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OnePlus 5T Review: T is for Trendy

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OnePlus has this thing for crashing the smartphone party with their annual flagship killers. The OnePlus 3T, in particular, stole the show last year as not just the best bang for buck of all high-end phones, but arguably the best phone of 2016, period.

The OnePlus 5T is obviously more of a successor to the well-received OnePlus 5 than it is to the OnePlus 3T launched at the same time last year. OnePlus needed an incremental update to the OnePlus 5 in order to compete with all the near-borderless smartphones that have been popping up left and right.

Without a doubt, the OnePlus 5T looks a lot more like a year-ending flagship than its predecessor does, yet it didn’t have to add much to dimensions and price of the OnePlus 5 to level up.

This newer model has a larger and taller 6-inch AMOLED screen with an 18:9 ratio (same 1080p resolution, though); a redesigned pair of rear cameras that drop the optical zoom in favor of better low-light performance (in theory); and a new way of logging in using your face since the fingerprint moved to the back.

Other than those, you could read our OnePlus 5 review and get a good idea of how the 5T performs. The internals, from the Snapdragon 835 processor and memory/storage configuration to the 3300mAh battery capacity and top-class Dash Charge technology, are practically the same.

So, the question is: Do the minor updates justify the slight increase in price? We can answer this by going through each new feature.

Is a bigger display better?

The most drastic change to the overall design is clearly the display. But although it’s half an inch larger in size, the 6-inch AMOLED fits within the same footprint as the OnePlus 5’s body. To make this possible, the screen has an elongated 18:9 ratio, which means you’ll see black bars on the sides while watching traditional 16:9 videos, and the capacitive navigation buttons have been removed from the bottom bezel.

This type of display is something we’ll have to get used to. Nearly every new handset launched in the past couple of months has adopted this format, and 2018 looks to add to the growing trend. The adjustment here, however, is the fingerprint scanner’s move to the back.

For people like me who prefer unlocking their phone while it’s rested on a table, this is a negative but necessary change until manufacturers figure out how to incorporate fingerprint sensors under their touchscreens.

Can facial unlocking replace the fingerprint scanner?

In the meantime, the best workaround to the rear-mounted login method is to use the OnePlus 5T’s facial scanning. I was honestly hesitant to rely on it at first — my experiences with previous executions haven’t been pleasant — but the implementation on this handset took my breath away.

Never have I used a facial scanner this fast, both in setting up and actual usage. Getting it to run is a breeze, and unlocking the phone even in dim lighting with a slight change in my appearance yielded near-instant activation times.

At the same time, this isn’t the most secure method for keeping your data safe. OnePlus themselves warn users that this isn’t as foolproof as the fingerprint scanner or even a PIN code. Use it at your own risk, and don’t hand your phone to sneaky siblings.

Are the cameras better in low-light conditions?

One head-scratching move was to let go of the secondary optical zoom lens of the OnePlus 5 and replace it with a camera that assists the main shooter in darker scenarios. While that initially seems like a practical idea, leaving in the option to zoom is confusing for users who thought the feature is gone, and from what we’ve tested, low-light performance hasn’t noticeably improved.

The built-in camera app automatically switches from the 16-megapixel main camera to the 20-megapixel secondary shooter when it feels like light is too scarce. Using what OnePlus calls Intelligent Pixel Technology, you’re supposed to get sharper images with less noise. That wasn’t necessarily the case.

Here are a few night-time samples:

Although these photos are fine on their own, when compared to those shot with the OnePlus 5, there’s no significant improvement. It made me wonder if it was really necessary to sacrifice the nifty optical zoom lens for this. There’s still an option to do software-based zooming, but there’s a noticeable drop in quality.

If you look closely at the photo to the right, you’ll see how much detail is lost compared to the non-zoomed image on the left:

Ignoring the attempt at better low-light photography, shooting in daylight is quite good. Colors are generally warm, which make objects and people look more lively in front of their background. There’s also a dedicated portrait mode to help blur out the background of the person you’re shooting.

I was happy with the dynamic range and sharpness under strong sunlight, and not once did it have difficulty focusing on my chosen subjects. Selfies were great, too — just not at the level of the OnePlus 5T’s nearly identical twin, the OPPO R11s.

