Star Wars has had a strange smartphone history. The franchise was a no brainer for the Motorola Droid — Verizon actually had to license the name from Lucasfilm, so it follows that a few R2D2 handsets followed over the years. More recently, Sharp, of all companies, scored the rights in time for Rogue One.
With The Last Jedi a mere weeks away, it’s OnePlus’s time to shine, with a Star Wars-branded edition of the 5T, first spotted by The Verge. The Shenzhen-based company is another odd choice — it’s hardly a household name, after all. And the OnePlus 5T Star Wars Limited Edition name isn’t just marketing — at the moment, at least, it appears the phone is only going to be available in India, starting a day before The Last Jedi hits theaters there on December 15.
The 5T is a great budget phone, as we mentioned in our recent review, and it looks like the company hasn’t altered the design language too much to Star Wars it up. There’s a small logo on the rear of the device, and a matching red side button.
The accompanying video, which debuted at Bengaluru Comic Con, highlights the color theme, which obviously takes a cue from Kylo Ren’s lightsaber — part a likely overall Dark Side focus for the new film. There appears to be limited edition wallpaper on the device — and if past Star Wars phones are any indication, there will be other exclusive content on the phone to further the theme. But even if it doesn’t, again, the 5T is a solid phone, Star Wars or no.
TheOnePlus 5T Star Wars Limited Edition will be launched at a OnePlus event in Mumbai on December 14 at an event that features all sorts of other Star Wars swag. We’ve reached out to OnePlus to see if the company has plans to launch the phone elsewhere — though the nature of the license on this one might mean no availability for users far, far away.
Never has there been a phone that has kept me up at night as much as the recently released OnePlus 5T.
As I wrote in my review, it’s a mighty fine Android phone. Correction: It’s mostly mighty fine, except for the cameras. They’re pretty weak and take average-looking photos. Though, an upcoming software update might improve things.
The 5T’s mediocre camera got me thinking really hard over the Thanksgiving weekend: “Would you rather have a phone with cheaper build-quality and midrange performance with a great camera or a premium phone with a camera that takes just average pictures?”
I think I’d pick the latter. The camera is now the most important feature to consider when buying a new phone and is something nobody should compromise on.
There is so much I love about the OnePlus 5T. Spec-for-spec, it holds its own against more expensive Android phones like the Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30, but at half the cost starting at a mere $499.
The 6-inch screen, while not the sharpest, is still very immersive for reading, watching videos, and playing games.
I’d go as far to say the 5T’s the smoothest and most responsive Android phone I’ve ever used (it crashes far less than the Pixel 2). Its thinness and lightness is everything a Galaxy Note 8 isn’t. The battery seems to last forever (up to two days) and Android runs the smoothest I’ve ever seen on a phone. I’m delighted that it has a headphone jack so that I can use my favorite headphones without a dongle.
It’s the full package, except for the cameras. They’re a real deal-breaker.
The camera is one of the most visible phone features that relies heavily on both the hardware and software in order to be great.
The physical camera hardware and its sensor — how big its micron pixel size is, how large its aperture is, etc., important as they are — isn’t the problem.
Companies like OnePlus boast all the time about how their phones use the best mobile camera sensors available. Any phone maker could contract Sony and ask to buy some camera sensors for their phones.
No, the problem is how the photographic data (the light that’s captured) that’s captured by the camera sensor is processed by the phone.
Each phone processes this photo data differently and that’s why image quality is all over the place on Android.
Companies like Apple and Samsung are huge and can dedicate massive amounts of resources — Apple’s reportedly got over 1,000+ people — to work on the cameras, but smaller guys like OnePlus just don’t have the manpower.
And that needs to change.
Now that virtually any company can go and buy off-the-shelf parts and build a metal phone with a big edge-to-edge screen, and the latest processor, and a huge battery, it’s more important than ever to invest in the camera software.
A camera that can’t quickly take sharp photos with accurate colors and wide dynamic range might as well not exist on a phone.
I’m singling out OnePlus because it hurts so much every time I use the 5T (and I’ve been using it non-stop for weeks) to take photos, but almost every Android phone maker is guilty of this.
Essential, Motorola, LG, Sony, Xiaomi, Huawei, etc. The list goes on and and on. All of these players make incredibly well-made premium phones, and yet their cameras are all pretty average. (Pay no attention to the super technical and often misleading about DxOMark scores.)
The Razer Phone, another new Android phone with arguably the best mobile display for entertainment and the best and loudest speakers, somehow didn’t prioritize the cameras at all.
