It’s been a few years since OnePlus really annoyed me (given their ‘Never Settle’ slogan) when they lampooned Apple’s dropping of my beloved 3.5mm audio jack and then their parent company, effectively OPPO at the time, handed them a design to rebadge that… didn’t include the jack. And so they ‘settled’, with some embarrassment. But we’ve forgiven them now and I approached this, the OnePlus 8 Pro, with fresh eyes and enthusiasm, to judge it on its own merits. And was very glad I did – it may not have Apple or Samsung’s brand recognition, but it undercuts the flagships from these brands while often out-performing them.
The OnePlus 8 Pro is certainly highly specified. In fact, it’s safest to say that it’s got everything you’d expect from a 2020 flagship except an always-on display. Which is a shame, but as my iPhone 11 Pro (currently my primary phone) also lacks an always-on display, it’s hard to declare this a showstopper. As with that aforementioned 3.5mm audio jack!
Aside from this, the OnePlus 8 Pro is almost the perfect modern smartphone, in terms of:
- fast Snapdragon 865 processor
- excellent 6.8” 1440p display (super colours, pin-sharp, up to 120Hz refresh rate)
- 8GB RAM
- 128GB storage
- dual SIM and 5G (though not mmWave unless you’re in the USA on Verizon)
- a good triple camera (of which more in a moment)
And all for £800 (in the UK, including VAT), or £900 if you want to push the boat out further on RAM (12GB) and storage (256GB, note that there’s no microSD expansion here).
Yes, it’s still a lot of money, but set against Samsung’s 2020 phones and recent flagship iPhones, somehow £800 doesn’t seem totally crazy. Certainly there’s enough here to invest in a device which will last a full two years for you, with major version Android upgrades, and I’ll bet a couple more years as a viable hand me down, all covered by security updates from OnePlus.
OnePlus has also at last put in three things that I love and which they’ve so far resisted in their line-ups. So we finally get stereo speakers – not the best in the world in terms of components and resonance, but enhanced to decency with (always ‘on’) Dolby Atmos and the resulting mix is eminently enjoyable when watching a little Netflix or YouTube over lunch, perhaps.
Well done OnePlus. They’ve also put in Qi wireless charging, at long last! They claim 30W here, but that depends on a special charging stand with a fan and that wasn’t included in the review package. But it charges happily at 10W on my various standard Qi pads and that’s fine with me. Plus there’s reverse wireless charging, for topping up Qi-compatible headphones, watches and other accessories.
Finally, they actually paid for the certification for full IP68 water and dust proofing – hooray. No more worrying in the rain or kitchen!
The chipset used here is very fast, and backed up by LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.0 flash storage, both cutting edge specs, the internals are as speedy as you get in the Android world bar none. Incidentally, these specs and a few others are shared with the OPPO Find X2 Pro, a cousin device from the BBK stable in China, though I think OnePlus is making its own way more and more these days.
All of this spec goodness is in a lovely matt-finish, fingerprint-resistant frosted glass body that’s heavy at 200g, but eminently manageable, and the extended display and thin form means that even my thumb and middle finger secure grip test is a success.
As with many modern smartphones, the fingerprint sensor is under the display, for ease of access on a desk and, I’m guessing, because a huge camera island on the back doesn’t leave room for a sensor there. It’s optical though, no dodgy Samsung ultrasonics here, and once set up works around 9 times out of 10, which is… OK. You do have to light the screen up first with a tap or press of the power button – you can’t just put your thumb on the darkened display. This two stage operation takes an extra fraction of a second, but you get used to it (in much the same way as I got used to the swipe up after Face ID on the iPhone).
Note that I used the phrase ‘once set up’ – actually enrolling a thumbprint on the OnePlus 8 Pro is tiresomely fiddly. You only get a limited number of impressions to fill up the fingerprint data and if you don’t do it efficiently enough then you get an error message and have to start all over again. It took me eight – count ‘em – tries to get my thumb enrolled. Perhaps this is to ensure accuracy and to improve security? Or perhaps it’s a bug? Anyway, I got there in the end!
The battery’s large at 4500mAh, but it means a day and a half of use per charge in my tests, not least because my 50-year-old eyes really can’t tell the difference between 60Hz and 120Hz display modes, nor between 1080p and 1440p, so left the 8 Pro on the former in each case and avoided extra battery drain. I don’t doubt that 20-somethings with perfect eyesight can tell the difference between these modes, but for the vast majority of people I’m bemused by the focus by manufacturers on engineering them in. For most of the last decade smartphone screens have been running at 60Hz and I don’t recall a single reviewer complaining that the animations were too jittery. Yet all of a sudden 120Hz is the new tech darling and 60Hz is ‘unusable’. Really?
A 30W fast charger is supplied in the box, with Type C cable and it’s only an hour to fill the battery from scratch. And not much longer to do the same wirelessly. All VERY impressive.
