OnePlus 5T Long-Term Review: A Reliable Phone that shows Attention to Detail
The OnePlus 5T is the company’s first phone to have a display with an 18:9 aspect ratio. It has the same internal specifications as its predecessor, the OnePlus 5, but the differences in the display and camera setup are profound. It’s one of the most popular devices in our forums and has been a go-to pick for enthusiast users who need an affordable flagship.
Although the phone is now permanently out of stock in the US and UK, you can still get it in other markets. I used the OnePlus 5T for three months, and here are my observations during that period of usage. This long-term XDA review has a different aim from our normal XDA reviews. Rather than taking the reader through each and every feature of the device, long-term reviews will focus on camera quality analysis and how the device performs over an extended period of usage. There will be an emphasis on real-world performance, battery life, software user experience, and more. Let’s get the specifications out of the way, and jump right into it:
|Device Name:||OnePlus 5T||Price||USD 500-560|
|Android Version||OxygenOS 5.0 based on Android Oreo||Display||6.01-inch 2160×1080 pixels, 18:9 aspect ratio, AMOLED, 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 5, supports sRGB and DCI-P3 color profiles|
|Chipset||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835; Adreno 540 GPU||Sensors||Fingerprint, Hall, Accelerometer, G-sensor, Electronic Compass, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light Sensor, RGB, Sensor Hub|
|RAM||6GB/8GB LPDDR4X||Battery||3,300mAh; Dash Charge (5V 4A)|
|Storage||64GB/128GB UFS 2.1 2-Lane||Connectivity||USB 2.0 Type-C; Bluetooth 5.0 (aptX and AptX HD); NFC; GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo; Dual nano-SIM slot; 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Rear Camera||16MP Sony IMX398, f/1.7, 1.12µm pixel size, EIS
20MP Sony IMX376K, f/1.7, 1.0µm pixel size;
RAW support, 4K 30FPS / 720p 120FPS video
|Front Camera||16MP Sony IMX371, f/2.0, EIS, 1080p 30FPS video|
|156.1mm x 75mm x 7.3mm
|Bands||FDD LTE Bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 66
TDD-LTE Bands: 34, 38, 39, 40, 41
TD-SCDMA Bands: 34, 39
UMTS (WCDMA) Bands: 1, 2, 4, 5, 8
GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz
The OnePlus 5T is made of unibody aluminum, just like previous OnePlus phones. However, the design has been considerably evolved since the OnePlus 3, which was the first OnePlus phone to have a unibody construction. The Midnight Black color was the only available color at launch. It was later joined by Sandstone White and Lava Red, but the additional limited edition colors have since been sold out.
The Midnight Black variant is truly black rather than a dark shade of gray, and it looks and feels great. The antenna bands are nearly invisible, and the front is minimalist because of the absence of logos. The phone feels comfortable in the hand because of the gently curved back and the extremely thin edges, but it’s also slippery because of the smooth anodized aluminum finish. OnePlus does bundle a case in the box. The back has a fingerprint-resistant texture.
The front is mostly taken up by the display, which has narrow side bezels and bigger symmetrical bezels on the top and bottom. This means that symmetry is maintained — unlike the OnePlus 6, which is confirmed to have a display notch.
The alert slider on the left-hand side works well and the presence of the 3.5mm headphone jack is welcome to see. It’s worth noting that on the back I saw some scuff marks accumulate, something which I also noticed on the OnePlus 3T. The scuff marks are faint, but they are visible at different angles of light.
In part 1 of the XDA review of the device, we highlighted how the OnePlus 5T’s great implementation of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC objectively makes it one of the fastest Android phones out there. It’s not the smoothest phone in the market, as some apps like the Play Store and Google Maps can still show stutters. However, when it comes to app launching speed, the phone falls below only the Google Pixel 2 XL in this regard.
Even after extended usage without rebooting, the OnePlus 5T still showed excellent real-world performance. Apps open quickly, and the device doesn’t freeze when doing heavy tasks such as updating multiple apps in the background. Scrolling through apps, web pages, and long lists is smooth as well.
Thanks to a clever use of fast animations, the OnePlus 5T feels faster than most Android devices. The phone is also subjectively smoother than most phones in its price range.
The good implementation of the Snapdragon 835 and the UFS 2.1 NAND all contribute to the snappy feeling of the OnePlus 5T. The performance upgrade is arguably worth it for users of 2014-2015 devices such as the OnePlus One or the OnePlus 2. However, the performance upgrade is less clear-cut for users of the OnePlus 3/3T. This is because the Snapdragon 820/821 in those phones was already quite performant when it comes to both speed and fluidity. While the OnePlus 5T’s Snapdragon 835 is objectively an improvement on both fronts, the difference is slight in most cases.
