Editor’s Corner: T-Mobile’s OnePlus 5G McLaren impresses, to a point

The test run was conducted during Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit in Maui. (Monica Alleven/FierceWireless)
Monica Alleven

MAUI, HAWAIII don’t do phone reviews very often. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I even reviewed a phone, so let’s not call this a “review” so much as my impressions with the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren for a short time. (I have used my share of devices over the years by virtue of being someone who covers the wireless industry, so there’s that.)

Lucky me, T-Mobile allowed me to use a loaner phone for a little over 24 hours while attending Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit in Maui. The Android phone uses the Snapdragon 855 Plus mobile platform with the X55 modem.

First things first: Qualcomm paid for my travel and accommodations to this event. That said, even the warm climate of the island would not sway my thoughts one way or another about a smartphone. OK, maybe a little because the scenery lends itself to such beautiful, magical photos.

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It’s a nice phone. Would I pay $900 for it? Maybe if I didn’t just upgrade my phone last year. But T-Mobile is offering various deals on its new 5G phones, and for existing customers, it might even cost as little as $600 with a trade-in if I’m reading that right. That’s a great deal if I want to jump out of Apple’s world. (Free is a good deal, too, for those willing to switch carriers.) Suffice it to say, even though my own phone isn’t much more than a year old, it didn’t take more than a few minutes for me to achieve phone envy.

Interestingly, for all the touting that T-Mobile has done about the greatness of its 600 MHz 5G network, the materials that came with the loaner phone note that at launch, 5G users may experience “incremental speed boosts” compared to T-Mobile’s LTE. In some areas, speeds may be the same as LTE today. On average, customers with a 600 MHz 5G phone should see a 20% download speed boost compared to T-Mobile’s LTE, according to the literature. Once T-Mobile mergers with Sprint, average speeds will increase as mid-band spectrum is deployed for “critical 5G depth and performance.”

But we don’t know if that merger is going to come to fruition; the trial with opposing states starts next week, and I haven’t heard of any settlements, although I suppose that’s always possible, and for extra drama, that could happen at the last minute. I don’t have any insights there. Also, in my interview Wednesday with T-Mobile, nobody wanted to talk about what happens if the merger doesn't go through, so either they’ve got some great insights into how this is going to play out, or some degree of denial is going on. Either way, T-Mobile really needs that 2.5 GHz trove of spectrum that Sprint holds, and I dare say the merger is all about that mid-band spectrum.

5G McLaren phone
OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren in Maui (FierceWireless)

At any rate, I didn’t have time to venture beyond the Grand Wailea conference site, but T-Mobile pointed out where some of its 5G gear is located on a hillside, so obviously not on top of the building, which is where Verizon has some of its 5G gear for millimeter wave. None of that’s surprising because 600 MHz travels far and wide, and millimeter wave doesn’t. I didn’t have a Verizon 5G phone on me for any comparisons about speed or coverage, so I can’t speak to that. I would guess that Verizon’s 5G is going to be super fast here, but again, no first-hand evidence.

The speeds clocked by the speed test that I did weren’t terribly impressive. Others reported getting speeds on the order of 312 Mbps down and 51 Mbps up. Nevertheless, this 5G phone feels slicker and faster, and that’s enough to convince me it’s better than the 4G model that I have, which also happens to be capable of tapping into the 600 MHz.

The camera on the McLaren phone is great. Actually, it has three independent cameras working in concert for “clarity” and “versatility.” Supposedly, its haptics are awesome too, but that wasn’t my experience. When I thought I was taking a photo, it turned out that I wasn’t.  

However, there are plenty of other features, most of which I didn’t even get around to using. The video is awesome. Navigation is fast. I tried a voice call and was told it sounded as if I were next door.

All in all, my experience with this phone was better than my current LTE phone. Is it a huge step up? No. I would call it incremental, and so far, it’s early days for 5G and the real bells and whistles aren’t even here yet. Is it enough to sway early adopters away from Verizon or AT&T? I guess we’ll see when T-Mobile and the rest of the gang report their fourth-quarter results. If I were a betting person, though, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. But surely T-Mobile will take anything it can get, and given its track record of late, it’s not one to underestimate.Monica @malleven33