OnePlus 8 Review – Not Enough to Beat the OnePlus 7T
The OnePlus 7T was released alongside the OnePlus 7T Pro flagship in late 2019 as the half-yearly upgrade to the OnePlus 7, but a fairly big upgrade for the markets that were stuck with the OnePlus 6T. In my eyes, the OnePlus 7T was a classic: a practical smartphone in the premium category that cuts out the gimmicks for a tight and cohesive product experience. Several other team members here at XDA also echoed the same thoughts, judging it as one of the best value flagships of 2019. And now comes the OnePlus 8, promising to pick up where the 7T left off and run across the last mile.
But with a $699 price tag for the base variant, which is a good $100 increase from the OnePlus 7T’s starting price, can the OnePlus 8 truly succeed the OnePlus 7T? Does it offer enough reasons for someone to pick this phone over the 7T, or even better, upgrade from the OnePlus 7T? Do all the hardware specification jumps translate into a noticeable improvement in the value flagship experience? Come along as we attempt to answer these questions in our OnePlus 8 review.
OnePlus 8 Series Specifications
OnePlus 8: Full Specifications
|Dimensions & Weight||
|Colors, Materials, Finish||
|Camera (Front)||16MP Sony IMX471, f/2.0, 1.0µm pixels, fixed focus, EIS, [email protected]|
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 CPU
Adreno 650 GPU
|Ports & Buttons||
|Audio & Vibration||
|Multimedia Codec Support||
Design: The Color out of Space
The OnePlus 8 brings very few changes to the general OnePlus back design that we’ve become accustomed to over the past several years. It features the familiar gently-curved glass back with the vertical multi-camera housing centered at the top of the device, this time featuring three camera lenses, in contrast to its direct predecessor’s double camera array. If it wasn’t for the new color and extra camera, you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint the year-on-year changes to this back design, but that’s not a bad thing at all. It is a bit shorter (160.2mm), narrower (72.9mm) and even thinner (8mm) than the OnePlus 7T but remains comfortable to hold and fits perfectly in my medium-sized hand, allowing me to grip the device tightly and securely. Unlike other glass sandwich smartphones, there are no sharp edges or corners where the glass meets the aluminum rail. All of this is to be expected as, again, the company has had time to master this particular form through multiple iterations. What the OnePlus 8 brings to the table that’s new and exciting, in typical OnePlus fashion, are the color options.
There is no shortage of dazzling color options on the market, as companies try to constantly one-up each other with alluring (and often blue) glass backs that shine in all sorts of patterns. OnePlus, in particular, is known for its staggered releases of multiple color options, each more enticing than the last, a move that had become a predictable part of each of their phones’ launch cycles. This new offering comes in three colors, Onyx Black, Glacial Green, and the Interstellar Glow variant which we are reviewing. Amidst so many great looking phones, how does this unit fare?
The Interstellar Glow OnePlus 8 is being propped as the standard-bearer for this launch, and for good reason. It has a often-colorless and completely iridescent glass back that’s super glossy and reflective, and thus very shiny. Not unlike every glass smartphone of the day, it can recast light in all sorts of patterns, but this particular approach makes the entire back change with the slightest flick of your wrist.
It essentially looks as if the back of the phone is part soapy water bubble and part polished pearl, smoothly alternating between hues of pink, blue and purple without committing to any particular color
It essentially looks as if the back of the phone is part soapy water bubble and part polished pearl, smoothly alternating between hues of pink, blue and purple without committing to any particular color. If you look closely, you’ll even find other colors mixed in there too, making for a rainbowy treat that’s honestly somewhat addictive to look at.
That is, of course, until the phone picks up all your fingerprints and becomes a smudgy mess. This is a problem here just as much as with every phone, and the OnePlus 8 didn’t come with the excellently-fitting plastic cases that just about every recent OnePlus device packs in the box, which is a huge bummer. This is also a very fragile-looking phone: part of it is that it looks so expensive and glossy, but I’ve also had very mixed experiences with recent OnePlus devices. I bought a OnePlus 7 Pro that endured every kind of fall that a careful smartphone owner could imagine and that I was nonetheless able to resell as “mint condition”. The OnePlus 7T that I received for review last year, however, cracked after a one feet fall on floating wood, despite being encased! So omitting the signature transparent case is a shame, given the pretty back and possible fragility of the device.