Are there any drawbacks or advantages over the OnePlus 5?

Besides the ones mentioned earlier — namely the controversial camera setup and polarizing choice of fingerprint scanner placement — there’s just one more concern to discuss: the outdated Android version.

Despite launching three months after the release of Android 8.0 Oreo, the OnePlus 5T settles for Android 7.1.1 Nougat. To make matters worse, the company hasn’t specified when their Oreo will rollout, only claiming that it’ll happen some time in early 2018. Nougat isn’t a bad flavor by any means, but version 8.0 with its optimizations should’ve been bundled in the first place.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you recently bought a OnePlus 5, you shouldn’t feel bad about missing out on the newer model. The 5T’s screen is larger, facial scanning is an alternative option for logging in, and there’s a different take on its dual-camera design — all these make the OnePlus 5T feel fresh and in line with today’s smartphone standards, but they’re nothing groundbreaking.

You even get the same raw performance and battery life, the latter of which offers five hours’ worth of screen-on time after a full charge. OnePlus’ excellent Dash Charge is back as well, bringing the OnePlus 5T from zero to over 60 percent in 30 minutes and to a hundred percent in only one hour and 25 minutes.

You’d just have to contend with the raised price; the OnePlus 5T’s starting price is US$ 499 for the 64GB storage variant. While that’s way below what you’d pay for from the likes of Huawei, Samsung, or Google, hitting the US$ 500 mark means it’s no longer a truly affordable option.

If you can wait another six months, the OnePlus 6 may be able to iron out the issues we mentioned here. But for now, the OnePlus 5T has more strengths than drawbacks, and has few worthy rivals at this price point.

SEE ALSO: OnePlus 5T: The good and the bad

[irp posts=”24434″ name=”OnePlus 5T: The good and the bad”]

Accessories

Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 review: Affordable, but far from perfect

Xiaomi’s premium TWS offering

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The truly wireless earphones market is filled with a plethora of options today, ranging from entry-level offerings like the Redmi Earbuds S to the premium Sony WF-1000XM3. However, the most popular TWS earphones are from Apple — the AirPods.

AirPods kickstarted the TWS trend, and since then, pretty much every brand has jumped onboard. Xiaomi is known for its reliable yet affordable products, and it has launched a few options previously, but it was limited to its home market of China.

Now, the brand has finally launched the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 in India, and it’s pretty much half the price of Apple’s AirPods.

The Redmi Earbuds S is an entry-level offering while Mi branding is now used for the company’s premium offerings. TWS earphones are incredibly convenient to use, and their demand is consistently rising. Can the Mi TWS 2 offer maximum features for the price and go against the competition?

Do they look like the AirPods?

 

At first sight, you’d think they are the AirPods for a quick second. But it’s soon clear that they aren’t. This is something I appreciate about the Mi TWS 2. In a market filled with AirPods knockoffs, it’s nice to see a different design. However, don’t set your expectations too high.

The earbud’s stem is exceptionally thick, and this is easily noticeable from the side. Thankfully, it doesn’t look that thick from the front view and is oval. The stem is also considerably long, giving the earbud a very bulky look.

The polycarbonate build has a matte finish on the stem while the driver is smooth and shiny. I feel the earphones were designed with utility and features in mind, and aesthetics took a back seat.

If the bulkier design can add more battery life and better drivers, I’m okay with it. This may not be the case with many since they tend to look like cheap AirPods knockoffs.

Each earbud weighs just 4 grams, and they slide in your ears very smoothly. Putting them on is a quick task, and for calls, while driving, these are exceedingly convenient to wear single-handedly. The semi-open design is supposed to be fit-for-all. But, this is where my primary concern lies.

How’s the overall user experience?

The earbuds fit perfectly and are rather stable. But the satisfaction of wearing an earbud is utterly absent because of reduced noise isolation. Even though they’ve never automatically snuggled out, I’m always afraid of losing them while walking. The confidence to wear them outdoors is low.

