Have you ever arrived at a party, looked around, and realized you’re totally underdressed? It’s a panic-inducing moment. This nightmare scenario happened to OnePlus earlier this year. Its OnePlus 5 had the brains to match any competing Android device, but next to phones like the Galaxy S8, LG G6, iPhone X, it looked, well, dowdy. With thick, squared off bezels and an eyesore of a home button, it was so last season.
For four years, OnePlus has pinned its entire identity to the idea that it sells the phone with the highest specs at the lowest price. Instead of paying $850+ for a fancy phone from the likes of Google or Samsung, you can buy a nearly identical, slightly off-brand OnePlus for $500 or less. It was the phone those in the know would recommend to save a few hundred bucks and still have a brag-worthy device. But you couldn’t brag about the OnePlus 5, especially after some bugs plagued the device.
Since it only makes, well, one model at a time, OnePlus made a smart decision: It regrouped. Five months later, it’s back with the OnePlus 5T, a replacement phone that’s fashion-forward and ready to strut.
Like one of Stefon’s hot new clubs in NYC, the OnePlus 5T has it all: a 6-inch HD Super AMOLED screen, 6 or 8GB of RAM, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (the best Android chip you can find), 64 or 128GB of internal storage, an anodized aluminum unibody, a fast-charging 3,300 mAh battery, a headphone jack, a comfortably-placed rear fingerprint sensor, two (yes two) SIM card trays, 16-megapixel front and rear cameras, and an extra rear camera for depth effects and low-light shots.
Like the LG V30, Pixel 2, Moto Z2 Force, Galaxy Note 8, iPhone X, and more, the OnePlus 5T is a superphone no matter how you slice it—its only weakness is the lack of full waterproof protection (it’s “splash” proof) and won’t let you add MicroSD card storage.
An Endearing Phone
My first day with the OnePlus 5T was surprising, and a little enchanting. After groggily re-logging into every service I use one night, I set the standard alarm and went to bed. Hours later, I woke up thinking I had entered a majestic forest, complete with birds chirping and a harp player plucking me from a restful sleep with a smooth melody. It was the Spring alarm sound that greeted me. I imagine Snow White woke up feeling the same way each morning, minus the oddly-tempered male dwarves. It made for a good laugh, and was pleasant enough that I’ve left it on. Every day, I now wake up to the sound of harps and birds chirping. It’s lovely.
The 5T is as pleasant as a plus-size phone gets. Though the 6-inch screen is half an inch larger than the bulkiest iPhone, the curved aluminum body is lean. It contoured to my palm nicely, with an easy-to-reach power button on the right and volume rocker on the left. Above the volume key is a useful great 3-setting slider that lets you turn the phone on silent (vibrate), ring, or Do Not Disturb. The specifics of each are tweakable in the Settings menu.
The fingerprint sensor is speedy and located on the back, in the perfect spot for your index finger. Unlike more expensive phones like the Galaxy S8, it isn’t sitting dangerously close to the camera either; there’s no mistaking when you put your finger on it. OnePlus has also added a rudimentary version of Apple’s FaceID, but it’s not reliable—just stick with a fingerprint or passcode.
My favorite feature of the OnePlus 5T is easy to take for granted. Instead of using your pinky to brace the phone and stretching your thumb way up to the tip-top of the screen, you can swipe down anywhere on the home screen to bring down the quick settings and notification menu. Take a stroll through the Settings menu and you can turn on the ability to swipe down on the fingerprint sensor to bring down that notifications menu. This small addition, along with Android’s swipe up apps menu, makes most everything on the phone reachable with one hand.
OnePlus has packed its OxygenOS (a lean interface running on top of 2016’s Android 7 Nougat) with fun customization trinkets like double tapping the screen to wake, long pressing various buttons do to perform new actions, drawing shapes on the screen to open apps, double clicking the power button to open the camera. Deep in Settings, you can find other gems, like a Gaming Do Not Disturb mode or the ability to install two versions of the same app, so you can have two accounts. All that’s missing is the ability to shake the phone in different ways to open apps, like a Motorola phone.
Perhaps the bigwigs at OnePlus read WIRED’s OnePlus 5 review, but the camera on the 5T performs better in low light. The main 16-megapixel camera takes snappy, well-focused, clear shots (most of the time). It doesn’t match the new iPhone or Pixel 2 cameras in quality under tougher circumstances, like balancing shadows, but the added 20-megapixel camera improves night shots, which appear to be less mushy and noisy than they were on the 5.
Every phone camera has unique personality traits and this one is no exception. The OnePlus likes to make the world ever so slightly softer… or orange. Several times, pictures I took out a window looked like they were shot an hour before sunset, and indoor sometimes lights looked more incandescent, even when they’re LED or fluorescent. It led to a relaxing, inviting look in many photographs, if you like a camera re-interpreting the world for you. If you don’t, by swiping up in the camera app, you can turn on full manual mode and tweak settings to your heart’s delight.
Since the OnePlus 5T has a twin-camera setup standard, you can also add faux depth effects around your subject. Like many competing handsets, it’s hard to get the effect to work flawlessly but it’s nice to have anyway.
The 16-megapixel front camera produces shots with more detail than your typical 5-megapixel selfie cam, which is great since I know I’m not alone in using it a ton. If you’re backlit by anything bright though, it tends to light your face well, but blow out bright areas in the background. Oddly, OnePlus also mirrors selfies by default. This means you’ll look as beautiful as you do in the mirror, but to everyone else, you’ll look backward. You’ll also want to uncheck the face beautifying feature, which smooths out imperfections in your face by default.
Cheap, But Not ‘Cheapo’
With battery life that extended through a full day and most every perk a high-end Android phone can have in 2017, the OnePlus 5T is a remarkable comeback. It comes unlocked and works on every U.S. carrier (outside Verizon and Sprint), and you can choose between two packages: $500 for 64GB of storage and 6GB of RAM, or $560 for 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage. If you have the cash, I recommend you drop the extra $60 since there is no MicroSD slot, but either of these models are fantastic.
There is a strange bug in OxygenOS that won’t let you stream HD videos in apps like Netflix, but OnePlus has promised a fix. My 5T has already received one update in the time I’ve had the phone. Hopefully a fix, security patches, and updates like Android 8 Oreo will come in the months ahead, though OnePlus has a spotty record with updates, especially when compared to the Google Pixel.
If you want the best, but don’t want to spend the most, the OnePlus 5T is right up there with the fanciest Android phones money can buy, all for hundreds less.