In the past 10 years, ransomware has become inescapable. All kinds of institutions have been targeted, from the schools children go to, to fuel and medical infrastructure. A report from the US Treasury estimates there were over half a billion dollars in ransomware payouts in the first half of 2021 alone. Law enforcement has struggled to get a handle on the situation, with many groups operating for years with no apparent fear of repercussions.
This year, federal law enforcement decided to try something new. In April, the Department of Justice created the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force in a move to prioritize the “disruption, investigation, and prosecution of ransomware and digital extortion activity.” The task force is supposed to help share information between DOJ departments, as well as work with outside and foreign agencies. In the months since, it’s made some impressive prosecutions, but they’re just a sliver of the overall — and the bigger picture remains maddeningly unclear.
One of the first publicized wins for the group came in June, when the Department of Justice said the group was handling the case of an individual alleged to be partially responsible for the malware suite known as Trickbot, which could help expose a system to a ransomware attack. Days after that announcement came an even bigger win: the DOJ announced it had seized back $2.3 million of the $4.4 million ransom paid by oil company Colonial Pipeline, and that the task force had coordinated the efforts. Then, in October, its biggest win yet — the arrests of a few alleged members of REvil, a hacking group, by European police forces, and the seizure of over $6 million in funds the department says were linked to ransomware payments.
Still, the sheer volume of attacks means a handful of prosecutions is unlikely to make a difference. Prosecutors need the threat of law enforcement action to scare criminals away from ransomware — and some experts say the scheme is still too lucrative for criminals to give up.
Hackers “prefer to take the risk instead of leaving this lucrative malicious activity behind,” according to Dmitry Bestuzhev, a researcher at cybersecurity company Kaspersky. “So what they try to do is to learn from others’ mistakes and improve their opsec, but there is no evidence they feel intimidated and want to quit.” Bestuzhev says they’ll continue to re-form groups, even as the government works to shut them down — “even with the successful arrest we have recently witnessed, many ransomware groups are just here to stay.”
But not everyone agrees with Bestuzhev. John Fokker, the head of cyber investigations for McAfee Enterprise Advanced Threat Research, is more optimistic that the task force is starting to change the outlook for criminals. For years ransomware “had been relatively untouched,” not getting too much attention from governments, Fokker told The Verge. Now that the task force was starting to crack down, he says, “what used to be a safe space isn’t a safe space anymore. There’s beginning to be an atmosphere of distrust.”
The attention from the task force has also been affecting ransomware groups’ ability to advertise to potential customers, the ones who often use their malware to infect targets. In a blog, Fokker discussed how cybercrime forums have become hesitant to play host to ransomware operators, banning them from advertising in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline attacks. Forum administrators, when they offered an explanation for the decision, said that ransomware was attracting a lot of unwanted attention — as one admin put it, according to The Record, the word “ransom” was now associated with “unpleasant phenomena — geopolitics, extortion, government hacking.” Another forum had a cheekier explanation for why it was banning posts about ransomware: “if it ran somewhere, then you should probably go catch it?”
The ability to advertise on forums cut off the groups’ easy access to customers, made it harder for ransomware creators to get in touch with the affiliates making them billions of dollars, and made the contact that does happen riskier on both sides. Transferring money or giving demos becomes harder when there’s not a (somewhat) trusted third-party platform to help mediate. That, along with bounties for up to $10 million, has started to create “little cracks in the model,” says Fokker. He even mentioned an instance where an affiliate, angry with what they considered to be a meager payout, posted a ransomware group’s entire playbook. “That kind of environment hurts business,” he says.
The task force has also been helping the people on the other side of ransomware: the companies and organizations that are targeted by it. Government agencies have been working together to keep industries informed about what actions they’ve taken against ransomware operators, and to issue guidance to help keep companies safe. ”The Department of Commerce, Department of Treasury, State, Homeland Security, and Defense, all of them have taken a very clear, concrete action on ransomware actors to disrupt and each of them have their own press release and their own guidance,” says Vishaal Hariprasad, CEO of cyber-focused insurance company Resilience.
When asked to grade the government’s actions, he says, “I would actually give the government an A for what they’ve done in the past 90 days. I think it’s been pretty incredible to see that we’re actually taking action, we’re taking the fight to the bad guys with disruption, with arrests, with warrants, sanctions, the $10 million bounty for any information.”
