OnePlus is a company that doesn’t much like its reputation in the smartphone business as a plucky upstart. Yet that’s what it is, competing as it must with the likes of Apple, Samsung and Google for the crown of best smartphone in the world. The OnePlus 3, launched in June 2016, was a sublime blend of design and performance for just over £300 but nevertheless, here’s our OnePlus 3T review. See also: Best phones 2017.
So it’s odd that just five months later OnePlus has ended production of that handset, sticking to it’s motto of ‘never settle’ and released this upgraded version of the same phone, the OnePlus 3T. The company that prides itself on listening to its fans’ reaction to its products has boldly dared to update a handset that people have had for less than half a year. Will the move gain new fans while annoying existing ones, or both?
It’s hard not to compare this phone, when reviewing it, to the OnePlus 3. Since there’s only five months between iterative updates to a high-end phone, we have to compare the two to fully understand the reasons why.
OnePlus 3T: Midnight Black edition
Following the extremely limited Collette edition of the OnePlus 3T (just 250 units), the firm has announced the Midnight Black version of the phone. This is still a ‘limited release’ but doesn’t involve queuing up in Paris for.
The Midnight Edition is very similar but without the Collette branding and features “space-grade aluminum with three carefully applied dark coatings 14 microns thick and maintains the natural look and feel of metal.”
OnePlus said the 3T Midnight Edition is available from Hypebeast to start (the first 250 units) at 4pm on 24 March (UK time), then on the official store at a later date for those in North America and Europe. It comes in 128GB and 6GB of RAM only priced at $479, €479 and £439.
OnePlus 3T: Price and where to buy
The OnePlus 3T is on sale SIM-free and unlocked directly from OnePlus. Click here to view it – it’ll cost you £399 for the 64GB version and just £40 more for the £439 128GB version, which is now available to preorder. Both are currently available in the Gunmetal colour, which is slightly darker than the Graphite version of the OnePlus 3.
The Soft Gold version is very good looking too, but is only available in 64GB.
In the UK you can get the OnePlus 3T from O2 on a 24-month contract deal, for both the 64GB or 128GB models. Bear in mind that it’s only available on O2’s Refresh tariff that allows you to upgrade your handset more regularly.
OnePlus 3T: Design and build
Even the ‘s’ iterations of iPhones have an ‘s’ stamped on the back, but in this case there is absolutely no design change from the OnePlus 3 to the OnePlus 3T. The only change is in the darker colour option, the grey of which on the rear is a tad darker than the old model. The forthcoming Soft Gold option is exactly the same, and visually indistinguishable from its five month old brother.
This reinforces that OnePlus sees the 3T as a small tweak for the line, hoping as it does to not frustrate loyal fans that shelled out for a 3. The 3T happily retains an outstanding design, with build quality to rival any premium smartphone maker in the land. It does what Apple has still failed to do and made a 5.5in screen phone slim, svelte and usable with one hand (just).
Apparently carved out of one piece of space-grade aluminium alloy the OnePlus 3T measures 153 x 75 x 7.4mm and weighs 158g. The frame of the handset houses a power/lock button on the right edge, a USB-C port, speaker, mic and 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom and a volume rocker and OnePlus’ excellent Alert Slider on the left, leaving the top edge flat, curved and smooth. With a front facing fingerprint scanner that relies on haptic feedback as opposed to a physical button, this is a phone that screams ‘use me’ from the second you take it out the box.
In that box it also already comes with a screen protector pre-applied, handy if you want to use it with one. The only lines that break the dark gunmetal of our review unit are the aerial lines and the OnePlus logo that sits beneath a 16Mp camera that protrudes ever so slightly from the casing. The front facing camera sits next to the earpiece and is also an amazing 16Mp, something we’ll explore later.
At the launch event for the OnePlus 3T, co-founder Carl Pei explained that the company is always striving to do better; he used Apple’s design as a benchmark and the phone is one of the best looking handsets on the market, rivalling the matte black iPhone 7 Plus in the looks department, which is no mean feat. It does however remain slightly slippy, and is a phone that could be destroyed with one drop onto the pavement. We recommend one of OnePlus’ subtle but grippy cases that fit both this and the older OnePlus 3.
OnePlus 3T: Specs, hardware and performance
Much of the 3T’s spec sheet remains the same as its predecessor but there are also some important upgrades. Let’s take a look.
OnePlus 3T screen
Despite initial rumours, the OnePlus 3T has exactly the same display as the OnePlus 3. It’s a 5.5in Optic AMOLED with Full HD (1920×1080) resolution and 401ppi. By its own admission, OnePlus continues to ship a screen that recreates colours more vibrantly than most, but with the Oxygen OS skin of Android that it runs this feels right; the handset and feel of the software that the screen runs is right at home with the popping colours and bright whites.
There’s the option to calibrate the colours to your tastes though, and this is one example of the granularity of Android helping the OnePlus 3T more than most become a truly personal device.
