OnePlus returns to its “flagship killer” roots with the OnePlus 8, the most affordable high-quality 5G phone T-Mobile and Verizon have to offer. Starting at $699, the 8’s price is right and its feature set hits the sweet spot for providing a quality experience. For these reason we’re awarding this relatively affordable flagship our Editor’s Choice on the two carriers that sell it, although not on AT&T, where it lacks 5G support.
Let’s Start With Some Math
OnePlus is releasing two phones right now. The OnePlus 8 is available unlocked, and also via T-Mobile and Verizon. The OnePlus 8 Pro is only available unlocked. The OnePlus 8, which I’m reviewing here, sticks with the company’s old philosophy of cutting a few corners (mostly in terms of camera) to shave several hundred dollars off of flagship phone prices, and it succeeds.
The 8 Pro takes on the Samsung Galaxy S20 line with exclusive features like high-speed wireless charging and the absolute best display performance in the industry right now.
The factory-unlocked OnePlus 8 starts at $699, and I expect the T-Mobile model will cost the same. The Verizon model, which adds Verizon’s millimeter-wave 5G, costs $799. That’s what flagship-quality phones should cost, and it compares favorably with the similarly priced iPhone 11. The OnePlus 8 Pro, with its fancier screen, better camera, and wireless charging, starts at $899.
The silver model has a lovely shimmer
Galaxy S20+ prices are pretty confusing. The phone lists at $1,199.99, but it’s $999.99 on Amazon right now, and can cost as little as $699.99 if you have a trade-in. Compared with an $1,199.99 Galaxy S20+, the OnePlus 8 provides a ton of value for far less money. Make the Galaxy S20+ $799 somehow, with a trade-in or other deal, and the Samsung phone is a better buy largely because of its superior camera. I’m basing my conclusions here on list pricing, but keep that in mind.
Here’s a quick chart to show you some of the key differences between the OnePlus 8, the 8 Pro, the Galaxy S20, and the S20+:
Note that while the Galaxy S20 line claims 45W charging, it didn’t deliver that in our tests
Design and Display
The OnePlus 8 comes in black, green, or in a shimmery mirror finish that looks absolutely breathtaking, but is also a terrible fingerprint magnet. I quickly wrapped my mirrored model in a textured black nylon case; OnePlus has always been good about making some cases and accessories available at launch.
At 6.30 by 2.86 by 0.30 inches (HWD) and 6.34 ounces, the OnePlus 8 is on the smaller side for today’s huge handsets, but it’s still a big phone. It’s not as narrow and one-hand-friendly as the Samsung Galaxy S10 or S20, much less the iPhone 8, but it’s more manageable than anything that has a Plus in the name. The phone has the traditional OnePlus mute slider, and I’m sorry to say neither a 3.5mm headphone jack nor a microSD card slot. It doesn’t come with headphones, either, but OnePlus will sell you a good pair of USB-C earbuds (its USB-C Bullets) for $24.95.
Sorry, there’s no headphone jack
The 16-megapixel front-facing camera is a notch design rather than the OnePlus 7 Pro‘s pop-up, but I don’t think that’s a big deal. It’s pretty small, and unobtrusively in the corner.
The OnePlus 8’s screen is quite bright for an Android phone, beating the Galaxy S10 and OnePlus 7 on brightness and color accuracy. It’s more color-accurate than the Galaxy S20 Ultra, but not as bright.
Like the OnePlus 7, it’s a 90Hz, 1080p screen; you can bump it down to 60Hz, but there’s really no reason to. I didn’t find that to have much impact on battery life, as the phone automatically downscales the refresh rate to 60Hz when it isn’t doing 90Hz activities like gaming or scrolling. 1080p resolution is fine at this size and form factor. We have a more in-depth look at the screen technology and how it compares with rivals including the iPhone and Galaxy lineups, thanks to DisplayMate Labs.
Performance Up to Par
The OnePlus 8 uses the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor as the Galaxy S20 line, and it benchmarked just about the same on Geekbench and GFXBench. That puts it at about 20 to 25 percent faster than last year’s devices. I didn’t see the advantage in PCMark, which tries to simulate actual workloads; with a score of 10,593, it looked more like last year’s OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren. But I wouldn’t read too much into that score—the OnePlus 8 did better than last year’s phones on everything but PCMark’s browsing test, which may use now-obsolete APIs.
There’s no removable storage in the OnePlus 8, but the storage you do get is very fast. The phone scored 23,172 on PCMark’s storage test, as compared with 18,000 or so for the Galaxy S20 line and 12,666 for the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G. That makes common activities like photo saves or app loads feel a lot snappier.