Hariprasad says while the government had carried out similar actions in years prior, the publicity was a boon to victims. “I think the task force has helped coordinate it, but coordinating in the back end where nobody can see isn’t valuable. It doesn’t have the motivating psychological impact unless you can talk about it … the government’s always been doing things, it’s just never been able to publicly talk about it in a clear and concise, coordinated way.”
Still others are optimistic that the task force can have an impact if it keeps up its legal actions. “As long as there is a sustained effort against these somewhat decentralized and shifting crime gangs; this isn’t just ‘whack-a-mole,’” says Kurt Baumgartner, principal security researcher at Kaspersky, echoing Fokker’s optimism. “While we are seeing the resurrection of certain parts of the ransomware-as-a-service chain in response,” Baumgartner thinks the “coordinated anti-ransomware efforts are just the start. It is great to see evidence of some ransom payments clawed back, decryption keys obtained, communications infiltrated, successful multi-national law enforcement efforts.”
In particular, Hariprasad thinks massively disruptive attacks could become less frequent. “I think you’ll still have the one or two major coordinated campaigns that will be very sophisticated,” he says. “But as they get a lot of attention and people start focusing on them, you’ll see that happen less, and the younger or the less sophisticated operators will continue to get back to the lower end of the ransoms and just kind of go for quantity over quality.” Better to collect a few $50,000 ransoms without making headlines, the thinking goes, than to bag $40 million and have law enforcement kicking down your door.
It’s hard to say which of the task force’s tactics will end up having the greatest effect, and there’s always the possibility that things get worse before they get better. If ransomware operators wind up desperate, they could end up going after a massive target, in a Hollywood-style “one last job” scenario. Ransomware could also become a more manageable annoyance, as hackers look for the next big cash cow, one that the world’s governments aren’t paying as much attention to. Or attackers could get creative and start developing entirely new ways to make trouble.
Cybersecurity is always a cat-and-mouse game, and the incentives to hack big companies won’t be going away — but as Hariprasad told me, “a big part of deterrence is making sure they understand that there are repercussions to their actions and that the government is actively doing something.” On that point, at least, governments seem to be making progress.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are well and truly underway, albeit a year late. The delay was of course down to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with Japan currently grappling with a fifth wave of infections.
Despite the latest surge, it appears as if the show will go on, with the Olympic organizers’ anti-infection measures set to stay firmly in place. These include keeping athletes’ teams as small as possible, with friends and family asked to stay in their home countries instead of traveling to the host nation to offer their support in person.
Hoping to ease the disappointment of separation, Athlete365, an International Olympic Committee initiative set up by athletes to support one another, created Athlete Moment.
Athlete Moment lets winning athletes at select Olympic events speak to loved ones via a Zoom-like call just seconds after their victory and also after the medal ceremony. You may have already seen it in action at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, which is hosting the Games’ swimming events, though 15 other sports are also involved, including athletics, basketball, BMX racing, and several gymnastics events.
We know how important the support of your loved ones is. ????
Athlete Moment gives you the opportunity to virtually connect with your friends and family following your final competition in Tokyo.
“The Athlete Moment will bring together you, your families, and friends in a virtual hug that will reach around the world,” Athlete365 says on the webpage where competitors can sign up to the feature.
Once they do so, they’ll receive a link to share with up to five individuals or small groups. If the athlete wins their competition, the link will go live and they’ll be able to briefly chat with loved ones via a large display placed inside the venue.
Of course, athletes can easily jump on their smartphones and fire up a video call later on, but Athlete Moment offers winners a chance for a quick exchange just moments after a race or contest finishes.
In a video promoting the feature, Athlete365 says, “The whole experience lasts for a little over a minute, but the memories will last for a lifetime.”
For more Tokyo 2020 content, check out this stunning Omega commercial promoting the Games.
After spending nearly a week with the Pixel 3 XL, my three first impressions of Google’s newest handset haven’t changed: It’s the fastest Android phone I’ve ever used. The cameras are awesome. The notch is an eyesore.
Thankfully, the first two qualities make up for the third. Mostly. If the Pixel 3 XL didn’t have such an ostentatious notch, it would still be an ugly phone, but after a couple days I wouldn’t have cared anymore. Six days later, the notch is still the first thing my eyes go to every time I unlock my phone. It would be one thing if there was some next-generation camera or sensor that demanded such a large notch. But as it stands, there appears to be a lot of unnecessary space around the twin cameras, ambient light sensor, and speaker that live inside it.
