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OnePlus 7 Pro 5G review: Hands on with Britain's first 5G phone, but is it any good?

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OnePlus 7 Pro 5G
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G

The OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, supposedly the first phone to herald the launch of the latest network technology in the UK, arrived last week.

In the race to 5G it seems that OnePlus, a relatively small Chinese smartphone brand that has made a splash among technophiles, has got there ahead of larger firms like Samsung and Apple.

The new phone apparently boosts download speeds to as much as 10Gbps, meaning a 4K film should download in seconds.

But is it any good? I spent the last few days trying out Britain’s first 5G phone: here is what works, and what doesn’t, and what you can expect if you decide to upgrade to 5G now.

What is 5G, and does it work?

5G is the latest network technology that is being developed around the world. In lab conditions, it has proven to be between 10 and 100 times faster than 4G speeds.

However, it will only work if you own a phone that has a special modem which makes it 5G compatible. 

Despite its promises, the early iteration of 5G is likely to be underwhelming, with patch coverage ones of the main issues users will face.

In London, 5G is limited to a handful of central locations, such as St Paul's, Covent Garden and Soho. 

You will only be able to get 5G in a handful of cities this year on EE

So what does this actually look like? My first true taste of 5G took place on the London Overground. I noticed a top bar in the corner of the screen flip from 4G to a couple of bars of 5G. It was a testing spot for any data connection, with lots of other users and on a moving train, but I made a stab at trying to download an episode of Black Mirror on Netflix.

I watched in disappointment as the 5G bars faded as it apparently failed to load. But, to my pleasant surprise, a minute or so later I get a notification - Download Completed. 

It was not the seconds-fast speed I had been promised, but on a packed train at 9.15am, it wasn't a bad start. 

On later occasions, I found myself clocking ever faster speeds, which meant I got a blast of fresh downloads or sped up film streaming. But most of the time, I simply didn't get any 5G bars, and my 4G coverage was as random and patchy as I had come to expect on any smartphone.

5G download speed test

When I picked up my OnePlus 5G - conveniently outside BT's head office - I conducted a quick speed test to see what download speeds I might expect in an ideal world. It was an impressive results, hitting above 500 megabits per second. 

Yet after this conveniently placed first demonstration, such speeds never again seemed to materialise. Someone buying a 5G phone is unlikely to get speeds like that on the best of days, and I found the speed of my 5G phone seemed to even be more volatile than speeds on my regular 4G device.

The fact is, for now, EE's 5G coverage is extremely localised. Go 20 yards the wrong way from an area of coverage like Covent Garden and your 5G signal will splutter and die.

While trying to test the speed on Oxford Street, the phone seemed to struggle to hit 5G speeds despite showing 5G bars on the screen - barely scraping into double digits. Sadly the 5G experience of the company's glitzy Kevin Bacon adverts is some way off.

I was not expecting speeds like this on a packed commute

However, later on sampling the speed test on a train, I was able to clock a speed of 230mps - speed frankly impossible with any other device out there. It felt good.

Design and build

Beyond snapping up the OnePlus 5G for its 5G technology, are there any other reasons you might want to buy this phone? It is certainly one of the most powerful phones on the market, with a Snapdragon 855 processor and 12GB of RAM. 

But it is a chunky device, which may not be to everyone's taste. If you are planning on using this device for watching shows, which makes sense if you want a 5G phone to improve download times, this is not so bad, with a 6.67-inch fluid display.

It also has a trick up its sleeve - a pop up selfie camera. When taking shots, a single lens camera will pop up from the top of the phone when you select the front facing camera. On the rear is an impressive triple camera set up topped off with a 48MP main lens. It comes with quick switching features for swapping between wide angle shots, regular snaps and close ups. There is also night mode shooting and slow motion shots at up to 720 frames per second.

The OnePlus 5G features a pop-up selfie camera

Battery life and performance

One of the problems that critics of 5G have cited is that it will, in its early form, burn through the batteries of the first generation of 5G phones. 

Inside, the OnePlus 5G comes with a huge 4,000 mAh battery. While this should be more than enough to give a full day of power under moderate use, I found my 5G phone using up its battery at a similar pace to my every day phone (also a OnePlus, but an older model and one with significantly more battery wear than this new device). I tended to end most days right at the edge of the phone's battery life. 

This is perhaps not surprising. While chipmakers like Qualcomm and others have claimed their 5G chips and modems should offer all day battery life, with the added strain of connecting to these 5G networks they are likely to use power at a faster rate.

Should you buy a 5G phone?

There is not too much wrong with the OnePlus 5G as a smartphone on its own. It is a bit chunky for my liking, but in terms of performance and camera quality it more than punches above its weight among other Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S10. 

And OnePlus has kept making phones that offer a serious price point advantage. The regular version of the OnePlus 7 Pro without 5G starts at £649, far cheaper than flagship models from Samsung or Huawei. 

But the 5G element has kept me thinking. Of course, 5G phones are the future. Network coverage from EE, Vodafone and O2 will keep getting better and spreading its wings to cover more cities. 

But even if you live somewhere with 5G coverage, like London, as it stands there is not quite enough to recommend buying a 5G phone outright. This phone, with EE's 5G bundle that will set you back an extra £5 fee on top of a regular contract, will cost £69 per month (with this you get an offer of unlimited Swappable Benefits like unlimited video or music streaming). 

But that is a hefty sum for a monthly contract - more than £1,650 over two years.

Now, of course, when compared to the price you are paying for the latest iPhone XS Max, such a price might seem less intimidating.

But to buy a phone just for its 5G perks at this stage would not be worth it for anyone's budget. 

If you must be the first to 5G, right now OnePlus is probably go to option. For anyone else, give it a miss for a few more months.