The default model of the OnePlus 8 has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage; you can boost it to 12GB and 256GB for an extra $100. This device uses LPDDR4 RAM, which is a bit slower than the LPDDR5 used by the OnePlus 8 Pro and the Galaxy S20+.
OnePlus’ version of Android 10, which it calls Oxygen OS, continues to be the fastest, smoothest Android skin other than Google’s own. OnePlus keeps the bloatware to an absolute minimum, while offering lots of ways to tweak your system.
You can change fonts or icon packs, change the screen color temperature or vividness, mess with the control buttons and alert slider, install multiple copies of social networking apps or put some apps into an encrypted folder, for instance. All of this generally hides in the settings menu, so advanced settings don’t get pushed on you, but they’re there if you want them. I anticipate that the T-Mobile and Verizon versions of the phone will have bloatware, of course.
For unlocking, you have an in-display fingerprint sensor or Google’s standard other options, including face unlock. I found the in-display fingerprint sensor, just like other in-display sensors, not as good as a physical sensor, but not worse than, say, the S20’s in-display sensor.
The OnePlus 8’s 4,300mAh battery powered the phone for 11 hours, 18 minutes of YouTube playback over Wi-Fi on its 90Hz setting. That’s about an hour longer than I got with the OnePlus 8 Pro, probably because I was running the 8 Pro in its higher-resolution 2K screen mode. The phone supports OnePlus’ proprietary Warp Charge 30T 30-watt charging, which charged it to 22 percent in 10 minutes and to 100 percent in an hour. Unlike the 8 Pro, the OnePlus 8 doesn’t support wireless charging.
5G, With Some Frills
The OnePlus 8 series has excellent network performance. There are four international models of the OnePlus 8, with four different sets of 5G frequency bands: US, EU, India, and China. The European model will work in India, but otherwise they aren’t transferable across 5G networks. None of them are properly banded for upcoming Canadian networks. They all work on global 4G networks.
The unlocked, $699 OnePlus 8 will only work on T-Mobile’s mid- and low-band 5G networks. On Verizon and AT&T, it will be 4G. Verizon will sell a special model for $799 with all of its 5G network bands, including millimeter-wave. It’s not clear to me whether the Verizon model will work on T-Mobile’s millimeter-wave areas, but I assume not for now.
This chart shows OnePlus 8 Pro performance, but the unlocked OnePlus 8 has the same hardware and should have the same results
The OnePlus 8 has 5G bands n2/n5/n41/n66/n71 with plenty of frills: 4×4 MIMO on n2/n41/n66, DSS, and the ability to do standalone 5G on bands 41 and 71. That’s a lot of numbers. What it means is that the phone can do T-Mobile’s low- and mid-band 5G at excellent speed, with the ability to shift up to the next level of low-latency network when New T-Mobile launches it later this year. The phone doesn’t have millimeter-wave on T-Mobile, which the carrier currently has in seven cities. The presence of mmWave is one reason I recommended the Galaxy S20+ over the smaller Galaxy S20. But is it worth a $500 difference in list price to make a bet T-Mobile will expand that network to where you live soon? With the economy crashing, I have to bite my lip and say no.
The Verizon model adds the carrier’s millimeter-wave bands, including DSS on the mid and low bands, to use every 5G technology Verizon has planned for the next year. I have the unlocked model, so I couldn’t test 5G on Verizon.
It also has all of the 4G bands used in the US, including the more obscure bands 46 (LAA) and 48 (CBRS), which are used to improve speeds in crowded urban areas.
I tested the OnePlus 8 against the Galaxy S20+ on T-Mobile. The 8’s 5G performance was superior, probably because my Galaxy S20+ hasn’t yet received a software update planned for April to let it more efficiently combine 4G and 5G. I also tested the 8 against the 8 Pro and the Galaxy S20 on AT&T’s 4G network. They performed about the same, as I’d expect.
I was pleased to see the unlocked OnePlus 8 has voice-over-LTE calling on AT&T, which isn’t always a given with unlocked phones. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi calling isn’t available on AT&T, although it is on T-Mobile and Verizon. On regular LTE networks, voice quality shines with the EVS (enhanced voice services) codec.
I’m a little frustrated that this is yet another missed opportunity for dual SIM or eSIM in a leading smartphone. The OnePlus 8 lacks either technology, which could help you have home and work lines on one device, or a home SIM and a foreign roaming SIM. The unlocked OnePlus 8 Pro has dual SIM slots.
