OnePlus 5T: You call this a flagship?

Its predecessor, the OnePlus 5 is a phone I loved the dearest. It was the fastest Android phone I’ve ever used, pretty much on par with a Google Pixel. It does come with a few flaws, unfortunately, one of which being the screen. Somehow OnePlus decided they should install the screen upside down, causing the content to stretch and squish when moving. This “jelly” effect is very visible during the day to day use and is kind of annoying. So when I heard that they launched a new phone, the OnePlus 5T, with the screen attached the right way to eliminate the jelly effect, I was very excited.

Or was I?

I mean, shit has changed a lot since OnePlus 5. It’s been merely six months, and other smartphone manufactures didn’t just sit still. During this six months, Apple launched its 10th anniversary iPhone X, with a glorious edge-to-edge display. Google launched the Pixel 2, improving yet again on their already industry-leading camera. Xiaomi and Smartisan launched the most refined versions of their most successful products, one with a gorgeous ceramic unibody design, the other making yet another leap on human interactions. And Samsung, yes Samsung, finally made a Note that doesn’t explode.

Now, what’s OnePlus 5T good for?

Design? Just look at it. This is the most generic, most unattractive design I could ever imagine. What’s worse, it looks almost identical to its siblings: oppo R11s and vivo X20, from the shape of the phone to the cut out of the camera housing. The only discernible difference is the shape of the fingerprint reader. It does look reminiscent of the OnePlus 5, which I couldn’t say isn’t inspired by iPhone 7 Plus. The ports on the bottom look like daddy came home drunk and poked a bunch of holes on the floor with a drill. Seriously, I could let this boring design slide if OnePlus painted the power button red. It didn’t. And it sucks.

A flagship phone should at least have a design that is distinguishable from 5 feet away. You can recognize an iPhone X by its notch, a Galaxy by its curved display, and a Xiaomi MIX by its non-existent forehead. But with a OnePlus 5T, you have to flip it over and look real close to tell it apart. That is not flagship-class design.

Performance? On the spec sheet, the 5T looks stunning. Snapdragon 835 is currently the most powerful SoC for Android that doesn’t need a fan. Doubled with 8GB of RAM, literally twice the capacity of my home PC.

But that’s just spec. If you compare it side by side with a Pixel, you’ll know that the Pixel has a lower touch latency. And the overall system responsiveness isn’t just about specs. Clear, crispy haptic feedback lets you know that your control has taken effect. And I’m sad to report that the 5T failed in this regard. The rumble feels sluggish and lazy. That is not flagship-class performance.

Display? I hate to break it to you, but AMOLED displays have their problems. While the Super AMOLED display exhibits less burn-in problems than that on the Pixel 2 XL, it does has off angle white shift and red/green artifacts when viewing from an angle. Currently almost all AMOLED displays uses PWM (pulse width modulation) to adjust the screen brightness, essentially inserting pure black between frames. This causes high frequency flickers when the display is set to a lower brightness, and can be examined by swiping a finger rapidly above the screen. It is unclear if this is causes eye discomfort, but knowing it is there, is annoying. You can argue that Apple decided this is not an issue with the iPhone X, but then the iPhone’s screen has a higher resolution, higher brightness, better color accuracy, and a sub pixel rendering mechanism to reduce aliasing and artifacts. OnePlus’ display is not flagship-class.

Camera? The 5T has got a dual camera setup. This time around, the secondary camera does not have a telephoto lens. Instead, it is a same 24mm equivalent wide angle shooter with a higher pixel count up to 20MP. The individual pixels on the secondary sensor is smaller than the main 16MP camera, therefore it is only active in low light situations below 10lux. You heard me, in low light, with a smaller pixel. It actually uses pixel-bonding to effectively merge four pixels into one, capturing more light. But the result is reduced image sharpness, only to achieve a brightness that is on par with phones with OIS.

The secondary sensor does no more than that. It doesn’t help with zoom, it doesn’t do very good in portrait mode, and it definitely doesn’t help with dynamic range. The secondary camera is useless, to say the least. OnePlus 5T is better off with a single camera with good OIS. And Google just proved that’s the right way to go. Those aren’t flagship-class cameras.

OS? One of the biggest advantages of OnePlus is that the OS it ships with (Hexogen OS for China and Oxygen OS for everywhere else) is pretty close to stock Android. Being close to stock means that the apps designed under Google’s Material Design guidelines would look fitting. You’ll understand me once you’ve seen something like Smartisan OS which looks just like an older version of iOS. Third party apps look out of place on that because the design language is different. Another big bonus of being stock is being fast. Because the system runs without bloat or heavy customizations, it is very lightweight and battery friendly.

For phone manufactures, it is very difficult to balance the need for a unique set of  functionalities and the request of “as stock as possible”. OnePlus went with the latter. That’s why Hexogen OS lacks essential features like clutter cleaner or even a propper reminders app. That is not flagship-class OS.

Apart from that, the lack for a complete and reliable cloud service is deadly if you want your users to stick with your brand. Whilte Google offers free unlimited Google Photos backup with their Pixel lineup, OnePlus’ services comes with no photos backup option at all. Sure, you can use third-party services like OneDrive or Google Photos for free. But then what could stop me if one day I decided I’m sick with OnePlus and should buy an iPhone? This is not flagship-class services.

And the phone doesn’t have wireless charging, or water resistance of any sort. It has only one speaker which sounds super mediocre.

If you would argue that I can’t ask for too much from a 500 dollar phone, you’re admitting that this phone isn’t up to the standards of a flagship.

But is it still worth it?

Yes. But not for long.

Although you can’t call it a flagship killer like you would when the OnePlus 3T came out, the 5T is still one hell of a steal to buy.

This is a phone build for geeks, meaning you can customize the crap out of it. It is up to you to decide what shows on the status bar, what color the LED indicator is, and what to do when you draw a letter on the screen when it’s off. And there is absolutely no ad showing up when you’re using the built-in apps. And although the face unlock feature is nowhere near as secure as Apple’s Face ID, it is damn fast.

And you know what, it’s got a headphone jack.

This is a phone you can comfortably use for at least two years without being obsolete, thanks to the 835 processor and 8GB of RAM.

But it’ll probably let you feel obsolete pretty soon. Phone manufacturers are putting more emphasis on build and design, by which time, the 5T would look like an old nan.

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