OnePlus 8 Pro First Impressions

Posted on April 16, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 5 Comments

OnePlus sent a metric ton of devices out to reviewers this week, and it’s going to take a while to sort through it all. Let’s start at the top, with the OnePlus 8 Pro, a flagship smartphone that could be my next.

I assume you’re familiar with this week’s OnePlus announcements. But if not, here’s a quick summary: On Tuesday, OnePlus announced its 8 series smartphone family, which includes the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro, plus the Bullet Wireless Z headphones, Warp Charge 30 Wireless Charger, and a variety of new cases for each handset. And for the first time, a OnePlus handset, the OnePlus 8, will be sold at Verizon and will be uniquely tailored to support all of that carrier’s 5G implementations.

So yeah, it was a big day. But my key takeaway was that, in adopting expensive new Qualcomm 5G chipsets, OnePlus has effectively ceded its previous “smartphone killer” marketing because these phones are just as expensive as any smartphone flagships. That is, they are now simply flagships and will have to sink or swim on their functional and aesthetic merits. It will be interesting to see whether OnePlus can survive, let alone thrive, by taking on Samsung, Huawei, and Apple so directly.

But here’s the thing. I’ve always loved and respected OnePlus. Not just for the high quality of its products, but for its entire vibe, which is that of a quirky upstart linked to a community of enthusiasts who feel just as strongly about this company’s products as does OnePlus itself. They sometimes make odd feature decisions, but their overall approach is correct, I think, and vital. And while I’m worried that the high prices of the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro—compared to their predecessors, that is—could be a stumbling block for potential customers, most of whom have never even heard of this company, I’m nonetheless excited by what I see in the OnePlus 8 series.

So, again, let’s start with the OnePlus 8 Pro.

You may have noticed that I recently stepped up the pace on my recent “Revisiting” series in which I reevaluated my favorite smartphones from 2019, and just published the final post in that series, Revisiting the Google Pixel 4 XL, yesterday. That’s because the OnePlus 8 Pro review unit I was expecting suddenly changed from a Friday delivery to a Wednesday delivery. (And, unexpectedly, that review unit was accompanied by a lot of other devices and material I wasn’t expecting.)

Naturally, I switched to the OnePlus 8 Pro immediately. This is the flagship, and it offers a few key features—some unique camera capabilities, wireless charging, and more—missing in the OnePlus 8. (Not that the OnePlus 8 is lacking per se; in fact, its unique Interstellar Glow “color”—really a live matrix of shifting colors—is a real differentiator. It’s gorgeous.) So that’s my primary focus for now.

It’s a gorgeous, premium handset, and I love the color that OnePlus provided, called Glacial Green, it’s the one I’d choose if I were spending my own money.

Like any modern, non-Apple flagship, it features a truly edge-to-edge display with minimal bezels on the top and bottom and literally no bezels on the side, since the screen wraps around those edges on a curve. That itself is rather interesting, since Samsung in particular has moved away from overly-curved edges, and I’m curious if this design will result in mis-touches as I’d experienced on such designs in the past.

Because of that edge-to-edge design, OnePlus moved to a hole punch for the front-facing camera, and it placed that hole in the upper left corner of the display, and next to the on-screen status bar. It looks very natural to me.

From a materials perspective, the OnePlus 8 Pro is a now-traditional glass and aluminum sandwich. But instead of going with a weird squircle camera area up on the rear corner, it uses an old-school vertical set of lenses, which I’m just fine with. It looks modern and practical.

As for the display, it’s a stunner, though I’ve already noticed that it suffers from the same too-dim adaptive brightness setting at night and in the dark as did the OnePlus 7T. The specs are impressive: It’s a 6.78-inch Quad HD+ (3168 x 1440) Fluid AMOLED display that’s already won accolades from DisplayMate and delivers what OnePlus says is its highest-ever color accuracy. It’s tall and thin with a 19.8:9 aspect ratio, and is infused with HDR10+ support for vibrant colors. It also has a high-performance 120 Hz refresh rate that’s on by default for silky-smooth animations and scrolling; previous OnePlus flagships could only hit 90 Hz, and only at HD resolutions.

