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OnePlus 5T Review: The Hard To Beat $500 Smartphone

OnePlus 5T Official Shot

Date: March 8, 2018
Author(s): Rob Williams

Since the launch of its original smartphone, OnePlus has managed to follow up again and again with solid iterations, both with the launch of a major new model, or an update to one. The 5T continues that record of quality updates, making this the latest $500 Android smartphone to beat.



Introduction, OnePlus 5T Hardware & Specs Tour

I can’t believe it’s been close to two years since I took a look at the OnePlus 3, a phone I fell in love with almost immediately. I could have said the same about the OnePlus 2 before it, but really, I ended up digging the OP3 so much, I felt like no phone could ever replace it.

That’s a seriously lofty assumption, but the OnePlus 3 had so much good going for it. Even when equipped with one of the official cases, the phone felt as thin as other flagships without a case. Well over a year after using the phone as a daily driver, it never gave me the impression that it decreased in performance; it’s always felt snappy.

I’ll dig into some comparisons between the two later, but to kick things off, here’s a look at OnePlus’ latest:

OnePlus 5T Smartphone

The 5T has a much shorter chin than the OP3, and aesthetically, it looks much better. The reason for the change is that the finger print reader was moved to the back of the device, something I expected to hate based on my experience with Samsung’s Galaxy S8. Well, it turns out that location is everything, as the reader location on the 5T is what I’d call perfect. Even Samsung has to agree, since the Galaxy S9 reflects similar positioning.

As with its previous flagships, OnePlus’ goal with the 5T is to deliver as much phone as possible for the money, and make it as attractive as possible. The Oxygen OS keeps the KISS principle in check; there’s no real bloat to speak of. It’s stock Android, with some of OnePlus’ TLC applied.

OnePlus 5T
SoCQualcomm Snapdragon 835
8-core CPU (4×2.45GHz + 4×1.9GHz)
Adreno 540 GPU
Display6.01-inch 1080×2160 (401ppi) AMOLED
Storage64 or 128GB
Memory6GB or 8GB LPDDR4
WirelessSupports GSM, LTE, HSPA & CDMA
Supports Dual-band 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC
CameraFront: Dual Sony Exmor IMX371 16 megapixel
Rear: Sony Exmor IMX398 20 megapixel
Capture: 4K/30, 1080p/60, 720p/30, 720p/120 (Slo-mo)
Battery3300mAh Li-Ion (Non-removable)
Weight162g
Dimensions75 x 156.1 x 7.3mm
Et ceteraAndroid 8.0 (ships with 7.1.1)
Support for 2 SIMs
Includes a headphone jack
Uses USB-C (2.0) connector (standard USB plugs into PC)

The 5T is equipped with the current flagship Snapdragon, 835. That’s an 8-core chip composed of two quad-cores, clocked at 2.45GHz and 1.9GHz, respectively. The phone is larger than the OP3, at 6.01″ inches, and its resolution has been boosted to 1080×2160. The $499 SKU includes 64GB of storage, and 6GB of memory, while the $559 one bumps that to 128GB of storage, and 8GB of memory.

Some features I like about the 5T include dual-SIM support (important to me when traveling), the headphone jack, dual rear camera, and the screen. I thought the OP3 was a great size at 5.5″, but after using the OP5T for the past month, I’ve quickly become accustomed to the bigger size, and increased real-estate of the slightly taller screen (no notch needed).

One thing the OP5T doesn’t have that I’d like it to is an FM tuner, but OnePlus isn’t alone in treating it as unimportant (and I’m sure I’m one of few who’d appreciate one).

OnePlus does a few things really well, and one of those things includes packaging. The box itself is made of quality materials that feel like quality, although their grippier nature makes separating the two sections a bit of a challenge (good thing it only needs to happen once or twice).

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Inside the 5T box: translucent case, Dash power adapter and SIM remover pin
GIGABYTE Summer 2016 Event - Artesa Winery Wine Aging Room
The OnePlus 5T sitting pretty before removal
Inside San Francisco (SFO) Airport
Some official OnePlus 5T cases

Also included is the Dash charger, which has its cord nicely wrapped up. This charger is spec’d the same as the one included with the OP3, and looks similar, too, but the production duties switched to Lite-On (from Shenzhen Huntkey Electric Co.). There’s also a translucent plastic case to use if you don’t feel like shelling out for a fancier one (though you probably should; this one doesn’t feel the highest quality).

