Review

OnePlus 3T review: One of the best got even better

About six months ago, OnePlus launched their new flagship device, the OnePlus 3. Despite being affordable, the OnePlus 3 did not skimp on specs or features, and offered excellent value. In Neowin’s in-depth review I called it one of the best Android devices on the market and recommended it without hesitation.

That’s why, when OnePlus announced it was launching a new version of the 3, with higher specs and updated internals, I was both intrigued and excited. Dubbed the OnePlus 3T, the new device takes everything that was great about the previous model and refines it. You can think of it a bit like the S version of an iPhone, but instead of coming out a year later, OnePlus decided to launch this new device just six months after its predecessor hit markets.

So without further delay, let’s jump in and see what the OnePlus 3T has to offer and how it fares compared to its older brother.

Design

First thing’s first: the OnePlus 3T is virtually indistinguishable from the original 3. It features the same form-factor, same screen, same machined chassis, same aluminum build, same home button placement, same camera bump, same ports and same pretty much everything.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a difference between a OnePlus 3T and the original 3 (OP3) when set side by side. The only clear difference I found between the two was that the new model features a slightly darker color, though even that’s sometimes hard to see if the light isn’t just right.

Given so many similarities between the two devices, I’ll have to refer any newcomer to my original review of the OnePlus 3, for anything concerning design, screen quality, camera, and many other aspects of the phone. In fact, I’ll only go on to focus on the differences between the two phones because everything I wrote previously on those aspects is still true.

Performance

One of the few differences between the two handsets is the inclusion of the Snapdragon 821 processor in the 3T. The new chip wasn’t available at the time of launch for the OP3 but has since become a staple of all flagship Android phones for this season.

On paper, the Snapdragon 821 offers 10% performance increase over the Snapdragon 820 that was used in the OP3. In practice, I was hard-pressed to notice that increase in performance in day-to-day use. Yes, some intensive apps seemed to load a tad faster, and the app switcher seemed to be a bit snappier when dealing with a large number of opened applications.

Where the new processor really led to a noticeable difference was in editing videos or images. To put it simply, that expected 10% performance increase was exactly what I got. In various tests and standard benchmarks, the OnePlus 3T was always just a bit ahead of the OP3.

Is this a super impressive upgrade that will change your life? Not at all, and you’ll probably won’t even notice it. But it does bode well for new OnePlus users to have a device that’s very much on par with any other new flagship on the market.

Software

When OnePlus launched the original OnePlus 3 earlier this summer, the handset came with a version of Oxygen OS based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Despite Google launching Android 7.0 Nougat in the fall, and is currently getting ready to launch Android 7.1, the OnePlus 3T still comes with Marshmallow on board.

The current version of OxygenOS available on the 3T is v3.5.3 with the November security updates from Google. That’s a jump up from the 3.2.8 OxygenOS version shipping on the OP3, and so it comes with a few significant changes on board.

OnePlus altered OxygenOS to be less of the “vanilla+” version of Google’s operating system, and more of a blend of the company’s heavily modded HydrogenOS and Android. Luckily, these alterations don’t go very deep yet, so the OnePlus 3T still comes with a very straightforward version of Android, that has a few useful bells and whistles added on top.

One of the biggest differences between the OnePlus 3 and the 3T is the cleaner Settings pane, which now looks more ordered and is easier to navigate. OnePlus also took out some superfluous or rarely-used options, while streamlining others. The same goes for the quick settings dropdown menu, which now looks a bit more like the one found in Nougat, and which can now be easily edited. Another big change is the new File Manager app that’s simpler to use and looks better than it previously did.

If you’re looking for them, you’ll no doubt find a few other small changes strewn across the OS, like the improvements in the Camera app. However, most of the user-facing changes in the latest version of OxygenOS are limited to the user interface.

Hopefully, more significant and useful changes will be launched alongside Android 7.0 Nougat, which is currently still in beta. If that update, expected to launch before the end of the year, brings radical changes, I’ll update this review.

But speaking of beta testing, I ran across a number of very frustrating issues with the 3T, that I had never encountered with the OP3. I’m not sure what caused them, but it looks like this version of OxygenOS has a few bugs in it.

During the original setup, while I was switching over devices and copying apps and data from the OP3 to the 3T, I ran into a show-stopping issue, where the screen got stuck and new UI elements were simply drawn upon existing ones. In other words, everything was a mess, and the only solution was a quick reboot. I think this had something to do with the very large number of apps and notifications that I had opened, but I wasn’t able to reproduce this afterwards.

Another issue I encountered related to cellular data. For some unknown reason, the toggle to use data switched off by itself a number of times. This wasn’t after restarts or updates, and I manually took out the toggle from the quick settings tab, just in case I had been bumping it accidentally. I still don’t know what causes this but it has happened a couple of times now, and it’s frustrating when I end up missing important notifications because of it.

Finally, after I had got used to checking the cellular data toggle when something wasn’t working right, the 3T threw another curve ball at me, and started changing APN selections. This happened once when the system was supposed to hand off connectivity from Wi-Fi to cellular, but my device chose to ignore the APN it had used previously and which worked, and instead opted to use a new one.

I know the carrier can tell the phone which APN to use in some scenarios, but the phone seems to be toggling things and switching connections on its own. I never had any of these issues with the original OnePlus 3, though I’ve talked to local 3T users who’ve experienced the exact same problem with the new device.

