Today, OnePlus is launching its flagship smartphones for 2020, the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro. OnePlus made a name for itself in the smartphone industry with great value-for-money offerings, but this year, get ready for some sticker shock. The OnePlus 8 is $699, a $100 increase over the $599 OnePlus 7T, and the OnePlus 8 Pro is $899, a whopping $230 increase over the $669 OnePlus 7 Pro. Welcome to 2020: the year of the super-expensive smartphone.
Since these phones are just being introduced today, we should talk about what's new for this price. At first blush, the OnePlus 8 Pro is about what you would expect from a 2020 smartphone. There's a Snapdragon 865, a 6.78-inch, 3168×1440 120Hz OLED display, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 4510mAh battery. There's also a higher spec version with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage (for $100 more, so $999). The 8 Pro is much more expensive than previous years, but with the bigger price comes fixes for long-standing omissions from OnePlus' typical phones: the 8 Pro has wireless charging—a speedy 30W wireless charging system—and an IP68 water-resistance rating. The other big OnePlus omission we've complained about year after year—the lack of an always-on display mode—still hasn't been addressed here, though OnePlus says it is working on it.
The cheaper OnePlus 8 is basically the 7 Pro with updated specs—it comes without the pop-up camera and with a lower-quality rear camera system. Compared to the 8 Pro, there's still a Snapdragon 865, there's still 8 or 12GB of RAM (albeit with slower LPDDR4X instead of the DDR5 in the 8 Pro), and still 128 or 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage. The higher-spec tier of 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage is still $100 more, so $799. The big downgrades come in the display, which drops down to 90Hz instead of 120Hz and uses a slightly smaller 6.55-inch display plus a totally fine 1080p resolution instead of 1440p. The cameras get cheaper sensors, the battery is a smaller 4300mAh, and the big additions to the 8 Pro—wireless charging and IP68 water resistance—aren't on the OnePlus 8, though OnePlus says the phone is still somewhat water-resistant.
In terms of specs and pricing, one way to look at OnePlus' new lineup is that the lower-end tier—previously occupied by the OnePlus 7 and 7T— is going away. As we said, the OnePlus 8 compares favorably to the 7 Pro, and the 8 Pro is in an even higher pricing tier with wireless charging and other extras. That means it's yet another year of OnePlus phones being more expensive, which has happened pretty much every single year the company has been in business. If you're looking for something cheaper, hopefully the rumors of that mid-range OnePlus phone come true. There is certainly room for it.
Despite the increased price tag, however, OnePlus has once again made a phone that jumps to the top of the Android class.
Design—Pretty much just a 7 Pro
There is almost nothing new to talk about in the design department. The 8 and 8 Pro stick very closely to the previous OnePlus designs, especially the 7 Pro. You'll get front and back glass panels, curved edges, and a metal band around the edges. There are still in-screen optical fingerprint readers, which don't seem any bigger or faster than last year.
Besides the usual faster specs, the big addition this year is the 120Hz display on the 8 Pro. PC gamers have known this for a while, but yes, faster displays are very nice, and the 120Hz display is a nice upgrade over the 90Hz display on the OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T. Everything is buttery smooth at 120Hz, and the animations, scrolling, and screen transitions are all a joy. This is the smoothest, fastest-feeling smartphone on the market.
|SPECS AT A GLANCE|
|OnePlus 8||OnePlus 8 Pro|
|SCREEN||90 Hz, 6.55-inch 2400×1080 (402ppi) OLED||120Hz, 6.78-inch 3168×1440 (513ppi) OLED|
|OS||Android 10 with Oxygen OS skin|
|CPU||Eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 865|
|RAM||8GB, 12GB, LPDDR4X||8GB, 12GB, LPDDR5|
|STORAGE||128GB, 256GB UFS 3.0|
|NETWORKING||802.11b/g/n/ac/ax, Bluetooth 5.1, GPS, NFC|
|PORTS||USB Type-C with 30W quick charging|
|REAR CAMERAS||48MP Main
8MP 3X hybrid telephoto
5MP color filter
|WEIGHT||180 g||199 g|
|STARTING PRICE||$699 at OnePlus||$899 at OnePlus|
|WIRELESS CHARGING||No||Yes, 30W|
|OTHER PERKS||In-screen fingerprint sensor, alert slider|
OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro
Buy Now (Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.) Samsung shipped a 120Hz display this year, too, but unlike on the Galaxy S20, the OnePlus 8 Pro can run at the highest refresh rate and the highest resolution—Samsung made you pick one or the other. At max resolution and max refresh rate, everything seems fine. Of course this will use more battery, but you can also lower one or the other to better survive heavy usage days, if you want.
The other big display change is that the OnePlus 8 Pro dumps the 7 Pro's pop-up camera in favor of a regular, old hole-punch camera, and that really is a shame. The pop-up camera gave you a front camera without any screen blemishes at all, and now OnePlus has downgraded with a pockmark in the top-left corner of the phone.
I really miss the pop-up camera. If you're one of the 37 percent of people who don't take any selfies at all, the 7 Pro's pop-up camera lets you forget about the front camera entirely and not sacrifice part of your screen for a feature you never use. If you're a privacy-conscious person, the pop-up camera is like having an automatic cover for your selfie cam—you always know if your front camera is on, because it's either popped-up or not. It also provided OnePlus with something other OEMs seem completely desperate for: a form of real differentiation. Nobody else is really doing pop-up cameras, and they are fun, cool, eye-catching, and there's a real user benefit.
The hole punch camera makes the phone look more generic and makes the status bar taller than normal, which pushes app content down and results in less content for the app. OnePlus told me they scrapped the pop-up camera because it takes up space that could otherwise be used for battery (so the headphone jack argument), and the stats do back this up: the OnePlus 8 Pro has 510mAh more battery capacity than the 7 Pro. OnePlus acknowledged that the 120Hz display and 5G mean the phone will be more power-hungry, but the company expects the bigger battery to help the phone break even with previous devices when it comes to runtime.
While the top bezel of the 8 Pro is very slim, OnePlus still managed to cram some devices in there. Besides the earpiece, there's also an RGB sensor on the front, which enables an environment-matching white-balance feature called "comfort tone." This works just like Apple's True Tone or Google's Ambient EQ, and it will tweak the display white balance for a supposedly more comfortable experience. This is another 8-Pro exclusive feature—there's no sensor on the cheaper phone.
The display is still curved along the long edges, though the display curve on the OnePlus 8 Pro is deeper than on the OnePlus 8. I've never been a fan of this "feature" since it only serves to distort the sides of apps and videos and reflects glare along the sides in certain lighting conditions.
The back looks just like the OnePlus 7 Pro from a distance, but both versions grow the camera bump in every dimension. On the 8 Pro, the camera bump is a lot taller now, sticking out about 2mm from the 8.5mm body. It is so tall the phone looks like a tripod on a table, with the top of the phone floating high above the flat surface. The camera bump is wider as well in order to fit the beefier camera lenses. The OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro have similar megapixel counts but don't have the same cameras, for the most part.
The back comes in a few wild colors. My 8 Pro came in the most vibrant blue color ever created by mankind, covered with a satin finish. The OnePlus 8 came in a shiny "Glow" color, which is a color-changing purple/yellow/pink gradient. These glass phones still collect a ton of fingerprints, but the satin finish on the blue version does some work to hide all the fingerprints, which is nice.
Other than the new camera setups, the hardware is indistinguishable from previous OnePlus devices. The side-mounted three-position audio switch returns, and that's still a quick, easy way to switch between ringing notifications, vibrate, and mute.
Listing image by Ron Amadeo
5G—Dumb, but unavoidable
The OnePlus 8 has some 5G support thanks to it being mandatory with the Snapdragon 865, but most versions of both the 8 and 8 Pro will only have sub-6GHz 5G—not mmWave 5G.
