OnePlus 8T review: Fully charged

OnePlus has been on something of a journey over the past few years. Initially beginning life as a plucky upstart with one phone and a disruptive attitude, it has developed into more of a machine, growing in popularity, and needing to adapt to what customers want. It’s not the only company making powerful and well-priced handsets anymore, you see, so its phones aren’t ultra cheap anymore either.

With the OnePlus 8 series the company went for the traditional ‘regular’ and ‘Pro’ model phones – just like so many other manufacturers – but with this 8T (the typical semi-annual refresh) it’s done something different: launched a phone that doesn’t look like it belongs with the 8 series at all, despite the name.

For us the OnePlus 8T is more of a OnePlus Nord Pro. But that’s not a bad thing. Not at all.

A new direction (sorta)

  • Dimensions: 160.7 x 74.1 x 8.4mm / Weight: 188g
  • Colours: Aquamarine Green, Lunar Silver

Looking at a OnePlus phone – at least from the back – has been one relatively obvious way to determine which company’s phone it is you’re looking at. There was the tell-tale long camera protrusion right in the centre of the phone, even as all the other manufacturers in the world started pushing them off to the left corner, and then eventually building big rectangles there.

Now that’s no longer the case. The 8T has seen OnePlus follow the market trend, sticking its quad-camera system in a protruding oblong. If there’s any discerning feature, it’s perhaps the colour. Like the Nord and the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro before it, there’s a teal offering. Or what OnePlus likes to call ‘Aquamarine Green’.

It’s not frosted glass-like its predecessor though, it’s got a glossy surface – yet somehow still retains an almost frosted appearance added by the layers beneath the glass. Like green glass over a layer of compacted sherbert. Because of that, it offers the illusion that there’s no fingerprint smudges on it, and you’ll only see those if you point it directly towards a light source at the correct angle.

There are some physical design features that it wouldn’t be a OnePlus without, namely the physical alert slider switch on the right side of the phone that lets you switch between silent, vibrate only and sound alerts.

There’s a power button below that, although to call it a power button these days is sort of inaccurate. It launches the Android 11 ‘power menu’ which includes Google Pay for payments and shortcuts for Google Home controls.

Size-wise, the 8T is pretty big – but not enormous. It’s a similar thickness to the iPhone 11, but is slightly longer than that device. It does feel relatively comfortable in the hand, however, thanks to it featuring curved glass near the edges on the rear of the phone – the screen isn’t curved, though, which we think is only a good thing.

One design choice we’re quite fond of is the design of the bezels and screen on the front. The black frame around the display is so slim that it just allows the panel to dominate the space, making you more immersed in the content. Apart from a small camera cutout in the corner, there’s nothing obstructing the view. That might make the design seem a little boring, or less elegant to some, but it has its practicalities.

Fantastic flat screen

  • 6.55-inch Full HD+ Fluid AMOLED
  • 2400 x 1080 resolution
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 20:9 aspect ratio

There’s no denying there’s been an appeal in having curved screens on flagships. They serve two purposes: making the phone feel really skinny, and reducing the appearance of bezels on the side. Ok, so maybe three purposes: they always look cool too. But with all that said, there’s always a little trade-off with curved screens: accidental touches increase and sometimes distort content to the edges where the contrast falls off.

With a completely flat screen on the 8T, OnePlus has essentially ensured that you’re not looking at the tops and bottoms of your content curving around an edge and looking weird. And you’re less likely to get those accidental touches. So, while it’s less exciting and less futuristic looking, it’s the better choice in our view.

As a purely visual tool, it’s a great display too. It has a fast 120Hz refresh rate for smooth playback, doubling the frame-rate of what’s typical on a more entry-level device. You’ll mostly notice this in the general user interface, when doing things like swiping down the notification shade or scrolling through the app drawer looking for apps. It means those parts of the experience stay sharp and look smooth even when you scroll quickly.

Whether or not that’s important to you is an entirely personal preference. When you launch most games or videos, you won’t really notice any difference at all since most content tends to max out at 60 frames per second or even 30fps.

Despite ‘only’ being a Full HD+ resolution panel, it appears crisp and only slightly misses out on that extra sharpness that comes from having a Quad HD resolution screen.

In its default setting, colours appear well-balanced, without over-egging the reds or greens. You can adjust the balance of colours and temperature to suit your own preference anyway. OnePlus offers calibration options within its settings menu to make it more or less vivid, or choose a standard colour gamut like sRGB and Display P3 modes.

If there’s any criticism it’s that sometimes the images look a bit too contrasty. It’s not to the level where it negatively impacts viewing too much, but a little edge taken off the contrast would help some colours appear less dark and crunched.

Oxygen OS 11’s controversial redesign

  • Magazine redesign
  • Big headlines, reachable actions
  • Fluid animations

Here’s something we didn’t think we’d say before trying it out: we prefer Oxygen OS 11 to previous versions of the software. During its beta programme, there was some strong reaction to the departure from stock-like Android to something more similar to Samsung or Huawei’s more recent software, but unlike some of those other skins OnePlus has done a great job of keeping a light and fluid feeling.

Stock applications and interfaces have a new magazine-style hierarchy, where there’s big text at the top, lots of white space and reachable actionable items near the bottom of the screen. That makes it easier to reach with a thumb one-handed. Sadly this doesn’t include the stock Google apps like Messages, but just from a purely aesthetic point of view it looks nicer.