The last slide above shows off the cases OnePlus sent along for testing. Of these, one is a standard protective case (left), which is made to be as thin as possible, but still offer better protection than having nothing at all. The red case is silicone, so it has a very unique feel all over. The others are “bumper” cases, as the surrounding edges offer better bump resistance compared to the standard protective case.

Naturally, I prefer the case that offers the least amount of protection, only because it’s noticeably thinner than the others. Even when I pick the OP5T up in its slim case, it still feels thicker than the OP3 in its slim case, which is odd because to my eye, they appear to be the same thickness. Nonetheless, OnePlus offers quite a bit of selection for its phones, so chances are good you’ll find a design and style you like.

As mentioned earlier, the finger print reader on the 5T is located in what I’d consider to be a great position – at least for my hands. No matter how I grab the phone, I can easily reach this reader. To the top-left of this reader is the dual camera, as well as the flash. If you look really closely in some of the shots, you will be able to make out the antenna that runs along the top of the device.

Inside San Francisco (SFO) Airport
Back: Camera (top) and finger print reader (center)
GIGABYTE Summer 2016 Event - Artesa Winery Wine Aging Room
Right-side: SIM tray (top), and power
Inside San Francisco (SFO) Airport
Left side: Mode-switcher, and volume rocker
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Bottom: Headphone jack, speaker, and USB-C port

On the right side of the phone is the SIM tray, which again holds two SIMs, and also the power button. On the opposite side, there’s a mode-switcher (normal, vibrate, and do-not-disturb) and volume rocker. At the bottom, there’s the headphone jack, speaker, and Type-C USB port.

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Comparison: OnePlus 3 vs. OnePlus 5T
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Comparison: OnePlus 3 vs. OnePlus 5T (back of phones)

As much as I’ve loved the OP3’s aesthetics up to this point, it’s crazy the difference a year or two can make. The 5T’s front looks much cleaner, and in general, it looks better from pretty much every angle.

Software

The 5T ships with Android 7.1.1, but a couple of weeks ago, the 8.0 update was pushed out. When I tested the Oreo beta on the OP3, I encountered some connection issues afterwards, so I was a bit skeptical with this upgrade, but there’s a clear difference between a beta and final release. The upgrade on the 5T went flawlessly.

The Oxygen OS take on Android results in an extremely minimal setup, as long as you don’t include the Google apps that are pretty de facto on most devices. The one non-Google app preinstalled is OnePlus’ own ‘Community’, which gives you immediate access to a portal that covers all things OnePlus, from help to general information and updates. Interestingly, even after the 8.0 update, OnePlus’ own ‘Notes’ app hasn’t made an appearance on the 5T, even though it can be found on the OP3.

The slider below has a range of random shots from around the OS. Notably, the phone lets you configure quite a number of gestures, with more unique options being letters you can draw on the screen. Unfortunately, you can’t configure every letter in the alphabet, but instead choose from five: O, V, S, M, and W. In my experience, O gives me some trouble to input (I can’t draw a circle, apparently), but the rest are dead simple to input.

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Default home screen on the OnePlus 5T
GIGABYTE Summer 2016 Event - Artesa Winery Wine Aging Room
OnePlus' Shelf, which is just a slide away
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Drop-down Android settings
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OnePlus offers wallpapers from other users shot on their own OnePlus phone
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Basic (but advanced) configuration
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The 5T offers quite a few gesture options
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Drawing letters on the (turned-off) screen can do a number of different things
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OnePlus bundles its community app on the 5T
GIGABYTE Summer 2016 Event - Artesa Winery Wine Aging Room
All of the preinstalled apps on the OnePlus 5T
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OnePlus 5T internet (Wi-Fi) benchmark

It’s not seen in one of the shots above, but the 5T lets you configure the finger print reader to act as a scroll in certain instances. You can’t browse the web with it, but you can slide down the notifications bar, which is something I’ve begun doing pretty much exclusively. I find that sliding my finger down the screen to grab that menu is hit-or-miss sometimes, whereas it’s much more reliable with the finger print reader.

Another neat finger print reader option: you can touch and hold it to take a photo when you’re in that mode. I personally don’t find this the most comfortable option, but you may, depending largely on the size of your hands.

Other features to note is that the Bluetooth Audio Codec on the 5T has multiple options to choose from; SBC is default, with AptX and AptX HD as the other options. Interestingly, OTG storage support is kind of hidden away in a menu. When I tested Samsung’s portable T5 SSD on the 5T, it simply didn’t work. I expected an OTG notifier to pop-up, but one didn’t (even though it did on the OP3). After finding the option and enabling it, the SSD could be accessed just fine.

