Well, that was fast! The OnePlus 3T, available in 64GB ($439) and 128GB ($479) models, has arrived to replace the $399 OnePlus 3, which was just released this summer. With the 3T, you get the very latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor complemented by 6GB of RAM, making the phone one of the fastest we’ve tested. Camera performance has improved with a higher megapixel front sensor, the already excellent battery life is even longer, and the software remains highly customizable. If you have a OnePlus 3, you’ll probably want to hold onto it, but if you’re in the market for a new unlocked phone, the OnePlus 3T is a solid alternative to the ZTE Axon 7 and a much more affordable option than the Google Pixel XL
Design, Display, and Features
Put the OnePlus 3T next to the OnePlus 3 and you won’t be able to tell the difference. The two phones are physically identical, sharing the same metal unibody build, and same button and port placement. They can even use the same cases and accessories (including the OnePlus Loop VR headset), and both phones are available in gray or gold, though the gray 3T is slightly darker (pictured below).
Unsurprisingly, the two phones are identically sized at 6.0 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and both weigh 5.6 ounces, putting the 3T in the same size and weight class as phablet-size metal slabs like the Pixel XL (6.1 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches, 5.9 ounces) and the Axon 7 (6.0 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches, 6.2 ounces). I find it a bit too wide and tall to reach everything with my thumb, making it difficult to use with one hand, especially since there’s no option to resize the screen.
As mentioned, the ports and buttons are the same as those on the OnePlus 3. On the right panel, there’s a dual SIM card slot with a power button below it. The bottom has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a USB-C port, and a fairly loud bottom-firing speaker. The left edge houses a handy alert slider letting you quickly and easily switch between Ring, Silent, and Do Not Disturb modes.
The display is a 5.5-inch 1,920-by-1,080 Optic AMOLED panel, the same resolution as the previous generation phone’s with the same pixel density (401ppi). That means the Quad HD panels on the Axon 7 (538ppi) and Pixel XL (534ppi) are both significantly sharper. It’s a pity that given its higher price point, OnePlus chose not to bump up display resolution.
That said, the screen is nothing to scoff at. Maximum brightness has been tamped up and color calibration improved. Colors are accurate, but also vivid when using the default sRGB mode, and customization options are available to make color temperature warmer or cooler. Outdoor visibility is excellent thanks to the combination of high maximum brightness and a polarizing layer between the screen and the protective pane of Gorilla Glass 4. Viewing angles are similarly excellent. Using the OnePlus 3T side-by-side with the Pixel XL, I never noticed the difference in display resolution. The one exception is that if you’re using a VR headset you’ll notice more pixelation on the 3T.
On the lip below the display, you’ll find a fingerprint scanner that doubles as a capacitive home button with back and recent buttons on either side. There are various programmable functions (launching the camera, opening a previously used app, bringing up voice assistant, etc.) you can enable for each button with either a long press or a double tap. Other customization options include swapping the order of the buttons or turning them off entirely in favor of the on-screen navigation bar.
Despite its rich array of features, the OnePlus 3T isn’t protected from submersion in water. And while neither the Pixel XL nor the Axon 7 offer this feature, it’s becoming more common on flagship phones and would have been a nice addition here.
Network Performance and Connectivity
As an unlocked phone supporting LTE bands 1/2/4/5/7/12/17/30, the OnePlus 3T shares the same network compatibility as its predecessor, and will work with GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile without any trouble, but unlike the Pixel XL, there’s no support for CDMA carriers including Sprint and Verizon. The X12 modem is also limited to the same Category 6 LTE speeds as the OnePlus 3, so in our testing it proved to be slower than the Pixel XL, which can support speeds up to Category 12 (once that kind of coverage exists). That said, network speeds were still good when we tested the phone on AT&T in midtown Manhattan, averaging 15Mbps down. Other connectivity protocols include dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth 4.2.
The phone also supports two SIM cards, allowing us to make calls using two separate phone numbers, a handy feature for work or travel, and one that’s fairly uncommon in the US. Unfortunately, the second SIM slot isn’t also compatible with microSD cards, which would arguably be more useful for most people.
Call quality was great in our tests. Transmissions come across with clear and audible tones, with strong noise cancellation that blots out most background noise. Earpiece and speakerphone volume are both quite loud and can be used to carry on a conversation in a noisy environment.
Processor and Battery
The OnePlus 3T is powered by the very latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor clocked at 2.35GHz, has 6GB RAM and UFS 2.0 flash storage under the hood. All of this makes for one of the fastest phones we’ve tested. The 3T scored an impressive 159,144 on AnTuTu, which measures overall system performance. It beats the Snapdragon 820-powered OnePlus 3 by a significant amount (141,429), as well as the Axon 7 (141,989). On Geekbench, the 3T has an excellent single core and multi-core scores 1881/4276, outperforming the Pixel XL (1661/4146), though not by very much.
