Sunday, July 21, 2024
Smart Phones

OnePlus 12 review: refreshingly basic

In 2024, there’s one thing conspicuously missing from the sales pitch for the OnePlus 12: AI. And you know what? That’s fine. Great, even, depending on what you want out of your phone.

OnePlus’ flagship phone appears to be sitting out on the mobile tech trend of the year, which is even more obvious on the heels of Samsung’s Unpacked AI-palooza. The OnePlus 12 isn’t chasing the latest cutting-edge thing, it’s going back to the basics. And I think it gets them right — at least, a lot closer to “right” than OnePlus has in the last three years.

You know what’s not a hot buzz phrase in mobile tech right now? Battery life. You know what matters a whole lot to people buying a phone? Battery life. OnePlus put in some work here, and it shows: battery performance is among the best of any major flagship phone I’ve tested in the past six months. Wireless charging, a prerequisite for a flagship phone in 2024, is back after an absence on the OnePlus 11. OnePlus even kicked the IP rating up a notch from IP64 to IP65, which gives me just a little more confidence in its long-term durability.

These improvements have come at a cost: an extra hundred bucks, or $799 versus $699 for the OnePlus 11. But that’s still on the low side for a high-end phone in 2024, especially one with a huge 6.8-inch display. It all makes the OnePlus 12 a more compelling package than its predecessor — it’s a phone worthy of a “Pro” or “Plus” title that costs a few hundred bucks less.

None of these features are the kinds of new, groundbreaking tech you’ll see in Samsung or Google ads for their new phones. But at this stage, AI on mobile devices hasn’t exactly proven itself to be indispensable. Sure, a Galaxy or Pixel phone holds some additional appeal beyond AI if you’re entrenched in their ecosystems — or if you’re hooked on a Galaxy Watch or the Pixel Recorder app (it’s me).

It’s also possible that those flashy new AI features will come with an extra cost somewhere down the line. If you’re not already devoted to another Android ecosystem, you want to sit out this hype cycle, or you just want a phone that does phone things well, then the OnePlus 12 might just be the one.

Good camera, great screen.

For a phone priced well under $1,000, the OnePlus 12 really comes through with top-tier processing power starting with its Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor. OnePlus isn’t pushing any proprietary AI features, like generative AI photo editing or automatic language translation on phone calls, but thanks to that chipset it’ll be ready for whatever AI services Google eventually bundles and sells with a Google One subscription. You know, probably.

On top of that, the $799 base model OnePlus 12 gets you 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. For $899, you get 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, like my review unit. For reference, the $799 Samsung Galaxy S24 and the $699 Google Pixel 8 both come with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. In practical terms, it’s hard to throw anything at the OnePlus 12 that it can’t handle. It warms up noticeably with intensive gaming, but otherwise handles heavy processing tasks with ease.

OnePlus tells us that it worked directly with Qualcomm to squeeze out an extra 30 minutes of battery life on top of what the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 is capable of out of the box. That’s kind of impossible to test, however, I can say that I got through a full day of travel, including a two-hour flight delay, without a problem. When I finally got on board my flight, my seatmate mentioned that her phone was almost dead as she scrounged around for an outlet. I kept scrolling through Threads, untethered to wall wart or battery, just as smug as can be. That was with the always-on display enabled full time and with screen resolution at the highest 1440p setting, not the default 1080p.

The OnePlus 12 ships with Color, err, Oxygen OS 14.

Naturally, the OnePlus 12 offers incredibly fast wired charging — up to 80W with the included adapter and cable. Wireless charging comes and goes from OnePlus’ flagships, and I’m thrilled that it’s back on the 12. It supports up to 50W with the company’s proprietary charger (a cool $70 extra!) or 15W on a regular Qi charger (provided the charger itself can do 15W). Sure, it’s neat to drop it on a wireless charger and come back not an hour later to find it fully charged.

But really, I’m just thrilled I can drop it on the same slow Qi charger that I use with every other phone and wake up to a fully charged device. There’s no Qi2 here, so if you were hoping for MagSafe-style accessories, you’ll have to settle for a third-party magnet case and “MagSafe-compatible.”

The OnePlus 12’s 6.8-inch screen sings at that full 1440p resolution setting. It goes up to 120Hz so it looks fancy and smooth, and it’s as vibrant and detailed as any flagship phone screen I’ve looked at in recent history. It’s a 19.8:9 panel, so it’s a little taller and skinnier than its diagonal measurement suggests. I’m not a big fan of big phones, but I did find the OnePlus 12 easier to use one-handed than another, wider 6.8-inch phone I’m testing. The curved edges help a little here, too, but I’d gladly trade them in for the flat panel edges that are in vogue now. Especially in bright light, viewing angles get a little wonky toward the edges of the screen.

The screen’s tall aspect ratio makes it about as comfortable to use one-handed as it gets with a 6.8-inch screen.

The beloved alert slider is here, and OnePlus has mostly reused the 11’s design for the 12. The rear camera “bump” is now see-through with a little sparkle that catches the light. The back glass panel uses a smooth matte finish that’s actually more slippery in your hand than a glossy panel. The whole thing is IP65 rated, which means it’s fully dustproof, while merely water resistant. Jumping up from IP64 means it’s better protected against water spray, so it should handle even the worst splashes and downpours fine. Just don’t expect to take it for a dip without consequences. 

