OnePlus 5T hands-on preview: Relentless iteration
The march of innovation never ends.
OnePlus has perfected a strategy over the last two years. Rather than expanding its product portfolio, it simply takes its flagship phone and iterates on it, adding subtle features and updating the design, while sticking to the core principles of having fantastic specs for the money. And in the past two generations now, that has included a mid-cycle refresh of its phone with a "T" variant. Understanding that the diehard fans don't wait to wait a whole year for a new phone, for fear of having "old" tech in their pocket, OnePlus stays on the bleeding edge by giving a six-month refresh with a few key changes and a small price bump to match.
Comparing the OnePlus 5T to its immediate predecessor, the OnePlus 5, isn't all that exciting. But watching OnePlus relentlessly iterate with one phone after another, unceremoniously killing off its predecessor in the process, sure is. Here's what OnePlus has to offer in the 5T.
OnePlus 5T Hands-on video
Some things are best conveyed with video. To see the OnePlus 5T in action, you'll want to watch our hands-on preview above. When you're finished, continue on for all of the details!
What's the same
OnePlus 5T Carryovers from the OnePlus 5
Let's just lay it out from the start: about 90% of the OnePlus 5T is identical to the OnePlus 5. I'll get into the specifics of what has changed below, but despite those subtle proportional differences the core materials and build quality are identical to its predecessor. The aluminum slab of a frame is near-featureless, with rounded sides and almost no texture to help you hang on to it. Even though the 5T is slightly different in size the ports and switches are all in the exact same places — the headphone jack and Alert Slider both remain, thankfully.
Let's just lay it out from the start: about 90% of the OnePlus 5T is identical to the OnePlus 5.
The spec sheets for the two phones are also identical. A Snapdragon 835 processor runs the show, supported by either 6GB of RAM and 64GB storage or 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage once again. A 3300mAh battery provides the power, and the 5V/4A Dash Charge charging system refills it. But beyond that, you'll find all of the same finer details, down to the same radio bands and connectivity options. This is, in every respect, the same platform inside.
The OnePlus 5T is still running Nougat, barely changed from what's on the OnePlus 5 today — there are a couple subtle launcher changes and a new gesture in the camera app, but no wholesale redesigns or feature additions. Funnily enough, the OnePlus 3 and 3T are actually a step ahead of the 5T in one respect, as it has an early look at the Oreo update through its beta program already, which is the software that will be coming to all phones from the OnePlus 3 onwards by the end of 2017.
OxygenOS is still great — one of my favorite manufacturer customizations of Android — but it continues to be a head-scratcher why OnePlus doesn't time new software releases to coincide with new hardware. With so much shared between the 5 and 5T in terms of hardware and specs, it would've been a nice little differentiator to see the new phone also debut new Oreo software and at least have that head start going for it.
A few tweaks
OnePlus 5T Hardware changes
So, what is different? Well, the few changes that have been made actually have an influence on how the potential buying public will perceive the OnePlus 5T. Unlike the OnePlus 3 to the 3T last year, the company swapped out the display to completely change the look of the front of the device.
You simply get more screen in the same body — it's a win-win.
Gone is the "old"-looking 5.5-inch 16:9 panel, replaced by a 6-inch 2:1 panel instead. It's a near-identical Optic AMOLED screen, with very similar tuning, colors and brightness, and though it isn't a mind-blowing panel like the Galaxy Note 8 it also doesn't have any notable flaws that'll put you off at first glance. The bigger display necessitated the reduction of the top and bottom bezels to keep the phone manageable in the hand, and it definitely still is. The OnePlus 5T is just marginally taller than the 5 and the same width and thickness, so you simply get more usable display in effectively the same footprint — it's win-win.
That necessitated the removal of capacitive keys below the display, which was a long-held nod to the enthusiast crowd that traditionally loves OnePlus phones. But alas, it's time to let go — I see a not-so-distant future where no phones have capacitive keys, and it's beautiful. The fingerprint sensor also moved, of course, repositioning to the rear where many of the same enthusiasts happily use it on phones like the Pixel 2 XL. It's still a super-fast sensor, and it has an ergonomic placement that makes plenty of sense — it also lets you swipe on it to lower the notification shade. Nice.
Those smaller bezels seem to have had a direct correlation to the camera bump on the back of the phone growing in thickness, as there just wasn't as much room to jam everything above the display. It's still a dual camera module and is the same width and height, but sits higher off the back and provides for a bigger wobble when the phone is on a table. A subtle difference, and one you probably wouldn't notice unless someone told you.
OnePlus 5T A few feature additions
The remaining changes and differentiators with the OnePlus 5T are extremely subtle, and they have to do with the cameras.
It seems as though OnePlus wasn't happy with the OnePlus 5's secondary telephoto lens, as it has scrapped it just a few months in with the 5T. The secondary camera remains, but it now has the same focal length as the primary camera. The sensor itself has changed, though, to a Sony IMX 376k (from IMX 350) and the lens is now f/1.7 to match the primary. That new sensor is still 20MP with quite small 1-micron pixels and doesn't have OIS — which isn't typically a recipe for success in bad lighting even though OnePlus claims the second sensor is "tuned" for low-light photography.
I think everyone would trade Portrait Mode for better photos out of the main camera.
You can't explicitly switch to that secondary low-light camera, so it only comes on automatically — and early indications are that it only enables in really dark scenes. The secondary camera is shaping up to once again be more of an afterthought than a point of strength, just like on the OnePlus 5, leaving me leaning toward being upset that the main camera didn't pick up any improvements. Yes that dual lens approach lets OnePlus do its Portrait Mode shots, but that's about it — and I think just about everyone would trade that feature for better photos from the primary camera.
Over on the front side, OnePlus hasn't changed anything about the camera hardware — a 16MP Sony sensor with f/2.0 lens — but has managed to leverage something in it for a fresh feature: Face Unlock. Though this is far from what Apple is doing with Face ID, OnePlus is claiming (and initially, delivering) much better accuracy and speed than Android's longstanding built-in "Trusted Face" unlocking.
Face Unlock works by using the front camera to identify 100 reference points — but not depth information — in your face, and works entirely locally to the phone without storing a complete picture of your face. It starts working the moment you press the power button (or double tap the screen to wake it), and it unlocks extremely quickly — almost unsettlingly so. To that point, OnePlus isn't making any claim that Face Unlock is particularly secure, and is positioning it as a good offering for someone who doesn't typically want to deal with secure lock screens. If you want to keep things locked up tight, you still need to use a password or fingerprint.
OnePlus 5T First thoughts
The OnePlus 5T in itself isn't very exciting. It isn't even much of an improvement over the original OnePlus 5. But with the way that OnePlus operates, it doesn't really matter. You can't buy the OnePlus 5 anymore — and the new 5T is simply a better version of that phone for a starting price that's just $20 higher. To evaluate the OnePlus 5T properly, you have to see how it stands on its own, and what it offers as a complete package for $499 at the end of 2017.
Anyone who was intrigued by a OnePlus 5 a month ago will be happy with the 5T, that's for sure. And if you've been holding onto a trusty old OnePlus 3 or 3T it offers a great upgrade proposition — once again simply offering a newer and better version of the phone you have now. The OnePlus 5T, with its full spec sheet and solid hardware, still compares favorably to the rest of the market even as its price took another small jump. Provided people aren't put off by the idea of OnePlus continuously refreshing its flagship phone every six months at the expense of the prior model immediately becoming obsolete, it's poised to have the same success as its other flagships have up to this point.
We'll have full impressions of this phone in our complete review — look for it here in the coming days!
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