OnePlus 8T Review: A Fairly Affordable Phone That Won’t Gobble Up Your Fingerprints

An Android phone with premium specs for only $749

Every year at about this time, my family and I hit the road for some camping before the good weather breaks for winter. This trip almost always coincides with a major smartphone release (or many) as OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) rush to get their devices in stores and on the minds of consumers ahead of the holiday season. OnePlus, an Android smartphone brand known for mixing value and quality with its smartphones, uses this window to release its follow-up device to its flagship release from six months prior. This time around OnePlus is releasing the premium spec’d OnePlus 8T for $749, and because our camping trips stop for nobody, I’m reviewing the smartphone from my campsite near the Northern California coast surrounded by redwood trees. Don’t cry for me, I’m doing alright.

The first thing that strikes me when I hold the OnePlus 8T is the aquamarine green color of the rear glass. It reflects a type of three-dimensional noise that plays off direct sunlight in a way that reminds me of late-night static on an old cathode-ray television set. It’s also not thirsty for fingerprints, which is a nice bonus.

As I loaded up the rig to get ready to head for the redwoods, my OnePlus 8T jumped out of my sweatshirt pocket and slid across the concrete. The rear Gorilla Glass took all of the four-foot fall, and the only sign of my negligence was a tiny scratch near the bottom. As a shameful destroyer of many smartphones, I consider this a success.

The tall squircle that houses the four rear-facing cameras and dual-LED flash system is nicely symmetrical and doesn’t jut out from the body so far that it’s distracting. I’m also happy to see that OnePlus opted for a flat-glass design in the front, as opposed to the curved edges of previous years. Rounding everything out is a pair of dual stereo speakers that are loud enough to fill the redwoods with Van Halen, a USB-C charging port, and the signature OnePlus alert slider on the side. Overall, the aluminum chassis and glass-sandwich design feels slick and looks premium, making this an eye-catching device.

As I loaded up the rig to get ready to head for the redwoods, my OnePlus 8T jumped out of my sweatshirt pocket and slid across the concrete.

On the front is a 6.55-inch, FHD+ AMOLED display that is still bright, even in direct sunlight. I know this because the sun is streaming through the redwoods onto my lap as I write this, and the 8T display doesn’t seem to mind at all. Not only are images sharp and colorful, but the display refreshes at 120 frames per second, an upgrade from the 90Hz refresh rate on the OnePlus 8. 120Hz is one of those features that is difficult to revert from once your eyes experience that kind of smoothness, so you have been warned. The only intrusion, and a minor one at that, is a single, hole-punch cutout in the left corner making room for the front camera. The display has slim bezels around each side with a slightly larger chin at the bottom. Finally, OnePlus again handles biometric security through the use of its optical in-display fingerprint sensor, a reasonably dependable system that works fast and flawlessly most of the time.

OnePlus has continually improved its devices in every meaningful way, and though it has come far with its cameras, it always ends up shooting just shy of the market leaders. The OnePlus 8T quad-camera array utilizes the same 48 Megapixel Sony IMX586 found in the 7T and the OnePlus 8 before it. The main camera did well with the tall, sprawling redwood trees and streams of light peeking through as well as the many bright, colorful beaches we found ourselves exploring.

The 16-megapixel, ultra-wide camera has a field of view of 123 degrees, which has been ideal for shots in this region and works wonders in fitting the gargantuan redwood trees into my shots. I was pleased to see that the edges didn’t distort as much as some wide-angle cameras I’ve seen. I am a sucker for a solid macro lens, so I’m happy to see the macro upgraded from two megapixels on the OnePlus 8 to five megapixels on the 8T, though the case can be made that a solid telephoto lens would be more useful on a daily basis to most people. The two-megapixel, monochrome lens aids in portrait mode shots which did a solid job around the edges of my face and head.

