I’ve pulled the trigger on the OnePlus 3T, a stunning mid-range Android handset that picks up where Google left off with Nexus. Here’s a quick look at the device I’ve ordered, and what I expect from it.
By way of background, I recently published a premium post, Let’s Talk About Smartphone Pricing, which arose out of a separate and still unpublished post about decision making. Smartphones are too expensive, and while flagship handsets like the iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy S8+ have their place, I feel very strongly that there is better value to be had at the low-end and middle tiers of the market. In roughly the $250 and $400 price ranges.
On the Android side of the smartphone fence, I’ve identified two handsets, one in each category, which I feel are emblematic of that better value.
At the low-end is the 5th-generation Moto G Plus, which Prime customers can buy at Amazon (with Kindle-style lockscreen ads) for as little as $185. I bought mine direct from Motorola, and bumped up the storage to 64 GB, and paid about $300.
And at the mid-tier, we have the focus of today’s post, the OnePlus 3T. This handset starts at $439, for 64 GB of (non-expandable) storage, but you can upgrade to 128 GB for just $40 more, or a total price of $479. I purchased a Midnight Black version with 128 GB of storage, and paid just under $500 including expedited shipping.
Yes, both of these phones cost less, combined, than a new Samsung Galaxy S8+. Or to take the “thinking differently” thing to a different level, you might consider how those different prices look over a two-year period, which is the typical term of ownership for any smartphone. I suspect that most people would be able to use either of these devices for two full years, so your savings aren’t just real, they’re long-lasting as well.
Looking at the OnePlus 3T in particular, OnePlus released this updated handset in early 2017, just five months after it released the original OnePlus 3. That may seem like an unusual timeline, given the annual refresh norm in the industry, but I’ll point to a few precedents, including the Surface Book with Performance Base and the HP Spectre x360 (4K/Pen) in the PC space, and the Project(Red) iPhone 7/7 Plus and refreshed iPhone SE here in the smartphone market. It seems that device makers are increasingly responsive to the need for subtle, mid-stream updates to hardware that, in the past, might have simply sat untouched over the course of a year or more.
And on that note, the original OnePlus 3 was widely lauded for its handsome, professional-looking form factor, its clean Android software image, its excellent real-world performance, and the often-quirky and unique functionality that OnePlus is known for, like its proprietary quick-charge capabilities. It was also applauded for its reasonable pricing. Like the Nexus 6P and 5X handsets I loved so much, the OnePlus 3 provided premium smartphone specs and quality, and mid-tier pricing. It was a great value. (Still is.)
Full disclosure: I’ve never used a OnePlus handset. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen one out in the real world. But these phones are routinely the subject of fully positive reviews, and always for the same reasons I recommended Nexus devices in the past. Now that Google has lost its mind and is chasing Apple down the premium rabbit hole, OnePlus has emerged as the brand to take the place of Nexus. And from what I can tell, they are uniquely positioned, and willing, to satisfy this need.
As for the OnePlus 3T, it looks incredible on paper. Its made of anodized aluminum, which should afford a premium look and feel, and comes in Gunmetal gray, Soft Gold, and now the Midnight Black color that I ordered. It features a 5.5-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass 4, which sounds like a step down in this era of battery sucking 4K displays, but it matches the resolution of my iPhone 7 Plus, which also features a 5.5-inch display.
Inside, you’ll find a high-end, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor with Adreno 530 graphics, an incredible 6 GB of RAM, and, as noted, 64 GB or 128 GB of non-expandable storage. The OnePlus 3T is powered by USB-C, of course, but the device utilizes OnePlus’s Dash Charge fast-charging technology, which the firm says is faster than that provided by Qualcomm: You can juice the phone up 60 percent in just 30 minutes. Too, the (non-removable) battery is a larger 3400 mAh unit, which should deliver stellar battery life.
The cameras are allegedly excellent: On the rear, we see a 16 MP Sony IMX 298 with an f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilization, auto HDR, and 4K video support. There’s a small camera bump, but unlike Apple, OnePlus utilizes a sapphire crystal lens cover to ensure no scratching. The front-facing “selfie” camera got a big update with the 3T, apparently, and is now a 16 MP Samsung unit.
There’s NFC, and the OnePlus 3T provides a fingerprint sensor on the front and all the usual internal sensors. Also on the down side, it provides only a single mono speaker, just like the lackluster Google Pixel XL. Come on, guys. It’s 2017.
On the software front, OnePlus goes with a very clean Android 7.x software image that it calls OxygenOS. Described as “light and customizable, OxygenOS 3.5 does look a lot like stock Android, with some light customization, and not like an Android “skin” as we see on some phones. This is an important distinction, to me, as I’ve not really liked any of the heavy Android customizations attempts I’ve seen.
I’m curiously excited about this phone. But I’ll need to wait a week or two to receive it because the Midnight Black color I ordered is apparently in high demand. Judging from the product shots on the OnePlus website, I can see why.