Also in the box is an excellent (branded) clear TPU case, making sure you protect and grip your beautiful metal and glass sandwich. This also helps avoid unwanted touches on the Samsung-esque curved screen edges – other reviewers have hated on this, but with any case on this is a non-issue and I didn’t have a single erroneous touch input.
Bringing us to the highlight of many a smartphone, its imaging system. I’m not counting the gimmicky low resolution depth camera, so consider this a very capable triple camera setup. I was pleased to see the depth of the camera island here, since it means that the underlying cameras have decent sensor sizes and optics.
You can see the results below. A 48MP, f/1.8, Quad Bayer set-up outputting at 12MP, with omnidirectional PDAF, laser auto-focus and OIS. It’s just about as good as main cameras get these days. With a 8MP 3x telephoto, also optically stabilised. And another 48MP Quad Bayer sensor behind a wide angle lens.
You can’t ask much more from a phone camera system in 2020 and I was (overall) impressed by the results. The image processing is… fashionably sharpened, but not to the same horrible degree as in recent Samsungs. The OnePlus 8 Pro is right up there with the iPhone 11 Pro for textures and genuine detail, yet it’s quite a bit cheaper and you do get a surprisingly good 3x telephoto rather than a 2x. See the photo samples below, anyway.
Shot with the wide angle camera, super colours and detail…
Shot with the main camera – large sensor, large lens, instant focussing, super results, finely tuned and competitive with the best in the phone imaging world…
Shot with the 3x telephoto camera, it’s just ‘right’, with zoom kicking in here rather than having a ‘grey area’ before a 5x telephoto kicks in….
1:1 crop from the photo above, showing detail on the old, weathered sign and in the greenery behind. Phone imaging doesn’t get much better, crazy zooms aside…
Exploring natural bokeh, and lovely colours on this leaf…
1:1 crop from the photo above. Yes, there’s sharpening, but it’s never offensive, even when looking this closely…
Shot indoors in gloomy light, the OIS and focus still make for a top notch photo….
1:1 crop from the photo above. Great colours, great detail….
Shot half an hour after sunset, this is an accurate match for what my eyes were seeing. Is this better than a ‘hyper-real’ HDR ‘night-into-day’ shot? Arguably yes.
The same scene shot with the 3x telephoto… Beautifully clear again, see the LED detail on the light.
1:1 crop from the photo above, even on the dark road there’s real detail and not too much of a mushy mess.
Subject for subject, in all light conditions, the OnePlus 8 Pro camera lives up to its price point and beyond. Low light shots are realistically handled – no super-real fake day effect, just a representation of reality without too many artefacts and without too much noise. There is a ‘Nightscape’ mode, but in all my testing, its results were over-processed and not as good as the standard fully-automatic multi-frame capture. I suspect ‘Nightscape’ will improve with updates. In the meantime, just leave everything on full ‘auto’ and you’re done.
Video capture is excellent too, but is beyond the scope of this short phone review.
The OnePlus 8 Pro runs Oxygen OS, of course, OnePlus’s take on Android 10 here, and it’s splendid, with just enough bells and whistles to be useful while avoiding outright bloat. Security is March 2020 and I’m sure will be kept within a month of the cutting edge.
I loved all the extra display settings – not just screen refresh rate and resolution, but Comfort tone (like Apple’s True Tone), ‘Vibrant Colour Effect Pro’ (similar to Samsung’s Video Enhancer), Motion Graphics Smoothing (upscaling compatible video content to higher screen refresh rates), and various screen calibration presets. It’s just a wonderful display set-up, spoiled only a little by a small cutout for the 16MP selfie camera, though for most use cases you never see this, especially with a dark theme applied.
By default, everything’s light-themed, but in Settings/Customisation there’s a nice ‘Nuanced dark’ theme and there are a mountain of fingerprint and clock animations to pick from. Add in accent colour options and icon packs – all out of the box – and there’s a lot to fiddle with and make right.
A single tap brings up the chosen clock and fingerprint prompt. As mentioned before, because the scanner is optical then the display physically needs to be on (unlike with Samsung’s ultrasonic finger tech, though that’s ultimately less reliable in my view). So unlocking the phone is typically a two step process. One to tap the screen or lift the phone, another to thumb-unlock, etc.
I was expecting a high end phone without character and to dismiss it as such. And what got was exactly this – i.e. a high end phone without character. Except that it’s so high end that I certainly can’t dismiss it. The OnePlus 8 Pro blows past the need for character and charm – think of it as a Formula 1 car – it doesn’t need to stand out on style when it’s so damned fast.
In fact, the only complaints I have about the OnePlus 8 Pro were in my introduction. If you can live without an ‘always on display’ and if you’re OK with the high – but definitely not astronomical – price, then this is arguably the best Android phone in the world right now.