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OnePlus 8 review, two weeks later: Second best is still pretty good

OnePlus 8 review, two weeks later: Second best is still pretty good

OnePlus exploded on the scene in 2014 with marketing swagger not befitting its status as a startup that had never launched a phone, but the company has matured and proved itself over the years. You don't need an invite to buy its phones anymore, and it doesn't have to cut so many corners to remain competitive. OnePlus has even forged carrier partnerships in the US and been among the first to launch 5G phones. That brings us to the OnePlus 8, the followup to the OnePlus 7T, which is now official after numerous leaks.

Like the OnePlus 8 Pro, the OnePlus 8 has 5G support and a new design, but it doesn't adopt all of the same high-end features as the 8 Pro. For $700, you get a Snapdragon 865 with sub-6 5G, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 90Hz edge-to-edge OLED display. This device still cuts some corners like the OnePlus phones of old, and the price has also gone up more than usual. That leaves the phone in an interesting spot—much of its perceived value is 5G, but you probably won't see much benefit from that. Some things you would benefit from, like a telephoto camera and wireless charging, are missing. The OnePlus 8 is still a good phone, but it's just shy of greatness.

Specs

SoC Snapdragon 865
RAM 8/12GB (LPDDR4X)
Storage 128/256GB UFS 3.0+
Display 6.55-inch 1080 x 2400 90Hz OLED
Battery 4,300mAh. 30W Warp Charge (wired only)
Cameras 48MP main, 16MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro; 16MP selfie
Software Android 10 (Oxygen OS)
Measurements 160.2 x 72.9 x 8mm, 180g
Colors Glacial Green, Interstellar Glow
Connectivity 5G bands - n2, n5, n66, n71, n41 in the US, LTE, Wi-Fi 6 (2x2 MIMO), Bluetooth 5.1
Headphone jack No
Price $699 - 8/128GB, $799 - 12/256GB

The Good

Display The 90Hz OLED is smooth with excellent brightness and colors.
Alert slider Great tactility and a super-convenient way to change your ringer mode.
Fingerprint sensor The in-display fingerprint sensor is faster and more accurate—it's as good as the old capacitive sensors now.
Colors OnePlus is making some lovely colors of this phone. We recommend Glacial Green.
Performance This phone is blazing fast all the time.
Battery The OP8 will have no problem making it through a day. I regularly see two days of use.
Warp Charge OnePlus' 30W wired charging is still great.
Software OnePlus makes smart changes to Android (mostly), and we applaud the addition of Google Discover in place of the Shelf home screen panel.
5G If you care about 5G, this is a cheap way to get it.
Carrier options You'll be able to get this phone from T-Mobile or Verizon.

The Not So Good

No wireless charging The OnePlus 8 doesn't have wireless charging (Warp or standard) like the Pro.
Macro camera The macro camera on this phone is not very good, and it replaced the vastly more useful telephoto lens from the 7T. This was a mistake.
Value The OnePlus 8 is missing just enough that the price hike over the 7T is tough to swallow.
Edge touches The curved display exhibits some accidental touches.
Dark theme OnePlus hides the system dark theme several menus deep.
Display again Some crushed blacks that most people won't notice.

Design, hardware, what's in the box

By and large, OnePlus goes where the smartphone winds are blowing. If notches are in, it does one. If in-display fingerprint sensors are the hot new thing, it'll use one of those. Not all the features touted on a new OnePlus device will stick around, but it hasn't made a notable misstep in years. OnePlus makes consistently good phones, and the OnePlus 8 is no different.

The phone is your typical metal and glass sandwich with a 6.55-inch 1080p OLED on the front. There's no notch or pop-up camera, but OP has gotten on the hole-punch train. There's a small hole in the upper left corner where the 16MP front-facing camera sits. The display curves on the left and right edges, but less so than the OnePlus 8 Pro. Unfortunately, I've experienced numerous accidental touches on the edges. I wish everyone would just go back to flat displays. With all the mistakes Samsung made with the S20 series, at least it flattened out its displays. The OP8's bezels are narrow all the way around, and I'm particularly happy that the top and bottom sections are almost perfectly symmetrical (finally).