The front of the device is where we see the most change this time around. Somewhat similarly to the OnePlus 7 Pro, this device opts for a slightly-curved display that helps mask modestly-chunky bezels. I say “somewhat” because this time, the curving begins much closer to the edges of the device and is rather steep, so it’s not as visually-noticeable in everyday use as it was on the OnePlus 7 Pro, or as it is on other curved smartphones. This is a good thing for those who enjoy flatter displays, like that of the 7T, but it’s still something you can feel when swiping from the sides, and I’ve had many accidental touches. At the very least, this panel does not suffer from the slight but annoying perspective distortion that the 7 Pro’s odd curvature choice caused during media consumption, nor the obstructive glare that sometimes interfered with content visibility.
Gone is also the notched display of the OnePlus 7 and 7T, as the company opted for a hole-punch like many other manufacturers. The top-left hole-punch is fairly small as it’s housing a single camera, and while it becomes mostly unnoticeable during everyday use, it’s still more noticeable than the OnePlus teardrop notch ever was in my opinion. It also doesn’t help that the curved screen doesn’t allow it to be placed in alignment with the screen’s curved corners, as it’s pushed closer to the middle of the panel. With both the curved screen and the move-away from a tear-drop notch, this phone ends up looking much less like a OnePlus phone and more like a Samsung, or just another Android phone.
A change of identity like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I find this approach much worse than both the pop-up camera full-screen goodness of the OnePlus 7 Pro and the minimal teardrop notch of the flatter 7T. Besides that, the front houses a top speaker (that aids in stereo audio) and an under-display fingerprint scanner, which we’ll touch on later.
Around the phone, we have a standard aluminum frame that’s extremely polished to complement the pearly and bubbly back of the phone. It’s fairly pretty, but I’m somewhat skeptical about how well it’ll hold up in a year given how smooth and polished it is — these railings typically accumulate tons of scratches and scuffs in no time without a case. The bottom of the phone hosts the dual SIM slot, microphone, USB Type-C port and bottom-firing speaker, while the left and right sides host the volume keys and power button respectively. The familiar alert slider returns with the same tactile pattern.
These are probably the best-feeling buttons I’ve tried on a smartphone
One last observation here is that this specific review unit has had the absolute best-feeling buttons I’ve tried: they are clicky, and they have no give or wiggle at all when resting the finger on top of them, or trying to wiggle them in place without clicking. I’m extremely picky with buttons, and these get an A+ for me, though this doesn’t guarantee that every unit will have such great-feeling buttons.
The back design is ultimately the showstopper here. While the phone feels incredibly well-built, fairly light (much lighter than the 7 Pro, for one) and super thin, the Interstellar Glow back is probably the variant most people will want to go for, and with good reason. While it’s not the “first” iridescent smartphone out there, it’s the nicest of its kind in my opinion, and one of the best color options in OnePlus’ extensive repertoire. And that’s kind of a tragedy, too, considering that the base variant does not come in Interstellar Glow; this means you’ll have to fork out $800 for the privilege, making this pretty color far too expensive when the company’s own 7T also offers a nice design and similar hardware.
User Interface: Good old, same old
There’s really not much that has changed when it comes to OnePlus’ excellent interface. OxygenOS has been a favorite among Android enthusiasts given that, for the most part, it has not strayed too far from the simple and functional design language of Stock Android. Over the years, this has increasingly changed as the company adopted custom icons and its own OnePlus Slate font, among other design changes. But all of this still leaves OxygenOS closer to a Pixel smartphone in terms of its UI than just about any other big name brand out there.
