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OnePlus 12 review: An all-round bargain

OnePlus 12 in Flowy Emerald and Silky Black
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : 849
inc VAT (12GB RAM, 256GB storage)

The OnePlus 12 isn’t flashy but it is very good in most of the areas that count

Pros

  • Superb battery life
  • Excellent Dolby Vision video recording
  • Very quick performance

Cons

  • Slightly over processed photos
  • Only IP65 rated

OnePlus has long since left behind its budget smartphone roots but its flagship handhelds have rarely stood up to scrutiny when compared with the best of the rest. That, however, has begun to change recently and its latest premium smartphone – the OnePlus 12 – builds on the return to form that was the OnePlus 11.

It’s not quite perfect. There are still things about this phone’s camera I would change, and the lack of serious waterproofing is an ongoing problem OnePlus appears to lack the will to address.

However, as an all-round package, the OnePlus 12 is a highly competent smartphone.. One that has superb battery life, is a pleasure to use and produces very pleasing photographs and videos. And while this may be too expensive to be called a budget device, it very much undercut its rivals on price.

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OnePlus 12 review: What you need to know

The OnePlus 12 is the company’s flagship smartphone for 2024 and it launches alongside the OnePlus 12R, which has a similar look but a lower price and cut-down specifications, and the OnePlus Buds 3.

The OnePlus 12’s specifications are mostly as you’d expect from a phone in its price bracket. It has a large 6.82in and 3,168 x 1,440 OLED display, backed by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip.

The OnePlus 12’s camera array is suitably well appointed, too, with a 50MP f/1.6 shooter accompanied by a 64MP 3x optical telephoto (an upgrade on the OnePlus 11’s 2x zoom) and a 48MP ultrawide unit. Notably, the main camera uses the same double-layer sensor tech as the OnePlus Open and it’s a great performer in all lighting conditions.

To top it all, there’s a huge 5,400mAh battery that delivers long-lasting stamina, and it’s far better value than most of its main rivals.

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OnePlus 12 review: Price and competition

That’s not to say the OnePlus 12 is cheap; far from it. It will still set you back £849 and, as with many recently launched smartphones, it’s significantly more expensive than its predecessor, leaping £120 from the OnePlus 11’s launch price of £729. That’s for the model that comes with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage; the model with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage is £1,000.

OnePlus 12 - front

Still, that compares well with its chief competitors. Looking purely at flagship phones with a 6.5in screen or bigger, we have the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max, starting at £1,149, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra at £1,349, and the Google Pixel 8 Pro at £999. The Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus is actually the closest to the OnePlus 12 in terms of specifications, but it is still £150 pricier than the OnePlus 12.

If you want a real bargain, however, I would point you toward the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, which at the time of writing was available for around the same price as the OnePlus 12. It’s still a brilliant phone, with a better camera than the OnePlus 12, although it does have an older processor inside – the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.

OnePlus 12 review: Design and key new features

OnePlus says the design of its new flagship is inspired by “watchmaking craftsmanship” and, if you perform some mental gymnastics, I suppose the circular housing on the rear does, sort of resemble a watch face. Otherwise, the design is fairly unremarkable and those with an unpractised eye would not be able to tell much of a difference between this and the OnePlus 11.

There’s no titanium on show, but you do get to choose between two colours: the pictured Silky Black, which has an attractive sparkly finish; or “flowy emerald”, which looks a little too much like “bathroom marble” for my liking. My preference would be for the classic black version; its matte surface resists greasy fingerprints like a champ.

Elsewhere, it’s classic OnePlus. The front panel is topped with Gorilla Glass Victus 2, and it’s supplied with a screen protector as standard. The power and volume buttons are to be found on the right edge of the phone, stacked above each other towards the top, and on the left edge is the famed three-position Alert Slider. This has long been a favourite feature of mine and, now that Apple has dumped its physical mute switch, OnePlus is the only mainstream smartphone manufacturer with a physical switch like this.