One other thing worth noting is that OnePlus’ community spirit carries through to the wallpapers. When you opt to change the default wallpaper, you’ll spot a “Shot on OnePlus” option, allowing other OnePlus users to flaunt their skills, and let you equip a quality wallpaper. One thing I quickly discovered is that everyone takes better photos than I do, but I don’t mind. Speaking of…

Photos, Performance & Final Thoughts

The 5T has a promising camera setup, with a dual configuration found at the back. Sony provides both camera sensors here, with the IMX 398 handling the rear dual camera, and the IMX 376K up front. Both sensors are glued to f/1.7 and have a focal length of 27.22mm. At least on paper, the only real difference between them is the megapixel count.

Alongside the dual camera at the back is a dual LED flash, which assists with low-light situations. The cameras can support capturing video at 4K/30FPS, 1080p at both 60 and 30, 720p at 30, and also 720p in slo-mo mode, at 120.

Over the course of the past month, I took a huge number of photos, but there weren’t many I was personally proud of (to no fault of the device). Many did come out very well, though, as you’ll see here. All of the shots are straight out of the camera, just resized down.

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Photo test: Lenovo Yoga closeup
GIGABYTE Summer 2016 Event - Artesa Winery Wine Aging Room
Photo test: CHERRY MX red switches closeup
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Photo test: Corsair's Justin Ocbina taking aim
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Photo test: Cameras were made for shots like this
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Photo test: On-the-move shot of Seagate location in Fremont, CA
GIGABYTE Summer 2016 Event - Artesa Winery Wine Aging Room
Photo test: Inside Corsair's game room
GIGABYTE Summer 2016 Event - Artesa Winery Wine Aging Room
Photo test: Inside Corsair's game room (come get some!)
GIGABYTE Summer 2016 Event - Artesa Winery Wine Aging Room
Photo test: Cat waiting for a checkup

Some of the shots above show dramatically different lighting conditions, and overall, the 5T handled them all very well. That includes the shots taken inside of Corsair’s game room at its Fremont HQ. There’s an on-the-move shot of a Seagate location in Fremont that I think came out pretty well, too, but that’s one of three I shot in succession that came out so clear.

Here’s a couple of portrait shots (I wish I had taken more), all of which came out really well. The cat photo was shot in portrait mode, which adds a bokeh effect that looks great. It might take a few attempts to get the desired effect, but it’s not hard to get a good one. Of this set, I’m most impressed with the shot of the Corsair whisky, but now regret not asking for a taste.

Inside San Francisco (SFO) Airport
Photo test: Eris where she shouldn't be (portrait mode)
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Photo test: Corsair small batch whisky... apparently a thing! (portrait mode)

These final shots show off the 5T’s 2x zoom feature I’ve come to use a lot. As you’d expect, it merely zooms in to 2x to let you grab a better view easier. As you can see from the shots below, the end result is pretty satisfactory.

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Camera zoom test: Far Cry 5 event (no zoom)
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Camera zoom test: Far Cry 5 event (2x zoom)
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Camera zoom test: AMD Ryzen processor (no zoom)
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Camera zoom test: AMD Ryzen processor (2x zoom)
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Camera zoom test: Far Cry 5 backpack (no zoom)
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Camera zoom test: Far Cry 5 backpack (2x zoom)

Unfortunately, these shots would have looked even better on the OP5, which includes a telephoto lens. On the 5T, the 2x zoom is done entirely in software. Given that, I think the results are very impressive, but because of the nature of software optimization, you’ll probably want to take multiple shots at 2x to make sure you’re going to get one of desirable quality.

Even without the optical zoom, though, I still use this feature pretty religiously at this point. That’s really because the images I’m taking are not meant to be judged by their technical merit. I’d even welcome a 3x button to complement this one, because zooming in with your fingers can feel so imprecise.

Performance

I don’t have a dozen or so phones on hand to do in-depth comparison testing, but I can test the new flagship against the OnePlus 3, to give an idea of what’s changed between Snapdragon 820 and 835, and to give prospective upgraders who want to go the same route a general idea of what to expect.

To be clear, though, I retested the OnePlus 3 for these results after having used the device for a year-and-a-half. There may be some degradation somewhere, but I wouldn’t expect a great difference anywhere outside of maybe the storage, and even then, it’s not as though the NAND has seen as much use as even a single chip on my desktop PC’s SSD.