Although system performance is great, multitasking remains a flaw. The OnePlus 5T comes with 6GB/8GB of RAM, but the hard-coded 32 background apps limit still exists. This means that buyers who go for the 8GB RAM variant are not able to keep more apps/processes in the background than the 6GB RAM variant, as the background apps limit is same for both versions.
Therefore, the 8GB RAM version has no real improvement in terms of multitasking. I tend to open a lot of tabs in Google Chrome for Android, and if I open more than 20 Chrome tabs, they are still prone to reloading on the 8GB RAM variant of the OnePlus 5T. The problem is broadly related to Android’s memory management limitations, but RAM management isn’t an especially strong point of the OnePlus 5T. Users can fix the behavior by rooting their device, but users who choose to keep everything stock are out of luck.
We have called out OnePlus for poor memory management in the company’s devices since the OnePlus 3, but the problem still hasn’t been solved yet. As of now, the 6GB/8GB RAM of OnePlus’ devices is currently being wasted, as the phones will not use their RAM to its full capacity. Here’s hoping that the company changes its RAM management policy.
Overall, the OnePlus 5T still has great system performance. Animations are quick and effective, and most frame drops experienced in the system aren’t noticeable on a day-to-day basis. This is not to say that the phone doesn’t drop frames. It’s also worth noting that the phone’s great app launching speeds can’t fully compensate for the memory management issue.
Camera quality analysis
The OnePlus 5T has a dual camera setup. The primary camera has a 16MP Sony IMX398 sensor with 1/2.8” sensor size, 1.1μm pixels, f/1.7 aperture, phase detection autofocus, and a 27.22mm focal length (35mm equivalent). It takes photos at a native 4:3 aspect ratio. The primary camera is the same as the OnePlus 5’s primary camera, but the secondary camera is new. Instead of having a secondary camera with a telephoto lens for optical zoom, OnePlus made the switch to a low light-focused secondary camera instead. The secondary camera has a 20MP Sony IMX376K sensor, f/1.7 aperture, and the same 27.22mm focal length as the primary camera.
The secondary camera does not have a telephoto lens — which means it can’t do optical zoom. The 2X zoom button in the camera preview is for digital zoom. For reference, the OnePlus 5’s secondary camera had a telephoto lens which was capable of 1.6x optical zoom, with the remaining amount of the 2x lossless zoom being achieved by digital interpolation.
Users can choose to use Portrait Mode to get the bokeh effect in photos. It relies on the secondary camera to work. They can also choose to take RAW photos in Pro mode.
The camera module does not have optical image stabilization (OIS), as it relies on electronic image stabilization (EIS). The primary camera can record 4K video at 30fps and 1080p video at 30fps and 60fps. It should be noted that EIS is enabled for recording only in the 4K and 1080p30 modes and is disabled in the 1080p60 mode. This means that due to the absence of OIS as well as EIS, the 1080p60 video mode has no stabilization at all — a regression from the camera of the OnePlus 3/3T.
Let’s take a look at the functioning of the secondary camera. Its primary purpose is to take photos in low lighting conditions. When light levels are below 10 lux, the secondary camera takes over (at light levels above 10 lux, photos are always taken by the primary camera). Users are not provided any information about when this occurs, with the intent being to seamlessly and invisibly change cameras. The only way users can see which camera has taken a low-light photo is by viewing the EXIF details of the photo.
The 20MP secondary camera has “Intelligent Pixel” technology, which uses pixel binning technology to merge four pixels into a single pixel for a brighter photo. We have seen this be used before by other device makers, and the general trade-off is that typically, sharpness and detail are lost in favor getting a brighter photo. We will see below if the trade-off applies here as well.
Camera user experience
The OxygenOS Camera in the OnePlus 5T is subjectively one of the better camera apps. The camera preview doesn’t drop a lot of frames, and it’s reasonably high-resolution as well. The app has a pro mode, which contains all the necessary options including ISO control, shutter speed, white balance, and more. Auto HDR is enabled by default in the auto mode and users can also choose to force HDR, disable HDR, or enable HQ mode.
HQ mode does make a difference in low-light photos, but the difference is less pronounced than it was back in the OnePlus 3/3T days. Taking photos with HQ enabled results in photos with higher amounts of noise and slightly better detail. The difference in detail isn’t day-and-night, however.
Thanks to the use of phase detection autofocus, the phone can focus quickly in most cases. The time taken to take a photo is competitive as well.