Better yet, OxygenOS offers tons of customization options, enabling you to change the theme, icon shapes and accent colors of the OS to better match your mood and taste. You can also tweak the fingerprint unlock animation, the ambient display clock style, and the “Horizon Light” — their way of showcasing notifications without a notification LED, using the phone’s curved screen edges. While OnePlus was once at the forefront of UI customization, though, most smartphones today have many of these features — even Google’s more restrained Pixel smartphones offer a modest amount of UI customization like accent color tuning.
The UI largely remains identical, barring some slight animation changes when unlocking the phone or accessing the volume settings. One new UI addition is that of “dynamic” wallpapers. Now it must be said that OnePlus has always delivered incredible wallpapers, going back to the OnePlus 2 when their collaboration with artist Hampus Olsson first began. More recent smartphones like the OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T have had live wallpapers with smooth animations upon unlocking the phone and swiping around the homescreen, which complemented the high refresh rate panels really nicely. OnePlus is taking these a step further with dynamic wallpapers, which subtly shift color tones based on local temperature and weather.
The dynamic wallpapers and fingerprint unlock animation are as satisfying as ever
To be honest, the change is noticeable but not very impressive. The wallpaper themselves are very nice, though now a tad too reminiscent of what’s been featured on competing phones, and thus feel a bit less original than what’s found on previous OnePlus devices. But they are still very pretty, and although a wallpaper is hardly a smartphone selling point, it’s still yet another polished detail to go along with the rest.
What is more of a selling point is their new Dark Theme 2.0, a more-universal dark mode that is custom-made for the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro, being built from the ground up to support more applications. It’s not surprising that OnePlus would expand upon such an enthusiast-centric feature, and they were one of the first companies to introduce this functionality, all the way back with the OnePlus 2. With Dark Theme 2.0, system apps will become dark-themed as usual, and then other applications with available night or dark modes like the Play Store will be themed as well. Then, by going into the OnePlus laboratory, you’ll be able to enable Dark Tone, which will also theme applications that don’t have a built-in dark theme, like Hangouts. This works super well, though app support is limited, and the theming itself just doesn’t look as polished as an app developer’s own vision for their app’s dark mode (this is particularly evident in apps like Hangouts where the theming sometimes interferes with text legibility).
There are other small changes throughout OxygenOS, like the default launcher replacing the dull OnePlus Shelf with a typical Google feed. Of course, OnePlus also needs to accommodate for the new hole-punch, and the notification bar is pushed slightly to the right starting with the clock, which might bother some people. You can “turn off” the hole-punch similarly to how you could mask the notch on previous devices, but the implementation here simply fills the top of the device with an extremely uneven virtual bezel that frankly looks gross. I can’t see anyone using that feature, ever.
Beyond these changes, the OnePlus 8 feels like any up-to-date OnePlus device, so those looking to upgrade would have a very seamless transition. If you don’t have a OnePlus device, but love a simple and performant UI that never gets in the way with aesthetic clutter or shoddy organization, then you’ll probably like OxygenOS a lot. It’s hard to overstate how polished it looks and feels after so many iterative refinements and sensible artistic decisions.
User Experience & Software Features: Nothing new to see
In terms of features, this OxygenOS revision doesn’t bring that much to the table. It’s got all the great functionality OnePlus users have come to love, but other than the better Dark Mode and dynamic wallpapers mentioned above, not much else is new. This isn’t terrible nor unexpected, as OnePlus mostly adds new functionality through software updates, with only the bigger features becoming headliners launched alongside new smartphones.
For example, the dual-channel network acceleration featured in recent OxygenOS betas is now present in this release, allowing you to use both WiFi and data to speed up big downloads. Like on Pixel smartphones, you’ll also be able to access Google’s live captioning from the volume side menu, which will transcribe whatever audio is playing on your device. This is the kind of stuff that OxygenOS users can expect in the near future; getting new features and small improvements or optimizations constantly is one of my favorite parts of the OnePlus experience, so while this release feels fairly light on new features, users can expect more functionality (including most of what the inevitable ‘T’ late-year release will bring) in the near future.
So, what features are there (and have been there) that you should know about?
For starters, OnePlus has been offering its own robust set of lockscreen gestures for years, which lets you draw certain shapes when the screen is off and map those actions to apps or specific shortcuts. Another great OxygenOS feature that I’ve become accustomed to is the ability to take screenshots with a three-finger swipe down the screen. Perhaps the one feature I use every day is the ability to record the screen through a handy overlay that’s accessible via the quick setting toggles. The screen recorder offers a variety of resolution options, and it can quickly be started, paused, and canceled. Then, if the recording wasn’t of your liking, you can immediately delete the video from the notification popup meant to inform you that the video has been saved successfully.
OxygenOS is filled with small, useful features
As for unlocking, we still have access to face unlock which remains one of the quickest (albeit not necessarily safest) solutions on the market. The under-display fingerprint scanner of the OnePlus 8 has been fairly quick and extremely accurate for me, with a smaller activation area and less-annoying light than that of the 7T. One of my favorite OxygenOS features is tied to fingerprint unlocking as well: after unlocking the device, you can keep holding the screen to bring up a customizable menu of app shortcuts. By continuing to hold the finger, you can scroll across the horizontal list, and releasing the finger launches the application. This is an excellent feature if, for example, you typically unlock your phone to look at a social media feed. Given you can initiate the gesture within your pocket, you are effectively able to have the specific app ready by the time you draw out your phone.
OxygenOS is littered with small, useful features like that. For example, they offer one of the best screenshot editors out there, allowing you to quickly crop, rotate and even blur portions of the screenshot. They were also one of the first ones to include expanded screenshots, which often come in handy. They also have a simple video editor that lets you quickly trim clips, add filters, and also add music from a small (and admittedly awful) selection of tunes.
Speaking of gaming, the company offers fleshed-out gaming-enhancement service with its own app. “Game Space” acts as a hub for all of your games, not unlike the gaming center apps other manufacturers also offer. You can quickly launch your games by swiping cross their respective cards in a horizontal list, or a more traditional app icon approach. With Game Space, you can make it so that whenever you receive notifications while in a game, you only get a discreet text pop-up reminiscent of the old notification tickers — I can’t overstate you how useful this is when playing multiplayer games.
You can also turn call notifications from third-party apps into text pop-ups, make it so that calls are automatically answered via the speaker, and turn off auto-brightness for your games (you are better off just turning off auto-brightness in general). Other options include haptic feedback enhancement, automatic network switching to avoid lag, and graphics optimization in the form of improved shadow details. Then there is Fnatic mode, which (1) blocks all notifications and calls (2) restricts background processes to maximize CPU and GPU allocation, and (3) stops the secondary SIM. Whenever you are inside a game, a persistent notification will allow you to access Game Space settings or turn on Fnatic mode directly with a button shortcut.
The opposite of Fnatic would be OnePlus’ Zen Mode. On top of offering Android’s typical Digital Well-being features, the OnePlus 8 offers Zen Mode to voluntarily lock yourself out of your phone, and focus on other things, for 20, 30, 40 and 60-minute sessions. I personally have no need for Zen Mode, though those who do enjoy the feature can also keep track of their total time in this mode, how many notifications were muted, and how many days it’s been used. You can also save these stats as screenshots, or share them directly from the app to let everyone know how much you are not using your new phone.
Beyond these note-worthy features, OxygenOS offers a plethora of extra functionality. By now, you probably already know about the alert slider that’s characteristic of every OnePlus device since the OnePlus 2, which of course is retained and needs no explanation. It remains one of my favorite perks of the device, though, as it’s something I use multiple times a day, every day. By contrast, there are also features I personally hardly ever use, yet might come in handy to some of you. Parallel apps let you essentially log in with two different accounts on the same app, in supported services like Discord or FB Messenger; the App Locker lets you make it so that certain apps require authentication, and also lets you hide their notification content. Quick Reply in landscape lets you reply to an incoming notification by essentially opening a smaller version of the app to the side.
You get the idea. While I haven’t included features related to the display, camera, and battery life or charging in this section, this list makes it clear that the OnePlus 8 brings a ton of functionality.
