Essential Phone vs. OnePlus 5T: Budget Android flagships go head-to-head

The OnePlus 5T is finally here, boasting top-of-the-line specs at a reasonable price. This time around, OnePlus has made a few big tweaks to the phone’s design, bringing a nice, edge-to-edge display to the device.

Of course, there are other phones in the price range with an even more edge-to-edge display, like the Essential Phone, which made a splash in the Android world earlier this year, and just recently got a pretty big price cut to $500. That puts it in direct competition with the OnePlus 5T. But which phone is better? We put the two head-to-head to find out.

Specs

Both the Essential Phone and the OnePlus 5T feature Qualcomm’s latest and greatest chip, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, but that’s about where the similarities in specs end. The OnePlus 5T features either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, and either 64GB or 128GB of storage, depending on the model you choose. The Essential Phone, on the other hand, only offers 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Neither of the two devices offer a MicroSD card slot, so you’ll want to get as much storage as you need up front.

There’s a bit of a trade-off here. The base model of the Essential Phone offers a lot more storage than the base model of the OnePlus 5T, but the OnePlus offers more RAM in both situations. Now, for day to day use that probably isn’t going to mean much to you — but it does mean that the OnePlus will get a slight performance boost over the Essential Phone for mulititasking.

Because of the extra RAM and the fact that you can get just as much storage on the OnePlus 5T, it’s the winner here.

Winner: OnePlus 5T

Design, display, and durability

OnePlus has made a few design tweaks for the OnePlus 5T, overall giving it a much more modern look. The design now includes a so-called “edge-to-edge” display, which has also resulted in the fingerprint sensor being moved to the back. It’s a pretty good look, despite the fact that there’s still a forehead and chin on the phone that some may not like. That’s unlike the Essential Phone, which features a true edge-to-edge display. It’s so edge-to-edge, that there’s a small cutout at the top for the phone’s front-facing camera. Like the OnePlus 5T, the Essential Phone does have a fingerprint sensor on the back, along with a dual-sensor camera.

One major point of difference to keep in mind is the fact that the OnePlus 5T has a headphone jack, while the Essential Phone does not.

When it comes to the display, the two phones are very different. The Essential Phone features a 5.7-inch LCD display, while the OnePlus 5T’s display comes in at 6-inches and is an AMOLED display. The trade-off, however, is resolution — while the OnePlus 5T’s resolution comes in at 2160 x 1080 pixels, the Essential Phone steps things up to 2560 x 1312 pixels — and the slightly smaller size makes it a much sharper, pixel-dense display.

Neither of the two phones offer water-resistance of any kind, and you’ll want to be careful to not drop them, as the large screens are likely prone to shattering.

Because of the more edge-to-edge display and higher resolution, the Essential Phone is the winner here.

Winner: Essential Phone

Battery life and charging

With a higher resolution comes a tax on battery life, and the fact that the Essential Phone has a smaller battery to begin with could well amplify that. The device offers a 3,040mAh battery, while the OnePlus 5T’s battery comes in at 3,300mAh. The OnePlus 5T also has OnePlus’ Dash Charge, which has consistently been rated among the best fast-charging technologies available. The Essential Phone doesn’t offer Qualcomm’s QuickCharge tech, but it can get fast charging through USB-C PowerDelivery, providing you have the right chargers.

Because of the larger battery and better fast charging tech, the OnePlus 5T is the winner here.

Winner: OnePlus 5T

Camera

The OnePlus 5T offers a dual 16MP and 20MP camera, with an aperture of f/1.7, phase detection autofocus, and a dual-LED flash. Those are pretty decent specs — but as any photographer would know, specs alone don’t make for great performance. The Essential Phone’s camera, on the other hand, comes in with a dual 13MP sensor with an aperture of f/1.9. It also has both phase and laser detection autofocus, and an LED flash.

So which camera is better? Well, we’ve extensively reviewed both of these phones, and the OnePlus 5T offers both better photos and an easier camera experience. In our review of the OnePlus 5T, we found that while the camera isn’t on par with the likes of the Google Pixel 2, it’s still very good. We found that the Essential Phone’s camera did take decent shots, but still not as good as the OnePlus 5T, and the app was a little frustrating to use too.

Winner: OnePlus 5T

Software

Both of these phones offer a pretty stock Android experience, which we see as a good thing. That doesn’t mean it’s totally stock. The OnePlus 5T offers OnePlus’ OxygenOS, which is currently based on Android 7.1.1 Nougat — though an upgrade to Android 8.0 Oreo is on the way. Small tweaks include things like more features in the camera app, and Face Unlock — a feature similar to the iPhone’s Face ID.

The Essential Phone, on the other hand, offers pretty much stock Android, with only a few tweaks to optimize the display for the notch at the top of the phone. That means that the phone gets pretty quick updates, and in fact recently started its beta for Android 8.0 Oreo. The OnePlus 5T beta for Oreo will be coming a little later this year.

Because of the faster updates, the Essential Phone is the winner.

Winner: Essential Phone

Price and availability

The phones are in the same price bracket — and they both offer excellent value for money. The Essential Phone has been available for some time now, and can be bought for $500 from Essential or from Sprint.

The OnePlus 5T is also now available — and the base model costs $500, while the 8GB RAM version comes in at $560. It’s available from OnePlus.

The phones come in at the same price for the base model, so this one’s a tie.

Winner Tie

Overall winner: OnePlus 5T

The design and edge-to-edge display on the Essential Phone are nice, but they’re not enough to beat the OnePlus 5T’s better performance, camera, and battery. Those are all major features of a phone, and most people will find them important.

That doesn’t mean the Essential Phone is a bad choice. In fact, it’s still an excellent option. The difference between these phones is seriously minimal, and if you prefer the design of the Essential Phone and want a higher-resolution display, then it may be the better option for you. For an all-around great phone, however, you’ll want to get the OnePlus 5T.