OnePlus 3T XDA Review: What Has Changed, and by How Much

OnePlus 3T XDA Review: What Has Changed, and by How Much

The OnePlus 3T quickly became a controversial release for OnePlus — while the company has managed to make a great smartphone even better, many wish they knew ahead of time that the best was yet to come, especially those who bought the OnePlus 3 very recently.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that OnePlus 3 sales are being discontinued, meaning the OnePlus 3T will be the company’s flagship moving forward. While OnePlus assured us the OnePlus 3 will still get software updates right alongside the OnePlus 3T (after they synchronize the schedule), it’s this new set of hardware and these improved specifications that OnePlus customers will receive moving forward. So the question in everyone’s mind (and especially OnePlus 3 owners) is whether the OnePlus 3T offers a substantially better experience than what the previous variant offers. Not everything is new, but the changes that it brings do impact key areas of the user experience — the cameras, the processor, storage and battery capacity. Do these elements manage to shine through, and is the OnePlus 3T a replacement worth the controversy? After about ten days with the phone, I can report back on some of the key differences and the conclusions I’ve arrived to.

Before we get started, note that this review will not be as lengthy nor as extensive as our usual XDA reviews. This is simply because other than the specified changes we’ll cover below, the phone is basically the same as the OnePlus 3. Those who do want more specific on factors like audio and the display can head over to our original OnePlus 3 review. As always, let’s get the specification sheet out of the way first (changes will be highlighted):

Device Name: OnePlus 3 Release Date/Price Available Now, U$D 439 | U$D 479 for 64GB | 128GB
Android Version 6.0.1 (OxygenOS ROM) Display 5.5 inch 1080p AMOLED (401 ppi)
Chipset Snapdragon 821, Quad Core 2x 2.35GHz 2x 1.6GHz, Adreno 530 GPU Battery 3,400mAh, Dash Charge (5V 4A)
RAM 6GB LPDDR4 Sensors Fingerprint, Hail, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light, Electronic Compass
Storage 64GB | 128GB UFS 2.0 Connectivity USB 2.0 Type C, Dual nano-SIM slot, 3.5mm audio jack
Dimensions 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35 cm (~73% screen-to-body) Rear Camera 16MP Sony IMX 298 Sensor, 1.12μm, OIS, EIS 2.0, PDAF, f/2.0, RAW support, 4K 30FPS / 720p 120FPS video, Sapphire Glass
Weight 158g Front Camera 16MP Samsung 3P8SP, 1.0μm, EIS, Fixed Focus, f/2.0, 1080p 30FPS video

Design & Build Quality

The design of the OnePlus 3T is the same as that of the OnePlus 3 down to dimensions and weight, despite the slight changes in internal hardware. The OnePlus 3T will be available in two colors, Gunmetal Grey for the 64GB and 128GB variants, and Soft Gold will also become available for the 64GB variant later on. We got to use the 128GB Gunmetal variant, which sells for $479. OnePlus says that part of the reason for this new color is to differentiate the new OnePlus 3T from the OnePlus 3 which came in Soft Gold and Graphite variants, especially as the Graphite color option is being discontinued with the OnePlus 3. However, it does make me wonder why this would be a reason for the change if there will be a shared color option between the OnePlus 3 and the 3T anyway.

Leaving that aside, the OnePlus 3T’s Gunmetal color is actually a welcome change. I originally had the OnePlus 3 Graphite, but then ended up getting a Soft Gold OnePlus which I thought looked better. The Gunmetal OnePlus 3T has actually become my favorite of the three, and it’s a hard preference to describe to those not looking at it in person. Indeed, promotional material doesn’t show the difference between this color and the previous Graphite OnePlus 3 very clearly, and other OnePlus 3 owners I’ve met in person had trouble recognizing I was using the new phone (under embargo, this isn’t quite a bad thing).

