The OnePlus 8 Pro, starting at $900, is no longer representative of the classic OnePlus phone that earned the company its early recognition. Even the OnePlus 8, at $700, is pushing the limits of what a traditional OnePlus fan is willing to pay for one of its phones. If you jumped on the OnePlus bandwagon a few years ago because of its solid phones with almost too-good-to-be-true prices, the OnePlus of 2020 is basically unrecognizable.
OnePlus is now in the same situation as so many other companies: it needs to fill in the newly-created void underneath its ever-more-expensive flagship phones with a value-focused offering at a lower price. But in the case of OnePlus, it's even more necessary because of just how rapidly its phones increased in price. If you, like most people, only upgrade your phone every two years, you bought a OnePlus 6 for only $530 — and are now being asked to spend 30% more on a OnePlus 8, which isn't its top-end model like the 6 was, or 70% more on an 8 Pro.
There's no disputing the OnePlus 8 series are great phones — but they're expensive phones, too.
While there's no disputing that the OnePlus 8, and perhaps the 8 Pro in particular, are incredible phones that really do challenge the top-end competition for less money, that isn't really the point. OnePlus fans don't just buy OnePlus phones because they're a great value against the "overpriced" competition; they also bought them, in part, because they were (historically) just downright inexpensive.
It doesn't matter if the OnePlus 8 Pro is a better value than the Galaxy S20+ because it's $300 less — ultimately, the 8 Pro is still $900, and that's too much for many people to consider spending. At the same time, if you're a OnePlus fan, there's a chance even the $700 for the OnePlus 8 is too much — and it's a core reason why I advocated at the end of my OnePlus 8 review that people should just buy a discounted 7T instead.
OnePlus already had this idea, nearly five years ago, with the OnePlus X. It was an ill-fated phone that failed for multiple reasons, but showed where OnePlus had its focus: a multi-device, multi-tiered strategy. The nominal figures feel crazy in today's context, as the OnePlus X was just $250, and the same-generation "flagship" OnePlus 2 was $380. But the percentages matter here — the X was roughly one-third cheaper than the phone above it. One-third less than the $700 OnePlus 8 would put the OnePlus Z at $465 — and it's no surprise that the rumored pricing right now is between $400 and $500.
That would make the OnePlus Z basically the same price as the OnePlus 5 when it launched three years ago — arguably the peak of OnePlus "flagship killer" fandom. And it would be an excellent price point to retain, or win back, the OnePlus fans that care dearly about price when shopping for their phone.
OnePlus is poised to lose its price-conscious fanbase if it doesn't bring in a solid inexpensive option.
OnePlus has clearly kept a majority of its price-conscious fanbase even as its prices have risen considerably in the past five years. (And it's impossible to measure how many it saved by adding much-requested features.) But it's also lost many of those fans to other scrappy companies that are providing better value at lower prices — and it'll be poised to lose more as those who bought into the OnePlus 7 series look for an upgrade next year, only to be faced with the same sharp jumps the OnePlus 6 owners are seeing today.
All indications are that the OnePlus Z will launch at a really solid price. But then again, so did the OnePlus X — and, well, that was a complete failure. Obviously the second part of the equation, after you hit the proper price point, is to deliver a really good phone for the money. But OnePlus has a great track record of doing just that — let's hope that it hasn't forgotten how to deliver at a lower price after a few years of working with substantially bigger budgets.
Pay more, get more
The more affordable OnePlus phone isn't so affordable
The OnePlus 8 is a great well-rounded high-end phone that delivers on the OnePlus theme — but does so at a higher price, with more features to match.
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