Its camera is stripped down to the bare essentials (you can take a pic and record a video basically) and all of the regular features you’d expect in a phone with dual cameras (portrait mode, etc.) will be coming in a later software update in a few months according to company CEO Min-Liang Tan.
This lack of focus for the cameras is a disturbing trend that seems to be the reverse of what happened a few years ago when Android phone cameras were getting really good. And I blame it on the advent of dual cameras. Everyone’s got their own weird solution (wide lens + 2x telephoto, color lens + monochrome lens, wide lens + ultra-wide, etc.) that it’s basically reset the phone camera wars.
When every company under the sun can build a premium smartphone, what’s left? The software experience, for one thing. But the camera becomes a very key differentiator.
The camera is why when someone asks me what’s the best phone, I keep recommending an iPhone or a Galaxy phone, even though a phone like the 5T costs hundreds less.
I don’t need a more premium phone design. The majority of phones are all metal now (even the cheap ones).
I don’t need a bigger or better screen. They’ve been incredible for years. I don’t need a faster processor. iOS and Android, and all my apps are already smooth and fast enough.
I don’t need a bigger battery anymore, either. Many phones can last a full day easy, and some like my iPhone X and the 5T have enough juice to get me through the morning of the next.
Your phone’s camera should be great out of the box, not as an afterthought that’ll get fixed later. Give me a cheaper phone even with slightly less premium build quality with a killer camera and I’d be happier than a premium phone with a camera that takes potato photos.
After all, selfies make the world go round.
November 28, 2017 / Comments Off on I’d rather have cheaper phone with a great camera than a premium phone with a mediocre one
Three years and seven phones later, it’s hard to argue with OnePlus’s methods. That’s not to say it hasn’t made its share of missteps along the way (it definitely has), but the company has produced quality phones at affordable prices basically since day one.
OnePlus’s whole “never settle” tagline is less about offering up handsets that live on the bleeding edge than it is giving smartphone buyers the bet bang for their buck. It’s an increasingly important service as flagships start to push right up against the $1,000 mark.
User feedback has always been an important piece of OnePlus’s business model. The company fostered initial interest through an activity message board and an invite-only system, and much of that connection appears to still be intact, seven phones in. The company didn’t rush to include any features on the 5T — many like Portrait Mode and the 18:9 aspect ratio have already been a staple in flagship smartphones for six months or a year.
The company makes no bones about waiting to add features, nor does its rush to drop them for the sake of future-proofing. Case in point, the headphone jack. After a Twitter poll from co-founder Carl Pei found that fans overwhelmingly wanted the headphone jack to stick around, the company’s phones have continued to support the port.
The result, in the case of the OnePlus 5T, is a phone that ticks just about all of the necessary boxes for most Android users. While it’s true that the handset won’t elicit the same sort of high-end phone envy as the latest handsets from companies like Samsung, the 5T is a utilitarian device in the best possible way. It doesn’t push any limits or break any ground, but it offers premium or near-premium specs in a nice package for an accessible starting price of $499 — roughly half of what that shiny new iPhone will cost you.
It’s clear at first sight that we’re not dealing with anything too fancy here. There’s none of the flash of Samsung Galaxy or iPhone X in the 5T’s design. It’s sturdy though, and still pretty fetching, with an aluminum unibody that still hasn’t gone out of style, as much as bigger handset makers rush each year to one-up it.
The unit we got is “midnight black,” a pretty apt name for a handset with no color accents to break up the darkness. Of course, OnePlus always offers up a zillion different cases to dress the thing up — and add a little protection. Though, keep in mind, unlike most other flagships, there’s no waterproofing on-board — so the company remains a bit behind on that sensible trend.
And while the display has stretched out toward the sides and top, it’s not quite the edge-to-edge offered on higher-end flagships. Though the company did use this generation to do away with the home button like much of the competition, moving the fingerprint reader to the back of the device, and introducing face unlock in the process. The company’s managed to cram a six-inch screen into a moderately sized footprint.
And it’s a lovely display at that. The company opted for a Samsung-designed OLED. It really pops, with bright colors and not any of the drab muddying you’ll find on Google’s somewhat ill-fated Pixel 2 screen. It’s yet another element that belies the product’s totally reasonable price tag.
Like much the rest of the phone, the camera system is less rethinking than refinement. The dual rear-facing cameras are intact — kind of, sort of. Which is to say, the main lens remains unchanged, but the second, optical zoom has been swapped out in favor of one that does better in low light. That means this is one spot where OnePlus will, in fact, make you settle. Getting in tighter on an image means using digital zoom, which, in turn, means a degraded image.
