(Pocket-lint) - The OnePlus Concept One is essentially a OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren edition with a distinctive feature: the camera is 'invisible', thanks to dimmable glass, which can be revealed with the double-tap of the power button.
But is this additional feature a gimmick that we didn't ever need, or an elegant solution to hiding away ugly camera bumps and lenses? In a sense it's both. Whatever you think of it, it's also undeniably cool, and we love seeing firsts on phones that nod to the future.
How does that camera work?
- Electrochromic glass hides cameras from sight
- Double-tap power button to reveal in 0.7s
- Can be used as neutral density filter (ND8)
- Triple cameras setup:
- Standard: 48MP, f/1.6 aperture, optical stabilisation (OIS)
- 3x Zoom: 8MP, f/2.4, OIS
- Ultra-wide: 16MP, f/2.2
On the back of the OnePlus Concept One are the same three cameras as you'll find in the 7T Pro, albeit hidden from view thanks to that dark glass. It's actually electrochromic glass - the same kind you see used on modern airplanes, as one example - which means current passing through can make it almost 100 per cent clear, too. All that happens with the double-tap of a button, and in just 0.7 seconds.
This means a small delay in the cameras being usable, but it also highlights another feature that this glass layer can be used for: a neutral density (ND) filter. Those who know photography will be familiar with this idea, when a wide open aperture means you'll struggle to get longer exposures in bright light. In the Concept One's Pro camera mode there's an ND8 filter, which means one eighth of the light passes into the lenses.
Why no other ND options, such as ND2 or ND4? OnePlus says the ND8 was the only stable option possible at this stage, despite exploring ND16 and other options prior to the release.
Getting the glass to act properly was difficult in this design situation. Typically, electrochromic glass isn't 100 per cent clear, its thickness had to be cut right down to avoid introducing optical issues or light reduction too, while the speed of change is usually a number of seconds. These were all issues that OnePlus had to overcome during designing the Concept One, which takes its inspiration from the McLaren 720S's glass sunroof, which also features dimmable glass.
As cameras go, the triple setup is versatile and fast to function, just as it is in the 7T Pro. The 48MP main produces great images, while the 13mm ultra-wide and 3x zoom give plenty of shooting options.
7T Pro McLaren design and spec
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ processor, 12GB RAM
- Aluminium alloy framing with 24ct gold
- McLaren orange leather with stitching
- 4085mAh battery, 30W fast-charging
- 6.67-inch Fluid AMOLED display
- 1440 x 3120 pixels
- 90Hz refresh rate
- 19.5:9 ratio
The OnePlus Concept One also shows off some additional design elements not in the McLaren 7T model. The metal frame uses aluminium alloy with 24ct gold to add extra shine, using a process called physical vapour deposition (PVD) rather than the typical oxidisation used on other phones. That gives the golden edge a lovely sheen, without it looking crass.
The rear features the same iconic orange leather as you'll find in the McLaren 720S, complete with distinctive stitching. It makes for a really stand-out look, which is also comfortable to hold and nicely grippy.
Elsewhere, however, specs are the very same as the OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren, which is no sad thing at all: that means a 6.67-inch AMOLED display with 90Hz refresh rate for fluid playback, a large battery with fast-charging, heaps of power from the current best-in-the-business Qualcomm processor, and oodles of RAM.
We won't go into huge detail here about how all that performs, but it'll be one and the same as the 7T Pro. That's to say: it's great. OnePlus' OxygenOS operating system, which features over the top of Android 10, is wonderful to use in our opinion, too, so it's hard to have a bad way to say about such a powerful handset.
Not that you'll be able to buy one. The clue's in the name really: this is a concept. But given the reaction you can bet that OnePlus will be using this invisible camera feature in the future phone. And why not? With no ugly camera bump, there's actually a lot of sense in OnePlus' solution.
There's some glory in this invisible camera gimmick. Having the lenses exposed behind a normal sheet of glass would be just fine, but where's the fun in that? The implementation of this feature is done so well, it's the kind of thing you'll want to show all your mates.
Aditionally, OnePlus has stumbled upon an intelligent way to implement a physical neutral density (ND) filter by this process, which will be handy for some photographic situations, or when you're feeling the need to be more creative.
Plus, the Concept One is a gloriously powerful and good-looking phone. It's the kind of phone we'd want to buy and use. Except that's not possible at the moment - because it is, as the name says, just a concept; but one that nods to the future of what we might see in a real, purchasable phone soon.