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OnePlus 8 Review: One Step Behind the Competition

Rating: 7/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $699-799

OnePlus 8 Android smartphone
Niki Reed

OnePlus has successfully made its case: that it can compete with the best devices from the biggest manufacturers. That phone’s the OnePlus 8 Pro, and it’s a beast—easily among the best Android devices on the market right now. Go check out our review here if you want the skinny on that device.

But if you’re looking for something closer to “value,” at the much lower prices that OnePlus used to provide, you might find your options severely curtailed. The OnePlus 8 (sans Pro) is $200 cheaper, but still starting at $700. Though the OP7 wasn’t available everywhere, that’s a significant jump on its street price, and OnePlus now finds itself competing head-to-head with “basic” versions of flagships like the Pixel 4, the Galaxy S20, and the iPhone 11.

To put it bluntly, the OnePlus 8 doesn’t measure up. It’s perfectly acceptable in and of itself, but at its price and feature set it gets beaten by the competition. I think anyone looking for the excellent design and software OnePlus is known for will want the bonuses in camera, charging, screen, and battery that the OnePlus 8 Pro offers. And anyone looking to save money versus a flagship device will be more effectively wooed by phones like the Pixel 3a, Galaxy A50, and the new iPhone SE.

OnePlus 8 rear
Niki Reed

The standard OnePlus 8 is fine. But at its price point, it’s competing against phones that are great. It’s a device in search of an audience, and it’s already been beaten out before the curtain rises.

Here’s a breakdown of the specs on the OnePlus 8.

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
  • RAM: 8 GB or 12 GB
  • Storage: 128 GB or 256 GB
  • Display: 6.55-inch 2400×1080 (513 PPI) AMOLED w/ 90Hz refresh rate and hole-punch front camera
  • Cameras: 48 MP main camera, 16 WP ultrawide angle, 2MP macro, 16 MP front-facing camera
  • Ports and charging: USB-C, OnePlus Warp Charge 30
  • Headphone Jack: No
  • Battery: 4300 mAh
  • Fingerprint Sensor: In-display
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/b/ac/ax, 2.4GHz/5GHz; Wi-Fi 6; 2×2 MIMO; Bluetooth 5.1; NFC; 5G N2, N5, N66, N41, N71; AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular support
  • IP Rating: IP68 (on Verizon and T-Mobile only—unlocked model is not certified)
  • Colors: Glacial Green, Interstellar Glow, Onyx Black
  • Dimensions: 160.2mm x 72.9mm x 8mm, 180 grams
  • Price: $699-799 (depending on configuration)
  • Specs as reviewed: 8 GB RAM, 256 GB storage, Interstellar Glow, $799

Look and Feel

OnePlus sent me the 8 in its fancy “Interstellar Glow” color, and it’s a looker. I don’t think it’s the kind of color I’d have picked for myself—the “Glacial Green” instantly caught my eye—but there’s no denying that this thing will turn heads.

OnePlus 8 under-screen fingerprint sensor
Niki Reed

It’s very difficult to do justice to the look of this phone in pictures: the best I can do is describe as my grandmother’s carnival glass, tempered and stuck on a gadget. Get a case for it, because naturally, fingerprints spoil it immediately. But get a clear one if the look appeals to you.

Outside of the striking color, the phone looks fairly simple by modern standards. That’s not bad by any means, but you’ll probably get a lot of people assuming that it’s a Galaxy if you keep it in a case. In fact, more than anything the phone reminds me of my Galaxy Note 8, with its curved front-and-back glass and tall, compact build.

OnePlus 8 curved edge.
Niki Reed

I like the symmetry of the vertical camera panel on the rear, and the curved front and back feels great in the hand, even for a large device. It’s a shame OnePlus did away with the pop-up camera design first seen on the 7 Pro, especially when this “hole punch” front-facing cam doesn’t do any kind of advanced biometrics for facial detection.

OnePlus 8 camera module
Niki Reed

The only physical feature of the phone I don’t appreciate is the fairly hard bump of the triple camera module on the back. It’s a straight eighth of an inch that rises above the back, and I feel like the glass of the module isn’t very well-protected by the thin strip of metal raising it up. But to be honest, most users will have this thing in some kind of case anyway.