It’s a bummer, but life, as they say is full of compromise. If you’re really missing it this time out, consider buying an Olioclip or some other third-party exterior clip-on lens. Personally, I think the company made the right call here. The low-light performance has been noticeably improved, and I suspect that impacts more users on a day to day basis, cutting out a lot of the noise you get when not shooting a photo in perfect daylight conditions.
Also new is Portrait Mode — another one of those features you’ve been seeing on flagships for a while now. The OnePlus 5 had the feature earlier this year, but the results were pretty widely panned. The 5T’s version is more subtle and, as a result, better. It’s still not quite on par with the highest-end flagships, but does a solid job mimicking the bokeh effect and highlighting its subjects.
The 5T’s got a Snapdragon 835, just like its predecessor — a chipset that makes it competitive with other flagships. The handset handle tasks like a champ. The standard 6GB of RAM should be plenty for most users, but another $60 will bump that up to 8GB, and will double the 64GB of storage to 128GB. It’s worth considering, as there’s no expandable storage here, and because, hey, it’s still a pretty good deal.
The battery’s the same 3,300 mAh you’ll find in its predecessor, coupled with the company’s own super-quick Dash Charging tech. You should be able to get a day’s worth of use easy on a single charge, and can go from zero to nothing in about an hour.
The best deal in smartphones
It’s true that the 5T is mostly a refinement over its predecessor — but that’s to be expected, given the fact that it’s only been about six months since the OnePlus 5 hit the market. And besides, that was a great phone that’s been made even better. Sure, the 5T isn’t for those who need a phone to impress the neighbors, but you’re certainly not going to find a better deal for the price.
And given all of the stumbles companies like Google and Samsung have had attempting to stay on the bleeding edge, there’s also something to be said for not being too eager to be the first one to embrace a technology — or drop a headphone jack.
November 25, 2017 / Comments Off on OnePlus 5T makes the best deal in smartphones even better
“When we launched the OnePlus 5, there was no plan to release the OnePlus 5T,” Kyle Kiang, OnePlus’ head of global marketing, told me a week before the new phone’s splashy launch event in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
It’s a peculiar admission, but it fits perfectly with the Chinese startup’s motto to “Never Settle.” OnePlus’ unwavering mission to deliver the latest technologies as soon as possible not only keeps its products up to date with the latest mobile trends, but puts the heat on the Samsung’s of the world to deliver experiences that’ll justify spending $1,000 on a new phone.
Following the 5T’s launch event, I sat down with the company’s CEO Pete Lau and picked his brain on a number of topics, and one of them was why they’re coming out with a newer, better version of their already excellent flagship so soon.
To design and launch a new phone within the span of five months is usually unheard of.
There’s a reason why most phone makers only launch a single flagship (different screen sizes, notwithstanding) model every year: It takes years for research and development.
It’s usually the case that phone makers are hard at work on the next phone and the one after that long before the current one even launches.
But OnePlus is different.
While every company wants to be a trendsetter, the company is content with merely delivering the best possible product that makes sense for the now.
Hence why the OnePlus 5T exists. It’s designed to keep up with mobile trends, namely bigger screens with narrower bezels, face unlocking, and better dual cameras.
Both of these are features Samsung and Apple have adopted for their own flagship phones this year. And the company has never been shy to admit it’s a follower. For example, when I grilled Kiang last year on how similar the OnePlus 5 resembled an iPhone 7 Plus (right down to the similarly shaped antenna lines on the back), he told me there are only so many ways to make unibody aluminum phone, and besides, it was the natural evolution of their devices.
Straight from the source
The 5T is classic OnePlus: It has all the things more well-known and expensive 2017 flagship phones have, but costs half as much.
But why launch a phone so quickly and end production for the OnePlus 5, an extremely well-received phone that many, including yours truly, highly praised?
Because the supply chain’s ready, and when components like larger edge-to-edge screens and face unlock are affordable enough to include in a phone they can still sell at the value they want to, why wait a whole year?
“When we were developing the OnePlus 5, we didn’t know what [components] was going to be available in the second half [of the year],” Lau said. “With the release of immersive displays by other brands, you can see the entire supply chain is moving towards that direction. We get a lot of information from our suppliers, which then helped us make this decision.”
“With the release of immersive displays by other brands, you can see the entire supply chain is moving towards that direction.”
This ability to move at such speed to get a new phone out the door is typical of Chinese phone makers that are fixated purely on hardware specs.
