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Review: OnePlus 3T

Review: OnePlus 3T

It’s been just five months since OnePlus launched the OnePlus 3. In fact, until a few days ago, the review of that phone was still on the first page of this site. Why, then, is the company releasing an update so soon after the launch of the OnePlus 3? Well, because that’s what it is; an update. I’m sure there will be a proper successor next year but if they had to release a slightly updated version, now is the best time to do it.

Calling the OnePlus 3T a “slightly updated version” is not really doing it any disservice. The original OnePlus 3 was already a superb device so you can imagine how much better an updated version would be, even if the changes are minor.

So what has changed, really? Six things, to be precise: a new color, a faster processor, a larger storage option, a larger battery, a higher resolution front facing camera, and because I’m pedantic, a sapphire glass lens cover for the rear camera.

Now, because I already reviewed the OnePlus 3 in detail in the past, I won’t be diving too deep into it with the 3T, as for the most parts, the two phones are identical. This review will be a quick run-through of everything that’s common while mostly focusing on the things that are new.

 

Design

Visually, the 3T is nearly identical to the 3. The only difference is a new color, called Gunmetal. While the Graphite on the 3 was very close to Apple’s Space Gray, the Gunmetal finish is darker with a slight maroon hue to it when seen from certain angles. It’s not drastically different, and you won’t even notice something is different unless you’ve spent a lot of time with the Graphite 3 or hold them side by side.

Meanwhile, the Soft Gold version remains identical in appearance but it’s worth noting that it is only available on the 64GB model, while the 128GB model is only available in Gunmetal.

As for the rest of the design, there was never much wrong with it, so that remains unchanged. Also, it’s rather expensive to retool your machinery for a mid-generation update so all the physical attributes of the device remain identical. I still love how the phone looks as well as feels in hand. The craftsmanship exhibited by OnePlus in machining the aluminum for this phone belies the age of the company. The beautiful curvature, the tasteful creases and cuts, the stunning attention to detail in chamfering the edges of not just the main sides of the phone but each and individual port, speaker grille hole, and screw slots is exemplary. If you pick up this phone and marvel at why it feels so good and expensive in hand, it’s because a lot of work has gone into making it such.

 

Display

The 3T has the same 5.5-inch 1080p Optic AMOLED display as the 3. The only thing that has changed is in software, where instead of having to dig through developer settings, the option to switch to sRGB mode is now in the main Display settings itself. I would appreciate if the OEMs simply shipped their phones with the display natively targeting the sRGB color space as, out-of-the-box, the display of the 3T still has the same oversaturated colors and cool color temperature that most people will never bother changing. But if I must settle I’d rather settle for having an easily accessible option I can change rather than having no option at all.

Needless to say, I used the phone exclusively in the sRGB mode and in this mode the display on the 3T is really excellent. For day to day use or even for image editing, the color calibration was absolutely spot on. Other attributes of the display, such as brightness and viewing angles were also adequate, if not particularly impressive. The only thing that concerns me is that being a PenTile matrix display (which I explained in my Pixel XL review) the perceived resolution of the display is much lower than the physical resolution. On top of that, this is a 1080p pixel grid stretched to 5.5-inches, so pixel density is much lower than what it is on, say, the Galaxy S7 edge or the Pixel XL. This means that while using VR headsets, the resolution of the 3T display would appear much lower than those phones, or if it just had a standard RGB sub-pixel layout. Of course, this is only really applicable to VR usage and not really noticeable in everyday usage unless you have perfect vision.

Overall though, the display on the 3T is really good and unless you plan on doing a lot of VR stuff on it (which, let’s face it, sucks on mobile right now) there is very little to complain. Just be sure to switch it to the sRGB mode the first chance you get.

 

Hardware

One of the major changes in 3T is the switch to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, which released shortly after the 3 came out. Like the 3T, the 821 is a minor spec bump over the 820, with an increase in CPU performance by 10% and increase in GPU performance by 5%. The 3T uses the official Qualcomm specified clock speeds on the CPU and GPU, which means you’re getting the full-fat experience here and none of the underclocked bullshit we saw on the Pixel.

The other difference is the availability of a 128GB option that joins the existing 64GB. I personally would never need more than 64GB on my phone but it’s nice to have the higher capacity option for those who need it, especially since the 3T continues to not have expandable storage via inexpensive microSD cards.

The rest of the specifications are identical to the 3, for better or worse. You still get the insane 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM but at the same time the USB connector is still based on USB 2.0 instead of the faster USB 3.1. It would have been nice to have the faster transfer speeds, especially now that we have a higher storage option available.

