Sometimes a deal seems too good to be true. And you start looking for that one flaw, the gimmick that betrays how you’ve been had.
That is not the case with the OnePlus 5T.
Two opposing qualifiers before I get all giddy on you. First, we’re only 24 hours into this, and we need to put what I’m about to write in perspective. But on the other hand, I’m not exactly known for irrational exuberance, and I test enough hardware that something has to be truly impressive for me to freak out over it.
The OnePlus 5T is truly impressive.
Here is a $500-ish flagship smartphone that meets, and in some cases beats, the $1000-ish market leaders. That isn’t just the sweet spot of value, it’s the answer to a riddle that’s bedeviled me in this age of ever-more-expensive phones. Is it possible to deliver flagship specifications at mid-tier prices and do so without some deal-killing compromise.
I think about this stuff all the time. As I wrote back in April in A Tale of Three Smartphones, “I am all about value, and from a morally responsible standpoint, I am no fan of the throwaway culture that has emerged in the wake of the iPhone … as a reviewer, as a human being, I have a hard time, often, recommending very expensive devices when I know that many readers cannot even afford them to begin. Heck, I can’t afford them either.”
Since writing that article, in which the OnePlus 3T played a role, OnePlus has released two flagship phones, the OnePlus 5 in June and then the OnePlus 5T this past week, just six months later. That’s a blistering pace even for the smartphone industry, and there’s a discussion to be had there, I guess. But let’s stay focused. Because the OnePlus 5T is fricking awesome.
How do I even begin to explain this without seeming to babble like an excited child on Christmas morning?
Compose yourself, Paul.
Here’s the skinny: For roughly half the price of a Google Pixel 2 XL, OnePlus provides roughly the same phone.
There are some differences, of course.
The OnePlus 5T’s 6-inch 18:9 display runs at “just” 2160 x 1080, but it is deep and rich and nicely detailed. And in a variety of lighting conditions, it is as vibrant as that of the Pixel 2 XL. I have a hard time telling them apart.
Sans cases, the two devices are likewise very similar: The seem to weigh almost identically in the hand, but the OnePlus 5T is clearly the thinner of the two.
My early camera tests have surprised me: The OnePlus 5T camera system appears to work quite well, and while it is perhaps falls just short of the excellent Pixel 2 XL camera, it works well in low-light situations. My side-by-side camera tests have, so far, resulted in a toss-up. Some photos are better on the Pixel 2 XL, some are better on the OnePlus 5T.
My gut feeling on the camera is that the Pixel will prevail. But I also feel that the OnePlus 5T camera is good enough for virtually anyone. It is a stunning achievement that, again, must be put into perspective by noting the relative prices of these devices.
Not everything about the OnePlus 5T is perfect, of course. It comes with a headphone jack, which is preferred, but it has only a single mono speaker, which is unacceptable in 2017. I’m sure it’s difficult figuring out how to route sound on these new-age near bezel-less displays. But even Google has figured it out.
From a hardware design perspective, overall, OnePlus 5T gets the clear nod. You’d think that two black slabs with the same basic design couldn’t be all that different, and you’d be right, from a high level. But it’s the little things. The OnePlus 5T feels better in the hand, thanks to its elegant metal construction. It’s prettier, with more elegantly curved corners. And it’s slightly less wide.
But it’s not just the hardware.
The Android-based Oxygen OS that OnePlus supplies with its devices is closer to the “pure Android” ideal than is the version of Android that Google itself supplies on its Pixel phones. It is also more customizable out of the box, meaning that it includes more tools, in Settings and elsewhere, that let you change things like system fonts and icon shapes, and more more capabilities, like parallel apps.
That is the very essence of open. It is the very ideal of Android, though you don’t get it from Google. It’s … incredible. And it will require a lot of exploration. You can really meld this thing to your needs, and do so without investigating any third-party apps.
Some have criticized OnePlus for shipping this device with an OS based on Android 7.1.1 when Android 8.0 Oreo has already arrived. But the firm explained this ably during the OnePlus 5T announcement, I think, noting that it prefers to ship a solid OS upgrade a few months after a major Android update to shipping a buggy upgrade—cough, Apple—and then having to patch it incessantly. And those who do wish to jump right to Android 8.0 Oreo can do so this month anyway: The open beta starts any day now.
I also love the community that OnePlus has built around its ecosystem. And one might argue that it is this community, whose announcements and forums can be accessed through the Community app on the phone, is a key strength. That app? Yeah, it’s customizable too, so you can access information about the devices and topics that matter most to you.
Anyway. It’s early yet. I know. But I am drawn to this device, attracted to this beautiful thing which can be had without a second mortgage. It’s the Nexus dream I’ve often expressed, and that Google has abandoned, alive and well in this other home. I wrote previously that OnePlus “gets it,” and this device confirms it, already. After just a day. It’s obvious.
So I’ll keep testing it. I’ll wait to see whether the OnePlus 5T lets me down in some major way, requires some caveat. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. No, it doesn’t support Project Fi, which is a tough one for me personally. But that doesn’t impact most people. And when you add up the capabilities here and cross that with the pricing … It just doesn’t seem possible. And yet here it is.