Hopefully, these are just growing pains for the latest version of the OS and we’ll see them phased out in the next wave of updates.

Selfie Cam

One other aspect that’s very different between the two phones is the new selfie cam on the 3T, which was bumped up to 16 megapixels. The added resolution should help the camera take extra crispy pictures, while the slightly bigger sensor might allow for extra light to pass through and an overall improvement in quality. At least that’s the theory.

In practice, I found few differences between the selfies taken with each phone. Yes, the extra resolution did lead to slightly crispier images in some scenarios, especially when I kept moving. And there is slightly better performance on the 3T when it comes to low-light scenarios, but overall the improvements were quite small. Megapixels alone do not a better camera make.

OnePlus 3T OnePlus 3

As you can see in the sample images, when light is ample, both devices fare quite well, albeit the images are a bit bland for my taste – or maybe that’s just my face. However, both sensors can be quickly overwhelmed by direct light, and the overall quality of the images can degrade quickly.

Images also get washed out and color reproduction suffers, even in some well-lit scenarios, so I wouldn’t rely on the selfie cam for too much. It’s perfectly adequate, but you’ve got a much more powerful camera on the back of the device if you’re looking for good quality.

And speaking of the world-facing camera, I personally found the added layer of sapphire glass over the lens in the 3T to be much more useful than the upgraded selfie cam. Given that small camera bump is what’s most likely to make contact with surfaces when setting the phone down, some extra protection there can go a long way to keeping your phone and images in tip-top shape for years to come.

Battery Life

Perhaps the biggest improvement to come with the OnePlus 3T is an enlarged battery that promises to offer more juice and resilience than ever. The company bumped up the battery inside its phone from 3000mAh to 3400mAh. That’s a significant increase in capacity and it shows in daily use.

Some OnePlus 3T users were reporting to be getting up to six hours of extra video playback or gaming out of their new devices compared to the OP3. While I never saw such impressive results, the experience I had was nonetheless positive.

I tested the new device’s battery in a few different models, to see if the extra battery life was due to capacity alone, or whether it had more to do with the new Snapdragon 821 and its fancy features.

First up, I raced the original OnePlus 3 and the 3T in a series of artificial benchmarks, which ran continuously, discharging the device. The 3T consistently scored around 8% better than the OP3 in terms of performance, and crucially it also lasted significantly longer. In terms of continuously stressing the processor, I got the 3T down from 100% to 20% battery in five hours and twenty minutes, with the screen on and turned up to max. For comparison, the OP3 discharged to the same level in about four hours and thirty minutes.

I also looked at video playback and set the devices to continuously play back the same local 1080p HD video for as long as possible before battery saver would kick in. I kept the phones in Airplane mode for this test, and set screen brightness to 100%. Both devices have the exact same screen and apparent brightness, so this shouldn’t influence the result.

Over the course of the test, which lasted close to 14 hours, the OnePlus 3T gained a lead in remaining battery life, which increased as time went on. By the time the OP3 reached 10% battery life, about 12 and a half hours into the test, the 3T still had 27% battery left, which let it continue playing video for almost another two hours.

While those results are impressive I had trouble transposing them in my day to day phone use. For sure, there’s a noticeable difference in battery life with the 3T, but I found it varied wildly from day to day. On one hand, the phone seemed like it might last up to three days with very light use, significantly more than the OP3. On the other, during a day out around town the phones seemed to discharge at the same rate, with the 3T offering only about one extra hour of battery life. Overall the rule of thumb is the battery will last longer when the phone is being used intensely, say for a game or app, rather than used sporadically for Twitter, chatting, phone calls, etc.

Of course, your mileage will vary. If you rely on location tracking and cellular data, still some of the most energy-consuming tasks, you won’t see large benefits from the 3T’s new battery. If, instead, you rely on your processor, then you’ll get quite a bit of extra juice.

The last aspect I wanted to mention in this category relates to Dash charging. OnePlus included their fast-charging solution with this new device as well, and to good effect. The 3T can still be charged from 0 to 100% in about an hour, and even five minutes plugged into a socket will give you a significant amount of charge. Of course, thanks to the higher capacity of the battery, the 3T seems to charge slower than the OP3 if you’re just looking at battery percentage points, but don’t be fooled by that.

Wrap Up

Make no mistake here, if you’re a OnePlus 3 owner this device is not for you, but if you’re looking for a brand new handset I highly recommend the 3T in most cases. The company struggled to put out an upgraded device that might net it new users, while also keeping some of its biggest fans satisfied with the older handset. I’d say they managed to achieve that.

The OnePlus 3T is an excellent device. It shares many of the best features of the original OnePlus 3 while also improving on a number of key points. Everything, starting with the high-quality aluminum frame, to the AMOLED HD screen, to the 16-megapixel shooter, to the latest Snapdragon processor, recommends this phone as a true contender in today’s market. Its great battery life is reason alone to consider it, and the upcoming Android 7.0 Nougat update might bring even more attractive features.

The OnePlus 3T’s price, starting at $439 sets it apart from the competition, and opens the door for many users to purchase a premium Android handset.

So if you’re in the market for a powerful, well-built, affordable Android handset, make sure to give the OnePlus 3T a look. I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

 

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