The OnePlus 12 may be the new flagship phone that seems poised to take on the best Android phones when it makes its global debut later this month. But it's another device OnePlus plans to introduce at that same time — the OnePlus 12R — that has people talking.
You can understand why. We already know a great deal about the OnePlus 12, since that phone has already launched in China. The OnePlus 12R is more of a mystery, especially since this release will mark the first time OnePlus has sold one of its R models outside of China and India. We don't really know what to expect other than it's a less expensive version of the main OnePlus flagship that likely sacrifices some of that phone's features to keep its price down.
What OnePlus has told us officially doesn't sound like some stripped-down device, however. OnePlus has said the OnePlus 12R will feature LTPO ProXDR display, which means an adaptive refresh rate that can ramp up when you're playing graphically intense games or scrolling through web pages. Specifically, the OnePlus 12R offers a 120Hz refresh rate, putting it on par with devices like the Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro Max. When things are more static on screen, the display can scale down, preserving battery life.
It's not that the OnePlus 12R will be hurting for power. OnePlus has confirmed its phone will feature a 5,500 mAh cell, the largest power pack ever for a OnePlus phone. (The OnePlus 12 released in China makes do with a 5,400 mAh battery.) Lots of the best cheap phones rely on big batteries, but it's clear this is one area where OnePlus is not cutting corners with the 12R.
It all comes down to cameras
Even if we move away from officially confirmed specs to the stuff of rumors, the OnePlus 12R doesn't sound like too much of a downgrade from its sibling. Reports about the phone claim it will support OnePlus' customary fast-charging features. And even though the OnePlus 12R is unlikely to feature the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 silicon slated for the OnePlus 12, most reports have the phone using last year's top Qualcomm chipset instead. That's not exactly a big step down from a top-of-the-line flagship.
There's one feature, though, that we're still waiting to hear about, and it's what I'm going to be paying attention when OnePlus holds its January 23 launch event for its new phones. The cameras that come with the OnePlus 12R will be a make-or-break announcement for the phone, establishing whether this truly is a flagship alternative that demands our attention.
In its early days going back to its founding a decade ago, OnePlus positioned itself as the scrappy alternative to bigger-name phone makers. For the most part, OnePlus delivered on that promise — right up until you tried out the cameras on some of those early OnePlus phones. They weren't terrible — just not up to the standards set by the iPhones and Galaxy handsets OnePlus was hoping to steer people away from.
That began to change with the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro. OnePlus struck a partnership with lens specialist Hasselblad with the goal of improving the images produced by its camera phones. The team-up paid almost immediate dividends with a focus on fine-tuning the color calibration in those particular models.
Subsequent OnePlus releases have also seen vastly improved phones, culminating in last year's OnePlus 11 release. That phone delivered the best cameras ever to grace a OnePlus flagship, as the OnePlus 11 produced images that could hold their own against the best camera phones.
OnePlus 12R camera rumors
It's unclear if OnePlus' partnership with Hasselblad extends to the phone maker's R devices — leaker Yogesh Brar, who's revealed a few OnePlus 12R details, has said the Hasselblad partnership is limited to OnePlus flagship phones. That's not to say the OnePlus 12R won't produce fine shots, but it does appear to be an area where OnePlus is reserving the best capabilities for its higher-end device.
In recent years, we've learned that you don't necessarily need to pay an arm and a leg to get a top-performing camera phone. The Pixel 7a took some of the best pictures we saw last year, and it costs $300 to $700 less than some of the other top camera phone contenders. Hopefully, the OnePlus 12R can pull off the same feat.
The rumored camera specs for the OnePlus 12R are promising at least, with Brar suggesting that the phone will feature a 50MP main camera alongside 8MP ultrawide and 32MP telephoto lenses. That would put the phone in a class with the Galaxy S23 FE, another lower-cost device that still manages to deliver optical zoom features.
For what it's worth, not every leaker expects such beefy hardware specs for the OnePlus 12R cameras. Another OnePlus 12R specs leak agrees with the 50MP main camera and 8MP ultrawide lens. But this other rumor anticipates a macro lens on the back of the OnePlus 12R instead of a telephoto camera — and that seems more in line with what you'd expect from a discounted phone.
The OnePlus 12R doesn't have to produce the best images to satisfy my camera questions, of course. Heck, it doesn't even have to be the best camera phone OnePlus shows off on January 23. All that we're looking for is a phone that produces images that don't look out of place when compared to those from more expensive phones. That will drive home the point that the OnePlus 12R is truly a value to be reckoned with.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.