If you’ve followed the smartphone scene over the past decade, you probably know OnePlus as the scrappy upstart that shook up the mobile world when they burst onto the scene with the flagship killer OnePlus One back in 2014. The premise was simple – deliver nearly the same premium hardware specs as the popular flagships from Apple, Samsung and others, but at a price that absolutely crushed the competition.
It was a bold strategy, but one that clearly resonated. Flash forward to today, and while OnePlus phones still ring in hundreds less than the iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra, the brand has firmly planted itself as a major player that can stand toe-to-toe with the titans of the industry.
That brings us to the new OnePlus 12. On paper, it checks all the boxes you expect from a 2023 Android flagship – blazing fast Snapdragon processor, a stunning high refresh rate display that can blast your eyes at 4500 nits brightness, 5G connectivity, fast charging and a polished design with premium build quality.
But the real appeal as always comes down to value. Starting at just $799, you get many of the same capabilities as phones that cost $300-400 more. If no-compromise performance and a superb content viewing experience matter more to you than brand cachet, the OnePlus 12 makes an extremely compelling case for your dollars with one of the best bang-for-buck propositions of any smartphone today.
Familiar Yet Striking Look
In terms of visual design language, OnePlus is sticking with what works. If you’ve seen the OnePlus 11, not much has changed – the OnePlus 12 features the same overall aesthetic pillars. That means a front dominated by screen real estate, with razor-thin bezels and a centered hole-punch front camera. Around back you’ll find the expansive circular camera housing that OnePlus has employed across its number series.
While not the most daring or envelope-pushing industrial design, OnePlus does inject some uniqueness with the finish options. My review unit came in the vibrant Flowy Emerald hue, which combines a cool mint green shade with an almost textured pattern under the smooth glass back. It’s a polarizing yet eye-catching look that helps the OnePlus 12 stand out from the muted palette of many competitor flagships. A more conventional Silky Black variant is also offered if green isn’t your thing.
In terms of hand feel, the OnePlus 12 is slightly wider, taller and heavier than its predecessor at 220g – dimensions are 164.3 x 75.8 x 9.2mm. Much of that increased footprint can be attributed to the even larger 6.82″ display, which we’ll dig into later. It’s just a hair slimmer than my iPhone 14 Pro Max and easier to grip thanks to those curving sides.
Button placement has been reworked from the OnePlus 11 as well. You’ll now find the power and volume keys along the right edge similar to Samsung’s layout, while the signature alert slider that quickly toggles sound profiles has moved to the left side. All buttons exhibit crisp tactile feedback. The bottom houses the SIM tray, a USB-C charging port and one of the two stereo speakers. No headphone jack, but I’ve made my peace with Dongle Life at this point.
Jaw-Dropping Display That’s a Treat for the Eyes
I’m just going to come right out and say it – the 6.82” Fluid AMOLED panel on the OnePlus 12 is an absolute stunner. It’s one of the best displays I’ve ever laid eyes on, with vivid colors, silky smooth visuals and brightness output that almost necessitates sunglasses.
You’re getting a crisp 3168 x 1440 resolution that works out to 526 pixels-per-inch. That’s plenty sharp, keeping all text and images looking tack sharp. Refresh rate can scale between 1 and 120Hz depending on content, ensuring fast scrolling and fluid animation without hammering battery life. And speaking of fast movement, OnePlus also employs advanced frame insertion techniques to boost frame rates of games up to 120 fps – mobile gameplay has never looked so buttery smooth.
Now let’s discuss the elephant in the room – brightness. OnePlus claims an eye-searing peak of 4500 nits, which seems almost dangerously bright. Thankfully various hardware safeguards prevent you from actually sustaining that level for very long. Real-world use tops out around 1600 nits – still incredibly luminous and the brightest panel I’ve ever tested. Outdoor visibility is second to none. You also get deep blacks thanks to AMOLED technology and full DCI-P3 color for vibrant imagery.
My main ergonomic gripe stems from those curving screen edges that cascade off the sides. Not only are they prone to minor visual distortions towards the edges, but touch rejection when holding the phone is not absolute – I encountered some inadvertent screen presses while gripped in landscape mode. The curves also make adhering screen protectors troublesome. Still, the viewing experience head-on remains exquisite.
OxygenOS Offers Slick Speed But Falls Short on Updates
The OnePlus 12 launches with the company’s custom OxygenOS skin running atop Android 13. As Android overlays go, OxygenOS trends towards the lighter side, retaining much of stock Android’s visual style while sprinkling in some unique tweaks. Fans praise its fluidity, and I’m happy to report performance certainly feels snappy courtesy of the 12’s silicon muscle. Animations and transitions exhibit plenty of pep thanks to a faster 90Hz refresh rate for the interface.
You’ll notice thoughtful OxygenOS additions like a more customizable Always On display with quirky Insight clock styles, plus a Toolbox floating window for quickly accessing apps. Gaming also gets a boost – there’s a handy desktop-like Game Space hub, along with OnePlus’ Frame Boost interpolation I touched on earlier that smoothes out gameplay.
However, OxygenOS isn’t without some questionable decisions in my book. The app drawer stubbornly sorts apps with numbers to the very end, making them a pain to locate. I also don’t love how restoring app layouts from a previous device compulsively dumps every app onto your home screen. The settings menu can feel labyrinthine compared to stock Android too.
My bigger concern lies with software support longevity. While Samsung and Google are both promising 4 years of Android version updates and 5 years of security patches for recent flagships, OnePlus only guarantees 2 major OS updates and 3 years of patches. That leaves the OnePlus 12 likely tapping out sooner than the competition.