These too sport gesture-based controls, and the result is below satisfaction. I’d have to try a few times before they actively receive the command. Even play/pause function is rather cumbersome and paired with the loose fit; I’m afraid they don’t fall off.

Thankfully, they have an optical sensor that automatically plays/pauses a song when the earbud is worn or removed. Most times, I’d simply remove them from my ear instead of relying on the gesture buttons.

Lastly, the case is quite basic from a design point of view but gets the job done properly. The plastic build is solid, the lid has magnetic detection, and the earbuds aren’t finicky when plugged for charging. A small LED light on the front will show you the case’s battery status. A USB-C port is located on the bottom.

Pairing them is a straightforward task, and Xiaomi phones will automatically pop-up the status menu just like it’s on iOS. It’ll show you each earbud’s battery percentage along with the case.

But do they sound good?

The brand has added a lot of features on the audio side to make the product look premium. It has support for multiple codecs like SBC, AAC, and LHDC. The last one allows high-resolution audio streaming via Bluetooth. I used the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max to test the Mi TWS 2 and it automatically leveraged the AAC band.

Each earbud houses a 14.2mm audio driver, which isn’t the biggest. But, much of the audio output relies on tuning. Sound testing is also very subjective, so I’ll try to address everyone’s choice.

To start with, the output is very crisp and clear, and the vocals are perfectly heard. If you’re into Bollywood songs or even pop, these should be ideal for you.

Unlike the usual tuning, we see in Indian products; the bass here is well managed. It isn’t too much and ultimately does justice for every user. I’d say these are your GadgetMatch if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

The drivers are massively let down by non-existent noise isolation. The design of the earbuds inherently means you can hear pretty much everything happening around you. Even at maximum volume, it just didn’t feel enough.

Lastly, they have “Environment Noise Cancellation” that automatically kicks in when you’re on a call. Background noise is reduced drastically, and everyone I called could feel the change. The overall voice clarity is immensely improved, and high-winds too couldn’t deter them.

How long can they last?

Xiaomi claimed the earbuds can last up to four hours on a single charge and it’s on-point. I was able to get almost four hours with volume at 80 percent.

The case is capable of providing 10 hours of backup, taking the total to fourteen. Thankfully, the case takes just an hour to charge.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an audiophile, the simple answer is no. The Mi TWS 2 will disappoint you in many ways. However, if you’re looking for work-related earphones, these are perfect.

Calls are ultra-clear, and the overall experience is better thanks to a loose fit. Keep them on, and get through a full day’s work. On the audio side, hip-hop or bass-intensive genre may not suit well here. However, all other vocal-centric songs shall swing by without a hitch.

With a price of INR 4,499, the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 is a solid competitor. When compared to the realme Buds Air, these lose out on aesthetics. But, the minor additions from a function point of view are worth the slight bump in price.

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LG Velvet Review: New breed of flagship killer?

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Over the years, LG was once a pioneer in the smartphone industry with their G and V smartphone series. These phones are packed with a lot of punch and boast new and exciting features.

But LG has forgotten one thing, and that is how to fix their unexciting phone designs. From the G7 ThinQ all the way to V50 ThinQ 5G, those phones almost look unchanged. They might have been minor changes with the newer V60 ThinQ 5G, but it’s still not as eye-catching as other contenders.

The LG Velvet isn’t a replacement to their ever-existing flagship series. Instead, LG tries to reimagine things by making sure they produce products that cater the needs of not just tech nerds, but other types of consumers as well.

Here’s our in-depth review of the LG Velvet.

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Accessories

Redmi Earbuds S review: Affordable TWS without compromises

Making TWS earphones more accessible

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Truly wireless (TWS) earphones have been around for a while. Apple kick-started the hype with the launch of the AirPods and numerous brands have released alternatives since. However, they’ve always been very expensive.

With brands keen on ditching the headphone jack, users are often left with no option but to find wireless options. Redmi phones continue to have a headphone jack, but the brand also wants to remain focused on its target — deliver quality products at an affordable price.

The Redmi Earbuds S is the first TWS offering in India under the Redmi brand. While the brand stands strong in the smartphone segment, it has some cut-throat competition from realme. With a price tag of INR 1,799 (US$ 24), does it have enough firepower to take on the competition? If you’re looking for an entry-level TWS solution, can you trust the Earbuds S? Let’s find out!

