OnePlus 5T review: Still a premium experience on the affordable side

OnePlus 5T is still one of the best deals in smartphones

It was just a few months ago that OnePlus pulled its seventh smartphone, the OnePlus 5T, out of the hat. An incremental update over the OnePlus 5, which saw the light of day only five months before, the OnePlus 5T conforms to the mid-cycle upgrade laws established by the launch of the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T last year.

In the months following the OnePlus 5’s release, the company went back to the drawing board and promptly came up with a newer, slightly improved version. And the OnePlus 5T is certainly all about refinements – the biggest one being the display.

With its latest flagship, OnePlus has addressed one of the biggest complaints users had about the OnePlus 5 – the lack of modern bezel-less 18:9 display. Since the arrival of the OnePlus 5 in June, more flagships with expansive edge-to-edge displays like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 and Google Pixel 2 XL have arrived on the market, probably providing additional motivation for OnePlus to release a bezel-less phone of its own. But is it a worthy contender to the throne of smartphones? Continue reading below to find out.

Design and Display

While the OnePlus 5T keeps much of the 5’s internal hardware including the Snapdragon 835 processor, battery, and 3.5mm headphone jack, it distinguishes itself from its predecessor through design.

The 5T has a larger 6-inch AMOLED display with thin bezels all around, thus adhering to the all-screen trend which has ruled consumers’ preferences in recent months. Despite the larger front panel, the 5T’s overall footprint remains quite similar to that of its predecessor. If we are to look at the numbers on paper, the new flagship is only a few millimeters taller and thicker and slightly heavier.

Like the 5, the OnePlus 5T is made of anodized aluminum and features a subtle curve at the back and gently-rounded corners. But while the phone’s rear does look nice, we found it to be ridiculously slippery. Luckily our review unit shipped with a selection of three official cases. We slapped the Ebony Wood Bumper Case and we had no problem gripping the device firmly afterward.

The aspect ratio has changed from 16:9 to 18:9, which is the same ratio you see in drool-worthy flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S8 or the LG G6. Screen resolution is kept at a moderate FHD+ or 2160 x 1080 pixels, which is a bit disappointing for those who were hoping OnePlus will take things to the next level with the 5T and offer a 2K display.

But that doesn’t mean screen quality is poor. On the contrary. The OnePlus 5T takes advantage of a lovely Full AMOLED panel – which now occupies more than 80% of the front of the screen – and offers rich colors and high brightness levels.

Brightness is slightly better (430 to 470 nits) than on the 5, but the 5T has better sunlight visibility thanks to its Sunlight Display mode. This feature – which is part of the company’s adaptive mode –  increases contrast when you’re doing one of these things: viewing or shooting photos and videos or playing a game outside.

It’s winter here in Europe, so we haven’t had the chance to test the 5T’s Sunlight Display mode while taking pictures in the really bright summer sun – which is a challenging scenario for most phones out there, but we’re pretty satisfied with how the 5T’s display performed in winter daylight.

Even if the screen looks quite excellent by default, users are given the option to adjust the calibration of the display to suit their particular set of needs. You can choose from presets like sRGB, DCI-P3 or adaptive move, and also make adjustments to make the screen look warmer or colder. It’s really up to you and your personal preferences.

The back of the phone is the scene of another important change. Since OnePlus skinned down the bezels, the fingerprint sensor which lived inside the physical home button on the 5, has been moved on the 5T’s back. We’re actually quite thankful for the change, as we have always favored handsets which offer the authentication sensor in this position. It feels more natural for us to have it there, as we pick up the phone, but some hardcore OnePlus fans might be sad to see the physical button go. However, they certainly won’t be sorry for how fast the scanner is.

Moving on to the left side of the handset, it’s home to the textured alert slider which gives you the option to easily switch sound profiles (Ring, Do Not Disturb and Silent) without unlocking the device. Underneath it, sits the volume rocker, while the power/lock key lives on the right.

The 3.5mm headphone jack is still part of the equation, located at the bottom, next to the USB-C port and speaker. Speaking of which, the sound quality on the OnePlus 5T is decent, but nothing too write home about. The sound was clear and sharp when we were playing music in a private setting, but in a noisy environment sound easily got muffled. We tried listening to music on YouTube with different headsets on and the results were always good indoors.

Call quality on the OnePlus 5T is excellent. We could always hear the person at the other end very clearly and we didn’t notice any interruptions.

Like the 5, the 5T is sold with any kind of water or dust resistance, which can be considered a big minus when compared to products such as the Pixel 2 or Samsung Galaxy S8. But to be fair, OnePlus had to cut a few corners in order to keep the price tag of the phone relatively affordable.

