OnePlus 3T vs OnePlus 3: Should you upgrade?

The 3T makes small tweaks to stay cutting edge; should you, too?

The OnePlus 3 has reigned as our favourite phone in the world since its July debut, simply because it does the seemingly impossible: deliver flagship power at an affordable price.

Of course, the cutting edge moves ever ahead with time, and even in the four months since the OnePlus 3's release, we've seen some advancement in smartphone tech. Apple's A10 Fusion processor in the iPhone 7 is the fastest around right now, but even in the Android world, the Snapdragon 821 offers speedier performance than the 820 in the OnePlus 3.

So OnePlus is moving the goalposts again. Next week, the company releases the OnePlus 3T, an admittedly incremental upgrade that brings several small tweaks to the winning design, from the processor bump to a larger battery, as well as camera tweaks and a new body colour.

But if you just bought the OnePlus 3 within the last few months, do you really need to trade up? Now that we've put the OnePlus 3T through our review gauntlet, here's our expert opinion on this conundrum.

No! It's the same design

We quite like the OnePlus 3's build. It's not the most distinctive flagship we've ever seen, but it's a big improvement over the OnePlus 2, and most importantly, it looks and feels like a premium phone at half the price of the top-tier competition.

Likewise, we also enjoy the look of the OnePlus 3T – because it's the exact same design. Truly, nothing has changed here aside from the new Gunmetal colour, which is a fair bit more striking than the lighter grey of the original. You can also get it in Soft Gold, much like the OnePlus 3. 

Realistically you wouldn't upgrade solely because of that new colour option, but we do like it a lot. Maybe we'll just spray-paint our older model.

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Maybe! It's had a few camera upgrades

You'll see a few small tweaks in the camera department on the OnePlus 3T, both on the front and the back. With the main rear camera, an updated electronic image stabilisation algorithm can smooth out your video capture just a bit and works at 4K now too. The back camera also has a fresh layer of sapphire glass to better resist scratches, in case you're concerned about that sort of thing.

And then the front camera gets a solid spec bump too, scrapping the serviceable 8-megapixel selfie shooter of the OnePlus 3 for a 16-megapixel camera that promises better light and crisper snaps. In our review testing, however, we didn't find it to be a vast improvement.

All told, is it enough to warrant the upgrade? Not unless you're desperate for smoother 4K shooting or need the best possible selfies on a OnePlus.

No! It's got the exact same screen

While many parts of the OnePlus 3T see small enhancements over the original model, that's not the case with the screen: it's the exact same 5.5in 1080p AMOLED display panel from the OnePlus 3. We noticed some slight differences in the warmth of the colours, but varying batches can produce slightly different results.

In any case, we're not complaining at all. It's a damn fine screen, and about as good as they come in the 1080p ballpark. Other flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 bump up the resolution to Quad HD territory, but then you're paying a lot more for that privilege – for most buyers, probably too much more to warrant the tiny bump in crispness.

No! The bigger battery doesn't last longer

So here's an unexpected note. The OnePlus 3T ships with a 3,400mAh battery pack, which is about 13% larger than the 3,000mAh pack in the original OnePlus 3. Decent boost, right? We ought to get at least a couple more hours of daily use then, right?

That's not the case in our experience. We did some side-by-side testing with the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T, and found with both local video playback and a solid round of Real Racing 3 that the OnePlus 3T burned up more battery percentage during the same stretch of time with all the same settings engaged.

That's disappointing. Hopefully it's an inefficiency that OnePlus can fix up with a software update at some point soon, otherwise this beefier battery is going to seem deeply underwhelming compared with the now-discontinued OnePlus 3.

No! You won't notice the power bump

The Snapdragon 820 system-on-a-chip of the OnePlus 3 has already been cast aside in favour of Qualcomm's newer Snapdragon 821, which promises about a 10% speed enhancement over the previous version. That's relatively small, but it makes sense given the timeline.

We've used the Snapdragon 821 before in Google's Pixel, and it's clearly a match for any phone around in terms of sheer speed. Like the OnePlus 3, the 3T also has 6GB RAM, and that combination should make it blisteringly fast. 

Fast enough to upgrade for? While you do see a slight bump in benchmarks, there really isn't any major difference in day-to-day usage. The 820 already packed more than enough power to satisfy your web browsing and social habits, and we doubt most apps will benefit much from the 821 upgrade.

Your phone might feel a bit more future-proof, but performance-wise, these phones feel about the same right now. Which is great, but there's no need to upgrade at all based on that 10% promise.

Verdict: Should you upgrade?

No. Like, pretty clearly, no.

That's not a mark against the OnePlus 3T on its own merits. For those of you who own a 2015 phone (or, heaven forbid, even something older), the 3T might well be your new champion.

But if you already own the OnePlus 3, you already have something new – and as of this writing, it's still our pick for the best smartphone option on the market today. The OnePlus 3T brings several small tweaks that ultimately make it a slightly improved device, but it's not enough to warrant scrapping your months-old device for.

Also, it's not as sharp of a bargain. Even at the last UK price of £329 (up from £309 at first), the OnePlus 3 was an absolute steal. Bump it up to £399 with these very minor tweaks and it's still a good price, but less of a surefire deal. And there's no guarantee you'd get full whack for your old phone if you did choose to sell it, although OnePlus discontinuing the 3 means there might be increased demand on the secondary market.

Current OnePlus 3 owners can safely keep their wallets at bay when the 3T releases on 28 November. For everyone else, though, that smartphone-buying-dilemma just got even harder.