Unsurprisingly, real world use is buttery smooth. Launching apps and multitasking is so quick it feels almost instantaneous, and during testing, I was never able to put the phone under enough strain to make it stutter. Gaming performance is also excellent. Games like GTA San Andreas and Asphalt 8 run without any hint of latency or dropped frames.
Battery life is stellar thanks to the large 3,400mAh cell combined with a relatively undemanding display. The phone outlasted our 10-hour test video in which we stream full-screen video over LTE while set to maximum brightness. At the end of the test, we still had 5 percent charge remaining. That gives the OnePlus 3T one of the longest runtimes among the phones we’ve tested, matching the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and handily beating the Pixel XL (6 hours, 43 minutes) and the Axon 7 (6 hours) by several hours. Enabling the Battery Saver feature will also improve runtime by turning off vibration, location services, and most background data. And the proprietary Dash Charger allows the phone to be charged to full in less than an hour.
Camera and Video
The 3T has matching 16-megapixel cameras on the front and the back, but the one on the rear also supports optical image stabilization (OIS) and 4K video recording. Generally, the camera performance of the rear sensor hasn’t changed significantly from the OnePlus 3. It’s still a fast, crisp shooter outdoors and in other well-lit settings. There’s no noise to be found in pictures taken outside, the camera app is quick to launch, and autofocus is fast and accurate.
That said, low-light shooting is still not exceptional. While the 3T manages a respectable level of clarity in darker settings, a shootout with the Pixel XL emphasizes its shortcomings. With a 1.12-micron pixel size, the 3T simply can’t gather as much light as the larger 1.55-micron pixels on the Pixel XL. That means despite the lack of OIS, the Pixel XL can take clearer, less grainy, and better-lit photos when snapping in Auto HDR mode
The rear sensor is capable of recording video in 4K at 30fps. It’s smooth and fairly stable, but in a testament to Google’s impressive software optimization, the Pixel XL was more stable during testing despite only offering electronic image stabilization.
The quality of the front-facing camera is top notch. Thanks to its high megapixel count, I was able to take some exceptionally crisp selfies and video, and auto exposure adjusted well to account for lighting conditions indoors and outdoors.
Overall, the Pixel XL has a better and more reliable sensor, at least with regard to its rear camera and video recording. The 3T can hold its own in daylight shots, though, and it has more options to fine tune photos with manual controls. You can tweak ISO, white balance, focus, shutter speed, and other settings. You can also shoot in Raw for higher quality images.
The OnePlus 3T comes running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with its OxygenOS skin. It’s a bit disappointing the phone doesn’t have Nougat yet, but OnePlus has promised it will be coming by the end of the year. OxygenOS live up to its name by being a lightweight skin with a look that should be immediately familiar Nexus users. App icons haven’t changed, nor has the notification shade, or app drawer. The only immediately distinguishable difference is that when you swipe left from the home screen you get Shelf, OnePlus’ custom home screen. Shelf shows you your favorite apps, most frequent contacts, and recent photos, also giving you the option of adding additional widgets.
But what really sets apart OxygenOS is its customization options. It offers a built-in manager for themes, custom app icon support, rearrangeable buttons, and different accents and colors for the Settings menu and status bar, including a spiffy-looking dark theme. You can also lock individual apps and require a password or fingerprint verification to unlock them, useful for sensitive selfies. Gesture support is also on board, allowing you to double tap to wake, draw on the screen to open the flashlight and use a three finger swipe to take a screenshot.
Bloatware is minimal. Swiftkey is integrated as one of the available keyboards (the other is Google’s), but the phone asks permission before enabling either. Aside from that, there’s a File Manager, Weather app, and Voice Recorder, all of which I found useful. Out of a total of 128GB of storage, 13GB is occupied by the OS and UI, leaving you with 115GB free. It’s an ample amount of space, making up for the lack of expandable storage.
OnePlus has come a long way since the invite only days of the OnePlus One and OnePlus 2. At $440 the OnePlus 3T is the most expensive phone the company has ever made, but it’s also the fastest. The smooth performance combined with long-lasting battery life, an improved front camera, and clean and customizable UI make it an excellent choice. However, depending on storage capacity, the ZTE Axon 7 is $40 to $80 less, while offering largely similar performance with a higher-resolution screen, thundering front-facing speakers, and high-quality audio.
The Google Pixel XL retains its Editors’ Choice status for its excellent camera, unbeatable voice assistant, 24/7 live support, and a guarantee of reliable Android updates. But if some of those aspects aren’t important to you, then the 3T could be a compelling option, costing nearly half as much with slightly better performance and a much longer battery life.
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