OnePlus 5T review: A superb flagship for the price conscious

The Asian Age.  | Amritanshu Mukherjee

Technology, Reviews

The OnePlus 5T carries forward all the positive vibes of its predecessor and irons out almost all of its shortcomings.

The OnePlus 5T manages to give us a familiar vibe as the Google Nexus 5, which is considered to be one of the best Android smartphones in history.
Rating: 4.5/5

The second half of 2017 has seen ultra expensive smartphones surface in the market, each one with a unique point or two that differs itself from the other. Samsung’s Note 8 keeps continues stylus trend, Apple refreshed its iPhone for the second time in a decade with a new design and FaceID, and Google’s Pixel 2 debuted with the best camera ever. If you look at their specification sheets, all of them promise to bring the future of mobility to you, all of which still needs perfection.

However, the affordable flagship smartphone category believes in a different approach — bring the best of today's proven technology in an affordable overall package. Xiaomi manages this with its Mi MIX 2 and now OnePlus has stepped into the court with their latest offering — the OnePlus 5T. The OnePlus 5T will replace the OnePlus 5 and fight for the brand’s honour in the affordable flagship category. You can avail the 6GB/64GB variant for Rs 32,999 and the 8GB/128GB variant for Rs 37,999.

Wait, will the OnePlus 5T succeed the OnePlus 5? The older chap barely saw a few months of glory and was doing well for its targeted consumers — that’s what the world believes. However, every company looks forward to jumping into the latest technology trend and after Xiaomi launched the Mi MIX 2 with narrow-bezels in the OnePlus’ price category; it was obvious for the company to update its lone warrior to stay in the game until a successor arrives.

Enough with the competition and what it believes — let’s get on with the OnePlus 5T. The original OnePlus 5 was a good looker and equally well-built. With the 5T, OnePlus has improved its successful recipe by going on a ‘bezel-diet’ too. Keep the 5 and the 5T side-by-side and the new kid definitely steals eyeballs with its slim bezels on the face. It retains the earpiece and front camera in the conventional positions but eliminates the home button and boots fingerprint scanner to the rear panel.

The rear panel is familiar to the 5, apart from the fingerprint scanner addon. However, place it under a magnifying glass and you will notice the finer improvements OnePlus has made to the original design. The camera bump for instance now blends smoothly into the panel instead of sharp edges on the OnePlus 5’s camera bump.

OnePlus has retained the 3.5mm headphone jack at the bottom, a feature that’s excluded in most flagship smartphones these days. The alert slider (once again) is a great feature that brings the convenience of switching audio profiles without even unlocking the smartphone. Overall, the OnePlus 5T feels like a finely crafted smartphone in your palms and it’s a joy to use it on a daily basis.

The primary reason for the OnePlus 5T’s existence is its new 18:9 display — the 6-inch Full Optic Super AMOLED display with full HD+ resolution, which is protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 5. With slim bezels around it, the display provides a great viewing experience with its great contrasts and well-balanced colours. With an AMOLED display, blacks are deeper blacks, resulting in more vibrant colours across the interface. However, since customisation is one of the top priorities for OnePlus, users are given the option to switch between different colour profiles — sRGB, DCI-P3, an adaptive mode and a custom setting.

The Samsung-made OLED panel also doesn’t show any noticeable blue tint which is presently witnessed across its flagship rivals (hey Google!). The Reading Mode, that turns the display monochromatic (one of our favourite features), and the Night Mode, that eliminates the blue light, also make a comeback.

Of course, another reason you might be interested in the 5T is what rests inside. The 5T is a cumulation of mind-bending numbers (in terms of specs) you will hear on smartphones from 2017. The highly energetic Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 powers the OnePlus 5T, which is accompanied by either 6GB or 8GB of RAM. A slim physical profile also means that OnePlus had to tuck-in at least 64GB of storage (128GB on the 8GB RAM variant) to let users store all the data they would ever need. One weird feature that still made it to the specification sheet is the Android Nougat-based OS — the world of Android is moving to version 8.0 Oreo and a mid-life upgrade for the OnePlus 5 should have involved the sweetest version of Android. However, OnePlus has assured that Android Oreo will make its way to the 5T within a few months.

With flagship-class specifications, you would expect the phone to race from the moment you turn on the screen, just like a supercar. However, a supercar delivers its true potentials only in the hands of a racing driver and the OnePlus 5T’s racing driver is Oxygen OS 4.7. Right from the lock screen to the nooks of the Settings menu, you will feel that the OS has been optimised well enough to take advantage of the potent hardware.

Every single response from the OS and the apps, which we had on the 5T, felt eager for 99 per cent of the times. The massive 8GB RAM is managed intelligently, letting you fly between multiple heavy games, such as Need For Speed No Limits, Asphalt 8 and CSR Racing 2, and resource-intensive apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and a bunch of similar apps.