Performance and Battery

Unlike the OnePlus 3T, the 5T did not get any noticeable upgrades under the hood. This can be explained by the fact  that while in 2016 Qualcomm rolled out the Snapdragon 820 which was closely followed by the updated Snapdragon 821 a few months later,  in 2017, the chip maker’s high-end mobile chip portfolio revolved solely around the Snapdragon 835 – which powers both the 5 and 5T.

OnePlus offers the new phone in two versions, one with 6GB of RAM + 64GB of storage and another with 8GB of RAM + 128GB of storage. Our review unit came with the more advanced configuration.

And as you’d expect with specs as high as these, performance proved to be extremely smooth. In our three weeks using the 5T, the phone didn’t freeze once, nor did we experience a slouch in performance even as we were playing demanding games. At times, the phone gets a bit hot, but compared to other phones we’ve used (the Xiaomi Mi 4i comes to mind) the 5T keeps at a decent temperature at all times.

Battery life is one of the many highlights of the OnePlus 5T. The phone relies on the same 3,300 mAh battery as the OnePlus 5, despite the new model having a bigger display to power. Even so, battery life on the 5T is very good. Starting the day at 100% percent, we were routinely able to get through the day until evening with at least 30% left.

Our daily routine consisted of reading a few articles in the morning, browsing social media, answering messages on WhatsApp and Facebook, checking apps like Imgur or 9gag and talking for at least one hour on the phone.

Even when the phone runs out of juice, the OnePlus 5T can be rapidly charged via the Dash Charge system which allows users to fully replenish the cell. It took us about 80 minutes to fully charge our review unit.

Another advantage of Dash Charge is that you can play games or binge on Netflix even while your phone is charging, and that won’t affect charging speeds. Also, temperatures are kept low while charging.

One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need to use the dedicated white charger if you want to take advantage of the fast charging speeds, as OPPO (OnePlus’ parent company) has yet to license the technology to third-party vendors.

To be clear, you can use other chargers with the OnePlus 5T or use your Dash Charger with our handsets, but in both cases, they will merely be able to offer standard charging speeds – nothing out of the ordinary.

Cameras

With the 5T, OnePlus a tweaked the dual-camera setup that made a debut on its predecessor. You still have a 16-megapixel main sensor, but what used to be the telephoto lens is now a 20-megapixel sensor designed to shoot better low-light shots. For nighttime photos, the 5T switches on the second lens, which takes advantage of algorithms that merge the data from multiple pixels to improve color accuracy and detail.

But despite the promise of better low-light photography, we found the 5T to be a bit lacking in this department. Indeed, some shots turned out looking decent. Others merely gave the appearance of being so, but when we zoomed in, the loss of detail was quite obvious.

OnePlus widened the aperture on the second lens to allow the phone to shoot better night-time or low-light photos, but this was at the expense of the optical zoom. As a result, all zooming you do will be carried out digitally. When you hit the 2x button in the camera app, the phone will still zoom into the frame, but the resulting image is merely a crop of the original sensor. Zooming isn’t bad when done in bright light, but if you’re at a concert sitting in the back trying to take a picture of the band, the result comes out looking quite grainy.

While the OnePlus 5T isn’t impressive when it comes to low-light photography, things change radically in bright daylight when the phone’s camera performs extremely well. Portrait Mode makes a comeback and seems to be slightly improved than on its predecessor. In our experience, the main camera did a good job at identifying the face or object we wanted to isolate and blurred the background accordingly.

Finding your way around the camera interface is quite intuitive. The camera app launches in an Auto mode that lets you make minor adjustments to brightness, aspect ratio, flash and turn the HDR function on/off. You can switch between a Photo, Video (720p, 1080p at 30fps/60fps and 4K) or Portrait mode (bokeh) with a single tap.

Swipe up to switch to Pro mode in order to have more control over how you shoot your pictures including adjusting ISO, white balance, shutter speed and so on, or if you want to do a slow-motion video, time-lapse or panorama.

The 5T comes with a 16-megapixel selfie snapper, which as we found, produced pretty nice results. Indeed, in scanty artificial lighting conditions, self-portraits turned out to grainy. Fortunately, selfies look much better in natural light, although be warned that the selfie camera has a beautification filter on by default, so while it can produce flattering selfies, the results might not look very realistic. Naturally, you can turn it off completely or dial it down.

But if you want to let the real you shine through (complete with skin pores, lines and everything else) we suggest you try taking selfies with the main camera(s). On the OnePlus 5T, it’s actually quite easy to do so. A neat trick of the phone’s camera interface is that it allows you to shoot a photo by holding your finger on the fingerprint sensor on the back. What’s more, in this manner you’ll be able to use Portrait mode while shooting self-portraits, as the selfie camera does not have one.

