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OnePlus 12 hands-on review: This could be the perfect affordable flagship

 OnePlus 12 held in the hand.
OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

At long last, I have what’s arguably the first notable flagship phone contender in my possession in the form of the OnePlus 12. While it technically debuted in December in China, the new OnePlus flagship is poised to make a strong statement at the phone’s global launch event next week — along with the OnePlus 12R as that missing device between the flagship model and OnePlus’ Nord series.

After the surprise of the OnePlus Open’s better-than-expected performance, OnePlus is looking to keep the momentum going with the OnePlus 12. As history has shown, the series has often delivered the best flagship value with strong emphasis on the design, cameras, battery, and specs. But despite the ambitious tones, OnePlus' top phone has often underperformed against key rivals like the iPhone, Pixel, and Samsung Galaxy.

This time could be different because the OnePlus 12 has fewer compromises than its predecessors. For instance, wireless charging makes a satisfying return to the series, restoring the most sought-out feature critics and fans have clamored for. Add in super speedy 80W wired charging, a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip, and a triple camera system complete with an upgraded 3x telephoto camera, and you have a pretty impressive candidate to go up against the best phones overall.

We'll know for certain how the OnePlus 12 measures up once the phone comes out and we have a chance to test it, but here are our first impressions based on some OnePlus 12 hands-on time.

OnePlus 12 hands-on: Price and availability

OnePlus 12 held in the hand.
OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

OnePlus is still mum on the price of its flagship phone, but the most up-to-date rumor alludes to a starting price of $799. That’s a lot more comforting than the higher cost attached with the phone’s China release. However, if the $799 price rumor ends up being true, it would mean a $100 price hike over last year’s OnePlus 11.

At the moment, the phone’s actual release date is still in question, but there’s good chance it could come soon after the OnePlus Smooth Beyond Belief Launch Event on January 23 where OnePlus will introduce the phone to the rest of the world.

OnePlus 12 hands-on: Specifications

OnePlus 12 hands-on: Design

OnePlus 12 held in the hand.
OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

After one cursory glance at the OnePlus 12, I almost mistook it for the OnePlus 11 because it bears a strong resemblance to last year’s flagship — complete with the same circular hump featuring the rear cameras. What I still love about the OnePlus 12 design is its ability to maintain a clean look, thanks in part to how the rear textured casing repels smudges.

Other changes to the design include a repositioned alert slider that's moved from the right edge to the left. A front-facing 32MP camera is now centered on the display, and the addition of the most peculiar thing on the OnePlus 12 — an IR blaster fashioned into the top edge. It’s been years since I’ve seen one, but to find one here means more utility from this value flagship Android phone.

The only complaint I have about the OnePlus 12 design is that it feels a lot more dense this time around, while also making the phone more top heavy. Sure, the added weight certainly gives it a substantial feel in my hand, but I don’t even want to imagine what all the added weight could do if it accidentally smacks the floor.

OnePlus 12 hands-on: Display

OnePlus 12 held in the hand.
OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

There’s a 6.82-inch 2K ProXDR display on the OnePlus 12, which is an increase in size over the 6.7-inch screen of the OnePlus 11. Even better, OnePlus claims that its new display can reach a peak brightness of 4,500 nits, a mind-boggling achievement if true because last year’s OnePlus 11 was rated for up to 1,300 nits.

I’d be shocked if the OnePlus 12 does reach that blinding level, but I’d be more content if it could at least best some of the brightest displays we’ve tested — like the 1,550 nits of brightness of the iPhone 15 Pro Max. We'll find out later when we can get the phone in front of our light meter for a reading.

Aside from that, I still like how the edges of the OnePlus 12 are curved ever so slightly to better wrap around my hand more comfortably.

OnePlus 12 hands-on: Camera

OnePlus 12 held in the hand.
OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

I’ve previously talked about the biggest stigma that has followed OnePlus phones since the very beginning — how OnePlus often hypes the cameras in its flagships only to have them underperform compared to rival devices. However, that could change with the OnePlus 12.

The new phone comes armed with an 4th Gen Hasselblad Camera for Mobile system that consists of a main 50MP camera, 48MP ultrawide, and a 64MP periscope camera with 3x optical zoom. The latter’s a step above the OnePlus 11’s 32MP 2x telephoto camera, but I suspect its telephoto abilities will be boosted with the help of computational photography and the phone's 6x sensor zoom. In fact, it’s very similar to the OnePlus Open’s telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom —  which I’ve found to deliver excellent results that rivals the 5x optical zoom of the Google Pixel Fold.

I’m very optimistic about all the upgraded camera hardware of the OnePlus 12. With its 4th Generation Hasselblad Camera for Mobile, it should produce professional grade portraits, though head-to-head testing with other top camera phones will tell the tale. However, I can’t stress enough about the importance of low light performance — an area where OnePlus continually underperforms. We'll soon see if that changes.

Over on the video side, you can expect the usual 4K 60fps recording, but there’s an option for 8K video recording.

OnePlus 12 hands-on: Performance

OnePlus 12 held in the hand.
OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

In true flagship fashion, the OnePlus 12 features a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip paired with an upgraded cooling technology that should keep the phone at optimal performance and temperature. We’ve already seen phenomenal benchmark scores from Qualcomm’s latest chip in our RedMagic 9 Pro review, so I expect nothing less out of the OnePlus 12.

That new coooling systme features an all-new dual cryo-velocity cooling system with the largest vapor chamber ever in any phone. It should keep graphically intensive games from overheating the OnePlus 12, especially with those extended play times. But I’m curious if it’ll help out when continuously recording 4K or 8K video with the phone.

OnePlus 12 hands-on: Battery life and charging

OnePlus 12 held in the hand.
OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

We finally have a OnePlus flagship that supports wireless charging again. It’s been missing in the last few generations of top OnePlus devices, so I’m ecstatic that it’s back in a tremendous way on the OnePlus 12. Specifically, the new phone rocks 50W AIRVOOC wireless charging that OnePlus claims can get the OnePlus 12 from 1% to 50% battery capacity after 23 minutes of charging.

On the flip side, the U.S. bound version I’ve gotten my hands on offers 80W SUPERVOOC wired charging that will fully recharge in 30 minutes. That’s crazy fast, but I’m equally curious how much time I’ll be able to get out of its 5,400 mAh battery. My expectations are going to be higher with OnePlus 12 battery life performance because the OnePlus 11’s 5,000 mAh battery churned out a time of 13 hours and 10 minutes in Tom’s Guides battery benchmark test. That placed last year's phone on our best best phone battery life list, so I'm eager to see if the OnePlus 12 can follow suit.

OnePlus 12 hands-on: Outlook

OnePlus 12 held in the hand.
OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

I’m already excited about the OnePlus 12 because it could be the perfect affordable flagship I’ve been waiting for. OnePlus has often proclaimed its premium devices as flagship killers, and I think that still stands given the listed OnePlus 12 specs. However, I’ll save judgment once an actual price is revealed and we can getter a better sense of the phone's value.

Beyond the price, the OnePlus 12 design looks slick and it feels solidly built — but most of all — I’m eager to see how its upgraded cameras perform. It’s the one thing that will define whether or not the OnePlus 12 caneclipse its chief rivals and finally take the crown as the best phone. I’m hopeful because the OnePlus Open proved me wrong when I had a chance to test that phone. Maybe history can repeat itself this time.

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