Display: Still good, but not better
OnePlus smartphones have offered some tremendous screens in the past, often opting for the latest in screen technology and having been one of the first to hop onto the high refresh rate train. XDA’s Dylan Raga has done in-depth display analyses for many OnePlus smartphones, and while he typically finds room for improvement, their displays have generally been excellent. Last year’s OnePlus 7 Pro, for example, earned an illustrious A grade thanks to its great color accuracy and minimal black clipping.
While it retains the 90Hz goodness introduced last year, the OnePlus 8 changes things up a bit by opting for a newer 6.55-inch (20:9) Samsung AMOLED panel, and foregoing the pop-up camera for a hole-punch solution. It’s the kind of bleeding-edge panel you’d expect out of a 2020 flagship, with HDR10+ support and the added benefit of TÜV Eye Comfort Certification due to its ability to “drastically reduce the harmful effects of blue light”. While I am not a display expert like Dylan is, I can give you my subjective review of the OnePlus 8’s display. If you are looking for a more comprehensive display review, you’ll have to check out Dylan’s OnePlus 8 Pro display analysis. For thoughts on the refresh rate side of things, head over to the dedicated performance article.
Auto-brightness is still really terrible, despite constant user complaints
Starting with brightness, it’s not surprising that the OnePlus 8 gets bright, with an output that edges out the OnePlus 7T’s at the manually adjusted maximum brightness. Not only does it offer higher peak brightness, which is something you typically expect out of newer displays anyway, but the lowest brightness is also seemingly lower, with side-by-side tests showing the OnePlus 8 to be much more comfortable for late-night browsing or YouTube binge-watching. This works well in tandem with the previously-discussed advanced Dark Mode, as more of your apps will be themed to take advantage of the rich blacks enabled by AMOLED displays.
The difference between the maximum manual brightness and the auto-brightness’ boosted mode is significant, meaning you’ll likely have to turn on auto-brightness even if you don’t want to.
Sadly, OnePlus continues to have a less-than-stellar adaptive brightness implementation, which is frustrating given the limited range of levels available when manually adjusting the brightness. It has been many years since I’ve basically have had to turn adaptive brightness off, entirely, on OnePlus devices — I’ve mostly just used the slider since at least since the OnePlus 6. It’s one of the worst parts of owning a OnePlus smartphone, especially considering that more affordable phones have this figured out and that some flagship competitors like Samsung feature solutions that I have gladly left on for the entirety of my run with the phone. It is slow to adjust and it often misses the mark, getting too low for casual indoor usage, and it often gets in the way of the camera experience (more on this later). It’s nice that the phone can boast a better brightness range that’s both wider and more granular, but much of the benefit afforded by new hardware is wasted by the still-insufficient auto-brightness.
One of the advantages mentioned earlier about the OnePlus 7 Pro’s display was no excessive black clipping. Compared to the OnePlus 7T, at least, this phone seems a bit worse in this regard. Black saturation, tone response, and general visibility have seemingly regressed at lower brightness levels (under 55%), with side-by-side controlled tests making it much harder to delineate between different super-dark grey tones (compared to the 7T). On the OnePlus 7T, I often found myself turning up the screen brightness simply to increase contrast so that I can read or watch content, and I’ve had the same problem on the OnePlus 8. My unit doesn’t have any strange or obvious banding in color and grayscale gradients, however.
The OnePlus 8 still packs a great display for media consumption
While I can’t really comment on color accuracy, I would say that the OnePlus 8 display looks to be a hair more saturated than that of the OnePlus 7T on the Vivid profile, to the point where the brighter hues of each color appear more tightly clustered and are harder to discern. I haven’t found this to make much of a difference in the positive or the negative when consuming video content — which, by the way, is a lot of fun on the OnePlus 8. The color temperature and white point are just right for my taste, too. As said earlier, the screen is bright, and on the Vivid color profile, the colors are punchy but not cartoony.
Speaking of color profiles, you’ll still be able to choose from the aforementioned Vivid, which has punchy colors and higher contrast, or Natural which targets the sRGB color space for industry-standard color accuracy. You can also manually tweak the color temperature after selecting the Display P3, AMOLED Wide Color or sRGB profiles under advanced display settings.
