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OnePlus 8 Pro review: God Emperor of Android

The new OnePlus flagship combines blazing speed, outstanding cameras, and a killer display to rise to the top of the Android heap. Everyone else: you're on notice.

Cheating on my iPhone never felt so good. I’ve been using the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro for the last two weeks and let me tell you: they are two of the nicest smartphones I have ever used. The 8 Pro more so than the 8, for various reasons which I'll get into soon.

The main reason I’ve been enjoying the 8 Pro more than the 8 is that I can trust its triple-lens camera system. Unlike the 8, the camera on the 8 Pro isn't a disappointment compared to the rest of its flagship specs and performance. Sometimes the cameras even take better photos and more stabilized videos than my iPhone 11 Pro.

If not for iMessage and AirDrop keeping me strongly chained to the Apple ecosystem, I’d switch to the 8 Pro in a heartbeat. But if you have no such friendship and family complications and workflow needs, the 8 Pro is the best Android smartphone by a huge margin.

That is, assuming the price doesn't make you flinch. Priced at $899.99 for 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM and $999.99 for 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM, the 8 Pro isn't exactly cheap. It's still a much better value than Samsung's Galaxy S20, which starts at $999.99.

If affordability is more important to you than better cameras, the OnePlus 8 starts at a lower $699.99 for 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM and $799 for 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM.

Cool vibes

Unlike the S20, the in-display fingerprint reader on the 8 Pro is fast and responsive.Raymond Wong / Input

I feel pretty indifferent to the OnePlus 8 Pro’s design. OnePlus figured out the whole premium industrial design years ago. If anything, the predictable and familiar “glass sandwich” and curved display edges are a little tired; it just looks like a Samsung phone. That isn’t to say it’s not beautiful or luxurious, just that OnePlus played it safe. And that's fine. After all, TVs are all big rectangles and all SUVs have four wheels and an identical silhouette.

At the very least, the camera is still tastefully aligned in the center as opposed to in a massive square bump. I’m also glad to see the Alert Slider is still present and, according to the company, the haptics are 11 percent more powerful.

OnePlus sent me the “Ultramarine Blue” version, which, by the way, is only available with 256GB of storage and not 128GB. The matte finish glass finish is attractive and has lighter and darker shades at different angles. However, I enjoy the sea-foam "Glacial Green" the most. It just looks fun.

Compared to the OnePlus 8, the 8 Pro is also finally IP68 rated for dust and water resistance. I don't know what took OnePlus so long (its phones were already water-resistant, just not IP-rated), but now it's no longer a disadvantage.

Display heaven

So big, so fast, and so damn blissful.Raymond Wong / Input

The OnePlus 8 Pro's 6.78-inch display is as perfect as screens get. Not only because it's AMOLED and really sharp (QHD+ resolution) and has 1,300 nits of peak brightness. What differentiates the 8 Pro's display from the S20's screen is its 120Hz high refresh rate — and this part is really key — at QHD+ resolution. The S20 display can only do 120Hz at a lower FHD+. At the end of the day, you're probably asking: who really cares?

To that I say: when you're spending nearly $1,000 on a smartphone, you should care. You should demand the very best.

At times I found myself wondering if Android was too fast on the 8 Pro.

At 120Hz, everything on screen feels instant. Scrolling is perceivably smoother and text doesn't smear and blur the way it does on slower 60Hz displays like on the iPhone 11 Pro. Although I could see and feel the 90Hz refresh rate boost on OnePlus's previous phones, the display responsiveness is more noticeable at 120Hz.

The "Fluid display" is so fast, at times I found myself wondering if Android was too fast on the 8 Pro, like where my taps registered? Of course, I quickly came to my senses because it's better a phone be too fast than too slow.

The hole punch is tiny and doesn't get in the way.Raymond Wong / Input

That refresh rate is such a treat that not even the hole punch or reflections on the curved edges could ruin the screen for me. Other optimizations like HDR Boost and 10-bit color depth only made me reach for the OnePlus 8 Pro more for Netflix than my iPad Pro and MacBook Pro.

Ultra speed

Because I know you're itching to skip to the camera comparisons below, I'll keep this short: the 8 Pro's performance and speed are unreal.

The 8 Pro still would have been a fast phone if OnePlus stopped at using a Snapdragon 865 chip and tons of RAM. But the real reason why the 8 Pro (and 8) is faster than other phones with the same chip is because of its faster components and software that's optimized purely for speed. Fast UFS 3.0 storage for super quick data read and write speeds. Faster LPDDR5 RAM for loading large, resource-hungry apps quicker. Shorter animation transitions in Android. Nearly no bloat in OxygenOS.

