Tuesday, February 27, 2024

I reviewed OnePlus’ $500 Android phone, and it’s spectacular

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A black OnePlus 12R laying face down on a table.

OnePlus 12R
MSRP $500.00

Score Details

DT Editors’ Choice

“The OnePlus 12R is the best $500 smartphone I’ve ever used. If it’s not on your shopping list yet, it really needs to be.”

Pros

  • Sleek, polished design
  • Top-notch display
  • Fast performance; runs cool
  • Excellent battery life
  • 80W charging!
  • Unbeatable price

Cons

  • Poor ultrawide and macro cameras
  • No wireless charging

The OnePlus 12R is a special phone. It doesn’t have the latest processor or the best camera system I’ve ever seen, and it’s missing some features like wireless charging. The design is also a pretty standard affair. But it’s still special.

Contents

  • OnePlus 12R: design
  • OnePlus 12R: screen and performance
  • OnePlus 12R: cameras
  • OnePlus 12R: battery life and charging
  • OnePlus 12R: software
  • OnePlus 12R: price and availability
  • OnePlus 12R: verdictShow 2 more items

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Why? For all intents and purposes, the OnePlus 12R has the makings of an expensive flagship Android phone from 2023 — and you can buy it new for just $500. It’s one of the best smartphone values I’ve seen in years, and even after a couple of weeks of using the OnePlus 12R, I still can’t believe how good it is.

OnePlus 12R: design

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

If you ever used or saw the OnePlus 11, you’ll be right at home with the OnePlus 12R’s design. It has the same curved display, flat aluminum frame on the top and bottom, and circular camera housing on the back. It’s a familiar and comfortable design, and one I really like.

There are some subtle differences between the OnePlus 12R and the OnePlus 11. The 12R is slightly thicker and a couple of grams heavier. The alert slider is also now on the left side of the phone, while the volume buttons are higher up on the right side. It’s a pretty small change and one I got used to very quickly.


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The alert slider on the OnePlus 12R.

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The top of the OnePlus 12R, showing the phone's IR sensor.

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

A close-up shot of the back of the OnePlus 12R.

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

There are some other nice design touches on the 12R that we didn’t get last year. The camera circle on the back now has a notched design along the edge, along with a subtle pattern underneath the glass. There’s also an official IP64 dust- and water-resistance rating, and OnePlus even included an IR sensor for controlling TVs, projectors, cable boxes, etc. It’s something we rarely see in smartphones these days, and I’m happy it’s here.

The OnePlus 12R comes in two colors, including the Iron Gray color seen throughout this review, plus a really striking Cool Blue variant. While Cool Blue looks great in photos, I really like the matte finish of the Iron Gray on my review unit. It’s a little slippery, but fingerprints and smudges are nonexistent on it.

OnePlus isn’t breaking any new ground with the OnePlus 12R’s design, but I think that’s perfectly fine. This is a well-crafted and well-designed smartphone, even if it looks a bit familiar. It’s comfortable to hold, feels sturdy, and has a few extra goodies in the alert slider and IR sensor. Especially when you consider the price, OnePlus killed it here.

OnePlus 12R: screen and performance

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Speaking of killing it, let’s talk about the 12R’s screen. The phone has a 6.78-inch AMOLED panel with a 2780 x 1264 resolution — giving you 450 pixels per inch. The variable refresh rate scales up to 120Hz and down to 1Hz, it has a ridiculous peak brightness of 4,500 nits, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ are supported, and the whole thing is covered with Gorilla Glass Victus 2.

This is a screen I’d expect on a $1,000 phone — not one that costs half the price.

Those are a lot of impressive numbers, and in practice, the OnePlus 12R’s screen is a thing of beauty. Colors are bright and vivid, everything is razor sharp, and the refresh rate makes scrolling and other animations buttery smooth. This is a screen I’d expect on a $1,000 phone — not one that costs half the price.

If I have to complain about something, it’d be the curved edges of the screen. They’re very reminiscent of the curved edges on the Motorola Edge Plus (2023), and just like on that phone, they can occasionally cause unwanted actions on the touchscreen. There have only been a handful of instances where this happened, though, so it’s far from a deal breaker.

