CES hasn't traditionally been a huge show for smartphone launches. Even in normal years when the event's attendance wasn't slashed by 75% due to Covid-19, pickings would be relatively slim compared to the big European tech shows — Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and IFA in Berlin. So it's been surprising to see the quietest in-person CES in years also be the busiest for flagship phone launches.
We got Samsung's Galaxy S21 FE — a big enough deal in its own right and new Android features coming later this year, along with launches from Chinese brands Vivo and TCL. But the major announcement for Western Android fans had to be the OnePlus 10 Pro, one of the first Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 flagships from a brand that enthusiasts actually care about.
We already have a full spec sheet, but no global launch date.
OnePlus pulled its physical presence from the show at the last minute. But its new phone was nevertheless revealed to the world as planned, with details being dribbled out over the course of CES week.
Like many of the year's best Android phones, it'll use the latest Qualcomm chipset. We know it'll feature a larger 5,000mAh battery, ridiculously fast 80W charging, and a redesigned camera system from Hasselblad. While the lack of a periscope telephoto camera is disappointing, I'm looking forward to trying out the new ultrawide fish-eye lens.
The weird semi-launch around CES (but not technically at CES) isn't even the most odd thing about this product.
For as much information we have on the OnePlus 10 Pro, plenty of questions remain unanswered. For starters, where's the regular OnePlus 10? The existence of a Pro implies that there'll also be a non-Pro as in previous release cycles. No such device has been confirmed, however, and given the relative messiness of OnePlus's product cycle, I would take nothing for granted.
OnePlus's next big software update has a lot to prove.
Then there's the big question of the software, an area where OnePlus has faced significant challenges as it's integrated further with parent brand Oppo. During 2021, several OxygenOS updates were suspended due to show-stopping bugs, including the latest OxygenOS 12 for the OnePlus 9 series. The company was also beaten to the punch by rival Samsung with the pace of its Android 12 software update for flagship phones.
So far, we know that the OnePlus 10 Pro will run Oppo's ColorOS 12.1 in China, where it'll debut first later in January. (That's no surprise since the company transitioned to ColorOS for its home market last year.)
But things are less clear for markets outside of China. The company announced work on a new unified OS for OnePlus and Oppo phones in all other countries, however the official spec sheet lists "OxygenOS 12 based on Android 12." That suggests things are still somewhat separate, at least in terms of the branding. And this narrative seems to at least partially contradict the messaging around the new unified OS for OnePlus and Oppo devices that was announced just a few months ago. (Android Central reached out to OnePlus to clarify the situation with OxygenOS and the new unified OS; a spokesperson declined to comment any further.)
Given the relative flakiness of recent OnePlus firmware updates, fans may need some convincing that the next flagship's global firmware is up to snuff when it eventually lands. As it transitions towards the mainstream, embracing its ties with Oppo, OnePlus will rightly be held to the same high standards as Samsung and Google when it comes to software stability.
We hope to see more of tise new unified OS in the coming weeks. It may well be the only part of the OnePlus 10 Pro experience that isn't already laid bare by the early Chinese launch.
Finally, we don't have a release date for this phone just yet — at least, not outside of China. As AC's Shruti Shekar reported recently, the move is calculated but still somewhat perplexing, dictated by the importance of that market to Oppo and the relative speed at which it can deploy phones there, without needing to wait for Google and foreign regulatory bodies.
But still, the OnePlus 10 Pro is unlikely to break cover in the West for another couple of months. Keeping the hype machine fired up for that long when the phone is already on sale in one part of the world will be challenging to say the least. You can bet that YouTubers will be revealing all via hands-on videos of imported Chinese devices as soon as it's on sale.
OnePlus obviously hopes its new (hopefully more stable) software will give fans plenty to talk about when its flagship eventually lands in Europe, the U.S., and India. But between now and then lies the Samsung Galaxy S21 launch and the possibility that the early momentum it's built with this CES unveiling could easily fizzle by the time most consumers can buy its new phone.