OnePlus 7T Review

Posted on October 5, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 45 Comments

With the OnePlus 7T, OnePlus has shaken up its product matrix and it now offers two alternate takes on a “never settle” smartphone flagship. That’s possibly a good idea, since everyone has different needs and wants. But it can also be a bit confusing, at least this year, because the OnePlus 7T and OnePlus 7 Pro leapfrog each other in various ways, too.

I reviewed the OnePlus 7 Pro back in June, finding it to be one of the best smartphones in the market and an unparalleled value. My only major issue was the camera system, which was very good but not up to the quality levels that one sees from Google Pixel or recent Huawei flagships. (And, perhaps, now the iPhone 11 Pro series as well.)

The OnePlus 7 Pro had other niggling issues, too, most of which may or may not be problematic depending on the customer. But it’s also fair to point out that its ~$700 starting price, while still hundreds of dollars less than that of iPhone, Pixel, and Samsung flagships, was much higher than that of previous OnePlus models. And at that price point, there were safer options, including the iPhone XR (now iPhone 11), older iPhones, and many Samsung models, since their prices always decline over time.

So with the OnePlus 7T, OnePlus opted not to ship an outright improvement over the OnePlus 7 Pro; it’s arguably an update to the OnePlus 7, which was never made available in the United States, or the OnePlus 6T. But the OnePlus 7T does outdo the OnePlus 7 Pro in some areas. Which, again, is a bit confusing. Especially since it costs significantly less than its stablemate.

As such, this review will often compare the OnePlus 7T to the OnePlus 7 Pro. Some will find this unfair or incorrect. But potential OnePlus customers will face this very choice. And I think it’s more important to understand the differences between these two handsets than it is to compare the OnePlus 7T to previous OnePlus phones.

The good news? If you do choose OnePlus—and you should absolutely consider doing so—then you can’t make a bad decision, The OnePlus 7T and OnePlus 7 Pro are both excellent options that should supply years of reliable and performant use.

Design

Like the OnePlus 7 Pro, the OnePlus 7T is clearly aimed at equaling if not surpassing the best that Samsung, Huawei, and Apple have on offer. Its matte glass exterior looks and feels premium, and as a Lumia 1020 fan, I enjoy the circular rear camera mount over the vertical design of its predecessor. There’s only so much you can do to differentiate a smartphone design these days, but the OnePlus 7T delivers on its premium promise.

Nitpicking, I will point out that the Glacier Blue OnePlus 7T review unit is just slightly more muted looking than the brighter and flashier Nebula Blue color from the OnePlus 7 Pro. But both are striking, and the color difference doesn’t detract in any way from its look and feel. Which will be covered in a case anyway, thanks to its nearly all-glass construction.

There is one other difference worth mentioning: While the OnePlus 7T is almost exactly as tall as the 7 Pro, it is noticeable less wide, which really emphasizes its tall and thin design. This, along with its flat display—again, see below—helps to make the OnePlus 7T more usable with just one hand. By comparison, the OnePlus 7 Pro is a bit of a monster, and you’ll find yourself dual handing it a lot.

Display

OnePlus brought the OnePlus 7 Pro’s most distinctive display innovation, its 90 Hz refresh rate, to the OnePlus 7T. You’ll see the difference most often in scrolling, but it will impact reading and game playing too. I cannot believe that Apple, Huawei, and Samsung do not offer this obvious improvement in display technology on their own flagships, and this remains a key selling point for OnePlus.

That said, OnePlus did cut some corners with the OnePlus 7T display, which is flat and not curved like that of the OnePlus 7 Pro, while offering a lower resolution and pixel density. But it did so correctly, and for the good of its customers as each change saved money and will impact its customers in positive ways. But these changes do require a bit of explanation.

