Making a mark on the smartphone market is hard enough. Muscling in to compete in the same arena – if not at the top step – doesn’t happen often. OnePlus has bucked this trend with its phones of high specifications and low prices. Times change though. You may have needed an invitation to buy the OnePlus One in 2014, but the clamour was justified when the phone cost just £229 at a time when the then-flagship iPhone 5s sold for £549 and could compete on specifications.
The £449 OnePlus 5T is an upgrade on the five-month-old OnePlus 5 in the same way the 3T was to the 3 a year ago. In 18 months, there have been four flagship devices from a company that had previously only made two (the mid-range OnePlus X being its other device).
The new phone is excellent – a huge, crisp screen and screaming performance – but it’s coming from a company that is dangerously close to annoying its fans and appearing like it has run out of ideas, even though it hasn’t. It’s an impressive refinement of the company’s fast progression in smartphones. It’s very similar to the OnePlus 5, but the new screen size and face unlock feature make it feel surprisingly fresh.
Let’s not pretend here, the OnePlus 5T naturally looks like the OnePlus 5. The front is more attractive with the lack of bezels and fingerprint sensor but the phone itself is largely unchanged aside from the new 18:9 display. It’s only available in midnight black at launch and yes, it looks a lot like the Oppo R11S.
It’s a tiny bit taller than the OnePlus 5 to accommodate the new screen, measuring 156x75x7.3mm. It won’t fit properly in an old case, but you wouldn’t want it to now that the fingerprint sensor is on the back. Luckily, it’s really fast, easy to use and is circular. The rear otherwise looks the same, with dual cameras and a OnePlus logo. It charges via USB-C (and its excellent but proprietary Dash Charge charger) and retains a headphone jack, but ships with no headphones.
There is no waterproofing of any kind, nor any form of wireless charging. We don’t care about the latter too much, but the former is something the 5T lacks in comparison to nearly every other Android flagship this year. So there are some sacrifices to achieve the price.
It’s a phone we find to be slippery. It’s so thin, and the back isn’t easy to grip so snapping it into a case almost a must. This is a shame, as the cases don’t show off the excellent premium build underneath. This isn’t a problem unique to OnePlus, though.
It’s also definitely a two-handed phone. The lack of bezels looks lovely, but makes a phone harder to hold. Only the massive-handed will be able to reach their thumb to the top of the display, and for us texting with one hand is impossible.
But for £449, wow, what a looker. It is a more attractive and pleasing phone to use than the, whose bezels now look antiquated in comparison. And though the specs haven’t changed much, they remain credibly high-end.
Unlike the OnePlus 3T, the 5T does not get a notable bump over the previous generation in terms of core specs. But with a Snapdragon 835 and 8GB RAM in the £499 version we tested (and a perfectly adequate 6GB in the cheaper model) that won’t prove a problem for all your smartphone needs.
A benchmark of the handset against phones with similar specs shows that the field is pretty well balanced. It’s worth mentioning that the benchmark speeds of the iPhone X will beat anything Android for this year and probably the next couple, but that the OnePlus 5T feels as fluid as an Android phone can feel other than the Pixel 2.
The OnePlus 5 scores higher than the 5T on a couple of tests, but it is a tiny difference. OnePlus was also accused of boosting the 5 for tests, so they may have stopped that when everyone noticed.
The 5T is the fastest phone we have ever used besides the Pixel 2 this year. Away from Android, this year’s iPhones are also ridiculously quick with Apple’s new A11 Bionic chip.
The display is altered with a 6.01in Optic AMOLED panel that uses a 2160×1080 resolution to create the 18:9 aspect ratio. It takes up a whopping 80.5 percent of the front of the device.
