Review: OnePlus 3T Makes for a Worthy Mid-Cycle Smartphone Refresh
Take one of the best-loved and widely appreciated phones of the year gone by, and upgrade it with souped-up internals, and what do you have? For one, a bunch of annoyed OnePlus 3 owners whose barely-six-month old phone is now so last year while we’re still in the same year!
Look beyond that, and the OnePlus 3T improves on the 3 in small, discernible ways. But is it worth the premium over the phone it will gradually replace on Amazon’s digital storefronts?
With the 3T, OnePlus has remained faithful to the core strengths of the OnePlus 3, so much so that the 3T can at best be considered a mid-cycle refresh to the widely acclaimed OnePlus 3.
So, you have the same premium design chiseled out of a single block of aluminum, and the only real way to distinguish the mid-2016 and the end-2016 siblings is by the presence of the new gunmetal color.
The same Alert slider (to switch between notification profiles), the same camera bump, the same fingerprint sensor on the front – if you loved (or hated) the design language on the 3, expect the same feelings to continue… to a T!
Continuing the same “"if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, the 5.5-inch optic AMOLED display of the 3T means black levels are excellent and the display still looks super-sharp, comparing well to 2K-toting rivals that come at twice the price.
You get this super-saturated colour calibration out of the box. But if you want more natural, accurate colors, there’s an sRGB colour profile you can choose, plus you can manually adjust the color temperature to your liking.
The big improvements are all tucked away under the 3T’s sleek exterior. The first of these is the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chip, which promises a little over 10% grunt and juice when compared to the flagship-bread-and-butter Snapdragon 820. Pick the higher-priced version and you get 128GB of storage along with the 6GB of memory, so you’ll likely never run out of memory or storage unless you’re really trying to!
The solid camera experience from the 3 gets a leg-up for selfies, by swapping out the 8MP front snapper for a 16MP f/2.0 variant on the 3T. It’s still fixed focus, and lacks a front-facing flash, so while it’s better, it’s not stellar by any means.
The rear camera sees some software tweaks, resulting in images that are a tad sharper and more ‘contrasty’ than those on the 3. Low-light performance gets a thumbs up too.
What’s possibly the most impressive engineering feat in the 3T is that OnePlus has managed to pack in a bigger 3,400mAh battery into a device that has no added weight or volume over the 3. The extra battery allowed us a day and a half of regular use, and OnePlus’ secret sauce – dash charging technology – is well worth the hype.
All the benefits of super-fast charging – 30 minutes gets you from 0-60% - with none of the overheating. Dash charging practically eliminates the need for a daily ritual – overnight charging.
The OnePlus was ahead of the curve with USB Type-C, using it first with the OnePlus 2. But sadly, we’re still stuck somewhat in the dark ages with a USB 2.0 controller and speeds behind the Type-C connector.
For a phone launched at the end of 2016, the OnePlus 3T runs on Android Marshmallow 6.0.1, which is a bit of a pity given that Nougat has been available to brands for a while now. For a brand that constantly pushes its 'Never Settle' philosophy, you’re going to have to settle for a future upgrade to Nougat if you pick the 3T up.
And finally, with the bump-up in the price, the 3T is not as much of a stonking bargain as the OnePlus 3 once was, and it marks a decided move by the brand to inch up further into the premium smartphone space. The improvements, while seemingly minor, are real and tangible, so spending two grand more for the 3T is worth it, even more so as the OnePlus 3’s stocks dwindle.
That said, I’m not convinced the premium that OnePlus is commanding for the 128GB variant is worth the extra cash just for increased storage alone. Maybe a higher-resolution 2K display may have been the clincher OnePlus needed to cross the psychological thirty-grand barrier.
On its own though, the phone still represents excellent value when you pit it against the premium flagships from Samsung, Apple and Google.
Why Buy It?
Granted, the OnePlus 3 was an excellent foundation to start with, and all OnePlus had to do was repeat the formula and not mess up anything seriously, which they quite comfortably did with the 3T.
Haters would say OnePlus corrected the flaws of the 3, and hiked the price in the process. But even with the bump up in price, the 3T still remains excellent value for money. This is a phone that rightfully belongs in your consideration set for a premium Android experience even if your budget allows for an S7 Edge or a Pixel.
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at @2shar.)