OnePlus 3OnePlus 5T5T Advantage
3DMark Physics17393026+74%
3DMark Graphics29813738+25%
3DMark Physics (Vulkan)17052623+54%
3DMark Graphics (Vulkan)22622771+23%
GFXBench Car Chase2021+5%
GFXBench Manhattan 3.13133+6%
AnTuTu CPU5542072401+31%
AnTuTu GPU6746383329+24%
GeekBench Single-core17451976+13%
GeekBench Multi-core41316645+61%
PCMark Work 2.055597308+31%
PCMark Computer Vision33904053+20%
PCMark Storage36575351+46%
Basemark Web 3.0164.89234.74+42%
JetStream49.54463.443+28%
WebXPRT5979+34%
Notes: In GFXBench, the Adreno 530 (OP3) ran the tests at 1920×1080, and on the Adreno 540 (OP5T), it ran them at 2046×1080. All results represent the highest score achieved across multiple runs. Both devices were running Android 8.0.0.

The 5T has a clear performance advantage over the 3. Surprised? Outside of the single-core GeekBench and GFXBench test, every result was at least 20% better for the 5T over the 3, with the CPU-bound 3DMark physics test proving an impressive 74% better.

The GFXBench result is barely different from one device to the next, which may seem odd considering the other GPU tests scale much better. This is because GFXBench tests at the device’s native resolution, or at least close to it. The 5T has a 2160×1080 screen, but GFXBench claimed a resolution of 2046×1080, which is 6.6% more pixels than the 3’s 1920×1080. So while the Adreno 540 is faster than the 530, the fact that the resolutions differ make the side-by-side comparisons tough. So one way to look at it is: the Adreno 540 managed to outpace the 530 even when needing to deal with 6.6% more pixels.

From a basic usability standpoint, I couldn’t tell you if the OP5T feels faster than the OP3, because to me, it doesn’t. But that’s more a testament to how fast the OP3 was. Even a year-and-a-half at use, I can’t spot noticeable slowdown. It’s actually the first long-term phone I’ve had where I haven’t had to complain about that. Battery endurance has made a slight drop, but not performance. I’m hoping for the same with the 5T.

Final Thoughts

I mentioned in the intro that I came to like the OnePlus 3 so much, I wasn’t sure I’d ever find another phone that could replace it, in terms of being such a great all-around package. The phone’s camera wasn’t anything special, but beyond that, the size was fantastic, and as also mentioned, a year-and-a-half of daily use didn’t do anything to diminish its performance.

If time can manage one thing, though, it’s that it can change opinions. I thought I wanted a finger print reader on front, but as it turns out, I just don’t want it in a bad location at the back. With it gone from the front, the face is so much cleaner looking; more optimized.

OnePlus 5T Smartphone

Other perks of the phone include its super-fast charge time. Starting from 0%, the the 5T can reach 60% in just 30 minutes, and clear 90% after an hour. The phone also includes a preinstalled screen protector, which is a great touch. Funny enough, the screen protector that came preinstalled on the OP3 lasted me all the way up until this past CES, where I ended up catching a part of it, resulting in a quick tear-off. Let me tell you: these things work.¬†Days later, I managed to scratch the screen, even though I thought my pockets were completely free of debris. So quite literally, a free, preinstalled protector, is definitely “one plus” of this phone.

Tying into the protector, OnePlus also includes a free case. It may not be the highest quality, but it’s suitable enough for those who merely want to keep their phone safe, especially if they’re just waiting for a better one to arrive. I am not sure about its long-term capabilities, but it’s a nice bonus, nonetheless. Beyond that, the 5T’s facial recognition works extremely well (not that I’d recommend using it, per se; finger prints are far more secure), as does the finger print reader. There is no iris reader like there is on some other devices, but at least the solutions that do exist, work well.

The biggest hits against the 5T include the lack of expandable storage (though I’d personally take a second SIM over that if that was the choice to be made), and the camera struggles a bit in really low-light situations. The lack of a proper zoom lens is unfortunate as well, considering there¬†was just one on the predecessor to the 5T.

That all said, even with those flaws, the OnePlus 5T really is the phone to beat at its price-range. It’s a great all-around package that’s hard to find genuine complaint for.

Pros

Cons

OnePlus 5T - SmartKevin Editor's Choice
OnePlus 5T

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