Oxygen OS 4.7 brings along a bunch of nifty features that make Oxygen OS one of the best custom Android interfaces we have ever tested. The familiarity with the stock Android-inspired interface adds to the various Material Design animations on Oxygen OS. You may not be able to overhaul the entire interface that Xiaomi’s MIUI lets you do but the customisation features are exciting enough for geeks to kill time in order to get the perfect personalised experience. You can create parallel accounts of the same app using the Parallel Apps feature. We particularly like the dark theme — it utilises the 5T’s AMOLED panel to deliver the best dark experience.

You can even tweak the accent colours, making your 5T different from that of the person next to you. The Ambient Display also gets an overhaul, displaying the time and notifications in a much more organised way. OnePlus has also added a cool personal touch to the time on the OnePlus 5T. If the clock (hour) contains the digit ‘1, 10 or 11’, the number 1 will be displayed in red, a colour of the OnePlus symbol. OnePlus also provides multiple Bluetooth audio codecs with the 5T such as SBC, aptX and aptX HD.

Moving ahead, the 5T also stresses on a new pair of camera sensors at the back — a 16MP + 20MP setup. The primary 16MP sensor with f/1.7 aperture is used for standard wide-angle photography in daylight. However, things become interesting with the secondary lens — instead of using this as a telephoto lens, OnePlus now uses the 20MP sensor with a f/1.7 aperture to improve low light photography. The secondary lens activates automatically when brightness falls below 10 lux. OnePlus says that with their new Intelligent Pixel Technology, the 5T’s secondary camera merges four pixels into one, reducing noise in low-light environments and enhancing clarity. Sounds good on paper but does it perform in real life?

In daylight as well as brightly lit scenarios, the results from the camera were pretty good. The colours may not be as accurate as that of Google’s Pixel 2 but it does a decent job nonetheless. You will obtain sharp pictures with loads of details. In low light and night time scenarios, the OnePlus 5T struggles to retain the same levels of performance as it does in broad daylight. You will notice the loss of sharpness from the pictures, but what amazed us was the colour reproduction in low light scenarios and the negligible amount of noise. Orange streetlights appear orange in the photo and so does most of the colour palette. There are no visible grains as well, proving that OnePlus’ optimisation for the secondary lens is doing its job pretty well. We aren’t saying that it matched the Google Pixel 2 in terms of overall photography prowess, but it manages to impress with its abilities compared to rivals, especially in low light performance. Hats off, OnePlus.

The Portrait Mode also sees some considerable improvement over that of the OnePlus 5. We didn’t notice any major irregularity on the edges of the subject and the background blurring also looks less artificial than what the OnePlus 5 managed. In fact, the Portrait Mode is smarter on this one, judging the depth of the background and producing DSLR-like portraits.

The 16MP front camera also takes good-looking selfies in most lighting conditions. However, the front camera has one more important responsibility on its shoulder. You see, 2017 flagships are focussing on newer ways of biometric verification. Apple has FaceID, Samsung has an iris scanner and OnePlus brings Face Unlock. However, unlike the giants, OnePlus doesn’t use any additional hardware for this — instead, the OnePlus 5T relies completely on the front camera for facial security. It works on the same principles as the facial recognition feature that earlier debuted on Android ICS 4.0 but now differs completely different in execution.

OnePlus has worked on the algorithms to get the verification almost accurate — during our time with the 5T, Face Unlock worked 90 per cent of the times accurately. We tried photos as well as videos of our faces (the whole team tried their luck too) to fool Face Unlock, but all failed. The Face Unlock studies several specific facial features as well as depth to identify the owner of the device out of a hundred faces. We would have suggested it to be the best, but OnePlus itself claims that it's still not as secure as fingerprint sensors. Also, under low light conditions, Face Unlock does not work most of the times. However, Face Unlock is still under development and we will agree that it is one of the fastest ways to unlock the 5T inadequately lit scenarios.

If it’s OnePlus, there has to be a mention Dash Charging. None of us needs a proof to understand that Dash Charging can top-up a OnePlus within an hour. The 5T is no exception, charging up its 3300mAh battery in an hour’s time from nothing to 100 per cent — helpful for those who are always on the move.

Keeping aside the Dash Charging, the OnePlus 5T easily lasts a day with casual everyday tasks such as texting, browsing the web, occasional games and average photography. Despite a bigger screen and Face Unlock, the 5T manages to creep past the older OnePlus 5 by a tiny margin in terms of battery life.

Is the OnePlus 5T a worthy consideration in the affordable flagship category? Our answer — Definitely! With the 5T, OnePlus has managed to make an exciting package for smartphone enthusiasts. It ticks all the right boxes — best core hardware, possibly the best custom iteration of Android, an immensely fast charging technology and a pair of capable cameras. The OnePlus 5T manages to give us a familiar vibe as the Google Nexus 5 — one of the most favourite Androids in history.

OnePlus 5T might not have the appealing charm similar to Xiaomi's Mi MIX 2, or the futuristic tech from the likes of Samsung's Galaxy and Apple's iPhone X, but it definitely makes sure that you have the best in class performance for the existing technology in an affordable price. If you are out there looking for the sheer performance and the gimmicks of looks and unneeded features do not matter to you, we would definitely recommend the OnePlus 5T to top your list.

Also published on Deccan Chronicle