OnePlus 12 - rear

Generally, there’s much to be admired about the design of the OnePlus 12. It is lightweight and slim and I like the way the screen curves away at the left and right extremities of the display towards the aluminium frame. This is something Samsung has moved away from with its latest S24 range and I think that’s a shame.

However, there is one area in which OnePlus can still improve when it comes to design: waterproofing. The OnePlus 12 only has a rating of IP65, which means it’s only dust-tight and shower/splashproof; it hasn’t been subjected to testing below the waterline. Now, I wouldn’t submerge a phone with even an IP68 rating but it’s good to know that, if I were to drop my phone in the bath or the sink, it would probably survive. The OnePlus 12 isn’t guaranteed to do that.

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OnePlus 12 review: Display

The OnePlus 12 is well-appointed when it comes to display technology, however. It has a 6.82in LPTO screen with adaptive refresh of between 1Hz and 120Hz and, as has been the industry trend over the past year or so, it peaks at super high levels.

Indeed, OnePlus says it will hit 4,500 nits during HDR playback, although it will only hit these levels when watching HDR material in very bright ambient light, something you’re not likely to do very often. During regular use, this drops to 1,600 nits. The screen also has Dolby Vision accreditation, PWM dimming at 2,160Hz to help prevent eye strain at low brightness levels (not all leading flagships can boast this stat – the iPhone 15 Pro Max in particular) and it has a super sharp resolution of 3,168 x 1,440.

OnePlus 12 - hole punch selfie camera

There are also some extra features OnePlus includes to help you make the most of the display, most notably the new HyperRendering feature. This uses frame interpolation to force games that don’t support the 120Hz refresh rate to appear smoother. Note that this feature won’t work if the phone is overheating and it also disables itself when the battery sinks below 20%. It also adds a little latency so you might want to disable it when indulging in a PUBG Mobile session or Call of Duty Modern Warfare.

A final new feature on the display front is Aqua Touch, which lets you use the screen without glitching in the wet  This worked quite well when I tried it – the screen remained remarkably responsive with droplets of water all over it – but I’m not convinced how often most people are likely to put it to use.

OnePlus 12 - rear on white background from the left

Technically, speaking, the display is just as impressive as the specifications suggest. I wasn’t able to get it to boost to the maximum 4,500 cd/m2 but in HDR playback with auto-brightness disabled, it hit 1,565cd/m2 with a 10% white patch displaying on the screen. With auto-brightness disabled and non-HDR material showing, it reached around 800cd/m2.

As usual with Android smartphones, there are a number of different colour profiles to choose from, but the list is mercifully short here: the default of Natural (effectively sRGB); Pro (still sRGB but targeting the warmer D65 white point); and Vivid, which allows you to see the display’s full potential.

The former two deliver average Delta E scores of 0.56 and 0.65 respectively, while the latter shows that the display is capable of delivering DCI-P3 colour accurately, too, at an impressive 0.93.

All in all, it’s a very impressive display both from a practical and technical standpoint. It’s bright enough to defeat even the most intensive of sunny conditions and HDR content looks great on it.

OnePlus 12 review: Cameras

OnePlus’ partnership with Hasselblad continues to bear fruit with the OnePlus 12. It uses Sony’s 50MP f/1.6 LYT-808 sensor, which is similar to that found in the OnePlus Open (it has a slightly higher resolution), and it performs well in a variety of conditions.

The LYT-808 camera sensor uses a double-stacked layer of photosites that OnePlus says is capable of capturing far more light than a regular single-stacked sensor. Indeed, a quick browse of the Sony Semiconductor website reveals the company is claiming its  1/1.4in LYT-800 series sensors rival traditional 1in sensors for quality.

OnePlus 12 - camera housing

That’s a bold claim, and while I’m not convinced the performance of the OnePlus 12 camera backs that up, it delivers a largely positive performance, both in good light and bad. Images shot with the main camera look clean and sharp, don’t suffer unduly with lens flare and, importantly, don’t seem to have the problem with focus the OnePlus 11 did.

