OnePlus 8T Review: 2020’s Best High End Android Phone

November 1, 2020

Android phones have come a long way since my first device; an HTC Droid Incredible which was Verizon’s carrier branded edition of the famed Google Nexus One. Featuring the first ever mobile processor to breach the 1Ghz mark and vast developer support made this an absolute delight to learn the inner workings of Google’s operating system.

Android has matured much since 2011 and hardware has drastically improved with the OnePlus 8T representing the pinnacle of 2020’s technologies.

However, just because a device commands the most hardware sophistication doesn’t mean it will emerge as a great device for what most user’s command. The OnePlus 8T’s display, speed and convenience features make it 2020’s top Android phone for the power user. For everyone else, there’s better options in Google’s own Pixel series.

Adding some thickness is the device’s 4,500 mAh battery.
The hardware sound toggle button remains a standout amongst other Android phones.

Design Aesthetic

OnePlus continues its history of having a well designed smartphone. The device feels premium in the hand and the use of high-end material is immediately evident. The camera module protrudes enough from the frame to highlight that its wielding hardware is worthy enough to have its own space.

Most notable on the design compared to other Android devices is its use of a hardware-toggle for volume and vibration control. iPhone users have had this since the beginning and it’s a great feature I wish more would adapt. It allows you to “feel” whether the device will make noise in silent environments.

Display — One of the Best

Turning on the device you will quickly be greeted with its amazing 6.55” AMOLED screen. For all intents and purposes, it’s an amazing screen to spend time behind and the primary draw for many users. Boasting a 120Hz refresh rate, reading text and scrolling through social media feeds will feel smoother than you’ve ever experienced. Although you may not notice the speed at first, going back to a device with a slower refresh speed will feel jaggy.

It includes a hidden fingerprint scanner under the screen much like the S20 FE and in my experience was every bit as accurate as the Pixel 3 and 5’s rear fingerprint scanner. This is great tech and keeps the design clean on the rear of the phone.

Compared to my previous daily user, a Pixel 4, the additional 30Hz of speed was only slightly noticeable. However, the display brightness was immediately apparent and allowed for easier use when outside in direct sunlight. When I briefly used a Samsung S20 FE, the brightness is very comparable if not a little behind Samsung’s latest panel.

Pixel 4 -> Pixel 5 -> OnePlus 8T | You can see the display brightness and size differences between the 3 devices.

Pictures and media seemed to pop while set on the phone’s default Vivid setting. Supporting HDR10 (an open HDR standard) Netflix videos took full advantage and made bedtime watching a joy. However, given the nascent support of HDR formats and limited sources HDR remains a little used feature and should not be a deciding factor with the phone.

It’s also a flat display. Samsung started the trend of curved edges along the screen and OnePlus previous phones followed this trend with the 8T bucking it for the first time. This is a matter of personal preference but the flat display allows for better user experience when interface elements are towards the sides of the phone. I never had misinterpreted finger clicks which is a positive.

Screen Size and Productivity — What Matters to Most

This is a great representation from XDA’s review of how your hand interacts with screen sizes.

My primary qualm with the OnePlus 8T lies here; the phone is simply too big for easy one-handed use.

The screen may look amazing but the size of the phone remains my biggest qualm with OnePlus’s flagships. They’re just too large.

As someone who conducts the majority of their work via mobile I want to be able to reach all aspects of the screen in a one-handed mode. Even using software tweaks to make one-handed use easier to achieve, it never felt right. That and having the additional size made carrying this in pants that much more difficult (also a sign COVID weight needs to be shed!).

This aspect is where I personally wouldn’t mind a curved screen. If it can shed some size then I’ll take any improvement I can get. However, I’m in the minority.

My guess is manufacturer’s making the quality of screen for the 6” sweet spot are reserved for Brand’s with more buying power such as Samsung, Google and Apple. OnePlus who always goes for the best specs may not be able to do so in the display department.

Specs — What’s Under the Hood

The other rationale for the larger size is that its high-end components need more space within the phone. It’s using Qualcomm’s top of the line Snapdragon 865 paired with a whopping 12GB of RAM and 256GB UFS storage. You simply won’t find a better spec’d Android phone on the market.

Although it’s not a OnePlus problem and instead Qualcomm’s; the 865 doesn’t have an integrated 4G/5G modem. Instead it needs paired with a separate chip for its cellular capabilities which is very much the likely culprit for its size in addition to why other 2020 5G phones such as the Pixel 5 are using Qualcomm’s much slower but fully integrated 765 platform.

You can compare benchmarks here of Qualcomm and the iPhone processors. Although not OnePlus’s issue Apple continues to pull way ahead in terms of what makes great mobile hardware.

Even despite using the latest and greatest it still falls short when comparing numbers to Apple’s custom designed chipsets. However, that’s another story in itself and, again, not OnePlus’s fault. They’re simply using the best with what’s available to them and it pays off in the Android realm.

Most notably the phone offers superb gaming performance. Fortnite runs at a buttery smooth 90fps whereas the Pixel 5 and even the Nintendo Switch only allow for 30fps while playing on the go. Paired with the larger screen this phone is the one to get if you’re looking for a gaming device.

I briefly tried Microsoft’s cloud gaming technology xCloud on the device and it was fantastic! The 120hz refresh rate ensures that you’re seeing everything the technology can pump out. Despite the service not supporting 120fps, even its slower rendering comes out looking wonderful.