As you may know, the OnePlus 7 Pro features a large (6.67-inch) and tall (19.5:9 aspect ratio) QHD (3120 x 1440; 516 ppi) Fluid AMOLED display with curved left and right sides that blend naturally into the device’s body. Curved displays have been all the rage since Samsung innovated this feature years ago, and in more recent years, Huawei, OnePlus, and others have followed suit.

But curved displays have downsides, too. They make the display even more likely to crack if dropped, and more expensive to replace. As bad, they trigger mis-taps as you reach your hand across the display to select something else onscreen.

Given this, curved displays may really be more of a show-off feature than a practical benefit, and certainly, Samsung has reaped the rewards from being first to market with this difficult-to-manufacture display type. This may explain why Apple has never bothered to add curved displays to any of its products.

Regardless, the OnePlus 7T display is flat. It lacks the curved but fragile display sides that mark its more expensive stablemate and offers instead a more traditional design. The result, I think, will be more reliable and less likely to crack.

It is also less expensive, and not just because of the lack of curves. The OnePlus 7T delivers a large (6.55-inches) and tall (20:9 aspect ratio) FHD+ (2400 x 1080; 402 ppi) Fluid AMOLED display. As you can see, this display is of lower resolution and pixel density than the 7 Pro, which is a negative on paper. But in real-world use, the display is excellent, offers HDR10+ capabilities, can get even brighter than that of the 7 Pro, and is in every way its visual equal. The lower resolution display also has the added benefit of helping with battery life.

In other words, this display, which appears to be a step down, is in fact a better option for most people. Hardware makers often tell me that they make product decisions—what others might call compromises—on behalf of their customers. Well, rest easy OnePlus fans: Here, the firm is very much doing right by you.

There is one other major display difference. Where the OnePlus 7 Pro was notchless and featured tiny bezels, the OnePlus 7T has a tiny, teardrop-shaped notch and features tiny bezels. The 7 Pro accomplished that feat with a fun, motorized selfie camera that popped up from the top of the handset like a periscope when needed, delighting onlookers. But that design requires a thicker device, and of course that motor is yet another thing that can go wrong. So the more pedestrian selfie camera on the OnePlus 7T, found in that tiny notch, is again perhaps the better choice for more people.

And it certainly doesn’t get in the way, like the monstrously large notch on the last three model years of iPhones. In fact, the notch on my iPhone 11 Pro Max looks to be about 8 times as large, maybe 10 times, as the one on the OnePlus 7T. Here again, OnePlus is doing right by its customers.

Hardware and specs

Inside the OnePlus 7T, you will find most future-proof components that meet or beat the best the market has to offer. It’s powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ processor, is, in fact the first smartphone to offer this SoC. And it’s a step up, let’s call it half a generational step up, from the Snapdragon 855 used by the OnePlus 7 Pro.

And where the OnePlus 7 Pro is aided by 6 GB to 12 GB of RAM depending on model, the OnePlus 7T neatly provides 8 GB across the board. It’s more than anyone should need for years to come, save perhaps the hard-core gamers who gravitate to OnePlus’s handsets. Again, future-proof.

The only place where the OnePlus 7T stumbles a bit in the specifications chart is the storage: Yes, it’s super-fast UFS 3.0 storage like that in its predecessor, but OnePlus went the Model T route by letting you get any storage allotment you want as long as its 128 GB. There’s no way to upgrade that amount, not at purchase time and not later via microSD. That’s problematic: 128 GB is my personal sweet spot, and I will never need more than that, but many others, especially those who seek out OnePlus specifically, will. There should at least be a 256 GB option for power users.

The performance, of course, is excellent and silky smooth. I gave Call of Duty Mobile a quick try before realizing I’ll never be able to play this game without an Xbox Controller, but I was impressed by the graphical quality and speed and feel that this game, on this device, could replace my console usage. More on that later.

