OnePlus 5T review: better and more expensive than ever

OnePlus has started incrementally updating their flagship devices each year, starting with the OnePlus 3 and continuing with this year’s OnePlus 5. The OnePlus 3T, we found, was pretty similar to its predecessor with a few key improvements. It wasn’t worth upgrading if you already had the OnePlus 3, but for anyone looking for a brand new phone, it was a pretty great deal.

This time we’ve got the OnePlus 5T to crack into, and it follows an identical process. It keeps the design and philosophy of the OnePlus 5, but sports slightly better hardware and a slightly higher price tag.

So can OnePlus put out another worthwhile T model? Let’s find out.

Design

Did you like the OnePlus 5 design? Cool, you’re going to like the OnePlus 5T. Did you dislike the OnePlus 5’s design? Bad news, you won’t like this one.

The OnePlus 5T keeps 90% of the design from the last model but stuffs a bigger screen onto the front and rearranges the fingerprint scanner to the back of the device. I still really hate rear fingerprint scanners, but I realize and accept I’m in the minority. It’s the first phone from OnePlus without a physical home button, which is a pretty big departure for any company, but they pulled it off pretty well. They also didn’t wreck the placement of the fingerprint scanner like Samsung.

It utilizes an 18:9 aspect ratio that minimizes bezels and offers an excellent shape for browsing the web. The edges of the phone are rounded off, and despite being made of a fairly slick material, I didn’t struggle to grip the phone at any point. If you’re worried, though, there are tons of case options to take advantage of.

As far as button and port placement goes, you’ll find the power button on the right side of the device, the volume rocker on the left side, and the signature OnePlus notification toggle above the volume buttons. Apple and Sony are the only other manufacturers that even consider these kinds of toggles, and that’s secretly the biggest crime in the mobile industry today.

On the bottom, you’ll find the speakers, USB-C charging port, and headphone jack. No dongles needed here.

The phone is made of aluminum and feels genuinely well built, which is something OnePlus has been hit-or-miss with in previous years. It’s also surprisingly easy to hold for its size, and I never struggled to make a one-handed reach to the notification shade. Compared to other larger phones (and even the iPhone Plus models) this is a really appreciated change.

Hardware

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Performance

Top shelf processor? Check.

Enough RAM to theoretically run Fallout 4? Check.

Excellent UI and gaming performance? Check.

You’ll find a Snapdragon 835 processor and either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, depending on which model you go with. And, seriously, there’s no point even talking about it. Qualcomm’s flagship chipsets have been at a point of diminishing returns for years, and there’s virtually no reason to have that much RAM in a mobile phone, so I doubt you’ll ever see any kind of slowdowns or performance problems here, barring any software gremlins.

The display on the OnePlus 5T also manages to punch above its weight class thanks to popping colors and sharp text, but it is only a 1080p display. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of slightly lower resolutions for better battery life, so I’m more than happy with OnePlus’s decision here, but if you’re itching to use a phone for 4K video or virtual reality, OnePlus simply doesn’t have an answer for you yet.

The speakers on the OnePlus 5T are loud, and… well, that’s it. They’re loud. At higher volumes the bass is pretty much nonexistent and they sound incredibly thin. If you’re just watching YouTube videos and certain movies and shows, this isn’t a big deal. Want to watch the latest superhero movie or jam out to a rock album? Stick to headphones.

Oh, speaking of headphones, I did notice some pretty spotty Bluetooth connections while walking around my house. The phone is updated as of December 2017, so hopefully that’s something small that gets ironed out in future patches.

Battery

Earlier we mentioned the 1080p display on the 5T being a poor choice for resolution fanatics and virtual reality, but for battery life, it’s an excellent compromise. It’s usually something that you see on lower tiered phones, but without cramming in as many pixels as possible OnePlus manages to pull some pretty great battery life out of the phone.

It’s not the best performing battery I’ve ever seen, but it’s still really good. I could get a full day and then some out of a single charge, but it pretty consistently fell short of two days of usage. Either way, though, you get OnePlus’s ridiculously fast Dash Charging that will juice your device right back up with the quick USB-C cable. It really is as fast as they claim, too, although that’s been this way for a few years.

With all of that being said, OnePlus insists that Dash Charging is superior to wireless charging, and some people might agree with them. Personally, I don’t.

Sure, actually plugging your device in to charge it will be faster, but it’s obviously not as convenient in many situations. Plus, why can’t we have both? Give people options.

