Saturday, August 20, 2022

Review: The OnePlus 10T offers flagship speed at a mid-range price

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Technically, OnePlus wasn’t going anywhere. In Europe and India in particular, it has had a strong presence in recent years, releasing midrange devices that outperform their price points. But in the US, it feels like the company hasn’t quite had the same profile in recent years.

That changes with the OnePlus 10T, a $649 phone that aims to deliver high performance. It’s a well-defined niche and the phone delivers on its promises. It’s not all for everyone, and that makes up for it.

If there’s one thing that stands out on the 10T’s spec sheet to know, it’s the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor. It’s a very capable chipset – the very best you’ll find in an Android phone in 2022. And the 10T has it for under $700. That tells you a lot about the whole deal of this phone. There’s also very fast wired charging on board – 125W in the US, and it only stops there because our outlets aren’t designed to handle higher voltages.

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What the 10T lacks is equally telling: there’s no wireless charging and no Hasselblad branding on the camera system, like the flagship 10 Pro offers. There’s a large OLED display with a fast refresh rate that everyone can appreciate, but for extra niceties like wireless charging, look elsewhere. The 10T is a phone for people who want to get the best possible performance without spending $1,000. If that’s you, then you’ll be thrilled to hear that OnePlus is indeed back.

A top-of-the-line processor and very fast wired charging headline the 10T’s spec sheet.

To accompany that high-end Qualcomm processor, the base model OnePlus 10T includes 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage – with no microSD card slot for expansion. There is also a 16GB RAM/256GB storage version for $749, both of which will be sold in North America. Those are extremely competitive specs, especially at the price point where 6GB of RAM is a more common starting point. I tested the 16 GB version and it can handle intensive tasks like a $1,000 phone would.

I can seamlessly tap and scroll through 3D virtual home tours on Zillow’s mobile site (who among us doesn’t shop for a new home for funsies?). I played Diablo Immortal For 30 minutes without encountering any major problems except a furious fire-breathing monster that I had to strike seven-sided into submission. The framerate is a little shaky at times when I move into new territory, but it’s subtle – no distracting sudden drop that cuts your power.

Of Genshin impact, gameplay is very smooth, and dropped frames are rare. It’s one of two games that OnePlus says has optimized the 10T with framerate stabilizing technology (the other is PUBG mobile)and it seems to work very well.

It really sets the “brick” in loading brick.

The 10T’s fast wired charging also does everything it promises. The phone comes with a charging pad and a USB-C to USB-C cable, and the AC adapter is heavy enough to let you know it’s important when you pick it up. Charging speeds are nothing short of impressive: if you blink, you’ll miss the phone charging to 30 percent in less than five minutes.

Within 10 minutes I saw a 60 percent charge and a full charge within 20 minutes. That kind of speed can change the way you think about your phone’s battery life: If you don’t mind carrying the charger around, you can easily add several hours of use with even a few minutes plugged into an outlet. You don’t have to worry about how much time you spend gaming or streaming video, even if you are away from a power source for most of the day.

Furthermore, the battery life is good. The 4,800mAh cell consistently lasted a day of moderate use with about a 60 percent charge left in the tank. I’ve largely tested it on mobile data with high performance mode enabled – and why wouldn’t you with a phone like this? — use the fastest screen refresh rate (enabled by default). That’s a day of moderate to use; if you plan on doing quite a bit of gaming, which is a key usage scenario for this device, you’ll need that quick late afternoon charge to avoid single-digit battery hell.

The 10T has an IP54 water resistance rating wherever in the world you buy it. That was a point of confusion on previous OnePlus devices that sometimes had an implicit IP rating because the same phone at T-Mobile has one, but the unlocked version doesn’t. It is IP54, which protects against the ingress of dust and splashing water – not complete immersion. That’s well below the IP68 water resistance ratings on most flagship devices, but it’s a bit of insurance against accidental splashes and better than nothing.

one thing you will not found on the 10T: OnePlus’ signature alert slider. The company’s statement is that in order to accommodate the phone’s chipset and heat dissipation system, the slider had to be cut. It also goes a long way to emphasize that just because this one phone doesn’t have an alert slider doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Still, it’s a fan favorite, and its omission is undoubtedly an unpopular move among the loyal OnePlus. For what it’s worth, I was fine without it, as I was using the phone.

