Exploring the OnePlus 12R: Flagship-like Qualities at $500

The OnePlus 12R has just launched in the US, and it’s a timely arrival. It’s the first $500 phone we’ve seen in a while that competes seriously with the Samsung Galaxy A54 and Google Pixel 7A.

Each of these phones answers the same questions in slightly different ways: What’s most important in a phone? What features do you prioritize when you can’t have everything? Some people might need wireless charging, others might want water resistance and a large screen, while some prefer a powerful processor for longer-lasting performance. The good news is, you have choices now! With more options available, you can afford to be selective.

Excellent, large display
Top-notch processor
High-quality build
No wireless charging
Useless two-megapixel macro camera
Only splash-resistant

Let’s start with the screen. The OnePlus 12R features a 6.78-inch display, larger than the 6.1-inch Pixel 7A and 6.4-inch Galaxy A54 screens. Its resolution is slightly higher than 1080p, providing enough pixels to cover such a large display. The screen offers a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz and uses a technology called low-temperature polycrystalline oxide, or LTPO, which can adjust down to 1Hz. Unlike other budget phones with high refresh rate screens that switch between a few settings like 60 and 90Hz, LTPO panels are more common in flagship phones and offer a truly variable refresh rate, saving battery life.

The screen’s maximum brightness of 4,500 nits may sound extremely bright, as most phone screens top out between 1,000 and 2,000 nits. While it does get bright in direct sunlight, the actual brightness isn’t as astonishing as it sounds due to measurement methods. Nonetheless, it’s sufficient to keep the screen comfortable for outdoor use in sunny conditions, a rare feature in a budget phone.

I did notice a strange screen flicker on a few occasions, maybe once a day, but it’s fleeting. When I asked OnePlus about it, spokesperson Spenser Blank said it was the first he’d heard of it. It’s an unusual little bug on an otherwise great display.

Under the hood, the 12R packs last year’s flagship chipset: the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, paired with 8 or 16GB of RAM. The 8 Gen 2 is powerful and handled daily tasks and rapid-fire portrait mode photos without any issues. Using last year’s chip is a smart move, like snagging a high-end coat at an end-of-season sale. It may not be the latest, but it’s still top-notch.

Design and software

The OnePlus 12R maintains its flagship feel with a solid aluminum frame, standing out in a price range where composite plastic is more common. It boasts a glass back panel and Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on the front – all premium materials. However, there’s a drawback: the 12R only carries an IP64 rating. While it’s dustproof, it’s only resistant to water spray and splashes.

In comparison, the Pixel 7A and Galaxy A54 sport IP67 ratings, making them capable of withstanding brief water immersion, such as a quick dip in a puddle or, unfortunately, a toilet bowl. While the 12R exudes the look and feel of a high-end phone, it may not hold up as well under unfortunate circumstances.

Camera and image quality

If you don’t push it too hard, the OnePlus 12R’s camera delivers very nice images. The stabilized 50-megapixel main camera’s standard 1x shooting mode captures detailed images with rich colors. Surprisingly, the 2x setting performs well even though it’s digital zoom, not lossless crop zoom.

I tested it in dim indoor lighting and captured sharp photos of my kid and his friend pretending to sauté a Beanie Baby on a play kitchen stove. (No Beanie Babies were harmed.) Despite the low light, the system maintained fast shutter speeds to freeze the action, which is impressive for a phone camera.

However, the 12R struggles at the 5x zoom setting. Even in ample outdoor light, photos appear blurry and processed with up-rezzed digital zoom, resulting in a messy outcome. Portrait mode, on the other hand, is surprisingly effective, and OnePlus wisely restricts you to the 1x zoom setting here.

There’s also a two-megapixel macro camera, which seems rather pointless and likely included by OnePlus just to round out the number of lenses on the rear camera bump. Video recording is decent for casual clips – the default is 1080/30p, but you can increase it to 4K/30p without a noticeable crop.

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