The Gunmetal back looks like what you’d expect — essentially a darker Graphite color option, and not quite black (which seems to be a new trend among OEMs). The edges, too, are slightly different and the chamfers shine as brightly as they did one the OnePlus 3 all over the edges and ports, but they stand out a bit more in my opinion because of the overall-darker tone of this new device. Another accent that I’ve noticed is different is the ring around the camera, which is still shiny but not quite the silver chrome look of the OnePlus 3; it’s a tad darker which helps it match the overall aesthetic of the device. Also, do keep in mind that all OnePlus 3 cases will work with this phone as they share the same dimensions, and I’ve had no issues with fitting the phone in my old cases (but as users of the official cases would know, getting the phone out is a different story). As a final note, frequent readers of my reviews know loose buttons are my pet peeve — but this unit has, hands down, the sturdiest buttons I’ve tested. Sadly, the vibration motor is still weak and puny.


Software Design & UX

Perhaps the saddest part about booting up the OnePlus 3T was finding that it doesn’t run the “Stock-like” kind of OxygenOS that the OnePlus 3 shipped with and currently supports as official, stable firmware. With the OnePlus 3T, the software in the community builds becomes the main ROM for the device moving forward, with all its new features and the new aesthetics as well. OnePlus has undoubtedly received a lot of feedback regarding the community builds (they have a dedicated app for that) and they’ve been incorporating the changes and fixes that the community requests; if you don’t like the fact that OnePlus is straying from the more Stock Android approach to the UI, do send feedback their way and make yourself heard.

Above and below you will find galleries comparing the user interface of the OnePlus 3 (non-community software) and the OnePlus 3T. As you can see, there are many changes to the UI in terms of color palette and iconography (luckily, not all of it), both of which deviate in great part from the Stock Android design language. This isn’t terrible in itself as the user interface does end up looking decent in its own right, and at the very least it’s one of the better OEM skins out there. Some changes, such as the Android N-inspired notification pulldown, are actually quite well-realized and functionally useful. However, there are many aesthetic and functional inconsistencies, some of which carry on from the community builds; I’ve passed them along to OnePlus and they assured me the phone would receive a firmware update in the following days that will improve the ROM in general for those receiving the device.

Some of these inconsistencies are: the brightness slider has the “material green” color even when UI accents don’t (default theme) and the option isn’t offered; on left-most screens, stock wallpapers  incorporate the infamous “gaussian blur” many OEMs (particularly from Asia) are incorporating, and this is sadly tied to the wallpaper (like a live wallpaper) across other launchers as well; the reboot menu is always slow no matter your animation settings and does not adjust to landscape orientations. These are some of the more glaring inconsistencies, and I’ve forwarded them along so they will likely get addressed in the future.

screenshot_20161116-183830What about features? Those not used to the community builds will find many of these features to be new, but OnePlus 3 owners who ventured into that beta software will find a lot to be the same. In fact, the OnePlus 3T ships with Oxygen 3.5.1, and although the community builds have gone past 3.5.5, the device comes with features from the latter builds. In the UI, these features include the aforementioned custom notification menu and status bar (system UI tuner is also present, for those that like that) and a recent apps “clear all” mode option (either close apps or also clear background processes and cache).

Then there are new gestures such as “flip to mute” (flip device to stop mute an incoming call), “three-finger screenshot” (swipe with free fingers for a screenie), and the ability to block unwanted contacts. Also, expanded screenshot functionality will come in a future update according to OnePlus, and options such as screen calibration and the dark theme remain almost as good as always (the accent options aren’t particularly appealing, if you ask me).

Another feature that came to the community builds and that I’ve greatly enjoyed is the ability to lock apps behind a PIN or fingerprint scan; this isn’t anything new in Android, but it’s very well implemented and the screen is aesthetically attractive too. Overall, OxygenOS expands on the feature set of the OnePlus 3’s versions but also makes some radical changes to the user interface; I personally got used to the new UI and eventually came to accept it, but part of me still wishes it looked more similar to what the OnePlus 3 offered at launch. That being said, OnePlus’ software has been iterating rapidly so perhaps Nougat will bring a UI refresh.


