Last year, OnePlus began a shift towards the high-end, or what it calls the “ultra-premium,” part of the smartphone market, when it introduced its first Pro-branded device, the OnePlus 7 Pro. That handset was more expensive than previous OnePlus offerings. But it also undercut the prices of the most expensive Apple and Samsung flagships pretty dramatically while delivering a similarly sophisticated experience. OnePlus had brought its “never settle” mantra upmarket.
For 2020, OnePlus is building on this strategy and is again releasing two handsets together, the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 8 Pro. The latter is once again more expensive than any previous OnePlus handset, but it also undercuts the Apple and Samsung flagships while delivering similar or better levels of performance, fit and finish, and design.
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So let’s start there.
The OnePlus 8 Pro offers a very similar design to its predecessor, with a finely-crafted all-glass and aluminum exterior. There are three colors this year—Onyx Black, Ultramarine Blue, and Glacial Green, and my review unit is the latter, which I adore. There are only subtle differences with the OnePlus 7 Pro, including a few extra camera lenses and flash cutouts next to the vertical camera system module, which protrudes a bit more, and the new all-caps OnePlus branding on the back.
As subtly, the OnePlus 8 Pro is a tad thinner and lighter than its predecessor, thanks in part, I think, to the smart removal of the pop-up selfie camera; that was a fun and showy feature but it was impractical. The circular in-display camera cutout on the new handset was the right choice, and the tiny display bezels are nearly perfect. Overall, this is among the most handsome gadgets I’ve ever used.
If there’s a problem here, it’s that you will sadly need to cover the OnePlus 8 Pro’s gorgeous exterior with a protective case: The camera bulge is big enough to prevent the handset from lying flat on a table or other surface, and the glass design and curved display are worrying from a durability standpoint.
The OnePlus 8 Pro delivers one of the best displays I’ve ever used. It’s a QuadHD+ (3168 x 1440) Fluid AMOLED panel that leapfrogs OnePlus’s 2019 flagships by offering a 120 Hz refresh rate—vs. 90 Hz, or, for more pedestrian phones, 60 Hz—for super-smooth scrolling and animations. But it’s not just that. It also delivers an astonishing 1300 nits of brightness, meaning you can see it in even the brightest daylight, and HDR10+ support with real-time HDR boost. It’s also the most color-accurate display on the planet, according to DisplayMate.
That 120 Hz refresh rate is on by default, but the OnePlus 8 Pro runs at Full HD+ (2376 x 1080) instead of QuadHD+ because doing so dramatically improves the battery life. I’ve briefly tested moving to QuadHD+ but I don’t honestly see any difference and can’t be bothered. But it is notable that my far more expensive Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G could only use a 120 Hz refresh rate while displaying at Full HD+; on the OnePlus 8 Pro, it works at both resolutions.
At 6.78-inches, the display is very tall and not very wide, with a 19:8:9 aspect ratio. That’s appreciated, because it makes it a bit easier to use one-handed, at least if you’re stretching to reach items in the lower half of the display. But that benefit is also undercut by the display’s curved side edges, which too easily register my palm as a tap as I reach across the screen. A few years back, curved displays were all the rage, but even Samsung, which started this trend, has been backing away from this design in its own recent flagship, and for good reason. And even OnePlus went with a more desirable and flatter display with the OnePlus 7T last year. It’s time to do the same with the Pro lineup.
But that’s my only complaint about the display, and since most people will be using a phone this large double-fisted anyway, it’s a minor one.
As always, OnePlus delivers high-end components inside its flagship, and these future-proof parts, combined with the firm’s highly optimized software loadout (see below) will help to ensure years of trouble-free performance. It starts as it must with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 and Adreno 650 GPU, which are mated to 8 GB or 12 GB of high-performance LPDDR5 RAM and 128 GB or 256 GB of high-performance 2-lane UFS 3.0 solid-state storage.
If there’s a nit or two to pick there, it’s that the storage is non-expandable via microSD or similar, and that OnePlus doesn’t provide power users with a storage choice north of 256 GB. I don’t personally consider this an issue, and the review unit has 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, which I consider ideal. But your needs may vary. I’ve only been using the OnePlus 8 Pro for two weeks, but the performance has been nothing short of superlative.
The communications components are likewise modern and impressive. We get 5G networking capabilities courtesy of the Qualcomm X55 chipset, plus the usual 4×4 MIMO global 4G/LTE/LTE-A GSM and CDMA compatibilities, 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, and NFC. The system supports dual SIMs, but my understanding is that you can’t use 5G if both nano-SIM card slots are used. 5G supports varies by carrier of course, but the version that Verizon sells will allegedly support the full range of 5G frequencies that that firm offers in the near future. I can’t test 5G right now either regardless.