OnePlus, like many of these no-name Asian phone makers, have design and engineering studios stationed closely to factories in Shenzhen, China. The proximity means the company can have prototypes sent back within under a day, Kiang said. That’s even faster than the one-day turnaround Kiang boasted about prior to the OnePlus 5 launch.
Coupled with their close relationships to the suppliers, which they get a nice little assist from their investments from Chinese tech giant Oppo, the company has a one-two punch to quickly corner the market.
OnePlus could have stopped at just adding a bigger screen, but that addition also forced them to rethink how users unlock their phones.
“The Face Unlock feature was a more of a result of the larger display because we prefer to have the fingerprint scanner on the front,” Lau said. “It’s a much better user experience, but at the same time, we didn’t want to distract from this really immersive front display “
“So the only way to fix this was to put the fingerprint scanner on the back. But having it on the back isn’t a great user experience so that’s when we began thinking about other solutions — for instance, Face Unlock.”
Chasing the best product
This rapid release cycle is great if you’re an early adopter and want the latest and greatest without waiting, but it could rub loyal customers who purchased the original non “T” version the wrong way. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were saddled with what is now essentially an outdated phone less than six months after you bought it, from a brand you want to be loyal to? It’s not a good feeling.
Lau tells me the company’s intention is not to screw up its customers. This speed is just how the company operates and launching new technologies when they’re available for customers is all part of the drive to build the best product.
On this week’s MashTalk podcast this week, Kiang reiterated this intense focus on the product, because that’s a direct reflection of the company. This Apple-esque philosophy on product design is not a coincidence. As Lau told me, the company looks at Apple as the industry standard and aspires to it and operate with similar principles.
“All of our resources go towards product. We believe as long as we make really, really good products, everything else will come,” Kiang said. “We’re not driven by a business plan and we’re not driven by a business model, or a distribution model. We’re driven by product. We don’t necessarily add features for the pure sake of it.”
Kiang openly admits the company is not great at marketing. It doesn’t pour a lot of money or resources into advertising and primarily relies on word of mouth to convert people to its devices.
OnePlus 5 owners, like OnePlus 3 owners last year, may feel slighted by OnePlus’s swift release cycle, but they shouldn’t. The phone they bought was the best OnePlus product at that moment. And it’s still a great phone, but like all things, the best is never the best forever.
Technology always gets better. Some companies choose to wait and some companies, like OnePlus, don’t. If you can’t stomach the company’s speed — the company could launch another phone in another five months if it felt ready to — then maybe you should consider other devices.
I’ve only tested the OnePlus 5T for a week (we’ll have a full review in the coming days), but I can already tell you two things that are probably true: 5T is the best phone the company’s made and its next phone, presumably the OnePlus 6, will probably be even better (assuming the company doesn’t mess things up).
November 18, 2017 / Comments Off on Why OnePlus is launching the 5T only five months after its last flagship phone
OnePlus pointed to the borderline-cliché catchphrase, “Hardware is hard” at its event on Thursday to launch its latest flagship smartphone, the OnePlus 5T. But the company’s own product release schedule appears to belie the saying, with the 5T coming a mere five months after its predecessor, the OnePlus 5.
However, if you look at OnePlus’ ambitious launch timeline and conclude the opposite — that hardware is easy — you’d be jumping to the wrong conclusion. The China-based company has simply gotten really good at leveraging its natural advantages (for instance, its proximity to prototype facilities in Shenzhen) to fuel its nimbleness.
OnePlus also earns its reputation as a bold upstart. It doesn’t think in the same new-flagship-every-year-on-the-dot terms as bigger brands like Samsung and LG. The company just ships phones when they’re ready, and the “T” suffix it’s attached to second-gen releases is an unsubtle dig at Apple’s biannual “S” upgrades.
Still, are they going too fast, even for an upstart? Like other mobile manufacturers, OnePlus has had some optically bad software issues over the past few months. First, it was reported OnePlus phones were harvesting data on customers in questionable ways, and then there was the “Engineer Mode” discovery — a potential backdoor for hackers, at least those who got a hold of your device.
OnePlus Head of Marketing Kyle Kiang (pronounced “jong”) drops in on the MashTalk podcast to set the record straight on those incidents, explain why the OnePlus 5T is coming so hot on the heels of the OnePlus 5, and reveal how he is able to tell the OnePlus story at a company that does very little traditional marketing.
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November 17, 2017 / Comments Off on How OnePlus built its latest phone, the OnePlus 5T, so quickly