Tech

The only Android phone people still line up for has an impressive new update

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The OnePlus 7 Pro is a powerful phone from an "underdog" company
Key Points
  • OnePlus has made its name since 2014 for making flagship-level phones at prices that are often hundreds of dollars less than high-end phones.
  • Its newest top phone is the OnePlus 7 Pro, and it offers a unique design with a camera that hides in the top, a gorgeous display and super-fast charging.
  • The OnePlus 7 Pro starts at $669, which is a great deal for a phone that seems to offer almost everything. You just don't get wireless charging or water resistance.

OnePlus has had a cult-like following among Android enthusiasts since 2014, when it launched the OnePlus One, a low-cost Android device that offered many of the features of premium phones but at a lower cost. Five years later, the strategy seems to be still working.

According to recent data from Counterpoint, OnePlus is now ranked fifth in the world among premium smartphone brands. It still has just a 2% sliver of the market, however, behind Apple, Samsung, Huawei and Oppo. But OnePlus has also caught the attention of U.S. wireless carriers, which don't normally sell relatively unknown brands to customers. T-Mobile offers the company's last flagship, the OnePlus 6T, and will sell the new OnePlus 7 Pro.

If you like Android and need a new phone, the new OnePlus 7 Pro is worth considering. It offers more premium features like a sharp display, lots of storage and a fast processor for gaming. And starting at $669, it costs hundreds of dollars less than premium phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10+.

Here's what you need to know about it.

What's good

The OnePlus 7 Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The OnePlus 7 Pro has a unique design — a screen that takes up almost the entire front of the display. Instead of a notch to fit the front camera, however, the lens slides up and down out of the top of the phone. It's a neat trick, but I always worried it would snap off. The camera automatically hides if the phone notices it's falling, and this worked well when I tried dropping it from one hand into another.

The OnePlus 7 Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Everything about the OnePlus 7 Pro looks and feels high-end. It has Gorilla Glass on the front and back which looks premium, especially in the blue color of the unit OnePlus loaned me. The screen is the most impressive piece of the phone.

The OnePlus 7 Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It's a "Liquid AMOLED" panel that's really colorful and supports formats like HDR10 on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. I downloaded a clip from "Planet Earth II" and there was a noticeable difference in how vibrant and bright the screen was compared with my iPhone XS Max, though some may find the colors a little overly saturated.

I think most people will agree this is one of the best displays you can buy in a phone, though, and the AMOLED tech allows OnePlus to add a feature to dim really low so you can read it at night without keeping your partner awake. The display is also home to a hidden fingerprint reader, which you tap and hold to unlock the phone. It worked most of the time in a split second.

It's a bit technical, but the OnePlus 7 Pro screen has a 90 Hz refresh rate. This means apps don't stutter if you scroll through them quickly. You can see it in places like a Twitter timeline, Google Photos or websites with lots of content that might otherwise jitter a bit if you scroll really fast.

The OnePlus 7 Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The cameras are also really good for the most part. There are three sensors on the back for wide-angle, zoom and normal shots. Regular pictures looked nice and on a par with what I get from an iPhone XS Max or a Galaxy S10+. But the wide-angle pictures and the zoom didn't seem as clear as other cameras, particularly the Google Pixel 3, which uses software to sharpen the zoom even more.

The OnePlus 7 Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Portrait photos on the front and back cameras were hit or miss, though. If my subject moved at all — like my dog — they were blurry. And sometimes it was hard to see much of the "bokeh" effect that you're supposed to get from a portrait picture, which blurs the background and keeps the subject in focus. It worked fine if the lighting was good though.

A sample of a picture shot with the OnePlus 7 Pro.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

OnePlus is known for its highly customizable and very fast software that it places on top of Android called OxygenOS. This allows you to change all sorts of colors in the theme, apply a dark mode and activate features like "Reading Mode" that changes the screen to black and white so the reading experience feels more like what you'd get on a Kindle.

The OnePlus 7 Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Fans will love the stereo speakers in this model, which work really well. OnePlus moved the bottom speaker so that it isn't blocked while holding the phone in landscape mode. The speakers get loud and sound about as good as they do on other flagship phones.

OnePlus also includes tons of RAM — up to 12 GB — which means everything stays fast even if you have lots of apps open. The latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processor is also included, so I could play some of the latest games like Elder Scrolls: Blades with the graphics on high. The OnePlus 7 Pro also comes with 128 GB of base storage, which is more than enough for people who need to store a lot of games, videos and photos.

All of this is normally something I expect from a phone that costs $1,000. The OnePlus 7 Pro starts at $669 with 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, which is enough for most people. Enthusiasts who want more power can opt to spend $699 for 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, though, which is worth the $30 upgrade. Then, there's the high-end model for enthusiasts who want the kitchen sink, which has 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage for $749.

What's bad

The OnePlus 7 Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

OnePlus doesn't include wireless charging in its phones, which is a bummer because I love the convenience of dropping a phone on a charging pad. The company says it does this because it includes a special Warp Charge 30 charger that can juice the large 4,000 mAh battery to 50% in just 20 minutes. I love this feature, since it meant I could just plug in the phone real quickly and then not worry about it again, instead of having to keep it plugged in all night. But, you need to use a relatively chunky charger for this to work at the fastest speeds.

The OnePlus 7 Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

And speaking of clunky, while the OnePlus 7 Pro is gorgeous, it's also a bit heavier than most phones I'm used to. It has a heft to it that made me a bit worried I'd drop it, and it wasn't always comfortable to hold in landscape for long periods of time while watching movies. My guess is a lot of that comes from the glass and the huge battery.

The OnePlus 7 Pro isn't water or dust resistant, either, at least not to an IP68 rating like the iPhone XS Max or Galaxy S10+. You won't need to worry about taking it out in the rain, since OnePlus says it has made sure that the phone can resist a little bit of water, but you can't go dunking it in the pool, either.

And finally, I worry about support from OnePlus. You can buy regular insurance through T-Mobile if you want, but you can't just walk into a OnePlus store and get a fixed device on a whim like you might from Apple or even one of Samsung's partners. You can send it in to OnePlus, however, and the company says a replacement should arrive in about a week or less.

Should you buy it?

The OnePlus 7 Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

If you want a lot of what the Galaxy S10+ has, but don't want to spend $1,000, then the OnePlus 7 Pro is worth considering.

If you just need an Android phone with a good camera, you should just buy the new Google Pixel 3a, which starts at $399 and doesn't have the fast processor and loads of storage.

I think OnePlus fans will want this phone and, as they have in the past, will find enough of an upgrade here to wait in line for it. You just get so much phone for the price that it's hard to pass up, and I bet it's enough to steal a few Samsung fans, too.