But I don’t want to waste too many words debating the merits of the Pixel 3 XL’s notch. Google has already signaled that it will be adding a way to black it out via software—which may or may not improve things—and it basically comes down to preference. If you can deal with it, get the Pixel 3 XL. If not, get the notchless Pixel 3. It’s that simple.
Because otherwise, the Pixel 3 is more than just another great Android phone. It’s the emergence of the Pixel as a bona fide smartphone platform. There are features of other phones that may be better—the Galaxy S9’s design, the Huawei P20’s camera hardware, the Note 9’s battery—but no single Android phone can top the end-to-end performance that the Google delivers with the Pixel 3.
A nice back, a great screen
The back of the Pixel has always looked better than the front, but that stark juxtaposition is amplified to an absurd level on the Pixel 3. The all-glass back of Google’s new phone is one of the nicest I’ve ever used, even in Google’s relatively pedestrian assortment of colors.
The new Pixel doesn’t need the reception-friendly glass window anymore, but the Pixel 3 nonetheless retains the trademark two-tone look of its predecessors. The corners of the square are now curved to match the phone’s shape, giving the design a natural flow it didn’t have before.
To mimic the aluminum look and feel of the first two Pixels, the bottom of the Pixel 3 XL is made of frosted glass, and it’s difficult to describe how luxurious it feels. Back when it created the iPhone 7’s “jet black” color, Apple developed a new manufacturing process that gave the aluminum a glass-like feel. Google’s frosted glass has the opposite effect: It makes the Pixel’s glass back feel like smooth aluminum. The result is a texture that’s less slippery and fingerprint-prone than most other glass phones. I’ve picked up a couple of scratches during my first case-less week with it, but they generally wiped off and aren’t nearly as noticeable as they are on other all-glass phones.
The sides of the Pixel 3 are aluminum to match the back color, with the non-black models once again featuring a colored power button to break up the monotony. And of course, there’s no headphone jack, though Google is finally bundling a pair of Google Assistant and Translate-capable USB-C Pixel Buds in the box.
Flip the phone over, however, and the refinement ends. Other than the deservedly maligned notch, it has relatively thick bezels around the top and sides, along with a chin that’s about as big as last year’s 2 XL. The front-firing stereo speakers that sound great are present as well, which somewhat breaks up the empty space below the screen. Another annoyance: The corners at the bottom of the screen don’t match the shape of the ones at the top of the screen, making the phone appear even more unbalanced than it should. Even when you find an app that’s optimized for the tall notch, it just doesn’t look quite right.
What does look right is the display itself. While the Pixel 3 XL has basically the same Quad HD 1440 P-OLED screen as the Pixel 2 XL (albeit with a slightly lower 523 ppi), the displays couldn’t be more different. Where my Pixel 2 XL’s screen is dull and lifeless, the Pixel 3 XL’s display is as sharp, bright, and vibrant as any OLED I’ve used, with none of the annoying blue shift that plagued its predecessor. I didn’t even need to adjust the color settings from “Natural” like I didn’t with the 2 XL.
It also feels better to the touch. There was a cheapness to the Pixel 2 XL’s oleophobic coating (the thing that’s supposed to prevent it from collecting unsightly fingerprints) that wore down over time and made the screen appear even more muted. But the glass on the Pixel 3 XL feels much better to my fingers. And the speed and crispness of animations make it feel like it has a 120Hz refresh rate (it doesn’t).
We already saw the results of LG’s new display process in the V40, and it’s even more evident here. The clarity of the display on the Pixel 2 XL was its biggest weakness, but on the 3 XL Google has turned the display into an strength, notch and all.
Average specs, incredible speeds
On paper, the Pixel 3 XL isn’t all that impressive. It’s got a Snapdragon 845 processor with 4GB of RAM, 64GB or 128GB of storage, and a 3,430mAh battery. Nearly every one of its competitors offers at least 6GB of RAM, more internal storage along with an SD card slot, and greater battery capacity. But the new Pixel does more with less.
Performance-wise, the Pixel 3 XL is insanely fast. And it needs to be, since Android 9’s new gesture navigation isn’t just on by default—it’s the only way to use the Pixel 3. I’ve been using it on the Pixel 2 XL for awhile, but on the Pixel 3, “Swipe up on Home button” feels more natural then ever. Animations fly, app switching is buttery smooth, and the new haptic feedback engine gives the whole system a subtle tactility that makes it much easier to grasp.
