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OnePlus has lost the one thing that made it unique — and that's a problem

OnePlus 8T review
OnePlus 8T review (Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

A new OnePlus phone was announced last week. Did you catch it? Or, maybe a better question, do you even care? Among all of the madness of Prime Day, Apple's iPhone 12 event, and review embargos lifting for the Pixel 5, we also had the official unveiling of the OnePlus 8T. The 8T looks like a great phone in just about every regard, but no matter how much I read or watch YouTube videos about it, I just can't get excited about the thing.

2020 has been an eventful year for a number of reasons. Outside of everything happening with public health, elections, etc., there's also been a lot of change happening in the mobile space. Specifically, there's been a sudden surge in "value flagship" phones. Whether it be the Galaxy S20 FE, Google Pixel 5, LG Velvet, or Nokia 8.3 5G, a lot of companies are releasing legitimately great handsets for a lot less than the $1000 flagships we've become accustomed to.

This means a lot more competition in the $600 - $700 price range, which is exactly where OnePlus has found itself for its past couple of releases. The OnePlus 8T is no different, featuring a retail price of $750. On its own, that's a great deal. Getting a Snapdragon 865, 120Hz AMOLED display, four cameras, and great battery life for $750 is nothing to scoff at, but we're also at a point where that's not an amazing, unbeatable deal like it once used to be.

OnePlus One

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Ever since its inception back in 2014, the big draw to OnePlus has been its affordable prices. You could buy the newest Samsung Galaxy or iPhone and spend an exorbitant amount of money in the process, or go with a OnePlus phone that cost significantly less while still retaining many of the same specs. Sure, you might sacrifice camera quality or certain features like water resistance, but the value proposition was unmatched.

OnePlus is changing, but so are its competitors.

As we've talked about many times before, the OnePlus from a few years ago is very different from the one we have now. Its prices increase year after year as it strives to create better smartphones, and while that's always been a point of contention, the rest of the market is usually so fixated on even steeper costs that there was still an argument to be made in OnePlus's favor. Unfortunately for OnePlus, that changed dramatically this year.

Following the launch of its mainline Galaxy S20 family of devices, Samsung made a surprise release with the Galaxy S20 FE. It's virtually identical to the $1,100 Galaxy S20+, though it opts for a plastic back, less RAM, and a tweaked camera system to hit a price tag of just $700 (and was discounted to $600 shortly thereafter). You've also got the Pixel 5, which offers one of the best camera experiences on the market, excellent software, and a wonderfully compact size — all while hitting the same $700 mark.

Galaxy S20 FE in-hand

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

This is fantastic news for you and me, because it means we can now get legit flagship experiences for a lot less money than we're used to paying. Samsung's doing it, Google's doing it, and so is Apple with its $699 iPhone 12 mini. As for OnePlus, this makes it more of a direct alternative to those handsets rather than something that has a unique advantage over them. And as a direct alternative, it doesn't make that strong of an argument as to why it's worth getting over the competition.

OnePlus didn't undercut Samsung. Samsung undercut OnePlus.

Let's go over the OnePlus 8T's key specs one more time. It has a Snapdragon 865, 120Hz AMOLED display, 128GB of storage, a 4,500 mAh battery with USB-C charging, multiple rear cameras, and stereo speakers. The S20 FE shares all of those things, and it has the 8T beat with expandable storage, wireless charging, and a proper IP68 dust/water resistance rating — all while having a retail price that's $50 less.

OnePlus's mission used to be undercutting the big names like Samsung, but in 2020, Samsung's the one undercutting OnePlus.

None of this is to try and paint the OnePlus 8T as a bad phone. In fact, it's really darn good. Harish gave it a 4 out of 5 in our full review, saying that it's "the upgrade you're looking for." But from the perspective of OnePlus needing to sell a lot of these to have a successful launch, I'm struggling to find a legitimate reason why I'd recommend anyone go out and buy the thing.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE vs. OnePlus 8T

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

If you want the latest Snapdragon processor with a 120Hz display, the Galaxy S20 FE gives you that and a bunch more for less cash. If you want a clean Android interface with a stock design, you no longer get that with OnePlus phones following the OxygenOS 11 update that draws heavy inspiration from Samsung's One UI. Instead, you might as well just get a Pixel 5.

OnePlus spent the past few years trying to fight its way into carrier partnerships across the U.S., and now that its phones are sold at T-Mobile and Verizon, it's lost the one thing separating it from brands that regular shoppers are more familiar with. If given the choice between the OnePlus 8T for $31.25/month or the Galaxy S20 FE for $29.17/month at T-Mobile, do you really think people are going to choose the more expensive phone from a brand they're considerably less familiar with?

The Nord is a clear sign that OnePlus is still interested in releasing phones with competitive prices, and before the year is over, we're expecting the company to bring its first Nord devices over to the U.S. That's fine and dandy, but for its top-tier flagships, OnePlus has to start thinking a bit more out of the box.

