OnePlus 8T Review – Tech Advisor

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OnePlus is breaking all its own rules this year. First came the Nord, a step away from its numbered line and a return to the company’s mid-range roots. And now here comes the OnePlus 8T, but on its own – with no 8T Pro in sight.

That leaves the brand in an odd position where its biggest new feature – 65W charging – isn’t available in its most expensive phone, still the 8 Pro.

Beyond that fast charging – and it is fast – there’s little new in the 8T. It has the same processor as the 8, and basically the same cameras, even if they have moved to the side now. It bumps the display refresh rate to 120Hz to match the 8 Pro, but switches to a flat panel – a move likely to win over as many people as it puts off.

Still, the 8T has one other thing going for it: OnePlus hasn’t upped the price from the 8. In fact it hasn’t even kept the price the same. It’s dropped the 8T price by £50/$50 compared to the 8, so you are quite literally getting more for less.

Design and build

Let’s start with design, which is one area OnePlus has at least changed things up a little, especially on the back. Available in your choice of Aquamarine Green or Lunar Silver, it’s built out of Gorilla Glass with an aluminium frame.

My green review sample is glossy – perhaps a little too glossy for my taste – but the colour is another attractive development in OnePlus’s ongoing quest to hit every single shade of blue-green out there across its phones. OnePlus says the finish is also more fingerprint-resistant than before, and to be fair it’s done a good job. It’s not impossible to leave marks on the phone, but I have found myself reaching for the cleaning cloth a lot less often.

The only other colour available is Lunar Silver, which is matt rather than glossy, and doesn’t have the same anti-fingerprint finish. I haven’t seen it in person so can’t comment on how it looks – but either way it’s worth noting that in the UK at least, OnePlus has tied the colours to specific spec setups, so your budget may end up dictating your choice of finish.

With a 6.55in display the OnePlus 8T is inevitably a fairly big phone, but slim bezels and some software tweaks mean it’s still mostly easy to use with one hand. At 8.4mm it’s fairly thin too, and a weight of 188g isn’t bad either. I wouldn’t say the 8T feels petite or compact, but it certainly doesn’t feel gargantuan either.

In true OnePlus style there’s no IP rating, but the company does insist the phone should survive a dunk in some water. And of course there’s no headphone jack, but stereo speakers deliver decent sound when you’re on your own.

Display

The display is the first of two meaningful spec bumps on the 8T. It’s the same size and resolution as the OnePlus 8 – 6.55in and 2400×1080 – and yes, it’s still AMOLED.

The big change is that it’s jumped from 90Hz up to 120Hz refresh rate, meaning that it feels smoother and faster whatever you’re doing.

I’ll be upfront: I’m a huge proponent of 90Hz displays, and think almost anyone would feel the difference from using one. I find the jump from 90Hz to 120Hz much less noticeable however, so while this is a welcome upgrade, I wouldn’t say it’s a pressing reason to upgrade, or to choose the 8T over the 8.

That said, this is a beautiful display regardless. It’s bright and crisp, with vivid, accurate colours that make most game or video content sing. I’m also a fan of the move to a flat panel, which enhances usability, and doesn’t really detract from the look of the phone.

I’m sure some out there will complain that the resolution remains ‘only’ Full HD+, and clamour for the Quad HD upgrade seen in the 8 Pro, but this is another area where most wouldn’t notice the difference anyway.

Battery and charging

So the 120Hz display is an upgrade, but maybe not one worth rushing out for. Fortunately the improved fast charging tech is a bit more tempting.

After using 30W wired charging for a few years, OnePlus has finally dished out an upgrade to 65W charging, and the 8T is the first phone to have it – giving it at least one advantage over the pricier 8 Pro, though it still lacks that phone’s wireless charging support.

The company says the 8T’s 4500mAh cell will fully charge in just 39 minutes, but arguably more relevant is just how much battery you get back from shorter charges. Over my week with the device I would regularly plug the phone in and find that in the time it took me to shower more than 50% of the battery would be recovered. Even just 5 minutes gets you hours of usage back.

And while charging is the highlight, battery life as a whole ain’t bad either. The 8T comfortably lasts over a day, though I found it barely scraped its way to the 48-hour mark. Either way, that frees you from the necessity to plug it in daily, and certainly not overnight – a quick 20 minutes plugged in every day or two will basically keep this thing running forever.

OnePlus has also relaxed its emphasis on its own proprietary charging format. For one thing, the 8T will still get up to 27W charging when plugged into a non-OnePlus charger, rather than the drip feed of power that previous OnePlus phones have often had from third-party power adapters.

Just as usefully, the included 65W charger will deliver juice to other USB-C devices at up to 45W. That means you can actually run a laptop off the 8T’s power adapter, or charge your Switch up. This is far from unique to OnePlus of course, but it’s a welcome step from a company that’s until now been oddly restrictive about its proprietary charging tech.