These seemingly minor decisions all add up to a phone experience that, like I said earlier, feels freakishly too fast.

OnePlus' obsession with speed extends to the 8 Pro's 4,510 mAh battery. First, it's big which means battery life lasts all day. Second, it supports fast Warp Charge 30T charging; I got 0 to 65 percent in 30 minutes. And for the first time on any OnePlus phone, the 8 Pro supports wireless charging with the big deal being 1 to 50 percent in 30 minutes with the company's Warp Charge 30 Wireless charging stand.

The charging stand is a mini marvel. Though it'll charge any Qi-compatible phone at slower 10 watts, it's designed to charge the 8 Pro wicked fast at 30 watts. In multiple tests, the wireless charging was nearly as fast as wired charging going from 0 to about 63 percent in 30 minutes and 100 percent in one hour. Popping the 8 Pro at 55 percent, it took longer to fully charge to 100 percent — about 1 hour and 10 minutes. It's a shame the regular OnePlus 8 doesn't have wireless charging.

The fast wireless charging is nearly as fast as the wired charging.Raymond Wong / Input

Like many premium Android phones, the 8 Pro also supports reverse wireless charging for things like wireless earbuds and smartwatches. It's another thing to tick off the checklist, but it's painfully slow.

Other speed upgrades include Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, which are more about future-proofing. I don't own a Wi-Fi 6 router so I can't speak on that. It's nowhere near as fast as Verizon's mmWave 5G, but T-Mobile's mid-band 5G in my neighborhood gets about 140 Mbps, which is double the 70 Mbps or so I get on my iPhone 11 Pro with LTE on the same network. See? More speed!

Solid pics

After spending a good week shooting with the OnePlus 8 Pro (a software update rendered my first week of testing useless), I'm really happy with the photos it takes. Compared to previous OnePlus cameras which were often all over the place — usually lacking dynamic range, sharpness, and contrast or oversaturating colors — the OnePlus 8 Pro camera system is more balanced. It's more consistent and reliable than any previous OnePlus camera.

The iPhone 11 Pro still takes the most consistent photos and videos compared to any other smartphone, but its cracks are showing and OnePlus is swinging for the fence. The 8 Pro camera is only a half grade behind the competition instead of a whole. If an iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 are A+ and the Galaxy S20 Ultra is an A, then the OnePlus 8 Pro camera is a A- instead of the usual B+.

Much of the 8 Pro's camera improvements can be attributed to the new triple-camera system made up of a 48-megapixel (f/1.7) main lens with OIS, 48-megapixel (f/2.2) ultra-wide lens with OIS, and 8-megapixel (f/2.4) 3x telephoto lens. The larger aperture (smaller f-stop number) on the ultra-wide is especially notable because it means better low-light photos compared to like the iPhone 11 Pro which has an ultra-wide lens with a slower f/2.4 aperture. There's also 5-megapixel "color filter" just outside of the oblong camera module which, as its name implies, helps with producing color filters. Right now, it's pretty useless.

The cameras on the OnePlus 8 are quite different, which explains why there's a big image quality gap between the two. It has a 48-megapixel (f/1.7) main camera, 16-megapixel (f/2.2) ultra-wide lens, and a 2-megapixel (f/2.4) macro lens.

In the below 6-way comparison, it's clear OnePlus has improved color accuracy, contrast, and highlights. See the shadows on the grass and trees and the wider dynamic range in the sky.

Raymond Wong / Input

Although the OnePlus 8 Pro spits out 12-megapixel photos by default, you can switch to 48-megapixels with a tap. I don’t recommend doing it often, though. The dynamic range isn’t as good at 48 megapixels and image quality isn’t as sharp corner-to-corner.

I’ve cropped in 100 percent on both a 12-megapixel photo and a 48-megapixel image to showcase how much more detail you can get. Also included is a 100 percent crop for a 12-megapixel pic taken with the S20 Ultra and a 108-megapixel photo.

Raymond Wong / Input

On paper, Samsung wins with more than twice the camera resolution. In reality, 108-megapixels is sheer overkill for a smartphone unless you crop in a lot on your shots. Sony’s top-of-the-line A7R IV mirrorless camera only has 61 megapixels and that’s plenty for professional photographers. On the plus side, the 8 Pro has none of the slow autofocusing problems the S20 Ultra has.

The biggest argument to not shoot at 48 megapixels is the file size. A 48-megapixel photo from the OnePlus 8 Pro clocked in at 16.4MB compared to 5.4MB for the 12-megapixel. With no expandable storage, it really doesn’t make sense to go higher resolution.