It’s a bright, colourful panel that is a smidge under Samsung-quality, but as is usually the case with OnePlus, it’s a belter of a screen for the price. We found though that the auto-brightness setting is too aggressive and makes the screen too dim much of the time. The only changes are the display, fingerprint placement, camera sensors and new face unlock feature. The latter works stupidly fast but is less secure than Apple’s Face ID, and akin to the same feature on the Galaxy S8 in that it records a 2D image that can potentially be fooled by a decent quality print out of your face. Apple’s uses 3D mapping, which can’t be tricked this way.
It’s also great that the 5T does not suffer from the jelly scroll effect that plagues the OnePlus 5 still. The display size and quality is the best upgrade here.
The camera set up is now two Sony sensors. The main is 16Mp with f/1.7 aperture while the secondary is a 20Mp with f/1.7 aperture. This is an upgrade from the OnePlus 5, whose secondary camera was an f/2.6 telephoto lens.
With improved aperture, OnePlus claims the 5T is its best ever phone for low light photography (image 1), and this appears to hold true.
We noticed that it takes a lot for the second sensor to even kick in though, and it feels a bit redundant as an inclusion. It’s not needed at all for zoom, and is best reserved for portrait mode. This, like on the OnePlus 5, performs with mixed results.
Cameras The camera set up is now two Sony sensors. The main is 16Mp with f/1.7 aperture while the secondary is a 20Mp with f/1.7 aperture. This is an upgrade from the OnePlus 5, whose secondary camera was an f/2.6 telephoto lens. With improved aperture, OnePlus claims the 5T is its best ever phone for low light photography (image 1), and this appears to hold true. We noticed that it takes a lot for the second sensor to even kick in though, and it feels a bit redundant as an inclusion. It’s not needed at all for zoom, and is best reserved for portrait mode. This, like on the OnePlus 5, performs with mixed results.
Below is a shot of a goose (2), where the bokeh effect worked pretty well, but zoomed into the head you can see that the phone struggles to identify exactly where bird ends and background ends, with blurred patches. There were better results of human subjects (3), and the cameras did well in the below shot to well define the position of the camera, with the person blended better into the background.
It doesn’t perform as well as the Pixel 2 (which only has one lens) and is less consistent than the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. The camera best performs in bright daylight, where landscapes look excellent (4), but it doesn’t achieve the same standard as the best cameras in phones from Apple, Google and Samsung.
The front-facing camera is a 16Mp sensor with f/2.0 aperture and is pretty decent in daylight and for video calling. The 5T isn’t the high-end phone to pick if you want the ultimate smartphone camera, despite its relentless ‘Shot on OnePlus’ social media campaigning. You’ll find better results in phones that are admittedly more expensive.
Connectivity and audio
Call quality has been solid, and it’s good to see OnePlus plough on with the dual-SIM slot as standard, but there’s still no expandable storage. It gets Bluetooth 5.0 which paired the phone flawlessly with a Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro for the duration of our testing.
Full LTE compatibility, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and NFC round up all the inclusions you’d expect.
The battery life is about the same as the 5, and the 5T shares the same capacity. Dash Charge remains an excellent charging technology even if it only works with the supplied cable and brick. We also saw the 5T achieve four hours of screen on time under fairly heavy usage until it was reaching empty. It’s not as much of a two-day powerhouse like the BlackBerry KeyOne (read our review on page 28), but for a phone with the best specifications out there and an OLED display, the OnePlus 5T holds its own.
It’s a disappointment that the 5T doesn’t ship with Android Oreo. It’s on Nougat 7.1.1, but we’re hopeful for 8.0 Oreo in the coming months. OxygenOS, the firms interface, continues to improve. OnePlus pushes you on set up to use its new font ‘OnePlus Slate’ which is toying with a comic sans vibe at times. We still prefer the other option, ‘Roboto’, Google’s preferred font. We used the 5T with the Dark theme, a nice touch that changes the whole UI to a slicker black hue with the ability to change the accent colour of icons and menus. The changes to stock Android are thoughtful and unobtrusive. Swipe up for apps is better than an app tray, while the notification shade is familiar but excellently customizable.