Scrappy Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus isn’t waiting until next year to unleash its next major Android smartphone.
Less than six months after launching the highly-rated OnePlus 5, the company that’s built its reputation delivering premium phones with flagship specs at half the cost of competitors, is back again to launch the better OnePlus 5T.
The new phone isn’t a complete reinvention of the OnePlus 5. The biggest upgrade is the new larger display with narrower bezels and improved dual cameras that better compete with phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Note 8.
The OnePlus 5T’s sudden release next week on Nov. 21 doesn’t surprise us. Last year, OnePlus bucked the annual smartphone release cycle and launched the OnePlus 3T less than half a year after the OnePlus 3 was released.
There’s no doubt it pissed off some OnePlus 3 owners who felt their phones were suddenly outdated, but that’s just what happens when you back a company that’s very mantra is to “Never Settle” and move as quickly as possible to deliver new products with innovative technologies the very moment they’re ready.
OnePlus is not bound by the typical annual release. It has and will probably always cannibalize its own products for the sake of progress.
And boy was it worth it for the OnePlus 5T.
Bigger screen and slimmer bezels
For not much more than the OnePlus 5 originally sold ($499 for 64GB of storage with 6GB of RAM and $559 for 128GB of storage with 8GB of RAM), the OnePlus 5T comes with a larger 6.01-inch AMOLED display with 18:9 aspect ratio.
The resolution doesn’t offer as many pixels on other flagship Android phones (2160 x 1080) at 401 ppi, but to my eyes, it’s still very sharp. It has all the characteristics that made the OnePlus 5 great, including high brightness, vibrant colors, and wide viewing angles with support for DCI-P3 wide color gamut, and a new “Sunlight” enhancement that automatically adjusts the contrast when you’re looking a photos, taking pictures and video, and gaming in direct sunlight so that content is more visible.
The larger screen means there’s no room for a front-facing fingerprint sensor. No biggie, because it’s now located on the backside. It’s the same ceramic fingerprint sensor as on the OnePlus 5 and works just as fast and unlocks in 0.2 seconds.
Flagship specs with a headphone jack
Specs remain the same as the OnePlus 5: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip and 3,300 mAh battery. I kind of wish OnePlus added a bigger battery like it did when it introduced the 3T, but the company tells me it should last around the same as the 5. In other words, all day battery life.
There’s no wireless charging on the 5T, but that’s okay because it still comes with the company’s industry-leading proprietary Dash Charge technology, which gets you from 0 to 60 percent in 30 minutes.
You’ll also find the same mono speaker, headphone jack, dual SIM card slots, and no expandable storage.
Two new software modes
The OnePlus 5T still runs Oxygen OS 4.7, which is a lightly customized version of stock Android 7.1.1 Nougat. An update to Android Oreo will come in the future. From what I could tell, it’s fast and stable and every bit as fluid as my experience with the OnePlus 5. But I’ll have to do a little more testing.
The OnePlus 5 had two legitimately useful features I adored: reading mode, which turned the screen monochrome and gaming mode, which muted notifications during, well, gaming.
On the 5T, there’s two new software features: parallel apps, which lets you install two instances of the same apps (useful for keeping work and personal social accounts separate) and they’ve worked with WhatsApp to deliver a cool walkie talkie feature.
Though the phone still has a fingerprint sensor, facial recognition is no doubt a new trend all phones (not just expensive $1,000 ones) will have.
The OnePlus 5 comes with its own version of this new face-based biometric security that’s generically called “Face Unlock.”
After scanning your face, the phone will then unlock when it’s recognized your face. OnePlus says its algorithm is using “over 100 identifiers to securely unlock the OnePlus 5T.” I haven’t tested this feature extensively so I don’t know how secure it is (can it be fooled by a photo? how does it work with twins?), but I’m told by company spokespeople it’s not impenetrable.
It’s a convenient and quick way (like the S8’s face unlock) to unlock your phone after pressing the power button, but the fingerprint sensor’s more secure and is still necessary for Android Pay.
Improved Portrait mode
And, of course, no company worth its salt would pass on the opportunity to improve the cameras. The front camera is an unchanged 16-megapixel shooter. But the rear camera has been improved in a few ways that may not be noticeable at first.
The dual cameras are still made up of a 16-megapixel wide lens and 20-megapixel 2x lens (neither camera has optical image stabilization). The camera’s really quick to snap photos and image quality looks pretty good, although some details are a little soft and dynamic range could be better. Like everything else, I’ll have to shoot with it more.
On the OnePlus 5, the company shamelessly ripped off the iPhone’s Portrait Mode. But on the 5T, you’ll notice Portrait Mode no longer punches in with the second camera’s focal length. It takes depth photos with the same field of view as the main camera and the blurred background (aka “bokeh”) looks good.
It feels too soon for OnePlus to be launching a new flagship phone, but I’m not that upset. I love that the company is so hungry and has the agility to deliver new phones with features that meet new trends.
Despite being backed by the deep pockets of Oppo, OnePlus still operates like a startup. And while it’s still got a ways to go before it’s even remotely close to a household name, it’s taking the right steps to disrupt the industry.
The company saw that phones with narrow bezels, face recognition, and better dual cameras were the latest trends and it’s delivering them with the usual price that undercuts the established market leaders.
I just love watching a small company fight its way up the ranks. It’s both entertaining and inspiring, especially when they’re making tremendous progress like OnePlus.