The OnePlus camera app offers a few fun features like time-lapse and Nightscape. Consequently, I found myself up at 3:30 a.m. one night when the RV started beeping at us to warn that the internal battery was empty. I ran outside to fire up the generator, and once I did, our string of LED lights lit up the front of the RV in the darkness which gave me a golden opportunity to snap some Nightscape shots that turned out bright and sharp.

All things considered, I’m pretty satisfied with the rear-camera system on the OnePlus 8T. As for selfie shots with the 16-megapixel, front-facing camera, things look good if I don’t rely on portrait mode which shows some pretty rough edges around my face.

When it comes to recording video on the OnePlus 8T, I was very happy with the quality of the 4K, 60-frames-per-second mode. Where things break down is when I ventured into some of the A.I. driven features. Video Portrait Mode attempts to apply bokeh effects to the background of the video and as expected, it wasn’t seamless, which means I’d never rely on it in its current condition. A stabilizing mode that’s meant to smooth out minor bumps just ended up making my video seem less crisp and rougher around the edges, which was the opposite of what I had hoped for.

As for performance, the OnePlus 8T is not shy in the power department. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor is paired with 12 gigabytes of LPDDR4X RAM, and if there’s one thing I never found myself saying while using the 8T, it’s “wow this device isn’t very fast.” Having such a capable processor paired with the aforementioned 120Hz display makes the OS feel fluid and zippy. With 256 gigabytes of internal storage, I had little worry that I’d ever run out of space as well, which came in handy for storing games and the large catalog of pictures I’ve taken on the trip so far. If you are eager to hop on the practically nonexistent 5G bandwagon, you are in luck thanks to the included Snapdragon X55 modem. I could not test the 5G because it is, well, practically nonexistent.

120Hz is one of those features that is difficult to revert from once your eyes experience that kind of smoothness, so you have been warned.

The 4500mAh battery on the OnePlus 8T has lasted me through full days and into the night to the following morning multiple times. But the real magic here is the included 65-watt charger. One morning, I had just depleted the battery to zero and plugged it into the Warp Charge 65 power brick. The OnePlus 8T charged from zero to 100% in just over 30 minutes. I wish the same could be said about our RV. Having just checked on our generator that has been running for an hour only to discover I never actually plugged it into the trailer to charge the RV battery, I’m reminded of how little worry I have had with the battery on the OnePlus 8T. But if there’s one thing that the OnePlus 8T does share in common with our RV, it’s a lack of support for wireless charging.

Finally, the OnePlus 8T launches with OxygenOS 11, a major revision to the company’s successful skin of Android. In the past, OxygenOS has stayed relatively close to a stock Android experience, but with Android 11, OnePlus has made the bold move of customizing its skin to be more stylized while finally bringing long-awaited features to OnePlus devices like the new Always-on Display. If you’ve used a modern Samsung device, you are familiar with the design approach of One UI and its emphasis on aiding in one-handed use, and OxygenOS 11 feels like it’s following in Samsung’s footsteps. I was such a fan of the stock approach of OxygenOS that I can admit I was hesitant to experience the changes. I’m happy to say that my hesitation was unfounded. The focus on one-handed use really does improve interaction on a daily basis. The Settings menu is perhaps a bit more stylized, yes, but OnePlus has been throwing its special features in there long before OxygenOS 11, so it’s really not that much different. The biggest change I have encountered is the co-existence of Google’s Discover Feed to the left side of the home screen and a new mid-screen swipe down gesture that summons the OnePlus shelf with features like a step counter, app shortcuts, and a device health dashboard. Sure, things aren’t quite as stock as they used to be, but I feel like OnePlus has made these changes respectfully, and it didn’t slow me down a second.

As the sun sets in the redwood grove, I find myself reminiscing about what a different year this has been for smartphones. Though premium smartphones still hold an important place in the market, they aren’t the be-all and end-all for many consumers. OEMs have begun to embrace top quality designs at more affordable prices, a game that OnePlus has been playing since their very first smartphone seven years ago. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t changed with the new OnePlus 8T.

Podcast producer and Host for TWiT.tv, including Tech News Weekly, and All About Android

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