Right now is quite a boring time, assuming you ignore the ongoing public health crisis caused by the coronavirus and politicians cocking up their response to it anyway. Said public health crisis means that nothing that interesting is happening because most people are holed up indoors, not going to work, and certainly not going out en masse to feed the engines of consumerism. Unless consumerism is fed by panic buying of flour, toilet paper, and hand sanitiser. So in many respects the OnePlus 8 Pro has arrived at the most appropriate moment. It's a brand new flagship phone that has plenty of things that work well, for sure, and a screen that is a noticeable improvement over its predecessors, but it's also quite spectacular in how not-exciting the whole thing is.
Phones have been like that for a while, actually. Occasionally we'll get something or someone that gets the wheels of the hype train moving, and makes people look forward to whatever device is coming soon. A few years ago, it was fledgling Chinese brands that were making their way west and offering great phones at lower prices, showing that we didn't have to pick a boring expensive phone from a big brand like Apple or Samsung. But then the prices started creeping up. Then last year we had foldable phones, which promised larger devices that were more compact when you slip them into your pocket or bag. But those turned out to be very expensive, and broke a lot. A lot, a lot.
So now we're back to the point where things are boring and every one seems the same. And the OnePlus 8 Pro is the epitome of that idea. Because it's not that different from anything else.
OnePlus 8 Pro Specs
- 6.78-inch (3168 x 1440, QHD+) Display
- 120Hz refresh rate
- Snapdragon 865 Processor
- Qualcomm X55 5G Chipset
- 8/12GB RAM
- 128GB/256G Storage - though a stupid 20GB was set aside for system files on the review unit
- 48MP main camera (f/1.78)
- 48MP Ultra Wide Angle Lens (f/2.2)
- 8MP Telephoto Lens with 3x optical zoom (f/2.2)
- 5MP Colour Filter Camera (f/2.4)
- 16MP front camera (f/2.45)
- 4510 mAh battery
- In-display fingerprint scanner
- Stereo speakers plus Dolby Atmos
- Wi-Fi 6 Support
- Wireless charging
- IP68 Water Resistance
- Runs Oxygen 10.5, based on Android 10
- Includes a three month free trial of Google One
- Supports Alexa and Google Assistant out of the box, with no extra apps needed.
You could argue that OnePlus hardware hasn't been that exciting for a while. A few features like in-display fingerprint scanners and pop-up cameras aside, the internals of the company's flagships are very much the same as the other companies. Plus in one instance the 'upgraded' flagship was barely any different from the one OnePlus released earlier that same year.
The company has always been big on the software side, bigging up how great Oxygen OS is, coming across as though the software is designed to be a fine tuning of Google's Android OS. But having sat through a briefing, flicking through the reviewers guide, and using the phone for myself, there's nothing particularly special about it this time around. Things have changed, things have been added or removed, but at this point my reaction to the 8 Pro is just a resounding "eh". It's perfectly good enough as a phone, but as a new release it's so spectacularly bland that it makes a bowl of plain porridge look interesting by comparison.
The big change for the display this time around is that the 8 Pro comes with a 120hz refresh rate, rather than the 90hz that was introduced a year ago, though the resolution has remained the same QHD+ we're seeing on all sorts of flagship devices. The screen is also slightly bigger (6.78-inch vs the 7T Pro's 6.67-inch), which is great if you love big phones - though that extra tenth of an inch doesn't really do much for what's on display.
The increased refresh rate is noticeable when you look at the 8 Pro alongside one of last year's 90Hz devices, though the jump from 90 to 120Hz isn't quite as obvious as the jump from 60 to 90. If you've been using a phone with a general 60Hz refresh rate, you're going to notice a huge difference, but if you're already on 90Hz like I am then the jump may well be lost on you - unless you're specifically looking for it. But really, upping the refresh rate isn't really that special. Certainly not when Samsung hsa already added 120Hz to all three Galaxy S20 models. But that's not all OnePlus has up its sleeve. For starters, you can use the full 120Hz refresh rate in tandem with QHD resolution, and even though I had to manually up the resolution in the settings, that's something Samsung can't offer. On Samsung's S20 devices, you need to choose between resolution or high refresh rate, not both. Though it's worth mentioning that OnePlus does employ a variable refresh rate, because you don't need it cranked up to 11 all the time.