In 2017 and going forward, wireless charging is becoming much more standard than it once was, especially now that Apple has stepped in to offer it. OnePlus barely gets a pass on it right now, but this is definitely something they’ll start losing points for in the near future.

Software

One thing OnePlus always tends to get right is the software. They never go overboard, but they add just enough small details and extra features to make the phones interesting.

It’s pretty barebones as far as most skins go, but you’ll find the OnePlus shelf on the far left of the home screen launcher, a few custom widgets, and a slew of tweaked applications for your device. The launcher has a few nice visual touches that make it stand out, such as the weather widget displaying any 1’s in red on your home screen. It’s small, but nice.

There’s a ton of customization on the status bar and navigation bars, so you can change just about everything to fit exactly how you want it. There are fingerprint gestures for sliding your notifications down, gestures for taking a quick screenshot, double tap to wake, and many others. Everything is baked in and looks and performs just like a natural Android feature, so you don’t have to deal with jarring and clashing features and designs like some other phones have.

There’s a custom OnePlus weather app, a OnePlus community app, and a themed file manager and gallery app. You’ll still get Google’s suite for things like music and Photos, but no Google Messenger.

So far there haven’t been any weird software glitches, either, so you should be able to call 911 without a problem. The screen doesn’t have that jelly effect either, as far as I can tell.

OnePlus does roll their own implementation of facial recognition for unlocking the phone, and it’s been surprisingly fast. However, they do caution that it lacks the security of a strong passcode or fingerprint unlocking, so take that as you will.

Camera

OnePlus really hyped up the OnePlus 5’s camera, and it was supposed to be a big upgrade thanks to a dual-camera system that used a secondary lens for optical zoom. Well, hype down, as OnePlus ditched the zoom lens here.

Instead, you’ll get a 20-megapixel sensor paired with the standard camera that’s designed to help out in low light situations. When using portrait mode and zooming in, everything is handled digitally a la the Google Pixel 2 instead of the iPhone 8 Plus. Good or bad? Well, it depends.

The zoom actually still works pretty well despite being digital. I think you’d have a hard time noticing a huge difference unless you were specifically looking for it.

Low light shots, on the other hand, still just can’t threaten the heavy hitters on the market. It’s decent, no doubt, but next to an iPhone 8 Plus it gets smoked. Other Samsung flagships hold up much better, too.

Outside of poor lighting conditions, however, you’re in good shape. The OnePlus 5T takes great, vibrant shots, and I doubt you’ll have anything to complain about as long as you stay in decent lighting conditions. And if you’re rocking the original OnePlus 5, I don’t think you’ll miss much here.

Closing

There’s a quote from a pretty famous superhero flick about dying a hero or living long enough to become a villain. Sure, it’s cliche, but OnePlus is getting dangerously close to fulfilling it.

Don’t get me wrong, the OnePlus 5T is a fantastic phone, and it’s still an excellent value for what you’re spending. You’ve got a few quirks like poor speakers and a camera that doesn’t live up to the hype, but overall this is a very solid phone. But does it live up to the OnePlus standard? Definitely not.

 

I’ve talked about this before, and it’s true again; every time OnePlus releases a new phone, they become slightly more like what they were originally designed to “beat.” The OnePlus 5T has crept up in price again and now sits at $499 for the entry-level 64GB model. Compared to the original $299 we’re way, way above where OnePlus started and pretty close to other excellent options in the smartphone market.

Sure, it’s still cheaper than, say, an iPhone 8 or a Galaxy S8, but if you don’t mind dropping an extra hundred bucks you’ll get better customer support, more polish and better attention to details, and broader carrier compatibility, on top of things like wireless charging and higher screen resolutions.

OnePlus has jumped right in between a rock and a hard place; the OnePlus 5T is too expensive to justify some of the smaller quirks that you should not have to deal with in a $500 phone, but they’re not charging quite enough to be able to polish up and get this phone ready to square off with a Samsung flagship or the Google Pixel.

It’s a good phone, and if your budget is $500 and you know you like OnePlus, get it. You won’t be disappointed. If $500ish is your ballpark and you don’t mind spending a little bit more, you’ve got tons of other excellent options. If you want something easier on the wallet, well, OnePlus left you guys behind years ago.


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid, but the tech enthusiasm currently covers just about everything. He likes PC gaming, Lenovo's Moto Z line, and a good productivity app.