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OnePlus 5T hands-on: Love the screen, good cameras so far

The new phone goes on sale Nov. 21, starting at $499 or £449.

After a flurry of rumors, OnePlus is back with its latest marquee phone, the OnePlus 5T, which goes on sale beginning Nov. 21, starting at $499 -- see the full breakout below, with international pricing.

The OnePlus 5T, left, loses the OnePlus 5's home button, right.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

While the last upgrade, from the OnePlus 3T to the OnePlus 5, was all about internal improvements (yes, they skipped the OnePlus 4), this transition to the 5T made some very noticeable changes to the phone's looks. It's taller, with slim bezels and a screen that takes up almost the whole phone face. 

There's also a shift on the camera strategy. Oh, don't worry, you'll still find two cameras on the rear -- they even keep the same megapixel proportions, 16 and 20 -- but the 20-megapixel telephoto lens now gives way to a low-light sensor. OnePlus is jumping on trends to emphasize portrait photography and low light. With these lenses, it especially takes aim at the iPhone (portrait prowess) and Google Pixel 2 (low-light excellence).

Other things that remain: the fingerprint reader, which has moved to the back to let that 6-inch screen breathe, and the notification slider on the side that lets you decide when you want to be alerted and when you don't. There's also (drum roll, please), the headset jack, a port that's now an endangered species on high-end phones. 

We had a chance to use the phone ahead of Thursday's launch. OnePlus described the body design as more refined, but we honestly found it about the same size and same metal material. The camera mount does stick out a bit more than the OnePlus 5, but hasn't gotten in our way so far. The fingerprint reader is fast and accurate, too.

Now playing: Watch this: OnePlus 5T equals a few key upgrades

But you really want to know about that camera, don't you? The switch from telephoto to low-light is kind of a bummer if you like to zoom in. The 5T has definitely lost some capabilities there. On the plus side, low-light photos are markedly better than the OnePlus 5 in our test shots so far. We'll continue to test the OnePlus 5T's dual cameras against the best of the best, and will update this hands-on with a full rated review. We'll also test the phone's battery life, processor performance and all the rest.

OnePlus has made a name for itself creating high-value handsets that undercut premium phones such as Samsung's Galaxy S8 Plus. OnePlus' sticker prices have crept up as it adds costlier components, but the 5T does keep pace with ballooning prices on the high end. Compared to a $950 or $1,000 Galaxy Note 8 or iPhone X, OnePlus hopes buyers will find its $500 and $560 handsets more than reasonable.

The OnePlus 5T goes after Apple's iPhone X with a new face unlock feature, which the company says will work with 99 percent accuracy so long as it can see your eyes and nose. As with Samsung's face unlock feature, the 5T's isn't secure, and won't authenticate any of your mobile payments. For that, you'll need to use the fingerprint reader on the back.

Like other OnePlus phones, the 5T runs a relatively clean version of Android -- called OxygenOS -- that doesn't throw a lot of extra apps and skins on top of the software. OnePlus claims this gives phone owners up to 20 percent greater power efficiency. 

OnePlus 5T prices

OnePlus 5T prices around the world

64GB version $499 £449 Converts to $658 499
128GB version $559 £499 Converts to $737 559

OnePlus 5T hardware specs

  • 6-inch AMOLED screen, 18:9 ratio display
  • Dual 16-megapixel and 20-megapixel rear cameras that focus on low-light and portrait photography
  • 16-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
  • Up to 8GB RAM
  • Face unlock (not secure enough for mobile payments)
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Slider button on side controls notifications
  • 3.5 millimeter headphone jack
  • Android 7.1.1 Nougat (Android 8.0 Oreo beta will come in late December)
  • "Dash" fast charger
  • No water-resistance, no wireless charging

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