 

Software

On the software side, the OnePlus 3T ships with OxygenOS 3.5, the latest version of OnePlus’ software layer that runs on top of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. It comes with a lot of design changes and some new features that are only available on the 3T for now, but all of it will be coming to the 3 as well in an update.

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By and large the changes in this update are cosmetic. The notification drawer, for example, has the Android Nougat style quick toggles when you swipe down once, which then expand into larger toggles when you swipe down twice. This panel is customizable, of course, and you can rearrange, add or remove toggles over here.

The Shelf has also been redesigned. The Shelf is a panel on the left of the homescreen where you can add widgets and they all appear in one scrollable column, similar to the leftmost screen in iOS.

The OS also has a new steel blue color theme that replaces the now thoroughly boring teal color theme of stock Android. You also get three theme options: Default, which is a combination of light and dark elements, Light, which is an all-white theme that turns everything, including notification shade white, and Dark, which turns everything to black. I prefer sticking to the Default theme as even though the Light and Dark theme options look good in some places they don’t work everywhere and just look odd at times.

There are several other minor changes in this update that are hard to pick out if you are not a regular user of OxygenOS. But the best bits of it remain unchanged. OxygenOS is still one of my favorite Android skins to use because of its design, customizability, and features. The design because by and large it still looks like stock Android, and that’s always good. Customizability because it lets you adjust several things about it, such as the location of the notification toggles, the layout and functionality of the hardware buttons, the theme, the icon size, and even if I want to keep the battery icon visible. And features because there is a lot of useful stuff here that isn’t there on stock Android, such as gestures to turn on the camera and flashlight from the lockscreen, double tap to wake, slider to quickly switch the phone into silent mode, ability to use custom icon packs with the stock launcher, a great bunch of apps including the fantastic new weather app, and the ability to set a fingerprint lock for your apps.

I also love how short on bloatware it is. Save for a couple of Amazon apps that could easily be uninstalled, the phone ships with roughly as many apps as the Google Pixel, and not a lot of Android phones can boast of that.

Just like the 3, the 3T has been quite stable for me. I only faced a couple of issues, none of which were particularly severe. The volume buttons tend to occasionally stop working if the audio is playing and the screen switches off and the touchscreen is perhaps a bit too sensitive but these are the sort of issues that get fixed easily in an update. Apart from that the phone has been rock solid for me, which is a huge deal for a company as small and inexperienced as OnePlus is. I’ve faced more software issues on the iPhone 7 Plus with iOS 10 than I have with OxygenOS 3.5 on the OnePlus 3T. And I can buy two of these for the price of one of those and still have money left to buy, say, food.

 

Performance

While there was never really any performance deficit on the 3, the 3T feels like Ranveer Singh on cocaine (or just Ranveer Singh). UI response is immediate, with the phone responding to your touches as fast as your fingers can move. App launches and app switching is instantaneous, only occasionally slowed down by Android animations. It’s quite simply the fastest Android phone I’ve used in terms of pure UI speed and immediacy, even besting the Pixel at times. The only area it lags behind the Pixel is in UI smoothness, with scrolling showing the characteristic Android jank that, for most parts, is absent from the Pixel. I am hoping this gets sorted with the Nougat update or perhaps with further tweaking to OxygenOS.

Apart from speed, 3T also makes better use of that humongous 6GB of RAM. I could have a lot more applications running in the background than before and sometimes I could open an app I had opened a day ago and it would just load from memory instead of starting from scratch. It still doesn’t feel like it is using the memory as well as it could, possibly to save battery, but the current setting seems like a good tradeoff between the two.

Other aspects of the performance are identical to the 3. The audio performance is quite adequate; both the headphone output and the loudspeaker get quite loud but the loudspeaker does sound a bit unpleasant at the last two notches on the volume bar and of course, I’d have preferred to see a stereo speaker arrangement.

The fingerprint sensor is still hit or miss. When it works it is extremely fast but it seems like it also has a very short time window of scanning, which means if it scans correctly the phone unlocks pretty much immediately but if it cannot scan accurately within that window then instead of taking longer to scan properly it just declares it can’t recognize the finger. This often results in the phone just buzzing annoyingly while you still have your finger on the sensor, just because you placed it slightly awkwardly when you first touched it. And like most other Android phones, the sensor activates when it comes in contact with any patch of skin and then the phone will buzz because it couldn’t recognize the print. Makes holding the phone quite annoying at times due to accidental touches.