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Similarly, performance on the OnePlus 12R is top-notch. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip — the same one found inside last year’s biggest flagship phones, from the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra to the OnePlus 11. No, it’s not the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip, but that’s a complete nonissue.

Everything on the OnePlus 12R is fast. Apps open instantly, there’s zero stutter when navigating the phone, and multitasking is handled with ease. I should note that I’m using the OnePlus 12R with 16GB of RAM, but the base model with 8GB of RAM should also be able to hold its own just fine.

I’ve also been impressed with the gaming experience on the OnePlus 12R. Not only does Call of Duty: Mobile play smoothly at 120 frames per second (fps) at Medium graphics, but it does so without ever feeling warm. This is thanks to a much larger vapor chamber design inside the 12R. It’s not the flashiest thing to talk about, but in my testing, it works ridiculously well.

OnePlus 12R: cameras

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

OK — let’s talk cameras. The OnePlus 12R’s main camera is a 50-megapixel Sony IMX890 sensor with optical image stabilization and an f/1.8 aperture. It’s joined by an 8MP ultrawide camera with a 112-degree field of view, plus a 2MP macro camera. On the front is a 16MP selfie camera. Unlike some other OnePlus phones, there is no image processing or tuning done in partnership with Hasselblad.

So, how do the photos look?  In the right conditions, the 50MP main camera can do a really good job of capturing a lot of detail with pleasing colors. There are some photos I’ve been thoroughly impressed with.

On the flip side, I’ve also taken a few stinkers during my testing. When trying to take pictures of fidgety cats, the OnePlus 12R occasionally gave me blurry images. I’ve also had some shots where the colors don’t always look 100% right — whether it’s my cat’s white fur being overexposed or my dog looking more saturated than he should. It’s certainly not a perfect camera, but it also could have been a lot worse.

  • 1.
    OnePlus 12 main camera
  • 2.
    OnePlus 12 ultrawide camera

What about the other cameras? The ultrawide camera is handy to have for situations where you need a wider shot, but the low 8MP resolution is readily apparent if you zoom in closely at all.


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A macro photo of a plant, taken with the OnePlus 12R.

OnePlus 12 macro camera Joe Maring / Digital Trends

A macro photo of a cat hammock, taken with the OnePlus 12R.

OnePlus 12 macro camera Joe Maring / Digital Trends

A macro photo of a fake wooden shelf, taken with the OnePlus 12R.

OnePlus 12 macro camera Joe Maring / Digital Trends

A selfie of Joe Maring, taken with the OnePlus 12R.

OnePlus 12 selfie camera Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The macro camera is hidden away in the in the More tab of the camera app, and your best to keep it hidden. It’s very bad. Surprisingly, the 16MP selfie camera is actually quite good!

This isn’t an amazing camera system, but considering everything else the OnePlus 12R brings to the table, I think it’s perfectly adequate. The secondary camera sensors are particularly disappointing (and could have been ditched in favor of something like wireless charging), but for a $500 Android phone with a lot of other high-end specs, it’s a pretty decent setup.

OnePlus 12R: battery life and charging

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Battery life was a big highlight of the OnePlus 11 last year, and the OnePlus 12R ensures that trend continues. Inside the 12R is a 5,500mAh battery — the largest battery OnePlus has ever put in one of its smartphones. Combined with the excellent efficiency of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, that translates to fantastic battery life.

Even with moderate to heavy use, the OnePlus 12R easily gets through a full day with plenty of battery to spare. I started one day at 9:30 a.m. with 100% battery and racked up four-and-a-half hours of screen time. After using the 12R for streaming YouTube TV, playing Call of Duty, and lots of Twitter and Telegram use, I still had 43% battery at 11:25 p.m. that evening.

The OnePlus 12R has fantastic battery life.

On a day with lighter use, starting the day at 9:35 a.m. and accumulating two-and-a-half hours of screen time, I still had 61% battery remaining at 11:55 p.m. That’s outstanding performance.