OnePlus 8 front-facing camera.
Niki Reed

The 6.55-inch, 2400z1080p screen is big and bold, and that 90Hz refresh rate makes an appreciable difference when scrolling or in any kind of game. The fingerprint reader hiding underneath is functional, if not perfect, and a massive improvement over previous versions of this tech. (It still struggled in direct sunlight for me, causing me to go back to a pattern unlock.) Generous RAM and storage make the thing fly. It’s just an all-around pleasure to use the OnePlus 8.

Software is a Breath of Fresh Oxygen

I haven’t tried a OnePlus phone for any significant time since (let me just check my notes) the One, way back in 2014. Back then it was running an officially-supported version of popular ROM CyanogenMod, which built off of standard Android in smart ways without overwhelming the user with mostly-unnecessary additions.

OnePlus 8 OxygenOS images

CyanogenMod is long gone (it’s a long story), but I’m thrilled to see that OnePlus has kept the same spirit alive in its in-house version of Android, OxygenOS. Using the phone I never felt lost or overwhelmed thanks to the familiarity of the interface coming from the Google-rific Pixel 3a XL, but little enhancements make almost everything better. OnePlus has put in a lot of work here, and it shows.

The differences between OxygenOS and Google’s Pixel builds are small, but appreciable. I love how I can hide pretty much any item on the navigation bar, no ADB-powered tweaks or third-party apps necessary. I love how I can make the accent color anything I want, matching it to the cyan of OnePlus’s official phone cases. (Which are excellent, by the way.) I love how I can access all of that without signing into OnePlus’s app, the only noticeable addition to the drawer, if I want to.

OnePlus 8 OxygenOS images

I think it’s safe to say that OxygenOS is the best version of Android you can get built-in to a phone. Anyone would be glad to use it, unless you’re heavily invested in something like Samsung’s bolted-on ecosystem.

Hardware and Performance

The OP8 uses the same Snapdragon 865 chipset as the OP8 Pro, making it a bargain on paper in terms of performance. I won’t bother with things like benchmarks: this thing is a monster, even with high-powered games, and can handle more typical loadouts with ease, even with the 90Hz mode of the screen activated.

OnePlus 8 playing Pokemon Go
Niki Reed

My review unit has 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of Storage for the $800 model—the $700 version has 8GB and 128GB, respectively. I doubt most people will really feel the benefit of that extra RAM, though the storage is probably worth the upgrade if you’re downloading tons of games and taking enormous 48-megapixel photos on a regular basis.

But if we’re talking about performance, it’s as well to point out that the bottom-rung Galaxy S20 has the same processor, RAM, and storage at that price, with the ability to add a MicroSD card. Its battery and cameras are comparable, and it also does 5G. It’s got official (not somewhat iffy) water resistance and fast wireless charging, no upgrades required.

OnePlus 8 SIM card slot
Niki Reed

The takeaway here is that other brands are offering more at this price than OnePlus is—something that hasn’t been true in the past. You could make a similar comparison to the base model iPhone 11, less so for the Pixel 4. So while the OnePlus 8 is plenty powerful and perfectly serviceable, it’s no longer hitting that performance while also providing a superior value.

That’s a problem for a brand that started out appealing to people who wanted flagship capability at budget prices. Without that value boost, it falls onto software and extras like the camera for the OnePlus 8 to stand out.

Battery, Reception, and Call Quality

Let me start off by saying that, due to the current emergency, I was unable to test the 5G capability of the OnePlus 8. That’s a bummer, because how the new chips perform both in terms of wireless and battery makes a huge impact on the overall usability of the device. But there’s nothing to be done about it.

OnePlus 8 with official case
I really like OnePlus’s official first-party cases. Niki Reed

On old-fashioned LTE, I was able to get rock-solid performance out of the OnePlus 8 for both data and standard calls. Going around my small city on my bike, there wasn’t any place that I couldn’t get a strong signal, ditto for everywhere in my house. That’s more of a praise for Qualcomm’s radio tech than for OnePlus, but hey, nothing to complain about here.

The battery life is excellent. I was able to get approximately a day and a half out of the OP8’s 4300mAh, which includes a lot of Wi-Fi, video streaming, occasional treks with Pokemon GO, and a couple of hours in LTE-only mode. With that kind of longevity, coupled with the insanely fast charging, I doubt anyone’s going to feel like the phone can’t go the distance.