Beyond the core specs, the OnePlus 7T offers surprisingly good stereo speakers with little in the way of right bias, which is increasingly common in modern smartphones. Helping matters is the bundled Dolby Atmos sound capabilities, which can see set to a Dynamic sound mode that adapts nicely to the content type. But you can switch manually to Movie or Music mode as needed too, and it works with both the internal speakers and headphones.

Less happily, the OnePlus 7T foregoes a headphone jack, which I still think is a mistake, and OnePlus cheaps out a bit by not bundling a dongle. The device does work with all of my USB-C dongles, at least. And I have personally switched to USB-C and wireless headphones for the most part. (The one exception is when I fly, when I still very much prefer my noise canceling headphones, which require a dongle now on most phones.)

The communications hardware is quite modern, with dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11acn, Bluetooth 5.0 with A2DP, LE, and aptX HD, NFC, and GSM, CDMA, HSPA, and LTE support. I believe that Verizon customers may be mostly out of luck, however, because the handset doesn’t explicitly support all of that carrier’s network bands.

The OnePlus 7T doesn’t support wireless charging, but it does feature the fastest wireless charger on the market: The bundled Warp Charge 30T is faster than ever—it can charge the device’s 3800 mAh battery to 70 percent in just 30 minutes, which I just about replicated—and the charger brick stays cool the whole time; the fast charger that Apple now bundles with the iPhone 11 Pro Max gets quite hot while it charges by comparison. That’s good, because battery life in my initial week of testing was a little low, but good enough for all-day usage unless you’re really abusing data, taking and posting lots of photos, or similar.

Like previous OnePlus handsets, the OnePlus 7T is not officially waterproof, with the firm claiming that it doesn’t want to pay for the certification, a cost it would then have to pass along to customers. This instills little confidence, and I’m not willing to risk a water dunk to find out how well it really performs.

Cameras

These days, most conversations about any smartphone boil down to the quality of the camera system, which typically encompasses several lenses on the rear and then one or two on the front. And if you look back at my OnePlus 7 Pro review, you’ll find that I wasn’t overly impressed, at least when I compared that phone’s camera system to the market leaders. My gut feeling was that the issue was software-related, and not the hardware.

And with the OnePlus 7T, I feel somewhat vindicated. The camera hardware is almost identical to that of the OnePlus 7 Pro, with some minor but perhaps important changes. But the photos it takes are markedly better, in virtually all lighting conditions. Clearly, there’s been some work done to improve the camera app and its capabilities.

Before moving on to the specifics, I should be clear where I’ve landed on the camera. OnePlus has indeed moved the bar when compared to the OnePlus 7 Pro; the OnePlus 7T camera experience is much improved. It is likewise very similar from a quality perspective to the camera experience on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, a handset that is almost double the price of the OnePlus 7T. So that’s a nice gain. But the OnePlus 7T still falls short of the very best smartphone cameras in the market, including all Google Pixels, the recent Huawei flagships, and, based only on preliminary testing, the iPhone 11 Pro series. So if camera quality is literally your most important criteria, you have some thinking to do. Most people, however, will be quite happy with the photos they take with the OnePlus 7T.

OK, let’s get the specs out of the way.

The OnePlus 7T provides a three-lens rear camera system that is very similar to that of the OnePlus 7 Pro. Indeed, two of the lenses—the 48 MP wide (primary) lens with an f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS), and the 16 MP ultrawide lens with a f/2.2 aperture—are literally identical.

Washout

But the telephoto lens is different: Where the OnePlus 7 Pro provided an 8 MP telephoto lens with a f/2.4 aperture and 3x not-really-optical zoom, the OnePlus 7T has an improved 12 MP telephoto lens with a f/2.2 aperture and 2x optical zoom. Basically, the new version lets in more light and enables higher resolution shots. And its 2x optical zoom delivers good quality, not the mushy blurriness from the previous phone. That’s a win.