Performance

The OnePlus 3 was one of the best smartphones when it came to real-world performance, and it still happens to be one of the fastest and most consistent Snapdragon 820 devices we’ve tested. To recap some of the devices achievements off our review, it not only scored higher than other Snapdragon 820 devices in synthetic benchmarks, but it also had very impressive thermals and showed no signs of throttling; even under very intense endurance tests, including over 30 minutes (and up to an hour) of continuous GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 loops, the device throttled less than competing Snapdragon 820 devices. If you’d like to read more about that, head over to the performance section of our OnePlus 3 review, or the dedicated thermals & throttling analysis we did for the device as well.

The OnePlus 3T’s only real change in terms of horsepower comes from the Snapdragon 821 processor bump. Ultimately, that’s only the increment you are looking at: the CPU’s performance cluster goes from 2.15GHz to 2.35GHz, but the power-efficient cluster stays at 1.6GHz (which is not the maximum for this set, as it can go up to 2GHz like Qualcomm originally listed, but that’s not a bad thing) and the GPU does see a bump in frequency as well. Because this isn’t quite the configuration advertised by Qualcomm, their listed performance percentage improvements are not going to show in synthetic benchmarks. This much is true, and the OnePlus 3T does bring improvements to synthetic benchmarks scores, but these are very slight — less than 10% in most cases. Above you can find a list of benchmarks comparing both devices. All in all, and as far as Snapdragon-featuring devices go, the OnePlus 3T is the best  performer in synthetic benchmarks that we’ve tested, and that makes it slightly more future-proof in the end.

When it comes to throttling and thermals, the OnePlus 3T has quite a legacy to live up to. And unsurprisingly it does endure just fine, as we’ve run our 3DMark and GFXBench endurance tests under controlled conditions on both devices at the same time and found that, overall, temperature remained nearly identical with a fluctuating difference of about ±0.5°C, and overall throttling was also similar and below 5% on both devices. The OnePlus 3T did ultimately sustain a higher score in these tests, as expected, meaning that the extra bump in graphics performance doesn’t vanish the moment you stress the processor. In fact, they typically throttle at about the same point, and even when throttled the OnePlus 3T performs better than the OnePlus 3 at its peak. In real-world, day-to-day usage I haven’t felt the OnePlus 3T get even close to toasty. As for gaming performance over time, the OnePlus 3T expectedly maxes out games with 30FPS caps and sustains that framerate as well as the OnePlus 3 did — in today’s Android gaming scene, there’s no reason for you to need that extra bit of graphics performance anyway, as the OnePlus 3 has plenty of GPU prowess left unused.

What about real-world performance? Perhaps the most shocking part of reviewing the OnePlus 3T is that this area is more of a mixed bag. Let’s start with the good part, though: OnePlus claimed that the OnePlus 3T would be faster at launching applications, something I was very skeptical of at first given the phones ultimately pack the same storage solution, and that the boost in CPU and GPU performance would most certainly contribute very, very little to app opening speeds. Surprisingly enough, OnePlus wasn’t lying about the performance boost to opening apps and despite the similar hardware, the OnePlus 3T can be up to 20% faster at opening certain apps.

To put this to the test, I measured app opening speeds of Chrome, Hangouts, the Play Store and Gmail using Discomark on both devices, after a factory reset, on the same network and at the same time. You can find the results above in a boxplot to see the variance as well. Opening games like Asphalt 8 is also noticeably faster on the OnePlus 3T, and these changes are reportedly coming from an improved filesystem OnePlus implemented on this device. These are essentially changes to software algorithms and it’s not unlike what Huawei and Honor employ on their devices, which also show extremely good app opening speeds.

I reached out to OnePlus and asked if these filesystem changes would eventually arrive to the OnePlus 3’s main firmware, and I was told that it would indeed make it to the OnePlus 3, although the timeline isn’t certain. However, I was made aware that the improved filesystem is actually present in the community ROM. Ultimately, this improvement builds upon what already was one of the fastest devices of the year anyway, and I’m sure many people wouldn’t perceive the speed improvement in day-to-day operation… but the optimization is there and it’s measurable; if you are a gamer, it’s even more noticeable too.

While app opening speeds have been great, I haven’t been too impressed with actual real-world fluidity and smoothness on this device (particularly when halving animation speed) after experiencing the OnePlus 3. While the original OnePlus 3 on the original OxygenOS felt surprisingly fluid from the start, the OnePlus 3T hasn’t felt quite as smooth for me. It’s not laggy by any means, but it’s also not hard to find microstutters when swiping through long lists and they are even found across certain UI elements like the notification panel, although these are small and infrequent. Furthermore, comparing (using GPU Profiling) the OnePlus 3T side-by-side to the OnePlus 3 running the official, Stock-like Oxygen firmware reveals very similar performance patterns as the location of the bars are typically the same for the same actions, but the the spikes and stutters are usually slightly worse on the OnePlus 3T.  I do attribute this to the stark changes in software OnePlus has been making, but also due to the fact that this is a new device and it’s running pre-release software. As I said earlier, OnePlus says they’ll release an OTA shortly after the device goes on sale so that users will have a “release build” available right after they unbox their phone. For now, the OnePlus 3T is perfectly usable, but it feels slightly less-optimized than the OnePlus 3 was at launch.


Camera

While OnePlus was vague about the changes to the camera user experience in press releases, I was able to confirm that the back camera of the OnePlus 3T is the same as the OnePlus 3’s in both hardware and software for pictures. The OnePlus 3T does pack EIS 2.0 for shooting video, and you can find a comparison below, but as far as actual pictures go the OnePlus 3 is the same as this new device. You can find a comparison of the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T, with the former running the latest community build for the latest camera software, below this paragraph — as you can see, there really isn’t any stark difference in the image processing, and the resulting images look very similar (any variations could be attributed to the slight different in positioning and focus point). The only advantage the rear camera has on the OnePlus 3T outside of video is the “sapphire glass” lens, a welcome addition given many people had complained the basic glass on the OnePlus 3’s rear camera was easily scratchable.

The new EIS 2.0 for the back camera’s video is not something you can toggle (always on by default), and I’d say it’s noticeable even in the viewfinder similar to that of the Pixel XL — in fact, OnePlus confirmed to me that it is a gyro-based solution similar to what Google implemented. That being said, it is nowhere near as extreme as the Pixel XL’s, and also not as effective. This is both a good and a bad thing, because while it’s not as impressive it’s also more fluid than what the OnePlus 3 offered, and overall subtle enough that there is no real need for a toggle anyway (although, an option would be nice anyway). You can find comparisons between the OP3T and OP3 as well as the OP3T and Pixel XL below, note the 1080p 60FPS shooting mode on the OnePlus 3T in particular and how it’s different from the Pixel XL’s results. Finally, I was told by OnePlus that the updated EIS would find its way to the OnePlus 3 in the future, although no specific timeline was given.

Not unlike other EIS solutions, it can cause some slight distortions on the sides of the video as well. Overall, though, the feature is a net positive and it improves the video experience over that of the OnePlus 3, which to be fair has improved quite a bit anyway since we originally reviewed it. I also notice that video on the OnePlus 3T seems to handle exposure changes and saturation slightly differently, but these modifications in particular are likely coming in a future update for the OnePlus 3.

img_20161111_095247

Selfie Sample

The biggest change in the OnePlus 3’s camera experience is found in the front camera, which upgrades to a Samsung 3P8SP sensor with a resolution of 16MP instead of 8MP. I’ve seen incorrect opinions floating around stating that just because this is a Samsung sensor (and specifically not a Sony sensor like the previous one), and because of the aperture being the same and the pixel size being smaller, it’d perform worse in low-light. I’m happy to report that that’s not the case, as seen in both the staged tests below as well as regular selfies.

