February 29, 2024

June Wan/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • The OnePlus 12 goes on sale today at a starting price of $799. For a limited time, OnePlus will offer double the storage (from 256GB to 512G), along with a 50W wireless charging dock, for free.
  • It’s the company’s most complete handset to date, with the fastest charging speeds on the market (both wired and wireless), a flagship camera system, premium build quality, and reliable performance.
  • The lack of generative AI features is felt, but for many, that may not be a problem.

OnePlus today is launching its first smartphone in 2024, riding the momentum of last year’s exceptional OnePlus Open foldable. But the timing is somewhat awkward; not because the OnePlus 12 was already unveiled in China back in December, but because it’s being introduced to the US audience just one week after Samsung’s Galaxy S24 series debut.

Also: OnePlus’ first-ever foldable makes Samsung and Google’s look outdated – and it’s near perfect

Samsung Unpacked was unquestionably all about AI — it’s the mobile trend of the year, and will likely be front and center of every phone, tablet, and laptop release we see moving forward. The OnePlus 12 has some of that, too. But it’s unabashedly a phone first, AI companion second kind of device. And I prefer it that way.

OnePlus 12

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OnePlus 12

The latest OnePlus phone features a 4,500-nit display, an improved camera system, and features that fans have been longing for.

My fondness for the OnePlus 12 is part of a bigger story. The device is the most complete handset from a company notorious for settling in small but invaluable areas — whether it’s the omission of wireless charging, a better low-light camera, or an official IP rating. The OnePlus 12 has all three of those features, by the way, and at a price that’s very competitive in today’s market: $799, to start.

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While that price is a $100 jump from last year’s OnePlus 11, the difference in user experience is very noticeable, from the feel and polish of the marble-like FlowyEmerald finish to the way the device optimizes its RAM, of which it has plenty of (up to 16GB). On my desk right now sits the OnePlus 12, Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus, and Google Pixel 8 Pro — among other phones that I can’t talk about just yet — and the OnePlus looks and feels the best to me. The edges of the device are curved in a way that makes it sit smoothly in my hand, and I’m not struggling to press any of the buttons.

Correction: I’m not struggling to press any of the buttons except for the alert slider, which has now been moved to the upper left side of the phone. For something that requires a toggle instead of a press, physically switching from “Ring” to “Vibrate” to “Silent” feels more cumbersome than it should. Otherwise, I’m a fan of OnePlus’ industrial design, which feels a little more distinct now that both Samsung and Google have officially ditched the curved glass form factor.

OnePlus 12 next to the Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus

OnePlus 12 (left) next to the Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus (right).

June Wan/ZDNET

Internally, the OnePlus 12 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, which brings improved day-to-day performance and better efficiency of on-device AI applications. I’ve had no problem putting the phone through its paces, whether it’s editing videos on Premiere Rush, playing demanding games like Fortnite and Genshin Impact, or multitasking with a PiP (Picture-in-Picture) video playing. While the marketed peak brightness of 4,500 nits puts even the Galaxy S24’s 2,600 value to shame, I only found it to be slightly brighter when outdoors.

Also: Google’s new AI search features are game-changing for mobile users (iOS included)

Aside from Google’s stock AI features, such as Magic Compose and Photomoji, there’s really no killer generative AI service with this model, as I alluded to in the introduction. That’s not a bad thing, especially if generative AI isn’t factored into your lifestyle anyway. Having cycled between the OnePlus and Samsung’s AI-heavy Galaxy S24 series, I haven’t found myself missing the assisted features all that much. 

When asked about its stance on AI, OnePlus told me it’s “committed significant R&D resources to the developer of both on-device AI and cloud AI features,” and “(will) be introducing even more innovative AI features later in Q1 2024, including self-developed AIGC-related features.”

OnePlus 12

The OnePlus 12 features a 50MP wide camera, a 64MP 3x periscope telephoto, and a 48MP ultra-wide.

June Wan/ZDNET

One area that I do wish OnePlus flexed its machine-learning muscles more is with the cameras — specifically, the telephoto lens. While the Sony LYT-808-backed, 50MP main camera does a fantastic (and reliable) job of reproducing lighting and colors in a very natural tone, the telephoto lens falls short for me in two ways: distance and edge detection. Because the telephoto lens is capped to 3x optical zoom, shooting subjects that are further away tends to produce pictures that appear more washed out and lacking in detail. You can view some of my camera samples here.

For images captured with Hasselblad Portrait Mode, the phone can struggle to apply a bokeh effect behind people with fuzzy and springy hairstyles. In both cases, a visual engine that can help amplify or better detect subjects would help immensely.

OnePlus 12

The included 80W SuperVooc charger can power the OnePlus from 0% to 100% in about half an hour.

June Wan/ZDNET

Ultimately, one of the most compelling reasons to buy a OnePlus phone is its battery life and charging speed. For the former, the OnePlus fields a 5,400mAh battery, the biggest on a mainstream smartphone. I’ve comfortably gotten a good day and a half’s worth of usage before needing to charge the device. 

Also: What is GaN? Everything you need to know about gallium nitride-based charging tech

For the latter, the OnePlus 12 is the fastest in its class, both wired and wireless. The 80W charger that’s included in the box has spoiled me, and the 50W wireless charging support — which only works with OnePlus’ first-party dock, to be clear — outpaces the wired charging rate of competing flagship phones.

ZDNET’s buying advice

At a starting price of $799, the OnePlus 12 may be the best phone that you can buy at its price point, with its most well-rounded feature set ever, 5G support for every major carrier (Verizon included), the fastest charging on the market, and an industrial design that screams premium. It’s also a great phone for users who aren’t fully bought into the AI craze.

The trade-offs are more of a blur this time around, but from my weeks of usage, I’d still list the shortage of generative AI features, the subpar telephoto lens, and the IP65 rating — which just misses the mark for the industry standard for water and dust resistance — as the most notable reasons to think twice about the device. But if you can shoulder the compromises, which are more subtle than ever, then I have no problem recommending the latest phone from OnePlus.