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OnePlus 5T review: Hard to believe it’s just $499

by Brandon Russell | December 6, 2017

Blink, and you’d have missed this summer’s OnePlus 5, a spectacularly powerful Android handset at a seriously affordable price. Like a doomed summer fling, the device has been replaced by something better—and this time it features a beautiful edge-to-edge display.

When the OnePlus 5 was released, its list of flaws was short. The design was fantastic, the camera commendable, and the software elegant. It also came with some of the most powerful specs we’d ever seen in a flagship smartphone—and all at a great price. But compared to a phone like the Galaxy S8, it was apparent OnePlus still had work to do.

So, in comes the OnePlus 5T. It absolutely isn’t worth an upgrade if you own a OnePlus 5. But for anyone with an older OnePlus device, the OnePlus 5T is a solid update to what was an already excellent phone.

Giving people what they want

At $499—the most expensive OnePlus smartphone yet—the OnePlus 5T is what its predecessor should have been all along. Which is to say, a device that more closely matches the flagship releases from Samsung, LG, and Apple.

What you’ll get from the upgraded model is a 6-inch display, rear-facing fingerprint sensor, dual-camera setup, and some new tricks that showcase why OxygenOS is such a joy to use. Still missing is any discernible water and dust resistance, wireless charging, and expandable storage.

The larger display means a few things have changed. Gone are the chunky top and bottom bezels, while the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the rear. Android fans will find the sensor’s placement to be familiar; it’s in perfect reach, sitting just above the device’s glossy logo.

Also new is a facial recognition feature that uses 100 facial feature identity points to unlock. The feature works seamlessly and without issue, but it’s not nearly as powerful as the iPhone X’s Face ID. You can’t use it for payment authorization, for example, and it occasionally struggled under poor lighting conditions.

It’s a feature that’s designed for convenience, not to replace the device’s fingerprint sensor. Which is fine. OnePlus—at least at the moment—isn’t banking its entire future on the biometric technology (unlike Apple). The nice thing is OnePlus 5T users always have the fingerprint sensor as a fallback.

The larger experience is just as you remember from the OnePlus 5. It’s lightning quick and battery life is on a par with other top Android phones on the market. You’ll get a solid day of use with some battery to spare, and thanks to features like Dash Charge, you can get “enough power for the day” in just thirty minutes of charging.

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Moving forward

On first impression, the OnePlus 5T doesn’t feel much different from the OnePlus 5. But there are some notable changes that improve the experience during day-to-day use. While the big story is the larger display, it comes with a few features that make it among the most visually pleasing on the market.

For one thing, that weird “jelly scrolling” effect has been eliminated, allowing the 6-inch 18:9 panel to shine on its own merits. There’s also a “Sunlight Display” feature, which compliments the “Reading Mode” OnePlus introduced with the OnePlus 5.

The Sunlight Display feature uses software algorithms to adapt the display based on available ambient light. Screen contrast will also adjust automatically depending on what you’re doing, like gaming or looking at your phone’s photo gallery. These changes are designed to mitigate the eye strain that comes with staring at a display all day.

Some of OnePlus’s older ideas continue to shine, too. The Alert Slider is still genius, while OxygenOS stands out thanks to a number of complementary additions to the “stock” Android experience.

Returning to the fray is Dark Theme, App Locker, and Reading Mode, the latter of which uses gray-scale mapping to match the reading experience of an e-reader. It’s a great feature for folks who read a lot on their phone, and I found myself using it frequently when testing the device.

The coolest new feature is Parallel Apps, which lets users clone selected apps, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The idea is to let people sign into different accounts, such as personal and business. The feature might not make a huge difference to the average user. But it could be an invaluable tool for people who run a business’s social media account on top of their own.

We’ve said it before, and it remains true now, but OxygenOS is among the most enjoyable Android experiences on the market. The features OnePlus infuse into the experience don’t feel excessive, and the software continues to be refreshingly clean and nimble—made all the more smooth thanks to the OnePlus 5T’s 8GB of RAM and Snapdragon 835 processor.

Put it this way: The latest version of OxygenOS is a close second to the software found on Google’s Pixel 2.

The only caveat of that is the OnePlus 5T launches with Android 7.1.1 Nougat; Google launched Android 8.0 Oreo at the end of August. That’s certainly disappointing, but OnePlus should get the device up to speed early next year (although it won’t support a key feature introduced in Oreo).

A camera that’s just decent

OnePlus devices have never excelled in the camera department, and the OnePlus 5T is no different, although the dual-camera setup has been tweaked from the one found in the OnePlus 5. The main sensor remains at 16-megapixels, while the secondary 20-megapixel sensor now features a f/1.7 aperture; the secondary sensor doesn’t feature optical zoom.

According to OnePlus, the new dual-camera system dynamically changes depending on lighting conditions. When light is scarce, that’s when the secondary sensor kicks in. Better to let OnePlus explain how everything works:

In low-light conditions, under 10 lux, the OnePlus 5T switches to the secondary camera for enhanced low-light photography.

The OnePlus 5T’s new secondary camera also comes equipped with Intelligent Pixel Technology, which we first implemented in the OnePlus 3T’s front camera. In low-light conditions, ordinary pixels often unable to capture enough light to produce noise-free shots. With Intelligent Pixel Technology, the OnePlus 5T’s secondary camera merges 4 pixels into one, reducing noise in low-light environments and enhancing clarity. This allows you to capture photos with clarity even after the sun goes down.

In our testing, the secondary sensor rarely kicked in unless I was in a very poorly lit environment. Often, the main sensor was utilized and performed admirably, though the results aren’t anything to write home about.

Which can be said for the camera experience as a whole. At $499, the OnePlus 5T takes decent images, especially in ideal lighting conditions. But compared to the iPhone X or Pixel 2, the OnePlus 5T lags behind. Portrait Mode still needs work and dynamic range is disappointing.

The camera interface remains pleasingly spartan, though there is a Pro Mode for users who want to tweak things like ISO, white balance, and more. There’s even RAW image support, giving users more control when editing a photo in post. For what it’s worth, the OnePlus 5T does not feature optical image stabilization.

Still a steal at $499

OnePlus knowns how to make a good device, and the OnePlus 5T is the company’s best yet. It’s one of the most powerful phones you can buy, and the move to slim down the phone’s bezels gives it a more premium look. And all of that is offered for just $499, or half the price of the iPhone X.

With phones becoming more expensive, OnePlus remains in a price tier that’s enticing to consumers who still want a flagship experience. That being said, the phone falls short in a few key areas. There’s no wireless charging, water and dust resistance, and it only launches with Android 7.1.1.

For my money, I’d recommend the Pixel 2 over the OnePlus 5, which starts at $649 (or $27.04/month for 24 months). You get a better camera, better software, and excellent support from Google. Plus, Pixel 2 owners get a superior Assistant experience and access to Lens, which allows users to easily search what they see.

If your budget doesn’t extend beyond the $499 mark, however, the OnePlus 5T is no doubt among the best values out there.


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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...