 

Camera

The OnePlus 3T ships with the same camera on the back as the 3, which means it’s a pretty good camera, second only to industry stalwarts like the iPhone 7, Galaxy S7 or the Pixel. All the images I took with the camera during my use came out quite well, both in daylight as well as in low light. The camera app has two settings in the Auto mode, an HQ mode that further cleans up the already impressive low light images, making them even better and the HDR mode, which also works remarkably well in boosting the shadows and bringing down blown highlights. The app also has a manual mode where you can manually control things such as ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and focusing distance and there is also a RAW capture function built-in.

Click here to see all camera images in full size.

The 4K video capture from the rear camera is also pretty decent, if not great. The culprit here is the optical image stabilization, which feels like it is missing some assistance from electronic stabilization as it is still pretty shaky and not conducive to vlog-style capture where you walk while recording. The image quality itself is fine, however.

Let’s talk about that sapphire glass lens cover for a minute. Sapphire glass is a synthetic material, which unlike its naturally occurring blue counterpart, is clear and colorless. Sapphire glass is known for its incredible strength and excellent optical properties, which makes it perfect for camera lenses. Sapphire glass is rated 9 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, which leaves very few materials left in the world that can scratch it apart from diamond, which is rated at 10, the highest level. So unless you frequently carry diamonds in your pocket along with your phone, there is little chance you can scratch it. It’s the same material Apple uses for its camera lenses as well as the Touch ID sensor because it’s known to work year after year without getting damaged.

As for the front camera, it has seen a resolution bump from 8 megapixels on the 3 to 16 megapixels on the 3T. I’m personally not a big fan of higher resolution front cameras as there is no one out there saying ‘I wish this camera showed even more of my flawed skin to everyone on the internet’. In fact, most phones these days have some sort of beauty mode that smoothens skin, which entirely defeats the purpose of having a higher resolution sensor. It would be better if manufacturers increased the physical size of the sensor while keeping the resolution same or even reducing it so instead of bigger we get better images.

As for the 3T front camera, I can’t conclusively say if it is better than the 3 camera since I don’t have both to compare side by side but it looks reasonably good on its own and should be adequate for all your Snapchat and Instagram needs.

All in all, I am still quite pleased with the camera experience on the 3T as I was with the 3. It’s one of those things that gets shafted whenever a manufacturer decides to get aggressive with the pricing but it’s good to see that OnePlus continues to cut no corners with this device.

 

Battery Life

By far the biggest change to the 3T is the jump from the reasonable 3000mAh battery on the 3 to the impressive 3400mAh. What’s particularly impressive about it is that this 13% increase in capacity comes at no change in the physical dimensions or even weight of the phone.

Now, in my 3 review I mentioned that the battery life for me was all over the place, whereby it became hard for me to determine exactly how good or bad it is. I’m not sure what the situation with that phone is now but the battery life on the 3T is fucking amazing. I consistently got over six hours of use out of it, with eight or even nine hours possible on some days. And this is actual use, or screen-on time of the phone, with the overall battery life with standby included being upwards of 24 hours.

What further sweetens the deal with the battery on the 3T is that it comes with the same exceptional Dash charge feature as the 3. The phone goes from 1% to 60% in the first half an hour of charging and in about an hour it’s already close to 90%. Full charge takes about an hour and a half from flat. These times aren’t too far off from those of the 3, so the larger battery comes with all the benefits and none of the disadvantages, which is just an absolute win-win.

 

Verdict

The OnePlus 3 was already a fantastic phone and I can tell you right now it’s already on my best phones of the year list. There really was no need to improve upon it this year but OnePlus went ahead and did it anyway. You now get more storage, better battery life, and better performance while maintaining everything that was good about the original, which includes the design, the display, the camera, the software experience, and that incredible Dash charging.

Admittedly, the improvements come at a price. The base 64GB model now starts at ₹29,999, which is a two grand premium over the 3, while the new 128GB model is priced at ₹34,999. This makes it slightly less impressive value for money than the model it replaces. Fortunately, the original was already so far ahead in this regard that a small drop like this practically makes no difference, and even at the increased prices the OnePlus 3T is still phenomenal value for money.

As I said in my OnePlus 3 review, what makes the 3T great isn’t that it’s just an affordable phone but that it’s a great phone that also manages to be affordable. There is very little to complain about really, and at this price it should be illegal to ask for more.


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