Despite the less-than-obvious jump for those used to 90Hz, refresh rate really does make a big difference when streaming video. Barring a few exceptions, films tend to be filmed at 24FPS, and that means the 120Hz refresh rate would go to waste were it not for OnePlus effectively 'upscaling' the framerate. Motion Estimation Motion Compensation (MEMC) is effectively what most people would call motion blurring - that annoying setting that you have to search for in your TV settings to make sure it's switched off. You probably won't want to here, however, because watching Avengers: Endgame was rather more enjoyable than on the ten year old HD TV I've been using since I moved. And nicer than watching it on the OnePlus 7T, for that matter.
You can tell it's smoothing the video, because it is exactly that, but it's not doing it in that jarring manner than would ruin your normal television experience. How? I don't know, but it works. At least to me, and if it doesn't work for you it can be switched off.
Of course, the most obvious display change this time round is that OnePlus has done away with the notch and the pop-up camera in favour of a hole-punch camera in the top left corner. Supposedly the change was made to make the phone lighter and more balanced, with OnePlus insisting that the small camera isn't actually that noticeable. It is noticeable, though, especially when full screen apps are inconsistent about whether to use up the area normally reserved for the status bar - something the OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T Pro didn't seem to have an issue with. The increased screen size means you're not really losing anything, but the big black bar is aesthetically annoying if you're used to not seeing it on your old device.
Honestly, I preferred the pop-up camera. The full screen effect of last year's Pro devices was great, and the camera itself worked as advertised without any perceived balancing effect. I did drop the phones a lot when I used them, but that's because I'm a clumsy doofus and not because of any sort of design issue.
This time around, we have a four lens camera system: a 48MP main lens, a 48MP ultra wide angle lens, an 8MP telephoto lens, and a 5MP colour filter lens. Now what the heck is a colour shift lens, I hear some people say. It's odd to include, since most other four-lens phones either include a time of flight sensor for depth, or something to offer absurd zoom, like the Galaxy S20 Ultra's 100x hybrid zooming feature. The OnePlus 8 Pro opted for none of that (hybrid zoom does go up to 30x, though, which is three times more than the 7T) instead opting for a camera lens that essentially filters your photos to a special 'photochromic' effect that looks more like your photos have been scrubbed of all the good colours. The OnePlus 8 Pro guide I was sent had this to say:
All-new on the OnePlus 8 Pro, the Color Filter Camera makes it easy to stand out from the crowd and express your unique style with artistic lighting effects and filters.
It's quite possibly the biggest waste of an extra camera lens a phone maker has ever done. Because it's totally pointless, and is essentially a glorified camera filter hidden among four other filters that apparently don't use the fourth lens to accomplish their effects. Those four are available on the front camera too, while photochromic is not. I definitely don't understand why this warranted an extra lens rather than some sort of AI algorithm working in the background. I'm damn sure other phone companies have done that before.
Frankly it isn't even very well placed in the camera, and you easily miss the icon in the top right corner (next to the macro photography toggle) that will toggle the filter setting. And even then it's hidden at the end of the filter list. The logic here is really quite confusing, and the fact the final photos did come out quite grainy makes that even worse.
Now, to the main cameras you do care about. The first thing to note is that you can switch between a full 48MP resolution and 12MP resolution with the main and ultrawide cameras. This is good and also bad. Good because resolution isn't everything, and taking everything in 48MP is the fastest way to fill up your storage space with giant photos. And bad because it means trying to take advantage of the zoom feature requires dropping to 12MP. That's right: there's zero zoom function on the main camera if you're using full res. Not even the 3x optical zoom afforded by the telephoto lens. Why? I don't know, and while you can easily zoom and crop your 48MP photos later (up to a point anyway) it's still a weird decision.
The camera interface also upgraded the scrolling bar at the bottom, letting you flick between more settings more easily. Rather than sticking to the usual options of Video, Photo, Portrait, and Nightscape, the four are joined by Pro, Slow Motion, Panorama, and Time Lapse. All those features existed on previous OnePlus devices, but you had to swipe up to access the full camera menu. You can still do that, but it also means you can stick to the same screen and quickly flick across to the mode you like. If that's what you want, anyway.
Top: OnePlus 7T Pro Bottom: Compressed OnePlus 8 Pro, because the original was too big for our system to handle.
