OnePlus’ 5T Star Wars edition is my favorite $600 phone of 2017

OnePlus did an excellent job building its OnePlus 5 flagship earlier this year, with a solid build, a great camera at its price point, and good software – save for a few issues, of course.

With the 5T, it decided to fix the problem of being late to the bezel-less game, adding a larger 6-inch display to the 5’s chassis. I’m all about that front fascia, so this easily tops the list of phones I’d like to use well into 2018.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

Oh, and OnePlus also came up with a limited edition Star Wars variant to celebrate the launch of the new film, The Last Jedi; it’s essentially the same phone but with a planet Crait-themed colorway with a few design touches, tiny tweaks to the UI, some bundled wallpapers, and a custom Kylo Ren-inspired case. Fans of the franchise will certainly appreciate those changes that make it a memorable collectible at almost the same price as the original 5T.

So what do you get for ~$600? Let’s take a closer look.

Design

The 5T follows very closely in the footsteps of the OnePlus 5, save for the front fascia, which has a 6-inch 18:9 ratio 1080p display in lieu of the standard 5.5-inch one. It’s similar in that it’s a 1080p OLED screen, but the taller display allows for viewing more content on a web page or feed-based app, as well as a wider viewport for games and video.

That said, these aren’t the slimmest bezels around: they’re about the same size as those on cheaper rivals like the Vivo V7+, and together add a bit more height than those of Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 2 (which only really has a chin to house the front camera).

At 7.3mm thick, the phone isn’t much slimmer than others of the same size, but the gently contoured sides make it easy enough to grip comfortably. The Star Wars edition comes with a custom rubber case fashioned after Kylo Ren’s helmet, which adds plenty of weight and bulk to it. It’s not one I’d use daily, but if you’re looking to show off your Galactic Empire cred to your mates, it’s a fun cover to throw on for a day out.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

Speaking of grip, the standard 5T comes with a gorgeous metallic matte finish that feels great in the hand – but the real stunner is the flat white back of the Star Wars edition handset. It feels a bit more textured without a visible grain, and I’m often tempted to handle it without its case (but we both know that’s not going to happen).

The special edition also gets an eye-catching red Alert Slider on the left, as well as a red Star Wars logo on the rear panel. Fire up the phone and you’ll notice a red-and-black theme to the UI and settings menu, as well as a bunch of AMOLED wallpapers featuring art inspired by The Last Jedi. It’s a nice enough package, and there’s even a surprise easter egg for you to discover.

Features and hardware

Under the hood, the 5T is identical to the OnePlus 5: you get a Snapdragon 835 2.45Ghz octa-core processor paired with an Adreno 540 GPU and your choice of 6 or 8GB RAM, as well as 64 or 128GB of storage (I got to try the higher-end configuration for my review).

This unlocked handset also comes with a dual SIM slot, a headphone jack (Yaass!), and ridiculously fast Dash Charging via a USB-C port when you use the bundled charger and cable.

The phone charges up to nearly 50 percent in a half hour, which is great for when you’re in a rush to leave the house. That doesn’t quite validate the ‘day’s power in half an hour’ claim that OnePlus goes with in its marketing campaigns, simply because you’ll need more than 50 percent to get through 24 hours at a stretch. But it’s still plenty quick, and arguably faster than any other charging solution I’ve seen thus far.

A single downward-firing speaker that’s mounted at the bottom of the phone gets loud enough for you to enjoy videos, podcasts, and games in a quiet room, but like most mobile speakers, it simply doesn’t offer enough range to listen to music as you would with an external speaker. Thankfully, there’s a headphone jack that lets you connect to most audio equipment made in the past half century.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

OnePlus claims that its USB-C port supports audio output, but I tried two different pairs of earphones, including this noise cancelling one by Xiaomi, and had no luck. I’ve contacted the company to find out what’s up and will update this review when I learn more.

The 5T packs another handy trick up its sleeve: Face Unlock. Like the iPhone X, it can recognize your gorgeous mug to grant access to the phone’s contents quicker than you can reach the fingerprint sensor, but it may not be able to identify you if you shave your face, or if you’re in a poorly lit area. Still, it works well enough that I’d recommend configuring it, provided you’re not often in danger of having your phone stolen by people who specifically want your data and might try to spoof the camera with a photograph.

Display

The 5T’s OLED display gets plenty bright and vibrant, while also managing pure blacks. That means you also get eye-catching Ambient display notifications which only light up the portions of the screen that the text take up. The screen is great for games and video, as well as for reading in broad daylight.

You’ll also find a handy Night mode that cuts blue light, as well as a Reading Mode that not only adjusts color temperature to mimic an e-paper display, but also desaturates colors so you focus on your books and articles.

The default color calibration settings are a fair bit more saturated and higher on reds than usual, so if you want a more natural output, switch to the sRGB profile. It’s generally not an issue and does make colors pop more, but if you’re shooting a lot of pictures and video, the sRGB will give you a more accurate idea of what you’re actually capturing.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

I also liked OxygenOS’ option to let you make the bottom navigation button row auto-hide or stay visible on all screens – you can enable a toggle on the left of this bar to quickly switch between those modes for when you either more more control or a more immersive experience.

