OnePlus 5T Review: BEST Value Android Smartphone

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OnePlus is one of those great little success stories of the modern era that proves that if you can spot a niche in the market and approach it intelligently, you can do well for yourself.

That’s the case with any market from any industry, but it becomes more impressive for an industry such as smartphones and other electronics. Put simply, it’s much rarer in this industry where the overheads are so huge to set up and a handful of big multinationals dominate the landscape.

In such a scenario, it’s nice to be reminded every now and then that, despite the odds, such plucky adventurousness can indeed prevail.

A few years ago, OnePlus literally didn’t exist, but as handsets such as Google’s Nexus series spiralled upwards in cost, there was a gap in the Android smartphone space for an old-school Nexus approach.

What’s that exactly? In a nutshell; carefully optimised hardware, punching heavy in one or two key specs, but otherwise keeping the price nice and low for what you get. Google used to do this with the Nexus series, but it crept up in price over time, and now with the Pixel series taking over it’s still relatively expensive.

The package is rounded off with a neatly streamlined and optimised software package, as well as great support and a thriving community.

That last point is more important than you might think, indeed, a big part of OnePlus’ success has come from its approach to marketing; viral social media presence and careful PR, fostering a community in its own forums, and a direct interaction approach to its fans, has all lead to OnePlus achieving big-brand success from relatively early on, and crucially has allowed it to outmaneuver longer established firms such as Sony and HTC who, trying to keep up with the Samsung and Apple model, just aren’t making gains.

The OnePlus 6 is now the lead (and indeed only) model in OnePlus’ catalogue, replacing the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T officially. OnePlus still supports the OnePlus 5 series, however, and even though you can no longer buy it from OnePlus itself, plenty of third party retailers still stock it in new, used, and refurbished condition.

And there are still plenty of reasons why you might want one…

The OnePlus 5T is a re-jig of the OnePlus 5, complete with the now very trendy 18:9 edge-to-edge display, as well as a re-worked camera.

Android Oreo 8.1 has now arrived for both the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T, bringing Oxygen OS up to version 5.1.0 in the process. The update download clocks in at 766MB and includes the latest Android Security patch on top of the UI changes, new features, and optimisations. Gaming mode, in particular, has been optimised and now has better power efficiency and improved network performance. The OnePlus 5T also gets full-screen gesture support.

At the end of July 2018,  OnePlus has landed the OxygenOS 5.1.4 update for both the original OnePlus 5 and the OnePlus 5T. The update includes the July Android Security Patch, as well as “the usual” stuff like bugfixes, tweaks, and optimisations to the overall software package.

However, in addition this latest update also adds a few new features which haven’t been present on the OnePlus 5 series before.

In particular, OnePlus’ post on the update draws attention to a new Sleep Standby Mode,  an AI-driven feature which reduces battery drain during low activity periods. It’s more than just a low power mode when you’re not poking it though, as the AI actually tracks your usage patterns and figures out when you’re not going to be operating the handset, for instance when you’re asleep. In which case, it’ll power off everything non-essential, including network connectivity, but it’ll bring it all back online before your usual wake up time so you can get your notifications as you rise.

Frankly seems a bit of a weird feature given that a) most people charge their phone overnight as a matter of course/habit, and b) if you don’t have network connectivity what if someone needs to phone you in the middle of the night with an emergency? I know that I for one would be pretty upset if I only found out in the morning that a friend or family member had had a serious accident because my phone decided it was also its nap time.

But maybe OnePlus has systems in place to account for this.

The default messaging app also gains Group Messaging, and the camera software has been tweaked for “improved clarity”. Here’s the changelog:

  • Updated Android security patch to 2018.7
  • Added sleep standby optimization (Settings -> Battery -> Battery optimization -> Advanced optimization -> Sleep standby optimization)
  • Improved photo clarity
  • Added Group Messaging
  • General bug fixes

OnePlus has also now officially confirmed that the OnePlus 5/5T will be updated to the next version of Android – Android P. They will be updated after the OnePlus 6, but before the OnePlus 3/3T, which are also being boosted to the yet-to-be-released build.

“OnePlus is committed to giving users the best possible experience, consistently delivering software updates for two years after the launch of a device, and security updates for an additional year after that,” the firm said, in a statement.

