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Review: OnePlus 3T

Hardware Software Wrap-Up Comments  

Dec 8, 2016, 2:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

This unlocked Android smartphone from OnePlus is an excellent handset for the contract-averse. OnePlus took its excellent flagship phone from earlier this year and improved it with a round of fresh components under the hood. The result makes the OnePlus 3T one of the best phones available right now. Here is Phonescoop's full report.

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Is It Your Type?

The OnePlus 3T is a slightly refreshed version of the already-excellent OnePlus 3. There's some new circuitry under the hood, which itself has a fresh coat of paint. This "affordable flagship" has a premium build and specs, and costs significantly less than class leaders from Samsung, LG, HTC, and others. The seemingly minor updates make the OnePlus 3T a sure bet for those who seek affordable, unlocked phones.

Body

Editor's Note: Because the OnePlus 3T is so similar to the OnePlus 3, significant portions of the following text have been reprinted from our earlier review. Rest assured, we fully evaluated the OnePlus 3T and this review reflects the real-world performance of the newer model.

The 3T has a simple, direct, metal-and-glass appearance. It was milled from a single block of aluminum and has antenna lines that run side-to-side across the back. The metal chassis forms the rear and side surfaces of the phone, with 2.5D glass on front. The only exterior change made by OnePlus is the color. The 3T drops the graphite color for a darker gunmetal gray. I like it. The 3T also comes in gold. It's a good design, but far from an original one thanks to similarities to phones from Apple and HTC.

The 3T is svelte. It's about the same dimensions as the Alcatel Idol 4S and ZTE Axon 7, against which it competes directly. The phone is tall and wide, but is also incredibly slim and relatively light. With a 5.5-inch screen, it is definitely in phablet territory and often requires two hands to use. I had a hard time reaching the upper portions of the display with my thumb, even if I changed my grasp and stretched my hand. OnePlus curved the back panel near the side edges, which helps push the phone a bit deeper into your palm. The phone's thin profile helps when it comes time to put the phone in your pocket. I had no trouble slipping it into jeans, slacks, or shorts.

Body  

You can't ask for better materials or build quality. The metal chassis feels strong and solid, despite how little the phone weighs. The glass is curved right where it meets the chamfered aluminum side edges. The phone's design flows all the way around, making it clear OnePlus took pains to assemble the phone carefully.

Like most modern phones, the display consumes the lion's share of the 3T's front surface. Slim bezels run along the side edges, with thicker bands of black glass above and below the screen. A fingerprint sensor is the only button/control below the display. It can double as a home key. The reader is indented slightly, which makes it easier to find with your thumb. The 3T uses on-screen buttons to control the user interface.

The 3T has one of the most useful buttons I've seen on a phone in some time. On the left edge, near the top, you'll find a three-position switch. This switch sets the ringer profiles: totally silent, vibrate, all sounds/alerts. This is a great way to quickly change the setting of your phone without requiring you to unlock it or even pull it out of your pocket. The switch has a ribbed texture and generous profile, and the three positions are easy to detect as you move the switch back and forth. OnePlus stuck the volume toggle below this switch. The metal toggle is thin, but has a good profile and decent travel and feedback.

OnePlus did a good job with the lock button on the right edge. It has an excellent profile and just about perfect travel and feedback. The SIM tray is above the screen lock button. The phone supports one or two SIM cards for separate accounts, but doesn't support memory cards. The 3.5mm headphone jack, USB Type-C port, and speaker are all tucked into the bottom edge. Note that USB-C is gaining in popularity, but still less common than micro-USB.

The rear panel is mostly flat, but tapers slightly where the panel approaches the side edges. There are two black antenna lines, one near the top and a second near the bottom. The camera module is perched close to the top edge. It protrudes quite a bit from the rear surface, and has a nice chrome rim to help it stand out. The LED flash is just below the camera.

The unibody metal chassis means the battery is sealed up inside nice and tight. The phone doesn't support wireless charging, but it does include rapid wired charging.

In sum, the OnePlus 3T is an excellent handset on par with devices from brand-name competitors that cost much more.