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

When the OnePlus 12R does eventually run dry (which will take a while), you won’t be waiting around long for the battery to get back up to 100%. That’s because the OnePlus 12R has 80-watt wired charging speeds in the U.S. (100W in other markets), and it’s lightning quick. Plug the phone in with 3% battery remaining, and you’re back up to 40% after just 10 minutes. After 20 minutes of charging, you’re all the way up to 70% — and you have a full battery after a little more than 30 minutes on the charger. You need to use OnePlus’ own charging brick to get these speeds, but thankfully, it’s included in the box.

The only downside here is that the OnePlus 12R does not have wireless charging. It’s annoying, especially as someone who loves wireless charging, but I get it. OnePlus had to cut costs somewhere, and wireless charging is an easy thing to put on the chopping block.

OnePlus 12R: software

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Software-wise, the OnePlus 12R runs Android 14 with OnePlus’ custom OxygenOS 14 interface layered on top of it. While technically an upgrade over the Android 13 and OxygenOS 13 that shipped on the OnePlus 11, it looks virtually identical. If you’ve used a OnePlus phone in the last year and a half, you’ll be right at home on the OnePlus 12R.

Digital Trends

While the last couple of years haven’t been great for OxygenOS, OxygenOS 14 has been a surprisingly good experience on my OnePlus 12R. It’s fast, responsive, and feels a lot more polished than previous iterations. There were some weird scrolling and navigation bugs I’d regularly get on the OnePlus 11, but I haven’t encountered them once on the OnePlus 12R.

Digital Trends

OxygenOS still has a lot of added software features I’ll never use, but there are others I really appreciate. The theming/customization tools are great, split-screen multitasking is easy to use, and I’ve found instances where running apps in a small pop-up window can be genuinely helpful. I could do without OnePlus’ obvious Memoji ripoff, and the always-on display that tells you to reduce your carbon emissions by walking 10,000 steps each day is just so odd. Thankfully, the weird bits are easy to ignore if you don’t want them.

As OnePlus continues to improve OxygenOS over the years, the OnePlus 12R will keep getting better, too. That’s because OnePlus promises that the 12R will receive three years of Android OS upgrades and four years of security patches. While not on the same level as the seven years of updates you get on recent Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones, it’s also not the worst we’ve ever seen.

OnePlus 12R: price and availability

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The OnePlus 12R is available for preorder now and will be available for immediate purchase beginning February 13. The base model with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage is available for $500, while the 16GB RAM/256GB storage model costs $600. You can buy it from Amazon, Best Buy, and directly from the OnePlus website.

While Amazon and Best Buy availability is great to see, the best way to buy the OnePlus 12R is through the OnePlus website. For the entire life cycle of the 12R, you can trade in any phone in any condition to OnePlus and get a minimum $100 discount. That effectively makes the OnePlus 12R a $400 smartphone. And remember: this isn’t a limited-time offer. So long as OnePlus is selling the 12R on its website, you’ll be able to take advantage of this trade-in promo.

OnePlus 12R: verdict

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The OnePlus 12R feels like a smartphone that shouldn’t exist. It feels too good to be true, a phone that bargain hunters can only dream about. But it is very real, and it’s really damn good.

What are your other options beyond the OnePlus 12R? The flagship OnePlus 12 is also available, and it’ll give you a newer Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor, better cameras, and wireless charging. The Google Pixel 8 has a far superior camera system, cool AI features, and seven years of software updates. But those phones cost $300 and $200 more than the OnePlus 12R, respectively, which is a significant difference.

The OnePlus 12R is a near-perfect $500 smartphone.

The Google Pixel 7a shares the OnePlus 12R’s $500 price tag. It’s more compact and has wireless charging, but it also has a worse screen, a much less capable processor, mediocre battery life, and much slower charge speeds.

To be clear, there are some objective downsides to the OnePlus 12R compared to more expensive phones. The IP64 rating is nice, but it’s not as resilient as the IP68 rating found on most flagship smartphones. The curved display isn’t a deal-breaker, but I would have much preferred a flat one — just like what the Galaxy S24 offers. The ultrawide and macro cameras are disappointing, and unlike some other phones from Samsung and Google, you won’t find any fancy AI features on the OnePlus 12R.

You can spend more money and get more capable and feature-rich smartphones, but when the OnePlus 12R is this good and this cheap, you really don’t need to anymore.

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