Let’s now analyze the camera samples:
In daylight, using Auto HDR, the OnePlus 5T’s photos have good exposure and reasonably accurate colors. Dynamic range is okay, but there is still room for improvement here. Many photos can still be underexposed in high-contrast situations, which results in the camera being unable to capture shadow detail.
The detail in general is not great for a 16MP camera, and it isn’t competitive with flagship smartphone cameras such as the Pixel 2 or the Galaxy Note 8. The OnePlus 5T’s camera has aggressive noise reduction, which results in a “smeared” or oil painting look when viewing photos at full resolution. This is particularly apparent in subjects such as trees and plants. Viewing such photos at 100% resolution, we can easily see that they don’t have as much detail as they should have. Concerningly, luminance noise is still an issue at base ISO despite the camera using aggressive noise reduction. Some samples also show corner softness at the edges of the frame, an issue which is visible at full resolution.
Thankfully, there is no oversharpening in the camera samples. On the other hand, quite a few camera samples turned out to be far too soft.
Moving to low-light photos, this is where the camera starts to face major issues. This is because of two factors. In light levels above 10 lux, the photo is taken with the primary camera. Users can’t choose whether they would like to take photos with the 16MP primary camera or the 20MP secondary camera using Intelligent Pixel. The 16MP camera’s output suffers from the same issue as it does in daylight: poor detail. Photos are softer than they should be and fine detail like textures, the detail in leaves, branches, etc, is obliterated. The lack of optical image stabilization (OIS) is a big issue here.
In low light, the camera also suffers from another major issue: underexposure. In indoor conditions, the photos are almost always heavily underexposed, with shadow detail being destroyed as a result. As objects in the photos aren’t exposed properly, detail will predictably not exist. It’s worth noting that this problem wasn’t found in older OnePlus cameras such as the OnePlus 3T.
The second major issue is related to the secondary camera. The secondary camera uses Intelligent Pixel, which merges four pixels into a single pixel to get a brighter photo. This essentially means that it generates a 5MP photo that has image data from the 20MP sensor and then upscales the photo back to 20MP resolution. This has implications for image quality, and the implications play out.
In photos with light levels less than 10 lux, the secondary camera gets activated and its output achieves a bright photo with the help of pixel binning and the f/1.7 aperture. However, photos taken with the secondary camera have almost no detail to speak of. The difference in bright exposure isn’t that big, but the difference in detail is substantial.
In photos taken with the secondary camera, sharpness is almost completely destroyed and far too many artifacts are found when viewing photos at full resolution. The advantage here is the brighter exposure, which can help to achieve a better photo in some cases in extreme low light conditions purely because of the brighter exposure and not because the photo has better detail.
The primary camera’s photos are much sharper. However, the problem is that the secondary camera gets automatically activated in light levels below 10 lux, and the user can’t choose to take the photo with the primary camera in such conditions. This means that all photos taken in such conditions are far too soft, have a poor amount of detail, and contain a large number of image artifacts. The sample low light photos above were taken with the phone’s 20MP secondary camera.
Overall, the secondary camera works if users view their photos only on their phone’s display without seeing photos at full resolution. If they view their photo at full resolution, it’s apparent that the 20MP Intelligent Pixel photos can’t match the 16MP photos in terms of clarity. The trade-off of a brighter exposure in return for lost sharpness doesn’t make sense, because as previously mentioned, the difference in exposure is less than the difference in fine detail and sharpness.
The dual LED flash works well enough for situations where a LED flash is required. However, it doesn’t illuminate subjects evenly. Photos taken with the flash show a good amount of detail, but the uneven illumination means that the background of an object can still be dark.
In summary, the OnePlus 5T has a rather disappointing camera for photos. It can take good photos in daylight with accurate colors, but it has far too aggressive noise reduction which hurts detail, and some photos show underexposure as well. Indoor photos are softer than they should be, and fine detail is lacking. Exposure is a big issue in indoor photos (taken with the primary camera). Finally, low light photos aren’t competitive because of taking a huge loss in detail and sharpness. Samples in low light also show concerningly high amounts of luminance noise, although chromatic noise is largely absent.Download full-resolution camera samples from the OnePlus 5T
The OnePlus 5T’s 1080p video quality at 30fps is good in daylight. Detail manages to be competitive, and colors and exposure are great for the most part. Electronic image stabilization (EIS) is active on this mode. In my experience, EIS proved effective in removing camera shake while walking. However, it does have a distracting stutter effect that is visible in panning while recording.