Camera Falls Behind the Pack

Camera performance on the OP8 is solid, without being remarkable. Compared to the almost unbelievable cameras that Apple and Google are putting out, it’s still a low point for the line, despite some great on-paper tech.

Sample Image Sample Image Sample Image

The phone uses a triple rear sensor setup: a 48 megapixel primary lens at f/1.75, 16MP ultrawide, and 2MP macro lens. (The OnePlus 8 Pro has a significantly different array. ) Images are clear and bright, but OnePlus’s software seems to aggressively blow out dark areas to try and give better low-light performance. This is especially true of photos taken with the 48MP sensor—wide-angle shots get much better contrast.

The phone includes the usual bells and whistles in terms of modes, with a portrait option that can fake bokeh fairly well and a pro option with more precise DSLR-style controls. But if you’re wanting top-of-the-line camera performance, you should look elsewhere.

Sample Image Sample Image Sample Image

The front-facing 16MP camera is surprisingly good given its lack of any extras, allowing it to fit in the hole punch screen. It’s quite accurate in terms of color and contrast, with good details on faces.

The OP8 can handle 4K video at 60 frames per second, with slo-mo options that top out at 1080p/240fps. That’s significantly below the capabilities of Samsung, though the video quality is adequate. Comparing the OnePlus 8 to previous OP phones, the camera shows some definite improvements, but it’s still well below best-in-class territory.

Extras and Value (or Lack Thereof)

So what does the OP8 have that set it apart from the competition, aside from intangibles like the excellent OxygenOS and that wonderful color? Let’s break them down: you’ve got the in-screen fingerprint reader, 30-watt fast wired charging, and the hole punch camera…all of which are available to a greater or lesser extent elsewhere, at this price or lower.

OnePlus 8 compared with iPhone XR and Pixel 3a XL
Size compared with iPhone XR, Pixel 3a XL Niki Reed

Physically, the only major distinction for OnePlus are those colors and an iPhone-style sliding switch above the power button. That’s more than it sounds like, since OxygenOS can add a few extra functions to this three-way switch…but I can’t say I thought about it too much.

The OP8 is water-resistant at a rating of IP68, which is pretty standard. But it’s only certified for that resistance if you buy the phone from Verizon or T-Mobile. Unlocked models won’t get that resistance recognized. Either way, it’s not the kind of thing you want to bet your warranty on. Again, most or all of these features can be found from competing vendors at the same price and general size.

OnePlus 8 playing Pokemon Go
Niki Reed

I’d like to point out that all three of the big manufacturers that OnePlus is ostensibly aiming for also offer wireless charging at the $700 level (Apple is doing it on the $400 iPhone SE!). Restricting that feature to the $900+ OnePlus 8 Pro seems like an intentional choice to drive expensive upgrades. They could have thrown a cheap 5-watt conductive coil in the OP8, reserved the 30-watt fast wireless charging for the Pro, and made this phone more competitive by a small but appreciable margin.

Come for the Software, Stay for… Um…

I can’t help but feel disappointed by the OnePlus 8. It’s a good thing that the 8 Pro is coming out at the same time, because without it, OnePlus would appear to be way behind the competition at the same price.

OnePlus 8 with Sony headphones.
Niki Reed

There’s a market for the OnePlus 8, and it’s people who are willing to sacrifice a great camera for a merely decent one in the name of that excellent OxygenOS build of Android. You could replace “great camera” with “biometric face unlock” or “wireless charging” or “MicroSD card capability” or “super-fast OS updates” or “has an Apple logo on the back.”

I love that software, and respect the solid if unspectacular hardware. But I feel like any one of the features above would make the OnePlus 8 a toss-up versus a comparable $700 phone from Apple, Google, or Samsung. If you must have two or more of them, you probably want to look elsewhere.

The OnePlus 8, along with the 8 Pro, goes on sale in the US at midnight Eastern tomorrow, April 29th.

Rating: 7/10
Price: $699-799

Here’s What We Like

  • OxygenOS software
  • Bright, fast screen
  • Good battery life

And What We Don't

  • No wireless charging
  • Camera is merely okay
  • Same price as many competitors, with fewer features

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »