Early this year, OnePlus showed off the OnePlus Concept One: a smartphone with a camera that could turn “invisible.” Essentially, the phone’s electrochromic glass back panel could shift from being transparent to being opaque by changing the current and voltage. Electrochromic glass is not a new concept, but this phone was the first to apply it to smartphone camera lenses. OnePlus is back again with a new concept device, called the OnePlus 8T Concept, which extends the same tech to give us a phone with a color-shifting back.
The OnePlus Concept One was the first phone from a major OEM that made use of ECMF (Electronic Color, Material, and Finish), but a few other OEMs have since teased their own takes with color-shifting back panels. Vivo showed off its color-shifting prototype in September, while Nubia more recently showed off a prototype that changed the back from opaque black to “transparent” to show off the phone’s guts underneath.
The OnePlus 8T Concept takes the trusted OnePlus 8T and jazzes it up with a flowy design pattern on the back. OnePlus said it took inspiration from the multi-hued flowing water in the hot springs of Pamukkale, Turkey, to design the back of this concept phone. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we can agree that the phone does look different from the plain and boring glass slabs found aplenty for years.
The ECMF on this phone has taken the form of a color-changing film that resides under the glass panel and contains a metal oxide. Different voltages vary the valence state of the metal ions — so when the metal oxide “activates,” the color of the glass on the design changes from a dark blue to a light silver. The result is that the back of your phone “breathes” like a notification LED whenever you receive an incoming call, alongside opening the potential for many other creative applications.
The OnePlus 8T Concept has another trick up its sleeves — “Reactive Sensing Technology,” which combines ECMF with mmWave. Yes, the same mmWave that has become commonly associated with 5G. However, on this device, it isn’t a communication module. Instead, the mmWave radar module on the OnePlus 8T Concept unlocks some really unique capabilities.
If you look closely, you will notice that the camera module on this concept device is slightly different compared to the camera module on the vanilla OnePlus 8T. That’s because the fourth camera sensor is swapped out to make space for a mmWave radar module that transmits and receives electromagnetic waves. The DSP and CPU can process this transmission and reception data, allowing the device to locate and track objects without needing the camera.
This combination of an ECMF back and mmWave radar module opens up a few possibilities for how people interact with their smartphones. You could accept and reject calls on your phone with a gesture waved at the back and possibly have more control-based use cases open up without needing to touch the device. OnePlus also says that the radar module can register a user’s breathing by measuring the millimeter-level movement of their chest, and the electrochromic back can then be tuned to be in sync, making your phone a great companion to help with breathing exercises.
The use cases may appear to be superfluous to users looking at the OnePlus 8T Concept from a purely practical perspective. But as is the case with concept devices, they essentially show off what could possibly be done with technology with scant regard for whether it needed to be done. One could argue that the phone’s camera or a ToF sensor could be used for the functions served by the mmWave radar module. But OnePlus claims that the mmWave radar module can offer a faster response than a ToF sensor while consuming less power. On top of that, it isn’t affected by the environment, so it should work as expected even in low-lighting conditions, something that a ToF sensor may have trouble with.
It’s worth noting that the OnePlus 8T Concept was designed by the same team that worked on the OnePlus Concept One. The team, called OnePlus Gaudi, takes inspiration from renowned architect Antonio Gaudi and aims to bring more innovative solutions in the future that combine art and technology. OnePlus has clarified that the team won’t be limited to concept devices, and it will have the freedom to work on anything from a poster or sticker to major software changes or innovative hardware.
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