OnePlus's new flagship shines with Android 7.0 — a phone that's almost as good as the Pixel for a whole lot less cash.
I have a confession to make: I've had a OnePlus 3T for the past month or so, but for most of that time it's been collecting dust on my desk. The main reason for that has been software; I've been spoiled by phones like the Google Pixel and Huawei Mate 9, which have shipped with the new Android 7.0 Nougat, while the 3T arrived running the increasingly dated Marshmallow.
The new version of Android is, in essence, a collection of smaller upgrades which combine to form an experience greater than the sum of its parts. In a phone that I'm going to use as a daily driver, a lot of this has to do with information density — I much, much prefer Nougat's more compact, bundled notifications, and the ability to scale the entire UI to a size of my choosing, letting me see more on screen. Then there are added features like split-screen multi-window, which I don't use every day, but are immensely useful on phones with larger displays.
And the lack of all this stuff was what made using the 3T really difficult for me — until now.
OnePlus left it until the very last possible moment before starting to roll out Nougat for the OnePlus 3T and its predecessor, the 3. The update promised "by the end of the year" landed in the afternoon (UTC) of December 31, just hours after the company (bizarrely) released the first 3T Nougat beta build on its forums. But whatever — just over a month on from release, the 3T has the software experience it felt like it was supposed to ship with.
If you passed on the 3T at launch because it shipped with Marshmallow, now's the time to take another look.
The update to Nougat is important to OnePlus's core customer base of phone nerds. (If you're reading an article like this on Android Central, chances are that's you.) It also highlights the 3T's place a top-tier competitor to the Google Pixel — a product which has left some fans of the more affordable Nexus series feeling excluded. As much as OnePlus sometimes says pricing is secondary, all of its phones have, in some way, been defined by their cost. The 3 and 3T both delivered superb value to begin with. Now, the arrival of Nougat augments a package which, at its peak 128GB configuration, is still $290 cheaper than a 32GB Pixel XL.
And although it's based upon Android 7.0 at present, not the newer 7.1.1 release, OnePlus's OxygenOS 4.0 has all the important headline features in place, bringing with it performance and battery life to match the Pixel XL. Sure, the Pixel will always get new updates first, but in the meantime, the two are on similar footing. (The extra padding on the Pixel's price tag gets you unlimited photo storage, Google Assistant, live support and other Googly bits that you may or may not feel are worth it.)
Meanwhile, changes to OxygenOS itself — many of them small and cosmetic in nature — bring some needed polish to the experience.
We've already named the Pixel the best Android phone overall, and software updates for other devices won't change that — mainly the because of the excellent Pixel camera, and the fact that it'll always be first with new stuff from Mountain View. But let's face it, $769 is a lot of dough. If you're not inclined to splash that much cash on a new phone (or, hell, even if you are), the OnePlus 3T is a compelling rival — and more tempting than ever thanks to its latest update.
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