In what’s quickly becoming an annual tradtion for the company, OnePlus is back with a new take on a phone it released earlier in the year. For OnePlus, the OnePlus 5T represents a chance to improve on OnePlus 5, a device that was mostly stellar but marred by a less than great camera experience, missing features and a dated design thanks to an aging 16:9 display.
With a new bezel-less display, the 5T is an even better phone than the 5, but where it could have improved on its predecessor by leaps and bounds, it settles for merely half steps and maintaining the status quo.
A new, more modern display
The OnePlus 5T’s marquee new feature is a 6.01-inch screen with an 18:9 aspect ratio and 1080 x 2160 pixel resolution. Following the lead of much larger companies like Samsung and Apple, OnePlus has made a phone with minimal side bezels. It’s a welcome change and one that leads to a host of other, smaller differences between the 5T and the company’s past handsets.
The most significant design change resulting from the new screen is that OnePlus 5T’s fingerprint sensor is now located on the back of the device, instead of on the front. Like with past OnePlus smartphones, the scanner is partly made from ceramic and works incredibly fast. OnePlus promises the 5T’s scanner will consistently unlock your device in about 0.2 seconds. In my testing of the 5T, the new fingerprint scanner was consistently fast and accurate.
If you’re like me, you may even prefer the fact that the fingerprint sensor is now on the back of the phone. For everyone else, OnePlus has added a facial recognition feature that leverages and improves upon Android’s Face Unlock functionality. When setting up the OP5T for the first time, the phone prompts you to take a picture of your face. Using this picture, the 5T identifies 100 data points which it will use in the future to authenticate your identity.
While not as secure and technologically sophisticated as the iPhone X’s Face ID solution (OnePlus hasn’t added any additional sensors to the front of the 5T to facilitate more comprehensive facial recognition), the OnePlus 5T’s Face Unlock is fast. Minus one or two situations in which the phone had trouble identifying my face, I often didn’t even have a chance to touch the 5T’s fingerprint sensor before the phone saw my face and unlocked itself.
In the interest of security, I turned off Face Unlock, but if you’re less concerned about security, it’s a great addition to the phone.
Another side-effect of the new screen is that there are no capacitive touch buttons on the front of the OnePlus 5T. With past OnePlus devices, users could choose between using the on-screen navigation buttons offered by Android and the capacitive buttons offered by past OnePlus devices. The latter option allowed OnePlus users to save on-screen real-estate since they could disable the software buttons.
That’s no longer an option.
However, you can still swap the ‘back’ and ‘recent apps’ buttons if you prefer a button layout that’s more akin to how Samsung did things before it similarly ditched capacitive buttons with the Galaxy S8.
The new screen also means the camera bump on the back of the phone is bigger than it was on the OnePlus 5.
Beyond the new aspect ratio and smaller bezels, the one other notable physical difference between the two displays is that the OnePlus 5T does not, at least in my testing of the device, exhibit the jelly scrolling effect that was an issue with the OP5.
In addition, OnePlus has added a software algorithm to OxygenOS called Sunlight Display to the 5T. According to the company, the algorithm will automatically adjust screen contrast when it detects that you’re outside in hopes of improving how legible the display is in harsh sunlight. It will do the same in a number of other contexts, including when you go to play a game or view a photo through the phone’s Gallery app.
In practice, I found the OnePlus 5T was about as legible in harsh sunlight as its predecessor, which is to say that while it’s not the brightest display I’ve seen on a smartphone this year, I never had an issue making out what was on the screen, even when I was outside.
Otherwise, the two displays are almost identical, with both performing similarly when it comes to other aspects of display performance like colour reproduction. One issue I noticed with the 5T’s screen is that the phone’s automatic brightness functionality tends to dim the screen more than it should. It’s easy enough to adjust the brightness manually, however, and a slightly dimmer display helps save battery life.
One last thing: in a nice touch, the 5T comes with a screen protector pre-applied. (Correction: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated the 5T is the first OnePlus smartphone to come with a screen protector pre-applied. As several readers have pointed out, several past OnePlus devices, including the 5, came with a pre-applied screen protector.)
New camera, same problems
Besides a new screen, the one other major change between the OnePlus 5 and 5T is that the latter features a new secondary camera.
In an attempt to address the criticism that was levelled against the OnePlus 5’s camera, which produced noisy photographs in less than ideal lightning conditions, OnePlus has made a couple of hardware and software tweaks to 5T’s main rear-facing camera.