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • What does OnePlus have to offer? It's not Google (hardware). I'm leaving Pixel for OnePlus when needed. Pixel 3 is holding up well. Looks dated, but holding up well.
  • How does the Pixel 3 look dated? It seems to me that until it runs out of updates the only reason for replacing it would be getting 5G in your area. Hardware wise, other than 5G, it isn't inferior to the Pixel 5. And the 4 was expensive and gimmicky.
  • Have to agree with the writers thoughts on this one. I've recently purchased a Poco X3 NFC for £230 and been totally blown away by just how good this phone is for 1/5th the price of most flagships and a good £500 less than the value flagships too. But I've always said I wouldn't buy a Samsung phone because of its software but having used miui 12 now after using stock android since moving from a Windows phone if I was deciding between the one plus 8t or galaxy Fe I'd pick the Samsung phone. the 8t looks a great phone but unfortunately it's now just another phone in that particular price bracket with less features as well. Anyway after this Poco phone I don't think I'll ever want to spend more than £250 again on a new phone it's simply that good!
  • My last three phones have been OnePlus devices (3T, 6, and 7T), but I think my next will be a Pixel. Not enough value for the increased prices.
  • Seriously looking at the Pixel 5 too. Got a OnePlus 7T right now so once I'm about a year in come next April.. its gotta go.
  • They lost me as a customer after the 5. The value wasn't there anymore.
  • I have to say that for me the idea of buying a non-IP68 phone would be like buying a convertible with no roof and leaving it outside all the time. That is what put me off OnePlus.
  • Back in 2017 I bought a OnePlus 5 and I'm still using it. It's an amazing phone and it still doing good today, but already started showing its age. I was certain my next phone would be another OnePlus, but I'm very disappointed with some of the company's latest decisions. Their quad-camera module on Nord is pure crap with only 1 camera being ok and the rest barely usable. Their cameras on OP8T are disappointing compared to competitors. Their prices are kind of justified now by the 5G (qualcomm chipset is more expensive), but I expect the prices to lower as 5G gets more popular. 6 months ago I would never say that, because I hated Samsung, but today I'd get a S20 FE instead of a OP. Better camera e better phone all around. Hope someday OP comes back on track.
  • I'm not sure if the 8T is 750 anywhere at 8gb/128gb. In the US the only version I see is 12gb/256gb. And on T-Mobile where most people that get it will probably get it it has IP68 rating. This makes its $50 over the Samsung FE make a lot of sense.
  • S20 FE is still strapped with a locked bootloader at this point. So if you want to modify the phone, then you're SOL.
  • Let me play devil’s advocate for a sec and place a good portion of the blame squarely on a great number of phone reviewers. First, a few givens…1) The cult of Apple has always had followers willing to pay more for less, regardless. 2) Google always has been and will “forever” be an information/ad company with very deep pockets. 3) Android was usually ahead of the “competition” when it came to new, innovative features. That being said, Google’s deep pockets could and still can allow them to stay on par with other so-called flagships without the same nosebleed pricing. Likewise, OnePlus entered the fray, successfully I might add, with that idea as their main selling point. But, on far too many occasions many reviewers constantly compared every Android device to the iPhone regardless of the many Android competitors. I mean they had too when it came to specs and/or performance…they were the industry leaders after all. But then came that slippery slope where “it had to be glass in order to be premium” which invariably led to “if it was premium it had to be expensive!” That just fed into the elitist dogma that only poor people bought Android devices even when many of them costed MORE than their iOS rivals. Now, miraculously, phones can be or “feel” premium with aluminum and plastic/composite bodies again, and flagship device prices are dropping…imagine that. Additionally, here comes Apple with a “mini” phone and suddenly reviewers are “baby Yoda bonkers” over the much more manageable size. I am just waiting for THAT runaway train to fully leave the station…
  • OnePlus had to sell their phones cheaper to start with just to make a name for themselves, and it worked. But I'm sure they were also losing money by doing this. Can't expect them to put the same hardware in their phones as everybody else but expect them to sell them at a cheaper price, that just makes no sense. So about this article above. It makes it sound like an 8T with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is $750. But that just isn't the case. The 8T with 12GB RAM and 256GB of storage is selling for $750. Compare that to the S20 FE at 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage and that is a big difference! Add that the 8T is IP68 ratted at T-Mobile means that rather they paid for the ratting or not it is IP68. Now I think the S20 FE is hands down the best Samsung phone to come out the last 2 or 3 years because it has a flat screen!! But if I had to buy a phone right now I would probably go with the 8T for the extra RAM and storage. Yes you can expand the storage on the Samsung, but that cost more money.
  • They haven't managed to surpass the 7 Pro yet. Until they do, I'm sticking with it.