My first encounter with McLaren took place at a racetrack north of Atlanta a few days before I covered a CanAm race in 1970. Like all race cars, this McLaren was a little rough around the edges, but when the engine was started it was as if the sound of glory had opened the heavens. All other sound vanished beneath the deep rumble of an 8-litre V8 that entered your body and stirred your soul. I was silent in the face of it all, to the point that my cameraman gave up trying to film the story until later.
This McLaren isn’t like that at all. The McLaren I’ve been testing still has hints of McLaren Orange in highlights on the screen and in trim around the edges, but like all smartphones it’s mostly a featureless black rectangle. What sets this apart from most other smartphones is that the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren is one of the first widely available 5G smartphones. The only other one is a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G.
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This is a high-end smartphone that’s in the same league as the iPhone 11 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy 10, but unlike those devices, this one supports T-Mobile’s 600 MHz 5G network. McLaren served as the inspiration for this phone, according to the press release, but if so, it was limited to the phone’s appearance. It’s a lovely phone as those things go.
Large screen, three cameras
The OnePlus folks have given this phone a very clear wrap-around AMOLED screen with a 90 Hz refresh rate. The 6.67-inch screen scrolls very smoothly and the 3120 x 1440 pixel screen offers plenty of resolution at 516 ppi.
There are three cameras on the back of the phone, arranged in a line. There’s another “selfie” camera that emerges smoothly from the top of the phone when you touch the flip button in the camera app. OnePlus says that this camera will retract when it detects a zero-G situation, which would mean it’s being dropped.
This phone runs a version of Android and came with most of the standard Android apps already installed. During the course of testing, I installed Ookla’s SpeedTest app to see how its performance compared with the recently-tested iPhone 11 Pro.
OnePlus includes three methods of verification on the McLaren. There’s a PIN, as you’d expect. In addition the phone can use facial recognition, and it has a fingerprint sensor beneath the screen. During testing, I found all three of the authentication methods to be problematic at times. Sometimes you could only get part way through the PIN entry when the screen would clear and go back to the lock screen.
The facial recognition was easy to set up, but getting the phone to use it was rarely successful. The fingerprint reader worked part of the time, and part of the time it didn’t, without any obvious reason for whether it worked or not. The phone also showed periodic insensitivity to screen touches, meaning you could sometimes touch an icon repeatedly before it worked. Other times it worked immediately. While I was always able to get the phone to do what I wanted, the periodic lack of responsiveness was a surprise.
But of course, if you’re going to name a device after Bruce McLaren’s legendary company, then you have to believe that performance matters. With this in mind, I loaded the T-Mobile 5G coverage map on my iPad, and drove around the Washington, D.C., suburbs, which are well-covered with 5G, and started running the SpeedTest app to get some numbers.
I also loaded the same app on an iPhone 11 Pro and ran the same tests from the same locations. I realize that these comparisons are only approximate, because despite the facts that the developers tried to make them have repeatable measurements, they’re still running on two different phones with two different operating systems. In any case, I made it a point to find the strongest 5G signals I could, then tested the iPhone’s 4G LTE performance from the same location, even if the LTE signal wasn’t as strong.
The McLaren running 5G never came close to the performance of the iPhone running 4G LTE. In fact, the OnePlus phone did better on 4G than it did on 5G. While 5G phone calls had excellent voice quality and tended not to drop, the much-hyped performance of 5G was not apparent during my tests.
For thoroughness, I also compared the phone performance using WiFi. There the iPhone blew the doors off the OnePlus, performing the SpeedTest about half as fast as the iPhone. I tested both phones against an Asus WiFi 6 (802.11ax) router, connected to the internet via a Verizon gigabit fiber. It turns out that the OnePlus only supports the older 802.11ac version of WiFi, while the iPhone supports 802.11ax.
Test results will vary–for the time being
It’s important not to read too much into the 5G test results. While T-Mobile’s 600 MHz 5G is indeed nationwide, it’s still thinly spread. This means that just because the phone’s signal indicator said I had a full strength signal that doesn’t mean I really did. I suspect that as T-Mobile continues its 5G buildout, these results will improve. But it’s also important to note that the best you’re going to get in the near future is a 20 percent improvement over 4G LTE, but with lower latency. Higher speeds will come when T-Mobile is able to open up its mid-band and millimeter wave technologies.
The OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren is a nice Android phone with a sleek design and some useful features, including a 48 megapixel camera. It’s less expensive than the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G or the iPhone 11 Pro, and it performs almost as well as the iPhone when using 4G LTE.
If you rush out to buy one right now hoping for those blazing 5G speeds you’ve heard about, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re patient, improved 5G performance will arrive, and by that time, perhaps OnePlus will have provided updates for the other issues.
Wayne Rash, a former editor of eWEEK, is a longtime contributor to our publication and a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing.