The best budget-minded flagship gets even better with a mid-cycle spec bump.
The OnePlus 3 is easily the company's most complete (and well-received) product, offering a high-end experience at a fraction of what you'd expect to pay elsewhere. But the hardcore phone nerds that are so often potential OnePlus buyers are a fickle bunch, and they may not be interested in buying an "old" phone that was released six months ago. The answer? Bump the specs, add a couple important improvements and re-release the phone to reassure potential buyers that they're getting the absolute best when they buy.
The result of that thinking is the OnePlus 3T. The "T" doesn't really mean anything, per se, aside from the fact that some companies use an "S" to denote their follow-up models ... and well, T is one letter more. But the name also denotes that you're getting the new phone, and the OnePlus 3T does have a few points of distinction that are worth re-evaluating it as a phone worthy of your hard-earned dollars.
With the same great overall experience so many people enjoyed on the original OnePlus 3, the OnePlus 3T adds a little extra in the form of some new specs, a new storage option, a fresh color choice and the promise that a new software version is just a month away. Here is our full review of the mid-cycle OnePlus refresh.
About this review
I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after 9 days using a gunmetal OnePlus 3T with 128GB of storage. The entirety of the review was conducted on the T-Mobile network in the greater Seattle, WA area. The phone's software arrived on version 28_161027 (with the October 1 security patch), and was not updated during the course of review. The phone was provided to Android Central for review by OnePlus.
Subtle internal changes
OnePlus 3T Hardware
The external hardware design of the OnePlus 3T is identical to that of the original OnePlus 3, so I won't get into the minutiae of the hardware details yet again. I will point out, though, that even six months on, the design and in-hand feel still hold up. The aluminum feels great, the build quality is precise and I still love the Alert Slider for quickly silencing the phone. Up front the 1080p display (which remains unchanged) is still colorful and crisp, but its overall brightness leaves just a little bit to be desired — its aggressive dropping of brightness when set to "auto" doesn't help, either.
The hardware absolutely still holds up, and outdoes other phones in its class.
For a 5.5-inch phone the OnePlus 3T is still plenty thin and compact, though the slick metal body doesn't quite offer enough grip for me sometimes. I found myself putting it in a OnePlus sandstone case more often than not, which is a shame because I really love this new gunmetal color that's a bit deeper and includes a hint of brown when compared to the old silver color. If you want something a bit different, the soft gold metal with a white front remains an option, and will be on sale shortly after launch.
Now to what OnePlus actually changed. There's a faster processor, a larger battery, a new front-facing camera (more on that below) and a sapphire covering for the rear camera. You can also now option up to 128GB of internal storage for a very fair $40 more, which will help placate those still miffed by the lack of SD card slot.
The internal hardware additions are nice, and mean that you can rest assured that you have the latest and greatest inside, but right now the specs really just make sure that your OnePlus 3T will be good to use in another year more so than improving things dramatically today.
(Patiently) waiting for Nougat
OnePlus 3T Software and performance
It's a tad superfluous to spend all that much time talking about the software here, as by the time the first OnePlus 3T orders arrive they'll be less than a month away from an OTA that will bring Android 7.0 Nougat. I absolutely have to say that perhaps holding off on the launch of the OnePlus 3T in order to ship it with Nougat out of the box would have been a real treat, but I also understand the desire to get the phone out in the market for the holiday season as well.
Nougat will be here soon, but for now the OxygenOS Marshmallow experience is excellent.
But as it stands, the OnePlus 3T will greet you with roughly the same "OxygenOS" experience built on Android 6.0 Marshmallow as you'll find on the OnePlus 3, OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X today. The newly combined OnePlus software team has made a handful of small visual and feature enhancements, though — there's a fresh look to the notification shade, a few tweaks to the stock launcher and under-the-hood file system improvements to provide even more speed.
The tweaks are relatively minor, and all build into the same great software vision — OxygenOS is still all about simplicity, respecting Google's vision for Android and augmenting it with a handful of useful features and customization options. As I've said before, OxygenOS includes many of the features we rooted our phones for years to get, and it integrates them into Android as if they were meant to be.