Keeping Up With Camera Trends
The OnePlus 8 has a 48-megapixel main camera, a 16-megapixel wide-angle camera, and a 2-megapixel macro camera. The main camera uses a Sony IMX586 sensor, the same one as in the OnePlus 7 Pro. While there is no dedicated zoom camera, the OnePlus 8 simulates 2x zoom by capturing a 48-megapixel image and cropping 12 megapixels out of the middle. There is also a 16-megapixel front-facing camera.
Good camera performance in bright light is essentially a given for the premium smartphones nowadays, unless you run into disaster areas like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s focus problems. Where high-end cameras compete now is in features like zoom and low-light performance, and you can see a bit of difference there between the 8, the 8 Pro, and the Galaxy S20 line.
It’s hard to tell the difference between a shot from the OnePlus 8 (left) and the Galaxy S20 (right) in decent light
The lack of a real zoom lens isn’t as bad an issue as you’d think, because the 48-megapixel sensor adequately pretends to be a 2x zoom. Go to higher levels than that and you have obvious digital sharpening.
At 3x zoom, you can see the advantage the OnePlus 8 Pro (right) has over the OnePlus 8 (left)
Kicking the OnePlus 8 into 48-megapixel mode, the option to zoom in or out goes away. That’s unlike on the Galaxy S20, which can push up to 6x digital zoom in its 64-megapixel mode. Comparing the 8 with the 8 Pro here, there’s definitely more light coming into the 8 Pro, resulting in brighter, sharper images in this mode. Details are soft in several of my OnePlus 8 48-megapixel images, a problem I don’t have with the OnePlus 8 Pro. The Galaxy S20’s 64-megapixel mode is the sharpest of the bunch.
Left to right: OnePlus 8, Galaxy S20+, OnePlus 8 Pro in their high-resolution modes
The OnePlus 8’s two-megapixel macro camera feels like a waste. The phone’s main camera can focus perfectly fine at a distance of a few inches, and it delivers brighter images with better depth of field and clearer details than the macro camera does. I genuinely don’t get why that lens is on there as opposed to something like a zoom lens that would provide actual user benefit.
I got better macro shots with the regular camera (left) than with the special macro mode (right)
The low-light difference is all in the pixel-binning and software. Take the OnePlus 8 Pro, the OnePlus 8, and the Galaxy S20 all down to their 48- or 64-megapixel modes, and the images are pretty similar. But in 12-megapixel mode, especially in the software-powered night modes, the results are very different. There’s a slight difference between the OnePlus 8 and the 8 Pro, with the 8 Pro’s low-light images being a little sharper. The Galaxy S20’s night mode is much more aggressive, resulting in much brighter images in very low light.
The OnePlus 8 (left) takes slightly softer low-light images than the 8 Pro (center) or the Galaxy S20 (right)
Video recording is 4K, not 8K, up to 60fps 4K or 240fps 1080p slow-mo. That’s significantly below what the Galaxy S20 offers, which is 8K video and 960fps slow-mo. But we’re a few years away from people widely wanting to use 8K video—that resolution takes 500MB/minute, so it’s mostly for people who later use editing software to pan and zoom around their videos. 4K is enough for mainstream users right now, and OnePlus delivers a nice, stabilized experience there.
What a 5G Phone Should Cost
The OnePlus 8 Pro and the Galaxy S20+ both have advantages over the OnePlus 8, but they aren’t that big, you will pay for them, and the economy is crashing to an extent none of us have seen in our lifetimes. The 8 Pro has slightly better camera performance, a nicer screen, and wireless charging; the S20 line has even better low-light camera performance and millimeter-wave 5G on T-Mobile. With the economy cratering, I want to give a 5G suggestion that doesn’t break the bank. That’s the OnePlus 8.
The OnePlus 8 delivers a lot of experiences that are pretty similar to the OnePlus 7 Pro, my 2019 phone of the year, but in a slightly smaller form factor and with the addition of 5G. It costs $700 to $800, which is what a flagship smartphone should cost, not more. It’s less expensive than alternatives from LG and Samsung, and it has key features, like 5G, that Apple’s iPhone 11 lacks.
At this moment, that feels right to me, so the OnePlus 8 earns our Editors’ Choice for reasonably affordable 5G phones. Whether it feels right to you depends on your economic circumstances. If you can afford to spend more, the OnePlus 8 Pro is a good alternative for T-Mobile, while the Galaxy S20+ is a solid choice for any network.
OnePlus 8 Specs
|Operating System||Android 10|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865|
|Processor Speed||2.84 GHz|
|Dimensions||6.3 by 2.86 by .3 inches|
|Screen Size||6.55 inches|
|Screen Resolution||1,080 by 2,400 pixels|
|Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing)||48MP, 16MP, 2MP; 16MP|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||18 hours, 11 minutes|
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