But the new telephoto lens isn’t the only hardware change that OnePlus made to the 7T camera system: It also includes a tiny motor that enables its new macro shooting mode. I haven’t found much use for it, but it allows you to get much closer shots of small items, like insects, flowers, or whatever, from a distance of just about an inch. It’s something OnePlus can’t retroactively add to the 7 Pro because of the unique hardware requirement.

The top of a tomato in macro mode

The improvements aren’t due solely to hardware: OnePlus says that it advanced its photography algorithms in-house to optimize in a variety of lighting conditions. Whatever the cause, those improvements were immediately obvious, whether outside in bright light or in low-light conditions. No, it’s not always ideal—photos taken with the OnePlus 7T seem to be a bit more washed out than the HDR-heavy norm these days–but it is generally very accurate. I did find myself manually dialing down the brightness at times to achieve a more contrasty look.

Washout

In low-light conditions, the Nightscape low-light shooting mode was already pretty impressive in the OnePlus 7 Pro. But it’s been improved across the board in the 7T and it now works with the ultra-wide lens too. Even the expensive iPhone 11 Pro Max, which finally sports great low-light capabilities, can’t use its own automatic night mode capabilities with its ultra-wide lens. On the downside, Nightscape still requires you to steady the device for a few seconds, so it’s less useful if objects are moving around.

I don’t take a lot of video, but OnePlus has also made improvements there by combining the OIS and EIS capabilities of the 7T’s lenses to compensate for the user’s shaky hands. So I did a few tests, noting that videos can be taken in 1080p, 1080p/60fps, 4K, or 4K/60fps, which is pretty impressive, and matches the capabilities of the latest iPhones.

As for the front-facing selfie camera, the OnePlus 7T doesn’t offer the delightful pop-up mechanism used by the OnePlus 7 Pro, but the lenses are identical between the two phones and offer the same quality. For the record, it’s a 16 MP fixed focus lens with an f/2.0 aperture. It works fine for what it is, but there’s no selfie stick-killing ultra-wide mode, which would be useful.

Overall, I’m impressed with the improvements that OnePlus made to its camera system. And while I do prefer the experience provided by recent Pixels and Huawei handsets, in particular, I am mostly happy with the quality of these photos overall. And I think you will be as well.

Security

The OnePlus 7T is the third OnePlus handset to feature an in-display fingerprint reader, and it’s gotten good enough that I no longer pine for the days of rear-mounted readers. Like that in the OnePlus 7 Pro, the fingerprint reader in the OnePlus 7T is fast and reliable, and it is one of the best features of this handset. I’ve never struggled to use it, and it is dramatically better than the in-display fingerprint reader in the Galaxy Note 10+.

Also, like the 7 Pro, the OnePlus 7T lets you enable a facial recognition feature called Face Unlock. This is known to be less than secure, and I don’t enable it, try it, or recommend it.

Unique hardware features

Like previous OnePlus handsets, the OnePlus 7T ships with a fourth hardware button in addition to the power, volume up, and volume down buttons. It’s called the Alert slider, it sits above the power button on the right side of the device, and it provides always-ready access to thread modes: Ring (the default), vibrate, and silent. In case it’s not obvious, the genius to this feature is that you don’t need to wake up your phone and authenticate to use it. And a nice on-screen display will explain which mode you’re switching into as you make any change.

The OnePlus 7T also provides a nice dual nano-SIM slot, but because I wasn’t traveling internationally during the review time period, I wasn’t able to test it with two SIMs.

Software

As most readers probably know, OnePlus ships an optimized version of Android called OxygenOS on its handsets. For the OnePlus 7T, OnePlus has leaped forward to Android 10, which is fantastic, and has upgraded OxygenOS, in turn, to version 10 as well.

One can quibble about handset makers that feel the need to mess with stock Android, and I’ve certainly voiced my own concerns in the past. But with one exception, I really like what OnePlus does with Android, and, with that same exception, it’s pretty much possible to customize OxygenOS in any way you want. For example, I found the built-in icon packs to be a bit bland, so I downloaded one from the Google Play Store that emulates Samsung’s appealing One UI. Problem solved.