What about display-related features? Night mode is there, and it can be conveniently scheduled, though it still suffers the same issues as before. Particularly, whenever you unlock the phone, it slowly transitions into night mode, meaning you’ll be blasted by blue light for a second or so each time. This and the iffy auto-brightness were a match made in hell whenever I had to attend to late-night notifications. There is a video enhancer that will sharpen up video and turn up the colors, but I personally found this feature fairly worthless. Comfort Tone (OxygenOS’s version of Apple’s True Tone) is missing from the OnePlus 8, as the phone has done away with the RGB ALS that enabled matching the screen’s calibration against the current outdoor light settings. Reading Mode lets you turn the screen either monochrome or sepia, while enhancing contrast and optionally blocking heads-up notifications.
Camera: A higher price but little to show for it
Smartphone photography remains one of the key ways through which OEMs get consumers to periodically upgrade their devices, and it’s becoming harder and harder to recommend phones that don’t offer a great camera experience. This has typically been one of OnePlus’ shortcomings, as their phones could never quite stack up against the pricier competitors. For a while, one could justify this by pointing to the price, but as OnePlus’ prices have only crept up throughout the years, it’s no longer an excuse. The OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T featured fairly mediocre cameras, so much so that I started proactively making sure that I bring a better smartphone camera to important events, and I would often find myself looking for another smartphone in my house when taking pictures indoors. While at first, I wasn’t really unimpressed by the camera, I eventually grew more and more frustrated as the number of ruined shots kept piling up. You can absolutely take great pictures with the OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T, but you can’t do so as effortlessly and consistently as you can with other phones.
The OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro both bring camera changes, with the 8 Pro’s upgrades being substantial. The OnePlus 8’s primary rear camera packs the same 48MP Sony IMX586 sensor as the OnePlus 7T, with EIS & OIS, an aperture of f/1.7 and a pixel size of 0.8μm, and you’ll mostly be shooting in a binned 12MP mode that improves overall light-gathering image quality. The wide-angle camera retains the 16-megapixel count from the 7T, keeps the same f/2.2 aperture, and lowers the field of view to 116 degrees. The dedicated telephoto camera is gone this time around, which is honestly fine by me — it just wasn’t compelling enough to use on a regular basis, as it wouldn’t really add much detail, and the camera still offers 2x in-sensor zoom. In its place, we now have a 2MP macro camera with a pixel size of 1.75μm, no OIS and f/2.4 aperture.
As for the camera UI, it’s largely similar to that of the 7T barring some small aesthetic changes, and the disappearance of various quick toggles. I actually think that the camera UI has overall regressed compared to what’s found on the OnePlus 7T, as one now needs to access the camera settings activity to change important settings like video resolution for both regular video and slow-motion. And what’s worse, the camera settings are not accessible unless one first unlocks the device, meaning you won’t be able to choose video FPS and resolution when you access the camera through the power-button shortcut. Given that I make great use of that shortcut and that most video I take is spontaneous (and that’s generally the case with slow-motion video, too), this decision just doesn’t make much sense to me. But beyond that nitpicking, it’s a very serviceable camera UI — it’s very boomer-friendly, and the shortcuts that remain are extremely useful.
What about the pictures themselves? I was expecting to encounter the same issues I had with the 7T’s camera, but overall the pictures did turn out to be a bit better. (Excuse the limited range of subjects, quarantine makes camera reviews a bit difficult). Colors are mostly great, barring a tendency to blow up the reds. There is plenty of contrast, and I don’t think that the pictures are oversharpened, but there’s still a bit of an oil-painting effect when zooming in as usual, and some haloing around various edges. When taking pictures of objects up-close, the narrow focus can be quite noticeable and distracting, and some of the processing issues become apparent. Take a look at that picture of my mate drink, for instance: the top-right edge inside the cup is extremely sharp, where in reality there was a lot of smooth and bubbly detail that the camera obliterated. I’ve had the same happen multiple times with the 7T, as it tended to overprocess contours in uncanny ways.