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OnePlus 8T review in progress: Return to a winning formula

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OnePlus 8T review in progress: Return to a winning formula

The OnePlus 8T is the right phone at the right time.

oneplus 8t back

Michael Simon/IDG

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The OnePlus 8T couldn’t have come at a better time. When OnePlus launched the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro earlier this year, they were the company’s most expensive phones ever, and they came amidst a premium smartphone slump fueled by economic uncertainty and a global pandemic. In short, people needed the Samsung Galaxy A71 but got the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.

With the 8T, OnePlus has returned to its roots. At $750 from OnePlus, not only is it $50 cheaper than a comparably specced OnePlus 8, but it also brings the kind of high-end features and innovations that fans expect without cutting too many corners. You’re still not getting wireless charging, which is almost a running gag for OnePlus at this point, but you are getting stupendous 65W Warp charging out of the box. 

While you’re missing out on a few other “pro” features like a curved Quad HD display and the newer Snapdragon 865+ processor, nothing about the OnePlus 8T feels inferior to phones costing upward of $1,200. Stacked up against the $700 Galaxy S20 FE and $799 iPhone 12, the OnePlus 8T is once again a true competitor.

Editor’s note: We’re still testing the OnePlus 8T and will update this review accordingly.

This story is part of our ongoing roundup of the best Android phones. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.

A beautiful design all around

Like every other phone in 2020, the OnePlus 8T doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It has a 6.55-inch display with a hole-punch camera and rounded corners, and a glass back that isn’t too glossy or slippery. It feels good in my hand and pocket, and likely hits the sweet spot for most people looking for a larger-screen phone.

oneplus 8t buttons Michael Simon/IDG

The OnePlus 8T keeps the excellent alert slider.

OnePlus sent me the Aquamarine Green colorway, and I was instantly smitten. Like a chameleon, it changes between green and blue based on the lighting, and the color-matched sides create a nice contrast with the display. The camera array on the back is derivative of the flagship Galaxy phones and thus loses some of OnePlus uniqueness—particularly compared to the circular array on the 7T—but the 8T definitely ranks as one of the nicest phones OnePlus has ever made.

The niceness continues to the front as well. While at first glance the 8T has the same overall look as the 8 and 8 Pro, with a left-aligned hole-punch camera and slim bezels, a closer inspection will reveal that the bezels are more balanced. It’s a small thing, but OnePlus’s use of a bendable chip-on-panel OLED allows the top and bottom bezels to be symmetrical, which makes a subtle but meaningful difference.

It’s not quite as uniform as the iPhone 11, but it’s very close, and it’s an engineering feat that portends great things for the OnePlus 9. The OnePlus 8T is one of the few Android phones that feels like it was designed inside and out with a purpose, rather than assembled using pieces that somehow had to fit.

oneplus 8t full Michael Simon/IDG

The bezels around the OnePlus 8T’s are more uniform than they’ve ever been.

One thing you’re not getting with the OnePlus 8T is IP-rated water resistance, but you shouldn’t let that deter you. OnePlus won’t guarantee water resistance in the 8T, but it’s repeatedly treated the issue with a wink and a nudge, even going so far as to dunk the OnePlus 7 in a bucket of water. So my guess is the 8T will withstand its share of splashes and brief dunks.

Fewer pixels and more speed

Nestled inside those bezels is OnePlus’s best display to date. It’s not quite as pixel-dense as the OnePlus 8 Pro’s Quad HD+ screen, but it’s richer, brighter, and faster than the 8’s screen. Even compared to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which has one of the best displays I’ve ever laid eyes on, the OnePlus 8T more than holds its own, even with far fewer pixels.

oneplus 8t bezels Michael Simon/IDG

The bezels on the OnePlus 8T don’t quite make a perfect match, but they’re very close.

The 8T’s Full HD 1080 display isn’t just nice to look at. OnePlus has upped the refresh rate to 120Hz (from 90Hz on the 8), and the difference is palpable. Scrolling is buttery-smooth, and animations fly by. It gives the phone a true high-end feel. It’s a great compromise over a higher-resolution display, especially when you consider Samsung forces users to lower the resolution when they switch to the 120Hz refresh rate. It’s so nice, when I switched back to 60Hz for battery testing purposes, it felt like I was scrolling through thick mud.

