For the past few years, OnePlus has built a bit of a reputation for doing things differently: releasing one phone at a time, and only selling that one, all-in flagship phone. A new model was generally introduced every six months to ensure the company always offered the most powerful processor available.

In 2019 things changed though. OnePlus launched an ultra-premium flagship, the OnePlus 7 Pro (and a 5G version too - which we've used for eight hours in testing), as well as the usual and more affordable handset, the OnePlus 7. Here's how that handset fits into the picture. 

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Design: If it ain't broke?

  • Glass front/back, aluminium frame
  • 157.7 x 74.8 x 8.2mm; 182g

Close your eyes, hold it in your hand, and you might just assume you're holding a OnePlus 6 when you pick up the OnePlus 7. And there's good reason for that: for the most part, the external shape, design and materials have stayed the same. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. It certainly wouldn't be the first company to release an iterative upgrade on its previous device.

What's good is that the standard model is smaller, lighter and more comfortable to hold than the bigger OnePlus 7 Pro. That's not to say its small though - it's just that the Pro is one of the biggest flagship phones we've used in recent years.

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The glass on the back of the OnePlus 7 curves towards the edges, helping give an ergonomic feel. The standard finish is a glossy mirror grey - the same as the OnePlus 7 Pro's shiny option. Being shiny does mean it's quite prone to fingerprint smudging and small scratches and scuffs. After little more than a week using the phone daily without a case, there were already some very minor scratches appearing on the glass back.

As is often the case with OnePlus, the body doesn't have an IP certified resistance to water or dust. It is sealed to withstand daily "accidents", however, meaning it should survive just fine if you answer the phone in the rain, or accidentally drop it in a puddle and immediately pick it up again.

Front-on and the OnePlus 7 looks much like the OnePlus 6T. It has the same size display and the same dewdrop notch at the top, where the front-facing camera resides.

There is one slight difference however: the bigger earpiece grille along the very top edge is much longer in order to make space for a more powerful Dolby-powered speaker. This joins the speaker on the bottom edge to create a fairly decent stereo sound, although the bottom speaker is noticeably better in terms of bass performance than the top one.

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The other visual difference between the 6T and the 7 is the camera housing on the back. For the OnePlus 7, the designers increased the length of the pill-shaped protrusion to incorporate the dual-tone LED flash into the same raised bump, and seem to have increased the height of the protrusion ever so slightly in the 7, making it noticeably more pronounced. We think the previous design is more svelte.

While the OnePlus 7's design is not as exciting and new as the Pro, it's still a solid, attractive and well-made handset. While we prefer typing on a flat screen such as this, but the lack of the Pro's new haptic engine here means more precise feedback lacks. But that's how things work now: if you want ultra-premium then the Pro is your match.

No new display, but that's okay

  • 6.41-inch AMOLED panel, 19.5:9 aspect ratio
  • Full HD+ resolution (1080 x 2340 - 402ppi)

There's not a lot new to report on the the OnePlus 7's display either. With the company focusing a lot of its attention on the 7 Pro's mega-awesome 90Hz QuadHD panel - that means it refreshes 50 per cent more than the normal screen, for smoother visual - the 7 didn't get as much love from the marketing department at OnePlus. That said, it's still a good panel.

In terms of resolution it's pretty much on par with most flagship phones out there. In the era of long eraspect ratio panels, seeing an iteration of Full HD+ isn't unusual at all. Compare fine text or details up close, and you will notice they don't look quite as smooth and sharp as they do on a Quad HD display, but it's not something you notice easily at arm's length. In the balance of battery to sharpness, we think that's just fine.

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It's an AMOLED screen, too, meaning lots of colour and contrast in its default vivid mode. But being OnePlus you also get to change the calibration and colour to match your own personal preferences. You can choose between DCI-P3 and sRGB modes for a more colour accurate look, or adjust the colour temperature to make it warmer or cooler.

Perhaps the only thing we aren't keen on is the formatting when apps show in full screen. The apps often show with a black bar across the top edge to hide the notch, giving the image right angled corners on the top, but then filling out to the rounded corners on the bottom, so the two sides are mismatched.

Breathing life into Android

  • Oxygen OS 9.5.5 based on Android Pie
  • Gaming/Fnatic mode
  • Remember where you parked
  • Zen Mode for avoiding screen time

While the hardware on the Pro model might offer you that bit more compared to the OnePlus 7, the new software features are available on both devices. So you're not really going to lose out in that regard. 

As always, OnePlus' Oxygen OS is very light over the top of Google's Android operating system. That means very few visual differences in surface-level user interface design. What OnePlus does - and does well - is offer customisation tools right in the standard software. You don't have to download a third-party launcher to change your icon design, for instance. 

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There are a couple of features we find quite useful. First is the ability to remember where you parked the car. Simply swipe from left to right, mark the location if your in an outdoor parking lot, and there's a mini map to help you navigate back to it when you're returning. For indoor car parks, there's the option to take a photo. Another other useful feature is Zen Mode which locks the phone down for 20 minutes; we were sceptical about it to begin with, but once activated, it won't let you use the phone unless you receive a call or need to make an emergency call. Put your phone down, breathe, take a break. 

When you're not relaxing and fancy playing a game or two, you also get a couple of different versions of Gaming Mode. Like previous iterations, when active, it minimises interruptions from notifications, and prioritises the game when it comes to processing power and RAM, to ensure smooth performance. Fnatic mode is GamingMode+ essentially, virtually killing everything except the game you're playing. 

Relentless speed

  • Snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB/8GB RAM
  • 128GB or 256GB UFS 3.0 storage
  • In-screen fingerprint scanner

It seems inevitable that anything the OnePlus 7 offers will be compared with the more expensive OnePlus 7 Pro, but when it comes to overall, everyday performance, the OnePlus 7 matches its Pro-branded sibling. It has virtually the same hardware inside - ignoring that screen refresh rate, of course - and can keep up with the best of them.