OnePlus had the Pro model evaluated by DisplayMate and got high marks, but the smaller phone is no slouch despite being "only" 1080p. You can tell it's slightly less crisp when comparing directly to a 1440p display, but the difference is negligible in daily use. Likewise, the 90Hz refresh rate is more than sufficient. The visual improvement from 60 to 90Hz is more noticeable than 90 to 120Hz. The OP8's display even performs well in bright outdoor light with a peak brightness in excess of 1,000 nits. In low-light, I've seen some mild "crushed blacks," but that's not the kind of thing most people will even notice. One thing I do really miss from the Pro is "Comfort tone" ambient color matching, but it's not a deal-breaker.

The optical fingerprint sensor under the display is a new, thinner component that allows for a larger battery inside. I'm not sure if this sensor is better in other ways at the hardware level, but the OnePlus 8 does seem to unlock faster than previous devices. That might also be connected to the amount of light that illuminates your finger above the sensor, which is noticeably higher now—I can see it shining through my thumbnail even in a bright room. Regardless of the reason, I no longer consider the in-display fingerprint sensor an annoyance. It's just as good as OP's last capacitive sensors before the switch.

Over on the right edge, you have the power button and alert slider, and the volume rocker is opposite that. The alert slider has become one of my favorite features ever since OnePlus switched to controlling ringer mode—it's incredibly convenient, and I wonder why other OEMs haven't copied it yet. The buttons are all perfectly tactile and exhibit no looseness or wobble, which speaks to OP's class-leading build quality. The dual SIM slot and USB-C are on the bottom, and no, you won't find a headphone jack anywhere. This is just the world in which we live now. There's also a speaker on the bottom edge, which produces surprisingly good stereo sound in concert with the earpiece. OnePlus has a new haptic motor in the phone, which feels a bit sharper and more restrained than past phones.

The green OnePlus 8 is delightful.

This phone has a glass chassis once again, but there's no wireless charging like the OnePlus 8 Pro. I wouldn't usually spend time talking about the available colors, but that's because most phones have profoundly boring options. Not OnePlus—the colors are fantastic. The unlocked OP8 comes in Glacial Green or Interstellar Glow. The latter is a shiny color-shifting finish that can look purple and blue to varying degrees, depending on the angle. It's nice enough, but the Glacial Green is the one to get. It's a lovely, muted (almost minty) green with a matte finish that hides fingerprints better. Carriers may also offer the phone in black, but we don't have specifics yet.

The cyan sandstone case is worth the high price.

Don't expect any bells and whistles in the box with this phone. You get the OnePlus 8 itself, a USB cable, and the Warp Charge plug. There's no clear case like some previous OnePlus phones, but that's fine by me. OnePlus' official cases are incredible, and you should buy one.

Software and performance

OnePlus began its smartphone journey with Cyanogen OS, but that fizzled quickly. The first few builds of the company's Oxygen OS replacement weren't anything to write home about, but the Oxygen OS of today is a robust and orderly take on Android. OnePlus doesn't cram its devices full of duplicate apps or adware (the upcoming Verizon version might be an exception), and the stock Android UI hasn't been arbitrarily altered. In general, the changes OnePlus makes are smart ones. For example, the settings icon in the notification shade is more accessible, and it groups most UI tweaks together in a handy Customization menu.

I have never hidden my dislike of the "Shelf" UI, which occupied the far left home screen panel. This scrollable column of widgets, a naked imitation of the iPhone home screen, is finally dead on the OnePlus 8. In its place, you get Google Discover. Thank goodness.

The one aspect of OP's software that still causes me daily aggravation is its handling of the Android 10 dark theme. Dark theme scheduling is still rare, so I can't knock OnePlus too much for not having that. The real issue is that there's no quick settings toggle for the dark theme like you'd find on every other Android 10 phone. So, if you want to switch the theme, you need to dig into the aforementioned customization menu.

While I've been using pre-release versions of Oxygen OS on this phone, I should note I've seen a handful of uncharacteristic crashes. On more than one occasion, the home screen has crashed, sending me back to the last app I had open. There have even been a few instances of system UI crashes that booted me back to the lock screen. I hope these issues are cleared up by launch, and we will report back if they aren't.

