Editors' Note: This review was originally published on Nov. 20, 2017 and was updated on Nov. 29, 2017 with additional battery information and an Editors' Choice Award.
OnePlus did it again. Its latest phone, the OnePlus 5T, pairs the right high-end hardware and software with the right price, making it one of the best value phones you can buy anywhere. It remains one of those rare devices that can take on phones with slightly brawnier specs and higher price tags like the Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30. That price-to-value ratio is exactly the reason why the 5T, like the last OnePlus phones before it, is one of the best mid-priced phones you can buy and earned CNET's Editor's Choice Award.
It's not perfect, of course -- no phone is. One of the OnePlus 5T's biggest warts is that it's only an incremental hop from the OnePlus 5 we saw just five months ago. So, while the 5T is genuinely impressive for new buyers, anyone who already owns a OnePlus 5 can join me in a big shrug.
In fact, OnePlus 5 owners have a right to be annoyed that their phone is now "old news." (And OnePlus no longer sells the 5, so unless you're buying it through another channel, this is your only option.)
The 5T keeps much of the 5's internal hardware, including the processor, battery and headphone jack, which is becoming so endangered these days. But the screen and camera are what changed most. The 5T's 6-inch AMOLED display now takes up most of the phone face and OnePlus swapped out the 20-megapixel telephoto lens on its dual camera, replacing it with a lens for low light.
Incremental updates have quickly become the OnePlus way. In just four years, this Chinese brand has whipped up a fervent global cult following, based on undercutting the costlier competition. And while the OnePlus 5T isn't as cheap as the first OnePlus flagship in 2014 (when it was $299, or about £180 and AU$320 converted), it's still affordable.
|64GB||$499||£449||Converts to $660||€499|
|128GB||$559||£499||Converts to $740||€559|
(Keep in mind, however, that the OnePlus 5T launched during the holidays, when the most competitive retail months and season in the US and elsewhere are underway. All of the best phones of the year will go through fluctuating sales and discounts during this time, and many older-but-still-great flagship phones can be bought at even bigger discounts, sometimes at even two-for-one offers. For a head start on deal-digging, check out CNET's Holiday Gift Guide for phones.)
A few things, but not a lot. Here are the biggies:
The most noticeable and really only envy-inciting difference between the OnePlus 5 and 5T is the 5T's larger display, which now measures 6 inches instead of 5.5. Because the bezels are thinner, the 5T's physical size remains relatively the same. On paper, it is a few millimeters taller and thicker, and about 0.3 ounces (9 grams) heavier, but I didn't notice a difference in my hand.
With the new size, the display's resolution is still just as sharp (pixels per inch hold steady at 401ppi), but the aspect ratio has gone from 16:9 to 18:9, the same ratio you see in Samsung's Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, LG's V30 and G6, and the Google Pixel 2 XL. Some argue that this ratio offers a better, more comfortable viewing experience. But I like it because it gives you a larger canvas for doing all the things you usually do on a phone.
The iPhone X made face unlock a thing with Face ID, which sprays your mug with harmless infrared lights to map out your features and prove that you are you.
But not all face unlocking is created equally, and OnePlus 5T admits that its new feature isn't all that secure -- at least not secure enough for mobile payments. Samsung's Galaxy S8, S8 Plus and Note 8 have face unlock too, and they're not secure enough to authorize purchases through Samsung Pay either.
Still, face unlock does give you another way to unlock your phone, and ease some of that iPhone X FOMO. It works incredibly fast and recognizes over "100 facial identifiers" to unlock the phone, according to OnePlus. (Read more: How to set up face unlock on the OnePlus 5T.)
The feature worked when I wore glasses and sunglasses, and it was able to discern my real-life face from a 8.5x11-inch print out. It's a useful, time-saving method to unlock your phone, but that's pretty much it. Tsk.
OnePlus made some interesting changes to its dual-camera setup. There's still a 16-megapixel main camera, but what used to be a 20-megapixel telephoto lens now is a lens designed to take better low-light shots.
For camera fans, this secondary lens has the same focal length as the main camera, which means that you can still capture bokeh-style portrait photos, and there won't be any auto-cropping when you take them (something that the OnePlus 5 did). But because OnePlus widened the aperture on the second lens, night-time and lowlight photos look a lot more detailed. The downside though is that telephoto or "optical' zoom is gone, so all the zooming you do on the phone will be carried out digitally.
I don't usually zoom in a lot to snap casual pictures, but zoomed-in photos on the 5T look noticeably more blurry and splotchy compared to the OnePlus 5. The good news though is that low-light photos are definitely sharper, brighter and more detailed. The switch away from a telephoto zoom has its trade-offs, and it'd be nice if OnePlus were able to solve both problems, but I do prefer having better low-light capabilities at the end of the day.
Other than these two points, photo quality between the 5T and the 5 are relatively the same. Pictures are bright and vibrant, and portraits look smooth -- though the blurred effect can get patchy around tricky outlines. (For more about photo quality, peep CNET's gallery of photos taken on the OnePlus 5, and stay tuned for an in-depth shootout with the 5T.)
But one thing changed over the course of the five months since the OnePlus 5's release and that is the launch of the Pixel 2. The Pixel 2's camera outpaces the OnePlus 5T in clarity and focus; low-light (due to the camera's OIS/EIS setup); and portrait mode despite only having one lens. Given the more competitive landscape today, I'm not as enthusiastic about the OnePlus 5T's camera as I would have been before, despite it being objectively better than the 5 overall.
The camera keeps still has an advanced Pro Mode for more editing options while shooting, as well as EIS, electronic image stabilization, for video recording.
Almost everything. Here's what you keep.
Like most phones, the OnePlus 5T can withstand a few drips and drops of water that you might accidentally come across on a rainy day. But OnePlus wasn't compelled to waterproof the 5T this time around and the phone isn't IP rated. So don't go dunking your phone underwater for any notable amount of time and expect it to keep on ticking perfectly.
It may be par for the course for iPhone owners, but many (thought not all) Android phones offer expandable storage via a MicroSD card. Like the earlier 5, you won't find that here.
If you're on a network that uses CDMA-technology (in the US, that's Verizon and Sprint customers), you still won't be able to use the OnePlus 5T. The phone is only compatible with GSM carries like AT&T and T-Mobile in the US.
Though the OnePlus 5T's Snapdragon 835 chipset is the same as the 5, it surprisingly performed a smudge better on all the benchmark tests I ran. This means it still comfortably outpaced the Galaxy S8 and LG G6, as well as the newer Pixel 2 XL. In day-to-day usage, however, you won't notice much of a difference. The 5 was already a speedy phone, and launching apps, firing up the camera and pecking away on the keyboard felt just as fast.
If you're wondering why I used different benchmarks than our usual suite of apps this time around, that's because OnePlus has been known to deliberately skew benchmarks by configuring its core processors to maximize results for specific tests, like Antutu v6.2.7 and Geekbench 4. Optimizing for benchmarks is nothing new, but it can be misleading. As such, we used browser-based benchmarks, Octane 2.0 and JetStream 1.1 instead.
As for its battery, the OnePlus 5T still has a long run time, despite the bigger display. During our drainage test for continuous video playback on Airplane mode, the phone lasted an average of 17 hours and 14 minutes. The OnePlus 5, meanwhile, clocked in an average of 17 hours and 50 minutes. Though the 5T shaves off a handful of minutes, the battery remains impressive. Also, you can still charge the phone very quickly with OnePlus' Dash charge, but there is no wireless charging.