The OnePlus 8 Pro has strong stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos enhancements, great separation, crisp sound, and no bias to one side or the other. You can configure it explicitly for music or movies, or just use the dynamic mode, which optimizes the sound for whatever content you’re enjoying automatically.
There’s no headphone jack, if that’s still a concern.
I’ve made more phone calls than usual lately, and have found the call quality to be excellent. I never did get visual voicemail working with my Mint Mobile account, but the functionality is there, and it must work with at least some carriers.
The OnePlus 8 Pro is the first OnePlus handset to get an IP68 water and dust resistance rating, but that’s only true if you purchase the handset from a carrier. But OnePlus says that “all OnePlus 8 Series phones globally are tested thoroughly for everyday water resistance even if they don’t have an official rating.”
The OnePlus 8 Pro provides a large 4,510mAh battery, though battery life is tough to evaluate objectively right now because our schedules are no longer what they were and we’re often just home, and on Wi-Fi. But I’ve tested several other smartphones recently under these same conditions, and what I’ve seen of the battery life is excellent and perhaps only bested by the Galaxy S20 Ultra. I routinely get two full days of life and have only been charging it out of a vestigial sense of responsibility.
What’s not hard to test is the handset’s incredible quick-charge technology, which OnePlus calls WarpCharge 30T, which lets you achieve a 50 percent charge in just over 20 minutes when using the bundled cable and power brick (which is a bit large but runs cool, unlike some competing products). It works, and it works well. And it’s smarter than before, too: When you charge overnight, OnePlus delays charging the battery to full until just before your normal wake time to extend the lifetime of the battery.
Wireless charging is new to the OnePlus 8 Pro, and you can use any Qi-compatible wireless charger as you should expect. But with the new OnePlus Warp Charge 30 Wireless Charger, which OnePlus also provided for review, you can achieve up to a 50 percent charge in about 30 minutes, the firm says. I tested this several times and averaged about 44 percent in 30 minutes.
That’s the fastest wireless charging time available today that I’m aware of, and while it’s not heat-free like the WarpCharge 30T experience, the charger includes a built-in fan that I never heard. But the phone did get noticeably warm. Whether that’s a concern is unclear, but the speed at which this thing charges, wired or wireless, is incredible.
Less incredible is reverse wireless charging, which is slow and offers only 3-watts of power. Still, better than not having it if this is a need.
Though the OnePlus 8 Pro camera system will meet the needs of many potential buyers, any smartphone that seeks to compete at the flagship level needs to bring its camera A-game these days. What I see here is an improvement over the OnePlus 7T, albeit one that’s just not in the same league as the best in the market, which includes (alphabetically) the Apple iPhone 11 Pro series, the Google Pixel 4 XL series, the latest Huawei flagships, and the Samsung Galaxy S20 series. The camera system is good, generally. But I was hoping for excellent.
Everything looks solid on paper, but then it always does. The OnePlus 8 Pro has four camera lenses, though only three are important in the day-to-day. There’s a 48 MP wide (main) lens with an f/1.78 aperture and both optical image stabilization (OIS) and electronic image stabilization (OIS), a 48 MP wide-angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture and a 120-degree field of view, and an 8 MP telephoto lens with an f/2.44 aperture and OIS, plus a goofy 5 MP color filter lens that I’ll get to in just a bit.
OnePlus pointedly markets that 48 MP main lens, which is apparently a big step up from the 48 MP main lens in the OnePlus 7T thanks to its larger Sony IMX689 sensor; but both are the same resolution and both “bin” pixels to create 12 MP images. I find it just as interesting that the ultra-wide lens has jumped to 48 MP, up from 16 MP in the 7T, though again with its quality-enhancing pixel binning delivering 12 MP images. It has a slightly wider field of view than that in the 7T, and is called into service when you try to take a macro shot as well.
The telephoto lens is the most disappointing. There is no optical zoom at all, not even 2X. Instead, OnePlus crops the 12 MP image that it captures to 8 MP to achieve what it calls “lossless zoom.” But it’s just digital zoom. The quality is terrible at any zoom level, just as it was with the OnePlus 7 Pro. They’ve learned nothing.
The other primary lenses at least deliver decent pictures, but the colors are usually dull, with no HDR color pop. None are truly terrible. But very few of the pictures I’ve taken are truly great either.
I find the general blandness of the shots I’ve been taking to be particularly painful because my wife, who has switched to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, routinely takes better shots in any condition: Sunny days outdoors, indoor shots, night mode, whatever. Her photos are bright, colorful, and crisp. And mine usually are not. Granted, her phone is also $400 more expensive.
And then there’s that color filter lens. I have no idea what the point of this thing is, but you engage it using the Filter button and can choose between a few obvious filters, plus an oddball called Photochrom that makes everything look surreal; an outside shot on a beautiful Spring day looks like it’s snowing out. I don’t get it: Software filters work just fine and can be used on the other lens, which offers higher resolutions and better quality.