On the OnePlus 5, which featured two rear-facing cameras, the second camera included a 20-megapixel sensor and f/2.6 aperture lens. The f/2.6 lens also had a longer focal length, which made it better suited for capturing portraits.
It’s this second camera that OnePlus has tried to improve.
The second camera on the 5T features a new 20-megapixel Sony sensor, and a faster f/1.7 lens that’s the same focal length (27.22mm) as the lens on the OnePlus 5T’s primary rear-facing camera. Moreover, in shooting conditions where there’s less than 10 lux of ambient light, the 5T’s second camera is set to leverage a pixel binning technology OnePlus calls Intelligent Pixel Technology. Using this tech, the sensor will merge four pixels into one. The rationale behind using this technique is that larger sensor pixels capture more light, leading to better low-light performance.
Unfortunately, the OnePlus 5T’s new camera represents more of a lateral change than a legitimate upgrade.
In practice, I didn’t find the 5T was noticeably better in capturing low light shots than the OP5 before it. It’s not possible to switch manually to the 5T’s pixel binning mode. Moreover, the mode only activates when there’s very little light in a scene, and there’s no user-facing interface element that indicates the 5T is taking advantage of the feature.
Given the limited improvements in low light performance between the 5T and 5, it’s perplexing OnePlus made the changes that it did, especially since they involved making compromises to areas where the OP5’s second camera added value.
First, the second camera’s wider focal length lens (compared to the second lens on the OP5) is less suited for taking portraits. Wide angle lenses produce distortion that make human facial features look less flattering. Second, again due to the wider lens, the 5T no longer offers the 1.6x optical zoom that the 5 delivered. All camera zooming is done digitally, which results in a decrease in image quality.
As such, with the 5T you have a second camera that serves little practical purpose beyond being there to enable the phone’s depth of field functionality. In all the areas OnePlus could have actually improved the 5T’s camera (dynamic range, noise performance, stabilization), it did not.
In that way, the 5T is a disappointment; it doesn’t do anything to address its predecessor one notable area of weakness.
In some ways, the bigger story with the OnePlus’ newest phone is not so much the features OnePlus did add to the 5T, but the ones it didn’t.
As with the OnePlus 5, the 5T does not feature inductive charging, nor is it IP67 or IP68-certified waterproof like the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8, respectively — though the phone still includes a headphone jack, thankfully.
One other missing feature is Android Oreo; the 5T ships with 7.1.1 pre-installed instead.
The fact that the 5T does not come with Android Oreo preinstalled is notable for one major reason: Project Treble.
Google announced Project Treble at its annual I/O developer conference this past May. The company promised the initiative would help reduce the time it takes to get the latest on non-Pixel and Nexus devices.
Minus a major change of heart from OnePlus, it’s unlikely the 5T will ever support Treble.
In an Ask Me Anything the company hosted on its community forum, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei stated that the OnePlus 5T will not support Project Treble. In fact, Pei added none of the company’s current lineup of supported devices — the OnePlus 3, 3T and 5 — will support the feature.
Treble has yet to deliver meaningful results. However, that could change in the future when more Android devices ship with Oreo preinstalled — devices that ship with Oreo preinstalled must include support for Treble, whereas those that do not can forgo support.
How will the 5T’s lack of Project Treble support affect your future experience with the device? To be honest, I don’t know. As I mentioned, Project Treble has yet to deliver tangible results. It’s possible the pace at which OnePlus issues major operating system updates could slow.
For the time being, OnePlus is still, OP2 notwithstanding, one of the best OEMs when it comes to keeping its devices up to date. However, if getting the latest version of Android in a timely manner is a priority for you, then the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are still your best bet.
In writing this review, I purposefully tried to avoid repeating what I wrote about the OnePlus 5.
As such, it may seem like I didn't particularly enjoy my time with the 5T. That couldn't be further from the truth. The OnePlus 5T is a great device, especially when one considers the price. With great software, long-lasting battery life and consistently fast performance, it's easy to overlook some of its blemishes when it does so many things so well.
However, it must be said the 5T feels like a missed opportunity. Like the 5 before it, the 5T doesn't improve on its a predecessor in a way that feels substantial.
Like the 5 before it, the 5T misses its chance at being a truly exceptional consumer device.
"With great software, long-lasting battery life and consistently fast performance, it's easy to overlook some of its blemishes when it does so many things so well."