OnePlus 5T initial review: first 72 hours

By | 16th November 2017

The OnePlus 5T was just announced this past Thursday, aptly bringing the flagship killer into the age of 2017 design. Our hands on with the 5T left us questioning the need for such a device, since its internals are almost a carbon copy of the OnePlus 5. Still, the thought of an 18:9 aspect ratio in an already great form factor left us wondering if this would be the device to get – especially at $499.

While we don’t want to give our final review on a phone we’ve only used for a little over 72 hours, we are eager to give you our first impressions. Is the OnePlus 5T a worthy follow up, or should the company have waited for the OnePlus 6?

Right out of the box, the OnePlus 5T just screams premium.

Right out of the box, the OnePlus 5T just screams premium. OnePlus knows how to make a statement and the company has gone all out on packaging design. Pulling off the lid we find the full-screened device up front, with the iconic red and white Dash Charger and cable nestled underneath.

There aren’t any additional dongles or cables included, but the inclusion of a headphone jack is a more than welcome trade-off. While most companies seem to be moving away from the headphone jack in favor of USB Type-C and Bluetooth audio, OnePlus sticks to the basics to give consumers what they actually want. While it might be nice to offer a USB Type-A to USB Type-C adapter for data transfer as Google does, it’s not the end of the world since account-based backups have become so good.

Turning to design, the OnePlus 5T is essentially the same as its predecessor, but still recognizably new. The new 6-inch screen occupies a much larger amount of the front of the device, which is a welcome change for 2017. Because of this, the fingerprint reader has now been moved to the back. This will almost certainly be a controversial move, but it was necessary in order to maintain the form factor OnePlus wanted to utilize.

The camera bump is now slightly more pronounced as well, since the company no longer had room to fit all the components in the top bezel. While this change is definitely noticeable, it isn’t a deterrent by any means, and the edges are now rounded as opposed to the sharper angles on the OnePlus 5.

While the rest of the specs might make you think this camera is exactly the same as before, it’s actually one of the major changes in this iteration. OnePlus has replaced the 1.6x optical telephoto lens with a 1x 20 MP shooter that uses groups of four pixels to capture more light and apparently do better in low light circumstances.

We tested this in quite a variety of low light situations, and while it is certainly decent for what it is, it often gets trounced by the algorithmic processing of phones like the Google Pixel 2. This isn’t exactly a fair comparison though, since the new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL cost substantially more than the OnePlus 5T. Still, the 5T left quite a bit to be desired in ultra low-light circumstances, though it did quite well in regular light. We’ll have to do further testing to see how this compares with other devices, but for now you can check out this gallery of images we’ve taken over the last 72 hours.

Besides these changes, the body is almost exactly the same. It uses the same aluminum alloy shell and has the same antenna lines as the 5, but the body is just a tiny bit bigger. You’ve still got the same tactile power button and volume rockers, and the hardware-based notification switch returns with the same satisfying clicky feel.

..the Snapdragon 835 and 6 GB of RAM tear through just about anything you can throw at the OnePlus 5T

The specs are the same as well, because Qualcomm still has not announced their new flagship mobile processor. Nevertheless, the Snapdragon 835 and 6 GB of RAM tear through just about anything you can throw at the OnePlus 5T. It did seem a bit curious that OnePlus would release a new phone just to update the aspect ratio of the screen, but for many people on the fence about purchasing a OnePlus 5 this might just be the tipping point they needed.

In case you’re in need of a reminder, the OnePlus 5T is packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 6/8 GB of RAM, and 64/128GB of storage. These are still top of the line components, even six months after the release of the OnePlus 5, so you’re not missing out on the cutting edge this time around either. Naturally, the OnePlus 5T is incredibly snappy for a phone in this price range, and is possibly the best bang-for-your-buck available.

The UI remains quite similar to the OnePlus 5, with a few changes that help set it apart. It’s still running Oxygen OS based on Android 7.1.1 Nougat, but there will be an 8.0 Oreo beta out by the end of 2017, with an official release coming in Q1 of 2018.

I’m quite fond of Oxygen OS, as it takes many of the features of stock Android and adds some extra settings and features which help to enhance the experience. OnePlus’ software has evolved quite admirably since the OnePlus One, and it is currently one of my favorite Android skins to date. The only “bloatware” present on the device out of the box is the OnePlus Community app, but it can be uninstalled if you want to get a truly bloat-free experience.

There are a couple of new features worth discussing. Face Unlock allows you to unlock your device just by looking at it, and it works much faster than many of the other devices we’ve tested. I’m still a bit worried about security here, but I did test it against multiple photos of myself and it didn’t unlock with those, so I’m remaining hopeful for now. The fingerprint reader on the rear is also extremely fast if you would rather use that (OnePlus says it unlocks within 1/5 of a second), so you’ve got quite a selection of different security options available to you.

While Parallel Apps are useful for those that run personal and public accounts on apps like Instagram and Snapchat, most users won't find it exceptionally helpful.

A new feature which has made its way to the 5T is Parallel Apps. This feature essentially creates cloned instances of apps that require a login, allowing you to be signed in to multiple accounts at once. While Parallel Apps are useful for those that run personal and public accounts on apps like Instagram and Snapchat, most users won’t find it exceptionally helpful. Still, having the option is much better that omitting it.

Further reading:

One other change made to the software is an updated reading and gaming mode. While we saw these features in the OnePlus 5, the company has expanded upon them to apply different levels of contrast to help enhance the experience. Reading mode turns the device black and white, and the new contrast levels of text against the background is definitely appreciated.

One aspect of this device we were especially concerned about is battery life. The 5T uses the same 3,300 mAh battery as the OnePlus 5, and we were worried the larger display would use more juice. Thankfully, our results have turned out pretty great so far, resulting in about five and a half hours of screen-on time.

While this isn’t ground-breaking power efficiency by any means, it is quite a satisfying result for a screen this large, especially with no change in battery capacity. Sticking with 1080p definitely helped in this case, and the quality of this AMOLED display is good enough that I wasn’t left longing for a higher resolution. This just goes to show that you don’t have to have all the most cutting-edge features to make a great device.

Overall, the 5T is looking like a healthy addition to the OnePlus family. It takes what we already loved about the OnePlus 5 and refines the design and software a bit, while maintaining a similar sub-$500 price point. The 6-inch 18:9 display really does make for a richer experience, and for those looking to get a premium Android device on a budget, the 5T may just be the phone to beat.

See also:

Make sure to stay tuned for additional coverage of the OnePlus 5T, as these were just our initial impressions. We’ll have a lot more content coming as we spend more time with the phone, so keep your eye out for that.