Software

If 120Hz and 65W charging are the big hardware changes, there are equally big developments afoot in the 8T’s software. It’s the first phone to ship with a new version of the company’s Oxygen OS, running on top of Android 11 – though other recent OnePlus phones will get the upgrade in due course.

Upgrades are a mix of Google’s and OnePlus’s own. From the Google side, media player controls – such as for Spotify or YouTube Music – are now integrated into the notifications pane. You also get the option to give apps access permissions for just one-time only, and holding the power button now gives you quick access to any smart home controls set up in Google Home along with Google Pay, the screenshot tool, and of course the power options.

Not everything in Android 11 has made it into Oxygen OS 11. There’s no sign of the new conversation chat bubbles and notification pane for example, though most of the other big Android 11 features seem to have made it in.

OnePlus itself has used the OS upgrade as an excuse for a bigger overhaul though. New animations and designs can be found throughout the OS, with a particular focus on improving one-handed use – broadly achieved by keeping the core content of OnePlus’s own apps within the bottom two-thirds of the screen to save you from stretching to the top of the phone. Of course, that doesn’t help any whenever you open any other apps.

The bigger change for many will be the overdue introduction of an always-on display – or three. You get the option to set an always-on display that highlights your phone usage throughout the day, one that algorithmically generates sketched versions of compatible portrait photos from your image library, and another that shows off your animated Bitmoji avatar, through a partnership with Snapchat.

The perils of reviewing phones before release mean that I’ve only been able to test the first of these AOD options. Dubbed Insight, it incorporates the clock into a line representing the day, with the clock moving down the screen as time passes. Black bars block out the coloured line corresponding to whenever you’ve been using the phone, giving you a simple visual representation of how often you’re actually using your device.

If that all sounds a bit much, you can also opt for a simpler display, with a clock and your notification icons, though I’m actually a fan of the Insight mode, and am keen to try out the sketch option when OnePlus pushes out the software update. The wealth of options may be cold comfort to those who’ve been clamouring for even a simple always-on option for years now, but at least it’s finally here.

There are other small software improvements dotted about – a revamped Zen Mode when you want to focus on work, and some tweaked multitasking options. There’s also a fix for one of my biggest Oxygen OS gripes: there’s finally a quick settings toggle for Dark Mode. Well, there will be at least – that’s another one of the upgrades that hasn’t yet reached my review device.

As always with OnePlus, you’re promised two years of software updates and a third year of security patches, so the phone should last if you need it to.

For the biggest update to Oxygen OS in years, it’s both disappointing and comforting that for the most part things feel the same. The design tweaks feel like positive steps, the best bits of Android 11 have made it through intact, and the always-on-display is, well, better late than never. And still better than most.

Specs and performance

That’s just about everything that’s new covered. So what’s not?

The 8T’s internals are fundamentally unchanged. You’ll find the same Snapdragon 865 processor as before, instead of the perhaps expected upgrade to the souped up Snapdragon 865+. Unless you are worryingly obsessed with framerates or mobile gaming performance, you won’t notice the difference – and if you are, you’re better off with a dedicated gaming phone anyway.

Just as before, it’s paired with either 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, or 12GB RAM and 256GB storage (though the US is only getting this higher spec) – with a minor spec bump up to faster UFS3.1 storage. In the UK the lower spec model is exclusively available in Lunar Silver, with the 12GB model only in Aquamarine Green, but this will likely vary by market.

In benchmarks the 8T performed unsurprisingly well, though with one anomaly: it has under-performed slightly compared to other Snapdragon 865 phones, including the OnePlus 8, especially on core CPU benchmarks.

This is a trend we’ve seen across the first few Android 11 devices in our testing, so it’s not unique to the OnePlus 8T. Most likely it’s nothing to worry about, and I’d expect future patches to bring optimisations that improve performance on the new OS.

In any case, the phone certainly doesn’t feel slow in actual use, and should be more than a match for anything you throw at it.

Camera

Given how different the 8T’s camera looks from the outside, you’d be forgiven for expecting a substantially different setup. Unfortunately, appearances here are deceiving, and a lot less has changed than you might think.

The main lens is 48Mp and f/1.7, and in fact uses the same Sony IMX586 sensor that was found in the OnePlus 7 – four phones ago – and is also included in the much cheaper OnePlus Nord. And while the company has continued refining its software in that time, it’s fair to say that the hardware is beginning to show its age a little.

The 8T’s main camera certainly isn’t bad. Shots are detailed, and colours are warm and vibrant, and fortunately rarely over-saturated. Dynamic range is the biggest disappointment with daytime shots – cloudy skies are flattened out and details are lost in dark spots.

