Spotting them is easy – they are the phones referred to in terms of comparison whenever a new device is launched, generally because significantly lesser than the just-announced device. “It is the elephant in the room,” a Sony executive bitterly remarked once in 2014. He was referring to the Nexus 5, a phone with which every high-end Android device was compared, and almost always came second best because of its price and compact design (the Nexus 4 had a similar effect on the competition, and was perhaps the first Android flagship that was priced well below flagship price tags). It would be overtaken by the Mi 3 from Xiaomi, and then by the OnePlus One… phones that cocked a snook at more expensive devices by offering similar hardware and decent devices at surprisingly lower prices.

Needless to say, such devices are an absolute headache for all other brands as barring a minor miracle, they know their device will get drawn into an unflattering comparison with them. “We can claim to have better design, more reliable software…but in the end, we get hammered by the price they offer and the fact that their spec sheet is comparable to ours,” I remember an executive wearily telling me after his CEO had been subjected to a grilling by a Nexus 5 loving mediaperson intent on proving that compared to the Nexus 5, their product was an expensive sham.

Well, since June 2016, the mantle of the “why should I buy that phone if I can get this phone for a lot less money” phone has fallen on the rather broad shoulders of the OnePlus 3. Yes, at Rs 27,999, it was the most expensive of the OnePlus flagships, but just look at what it offered for the price – a very good full HD AMOLED display, a flagship level Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, a very good 16.0-megapixel camera, 6 GB RAM, 64 GB storage, all the connectivity options you would want in a modern device, a stable enough Oxygen OS (which further improved with updates), good battery life with a quickly charging battery as well, and a design that was eye-catching in spite of bearing more than a slight semblance to HTC.

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It is frankly a lot to go up against. For most consumers, the main hardware parameters to be checked in a flagship device are display, processor, RAM, and the OnePlus 3 pretty much ticks all boxes here. Which is why almost every flagship that has been released in recent months, be it the LG G5 or even the Samsung Galaxy S7 has had to put up with the query: “why should I not just go for a OnePlus 3?” Answering the question has not been easy, for let’s face it, at its price tag, the OnePlus 3 is only realistically challenged by the Le Max 2, which costs a little more (Rs 29,990) but brings a larger, quad HD display and preloaded content to the battle. But it has not received the sort of rave reviews the OnePlus 3 has and well, the OnePlus 3 does have OnePlus’ formidable “Never Settle” brand equity riding on it. The Xiaomi Mi 5 was the first off the base with a Snapdragon 820 chip but has been seen as having “only” 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage.

In fact even after the launch of perhaps the most distinct Android device of them all, the Galaxy Note7 (the only flagship out there with a stylus) a few days ago, we have been flooded by queries as to whether the phone is better than the OnePlus 3. We have a feeling it is a query that will follow the launch of just about every Android flagship out there for a while.

Until something really special comes along, every Android flagship to be released in 2016 will have to deal with the shadow cast by the OnePlus 3. It is likely to be a headache for most brands but we don’t see consumers complaining. They – and we, it must be confessed – would like nothing better than something that takes on the OnePlus 3.

Mind you, THAT would be quite a task. The OnePlus 3 is a relatively compact phone, but it does cast a massive shadow.

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Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.