The first 5G networks are being switched on around the world and, in the U.K., the OnePlus handset is the first phone to go on sale that’s out-of-the-box working on 5G. Here are the conclusions from a week of intense testing of phone and network.
On Thursday, May 30, 2019, the first 5G network goes live in the U.K. The EE network has called it 5GEE (see what they did there?) and the launch is happening in six British cities, London, Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester. A further 10 cities will be rolled out this year.
I’ve been testing the phone and the network in London since hours after EE’s press conference last week.
While I’ve been using it, the network was still being finalized, with software tweaks happening regularly during the week and individual transmitter sites being optimized daily. I’ve seen an improvement in solidity of signal and speed as the week has progressed. The speeds in London so far are astonishing. Where I live, reasonably centrally, I’m routinely finding speeds of 200 Megabits per second (Mbps) or more. In some locations I’ve seen 450Mbps. To put that in context, my usual 4G speeds are around 30Mbps-100Mbps and my usual home broadband musters just 20Mbps.
Of course, there are no other users on the network until it goes public so there were no issues of contention to be considered. Still, one of the claims of 5G networks is that the capacity is around 10 times greater than 4G, so perhaps this won’t be an issue when significant numbers of cellphone subscribers are using 5G.
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G Design
The nature of 5G connectivity is that it requires a different kind of antenna in the phone. The OnePlus CEO, Pete Lau, told me recently that 5G challenges how phones are made.
“The 5G chips impact the size of overall design,” he explained. “They have to be oriented in a certain direction. So, they need to be a certain distance from the other antenna chips. While our current phones use a glass back, you couldn’t just use that directly, necessarily, with 5G. It would have to be of a particular thickness to work. We look at materials for the device, including glass, and explore what can be least impactful on the signal as possible. Our challenge is in terms of keeping the design manageable and attractive.”
But if the challenges were hard, OnePlus has overcome them. The new phone looks very similar to the OnePlus 7 Pro. When I say similar, the two are pretty much identical. The only reason I can tell the two phones apart is that British network EE has kindly stuck its logo on the back of the 5G handset. Same size, weight, screen size and color. My review unit is in the highly fetching, slightly matte-finish nebula blue, a striking but still understated color.
You can read my first impressions of the OnePlus 7 Pro here.
After a week of intense usage of the 5G version, my feelings about the excellence of design are unchanged. In other words, it’s still plenty big – so much so that some smaller hands may struggle – but the carefully curved edges make it about as good a fit in the hand as a phone this size could be.
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G Display
The other advantage of a phone this big is you get a lot of screen. And, oh boy, what a screen it is. For a start, there’s no notch, thanks to the fact that the front-facing camera, used for selfie shots or to unlock the phone with facial recognition, is buried in the body of the handset. Only when it’s needed does it appear, smoothly emerging on its motorized mechanism to check it’s you, for instance, before modestly hiding again.
As a result, the phone is nearly all display, 6.67 inches of high-resolution, colorful screen with curved corners and pillowed glass on top. The 516 pixels per inch mean you can get right up close without seeing the pixels. But this also means that any display faults, such as pixelated images breaking up because of slow streaming, will be especially obvious.
In fact, the EE 5G network consistently did the screen justice, in my tests. When watching video, one of the key benefits of 5G, I could stream, instantly, high-quality video without buffering, juddering or image break-up. This is a great screen with any connection, but with 5G in the mix, it’s astonishingly good.
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G Performance
The innards of the 5G match that of the 4G model, including RAM, battery, chipset and so on. This could have raised worries about whether the 5G model, faced with the stresses 5G transmitters could add, would be the stellar performance the 7 Pro is proving to be.
I needn’t have worried. The battery life seemed unaffected and the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G has so far been sprightly and consistent, with not a hint of lag whether it’s being used for playing memory-hungry games or displaying classy video.
Battery life was good, a full day, even with extensive 5G usage.
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G: Why Use 5G?
The 5G network is still new and won’t be routinely available for a while. But when you’ve tried it, it’s hard to go back to 4G. Here’s one small use case: I have a video doorbell. It’s great. But on a 4G network, by the time it’s notified me that someone is at the door, 45 seconds have passed, so they’ll likely have gone. With a 5G network, I get the notification less than 10 seconds after the ding-dong. That changes everything.
This is just the beginning. With the greater speeds and capacity 5G offers and the reduction of latency, there will be new apps coming on stream that we can’t quite imagine yet – in the way that without 4G some of the apps we completely rely on today, from Uber to Netflix to Pokémon Go, could not have taken off in their current form.
As the speeds become more ubiquitous, you can bet developers will ensure they make the most of every bit of headroom they can get.
Even though 5G is only starting, there’s a strong argument for investing in a phone like this, so you’re ready to make the most of the fast network as it takes over.
More on Forbes