It will come as no surprise than the OnePlus 8 is a ludicrously fast phone. The Snapdragon 865, in spite of its clunky 5G situation, is the fastest mobile chipset available right now, and it's used to great effect in the OP8. Many apps will load instantly, even if they aren't already running in the background. Speaking of background apps, the OP8 has an ample 8-12GB of RAM. Having used both memory configurations, I don't think 12GB is a necessary upgrade. You can upgrade for storage if that's something you need, but 8GB of RAM is plenty to keep your apps alive. Well, mostly. OnePlus' somewhat aggressive memory management is still a thing on this phone, but the company is promising changes soon. For now, I only noticed a few instances when the phone killed background apps that ought to have been left alone.

This is a 5G phone, but there's no millimeter wave. That doesn't bother me in the least because let's face it, millimeter wave is a long way from viability. The low-frequency 5G seems to work just as well as any other phone, including the spendy McLaren 7T Pro I tested a few months back. 5G will no doubt rain the battery a bit faster, but the 4,300mAh cell has done well, even taking into account the changes in my usage due to the ongoing quarantine. The OnePlus 8 has consistently lasted through two days of moderate usage with about six hours of screen time. That's with the default 90Hz display mode enabled, too. When you do run low on juice, the included Warp Charge adapter is still blazing fast at 30W peak speed. The phone also fast-charges up to 15W over USB-PD, which is nice if you've got batteries and other phone chargers around. I do miss wireless charging when using this phone, particularly when OnePlus has that fancy new 30W wireless option.

Cameras

Camera performance used to be a weak point for OnePlus, but the company has come a long way. There are still some issues, but I no longer feel at a disadvantage when I need to take some photos with a OnePlus phone. That said, there aren't any major improvements to the OnePlus 8's imaging system compared to the 7T. In fact, it takes a step backward due to the loss of the telephoto lens. The remaining sensors are the same as the 7T, including a 48MP primary and a 16MP ultra-wide.

Photos taken in bright outdoor light with the OnePlus 8 come out looking nice but a little odd. There's a tendency to pump up the colors, brightness, and contrast, which can make things look a bit unrealistic. Some people might object to that heavy HDR look, but having a photo that looks "nice" can be preferable to one that looks accurate. It feels like OnePlus optimized its photo processing for online sharing -- these images will really pop when you scroll past them on Twitter or Instagram. The ultra-wide camera is a bit narrower than the new version on the OnePlus 8 Pro, but it still does its job admirably. The dynamic range is solid, and distortion is minimal.

The main 48MP camera defaults to taking binned 12MP shots, but you can switch over to 48MP mode. Most people will prefer the improved dynamic range and low-light performance of the 12MP mode, though. OnePlus' image processing retains plenty of detail—more than Samsung, but not as much as Google. Color balance in low-light is a bit on the warm side, but OP has made great strides here in the last few generations. I like the low-light shots from this phone more than the ones from a Galaxy S20, which is a real accomplishment for OnePlus.

The OnePlus 8 Pro uses its ultra-wide camera for macro shots, but the OnePlus 8 has a dedicated sensor. Unfortunately, it's not very good (see above). The images are often too dim and hazy to be usable, and I don't foresee myself taking enough macro shots that I even need a dedicated sensor. I'd much rather OnePlus had kept the telephoto module on this phone, and for $700, it really should have been able to.

Should you buy it?

OnePlus 8
7.5/10

Yes, if you're not willing to spend another $200 on the 8 Pro. For $700, you get most of the features from the more expensive OnePlus 8 Pro, and the specs match or beat more expensive phones. OnePlus phones might not be as cheap as they used to be, but they're still cheaper than the competition. They're easier to buy than ever before, too. The OnePlus 8 will be available on OnePlus.com, Amazon, and from both T-Mobile and Verizon. The Verizon version will also add millimeter wave 5G. That's not bad for a company that could only sell phones on an invitation basis five years ago.