At a glance the difference between the 48MP and 12MP shots on the camera is minimal. Barring the fact that the 48MP mode will only shoot in the 4:3 aspect ratio, compared to the 12MP mode's ability to shoot in 16:8:9 (or Full 1:1) as well, the shots don't look all that different. In my dusk photos the file size didn't come out quite so different, either. Though the full 48MP shots were universally larger, the difference could range from a single megabyte all the way up to 10MB on the shots that had more natural light. Don't ask me why, because I don't know how these machines work that kind of thing out.
According to the phone itself, the 12MP camera is better for HDR shots, and naturally is the only one that lets you zoom, while the 48MP mode is more for detail and resolution. For the casual observer it won't matter much, but blow those images up (or zoom in) and you'll see that those 48MP shots are larger and have better detail up close.
Top: OnePlus 7T Pro, Bottom: Another compressed 8 Pro equivalent, because the original was again too big for our system to host.
But what about compared to last year? Interestingly the OnePlus 7T Pro also had a 48MP main lens, so you can't expect a huge difference in the images. Aside from the fact that the 7T Pro let you shoot 48MP shots in different aspect ratios (and zoom) the images are similar. However, the 8 Pro's camera shots did come out looking brighter - though the 7T Pro's colours do look nicer. So all in all there has been some improvement at the sake of other things. Or at least there has when you're shooting at full resolution.
Note: The discrepancy in file size makes me wonder whether the OnePlus 7T Pro was always shooting in full resolution. I can't see any settings that suggest otherwise, but the 8 Pro's equivalent file size is about ten times larger.
The same photo below, which was shot in 12MP mode on the 8 Pro. It doesn't look that much different from the 48MP mode, but the colours are closer to those found on the 7T Pro. So really you shouldn't be that fussed if you're shooting in lower resolution because you're getting the better colour and HDR promised by the camera app. And honestly, at a glance, they look pretty similar.
The front camera offers the same modes too, as well as four of the live filters that will be applied before you take your photos. Not the photochromic mode, as mentioned before, because this is still a single lens camera.
The front pictures don't actually look that much different. The OnePlus 8 Pro's photos look brighter, but that's primarily because I happened to be standing a bit closer to the sun - which explains my major squinting. I have no clue where my sunglasses are, and in the current pandemic-induced climate I can't exactly go out and buy a cheap pair to make do for the time being. Looking more closely, however, I found that the 8 Pro's photos were a bit noisier - no doubt down to the fact it has a higher aperture than the 7T Pro's front camera (2.45 vs 2.0). The colours aren't quite as good either, but still look okay.
The 8 Pro's battery is... alright. The size has increased to 4,510 mAh, which is considerable, but the usage results aren't that spectacular a leap from anyone else really. A streaming test saw me watch through the entirety of Avengers: Endgame from Disney+ - with brightness at full, resolution at QHD, and refresh rate at 120Hz. After the full three hour runtime the battery had decreased to 79%, though it was hovering on 82% when the credits started rolling. Because nobody watches the credits, and even if there were a post-credits scene to enjoy any sane person would skip through them. Particularly since the credits are just over 15 minutes long.
That's not a terrible benchmark by any means, especially since the film is three hours long, but it's not all that special either. Still, being able to watch Endgame roughly five times on a full charge means you should still get around 15 hours of streaming time out of the battery. More if you turn off the more power-hungry features like resolution, refresh rate, and brightness. An hour of Pokémon Go drained the power from 66% to 48%, however. That is a very battery-draining game, but nearly 20% in an hour isn't that great since it would completely drain your power in five hours. I'm not saying you'd spend five hours playing Pokémon Go, but it doesn't give you much room for other things.
After years of making excuses about how wireless charging isn't good enough, OnePlus has finally released one (and only one) phone that can recharge from a pad rather than through a cable. Sadly I was unable to properly test the Warp Charge 30 dock in time for this review, because it didn't arrive until the middle of this afternoon, but it does work and the phone does register it as 'Warp Wireless Charging'. I also slapped the 8 Pro onto a cheap 10W charger to confirm OnePlus's assertions that it does charge wirelessly with any old Qi pad. It's not fast, but it's charging nonetheless. Sadly this is exclusive to the Pro, and the OnePlus 8 does not have wireless charging. So that's something to look forward to on the 8T.