To quickly recap the whole 5G mess: 5G is the new cellular network technology that can offer higher speeds and lower latency, and it comes in two flavors, sub-6GHz—a signal in the 6GHz-and-lower spectrum, just like 4G LTE—and mmWave—a signal in the 24GHz-100GHz range. Sub-6GHz 5G is a lot more practical to rollout compared to mmWave thanks to the longer range and better signal propagation, but it doesn't offer the generational speed increase that is frequently hyped by the cellular industry. A mmWave network can offer a generational speed increase, but it's also a nightmare to implement. The high frequency means it's blocked by people, trees, buildings, rain, and everything else on Earth. That means you need a lot of towers on the infrastructure side of things, and a lot of antennas in the phone design, since your hand will block the signal.
mmWave is such a pain to roll out that carriers' executives have said it will never scale beyond cities, and currently you'll only find it covering a few blocks in major cities. Carriers design their 5G marketing to confuse consumers, and usually when they talk about 5G, all the speed claims are in reference to mmWave, while the coverage claims are in reference to sub-6Ghz.
These sub-6Ghz-only phones that we keep seeing, like the OnePlus 8, have a really weird sales pitch. Even if you're unjustifiably optimistic about 5G, you can't make the claim that these phones are "future-proofed" since there's no mmWave. ("Future-proofing" a phone with only two years of software updates is a ridiculous idea anyway.) With no mmWave, none of the speed benefits of 5G are here, either. So why build a sub-6GHz-only phone? The answer mostly seems to be "because Qualcomm is making us do it," and sub-6 is the least amount of 5G companies are able to get away with while still using Qualcomm's highest-end chip.
Should anyone care about 5G at this point? Future-looking infrastructure upgrades from carriers are always great, but consumers shouldn't feel like they should jump on the 5G train any time soon. 5G comes at a cost to your battery life and your wallet, and there aren't enough networks in place yet for most people to see a real benefit. The real turning point for 5G is when Qualcomm builds chips with integrated 5G modems, and for flagship chips, that's not this year. Probably next year.
Notice up there that I said most versions of the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro do not support mmWave. There will be one version of the OnePlus 8 (not 8 Pro), specially made for Verizon, which will pack mmWave. Verizon is calling this model the "OnePlus 8 5G UW" (UW for "Ultra Wideband"), and along with the big name comes a big price tag: $799.99, or $100 more than the base model OnePlus 8. This has the same specs as the base model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, so that's $100 extra for the mmWave support. While we're on the subject of distribution, OnePlus 8 (not 8 Pro) will also be sold at T-Mobile, and both versions will officially be on Amazon.
The wireless charger: Bring an extension cord
A big addition to the OnePlus 8 Pro is wireless charging, which finally justifies OnePlus' use of fragile glass backs. OnePlus switched from a metal back to building all-glass phones two years ago, but somehow the company has only just now added wireless charging.
OnePlus' "Warp Charge 30 Wireless" charging aims to be very fast and nearly as quick as a wire. The company says the wireless charger will take the phone battery from 1 to 30 percent in a half hour. Apparently the wireless charger has a "peak charging wattage" of 30W, while the "Warp Charge 30T" wired charger stays at 30W for a longer duration. Of course, you'll be doing this charging with OnePlus' proprietary wireless charger, which costs $69.95 and will launch on April 29. The phone also supports Qi charging at 5W and 10W.
Wireless charging normally generates a ton of heat, and doing it this quickly is even hotter. There is actually a blower fan inside the wireless charger. A circular grid of holes on the back of the charger sucks in air, and then a large credit-card-sized slot in the middle of the charger exhausts air across the phone back. The fan only ever creates the slightest whiff of air across the phone, and even trying to heat the phone up (running GPU benchmarks while on the wireless charger) resulted in only a whisper-quiet fan. You've got to press your ear against the charger to hear anything.
The design of OnePlus' wireless charger is not great. Despite the $70 price tag, it feels like OnePlus really cheaped-out on this charger, thanks to the short, three-foot power cord that is hardwired on both ends. In addition to the wire being too short for some setups, the fact that it's hardwired makes it incompatible with many wire management techniques. The charger is, of course, pretty big, and the plug end has what looks like a normal OnePlus Warp Charger connected to it, which is to say that it's a huge power brick. Neither end of the charger will fit through a standard-size desk grommet. And since the wire doesn't disconnect, there's just no way to fish it through any wire management hole. I feel like these wire management holes are pretty standard things in home and professional office furniture, so it's totally crazy OnePlus apparently never thought about this.