Below, you can see how details on the OnePlus 8 Pro compares to the iPhone 11 Pro. The 8 Pro's main camera has a shallower depth of field so details are less sharp at the edges, but it's nowhere near as bad as on the S20 Ultra.

Raymond Wong / Input

It’s wild how good smartphone cameras keep getting for low-light shooting. Only a few years ago, the below scene (pitch black in real life) would have been impossible to capture.

Now, with a combination of improved image sensors, image signal processing, and AI, phone cameras can literally see in the dark.

On the OnePlus 8 Pro, the camera finally takes low-light photos that look good. I mean, it’s hard to defend the iPhone 11 Pro’s main camera when its image comes out all soft compared to the 8 Pro.

For instance, zoom in on the keyboard and clock. Both are the sharpest on the OnePlus 8 Pro.

Raymond Wong / Input

Switching each phone’s respective night mode on, the dark scene is illuminated. (I’m aware my desk is messy so stop judging me already.)

In terms of sharpness, the OnePlus 8 Pro image is quite crisp (see the alarm clock and the label text on the envelope in the drawer).

After sharpness, it really comes down to color temperature and contrast. It’s hard to not be wowed by the improvement from the 7T Pro to 8 Pro. There’s still some fine-tuning that can be done to the color temperature so it’s not so yellow and looks more natural, but that’s also easily fixable with editing. It’s nearly impossible to fix a photo that's not sharp in the first place.

Raymond Wong / Input

At 100x crop, the differences in the detail are more apparent. As you can see, the night mode on the OnePlus 8 Pro is a major leap forward compared to the very noisy 7T Pro and even the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4. For whatever reason, the OnePlus 8 failed to capture a sharp image.

At first glance, the S20 Ultra seems to have the advantage. But if you’re judging the whole photo, then the OnePlus 8 Pro comes out on top in my opinion. Zoom in on the two monitors from the previous comparison and take notice of how black and smooth they are; they’re not noisy at all like in the other photos.

Color accuracy in low-light (but not outdoors) is arguably the 8 Pro's biggest weakness. While the color can be corrected in post, I hope a software update fixes this so it's more pleasing straight out of the camera. In the past, OnePlus has released updates that improved image quality in big ways.

Raymond Wong / Input

Many high-end Android phones boast impressive zoom made possible with "periscope zoom lenses" that consist of prisms and mirrors laid flat inside of the phone. The S20 Ultra uses a combination of optical lenses and digital enhancements to achieve up to 100x zoom. In my S20 Ultra review, I noted how pointless its 100x zoom was when the quality was so bad. At 30x, though, the S20 Ultra can still take a decent photo.

The 8 Pro has no such periscope zoom and as expected, the highest 30x digital zoom can't keep up with the S20 Ultra's hybrid zoom. If good zoom is high on your features list, look elsewhere.

Raymond Wong / Input

One area OnePlus cameras continue to excel at is macro photography. First introduced on the OnePlus 7T and then later included in the OnePlus 7T Pro, the mode lets you capture sharp images from as close as 3 centimeters. The details in these shots are insane. You can see things like the bits of wood in the cracks and specs of dirt lodged in the toe box of my sneaker. I couldn’t even see these details in real life. I'm addicted to shooting macro photos now.

Raymond Wong / Input

You'll have to forgive these lackluster selfies. Safety first! Frankly, I'm not seeing a whole lot of difference between the OnePlus 8 Pro and 8 Pro. Both photos are kind of washed out and have low contrast.

The iPhone 11 Pro took the best selfie for this shootout, but the sky is blown out so badly. Maybe it's time phone makers put more work into HDR for selfies. All of the shots leave a lot to desired.

Raymond Wong / Input
Raymond Wong / Input

Best Android

Finally, proper IP68 water-resistance.Raymond Wong / Input

The OnePlus 8 Pro is this year's Android champ because OnePlus finally took the criticism leveled on its previous phones to heart. I've complained about the lack of wireless charging, the lack of IP68, the subpar cameras. The 8 Pro addresses all of my main past concerns.

There's really not much to dislike about the 8 Pro. It's got a big and gorgeous display, it's insanely fast everywhere, the cameras are finally reliable, it's IP68 rated, and it supports crazy fast wireless charging.

The $900 price is the only thing that stings. In the current coronavirus pandemic situation, it's a lot of money to blow on a phone (or any gadget really). The beauty of Android is that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of phones at every price point to choose from. Hell, go crazy with a foldable phone if you're daring enough. But if you want the very best that Android has to offer, there's only the 8 Pro.