OnePlus' camera performance has gotten to a point that it's no longer a detriment to the experience, although I do take issue with the inclusion of a macro module instead of telephoto on this phone. That strikes me as an ill-conceived cost-saving measure. I also wish the OP8 had wireless charging like the Pro variant, but you can't have everything when 5G is on the menu.

The OnePlus 8 Pro (left) and OnePlus 8 (right); the size difference is minimal

In many ways, OnePlus can stand on equal footing with Google or Samsung, but that means we also need to hold it to the same standards. The software experience is almost as good as Google's Pixel, and the build quality is easily a match for Samsung. While 5G is of questionable value right now, this phone catapults you into the 5G era for several hundred less than a Galaxy S20. That said, the OnePlus 8 is more expensive than the 7T, and the camera array isn't as versatile. You're basically spending money for 5G that you probably don't need right now. That makes the value middling at best. If you can afford to spend a little more, I think it's worth it to step up to the OnePlus 8 Pro with the better display, wireless charging, and telephoto camera.

Buy it if...

You want a powerful 5G phone and don't mind a few missing features if it means saving money.

Don't buy it if...

You demand the biggest, best phone possible and don't mind paying a bit more to get "all the things."

Where to buy

OnePlus is selling the unlocked version of the OnePlus 8 directly through its site and on Amazon starting on April 29th. You can also use this link to get $10 off accessories from OnePlus.

Two weeks later

I've been using the OnePlus 8 on and off for the last few weeks to get a better sense of how it holds up. The phone is still extremely fast, but that's not only thanks to the Snapdragon 865. I've also used a Galaxy S20 recently, and the OnePlus 8 is noticeably faster with very similar hardware. The RAM management, however, is a bit irksome. The longer I use this phone, the more I notice apps falling out of memory, and that's downright silly when the phone has 12GB of RAM. It's been ages since OnePlus announced it would address its aggressive memory management, but none of the pre-release updates have changed anything in that respect. The updates have made modest improvements to the issue with accidental touches on the edge, but it's still happening more than I'd like.

Ryne and I agree that OP's cases are still fantastic, particularly the new more colorful Sandstone options. However, one of the two cyan sandstone cases I have has become weirdly discolored over the last few weeks. It's picked up a dingy gray-brown color all the way around the edge, both front and back. In fact, it's gotten more pronounced since the review while sitting on my desk next to the other case, which still looks brand new (see below).

Opinions were rightly divided on OnePlus' first-gen optical fingerprint sensors, but I'm now convinced in the technology. We've confirmed the in-display sensor in the 8 and 8 Pro is larger as well as thinner, and it shows. Even if I'm only hitting half of the sensor, it still correctly recognizes my fingerprints almost every time. This sensor is probably close to 100% accurate, whereas the ultrasonic sensor in the Galaxy S20 misses at least one in ten scans even when I hit the sweet spot perfectly. OnePlus absolutely nailed this.

The build quality is second to none, and the case fits perfectly.

In general, my opinion stands that you should get the OnePlus 8 Pro if you can spend the extra $200 on it. For me, that comes down to two things: the camera and wireless charging. The 30W wireless charging is extremely useful, but even if you don't get OP's expensive Warp dock, the 10W standard Qi charging is worth using. The camera setup on the 8 Pro is also a compelling reason to upgrade. The macro module on the OnePlus 8 is verging on useless. I don't think I've ever gotten a good photo out of it, and I increasingly suspect it's just there to up the sensor count. The OnePlus 8 Pro has better camera sensors across the board, plus a telephoto module that isn't represented on the 8.

The $700 price tag is a bit of a questionable value, but maybe it'll make sense if you're a T-Mobile customer looking for a cheap 5G phone direct from the carrier. I will note, I've seen a marked uptick in 5G speeds on T-Mobile thanks to the carrier's recent leasing of additional 600MHz spectrum. The OnePlus 8 will also work on the Sprint 2500MHz band when that's live. Verizon's $100 premium for millimeter wave 5G on the OnePlus 8 strikes me a mistake. Millimeter wave is a bad experience, and I don't see it getting better any time soon. You should just get the cheaper unlocked version.

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