OnePlus 3T processor, memory and storage
The OnePlus 3T’s upgrades are mostly all internal, and while they’re all welcome, it took a fair few days of use to see why it’s come to be. We’ve used the OnePlus 3 for a few months, so can draw decent comparisons – straight off, you need not upgrade for fear of missing out on processor power, speed or battery life if you own the older model.
Having said that the 3T is faster, yet only noticeably so if you are really hammering it at full pelt. It joins the Google Pixel and Pixel XL in having Qualcomm’s top of the line Snapdragon 821 processor, the current pinnacle of smartphone chips. While only the most graphically intensive games and busiest of multitasking days will make the 820 sweat, the 821 is faster on the OnePlus 3T. Going from the 3 to the 3T, the difference is noticeable if incredibly subtle.
In a full week of use we experienced absolutely no lag, slow app changes or overheating. It is truly like using a desktop at some times, and even has more RAM than some of those computers with 6GB on board. Pair that with Adreno 530 graphics and you have an obscenely powerful smartphone in your pocket – alongside your fat wallet full of the money you’ve saved by choosing it.
Our benchmarks show the OnePlus 3T runs equal with the best smartphones out there, though remember these benchmarks don’t represent real world use. The phones in this graph are the absolute best you can get right now, and broadly all perform to the same unbeatable standards.
Note: OnePlus has been caught cheating popular benchmarks such as Geekbench and GFXBench with its OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T. XDA-Developers accuses OnePlus of having configured the processor to automatically switch into overdrive mode when a popular benchmark is detected (you can read the full story here).
OnePlus has confirmed the practice and apologised, stating that “In order to give users a better user experience in resource intensive apps and games, especially graphically intensive ones, we implemented certain mechanisms in the community and Nougat builds to trigger the processor to run more aggressively. The trigger process for benchmarking apps will not be present in upcoming OxygenOS builds on the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T.”
For now you can see our benchmark results below as accurate as they were run on OxygenOS before the changes were implemented. Also note that with the flagship-level hardware onboard both phones should be decent performers, and behaved as such during real-world testing.
The OnePlus 3T is available with 64GB of internal storage, but bear in mind there’s no SD card slot. The fact you only need to spend £30 more to get an impressive 128GB shows you that Apple charging £100 more for that jump in storage for the iPhone 7 is unnecessarily high. For most, spending that extra money will be well worth it.
OnePlus 3T fingerprint scanner and other specs
The fingerprint scanner is on the front bottom face of the device, which is still where these sensors work best, despite Sony trying the side and Huawei and others the back. The button is non-moving and gives the perfect level of feedback when unlocking the device or using a compatible app like Android Pay to verify your identity. Unlike the iPhone 7, it doesn’t feel like the whole phone is clicking down – it’s way better here.
Tapping the same sensor acts as a home button, and is so good that when we try phones with physical buttons it feels wrong. The best devices change our habits for the good, and the OnePlus 3T has the best fingerprint sensor/home button combo of any current smartphone on the market.
OnePlus 3T battery life
The non-removable battery clocks in at 3,400mAh, a step up from the 3,000 of the OnePlus 3. The internals are exactly the same dimensions but the battery is denser, hence the increase. In general use the phone will last a full working day which is about average. We left the house most days at 8am with 100%, and by the time we rolled in from work at about 6.30pm the OnePlus 3T had about 30% left in the tank.
This was when using the device as our primary email sender and using apps like Slack, Spotify, Pocket, WhatsApp, train timetable apps, GPS battery-drainers like Google Maps and several others throughout the day. The battery percentage chugs down at the expected rate, and we didn’t experience any dramatic unexpected fall-off.
On one particularly busy Google Maps day out in Barcelona even after 12 hours on the go the battery was sitting at 15%, and that was with the phone used to navigate, take photos and video and more besides. Obviously it depends what you’re doing on the device, but for all but the most intensive users, the OnePlus 3T will last the whole day no questions asked and lighter users should be able to get a decent chunk into a second day with the 3T.
Included in the box is OnePlus’ Dash Charger. The brick and cable, only when used together (important to note this point) charge the phone to 60 percent in 30 minutes. This is OnePlus’ claim, and it rings true – Dash Charge is excellent. It means you need not charge your 3T overnight, instead giving it a quick boost when you get up in the morning. There’s also a Dash Charger for your car in the shop.
Not only does this encourage a better way to charge your phone (sometimes lithium-ion batteries degrade with overnight overcharging) while allowing you to top up very quickly, but also more importantly means you won’t panic about running out of juice for all but the most phone-focussed of days – and that is something that every smartphone user wants, bar none.
The slight downside is that this fast charging only works with the included combo of plug and cable. Any other USB-C cable will charge it, but at a slower rate. OnePlus sells the Dash Power Bundle for £27.53.
OnePlus 3T cameras
The slim casing of the 3T means the camera protrudes slightly. This is an acceptable pay-off for what is an excellent sensor: a 16Mp lens with f/2.0 aperture and an LED flash. It’s also capable of shooting video at 4K resolution or 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second. We used the camera extensively in Barcelona, and the results were very impressive.