There’s a matte-finish glass panel back—and no Hasselblad branding in sight.

With a powerful chipset and fast charging, OnePlus has provided some serious heat dissipation system on the 10T. OnePlus says it has the largest vapor chamber to date in all of its devices. There’s 3D graphite and copper foil, and I’m not quite understand what all that means, but I can say this: it works pretty well. Phone definitely heats up – 15 minutes after downloading the 15 GB Genshin impact (with the animated loading screen on), and it feels warm, but not alarmingly warm.

The same applies after a good 20 minutes of Diablo Immortal: The phone is noticeably warm, but remains comfortable to use. The only time I noticed the phone getting really warm was when I left it on a soft surface, such as a couch cushion, while doing an intensive task, such as downloading huge game files. However, that is more up to me; the cooling system really can’t do its thing when throttled.

The OnePlus 10T offers a spacious 6.7-inch OLED with a resolution of 1080p and a top refresh rate of 120Hz. The panel itself is flat, although the edges of the device are curved. It’s also not an LTPO display, meaning it can’t drop to extremely low refresh rates, but the display automatically adjusts between 60, 90, and 120 Hz to minimize battery drain. It’s also not the brightest screen I’ve come across, but its peak brightness of 950 nits is good enough to keep it visible in direct sunlight.

Inside the screen is a very good fingerprint reader for biometric unlocking – after using the Pixel 6A’s much less responsive reader for a few weeks, it feels lightning fast. On a device whose entire premise is built on speed, it feels right at home.

Companies like Google and Samsung have increased the number of years they have committed to supporting devices with software updates, and OnePlus has followed suit. It doesn’t offer very long support — some Pixel and Galaxy devices get up to five years of security updates — but it promises three OS version upgrades and four years of security updates for the 10T. That’s not outstanding, but it’s good, and the 10T should be able to hold its own in four years’ time when it gets its latest security patches.

The camera system on the 10T feels like an afterthought, and that’s actually fine. It has all the hardware I’d hope for from a premium midrange phone: a 50-megapixel main camera with stabilization, a decent 8-megapixel ultra-wide angle lens and a 16-megapixel selfie camera. There’s a 2-megapixel macro camera on the back which is almost useless, with its very low resolution and fixed focus. If you like to wonder if your photo will be sharp, then you will have a lot of fun with it. Otherwise, OnePlus could have done us all a favor and added an ultra-wide close focus instead, but it didn’t.

The Hasselblad branding is conspicuously lacking and in a group press briefing, OnePlus spokesperson Spenser Blank explained that the company wanted to position it differently from the more expensive 10 Pro. Fair enough – using that Hasselblad logo probably isn’t cheap, and the Hasselblad integration hasn’t really improved OnePlus’s cameras by leaps and bounds anyway. Not much loss there.

All this is to say that the cameras on the 10T are only average: photos in good light look nice and are acceptable in low light. It sometimes takes the camera a few shots to arrive at the correct answer, but it will get there in the end. First, the exposure can wander a bit – I took three shots of my husband and son looking a little too overexposed, and finally a fourth with the right exposure and skin tones. It keeps shutter speeds high enough to get a decent amount of sharp pictures with moving subjects in poor lighting. In very low light, there’s a capable night mode to bring out good colors and details in static subjects. Exposure is also a bit tight when shooting video, but otherwise clips look good up to 4K/60p.

The OnePlus 10T tries not to do too much.

The OnePlus 10T isn’t a phone that tries to be everything to everyone, and I love that. It’s competitively priced and in the US there isn’t much else available for the same price. It’s a little more expensive than the $599 Pixel 6 with the same 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage configuration, but the screen is bigger (if that’s something you like) with a smoother 120Hz refresh rate. If the extremely fast charging appeals to you, then that is a combination of features that you certainly don’t get from the Pixel 6.

The 10T isn’t an all-around class leader, and despite what OnePlus’ marketing might say, I don’t think it’s really going to be one. At this price point – a tick below the $849 Samsung Galaxy S22 – the Pixel 6 is still the best choice for most people. It offers a better holistic feature set, including a better camera, more robust IP68 waterproofing, and more frequent software updates for longer life. OnePlus has made a phone that is good for the money in the 10T, even if it is not good for most people. In the American market there is room at that table.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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