There’s one drawback with the 5T that OnePlus has promised to fix soon: because it doesn’t ship with Widevine Level 1 DRM, you can’t stream HD video in apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Hopefully, the company will push an update to sort that out soon enough.

Performance

The combination of arguably the best processor-GPU combo on the market and oodles of RAM allow for screaming fast performance on the 5T, whether you’re shooting video, switching between tons of apps, or playing graphics-intensive games. I tried a bunch of recent titles, include Riptide GP Renegade and Dead Trigger 2, and enjoyed the buttery-smooth gameplay and pristine graphics all through.

I got a whole day’s use out of the 5T, even when using the camera a lot and gaming a bit – but it’d certainly need a recharge first thing in the morning. That’s par for the course with a 6-inch display, so no complaints there.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

OnePlus’ OxygenOS is fairly close to stock Android and comes with version 7.1 of the platform right now (a bit disappointing since others are already hopping on the Oreo train), albeit with numerous thoughtful little touches. The company’s own launcher lets you switch up icon packs in a jiffy and adjust the home screen layout’s grid size, which means that for most folks, there’s not really much need to go shopping for a third-party launcher app.

You’ll also find a handy Shelf when you swipe right from the home screen, which houses handy widgets to show your recent contacts and apps, as well as a dashboard to track your mobile data and onboard storage, and even a tool to jot down memos. All this works well enough without bogging down the phone’s performance in the slightest.

Cameras

The 5T’s camera system is the same as on the OnePlus 5, with a 16-megapixel wide shooter and a 20-megapixel tele for 2x optical zoom and Portrait Mode-style shots.

This works well enough in comparison to other phones in this price range – a close competitor being Xiaomi’s Mi 6 flagship from earlier this year.

The camera app loads and shoots quickly in standard and manual (aka Pro) modes, and the interface allows for easy adjusting of various parameters, along with a handy leveling bar. Depth effect shots are usually quick to focus, but take a little while to process before you can snap the next one. It’s not particularly finicky, but can have trouble when capturing reflective surfaces with plenty of detail.

Let’s talk image quality. By default, the white balance is a touch on the warmer side, but most colors are still accurately captured. The 5T also manages plenty of detail in foliage and buildings, and does fairly well with skin tones in properly lit conditions.

I was also impressed by how well the camera worked in low light – it focused quickly and managed to preserve a fair bit of detail, without letting things get too fuzzy like on other cameras I’ve tested this year.

The Depth effect is a bit of a mixed bag. It produces pleasing results for the most part, separating the background from the foreground as it’s supposed to – but the blur effect can be a bit splotchy around the edges of your subject, and it can look a bit unnatural if there are several elements at various depths behind and in front of your area of focus. That being said, I still found myself using it more often than the standard camera mode for shooting portraits and individual objects.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

The 5T also shoots clean video footage at 1080p / 60fps, as well as at 4K / 30fps. The 16-megapixel front camera is fine for selfies and video calls, though it tended to blow out highlights a bit when shooting in bright sunlight.

Overall, this is a pretty impressive camera system at this price point. Our own Napier Lopez, who’s tried the 5T as well as numerous flagships from prominent brands this year, ranks the 5T 4th, after the Pixel 2, Huawei’s Mate 10, and Samsung’s Galaxy 8 series. According to him, OnePlus’ effort tied with LG’s v30, and beat out the Moto Z2 and the Essential phone – not bad for $500, eh?

Who’s it for?

If you’re looking for a phone that will give you a couple of good years and outpace anything else on the market today without breaking the bank, the 5T is a no-brainer. It’s reasonably priced, looks and feels fantastic, and comes with the two must-have features of 2017: a dual camera system and a near-bezel-less display.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

I really liked Xiaomi’s gorgeous Mi Mix 2, but it’s a bit more expensive and features a significantly weaker camera. The older Mi 6 is worth considering too, but then you’re back in thick-bezel country, not to mention a smaller screen (which I prefer, but I know a lot of folks are all about that 6-inch life).

What you’ll miss at this price are premium features like waterproofing, wireless charging, and a high-resolution display. Still, I’m happy to live without them for the time being, and those don’t feel like features I’d want to pay an extra $200-$300 for.

I’m also glad that OnePlus is maturing as a brand in markets where it’s gaining popularity: in India, the company has offline stores where you can try the phone, as well as numerous service centers across the country for licensed repairs and spare parts. It doesn’t hurt that OnePlus’ accessory game is on point too, with a nice – albeit limited – range of cases and protectors on offer from the brand. And if you’re a Star Wars fan,  and can get your hands on the limited edition, you’ll be happier than a Porg in Han Solo’s pocket.

Find the OnePlus 5T over on Amazon or on the company’s site. The 6GB/64GB storage version will cost you Rs. 32,999 ($511), while the 8GB/128GB combo will set you back by Rs. 37,999 ($589). The Star Wars edition, which is only available with 8GB/128GB, is priced at Rs. 38,999 ($606), and will go on sale in India, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. With limited quantities in stock, OnePlus expects these to sell out in a couple of days.


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Published December 14, 2017 — 14:30 UTC