The panorama mode stitched together a mountain view exceptionally well, giving full detail to the scene. A football match in cloudy weather was reproduced well with no blur and in a low-lit church the camera reproduced colour and shadow to a high quality level.
The front-facing 16Mp camera is an upgrade on the 8Mp of the OnePlus 3, and is one of the highest resolution selfie cameras on the market, matching as it does the megapixel count of the rear one. It’s an impressive upgrade, but one that only the most ardent of selfie fans will notice. However, it did improve the quality of video calling considerably, and will benefit those into Snapchat stories and similar services.
OnePlus 3T: Software
Refreshingly the software update that the OnePlus 3T ships with changes the user experience in all the right ways to represent a clean, intuitive and pleasant to use Android version that is every bit as good as Google’s own version. By basing its Android skin Oxygen OS closely to stock Android Marshmallow 6.0, OnePlus has been able to make small tweaks that don’t completely change the way we used the phone, but enough to notice positive improvements day to day.
An update to Android 7.0 Nougat began rolling out for the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T at the end of December, ahead of many of its rivals. Note that we have reviewed this phone running Marshmallow, not Nougat.
Oxygen OS 3.5.1 is the new version, compared to the 3.2.7 we had installed on the older OnePlus 3 at the time of writing. Nevermind the decimals, here are the differences. Menus, in settings for example, look cleaner with no lines between options, a neater top bar and a bluer default font from the green of the 3. To be honest, they are minor changes, like the layout of the notification bar that you pull down from the top of the screen. In the comparison pictures below you can see the changes (OnePlus 3 on the left, OnePlus 3T on the right).
The OnePlus 3T cleverly combines a physical slider with profile changes to quickly switch between modes. Here, the three-position switch goes between Silent, Do Not Disturb and Ring. These are customisable and are useful for putting your phone into a quieter mode for meetings or when you go to bed for example. This is different to how the slider worked on the OnePlus 3, where it went between Silent, Priority Notifications and All Notifications. The functions are basically the same, but again have some software tweaks within the settings menu.
All in all, the alert slider is a great idea, improving on Apple iPhone silencer switch, and is a button you’ll miss if you use other phones afterwards.
The best thing about these tweaks is the way they simply blend into the OS and are intuitive, thoughtful upgrades. OnePlus confirmed that the 3 and the 3T will both receive updates to Android Nougat 7.0 in December 2016. We hope there is more of the same incremental updates rather than a full overhaul, because Oxygen OS 3.5.1 is very good indeed. Nor would it make sense for OnePlus to work so hard on an upgrade that most users would only see for one month.
OnePlus 3T: Should I upgrade from the OnePlus 3 to the OnePlus 3T?
So it’s crunch time; you bought a OnePlus 3 in June and five months later, do you upgrade? Well, no, you shouldn’t in our opinion. The OnePlus 3T may have, on paper, a better processor, bigger battery and better selfie camera but if you own the 3, it isn’t worth spending another £400 for those features. If you can sell on your old device for a good price then perhaps you’d be tempted, but if the company has done the 3T this fast, it surely can’t be that much longer until we see a OnePlus 4.
The OnePlus 3 has, like the newer 3T, 6GB RAM and come December will also run Android Nougat. Sure, we love the changes to the 3T and the Gunmetal colour is awesome, but you can’t even see it with a case on and in everyday use, you can barely notice the difference in speed. You can just about tell the battery life is better though, but it was already excellent on the OnePlus 3. Don’t panic – you don’t need to upgrade unless you want a OnePlus phone with 128GB of storage.
OnePlus 3T: Should I get the OnePlus 3 or the OnePlus 3T?
This is a trickier question, and one that ran with a time limit – OnePlus has ceased production, so once they’re gone, they’re gone and the 3T will be the only phone the company still sells. On the day the 3T sent on sale in Europe, the OnePlus 3 was completely sold out on the company’s website.
At the RRP, if you only need 64GB and want to save £70, the OnePlus 3 remains an outstanding piece of hardware that will be more than adequate at the high end of the market for at least another year and a half. That £70 could buy you OnePlus’ new Bullets earphones, an official case and a spare Dash Charge Bundle with change to spare.
However, if you want 128GB on board storage, you’ll have to go for the OnePlus 3T, setting you back £439. It’s also the best way to get hold of the Soft Gold colour if you prefer – the OnePlus 3 has sold out of this colour, while the 3T will soon be stocked in it. So you’ll have to wait if you prefer Gold to Gunmetal, but the 3T is the way to go.
Yet for all the similarities, we’re still inclined to recommend the OnePlus 3T. It has a bigger battery, lightning fast speeds and a selfie camera that means video calls are actually worthwhile experiences. While nitpicking indeed, the software updates are also commendable, and the overall experience is (just) better than the five month old, soon-to-be-gone OnePlus 3. It’s an odd dilemma to have from a company that had until now made your buying choice very simple.
In a few weeks you’ll only be able to get a OnePlus 3T, but for now, there’s a decision to be made for prospective buyers.