OnePlus 5T hands-on: Edge-to-edge screen, face unlock, low-light camera, same price

For anyone who’s been following the topic, there’s probably nothing about the OnePlus 5T launch today that comes as a surprise. Just like every smartphone manufacturer under the sun, OnePlus is adding an ultra-wide low-bezel screen to its one smartphone model.

If this isn’t exactly out of the blue, it is somewhat surprising to discover that OnePlus is also keeping the price of its flagship at the same level as before. OnePlus’ phones have always been keenly priced, but in the face of Apple’s move to a £1,000 price point with the iPhone X and Samsung’s £870 Samsung Galaxy Note 8, it’s a move that smartphone buyers will appreciate.

READ NEXT: Apple iPhone X review

OnePlus 5T review: Key specifications and release date

  • 6in, 1,080 x 1,920 AMOLED display with Corning Gorilla Glass 5
  • 75 x 156 x 7.3mm, 162g
  • 2.45GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC with Adreno 540 graphics
  • 6/8GB RAM; 64/128GB UFS 2.1 storage
  • 3,300mAh battery
  • Dual rear cameras: 16MP, f/1.7; 20MP, f/1.7
  • Front camera: 16MP, f/2
  • Price: 6GB/64GB, £449; 8GB/128GB, £499

Key features and first impressions

The screen is the new feature, and it’s a big one. The OnePlus 5T’s display uses AMOLED technology, measures 6in across the diagonal and has a resolution of 1,080 x 2,160 with a pixel density of 401ppi. On first inspection, it’s sharp and clear, and OnePlus’ background gives it a candy-coloured glow that grabs your attention straight away.

Like other manufacturers, OnePlus has chosen to slightly round off the corners of its display, although not quite to the extent of the ill-fated Google Pixel 2 XL. It stretches almost, but not quite, to the edges on the left and right, leaving just over half a centimetre of bezel above and below the screen.

It’s quite a dramatic change over the OnePlus 5, but OnePlus has kept the changes to a minimum elsewhere, physically at least. Spin the phone around in your hand with the display off and, initially, you might struggle to tell the difference between old and new. The profile of the rounded corners and rear-panel curves is near-identical to the old phone, and OnePlus has even shaped and placed the plastic antenna bands in exactly the same way.

The OnePlus 5T is a little larger than the 5 by a millimetre or so in width and height, but you need to stack the two phones side by side to perceive any difference. Practically speaking, the OnePlus 5T might as well be the same phone, with all the buttons and switches in the same place. Even the new dual camera (more on which later) is positioned identically, although the surrounding housing for it is now flared slightly and sticks out a fraction more.

Look hard at the rear of the OnePlus 5T and you’ll see the phone’s other main visual change: due to that edge-to-edge screen on the front, there’s no room left for the fingerprint reader below the screen. It’s now circular and has shifted to the rear, just above the OnePlus logo.

The knock-on effect of this move is that the phone no longer has capacitive buttons for home and recent apps on the front of the phone below the screen. The good news is that, although you now have to use soft keys instead, you can hide them at the tap of a button, so you don’t waste even a fraction of the OnePlus 5T’s glorious 6in display.

The two disappointments on the hardware front continue to be the lack of microSD expansion and of dust and water resistance, the latter of which is particularly baffling considering most rivals have at least IP67 protection.

OnePlus 5T review: Performance and camera

Inside, the OnePlus 5T is identical to its forebear and I would expect it to produce near-identical benchmark results. Its core power plant is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, it has 6GB or 8GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of storage and first impressions are that it’s at least as speedy as the OnePlus 5 and every other 2017 flagship phone I’ve seen.

The battery is the same size as before, too, at 3,300mAh, and Dash Charge is still in place, with OnePlus promising “enough power for the day” with half an hour of charging. That’s great news and, if the new phone delivers in the same way as the old one, it’ll be right up with the best of 2017.

But it’s all change when you turn your attention to the camera. Instead of offering a telephoto option for the second camera like last time, OnePlus is focusing this time on low-light photography. There’s a 16-megapixel main camera with an aperture of f/1.7 as before, but the secondary camera is now a 20-megapixel unit with the same aperture and focal length. This should make for even more effective portrait shots than on the previous model.

In lighting below 10 lux, the OnePlus 5T will switch to the secondary camera, which can also combine four pixels into one to produce cleaner images in low light. A nice idea, but a bit of an odd one, especially considering the secondary sensor – at least from a hardware standpoint – should actually be worse in low light than the main one. We’ll report back in our full review, but this is an area to keep an eye on.

OnePlus 5T review: Software improvements and face unlock

As mentioned earlier, OnePlus runs the latest version of its own Android launcher on top of Android 7 and there are a number of key improvements here as well. I’ve already mentioned the ability to hide the soft key shortcut bar with the tap of an extra icon, but the OS abounds with lots of extra little touches like this.

One such is the reversal of the answer-call gesture from standard Android install from a swipe up to a swipe down. Another is the ability to search for pictures in the OnePlus Gallery app based on where they were shot. OxygenOS also has a brand-new feature that OnePlus is calling Parallel Apps, which allows it to generate two instances of popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Skype so you can run them with two accounts at the same time.

And then there’s face unlocking, which OnePlus didn’t quite make the song and dance over that Apple did. Like Apple’s system, face unlocking on the OnePlus 5T can be used to unlock the phone and it works in 0.4 seconds according to OnePlus, so it’s slower than the 0.2 seconds the fingerprint reader takes. But, unlike Apple’s Face ID, the system can’t be used directly for payments via the Play Store. I’d imagine paying for goods via contactless should be fine, though, since as long as you have PIN protection, and your phone is unlocked, you can use Android Pay in shops.

The only strange thing this is that the OnePlus 5T is launching on Android 7 Nougat and not Google’s latest software, Oreo. It’s strange because almost every other new phone being currently launched does have Oreo on board. Still, with the OnePlus 5 yet to get its Oreo update it’s not that surprising and, with the both the OnePlus 3 and 3T both recently having received their updates, I’d expect Oreo to arrive on the OnePlus 5 and 5T’s sooner rather than later. 

OnePlus 5T review: Early verdict

OnePlus hasn’t been doing mid-term upgrades for long, but it’s a strategy that seems to be doing well and the 5T certainly looks like a cracking upgrade – at least on first impressions.

The phone’s design is just as appealing as the OnePlus 5, but with a bigger, frame-filling screen and, potentially, better photography in low light. If that turns out to be the case, and battery life is as good as the previous version, OnePlus is sure to have another winner on its hands.

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