Of course OxygenOS fluidity feels fantastic for now, but I worry it won’t age as gracefully in a world where mobile processors only get more advanced. Still, fans who tend to upgrade more frequently may not be as bothered by abbreviated support windows.
Blazing Speeds and Battery Life That Goes the Distance
Performance is an area where the OnePlus 12 truly dazzles, powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset. My test unit packs a whopping 16GB of RAM and 256GB of UFS 4.0 storage. That silicon combo benchmarks with the best in the business, topping charts across various speed tests.
But synthetic tests can’t convey how astonishingly fast and fluid this phone feels to actually use. Thanks to ample memory headroom, the OnePlus juggles intensive tasks with aplomb. I bounced between apps and had no issues keeping over a dozen suspended in the background. Gaming is equally impressive – even graphically demanding titles like Genshin Impact hum along nicely at max settings.
The phone does get quite toasty under heavy loads. After a lengthy Genshin session, I measured peak surface temps of 110°F near the camera housing. The good news is that everyday use avoids any uncomfortable warmth thanks to an improved vapor cooling system.
Of course, blazing speeds would be moot if the phone couldn’t last all day. Thankfully the OnePlus 12 packs a mammoth 5,400 mAh battery split across two cells. For context, that dwarfs even the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 5,000 mAh pack. The result is fantastic longevity that reliably got me through two days of moderate use. I never drained the tank fully in my testing, typically hitting the sack with at least 30% left.
When you do need to refuel, speeds are downright silly with the included 80W wired charger. I clocked a dead-to-full charge in well under 40 minutes. The OnePlus 12 also finally brings back fast wireless charging at 50W that bests many wired implementations. I do wish battery endurance squeezed out a bit more screen time given the sheer capacity, but fast charging helps offset any range anxiety.
A Camera Setup That Finally Hits Its Stride
While OnePlus phones have traditionally stumbled a bit when it comes to imaging, I’m happy to report the three-camera array on the OnePlus 12 demonstrates some clear strides towards matching the competition. You get a strong set of optics that deliver pleasantly natural-looking shots with plenty of detail.
The star of the show is a custom 50MP main wide camera with an f1.8 aperture and 1 micron pixels for soaking up light. Images from this sensor showcase excellent dynamic range and accurate colors free of any oversaturation. I was also quite impressed by the dedicated portrait lens, which artfully blurs backgrounds with some of the most convincing synthetic bokeh in the business.
The only letdown proved to be the 48MP ultrawide. It gets the job done for group shots and landscapes, but exhibits more heavy-handed processing than the main camera. There’s also noticeable color inconsistencies between all three sensors when lighting conditions vary, leading to disjointed look when flipping between lenses.
But overall, I found myself delighted with OnePlus 12 sample shots when putting it head-to-head against the Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro. Colors lean a touch warmer than the competition which lends a pleasant mood. Resolve is superb with crisp details even when viewing images up close. My nighttime test shots didn’t quite astound like flagship rivals, but still proved solid.
Video quality sees more gap however, with OnePlus processing exhibiting more artifacts and instability compared to class leaders, especially in low light where noise creeps in. But stabilization remains steady thanks to built-in OIS across all rear cameras.
While not quite matching category frontrunners, the OnePlus 12 cameras reinforce that this phone punches far above its weight. I’d happily share any social content captured with these capable optics.
The Rest of the Package and Final Impressions
Before rendering a verdict, I want to spotlight some other notable hardware aspects of the OnePlus 12. Audio quality from the stereo speakers impresses with loud volumes and a nice sense of separation. They’re perfect for podcasts or gaming without headphones. Haptics also feel more refined with precise vibrating feedback as you type or navigate around the interface.
In terms of extras, the OnePlus 12 brings back the handy IR blaster for controlling TVs and appliances. There’s also a desktop-like gaming dashboard for easily tweaking performance profiles. And I appreciated small touches like the high-quality pre-applied screen protector and minimal port interruptions when plugging accessories in.
At the end of my testing period, I continue to be blown away by just how much OnePlus manages to cram into the 12 while maintaining a reasonable cost. You’re undoubtedly making some compromises versus pricier flagships, but none that truly hampered my experience.
If it’s not obvious, I think the OnePlus 12 delivers one of the best overall value propositions you’ll find in a 2023 smartphone. The display is gorgeous, performance lightning-quick, cameras solidly capable and charging speeds borderline ludicrous. You’ll need to accept merely adequate water resistance and fewer years of software support, but these feel like acceptable tradeoffs.
Without question, anyone shopping for an Android flagship in the $700-$900 range should have the OnePlus 12 at the very top of their list. Its unique blend of top-shelf user experience coupled with hundreds in savings makes a mouthwatering proposition for savvy buyers. OnePlus may no longer lead specifications arms races, but as a balanced package I believe the 12 to be a proper flagship slayer.
The OnePlus 12 delivers an exceptional blend of powerhouse performance, stunning visuals and generous battery life at a price that massively undercuts the competition. Some corners were inevitably cut, but none that detract from an otherwise superb flagship experience that I'm happy to highlight as one of the top Android offerings of 2024.
- Excellent performance and fluidity
- Gorgeous, ultra-bright display
- Very fast charging speeds
- Good camera quality for the price
- Outstanding value compared to rivals
- Helpful gaming-centric software features
- IR blaster is a nice surprise
- No formal IP rating for water resistance
- Curved screen edges cause ergonomic issues
- Middling video capture quality
- Mediocre software update longevity
- Can run quite warm under heavy loads
- Lacks wireless charging compatibility