Nightscape has apparently been enhanced, but more importantly more of its effects are now being applied automatically in the main camera mode. In practice, that now means the main camera is a better lowlight option, bringing out details while preserving colour and tone. By contrast, Nightscape photos appear harsh and over-lit, with the white balance easily thrown off entirely by slightly coloured light sources like street lamps.

The ultrawide has changed from the 8, but only slightly. It’s still 16Mp and f/2.2, but the field of view has jumped from 116° to 123°. You… probably won’t notice. But hey, a wider wide-angle is no bad thing, and despite the increased angle there’s no edge distortion or fishbowl effect to photos.

A 5Mp macro and 2Mp mono lens round out the set. I’m pleased to report that this is actually one of the first macro lenses I can genuinely see myself using – most still deliver inferior results to the main camera. This still suffers from washed out colours and occasional focus issues, but there’s enough close-range detail to deliver results worth sharing if the light is right.

The mono is also more impressive than it sounds. It doesn’t take 2Mp shots, but is instead used in tandem with the main 48Mp lens to deliver extra colour information for high-res black-and-white photography. The results aren’t half bad, though for some reason the mode is left to languish as the final of several filter options, meaning most users will never find it.

On the front a 16Mp selfie camera is also decent, though the slow f/2.4 aperture – actually a downgrade from the 8’s selfie shooter – holds it back when it comes to lowlight performance, dynamic range, and colour accuracy.

As for video, it goes up to [email protected] on the rear, and [email protected] on the front. The rear camera also throws in the option of video portrait mode and video Nightscape, though neither are available for front-facing footage.

The video portrait mode works surprisingly well, yielding results almost as good as portrait stills, but I’m less enamoured with Nightscape video. There’s a stark fuzziness to the footage, and if you move the phone around a little it suffers from serious focus hunting – an effect which sees the footage pulse in and out of focus, rendering it nearly unwatchable.

Taken as a whole the camera setup is undeniably solid, but solid isn’t enough any more. With the £379 Nord packing an essentially equivalent setup – with better selfie cameras! – the 8T camera feels like it’s lagging behind.

Price and availability

The cut-price OnePlus Nord seemingly marked an internal reckoning for OnePlus over its pricing model, and the welcome result is that the 8T has been adjusted down compared to the 8.

The 8GB/128GB model costs just £549, while the 12GB/256GB model is £649/$749 – a £50/$50 price drop from their respective OnePlus 8 counterparts. It’s available to pre-order now, with the phone going officially on sale from 20 October in most of the world, and 23 October in the US. If you’re tempted, check out our guide to the best OnePlus 8T deals in order to find the best price.

The 8 Pro remains on sale from £799/$799, but outside the US the steepest competition comes from the £379 OnePlus Nord. It offers the same main camera, a 90Hz AMOLED panel, the same RAM and storage, and a better selfie camera setup. You get a slightly slower processor, a plastic back, and slower charging, but with that price gap I’m sure many will be tempted to drop down to the Nord.

The closest competition from outside OnePlus is the £599/$699 Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. That won’t give you the high refresh rate display or fast charging, but you do get an IP68 rating and a telephoto camera. Factor in software and I’d definitely still give the edge to the 8T though.

The other rogue option is the iPhone 11, now just £599/$599 following the launch of the iPhone 12. There you’ll get a much better camera, but would of course miss out on the refresh rate, fast charging, 5G and more.

Check out our full ranking of the best phones we’ve reviewed for more options.

Verdict

Ignore the price and the OnePlus 8T doesn’t feel like a desperately exciting upgrade from the 8 in some respects. But once you realise the price has dropped the phone begins to look much more compelling.

120Hz and 65W charging are welcome upgrades, even if they’re the sort of techie features that most users likely won’t care about too much. The software changes brought about by Android 11 are also almost all welcome, not least the always-on display.

From a hardware perspective the camera is the only real stumbling block, made worse by the decision to include the same main lens in the £379 Nord. And that’s really the main challenge facing the 8T: it’s good, but pound-for-pound the Nord is still better, leaving OnePlus hoist by its own petard.

Specs
OnePlus 8T: Specs

Android 11 with Oxygen OS 11
6.55in Full HD+ (1080×2400) Fluid AMOLED, 20:9, 120Hz, HDR10+
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 octa-core processor
8/12GB RAM (DDR4X)
128/256GB internal storage (UFS 3.1)
48Mp main, PDAF, OIS
16Mp ultrawide
5Mp macro
2Mp mono
16Mp selfie camera
Fingerprint scanner (in-screen)
11ax dual-band Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 5.1
GPS
NFC
5G
Dual-nano SIM
Stereo speakers
USB-C
4500mAh non-removable battery
Warp Charge 65W
160.7 x 74.1 x 8.4mm
188g



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