“Over the past few months, we have been working closely with Google on the Android P Beta program. Thanks to everyone’s participation and continued feedback, the progress we have made together has been greatly accelerated. The Android P update will be available on the OnePlus 6, OnePlus 5/T and OnePlus 3/3T, in this order. We will keep you all updated in the coming months.”

Naturally there is no precise date, or even a rough bracket at this point, but that’s largely because Google is yet to show its hand and, as always, Google has to go first on matters of Android. Usually new Android builds debut on new Pixel hardware launched in October, however, there are rumours that the Android P launch could happen in August. Likewise, it’s not exactly clear when the Pixel 3 series will debut and how closely tied the Android P release is this time.

OnePlus 5T review: Design & Display

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OnePlus hasn’t attempted to redesign the wheel when it comes to the 5T’s looks. From the back it’s almost a dead ringer (no pun intended) for the OnePlus 5, with the biggest change being the relocation of the fingerprint scanner from the front of the device to the back. As is the case with so many Android phones It rests right where you index finger usually sits and pleasingly fast and accurate.

The phone’s metal frame is covered in a black matte coating but it’s still rather slippy in the hand, so I appreciate the fact that OnePlus has very kindly bundled a free TPU case in the box. The antenna lines are visible at the top of the bottom of the phone; these break up that blackness quite neatly.

On the left-hand edge you’ll find the mechanical slider which allows you to toggle between Do Not Disturb, Silent and Ring – a feature which really should be present on more Android handsets – as well as the volume rocker.

On the opposite side there’s the power button and the SIM tray, which accepts two Nano SIMs. The bottom edge is home to the powerful mono speaker, USB Type-C port and 3.5mm headphone socket. Yep, OnePlus continues to fly the flag for those with wired headphones.

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Flip the handset onto its back and you’ll encounter the single biggest difference between the 5T and its forerunner – that massive screen. Glad in Gorilla Glass 5, the 6.01-inch 1080p panel uses Optic AMOLED technology which means you get strong colours and deep, convincing contrast.

While it’s not a QHD screen, I think the decision to stick with standard FHD is a wise one, as it saves unnecessary strain on the processor. While the 5T’s display isn’t quite as expansive as the screens seen on the iPhone X and Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 – the bezels are still quite large at the top and the bottom – it’s certainly a step in the right direction and a marked improvement over the 5.5-inch panel seen on the OnePlus 5.

It’s worth noting that the OnePlus 5T is sold without any kind of water or dust resistance, despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary. While it seems that the phone is capable of surviving an accidental dunk in water, OnePlus will not honour any warranty claims for water damage, so it’s perhaps best to avoid doing so.

OnePlus 5T review: Software & User Experience

OnePlus’ OxygenOS may look a lot like stock Android, but it showcases some decent customisation options under the hood, as well as a few neat tricks.

The big news with this model is that OnePlus has created its own Face Unlock system which differs from Google’s rather lackluster implementation which has been present since the days of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

While it’s not quite as advanced as Apple’s FaceID on the iPhone X – which uses a 3D imaging camera to map your face – OnePlus’ solution is nevertheless impressive.

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The phone is able to read your face irrespective of whether or not you’re wearing glasses and is incredibly quick to unlock; sometimes, the screen would unlock the moment I pushed the power button, not even giving me chance to read my notifications (you can, thankfully, change this in the settings). I was also surprised at how well the camera works in dark environments, and the fact that it can read your face even when it’s lying flat on a table or you’ve just pulled it out of your pocket.

Of course, just like FaceID, it’s not a perfect system and there were a few times when it failed to work. However, unlike the iPhone X, the OnePlus 5T has a backup – the aforementioned fingerprint scanner.

OnePlus has given its consumers the best of both worlds, and while its iteration of Face Unlock isn’t as secure or clever as Apple’s, you have your fingerprint as a backup for when it doesn’t work – or you can’t turn it off entirely. It’s good to have options.

OxygenOS has its own launcher too, which does away with Google Now on the left-hand home screen and introduces OnePlus’ own take, a “shelf” which shows your recent contacts, apps, data usage and battery life.

To be honest it’s hardly the most useful of screens – despite the fact you can add your own widgets – and I quickly installed the Google Now launcher from the Play Store.

Still, there are some nice elements to the default UI; like the Pixel phones, you swipe upwards to open the app drawer, and you can use custom icon packs and tinker with the layout of each home screen.

