OnePlus 8T review: More power, more features

Software

OnePlus’ take on Android 11, OxygenOS 11, doesn’t look that much different than before; it’s just as simple and clean, but dotted with a few handy new features. My favorite one is the Insight AOD (always-on display), which is a collaboration between OnePlus and Parsons School of Design to visualize a user’s digital wellbeing. Once enabled, you’ll see a thin gradient column — with a clock slowly moving downward throughout the day — that occasionally switches position on the black screen. Each time you unlock the phone, you create a gap in the bar, the idea being to make you realize how reliant you are on your phone. You’d probably even feel guilty about ruining this otherwise beautiful piece of digital artwork, you horrible, horrible person.

If you want to do something about your mobile addiction, OxygenOS 11 offers a new Zen Mode 2.0. Like before, this can lock you out of your phone for a set period of time, but now, there’s a “group Zen Mode” which lets you invite friends to install the app (it works on non-OnePlus phones as well) and “zone out” together — think dinner parties or meetings. But because of COVID-19, it’ll probably be a while until we get to try this with others in person.

Quick Share on OnePlus 8T

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OnePlus continues to focus on optimizing one-handed control, which we’ve seen in built-in apps like Weather, Settings and Shelf (OnePlus’ own pull-down widget page) with their “golden ratio” layouts — these make for easier thumb access. Now in OxygenOS 11, the camera app has gained a more intuitive thumb-friendly feature: long press the thumbnail at the bottom right brings up a quick share dial, then just drag your thumb to one of the three recently used social apps to share your latest shot. This had saved me a few taps for direct sharing, though I wish I could customize the shortcuts to quickly edit in, say, Photoshop Express.

Sadly, a handful of other new features won’t arrive until some time in November. The one that I’m most looking forward to is Voice Note, which will convert speech to text on the fly while recording in the Notes app, and it’ll support English plus Mandarin Chinese to begin with. There will also be a “Straighten Doc” tool in the camera and gallery apps, and this can automatically spot and optimize text documents in your shots. (I had already been using a similar tool on my Find X2 Pro, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be a direct port from Oppo’s side.)

OnePlus 8T

Richard Lai/Engadget

Cameras

The OnePlus 8T is equipped with the same 48-megapixel main camera as the 8, which is a little disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, this Sony IMX586 sensor did a good job on bright, sunny days, but compared to the more powerful IMX689 sensor on the 8 Pro and the Find X2 Pro, I noticed a drop in dynamic range and detail, especially at night. Even with HDR enabled automatically, the darker buildings in the background quickly disappeared in my nighttime street shots. My nighttime 4K videos also turned out to be a bit soft.

You’ll also find the same 16-megapixel hole-punch selfie camera found on both the 8 Pro and the 8, and again, it could be better. My outdoor selfies looked fine in terms of details, but the colors were a little washed out. It was really the indoor shots where the phone struggled, as slow capture time meant I would often end up with soft and shaky shots.