Want an easy way to get a straightforward, no-nonsense look at the state of the art in smartphones? Just check out whatever’s new from OnePlus. The Chinese company quietly takes all the best mainstream tech it can find, sticks it in a chassis, and sells it on its website. It’s never the first to experiment with wild new ideas, opting instead to wait for things to be a little more mature and a little more readily available.
So it is with the new OnePlus 5T. For the most part, the phone matches the OnePlus 5, which came out less than six months ago. Same specs, even the same overall size and shape. What’s changed since then, at least according to this device, mostly has to do with the display. The 5T’s 6-inch AMOLED screen matches the latest from Samsung and Apple, right down to the taller aspect ratio. (Samsung manufactures the panel for pretty much the whole industry.) OnePlus recognized that phone design now entails getting rid of everything but the screen, and it followed suit.
As with all the other just-the-screen phones, the 5T makes a few design changes to accommodate all that display. For the first time, OnePlus put a fingerprint reader on the back of the device, rather than in a button on the front. It’s still wickedly fast. And if you don’t want to pick up your phone just to look at it, you can use the new facial recognition feature. OnePlus is careful not to bill it as some hugely secure feature—you can’t pay for things with your face, or even open apps—but rather as a quick way to just get into the phone. And man, is it fast. Way faster than even the iPhone X. But, again, way less secure.
The 5T also comes with a better secondary camera on the back, and better software for its soft-background portrait mode. Photography was the 5’s biggest issue, and OnePlus seems to have focused on improving its lot. Have you noticed the theme here, by the way? It’s the same stuff everyone else is doing. OnePlus bets it can do them cleaner and simpler, and for a lower price. You’ll be able to get a 5T with 64 gigs of storage for just $499. If you’re counting, that’s half the iPhone X.
The new phone comes at an awkward moment for OnePlus. The company’s cultivated a reputation over the years for catering to power users, offering customization and options beyond many other phones. You know what power users hate? Security risks. And OnePlus is filthy with the stuff right now: The company had been shipping phones with an app that would grant hackers full access to your device, and collects a preposterous amount of data on all its users, storing it in easily identifiable ways.
OnePlus consistently makes the case that when you pay $1,000 for a phone, you’re paying for marketing as much as specs. I’ve been using the 5T a bit over the last few days, and I can tell you that it doesn’t feel quite as elegant or polished as some of the more expensive phones on the market. But then again, those phones don’t cost $500.