The stutter exists in some other phones having EIS as well, and it makes the video frame rate seem to be poor. Combining OIS and EIS in video recording would be one solution here, as demonstrated by Google with fused video stabilization in the Pixel 2. The OnePlus 3/3T also had OIS and EIS, but since then, OnePlus has opted not to have OIS in their newer devices.
The 1080p60 video mode has a smooth 60fps frame rate. However, this mode doesn’t have EIS, which is very visible if the user is moving the device or walking while recording. The resulting camera shake means that the videos aren’t stabilized at all, which is disappointing to see. Having OIS would have helped here as well.
The 4K30 video mode does have EIS. It has a 10-minute recording limit. Detail is excellent in this mode in daylight. On the other hand, a high amount of luminance noise continues to remain an issue in low light (it exists in the 1080p30 and 1080p60 video modes as well).
Overall, the OnePlus 5T has a good camera for video recording, although there is room for improvement. The audio recording of videos is great. It should be noted that detail levels drop off in low light. In daylight, 1080p30 and 4K videos have good exposure, color, and detail, and stabilization is effective while walking. However, the EIS stutter effect while panning remains distracting, and 1080p60 videos suffer a lot from not having EIS at all.
The 16MP front-facing camera has a Sony IMX371 sensor, 1.0μm pixel size, and a f/2.0 aperture. It can record 1080p video at 30fps. The photo quality from the front-facing camera is good in daylight, as expected. Use of a display flash also means that illumination for low light photos isn’t a big issue. However, the photos are still softer than they should be, which means that fine detail is smudged out instead of being retained.
Software user experience
The OnePlus 5T is powered by OxygenOS, OnePlus’ custom UI based on stock Android. It shipped with Android 7.1 Nougat and has since received an update to Android Oreo. I used it with both Android Nougat and Android 8.0 Oreo, and here are my observations:
- The OnePlus Launcher is great. Its UI performance is exemplary, and its feature set is good enough to use it as the main launcher without having to install a third-party launcher.
- OnePlus doesn’t provide a native Android Oreo theme in OxygenOS 5.0. The Default theme has a dark notifications drawer, like Android Nougat. The Light theme switches to a white notifications drawer with customizable accent colors, but the Phone, Messaging, and Contacts apps lose their background color in favor of a white background.
- Face Unlock is fast, even in low light. According to the company, it’s not intended for security, but as a convenient backup solution for unlocking the phone, it works extremely well.
- Feature additions in OxygenOS such as a network speed indicator and added gestures are genuinely useful, as users don’t have to download third-party apps to get such functionality.
- Quick Settings icons in OxygenOS 5.0 are not expandable. This is a strange omission because stock Android Oreo still has expandable quick settings.
- The vibration motor of the OnePlus 5T is the same as the OnePlus 5. Therefore, it’s much better than the OnePlus 3T’s vibration motor, and it makes a small but significant difference in day-to-day use.
- The quality of audio recording for voice notes is great, and it’s a significant improvement over the OnePlus 3T here as well.
- The phone’s fingerprint sensor is one of the fastest fingerprint sensors on the market. It’s extremely accurate, and it has a great placement as well.
- The 6-inch Full HD+ (2160×1080) AMOLED display has well-calibrated display modes in the form of sRGB and DCI-P3. It also has good sunlight legibility. The use of a PenTile matrix means that the effective color resolution is lower than that of a RGB matrix display, but the difference is not visible in day-to-day usage.
- Anecdotally, my subjective impressions of battery life are that the phone’s idle battery usage is frugal, leading to high standby time. In my experience, the battery typically lasted for a full day (20-28 hours) with use of LTE. Screen-on time was roughly about 5-6 hours on average. (Care should be taken not to compare these figures with other devices, as battery life depends on a lot of variables.) Dash Charging also works well, as expected.
With the OnePlus 6 due to launch soon, the OnePlus 5T has had a short device lifecycle. That’s how the company works, but it’s also a shame because the phone shows attention to detail in several areas. The attention to detail can be seen in areas ranging from design and display quality ranging all the way to the speed and accuracy of the fingerprint sensor.
However, there is still quite a way to go in terms of improvement. RAM management isn’t as great as it could be, and UI smoothness can still be improved. The phone’s major flaw is in its dual camera setup, which isn’t competitive with flagship devices unlike other specifications such as RAM and storage configurations, SoC, etc. In particular, low light photos need a lot of work, and the camera should be able to retain detail in photos instead of having the oil painting effect. It’s the one area where users can spend more on flagship devices and get a better experience.
Overall, I was satisfied with the OnePlus 5T after using it for three months. It has a few flaws, but its user experience still remains excellent. Even now, the phone remains one of the best devices in its price segment despite rising competition.