It's worth mentioning, however, that wired charging is still faster than wireless. Just about. The 8 Pro has the Warp Charge 30T fast charging, which was introduced with the 7T series and offers 50% charge in 20 minutes. Wireless is Warp Charge 30, which dates back to the McLaren Edition OnePlus 6T from waaaay back in late 2018. That recharges 50% of your battery in 30 minutes, which while not a huge difference is a difference worth mentioning. Still wireless charging is pretty speedy, if you have the right charging dock. Not as speedy as some companies, but still pretty speedy.
Oh and it has reverse wireless charging too, in case you need that for your headphones or something.
The final point of note is something that OnePlus announced back in January - optimised charging. The point of this feature is that the longer you leave your phone charging at 100%, the faster it is for the battery to degrade. Considering more and more people are keeping their phones for longer, and battery degradation has led to one company (Apple) deliberately throttling their older devices, OnePlus is aiming to keep them running at optimal efficiency as long as possible. The system works overnight, and instead of recharging your phone as soon as you plug it in, it learns your routine and holds off on recharging the whole device until it'll be just ready for you when you get up in the morning.
Sadly I didn't use the 8 Pro long enough to see this in action (that I know of anyway), and plugging it in when I did led to the phone fully recharging then and there. According to the company this feature (which can be switched off) is supposed to learn from you and adjust optimised charging so it suits you better, and while that takes some machine thinking to accomplish it's all done on device and your usage stats aren't being sent to a server off in China or wherever else OnePluif you get up at noon every day, rather than 6am like one of the few commuters that are left, it should be just about charged, This is how it was described when it was announced:
"The battery will be charged to 80% initially and suspend temporarily by using our “user sleep cycle detection” function. Your phone will start charging 100 minutes before your daily wake up time, first alarm or first event to 100% level.
This means it will stay at around 80% for most of the night, even though it is connected to the charger the whole time. The OnePlus will then finish charging and should hit 100% just as you take it off the charger to get on with your day. After a few weeks, it will learn that you consistently wake up and take your OnePlus off charge at 8 AM, for example."
Despite all the things I've talked about, the OnePlus 8 Pro is quite an uninspiring device. Yes, it finally has things like wireless charging and IP water resistance, but that just puts it on par with all the other flagships that have been rocking those features for years. The display is just about the only thing the phone really has going for it, but at the same time it's not particularly unique. 120Hz phone screens have been around for a couple of years, and we've even started seeing them on more mainstream non-specialised devices. OnePlus has even jumped on the holepunch bandwagon, unceremoniously ditching the pop-up camera that worked incredibly well in last year's models.
There's nothing that makes the OnePlus 8 Pro stand out, and while it's generally a good enough phone, being "good enough" just doesn't really cut it for me. Certainly not when there are other "good enough" phones that cost less and function just as well by excusing all the fluff. The most unfortunate thing, though, is that OnePlus has never been a company to say "that's good enough", which is where that whole 'Never Settle' mantra came from. It used to be a company that did a lot to make itself look distinct in an almost-saturated smartphone market filled with the same old shit. But as the OnePlus 7T launch showed us, and the OnePlus 8 launch reaffirmed, that's not really the case anymore.
- It's got a nice display, though the jump from 90hz to 120Hz isn't as major as 60 was to 90
- The battery is fine. Nothing spectacular, and with a 4,500 mAh capacity it certainly isn't close to the largest around
- The camera is satisfactory too, though it doesn't really feel as though very much has changed since the OnePlus 7T Pro
- The photochromic fourth camera lens is absolutely pointless, and only works to ruin your pictures with washed out grainy images
- Wireless charging (and reverse wireless charging) is here and works, though we were unable to test the wireless Warp Charge ahead of the announcement
- Optimised charging should stop your battery degrading faster, and learns from you, though chances are you'll rarely, if ever, see it in action
- It may be controversial to say, but the refresh rate upscaling was rather nice, and nothing like crap versions I've seen on TVs in the past
- Overall, generally quite a dull device with nothing huge to get excited about. OnePlus is just like everyone else now
The OnePlus 8 Pro is available to pre-order now from OnePlus, Amazon and John Lewis, and will release on 21st April. The 'Onyx Black' model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage will retail for £799, and the 'Glacial Green' which comes with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage will cost £899. Unfortunately the 'Interstellar Glow' colouring will not be available in the UK. The wireless Warp Charge is available as a separate purchase for £69.