Not AirPods knock-offs

If you’ve been following the TWS market, the Earbuds S will look familiar. These are sold as the AirDots S in China and many have ordered them previously via international marketplaces. In India, Redmi is calling them the Earbuds S and these could land in more south-east Asian markets soon.

While the trend is to follow Apple’s design language, the Earbuds S is going against the flow. It has its own distinctive design that looks nothing like a cheap knock-off.

The pill-shaped case is compact, feels solid in hand, and has a subtle curve on the bottom. The case size is perfect and it’ll always slide into your pocket smoothly.

Each earbud weighs just 4g and the in-ear design is immensely comfortable. I’ve worn them pretty much all day long and never felt any irritation, pain, or slightest of inconvenience. The snug fit also ensures adequate noise isolation and wearing them while driving for calls is seamless.

There’s not much to talk about with the design since it’s basic and gets the job done. They’re built out of plastic and its clearly evident at first sight.

I won’t count this as a drawback since it helps reduce overall weight and I wouldn’t expect metal or premium construction at this price.

Easy to use, fairly straightforward

The lid is very basic but has a satisfying feel to it when closing. Unlike the popular AirPods, these sit in your ears at a 45-degree angle. Paired along are two earbud tips to suit your ear canal. I didn’t have to use them and the standard size that comes along worked fine.

Using them is a very straightforward process. Open the lid, remove the earbuds, and wear them.

They’ll connect to your phone as soon as they’re disconnected from the case. I’ve never faced any connection issues so far. Each earbud has a button for quick controls such as music playback options and calling up Google Assistant.

On the flip side, you can’t rely on the earbuds to change the volume level or play a previous song. That can only be managed via your phone.

Pressing the button thrice will trigger the low-latency gaming mode. A feature that’ll be very handy while playing online multiplayer games like PUBG Mobile or Mobile Legends.

Each earbud has an indicator light that shows the status. Red means they’re charging while white means successful connection establishment. Lastly, they’re IPX4 certified, meaning sweat resistance. This obviously translates to a perfect workout session.

Punchy bass, relatively good audio

This is where I was surprised the most. Considering the nifty features it already has, I expected some kind of compromise in this department. And, I was wrong.

It has 7.2mm drivers and delivers punchy bass — a must-have for Bollywood music. Mainstream genres like pop sound amazing and if you’re not an audiophile, you won’t have any complaints.

The maximum volume is sufficiently loud and coupled with good isolation, even a busy market street is easily navigable.

However, if you’re looking for top-notch audio, these aren’t meant for you. The low frequency takes over while the mids are flat. You can use an equalizer to change the settings but the inherent tuning is in favor of bass-heavy music.

Furthermore, these connect via the SBC codec and there’s no support for aptX. I wouldn’t call this a drawback because the brand has to cut corners to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Adequate playback duration

Xiaomi claims the earbuds can deliver up to four hours of playback on a single charge and I’ve reached 3 hours 45 minutes in one go. So, their claims aren’t farfetched.

The case can charge the earbuds fully twice, delivering a total of 12 hours of playback in one go. If you’re going to use them for conference calls, music, and other work-related activities, they’ll easily get you through a working day.

The case takes almost two hours to charge fully. For frequent travelers, this can be a major drawback. Furthermore, the case charges via a microUSB port instead of the now-standard USB-C. Don’t forget to carry that extra charging cord along!

Can this be your GadgetMatch?

Yes. It definitely can. While there are a lot of minor additions I’d want to see, the price brings me back to reality.

In a nutshell, they’re designed aptly, deliver ordinarily better audio, and have 12 hours of playback. For US$ 25, there’s no better deal available. Keep in mind, the Redmi Earbuds S are making TWS earphones more accessible to everyone.

If you’re looking for top-notch audio quality, there are premium offerings like the OPPO Enco Free, Galaxy Buds, and 1More Truly Stylish. On the affordable side, realme Buds Air Neo and OPPO Enco W31 can be alternatives but are still priced considerably high.

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