With the OnePlus 8 series debuting next week, I figured this was a great time to revisit the OnePlus 7T, one of the best handsets of 2019.
This follows two similar re-evaluations of the Google Pixel 3a XL and Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, which are both fantastic in their own ways despite arriving at starkly different price points and offering very different user experiences. But with new phones on the way—the iPhone SE and Pixel 4a are also due soon—I thought it might be interesting to revisit some of the previous year’s best phones with fresh eyes.
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And the OnePlus 7T is next.
It’s a curious thing. Most obviously, the OnePlus 7T marked the beginning of a new product rollout strategy for the quirky handset maker: For the first time, the second release in a given year wasn’t a true superset of, or replacement for, the handset that preceded it. Instead, the OnePlus 7T sat alongside the OnePlus 7 Pro, offering buyers alternative takes on an affordable flagship.
Looking back at my review, I can see that I ended up preferring the OnePlus 7T to its predecessor, because of its improved camera system, flat display, svelte form factor, and lower price. Most of that still stands: After using two of the heftiest smartphones available today, the iPhone 11 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, the OnePlus 7T is so thin and light, it’s like picking up a tissue. (If you ever used a medicine ball in school and then moved to a normal ball, you understand what that kind of change is like.)
Moving my cellular service to the OnePlus 7T was easy, too: After disabling iMessage and Facetime on my iPhone, I just popped the Mint SIM out of that handset and into the OnePlus 7T, and everything worked on the first boot (aside from having to manually configure messaging in Settings). I did end up installing the Mint Mobile app just to monitor my data usage, and Mint did a great job of texting me about the service and how to use voicemail. I even got a hilarious voice mail from Mint Mobile owner Ryan Reynolds.
(Less successful: Another text message noted that I could install a Visual Voicemail application instead of using the keypad-based version through the phone system. That’s of interest, but I was never able to get that working.)
As for the phone itself, once you get past its thinness, the form factor itself isn’t all that inspiring. The circular camera bump that previously reminded me of the Lumia 1020 looks curiously old-fashioned and even down-market now, thanks to the most recent iPhone and Samsung flagships. And the Glacier Blue color of the handset, which is hidden by a low-profile case anyway, is a bit muted.
The 7T does benefit from very small bezels all around—much better than any iPhone—and by its unapologetically flat display. Less successful is that teardrop notch, which just looks weird. I prefer the more modern hole punch-style camera hole.
As for the display, it’s tall (6.55-inches on the diagonal) and thin (with a 20:9 aspect ratio). Comparatively, it’s taller but thinner than that of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but it’s less tall than that of the S20 Ultra 5G. OnePlus describes it as a Fluid AMOLED Quad-HD (QHD) display, which means that it offers a 1440p resolution (3120 x 1440), with a reasonably high pixel count (402 PPI). And it offers HDR10+ capabilities, which is sometimes vividly obvious.
But there’s something weird about this display where it’s not always bright and vibrant, and I think I’ve isolated the problem to its adaptive brightness setting. Sometimes the brightness is just far too low for the environment, and that makes it dull looking and hard to read. The dynamic background and colorful icon set I’ve configured help a bit, but I find myself manually jacking up the brightness too often.
The OnePlus 7T doesn’t disappoint from a specs perspective either, and thanks to the firm’s ongoing software optimizations, the result is buttery-smooth performance. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ processor, which was a step up from the original 855, plus 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of super-fast UFS 3.0 storage.
That’s perfect … for me. But 128 GB is the only storage option, and it’s not upgradeable with microSD or similar, so that could be a problem for some.
I don’t generally watch very much video on my phones, but I reacquainted myself with the OnePlus 7T’s AV capabilities and found myself impressed by the sound quality and stereo separation (and, I should note, the video quality) during an action sequence in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The 7T ships with Dolby Atmos, which lets you customize its sound enhancement by content type, but I’ve just set it to use the Dynamic mode, which does so automatically.
There’s no headphone jack. I had to remind myself of this issue since I’m fully stocked on wireless and USB-C headphones, and I’ve used Google’s excellent Pixel USB-C Earbuds on walks. My Samsung Galaxy Buds also work just fine, but since the gym is unavailable, they’re currently just sitting there unused.
Speaking of missing features, there’s no wireless charging either. This is another instance where it doesn’t impact me in the slightest, but I know that’s an issue for some. Fortunately, the 7T has a reasonably large 3850 mAh battery despite its lithe figure, and I’ve never had any issues with battery life. But then these aren’t normal times. The good news? The 7T can charge to an amazing 70 percent in just 30 minutes if you use the bundled Warp Charge 30T, which never gets hot (also amazing).
I assume most readers are familiar with my focus on smartphone photography, and it is only here that the OnePlus 7T really lets me down. It sounds good on paper: There are three lenses on the rear, including a 48 MP wide (primary/wide) lens with optical image stabilization (OIS), a 16 MP ultrawide lens, and a 12 MP telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom, and it supports a macro shooting mode that, frankly, isn’t of any interest at all.
Like any modern smartphone, it can take fantastic shots outside on bright sunny days, and I like the ultra-wide capabilities. But in my day-to-day use, I found that most shots were washed out, like what happened with my recent iPhone usage.
The telephoto capabilities are middling at best. And Night mode shots require a steady hand while it processes the shot. Honestly, most people would probably be fine with this level of quality from a smartphone, but having used some of the best in the market, it was a tough adjustment.
The OnePlus 7T’s in-display fingerprint reader is much more successful, is in fact one of my favorite ways to authenticate on a smartphone: Unlike the terrible fingerprint readers that dogged the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ and S20 Ultra 5G, the 7T’s implement is fast, accurate, and reliable. It’s just excellent.
The software is another high point: OnePlus offers the cleanest, most crapware-free Android experience available today and I think that OxygenOS—as its Android variant is called—vies with Samsung’s One UI as the best overall. It’s easily the most configurable Android UI as well, and you can customize virtually anything in that UI, from the notification shade icon shapes to the fonts. My only complaint is that the Google feed isn’t available to the left of the leftmost home screen. Instead, OnePlus provides its own pointless feed. But beyond that, OxygenOS is nearly perfect.
Speaking of perfect, let’s look at the pricing. The OnePlus 7T debuted in October 2019 at $599. Today, it’s just $499, and while we’re literally just days away from the OnePlus 8 series and have seen a few interesting flagships (like the Samsung Galaxy S20 series) appear in the interim, I feel that that is an incredible value for such a future-proof handset. (Plus, the OnePlus 8 Pro is expected to be much more expensive because of its 5G capabilities.) I have no issues recommending this, assuming you’re OK with some missing features (wireless charging, headphone jack, and an official waterproof rating) and the lack of storage upgrades.
But even with its OK camera system, I think the OnePlus 7T is wonderful overall. It is easily the equal of the best that Apple and Samsung offer in most key areas, and is much less expensive, especially now. This is a smart buy.