Specifically, that means there's the latest Qualcomm processor - the Snapdragon 855 - and that's twinned with either 8GB or 6GB RAM, depending on whether you go with the 256GB or 128GB storage model. Like most previous OnePlus phones, there's no expandable storage via microSD card, but then, when you have a phone with so much internal memory, that's never going to be a problem.

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In daily use the phone feels fast and zippy, tackling any apps and game with ease. It's perhaps only when you place it side-by-side with the Pro model and look very closely that you notice a slight stutter in general user interface animations, but that's down to the ultra smooth 90Hz display on the Pro and nothing to do with the processing power.

The only other performance difference worth referencing is that the 7 doesn't come as a 5G option. With 5G being a new network technology in most parts of the world, that's neither here nor there in 2019. Give it a couple of years and lack of 5G might be an issue then, but right now it's not in our view.

It's also worth noting - especially to loyal OnePlus upgraders who buy a phone each year - that the 7 might be one you can skip without feeling any real remorse. Its performance isn't vastly improved from the OnePlus 6T, or even the 6. That's not to say it's not good, but that the previous two were both very good phones that still hold up now.

Battery

  • 3,700mAh battery capacity
  • 20W OnePlus rapid charging

At 3,700mAh, the battery inside the OnePlus 7 is exactly the same as its 6T predecessor. Which means it's rather good. Despite being a smaller capacity than the battery in the Pro model, it seems to get further mileage than its more premium sibling.

There's a comfortable full day's worth of juice in the phone even with fairly heavy usage, but we wouldn't go as far as saying you'll get two days from it. With a couple of hours of gaming, some social media usage and listening to music through the day, we finished most days between 30-40 per cent. With light/moderate usage you'll get to about a day-and-a-half before needing to plug it in again.

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When it comes to charging, the OnePlus rapid charging technology might not wow us with its speed anymore - thanks to Huawei's and Oppo's faster charging technologies - but at 20W it's still fast enough to get you out of a pinch pretty sharpish. Half an hour plugged into its adapter is enough to get you from 0 to around 60 per cent.

In daily life, that's essentially a rescue operation when you've forgotten to plug it in at night. Wake up, realise in horror that it's not plugged in, ram the Type-C port into the phone, go shower, get dressed, have breakfast, and by the time you're ready to leave the house and head to the office, it's got enough juice to get you through the working day.

Camera

  • Dual camera system: 48MP primary; 20MP secondary
  • 16MP front camera

Like the Pro model, the OnePlus 7 has the new 48-megapixel primary sensor, which binds four pixels into one, to create sharp 12-megapixel images. It's paired with a secondary 20-megapixel sensor that's only really there for additional image data - used for things like depth measure - and isn't of any use on its own. 

This is one of the main sticking points that might push you towards the Pro model though, which has three cameras, each with its own purpose. In the 7 you just get one - although the camera interface does allow you to switch to 2x zoom and the result is an image that's still pretty detailed thanks to all those pixels.

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In good light the results are decent. You'll get even, colourful and detailed shots that look great. It's certainly more than enough for your social media habits. Even the front-facing camera produces good shots in good light. 

The rear camera isn't perfect though. While its high dynamic range (HDR) algorithm does a good job of evening out most images where there's harsh contrast, we did find every now and then that the highlights were over exposed.

On the upside this camera does let you get pretty close to objects and still manages to focus, providing there isn't much else fighting for attention, or the subject isn't moving too much. 

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In low light conditions, the camera pulls in plenty of data to produce decent images, doing a good job at keeping edges and detail sharp. Although, understandably, there's a little more image noise.

Where it isn't quite as good as the competition is in the night mode, where Google and Huawei excel. The OnePlus doesn't pull in quite as much light as its big-name competition. 

With all that said, it's a very good camera. It might not be the most feature-rich these days, nor offer some of the insane night modes of Huawei and Google, but it won't leave you disappointed for everyday captures.

Verdict

By launching at the same time as the impressive OnePlus 7 Pro, the standard OnePlus 7 has been seen as a sort-of "lite" phone. It's the device that barely got any mention at the launch and hasn't been talked about much since. But don't let that fool you into thinking it's a bad phone.

The crux of the matter is this: OnePlus has always released fast phones for affordable prices. The 7 is no different, but given just how good the OnePlus 6 and 6T still are in that regard, there's very little reason for anyone with either of those two phones to upgrade to the 7. In fact, if they did, they might feel a bit short-changed by a phone that's only slightly improved.

However, if you're coming from the OnePlus 5 or 5T, you'll see a significant improvement on your two-year-old device, and if you struggle to justify the £649 price tag of the Pro model, then this regular one will do you just fine.

It's fast, fluid, is well made and looks good. What's more, the camera is better than previous years too. All in all, it's a great flagship phone at a very good price - it's just not all that exciting in the current climate and given that it is mostly the same as the last model.

Alternatives to consider

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Xiaomi Mi 9 

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In so many ways, the Xiaomi Mi 9 matches the OnePlus 7. Whether it's hardware, performance or design. Where the Mi 9 edges it, however, is that it has 20W wireless fast charging - a feature we haven't seen on any other phone. The software is a lot more heavy handed though, which leans us towards the OnePlus or Pro option.

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OnePlus 7 Pro

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If you want that fluid and powerful OnePlus experience but in a device that really takes it to the big-name flagships, the OnePlus 7 Pro is that phone. It's a big device, but the display is truly fantastic, and the camera system is far more versatile than the standard OnePlus 7. of course, there's a caveat: it costs more.