OnePlus claims this screen has a peak brightness of 4,500 nits — that’s frankly bonkers bright. Most other flagships claim somewhere between 2,000 and 2,400 nits at their brightest, and that’s enough to keep the screen comfortable to use in direct sunlight. I didn’t have any trouble using the OnePlus 12 outside on a bright day, but I also didn’t see anything that looked even close to 4500 nits of brightness. Phone Arena has a good explanation of why that might be, but it comes down to how screen brightness is measured. In practice, I didn’t have any trouble using it on a bright day, but don’t expect the eye-searing brightness the specs suggest.

The OnePlus 12 runs Oxygen OS 14, which looks a lot like Oxygen OS 13. There’s a new Dynamic-Island-esque status indicator called Fluid Cloud that currently only seems to work with a handful of apps — none of the rides or food deliveries I ordered popped up in the little pill icon at the top of the screen, but timers do. I think we’re moving toward a future where every phone has some kind of Dynamic Island of its own, and I’m for it. It’s a handy way to check time-sensitive stuff no matter what else you’re doing, and if there’s one good feature to crib from Apple, then this is it.

If you disliked the Color-OS-ification of Oxygen OS, then you probably won’t like this one much either

Generally, though, if you disliked the Color-OS-ification of Oxygen OS, then you probably won’t like this one much either. I find it inoffensive. I still opt out of using the “shelf” — a designated page in the system UI for widgets that’s usually accessible by swiping down on the homescreen — and instead assign the downward swipe to open the notification shade, as the lord intended. Personally, I’m enjoying Zen Mode more and more lately. It’s been around since the OnePlus 7 Pro, and it plays the kind of ambient spa music I need to be listening to while I write. It locks you out of certain apps, too — also helpful to the writing process. This is just a note of appreciation; don’t go buy a OnePlus phone for it.

OnePlus promises four years of OS upgrades and five years of security updates for the 12, which is probably about as long as most people would plan to keep this phone. Recently, though, Google and Samsung have upped the ante by offering seven years of OS upgrades, including seven years of security updates for their flagship phones. If you want to squeeze the absolute most out of your investment, then seven years looks pretty good, ROI-wise. But, realistically, five years will probably do just fine for a lot of people.

The jump from a 2x to 3x telephoto lens doesn’t sound like much on paper, but the upgraded telephoto camera on the OnePlus 12 makes a real difference. You get just a little closer to the details on distant subjects, and it provides a flattering angle for portrait subjects. The telephoto comes with optical image stabilization and uses a 64-megapixel sensor, so there’s enough resolution to take advantage of lossless crop zoom by using the pixels on the middle of the chip.

In low light, the telephoto will struggle to keep shutter speeds fast enough for moving subjects, but that’s a problem no phone maker has really cracked. But with plenty of light, the 3x turns in lots of detail. At 6x, the typical flaws of a tiny mobile camera lens are amplified and details can look smudgy, but only if you really go looking. All in all, it’s a big upgrade from the OnePlus 11.

OnePlus’ partnership with Hasselblad continues, and it’s, like, 75 percent marketing hype. Where I think the collaboration has paid off is in the color tuning — color and contrast are some of the best in the business. The OnePlus 12 camera knows exactly what to do with warm backlighting, and it doesn’t look as prone as previous OnePlus cameras to over brightening indoor scenes. Using the 50-megapixel main camera in the standard shooting mode, I got a lot more sharp photos of my kid in a dimly lit children’s museum than I expected. Portrait mode is a little trickier, but again, OnePlus isn’t alone in that struggle.

The OnePlus 12 puts the pieces together.

While Samsung and Google are busy shipping mobile AI features as fast as they can, the OnePlus 12 kind of feels like a refreshing break from the hype. I think there are legitimate uses for AI on our phones, but I also think we’re a year or two away from them really hitting their potential. Meanwhile, OnePlus has made some meaningful tweaks to its current formula, rather than going all in on something new. And it’s working.

The improved telephoto coupled with excellent image processing means the OnePlus 12 has a camera system that can truly compete with the incumbent flagships. Wireless charging is back, as it should be, and a slight upgrade in water resistance makes me feel a little better about carrying this phone around the Pacific Northwest in all seasons. 

You’re just not going to find another 6.8-inch screen that looks this good at this price

And I don’t want to undersell one of the 12’s main attractions: the screen. It’s not as fantastically bright as the specs suggest, but it’s a good all-around panel. More importantly, it’s big, and the people want big phones. I’m an exception to the rule, but I know my place. You’re just not going to find another 6.8-inch panel that looks this good at this price. 

There are still good reasons to consider one of the aforementioned incumbents. The Samsung Galaxy S24 and the Pixel 8 series both include IP68 ratings for resistance against full water immersion and seven years of promised OS upgrades. They come with full-featured ecosystems of earbuds, tablets, and smart watches — something that OnePlus is still building out. And of course, they’re right at the forefront of the AI phone future — for better and worse. But for a big-screen device that gets all the regular phone stuff right, the OnePlus 12 is wonderfully basic.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

Correction January 23rd, 6:26PM ET: A previous version of this review stated that the OnePlus 12’s telephoto camera uses a 50-megapixel sensor; it uses a 64-megapixel sensor. We regret the error.


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