I should get that one exception out of the way: OnePlus offers its own feed to the left of the leftmost home screen and, like that on Samsung devices and iPhones, I find it to be borderline useless. What I’d prefer to see there is the Google Discovery feed that’s offered in stock Android or at least a way to enable it. OnePlus said in the past that it was looking into making that change, but it’s not available in Oxygen 10 yet.

And yeah, that’s pretty much the only complaint I have about the software. Thanks to its heady specs and the Android rot-defeating customizations that OnePlus makes in OxygenOS, any OnePlus 7T buyer should get years of solid, reliable performance. OnePlus claims that it made over 370 tweaks and optimizations to Android in this release, and while I’m sure some are minor, the overall effect is stunning. OxygenOS feels light and fast and it can tackle any game or multitasking needs you have with aplomb.

Call of Duty? No problem

Speaking of customization, I don’t believe there’s an Android variant with this many personalization choices. You can customize almost anything in the user interface, from the icons to the system font to the color accent and theme. You can even change the shape of the quick action icons in the notification shade.

Here’s one example of how OxygenOS improves on stock Android: You get a notification from a new app, and that prompts you to disable notifications for the app. So you partially swipe on the notification in the notification shade to reveal its Settings gear, and then select that. In stock Android, you’re navigated to the App Info page for the app where you can disable notifications. In OxygenOS, a panel opens at the bottom of the screen, letting you disable all notifications or choose from a list of app-specific notification types. Guys, that is sweet.

And for the cherry on top, OnePlus includes literally no crapware on this device and it generally doesn’t engage in a weird, Samsung-like need to duplicate every app and service that Google already provides in Android. There are exceptions, of course, like File Manager, Notes, and that home screen feed. But most of the OnePlus apps and experiences are nice additions, like the Community app for feedback and engaging in user forums, File Manager, Gallery, and the Game Space app that optimizes games launched from there for gaming mode and/or OnePlus’s unique Fnatic mode.

Overall, OnePlus delivers one of the very best Android experiences available today, one that is even better than stock Android in many ways.

Pricing and availability

The OnePlus 7T is available for preorder today and ships on October 18. It is available in one configuration with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage and the cost is just $599. But you do have two color choices, Glacier Blue and Frosted Silver, and if you are an existing OnePlus customer and buy direct from the company, you can get decent trade-in values on your current handset.

Recommendations and conclusions

The OnePlus 7T is the best value in the smartphone market today, easily outclassing and outgunning the underpowered Google Pixel 3a XL, despite that phone’s superior camera system and durable polycarbonate body. What makes the OnePlus 7T special is that it matches or exceeds the very best that its competitors have to offer, and it does so for hundreds of dollars less. Indeed, the OnePlus 7T is about half the price of a reasonably outfitted Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ or Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max. That it can stand toe-to-toe with such expensive juggernauts is impressive.

I also happen to prefer the OnePlus 7T to the OnePlus 7 Pro because of its improved cameras, flat display, and lower price. Regardless, OnePlus offers two compelling options now, and the only downside is that choosing between them can be difficult as the T model is no longer a strict upgrade or superset. But you pretty much can’t go wrong either way.

I would personally prefer a better camera system, yes. But I feel that the OnePlus 7T will deliver the types of shots that most customers expect, and I’ve been quite happy with the results for the most part. A bigger issue for some is that OnePlus doesn’t offer any storage options: You can’t upgrade at purchase time, or later via microSD. The lack of wireless charging and a headphone jack may or may not bother you depending on need. They’re not issues for me.

The OnePlus 7T is highly recommended.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Incredible specs
  • Low price
  • Reliable and fast in-display fingerprint reader
  • 90 Hz display
  • Surprisingly light and thin

Cons

  • No storage choices or expansion
  • No wireless charging
  • No headphone jack or dongle

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