There are other smart compromises as well. While ‘T’ models usually opt for the best possible processor, the 8T uses the Snapdragon 865 chip rather than the newer 865+ one. This helps keep costs down without giving up too much in the way of speed. However, OnePlus compensates for the speed loss by combining the chip with UFS 3.1 storage and 12GB of RAM, so apps launch and load incredibly fast. And of course, the 8T supports 5G (though only on T-Mobile’s network). Compared to the similarly priced Pixel 5, the OnePlus 8T is an absolute screamer, and it doesn’t feel any slower than the $1,300 Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

Equally impressive is the OnePlus 8T’s battery life, despite a relatively average 4,500mAh capacity (technically twin 2,250mAh batteries). In benchmarks, I recorded a whopping 11 hours and 37 minutes with the 120Hz display turned on, and even longer with it off (though the app crashed before I could get a recorded time). That’s a good deal longer than other phones I tested with bigger batteries. You should have no problem keeping the 120Hz option on all the time.

oneplus 8t ports Michael Simon/IDG

When you charger your OnePlus 8T using the new 65W USB-C charger, you’ll get mind-blowing speeds.

Helping matters is that the OnePlus 8T charges a whole lot faster too. Normally I would knock a phone for not having wireless charging in late 2020—and it’s definitely a detriment for the 8T—but the 65W Warp Charge is simply mind-blowing. Not only does it fill up a nearly empty phone in less than a half-hour, with sustained charge speeds of 55 watts according to my testing, everything you need is included in the box. Unlike Samsung, which sells its super-fast charger for $50, OnePlus supplies a USB-C charging cable and a 65W adapter in every 8T box. What’s more, you can use it as a 45W charger for other devices, including laptops. The OnePlus 8T represents the kind of charging breakthrough we’ve been waiting for from Apple or Samsung.

An always-on display at long last

That long battery life and fast charging also allow OnePlus to finally add a long-overdue feature to the 8T: an always-on display. Previous OnePlus phones have had an ambient display that would activate upon raising or tapping, but the 8T has a real-deal always-on display like nearly every other Android phone.

oneplus 8t aod Michael Simon/IDG

You finally get an always-on display with the OnePlus 8T.

And it’s a good one. OnePlus has put its stamp on things with three unique customization options. I only got to try out the Insight, which was designed in conjunction with The New School: It offers an excellent visualization of your digital well-being stats, including unlocks and overall use. It’s an nice twist on an old standard. I’m looking forward to testing the Canvas (which creates line drawings of your photos) and Bitmoji AODs when they arrive in a future software update.

The always-on display is part of the general revamping of OxygenOS, which tweaks just enough to establish its own identity without upsetting too much about the minimal experience. It’s noticeably different than the Android 10-based version, but most of the changes are for the better. Android purists will wail at the further deviation from Google’s vision, but OnePlus’s continued refinement of OxygenOS is impressive.

A camera that keeps getting better

OnePlus’s phones have always had good cameras, but from what I’ve seen so far, the 8T’s is borderline great. On the hardware side, you’re getting four lenses that rival what you get in Samsung’s Ultra phones and Apple’s iPhone Pro:

Camera 1: 48MP, f/1.7, OIS

Camera 2: 16MP Ultra-wide, f/2.2, 123-degree FOV

Camera 3: 5MP Macro, 3cm focal length

Camera 4: 2MP Monochrome

You’ll notice the distinct lack of a telephoto lens, but in all honesty, that’s never been OnePlus’s strong suit. I’m still not sure we actually need a lens dedicated to something a digital filter can do, but at least this one shouldn’t be able to see through people’s clothing.

oneplus 8t dark mode Michael Simon/IDG

The OnePlus 8T’s new might mode is capable of snapping some truly impressive low-light photos versus with it off (right).

In my initial testing, the OnePlus 8T truly shines with night mode. Previous versions were somewhat spotty, with decent brightness but blown-out details and shaky white balance, but the 8T truly gets it right. It’s still not quite in the league of the iPhones and Pixels, but it more than holds its own against the latest Galaxy phones. It’s an impressive leap for OnePlus’s computation photography and bodes well for the next generation of OnePlus phones.

Should you buy the OnePlus 8T?

I’m still testing the OnePlus 8T and will update this review when I’m finished, but the results so far leave a strong impression. For $749, you’re getting the specs, design, and performance of a thousand-dollar flagship. It even stands up to the $799 iPhone 12, at least on paper.

oneplus 8t camera Michael Simon/IDG

The OnePlus 8T has some new camera hardware and refined processing.

So if you’re turned off by the prospect of paying four figures for a phone but still want top-of-the-line specs, a great Android experience, and a fantastic design, the OnePlus 8T is a fantastic option for $750. For just $50 more than, say, the Galaxy S20 FE, you’re getting a whole lot more, including ridiculously fast charging, twice as much RAM, and Android 11 out of the box.

But OnePlus isn’t just selling an upper mid-range competitor. It wants to take on the highest-end phones, as evidenced by its thinly veiled tagline: “Ultra stops at nothing.” OnePlus has returned to its most successful formula with a phone that’s pretty powerful and, well, just plain pretty.

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Michael Simon covers all things mobile for PCWorld and Macworld. You can usually find him with his nose buried in a screen. The best way to yell at him is on Twitter.

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