Software

When it comes to software, you can’t really go wrong with the OnePlus 5T and its OxgenOS. Oddly, the 5T launched with a version of Oxygen based on the Android 7.1.1 Nougat, but the Oreo update is expected to land sometime in the first quarter of 2018. Actually, the first Oreo beta for the OnePlus 5T already started rolling out before the end of 2017.

 

Anyway, OxgenOS offers an experience very close to pure Android, while including a lot of extra features and customization options that will allow you personalize the look of your phone any way you please. For example, you can flip the order of your Android keys or hide them entirely, or take a screenshot by swiping three fingers on the display. Speaking of which you can also take advantage of the Extended Screenshot option that allows users to capture one long, continuous screenshot that shows more content than can fit on the screen at one time.

OxygenOS has its own launcher, which introduces OnePlus’ own “shelf” – accessible by swiping left on the main screen – that shows things like recent contacts, apps, data usage and battery life. You can also set reminders from there and add/delete widgets.

You can swipe upwards to open the app drawer and there’s the option to pick from different icon packs and change the layout of each home screen.

OnePlus also offers the possibility of changing the Default theme to Dark or Light to suit your individual needs. From there, you can also change the accent color which has the effect of changing the settings toggle colors, as well as the toggles’ in your system tray. It’s super handy for when you feel like you want to change your device’s look. And if at the end of the day, you find that you’re not yet satisfied with the look of your interface, you can always download a third party launcher.

We’re also big fans of the Parallel Apps functionality – although it’s not exclusive to OnePlus handsets. It allows you to clone social apps, so if you have more than one Instagram account (or Skype or whatever) you can stay logged in in both and switch between them at ease.

Another neat feature is Gaming Mode which disables all visual notifications while you’re playing a game and don’t want to be disturbed by any outside intrusions.

Reading Mode and Night Mode, both make a welcome comeback on the OnePlus 5T. The two modes can be used to alter the color of the display to give you a better browsing experience in certain scenarios.

Night Mode works by tinting the screen yellow and reducing light channels with the purpose of allowing you to fall asleep easier after using your device. Reading Mode, on the other hand, is a bit different. It changes the display so that it becomes completely black and white, which gives you the impression or reading on paper.

Face Unlock

One of the main distinctions between the 5T and 5 is the inclusion of Face Unlock with the former model. Like the name suggests, Face Unlock is a feature which lets users unlock their device just by looking at it. But unlike iPhone X’s more advanced Face ID, OnePlus’ solution simply uses 2D recognition, rather than a complex 3D depth map to tell whether it’s the owner of the phone who’s looking at the display.

Given that Face Unlock is not as secure as Face ID, it can be used to authorize payments for Android Pay or any other forms of authentication. The system is meant only to unlock your phone for you and that’s it.

But does it work? In the weeks we spend with the phone we found Face ID is extremely fast. You’ll need to press the wake button for the front camera to read your face, but once you do that, it unlocks the phone at lightning speed. It worked well in multiple scenarios as we tried unlocking the 5T from various angles, with glasses on, with our mouths covered by a scarf or in low-light conditions.

It’s by no means a perfect system, as there were a few times when it failed to do its job properly. Fortunately, users can quickly switch to the fingerprint scanner to gain access to their device.

Overall, OxygenOS offers a very satisfying package, capable of providing a rich and rewarding experience to the vast majority of users

Conclusion

It’s easy to forget that three years ago there was no OnePlus. In this short time, the company has managed to build a pretty solid reputation and to create the new “affordable flagship” niche on the smartphone market.

And the OnePlus 5T can easily be considered the company’s highest point of achievement, so far. Sure, there’s plenty of room for improvement, as the phone does not include a higher resolution display like more expensive flagships, nor does it offer water resistance, wireless charging, Hi-Fi audio, a microSD card or a mind-blowing main camera.

But if you put these aspects out of your mind for a second and go out into the real world and use the OnePlus 5T you’re guaranteed to have a real blast, because it’s a remarkable phone, it truly is. It’s lightning fast, takes advantage of a surprisingly good Face Unlock feature, has a great display and includes all the goodness OxygenOS has to offer, all at a price that can still be considered competitive when compared to the Google Pixel 2 XL or Galaxy Note 8.

Indeed, it would have been nice if the phone launched with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, but at least we can console ourselves with knowing that the Oreo open beta for the OnePlus 5T is available as we speak.

As a last note, the phone does suffer from a major roadblock that might not seem obvious at first. Like many unlocked phones on sale in the US it’s only compatible with GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, so Sprint and Verizon subscribers will have to look somewhere else for an affordable flagship.