Though the OnePlus 3 was already one of the best-performing and slickest phones available, a bump to a newer Snapdragon 821 processor is always welcome. The OnePlus 3T is of course extremely fast and smooth, and I never experienced a slowdown in over a week of using it — and I'd expect it to hold up just as well as my OnePlus 3 has after months of use. And not only does the new Snapdragon 821 give you the confidence that you're getting the latest and greatest mobile CPU when you buy the phone, but it also prepares you for the future — you just got a little extra runway for top-end performance a year or 18 months from now.
It isn't uncommon to finish a day with over half of the battery left.
The same goes for the battery, which jumped over 10% in capacity to a hearty 3400 mAh. Together with the more efficient processor and already svelte software, the OnePlus 3T has offered me amazing battery life. My usual day, kicking off at 8 a.m., with lots of podcast listening, frequent app use, retrieving email, managing my social networking apps and taking photos left me with 40-50% battery when I headed to bed after 10 p.m. A lighter weekend day saw the OnePlus 3T end up with over 65% left when I went to bed. That longevity puts it in rare company already, and battery life is only set to get better when Nougat arrives.
Dash Charge fast charging is of course still included, though because battery life was so great I really didn't find a need for it and regularly just used whatever charger I had laying around. Adding to that feeling is the fact that Dash Charge is proprietary to the OnePlus 3 and 3T, meaning I'm still going to lean toward carrying a different charger that's better suited to powering all of my devices rather than tailoring to just one. But for those who just use a single phone, the ridiculously fast refill times from Dash Charge still can't be overlooked.
OnePlus made an ... interesting move to switch away from its previous 8MP front-facing camera, which had large 1.4-micron pixels, to a new 16MP sensor (different from the rear camera) with much smaller 1-micron pixels. Aside from the spec change the camera is still fixed-focus and offers 1080p video, if that's your sort of thing.
This feels like an overall upgrade to the front-facing camera, but it's still just average.
On the face of it (har har) this change should offer better image quality in daylight and a dropoff in low light situations. The camera does pretty well, actually, particularly in better lighting. Low light shots were understandably grainy, but no more so than any other front-facing camera I've used lately. The only issues I can find here is that the fixed focal distance can sometimes leave your face a tad soft (an issue with most front-facing cameras), and there's no sort of front-facing "flash" mode that lights up the screen in dark situations. A move to an auto focusing front-facing camera would be more expensive, but a front-facing screen light when taking a selfie in darker areas should be standard particularly when you have a sensor with such small pixels.
Now, a small gallery of selfies for you to judge (hopefully just the camera quality) for yourself — and no, these shots didn't use the "beauty" mode.
The rear camera is exceptional for a $440 phone, and competitive with $650+ phones.
Aside from the addition of a sapphire glass covering, the rear camera has remained unchanged from the OnePlus 3 — a 16MP sensor with f/2.0 lens that's known to be a solid performer. The Snapdragon 821's improved ISP (image signal processor) may be helping things a tad here, but I honestly couldn't tell the difference in images taken with the OnePlus 3T versus its predecessor. In most situations the camera does a great job of quickly snapping a photo that's accurate and colorful, though low light pictures still get a good bit of blurry chroma smoothing when compared to top performers like the Pixel XL. For a $440 phone the camera is beyond fantastic, and when compared to $650+ phones it's competitive. Once again, things could improve further with the Nougat update.
OnePlus 3T Bottom line
Whenever a company replaces a popular product with a new model less than six months after its launch, it has the potential to turn customers sour. Discontinuing the OnePlus 3 in favor of a spec-bumped and more expensive OnePlus 3T was always going to rub some the wrong way, but considering the overall minor extent of the upgrades and the continued software support for the original model I think we can all get past it. The original OnePlus 3 is still a great phone today, and nobody who has one should feel any different now than the 3T is here.
You still can't find a better value than the OnePlus 3T.
Looking at the OnePlus 3T as a standalone device, available in late 2016 to compete with phones ranging from $400 to $700, it's absolutely a fantastic total package. OnePlus took a proven platform that was already a crown jewel of "affordable flagship" phones, and refreshed it with a couple important improvements without removing anything that made it appealing when it launched the first time earlier this year.
Even with the modest price bump, the OnePlus 3T is an amazing value. It has great hardware, slick and responsive software, amazing battery life, strong rear camera and every internal spec you could want. Even its few weaknesses, like slightly low screen brightness, lack of waterproofing and questionable software update frequency, are minimal bad marks on what is otherwise an exceptional phone. At $439, you can't find a better value than the OnePlus 3T.
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