More important, however, is the way OnePlus has managed to make the animations feel like they instantly respond to your gestures. It’s super quick in its traditions and movements, taking full advantage of the 120Hz refresh rate. At times, it may seem unnaturally responsive, but it helps add to that feeling that you’re directly interacting with the graphic interface on the display.

There are some additional features and apps, like Zen Mode, which encourages you to switch off for a set amount of time, blocking notifications and giving you a bit of time to unwind and disconnect.

Market-leading speed

  • Snapdragon 865 processor
  • 8GB/128GB & 12GB/256GB variants

As we mentioned in the software section, the OnePlus 8T feels very fast, which is something we’ve become accustomed to with OnePlus phones as the hardware is top of the range. It often uses the fastest types of memory and storage it can get its hands on and equips the phone with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. The end result, understandably, is a fast and fluid experience.

Part of it is obviously down to the optimisations within the software, but of course it still needs the processing power to make it load games and apps quickly, and thermal cooling to ensure it doesn’t get blazing hot when you’re sniping rivals in Call of Duty or trying to slay Baby Luigi in Mario Kart Tour. Games load so quickly and effortlessly.

This same reliability and consistent speed is visible when unlocking the phone too. We’re now a couple of generations down the line for the in-display optical fingerprint sensors, and any issues we had with reliability and failing to recognise or unlock have all but disappeared with the 8T. In our entire time testing, we’ve not had one instance of it failing to unlock – although periodically it asks for a PIN after a few days of only using the fingerprint sensor.

No battery anxiety

  • 4,500mAh battery
  • 65W Warp Charge + and PD compatible (finally)

One of the most freeing things about the OnePlus 8T is its charging speeds, and the versatility its charging system offers. OnePlus has used a similar system to Oppo’s flagship SuperVOOC, delivering 65W of power to the 4,500mAh battery in order to fill it up quickly. To be more accurate, it’s actually delivering 32.5W of power to two individual 2,250mAh batteries simultaneously.

Technicalities aside what it means in your average daily life is that there’s no such thing as battery anxiety with the OnePlus 8T. With this phone, there’s no need to be a night time charger, ever. It can get you from zero to just over 60 per cent in just 15 minutes – that’s not a typo, it really is that fast.

As an example, with our iPhone – yes, we’re always running two phones at once – we typically just place it on its (relatively) slow wireless charging stand overnight to make sure we have a full battery the next day. With OnePlus, we just keep it running until the battery gets low, plug it into its crazy fast-charger for 15-20 minutes, and we have enough juice to get through a full day.

Put that capability into a normal working day and it means you just plug it in when you get up, go have a shower, have breakfast, and get ready for the day. By the time you leave for work – or sit down for work in the next room, as it is these days – you’ll have a fully loaded battery.

Sure, it’d be nice to have the convenience of wireless charging for night time charging habit, but really it’s not needed here. If you do decide to use it to charge overnight, OnePlus has an optimised charging feature that learns your charging habits and makes sure it has a full battery when you wake up, but does it by charging quickly to 80 per cent and then trickling the rest in during the run up to your usual wake up time.

As a last note on charging, the OnePlus 8T also supports Power Delivery – which is a first. That means you can charge it quickly from your laptop charger, or use the Warp Charge adapter to charge your other tablets/devices using up to 45W via Power Delivery technology. That makes it one of the most convenient and versatile chargers around, and it comes in the box with the phone.

As for the battery life itself, we almost forgot to care about it due to the speed of refuelling. However, the total battery capacity is more than capable of getting you through a full day. On a light day with a couple of hours of casual gaming, photography, social networking and browsing, it was typical to get to night time with around 40 per cent or so left.

Cameras

  • 48-megapixel primary, f/1.7 aperture, optical image stabilisation (OIS)
  • 16MP ultra-wide, f/2.2
  • 5MP macro
  • 2MP B+W

OnePlus devices of the recent past have had a multi-camera system where one camera outshines the others. The same is true for the 8T. It’s a quad-camera system which – as a whole – isn’t really flagship level.

The primary camera is the best of the bunch, as you’d expect. Results from it in good light are generally sharp, colourful and balanced – even if like the display there’s a tendency to over-egg the contrast a tad. If it was a single camera phone, we’d be perfectly happy with the results on offer.

When you switch to the ultra-wide camera, you get a much wider view, making it a relatively versatile system. However, the results don’t consistently match the colours, detail and balance of the primary lens. We noticed the shadows and darker areas become darker, while colours didn’t appear as rich and varied. It just gives the image a slightly harsher appearance than the main lens, so if you want that wider shot, you do have to sacrifice a bit of quality.

As for the macro lens, it’s another instance whereby you’d actually be better served just using the main camera further back and selecting the 2x digital zoom. Using the macro lens just makes the picture darker, less detailed and full of more image noise. As we’ve said of all phones with a dedicated macro camera so far: it’s deadweight.

On the whole it’s a case of having one good camera and surrounded by a few sub-par ones. We feel if OnePlus really wants to compete with the top phones, it still needs to improve this offering. Not by going crazy and throwing in triple-figure resolutions and massive zoom lenses, but a decent main camera, a wide-angle with results more consistent to the main lens, and a decent 2x or 3x zoom would be spot on. Yes, zoom lenses aren’t cheap, so that might not be incoming just yet, but it’s on our wishlist.

Saying that, there is one interesting new Nighstcape option, in that it’s come to video mode. You can enable it when it’s dark and it’ll draw in a lot more light as you shoot your video. The result can be a bit mushy when you move the camera, but it’s still pretty impressive how much colour can be drawn in.

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