OnePlus 12R review: Flagship vibes from a $500 phone

Choice is a beautiful thing.

The OnePlus 12R just arrived in the US, and not a moment too soon. It’s the first $500 smartphone we’ve seen in a while, giving the Samsung Galaxy A54 and Google Pixel 7A some serious competition.

Each of these devices is a slightly different answer to the same questions: What is absolutely essential in a phone? What do you keep if you can’t have everything? Maybe you can’t live without wireless charging, or you want thorough water resistance and a big screen, or you want a high-end processor so the phone feels faster for longer. Guess? You now have choices! You can afford to be picky when there are more options on the table.

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It all starts with the screen. The OnePlus 12R comes with a 6.78-inch display, larger than the 6.1-inch Pixel 7A and 6.4-inch Galaxy A54 screens. The resolution is slightly higher than 1080p, which feels like just enough pixels to cover such a huge screen. It offers a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz and uses a technology called low-temperature polycrystalline oxide, or LTPO, to switch all the way down to 1Hz. Other high refresh rate screens on budget phones switch between a number of settings, such as 60 and 90 Hz. LTPO panels are much more common on flagship phones and offer a truly variable refresh rate, which reduces battery life.

The maximum screen brightness of 4,500 nits sounds absolutely eye-catching, considering most phone screens top out between 1,000 and 2,000 nits. And it does get bright in direct sunlight, but because of the way we measure such things, it’s not as fantastically bright as it sounds. In any case, it’s enough to keep the screen comfortable when used outdoors in sunny conditions, which is also rare on a budget phone.

I noticed strange screen flickering a few times. It happened maybe once a day, and it’s only temporary. I asked OnePlus about this behavior and spokesperson Spenser Blank told me this was the first he had heard of it. It’s an unusual little insect on an otherwise great display.

Under the hood, the 12R comes with last year’s flagship chipset: the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, along with 8 or 16 GB of RAM. The 8 Gen 2 is an absolute unit that powered virtually all of last year’s $1,000 Android flagships, and I had no problem getting through daily chores and even snapping a few quick portrait shots. Using last year’s chip is a smart move, kind of like buying a luxury coat during an end-of-season sale. It’s not the newest, but it’s still a damn good jacket.

The flagship vibes carry through to the overall construction. The 12R offers a sturdy aluminum frame in a price range where composite plastic is quite common. The back panel is glass and the front panel is Gorilla Glass Victus 2 – all very nice and high quality. But here’s the less encouraging news: the 12R comes with an IP64 rating, so while it’s completely dustproof, it’s only resistant to water spray and splashes.

The Pixel 7A and Galaxy A54 both have an IP67 rating, which means they’re built to withstand brief immersion in water, like a quick dip in a puddle or (God forbid) a toilet bowl. The 12R definitely looks and feels like a high-end phone, but under unfortunate circumstances it might not fare as well.

Long live the warning slider

Long live the alert slider: OnePlus’ signature three-stage mute switch is alive and well on the 12R. It’s a convenient way to turn your volume up to watch a TikTok and turn it down quickly, and I appreciate that.

I’m less excited about the phone’s curved edges; sometimes a menu option sort of disappears from the side of the screen and I feel like I’m tapping on the side of the phone to reach it. In addition, they make the phone feel slightly smoother in the hand. This is personal preference, but flat edges on phones are making a comeback lately, and I’m here for it.

Anything else that’s not so fun? No wireless charging. The OnePlus 12R supports very fast wired charging – up to 80W for the US version. Wireless charging isn’t as common on $500 phones, but the Pixel 7A does have it. It’s not a must-have for everyone, but personally I prefer the flexibility of wireless charging over fast wired charging.

The OnePlus 12R comes with the company’s version of Android 14, OxygenOS 14. It’s simple and doesn’t require as many tweaks as Samsung’s One UI to live peacefully with. The company says the 12R will get three years of OS upgrades and four years of security support – not industry-leading support policy, but enough to last as long as most people want to hold on to this phone.

If you don’t push too hard, the OnePlus 12R’s camera produces very nice images. The standard 1x recording mode of the stabilized 50 megapixel main camera produces beautiful, detailed images with rich colors. The 2x setting is surprisingly capable considering it’s just digital zoom, not lossless crop zoom.

I used it in low indoor lighting and it produced some sharp photos of my kid and his friend preparing to sauté a Beanie Baby on a play kitchen stove. (No Beanie Babies were injured.) Despite the lighting conditions, the system kept shutter speeds fast enough to freeze the action, no small feat for a phone camera.

However, the 12R gets over its skis with the 5x zoom setting. Even in plentiful outdoor light, photos look like a filthy mess of upgraded digital zoom processing. Portrait mode is surprisingly capable, and OnePlus sensibly limits you to the 1x zoom setting here.

There’s a pointless two-megapixel macro camera that I’m convinced OnePlus only included to round out the number of lenses on the camera bump on the back. Video recording is fine for regular clips; 1080/30p is the standard, but you can increase that to 4K/30p without any noticeable cropping.

The OnePlus 12R is a much-needed mid-range competitor in the US. It lacks some features found on its peers, like wireless charging and better water resistance, but it brings enough to the table that it’s a legitimate alternative to the Pixel and Galaxy options.

For starters, you won’t find another screen this big and beautiful on a $500 phone sold in the US. The overall build quality is among the best, even if the curved edges aren’t my favorite. Opting for Qualcomm’s previous generation flagship chipset is also a smart move. I think the long-term prospects are better than the Tensor and Exynos chips in the competition.

You won’t find another screen this big and beautiful for a price of $500

The Pixel 7A is still probably the better choice in terms of photo quality, although I’m impressed by the slight edge it has over the OnePlus. The 12R actually does better than the Pixel in some situations, such as at the 2x zoom setting, but ultimately the 7A offers a more consistent camera experience. On the other hand, the Galaxy A54 is worth considering if you’re looking for a bigger screen and better water resistance, although it also lacks wireless charging and lacks some of the 12R’s finesse with its composite frame.

The 12R won’t be the right choice for everyone, but you know what? Fine. It doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all device because you have other options. And that is a wonderful thing.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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