I’ve already noticed some interesting things about the display and color: OnePlus notes that the 8 Pro provides HDR Boot when using entertainment apps like Netflix and Google Play Movies & TV, and that looks great to me. And in addition to the typical display modes, you can enable a Vibrant Color Effect Pro option that really boosts the HDR effect to what I’d call non-realistically colorful. And a Comfort Tone option works a bit like True Tone on Apple’s device, adapting the display to the ambient lighting so that it’s always easy on the eyes.

My big concern here, of course, is the camera system. And while I haven’t tested it thoroughly yet, it’s clearly a step up from previous OnePlus handsets. Whether it’s competitive with the best that Apple, Google, Huawei, and Samsung have to offer remains to be seen.

There are four lenses: A 48 MP wide (main) lens with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), an 8 MP ultra-wide lens, an 8 MP telephoto lens with OIS, 3X hybrid-optical zoom, and 30X digital zoom, and a 5 MP Color Filter lens. That latter lens is new to me, and the description suggests Instagram-style image effects and filters; I’ll test it.

My initial test shots, as noted, are decent and have a nice but subtle HDR-style color pop to them, which I like.

Things get muted as you use the zoom, however, with less color and detail.

But the ultra-wide lens is sweet, and it is exactly what I was missing in the Pixel 4 XL. Best of all, you don’t lose the color pop or detail in this mode.

The internals are absolutely flagship-class, and my experience with previous OnePlus handsets suggests that performance will be a high point here. The handset is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, of course, with Adreno 650 graphics, 8 GB or 12 GB of LPDDR5 RAM depending on the model purchased (the review unit came with 8 GB), and 128 GB or 256 GB of speedy UFS 3.0 solid-state storage. Combine all this with OnePlus’s typical software optimizations and you have the makings of the ideal gaming phone.

The OnePlus 8 Pro also ships with a Qualcomm X55 chipset, so it provides 5G networking capabilities in addition to the more common worldwide 4G/LTE/CDMA/GSM compatibility; I won’t be able to test that anytime soon, unfortunately. But it also ships with the most modern Wi-Fi 6 (2×2 MIMO), Bluetooth 5.1 (with aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, and AAC support), and NFC technologies as well. All of this is first class.

From an audio-video perspective, the OnePlus 8 has dual stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos support, and I quickly got lost in yet another section of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, thanks to the brilliant display, superior sound, and ideal stereo separation. It’s a truly impressive multimedia handset.

OnePlus has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to fast charging, and like last year’s flagships, the OnePlus 8 Por provides Warp Charge 30T charging that can provide a 50 percent charge in just over 20 minutes, all without the power brick getting hot.

But wireless charging is new, and it is unique to the 8 Pro, which supports what OnePlus calls Warp Charge 30 Wireless. If you have a Qi wireless charger, that will work normally. But if you use the OnePlus Warp 30 Wireless Charger, you can get a 50 percent charge in just 30 minutes. Folks, that’s incredible: Wireless charging is a convenience, but it’s usually much slower than wired charging.

From a security perspective, OnePlus still uses its excellent in-display fingerprint reader, and it’s been predictably fast and accurate. They make the best in-display fingerprint readers in the market.

I’ve only been using the OnePlus 8 Pro since late yesterday, but I did take the time to install and configure all my key apps, and I’m already enjoying the new dynamic wallpapers and UX customization capabilities that OnePlus provides here. OxygenOS, as OnePlus calls its Android variant, is smooth, clean, and fast, and it’s highly customizable. I may have a new favorite Android UI here.

I guess that’s it for now. I need to actually use the OnePlus 8 Pro out in the world, such as that is these days, and over time, to get a better feel for it, especially the camera system. But my quickie upfront evaluation is that this handset is just as good as anything Apple or Samsung offers, and while the price is exorbitant, its competition with other flagships and is, in fact, cheaper than Samsung’s insanely expensive S20 Ultra 5G. It does seem to be a contender.

More soon.

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