Battery Life and Charging

The OnePlus 8T comes with a mammoth 4,500 mAh battery. This is a slight improvement over previous models and thank the heavens, is becoming the norm in high end phones.

The “Warp Charger” OnePlus includes in the box. It’s a true engineering standout offering 65w of charging where others only use 18–25watts.

I was worried the 5G radio would negate any battery life improvements but I had no problems going a full 38 hours between charges with nearly 6 hours of screen on time.

The OnePlus 8T’s big standout this release, though, is its “Warp Charging” capability. It allows the phone to receive up to 65 watts of charging where most other brands only offer 18–25w. What this means is that you can charge the phone from 0% to 100% in about an hours time.

Being one who (pre-COVID) is normally out on weekends I know of many friends who would love this feature allowing their phones to last a night out on the bars. However, the tech is proprietary and requires the use of their own charging brick. Using this same scenario, unless you plan on taking the charging brick with you for a night out your friends aren’t likely to have a brick lying around.

Here’s to hoping that the USB-C PD or Power Delivery standard can benefit from this tech so we can have universal chargers allowing this speed. Until the above scenario is solved this is a nice to have feature but one that many will never be able to utilize to its full potential.

Camera; It’s Not Bad but Software Makes it Better

The camera hardware is top notch on the device and protrusion of it on the design lends itself to feeling truly premium. However, hardware isn’t what’s making mobile photography great.

Phone camera comparisons are easy to find nowadays and I’ll leave it to the photography experts to chime in on their detailed posts. However, I will say that I was very pleasantly surprised with OnePlus 8T’s performance out of the box. Coming from the Pixel lines of cameras I’m used to the best and this device didn’t leave me thinking I downgraded by any means.

I also went ahead and sideloaded Google’s Pixel Camera onto the device. Because the Pixel Camera leverages Qualcomm’s image processor clever developers have been able to activate its software goodness for use on other devices. It’s a great way to maximize the photo hardware with Google’s own software prowessness and it achieves similar if not better shots than the Pixel 4 thanks to its improved hardware.

You can tell how Google’s processing improves one the stock camera app by giving more “pop” to the differences across light and dark areas. However, not everyone likes this effect.
This shot was using the “Night Sight” modes further highlighting the differences between light and dark areas.

There once existed a time where this mod was less effective for sharing social media posts as the various app’s required pictures being taken within them. This allowed the Pixel’s custom Intel-based image processor to shine by automatically applying the software anytime the camera API was called. However, as you can now upload to any social media app via file browsing you can achieve these affects no matter what device is being used.

User Experience and Day to Day Use

Minus my thumbs getting sore from stretching beyond where they’re used to this phone was an absolute joy to use. Having the additional screen display area made reading my daily news feeds more enjoyable and although I’m not a gamer, knowing I had the ability to play something was a great feeling.

PhoneArena’s snapshot comparing the home screens of the Samsung S20 FE and OnePlus 8T. Notice how the icons are sized differently. OnePlus keeps Android vanilla whereas Samsung is using their own custom UI interface over Android. A primary reason why OnePlus has Android 11 vs Samsung’s 10.

OnePlus’s customized Android experience is very lightweight and keeps Google’s stock Android look much better than Samsung and other OEMs. This is a benefit not only for usability but also allows the device to receive updates in a more timely manner as their developer team requires less customization to test. Improved security is always a boon.

The last OnePlus I reviewed, the OnePlus 6 suffered from RAM management issues which resulted in the phone closing apps at random times. Also was the time where a camera notch was deemed acceptable.

Opening multiple Chrome tabs and having multiple apps open proved no problem for the Snapdragon and OnePlus’s own RAM management (an issue with previous versions).

Compared to my brief use of Samsung’s S20 FE, this was a slightly faster feeling device. Without Samsung’s 850MB of extra software the OnePlus is free to load only the things that matter and it comes across in the normal usage of the device.

However, compared to my Pixel 4 and brief usage of the Pixel 5 I don’t notice much difference at all outside of gaming. Dare I say we may, finally, be at a point of diminishing returns regarding hardware. I’ll dig deeper into this in my upcoming Pixel 5 review.

Aftermarket Support & Developer Friendliness

This section won’t apply to the majority of users but to those looking to wield full control over their devices you will be happy to know the OnePlus 8T remains one of the easiest phones to unlock for custom Android development.

Kernel source code has already been released by OnePlus and the community has found that it can leverage the majority of the OnePlus 8’s custom community meaning from the get go you can install many of additional tweaks for even more performance gains.

The XDA forums for the OnePlus 8T are already very active and producing customized experiences.

If you’re looking to get into software development I can’t recommend this phone enough for its tinkering ability. Once you start to figure out how you can improve things yourself you’ll be on the road to understanding Android at a level others will never fully understand.

Verdict: 2020’s Best Premium Android Phone

If you’re someone who doesn’t mind a bigger phone and or needs gaming performance this is the phone to go for. Offering the absolute best in terms of specifications and a lightweight Android software experience you’re guaranteed to eek out every last drop of performance this phone can give you.

Coupled with its developer friendliness this will be a phone supported long into the future and with its hardware could easily last you 4 years which is almost unheard of in today’s age.

However, if you’re an average phone user just looking for a couple apps to work and great battery life I’d recommend looking at the new Pixel 4a. Coming in at less than half the cost you’ll enjoy the same level of perceived performance and a camera every bit as good (if not better).