I don’t shoot a lot of video, but the OnePlus 8 Pro’s video functionality seems solid to me: You can shoot at up to 4K/60 FPS, and there’s a super stabilization mode that smooths the jerkiness of a handheld video shoot nicely, much like a real gimbal. Granted, that only works at up to 4K/30 FPS. The 16 MP selfie camera is also decent.
OnePlus provides the single-best in-display fingerprint reader in the market, and the OnePlus 8 Pro doesn’t disappoint: This fingerprint reader is fast and reliable, and a decided improvement over the lousy reader that Samsung provides in its recent flagships.
As with previous OnePlus handsets, the OnePlus 8 Pro provides an Alert slider that sits above the power button on the right side of the device. As always, it lets you toggle the phone between three alert modes—ring (the default), vibrate, and silent—without needing to first wake up the phone, authenticate, and then fiddle with the software. And there’s a nice on-screen notification that explains which mode you’re switching to as well. It’s such a great feature.
I am increasingly of the mind that OnePlus’s version of Android, called OxygenOS, is the single best version of Android available anywhere. This is no skin. Instead, it’s a highly optimized, almost infinitely customizable, and superior take on Android. It’s better in almost every way even to Google’s minimalist offerings on Pixel. And unlike other smartphone makers, OnePlus doesn’t seek to replace as much as possible in Android with its own offerings, it just makes everything in the underlying platform better.
The list of improvements that OnePlus makes to Android is long and much of it is not immediately obvious; the firm claims to have made several hundred tweaks to its underpinnings in addition to the dozens of unique features that you’ll spend weeks investigating as you navigate around Settings. And seriously, be sure to do so, as there are gems everywhere.
I’ll use Display settings as an obvious example. In addition to familiar settings like night mode and adaptive brightness, OnePlus provides a Comfort tone feature that automatically adapts the on-screen color in response to changes in the ambient light, similar to Apple’s True tone. A vibrant color effect Pro mode that dynamically makes video colors more vivid. A motion graphics smooth feature that reduces motion blur and improves the frame rate in supported video apps (Netflix and YouTube among them, but not Google Play Movies & TV). A Reading Mode for apps like Kindle that changes the display to monochrome or chromatic to spare your eyes. And then options for changing the resolution and frame rate.
This kind of customization is all over Settings. And while some are OnePlus staples—that Reading Mode feature has been around for at least a few years—the company is always adding more. In Oxygen 10.5, the version that ships with the OnePlus 8 Pro, we get a new Dark theme 2.0 that supports even more apps and dynamic wallpapers that shift colors and scenes as you navigate between the home screens.
As good, OnePlus even fixed the one issue I’d had with OxygenOS in the past: Instead of bogging down the handset with its useless Shelf interface to the left of the leftmost home screen as it had in the past, the OnePlus 8 Pro provides the stock Google Discovery feed that I prefer.
Finally, we should address the future.
While I feel that the so-called lack of updates on Android is a red herring, I know it’s an issue for many. OnePlus supports its handsets with three years of software updates, which include major updates to OxygenOS that map to new Android versions as well as bi-monthly security updates. That’s better than many Android device makers, though some no doubt would prefer monthly security updates. And both Apple and Samsung provide software updates for longer—five and four years, respectively—though their flagship-class handsets are much more expensive than the OnePlus 8 Pro.
The OnePlus 8 Pro starts at $900; for that price you get 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage in a single color, Glacial Green, plus the 5G networking capabilities that explain the higher pricing. There is a $1000 configuration as well that provides 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, and that version is available in Ultramarine Blue or Onyx Black. Why all three colors aren’t available in either configuration is unclear. But aside from the color choices and RAM and storage configurations, these models are otherwise identical.
The OnePlus 8 Pro is available for purchase starting today, April 29.
The OnePlus 8 Pro is an excellent flagship smartphone that measures up well against the best that Apple and Samsung have to offer, aside from its camera system, and does so for hundreds of dollars less. Where previous OnePlus flagships had quirky functional omissions, the OnePlus 8 Pro is as pro as its name suggests.
However, it also arrives at a tough time: With the world hobbled by COVID-19, many smartphone users are reevaluating their needs and finding that upgrading now, especially at the top end of the market, may not be the most prudent choice right now.
That’s not OnePlus’s fault, of course. And the firm does offer less expensive options, like the OnePlus 8 and previous models like OnePlus 7T and OnePlus 6T, for those on a budget. All of these are excellent choices, and each is a better value than the competition in their respective pricing tiers. But if you do have the means and aren’t put off by the less-than-excellent cameras, the OnePlus 8 Pro is highly recommended.