Screen

The display is one spec where the OnePlus 3T trails the Alcatel Idol 4S and ZTE Axon 7. It measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal and sticks with 1080p full HD, rather than quad HD. If you're not interested in using your phone for VR, the OnePlus 3T still manages to hold its own. The 3T has plenty of pixels for browsing the web, watching videos, and viewing Instagram imagery. I found everything was sharp enough. The phone uses what OnePlus calls Optic AMOLED screen technology, which is in turn protected by a slab of Gorilla Glass 4. The display is plenty bright, offers rich colors and contrast, and puts out enough light for easy outdoor use. Viewing angles are quite good; there's a bit of brightness drop, but no blue shift. The OnePlus 3T may not have as many pixels as its competitors, but the experience isn't lacking.

Signal

OnePlus sells the 3T unlocked. It includes support for LTE Bands 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, and 30, which means it is fully compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile's 4G networks, as well as Cricket and MetroPCS. Support for band 30 is unusual among unlocked phones, and should help with 4G LTE data speeds and coverage on AT&T.

I tested the 3T on both AT&T and T-Mobile and saw a slight improvement when compared to the 3. The phone connected to both 4G networks without trouble and didn't drop to 3G like I saw the 3 do several times. In other words, the 3T works better than the OnePlus 3 did by a small margin The device was always able to make calls and hold onto them at highway speeds. I didn't suffer any dropped or missed calls while testing the device. Data speeds were solid. The phone was able to handle streaming from YouTube and Spotify via LTE with no problem, and was always quick to load content from Facebook and Instagram.

Sound

The OnePlus 3T suffices as a voice phone. Call quality is acceptable through the earpiece with little-to-no distortion, but the phone doesn't pump out enough volume. I was able to hear calls in my quiet home, a stationary car, and an empty mall with no issue, but it's harder to hold a conversation in a noisy coffee shop, moving car, or any other space with lots of background noise. Clarity is a bit better than it was with the OnePlus 3, and that's good.. People I spoke to through the 3T said I sounded pretty good.

The speakerphone delivers clarity that's on par with the earpiece. The speakerphone delivers just enough punch to be useful. You'll get the best experience in a quiet space, but the 3T manages to do okay inside a moving car.

The Alcatel Idol 4S and ZTE Axon 7 have powerful stereo speakers that are far louder and offer a fuller range of sound, too.

Ringers and alerts on the 3T are loud enough, and the vibrate alert delivers a powerful jolt.

Battery

One of the bigger improvements found in the 3T is the battery. OnePlus boosted the capacity from 3,000 mAh in the 3 smartphone to 3,400 mAh in the 3T. The difference is palpable. In side-by-side tests, the 3T outlasts the 3 by a significant margin. If you need all-day power, the OnePlus 3T has you covered. I found the battery consistently pushed through a full day without breaking a sweat and often coasted through most of a second day. I ran a wide variety of apps with all the radios on and screen brightness set to about 60%. We can thank the 1080p resolution a bit here, (as more pixels would take more power to illuminate.) Moreover, the updated processor is a bit more power efficient, too. The larger battery and processor combo give the OnePlus 3T a definite advantage.

The device includes the basic battery saver tool from Google. You can turn this on whenever you want, or have it come on automatically when the battery reaches 15% or 5%. It reduces screen brightness, cycles back the processor, reduces notifications, and so on.

The 3T includes what OnePlus calls Dash Power. It is a variant of Qualcomm's QuickCharge technology. OnePlus claims a 30-minute charge will replenish over 60% of the 3T's battery, allowing for more than 7 hours of HD video playback. It recharges very quickly. The phone doesn't support wireless charging.

Bluetooth, GPC, NFC, WiFi

All of the 3T's secondary radios did well enough. The Bluetooth 4.2 LE radio paired with headphones and speakers easily enough, and, unlike its predecessor, had no trouble connecting with my car. Calls pushed to mono headsets were pretty good. Music sounded good enough to my ears when I tested the 3T through several different sets of Bluetooth speakers. The phone was able to pair with other phones and PCs for file transfers when necessary.

NFC is aboard and I found it helpful when pairing with some accessories. The NFC radio can also be put to use with Android Pay for mobile (tap) payments if you wish.

The GPS radio worked flawlessly. The phone was able to locate me in a blink and accuracy was about 20 feet. The OnePlus 3T has more than enough accuracy and juice to power Google Maps.

The WiFi radio (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) didn't give me any cause for concern.

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