Ultimately, the camera is both sharper and better in medium to low light, colors are better in my opinion as well, and the resolution bump makes it even more of a thorough upgrade over the previous camera. I am not sure just how much of the improvement come from the sensor and how much comes from the software tweaks and optimizations that come alongside it, but overall I’ve been satisfied with the front camera more than I was on the OnePlus 3. I am not a selfie guy, though, and I presume that most of our readers aren’t either.


Battery & Battery Life

This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the OnePlus 3T release, because battery life is always something people almost-universally want more of. Last time we were only able to confirm the voltage change (from 4.35V to 4.4V) on the OnePlus 3T’s battery, and that the battery remained the same size. People quickly jumped to inductive reasoning and made a few dangerous inferences (please don’t tweak your battery’s voltage), but now we can clear up some misconceptions. OnePlus has confirmed to me that the battery chemistry and electrolyte solution is indeed different, so this is not the exact same battery despite being the same size. Moreover, peak energy capacity (not considering nominal voltage) is now 14.96Wh (people wrongly assumed it had remained constant, in part because I couldn’t disclose changes to battery chemistry and energy density) and, as listed in the spec sheet, this is a 3,400mAh battery. So, with that out of the way, we are working with a battery that’s ~13% bigger in terms of mAh, the metric we are all most familiar with (for better or worse).

pcmark

PCMark Work Battery Life OnePlus 3T (Oxygen 3.5.1) OnePlus 3 (Oxygen 3.2.7)
Min. Brightness 9 h 02 m 7 h 21 m

What does this mean for endurance with the OnePlus 3T? Above you will find the scores of PCMark Work Battery Life 2.0 benchmark running on both devices, after a factory reset with disabled background services and at minimum brightness. Just like expected, the OnePlus 3T drains at a similar rate but lasts longer due to the added capacity, and perhaps the slight boost in efficiency due to the SoC change (but I doubt this makes a difference in most use cases). In fact, the boost of 13% battery puts the OnePlus 3T’s time score per mAh very close to that of the 3,4500mAh Pixel XL, as seen in our review. In any case, the battery increase is indeed there and it’s palpable when looking for it through benchmarks, but it also makes a difference in real-world usage as we’ll see below. As for Dash Charge, I was able to confirm that the charging rate and the breakpoints remain the same; it’s the same algorithm, basically, but it does take slightly longer to charge given the battery has a larger capacity. That said, each percentage point represents more battery life time anyway.

I was actually pretty impressed with the regular OnePlus 3’s longevity, and in our review I noted that it wasn’t hard for me to hit 5 to 6 hours of screen-on-time on a relatively normal day with above-average WiFi usage. With the OnePlus 3T, I see up to 7 hours of screen-on-time on WiFi, and about 5 to 6 with medium-to-heavy usage with periods of LTE. On very heavy usage days, such as the kind of days I went through this week at the Snapdragon Summit, I still got a surprising amount of use out of this phone — taking notes on docs, while recording the talks and managing the team through Hangouts and Slack all on LTE still allowed for 4 hours of usage, even if I had to charge earlier than I expected.

Overall, I have had better battery life than on the OnePlus 3 and even than on the Pixel XL (despite the difference in PCMark scores, which doesn’t take into account radio drain, digitizer usage, nor the particular quirks of real apps and actual usage).


Storage

Finally, we arrive to storage — a rather simple thing to describe, really, as both employ UFS 2.0 storage but the difference lies in maximum capacity. There is a 64GB variant selling for $440, but the real story here is the new $480 OnePlus 3T with 128GB of storage. I personally find that much storage to be overkill for my usage, but given that the lack of microSD support was a qualm many had with the original OnePlus 3, I am sure some people will welcome it. Also keep in mind that because the software component of various levels take up a chunk of space, the usable storage is a bit higher than double on the OnePlus 3T. The OnePlus 3T has 113.22GB of total storage, while the OnePlus 3 has a total storage of 52.67GB.


