OnePlus, the small Chinese upstart that has charmed Android smartphone enthusiasts with its combination of high specs and rock-bottom prices, has earned itself a small backlash of disapproval this week. Its sin? Introducing a newer and better OnePlus 3 — the 3T — too soon after the first one. The 3 came out in the summer, and the 3T is following up now, roughly half a year later.
Most aggrieved are the people who bought the OnePlus 3 most recently, feeling somehow cheated by the rapid replacement of their shiny new thing with a shinier new thing. If you were in attendance during OnePlus’ launch presentation for the 3T in London last week, as I was, you’d have witnessed company co-founder Carl Pei peppered with questions about why the 3T exists.
I’ll give you the short answer: the OnePlus 3T exists because it’s better.
That’s as much justification as any new piece of technology needs. If the newer thing is better than the older one — and not arguably better like the new MacBook Pros, but definitively and conclusively — then it stands to reason that it should step in and take over. To do anything different would be to slow innovation down.
What is it that we feel deprived of when the flagship phone we buy is suddenly supplanted by a slightly better one? On a superficial level, there’s the basic knowledge and ability to say that you own the latest and greatest from company X. Meticulous financial planners will also call out the harm done to the OnePlus 3’s resale value, though that sinks with all smartphones irrespective of what their makers do. A third worry might be that the 3T would take over as the 2016 model to be supported by OnePlus, leaving software updates for the OnePlus 3 neglected. But the company has vociferously refuted such claims, noting that both variants are on the same software path and will get the same timing of updates and extension of support.
If I sound like an apologist for OnePlus, let’s narrow that down to making me an apologist for the OnePlus 3. That phone, quite frankly, is better than we have any right to expect for $400. Its responsiveness is second to none, it has a glorious OLED display, and its camera is capable of doing excellent things, too. I took a ton of photos with it this September, and compared many of them against the iPhone 7 without finding a clear and absolute winner. Yes, the iPhone’s usually better, but the OnePlus 3 exposes scenes more realistically and it has the best implementation of Google’s camera shortcut (double press the power button to launch) on any phone I’ve used, Nexuses and Pixels included.
It’s the subtle things that made me a happy OnePlus 3 user. I liked having my own theme color, and I love this phone’s ergonomics — the 3 was the first 5.5-inch device that I actually felt comfortable using as a phone and not a phablet in disguise.
None of the (many) good things about the OnePlus 3 go away with the introduction of the 3T. Yes, they’re enhanced by a bigger battery and beefier processor in the new model, but why should that concern you? If you already own a OnePlus 3, guess what: you still own one of the best phones of the year. The OnePlus 3T is just the 3 with some extra engineering garnish.
Without Google’s Pixel and its extraordinary camera or Apple’s iPhone 7 and its catalog of advantages, I’d be using a OnePlus 3 today. And I wouldn’t be feeling too far behind those who spend the extra money to get Google or Apple’s flagship device. The state of smartphone development is such today that the gap between the absolute best and the merely very good is sometimes hard to spot. Just like the difference between the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T.
Yes, the new phone is better than the old phone, but that’s how things should be.