The meteoric rise of OnePlus in the smartphone world is no coincidence and neither is its fandom. Walking the line of “one year, one product” strategy for many years, they established themselves as a brand that wasn’t fazed by what the competition was doing and putting its own beliefs over market trends. But hey, even giants like Apple have had to reshape their roadmaps to better match consumer expectations and OnePlus, like every other brand, soon had multiple launches in a year.
This new 8T model feels like the fastest follow up ever, especially considering the 8 and 8 Pro were launched in the midst of the global lockdown and we are still in limbo and I’m already unboxing a giant media kit of an “improved” version already. Recent owners of the 8 might not be exactly ecstatic about this but as they say...the show must go on, so let’s open the curtains then!
Upgrading what’s not broken
No one would think that a phone that is barely five months old needs fixing, so let’s just respect OnePlus’ roadmap and look at what’s new, shall we? First up is the screen and while it may look similar, it now sports the even higher 120Hz refresh rate that the OP 8 Pro has and differences may be hard to notice in everyday apps, but if you’re a social media miner, you’ll probably appreciate the bump. It’s so smooth that sometimes it’s easy to make accidental actions as your muscle memory re-adjusts to this new way of scrolling! It’s very easy to get used to it and not expect anything less from other phones (or tablets).
Next up is the battery which also sees a meaningful upgrade and with the new screen refresh rate, OnePlus has been wise to beef it up. From 4300mAh it now sees a spec bump to 4500mAh but more importantly, there’s an all-new version of Warp Charge now called Warp Charge 65 Fast Charging and it really does offer blazing speeds of charge. A full charge from 0% took about 45 minutes in my test cycle and this means you can easily find multiple windows in a day to top up the 8T even if you’re a power user to the power of 5. The power brick keeps getting larger but at least it’s for a good cause with proper thermal management but even if you’re caught out with the Warp Charge charge, the 8T will still charge at a fast-enough 27W with another compatible fast charger. On the flip side, the 65W Warp Charge brick can also be used to power up other devices, and in my attempt to charge an iPad Pro with it, there was a slight difference between the iPad’s own 18W charger and Warp Charge, which proved to be a tad faster.
Fast is a theme followed in other areas such as storage too. RAM sees a bump from 8GB to 12GB as standard and even the flash storage has been upgraded to UFS 3.1 status that should throughput 4K video and gaming better than the OP 8. But perhaps the biggest and most noticeable difference is in the camera module that also sees a redesign of the housing. In our Aquamarine test sample, the OP 8T makes for an attractive looking device with a luxurious finish and a build quality that is hard to fault. Even the larger camera housing has the gentlest of bumps and gets polished edges to make it look premium. Two new elements join the party now, a second LED flash and a dedicated 2MP monochrome lens that aims to enhance detail and contrast even on the regular photos, besides adding a whole new level of detail in the B&W of course. To use the monochrome filter, sliding the filter options all the way till the end will reveal a new Mono filter that unlocks its potential.
As always, OnePlus’ OxygenOS adds a layer of shine on the already great Android 11 experience and with every generation, it exemplifies the importance of restraint. It’s a tasteful take on Android with meaningful additions like one-handed use that pulls up a brilliant share option right from the preview thumbnail after taking a photo, making it great for one-handed clicking-and-sharing. I particular Iike the Work and Life modes that allow you to configure notifications by kinds of apps you associate with work hours and downtime. The information-rich Always-On screen also gets more creative options that might reek of marketing heavy material for some, but like all good skins, thankfully, everything is switchable to off. There are more Zen modes, more customizations, more of everything if you like that sort of thing. But it’s all controlled by the same snappy Snapdragon 865 processor that OnePlus claims is similar to the 865+ variant, except in terms of 5G performance. Speaking realistically, we won’t be seeing mainstream 5G roll-out until at least mid-2021 so that’s not a deal-breaker anyway.
Not that there was anything glaringly wrong with the OnePlus 8 but its 2MP macro cam was always the weak link in its camera arsenal. With the bump to 5MP, it’s now much more detailed and faster to focus even at distances as close as 3cms from the subject. Another big leap is Nightscape even on the ultra-wide lens now and together with its 123degree field-of-view, it can create some stunning low-light drama if you point it in the right direction. In fact, the highlights and colour balance looks better using the ultra-wide lens instead of the main lens in Nightscape mode! The main camera hasn’t changed and as before, it delivers decent results that look great on the phone display but transfer it to a larger monitor and shows some typical flaws like noise and overexposure. But more importantly, it was the warmer colour temperature that couldn’t be fixed even after adjusting the white balance in Pro mode. It preserves the details but dynamic range is inconsistent compared to more expensive options. The OP8 didn’t have the best camera in the business and while the 8T improves on macro and the wide-angle performance, it’s still not class-leading.
Video recording has got a meaningful boost with a portrait mode that’s easy as tapping on human subjects to lock focus and it does a pretty good job of it, as long as the subject isn’t Usain Bolt or has hair like Gandalf, both of which cause it to create random focus spots around the subject. But this happened in extreme cases and generally, it is a great way to make your videos look more artistic with semi-pro bokeh.
The front camera is still unchanged and it still returns good results with great sharpness, albeit a bit overexposed and with a smidge of skin smoothening. This is true for most selfie cams these days so it isn’t criticism, just acceptance.
From blazing fast charging which gets you from 0-100% by the time you finish your morning routine, to the 120Hz screen and video recording enhancements, the OnePlus 8T justifies its existence in the market just a few months after the OnePlus 8 was launched. If you already have bought the 8, there shouldn’t be a reason to worry or feel left out, not at least for 5G connectivity. The 8T is targeted at those who haven’t upgraded from the 6T or 7 series phones and for them, the 8T really does represent fantastic value. OnePlus isn’t alone in this segment though - with the Samsung, Mi, Apple and now even Google wanting to get in on the mid-price action, it’s not as easy for OnePlus to capture consumer consciousness as it once was. Sure, they will probably do a better marketing job than most of their competitors, but the 8T won’t exactly make you run out of your doors to go buy it. The Nord has a better selfie cam and a price advantage while the 8Pro still has better rear camera performance and a 3D-curved glass display, so the 8T sits in a spot which is inherently harder to justify. Yet, if you want the smoothness of OxygenOS on Android 11 without shelling out the extra bucks for the 8Pro, the 8T is a supreme experience in terms of both hardware and software.