There are some odd software changes, too. OnePlus has removed the ability to schedule your “Do Not Disturb” period, instead expecting you to manually set this using the three-stage mechanical slider on the side of the phone.

The phone also currently lacks support for HD streaming via apps like Netflix, although OnePlus has stated that this is a DRM problem and that a fix is on the way. On the whole this remains one of the most pleasant custom skins on the market. Granted, it’s still based on Nougat – Orea is in testing and is expected early next year – but this won’t be a deal-breaker to most consumers.

In terms of pure performance, the OnePlus 5T is blisteringly fast thanks to the inclusion of the Snapdragon 835 chipset and 6GB of RAM. This is the de facto standard for most of 2017’s Android flagships and provides a pleasing degree of power for pretty much every task. 3D gaming is smooth and responsive, and there’s never any pauses or stutters when moving around the UI.

OnePlus 5T review: Battery, Memory & Camera

The OnePlus 5T has a 3300mAh battery, which is the same size as the one seen on the OnePlus 5 – despite the fact that this newer model is having to power a larger display. However, in terms of stamina the two phones are quite close to one another, and the 5T certainly performs respectably when compared to the rest of the market.

Starting the day on a 100 percent charge, I was able to get through to 8PM in the evening with plenty of juice left in the tank. During the day the screen was powered on a lot, browsed the web, checked Twitter obsessively, recorded video and listened to music.

The 5T will get you through a typical day of use without any issues, basically – and OnePlus’ unique Dash Charge system allows you to fully replenish the cell in under an hour. The only grumble here is that unless you use the bundled charger you don’t benefit from these rapid top-up speeds – unlike many other Qualcomm-based handsets, the OnePlus 5T doesn’t support the wider Quick Charge standard.

Oh, and don’t expect any wireless charging, either.

The base model has 64GB of storage but a 128GB variant is also available if space is a concern for you personally. While the handset supports two SIMs at a time, it’s sadly not possible to use one of these SIM bays to load up a MicroSD card, so you’re stuck with the base amount of storage.

Aside from the screen, the camera is perhaps the other area where OnePlus has done the most work with the 5T. On the OnePlus 5 there was a 16 megapixel main sensor accompanied by a telephoto lens, just like the iPhone X. For the 5T, OnePlus has ditched the telephoto camera and instead included a secondary 20 megapixel sensor which has the same focal-length and f/1.7 aperture as the main camera (neither sensor has OIS, it should be noted).

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The reasoning behind this setup is simple, to improve low-light shooting. When the phone senses that the environment is dim it will automatically switch to the 20 megapixel sensor and use a process which combines four pixels into one to reduce noise and improve darker shots.

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The issue here is that I rarely found myself in a situation where the scene was dark enough to cause the phone to switch to the secondary sensor, and when it did, the results were simply OK rather than mind-blowing.

very recent software update has gone live which drastically improves the overall performance of the OnePlus 5T’s camera setup, but this seems to benefit “normal” well-lit photos rather than ones taken with the secondary sensor.

Even so, the OnePlus 5T performs superbly when it comes to focus speed, detail, colour and contrast, and while it’s perhaps not quite in the same league as the Pixel 2, it’s still one of the best photographic options you can get at this mid-range price point – it even boasts a “portrait” mode which allows you to blur out the background to create arty shots. 4K video is also supported, and you can record HD video at 60fps.

OnePlus 5T Review: Conclusion

The OnePlus 5T would be a remarkable phone even if it were priced at the same level as Samsung, Sony or LG’s efforts, but for less than £450 it’s an absolute steal. While it lacks some premium features such as waterproofing, wireless charging and optically-stabilized camera sensors, it more than makes up for these shortcomings with its amazing screen, powerful internals and above-average camera performance.

Sure, that secondary 20 megapixel sensor is a bit of a gimmick, but in typical usage the 5T is capable of producing some truly jaw-dropping images and video.

Rounding the package off is a superb UI skin in the form of OxygenOS, as well as a surprisingly good Face Unlock feature, which – when combined with the super-fast fingerprint scanner – gives you the best of both worlds when it comes to security options.

It would have been nice to see Android Oreo ship on the 5T at launch but it’s hard to complain too much when the rest of the device is so striking. If you already own a OnePlus 5 then you might want to wait until the 6 arrives – presumably next year – but for everyone else, this is perhaps one of the best smartphones of 2017, especially for this price.

OnePlus 5T review unit kindly provided by Gearbest.

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