You don’t get to choose, sadly

With the OnePlus 3 being discontinued, the OnePlus 3T is what people looking into purchasing a OnePlus device have as their only option for the foreseeable future, unless they want to go for a third-party reseller or opt for a new device. We are aware that many people are upset at this release, and truth be told we have a lot of OnePlus 3 owners in our staff that had negative feelings towards the decision. If you are interested in knowing why OnePlus created the OnePlus 3T, you can check out our article on the matter. Before I present my closing comments, I want to reiterate I only covered the differences between the OnePlus 3T and its predecessor because re-reviewing the entire device would be a waste, and for a comprehensive look at other aspects you can check out our in-depth review. Finally, I am also aware that this review is perhaps best understood by someone that has had experience with the OnePlus 3 before, and I admit it’s in great part aimed at OnePlus 3 owners here on XDA but also on other communities like OnePlus’ official forums and reddit. Nevertheless, I hope all readers got some good information out of it.

If I had to summarize the OnePlus 3T in one statement, it’d be that OnePlus managed to make a great thing even better. Either directly or indirectly, the improvements that the company applied to the 3T are also things that many people complained about with the first release. For example, the extra storage should please those discontent with the lack of microSD, the sapphire camera glass will ease the concerns of those critical of the camera-bump by reducing the glass’ fragility, the front camera is a welcome improvement and the faster processor and bigger battery are both aspects that people looking for OnePlus phones universally appreciate. In terms of hardware, the OnePlus 3T is one of the best devices of 2016 regardless of the price, but it’s an even sweeter deal given it’s still nearly half the price of the Pixel XL with the same storage configuration (after taxes, to be fair)

At the same time, the OnePlus 3T solidified OxygenOS’ trajectory which strayed from the Stock-like approach that captured our attention so many months ago (well, perhaps not so many). I personally hope that Nougat brings the more-Stock approach once more, or at least an option to make Oxygen look like Stock Nougat which is pretty in itself and doesn’t need any adulteration. But that’s my opinion, and you are free to disagree: OxygenOS on the OnePlus 3T is perfectly serviceable and its features remain thoughtful and well-executed. Real-world performance is good although not as impressive of a package as the OnePlus 3 was at the time, although this could easily be addressed with a software update, and the hardware in there is more than capable of handling anything out today from applications to 3D games.

I might be partially breaking our long-standing review tradition of not telling customers what to buy, but if you were to ask me whether you should upgrade from a OnePlus 3, I would say no — well, not unless you have a ton of disposable income laying around. The OnePlus 3T doesn’t make the OnePlus 3 any worse, but it does put it a step down from “the best” out there, at least certainly the best from OnePlus. I do think it would have been a good move to keep the OnePlus 3 around, although I understand that handling two different demand channels with two different sets of orders for manufacturing components would likely be troublesome (the company has enough trouble meeting demand as it is). There is something psychologically appealing about a $400 price-point, and the $440 OnePlus 3T deviates a bit from that even if you could argue its bang-per-buck is slightly larger. But for $440 and $480, the OnePlus 3T is an excellent device that thoroughly improves upon many aspects of its short-lived predecessor. 

A final point of concern is that the developer community will be divided by this release. Prominent and respected developers like flar2 and Sultanxda had stated that they won’t support the OnePlus 3T, and their reasons are valid as well — it’s a lot of trouble for an unexpected move by OnePlus. Do know that XDA administrators will work with OnePlus and the community to make sure the fissure is as small as it can be, and help in any way we can. We will likely be talking more about this in the coming weeks and months.


What do you think of the OnePlus 3T? Will you be getting one? Let us know your opinion below!

Check Out XDA’s OnePlus 3T Forum >> Check Out XDA’s OnePlus 3 Forum >>

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