When's the last time you purchased a product with a non-removable power cord? I took an inventory of my stuff and really couldn't find anything with a hard-wired cord. Even the cheapest electronic garbage from the back pages of Amazon usually has some kind of removable cord, either through some kind of USB plug or a round DC jack. This makes even less sense when you consider the wall wart is probably just a OnePlus Warp Charger, which already comes with a USB connection. If OnePlus had used a normal USB-C cord, I could have easily unplugged it for wire management. If the cord was too short, it would be super easy to replace it with a longer USB cable. But right now, the charger is a lot more annoying than it should be, seemingly just so OnePlus could save a few cents on the USB connectors.
The only solution for it I could come up with was to pull the desk away from the wall—like a wire management scrub—and reach a power plug that way. This solution takes up most of the three-foot cord length, unfortunately, and then there's not enough slack to position the charger where I want it. So, I had to dedicate an extension cord to it.
The real problem here is that Qi charging standards haven't been able to keep up with the industry. OnePlus' charger design isn't well thought out, but that wouldn't be a problem if you could buy some other 30W charger with a better design. Qi only goes to 15W, and OnePlus only supports 10W Qi charging, so going out and buying a third-party charger means a big loss in charging speed. The cellular industry really needs to get together and come up with a fast wireless charging standard. Another problem with the proprietary high-speed wireless charging is that you're reliant on OnePlus to fill out every possible form factor for a wireless charger, and naturally that's a tough task on day one. It would be nice if there was some kind of car charger that was compatible with OnePlus' proprietary Wireless Warp Charge 30. I asked. There isn't.
Great software, but OnePlus needs a better security update program
OnePlus' software is here in its usual fantastic state. It's Android 10. This is not a reskinned Android made to look like something else, but any changes OnePlus made were directed at adding a bit more customization. Everything important is here in a mostly unchanged state, so there's very little to talk about. That's a good thing.
One noticeable downgrade is that some crapware has infiltrated the app drawer. The phones come with Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram; however they are fully uninstallable. There's also a copy of Netflix, which can only be disabled and not uninstalled.
The OnePlus 8 Pro has a 120Hz screen, but it will be running most video content in 24, 30, or 60FPS. To, uh, "remedy" this, OnePlus built a frame interpolation feature into the OS, similar to the motion smoothing effect on many TVs. This will generate extra frames for your video content on YouTube, Netflix, and other apps. On one hand, interpolation can make things less blurry and smooth out frame rate mismatches when it works right. On the other hand, it can also introduce artifacts and can make content look strange and unnatural. This is a controversial setting on HDTVs since it isn't what the video creators intended, and some famous directors and actors have even created PSAs on why the feature is bad. Now you can wade into this controversy on your smartphone! Love it or hate it, motion smoothing is located in settings -> display -> Motion graphics smoothing, where you can turn it on or off. It's off by default, by the way.
I don't have any complaints when it comes to OnePlus' track record on shipping major Android updates. The OnePlus 7 Pro got Android 10 just 18 days after release. A day one release would be better, but that was still one of the best times in the industry. I do have a problem with OnePlus' approach to monthly security updates, however. If you're going to charge more, we're going to ask for more, and the company's unreliable security updates aren't acceptable at this price point. A $900 phone needs to get security updates every month. OnePlus' current software policy is only bi-monthly, and OnePlus can't even deliver on that. My 7 Pro frequently misses security updates entirely or has them arrive extremely late. It's not just me—on the OnePlus subreddit you'll frequently see complaints about MIA security updates. Expect to be two or three months behind the curve at times. If companies like HMD can release monthly security updates on a $100 budget Nokia phone, OnePlus can do it for a $900 flagship. Get it together.
The camera—Much improved, but still not better than a Pixel 4
OnePlus clearly did a lot of low-light work on the camera for the 8 Pro. I always try a stress test in a dark room—nighttime, with the lights out, and only the light on in an adjacent hallway—and the OnePlus 8 Pro viewfinder confidently turned on with a daylight-bright preview image. It's so divorced from reality I was taken aback a bit at first. The 8 Pro will pull in more light than a Pixel 4 in the standard capture mode, and it's only when you click the Pixel 4 over into nighttime mode that Google's camera will pull ahead. OnePlus is sporting a 48MP main sensor here, and it will kick into a 12MP pixel binning mode when it needs to. This will treat every four pixels as one really big pixel, apparently pulling in a ton of light.