It wouldn’t be a OnePlus phone without some issue or other with the camera, however, and with the OnePlus 12 my main problem was with overprocessing. Compared with shots produced with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the OnePlus 12’s photos looked like they’d had a heavy noise reduction algorithm applied to them. I could also find no also no way to shoot at native resolution – all the photographs captured across the OnePlus 12’s cameras result in 12MP images.

 

OnePlus 12 camera sample 1

OnePlus 12 camera sample 4

OnePlus 12 camera sample 6

OnePlus 12 camera sample 7

OnePlus 12 camera sample 3

That’s a shame because in many instances I actually preferred the way the OnePlus 12 captured colours, and exposed for scenes; and the ability to display HDR images properly in the phone’s native Gallery app, means HDR photos can look spectacular.

I’m also thankful that OnePlus has finally seen the light and provided a proper telephoto in the OnePlus 12: it’s a 3x 64MB effort with an f/2.6 aperture, which can also provide up to 6x “in-sensor” zoom and up to 120x hybrid zoom. The latter is barely worth using as it produces rough, heavily processed and pixellated images, but the 6x gets you double the reach of the optical telephoto without damaging the overall quality too much.

OnePlus 12 portrait sample

Other positives include impressive portrait performance, producing cleanly cut out faces, with and without glasses, which can often confuse portrait algorithms. Video capture is excellent as well. You can shoot at up to 8K 24fps or 4K 60fps fully stabilised if you want, but the best quality is to be found when you enable Dolby Vision recording. This produces superbly sharp, well exposed results but is only available at up to 30fps in 4K.

OnePlus 12 review: Performance

With a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 inside, you’d expect great things from the OnePlus 12 and so it proves, with performance that’s a notch above the Snapdragon Gen 2 smartphones across the Geekbench and GFXBench graphics benchmarks. The iPhone 15 Pro Max and 15 Pro lead the way for CPU performance, but the OnePlus 12 isn’t all that far behind, and it leads the way on GPU speed.

Note that these results were achieved using the phone’s “High performance mode”, to show off the chipset’s full capabilities. Without this mode enabled, the phone produced bizarrely slow results that are nowhere near what I would expect, especially the single-core test.

It’s not clear as yet whether this affects other apps but the phone feels generally snappy in use and it plays games smoothly, so it may well just be an issue with Geekbench. I’ve reached out to OnePlus about the issue and will update the review with more detail as I receive it.

OnePlus CPU performance chart, Geekbench 6

OnePlus 12 GFXbench car chase chart

What OnePlus was most keen to point out during our pre-briefing, however, was not the raw power available, but the improved cooling, which OnePlus says helps the phone stay cool under sustained load. Impressively, even after a few minutes of playing Asphalt 9 Legends with the quality settings ramped to max, it didn’t get remotely toasty.

Where the OnePlus 12 truly excels, though, is battery life. This is the first battery test we’ve run so far on a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 phone and it’s an absolute belter, so far, lasting 29hrs 52mins in our video playback test, although no doubt this is also largely due to the very large 5,400mAh battery. What’s more, this is a fast phone to charge, with 80W SuperVooc charging and 50W wireless AirVooc charging.

OnePlus 12 battery life chart

OnePlus 12 review: Verdict

All of these price rises are making reviewing phones like the OnePlus 12 difficult. On the one hand, my head says it’s great value: it delivers flagship levels of performance and camera quality, allied to incredibly long battery life, for a price that undercuts the best its rivals have to offer.

On the other hand, it does have some shortcomings you wouldn’t expect of a phone costing close to £900. The telephoto camera, for instance, doesn’t quite have the reach of the very best and OnePlus’ overprocessing leaves a stain on what would otherwise have been a whiter-than-white performance.

If you do want near-flagship performance and features at lower-than-flagship prices, however, the OnePlus 12 is still very hard to beat. It can’t quite match the best but it’s a little bit cheaper.

Check price at OnePlus


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