Why having Alexa built into the OnePlus 8 series is a big deal for Amazon and OnePlus
We've covered the new OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro phones rather extensively here at Android Central, and for the most part, we've all loved them. Aside from the prices creeping up in pace with the industry (though still well-below their direct competitors), these phones are arguably the best OnePlus has ever produced. They also deliver features that we as fans have been asking for for years, such as wireless charging, official IP water and dust certification, and some of the best displays in the industry. And yet I feel like one of the most important features of the phone has flown under the radar a bit (it was even glossed over during the company's online launch in April), and that is its tie-ins with Amazon.
For the first time ever, OnePlus has partnered with Amazon to offer its unlocked phones for sale on the website. Additionally, the phones will be part of Amazon's Alexa Built-in phone program — also a first for the company. In my opinion, these two facts will do more to get the phones in the top of customers' minds than any of the other new features that OnePlus is touting.
What are Alexa Built-in phones?
Amazon has a fairly long history as a cellphone marketplace. I can remember checking the site out as a one-stop-shop for all the exciting new Android handsets that started coming out over a decade ago, including all the crazy variations of Samsung and Motorola flagships at the time.
The company had a major phone flop on its hands with the launch of the Fire Phone, which lead it to focus on other important projects like the Echo smart speaker with its Alexa voice assistant. This, in turn, lead Amazon to reconsider and recalibrate its smartphone strategy, partnering with select OEMs to feature and discount their phones in exchange for Amazon being able to preload its apps and services on the phone, including access to Alexa.
At first, users could only access Alexa via the push of a physical or software button (and indeed, many lower-end Alexa Built-in phones still work this way). As better processors and the ability of Android phones to allow users to access the Google Assistant hands-free have come along, the groundwork was laid for Amazon to do the same. Now there are a handful of phones in the program with hands-free access to Alexa, including the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro.
Does OnePlus Amazon equal a winning formula?
OnePlus has been one of the most beloved Android brands since it burst onto the scene in 2014, and has consistently offered its customers great phones at a great value during that time. It began selling its phones directly to consumers (which it still does to this day) and slowly started partnering with carriers in different parts of the world. But it didn't have much in the way of distribution or carrier partners in the U.S. until it teamed up first with T-Mobile in 2018, and then later Verizon in 2020. These expanded carrier partnerships are certainly essential to the future growth of OnePlus. Still, they don't provide a comprehensive market-penetration strategy, nor do they offer the opportunity to sell unlocked versions of its phones, both of which Amazon can do.
The 8 and 8 Pro are the first phones to be officially offered for sale by OnePlus on Amazon, which is a massive boon to the phone manufacturer. For one, even if prospective customers don't end up purchasing their new OnePlus from Amazon but rather from their carrier, Amazon provides a giant magnifying glass to help promote and legitimize the brand to a whole new group of consumers.
Second, making the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro Alexa-ready involves minimal work on OnePlus's part. All the heavy lifting is done by Amazon's Alexa app and Qualcomm's Voice Assist app. Once a user enables these apps, the OnePlus 8 or 8 Pro is turned into a hands-free Alexa phone. A not so dirty little secret is that this hands-free Alexa access is technically available to any OnePlus 8 or 8 Pro customer, regardless of where they bought their smartphone from.
Third, customers lose nothing from purchasing a OnePlus 8 or 8 Pro from Amazon with Alexa Built-in. They can still use the Google Assistant at any time, either hands-free, through a swipe gesture, or through the Google Assistant app. Alexa Built-in phones also often come with other nice perks for customers, like extended free trials of Amazon services like Amazon Music Unlimited or Audible.
A more cynical (or realistic?) take might be that OnePlus had to partner with Amazon on the Alexa Built-in program if it wanted to get into Amazon's good graces and sell its unlocked phones on the e-commerce giant's platform. It's fairly apparent when you search phones on Amazon that the Alexa Built-in phones get prioritized with premium placement, both on the home page, as well as among recommended phones in the Cell Phone subsection of the site. Even still, it seems like a tradeoff worth making for OnePlus.
What does Amazon gain from this?
If OnePlus gains a megaphone marketing partner and another vector to sell their wares, Amazon gains increased exposure and legitimacy for its smartphone market in general, and their Alexa Built-in program specifically. I'd wager that unless you're a super-nerdy Prime member or frugal phone shopper, you may not even be aware of the Alexa Built-in phone program. Heck, I bet you couldn't name three phones that feature Alexa Built-in! Don't worry; I'll list them for you here.
Alexa Built-in Phones (mid-2020):
- Motorola One Action
- LG Stylo 4
- Moto G7 Power
- Moto G7 Play
- Moto G7
- Moto G6 Play
- Moto G6
- Moto Z3
- Moto Z4
- Song Xperia 1
- LG G8 ThinQ
- LG V35
- OnePlus 8
- OnePlus 8 Pro
As you can see, except for the new OnePlus phones, the majority of these devices are either low to mid-range handsets or former flagships from one to two years ago. The addition of the latest and greatest from OnePlus is a signal to shoppers that Amazon is a legitimate place to secure premium smartphones, and that having Alexa Built-in is a feature worth having, or even worth coveting, in a high-end phone.
No need to settle
As I said in the introduction, the addition (get it, addition?) of OnePlus to Amazon's Alexa Built-in family is a win-win-win. OnePlus gets a bigger stage and marketing support to sell its flagship phones to more folks, Amazon gets to feature Alexa on some of the best hardware available, and customers get greater choice. They get greater choice in terms of where they can purchase and finance their flagship phone, and they get more choice in their smart virtual assistant options.
It's not often that you come across a partnership that seemingly has little or no downside for all parties involved, but I think that's just what we've gotten here. I hope that OnePlus and Amazon continue to work together in the future and that this paves the way for other manufacturers like Motorola, Nokia, LG, and Samsung to feature their latest flagships in the Alexa Built-in program as well.
Would I buy a OnePlus phone with Alexa Built-in? Yes, I think I would. Amazon has an excellent customer service track record, and I know once I order, I can get one delivered quickly (if the phones are in stock). I can also pay for it in full or installments on my Prime Visa card and earn 5% back towards future Amazon purchases. If I weren't currently on a carrier payment plan, I'd jump at the opportunity to order a OnePlus 8 or 8 Pro with Alexa Built-in. Well, that and the fact that I have a perfectly good OnePlus 7 Pro on hand that I've configured with an Alexa widget on the home screen.
One phone, two assistants
OnePlus delivers again
The mainstream flagship from OnePlus offers a 90Hz display, good camera system, and buttery smooth software experience. Pair it with hands-free Alexa, and you've got a supremely capable flagship.
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Jeramy is the Editor-in-Chief of Android Central. He is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.