But it’s not just navigation that’s faster. The Pixel 3 is so speedy and smooth, it feels like a new variation of the Snapdragon 845 chip, like the 821 in the original Pixel. The Pixel 3 XL makes newer phones like the LG V40 and Note 9 seem laggy by comparison and last year’s handsets (including the Pixel 2 XL) basically obsolete.
The battery isn’t quite as impressive as the speed gains, but it’s still very good. The capacity is a touch smaller than the Pixel 2 XL’s 3,520mAh battery with even more pixels to push, so you’re not going to see any major real-world gains. It’s about as good as the Pixel 2 XL, which is to say it’s good enough for most days, but heavy workloads will require a power boost before day’s up. It’s not quite in the league of the all-day-and-then-some Note 9 or the iPhone XS, but Google promises that the Pixel’s adaptive battery will learn your habits and shut down battery-killing apps and processes. It’s something I’ll keep an eye on for sure, but during my first few days with the Pixel 3 XL, I got about 6 hours of screen-on time, which is acceptable for a $900 phone but certainly not mind-blowing.
Basically, the new Pixel feels like the Android equivelant of a new iPhone, with a super-speedy UI, acceptable battery, and bare-minimum RAM. The Pixel 3 may run Android 9, but the platform is pure Google. The back-end optimization and customizations at play on the Pixel 3 breathe new life into Android, in a way that partners such as Samsung or Huawei just can’t duplicate. It’s almost like Google is making a statement with the Pixel 3: Specs alone don’t make the phone.
An Assistant that actually assists
With the Pixel 3, Google isn’t merely showcasing the best Android has to offer. It’s building an AI-driven platform that no other smartphone can match. There’s the bloat-free app drawer and promise of regular updates, of course, but even beyond that, the third-gen Pixel elevates Google Assistant to a system-level feature like Do Not Disturb or the new Digital Wellbeing.
We got a good look of Google’s AI-centric vision with Lens and Active Edge on the Pixel 2, but the Pixel 3 elevates Assistant in real and practical ways. It’s most visible in the Phone app. The somewhat controversial, somewhat inconceivable Duplex chat bot will be able to make restaurant reservations on your behalf. That’s sure to create some buzz for the Pixel once it starts rolling out next month.
When you receive a call on your Pixel 3, a new “Call Screen” button lets Google Assistant answer the phone for you. You’ll be able to see a real-time translation of what the person on the other end says, and you can either pick up the call or continue the conversation using Assistant. It’s remarkable in both its abilities and accuracy, and I’m actually looking forward to the first time a telemarketer calls.
But what’s truly astonishing is that this technology exists in a smartphone. It’s the kind of feature that separates the Pixel from the rest of the field. And while these features are launching on the Pixel 3, they won’t remain exclusive to the newest handsets. The entire Pixel platform—that is to say, all three generations of the phone—will be gaining Call Screen, Duplex and a few other new AI features. These aren’t mere weather reports and alarms. We’re looking at real-world AI applications that will actually enrich our lives, and not just cut down on how often we need to tap the screen.
AI makes a single camera feel like two
Since the first Pixel arrived, Google has delivered spectacular results from a relatively tame camera array thanks to its stellar AI and post-processing prowess. And as expected, the main camera on the Pixel 3 hasn’t changed at all (12.2 MP, f/1.8, 1.4µm, OIS), though Google says the sensor has been upgraded.
But even without a second lens or DSLR-style manual controls, Google has given the Pixel 3’s photo-taking abilities quite an upgrade. There are several new modes and enhancements that make capturing the perfect photo both fun and easy, thanks in large part to a new Pixel Visual Core image processing chip. Chief among them is a feature called Top Shot that takes the gimmicky Live Photos and makes it useful.
When the AI engine detects something moved in the frame just as you were snapping the shutter, it’ll offer up a series of image options captured before and after the shutter squeeze. This lets you you grab a pic before someone blinked or after something blew into your shot. It’s a little tricky to find—you need to swipe up on the pic in Photos to see the multiple images available—but it’s a fantastic feature.
Without a second lens, Google’s photo AI does all the heavy lifting on the Pixel 3, handling portrait mode again, as well as two new features, Super Res Zoom and Night Sight. These AI tricks compensate for the Pixel’s underwhelming hardware, and they mostly get the job done.
Portrait mode has been improved over the already-great Pixel 2’s implementation, and you now have the ability to change the specific amount of bokeh effect you want, as well as isolate your subject against a black-and-white background. Super Res Zoom, meanwhile, does an admirable job of grabbing detail and quieting the usual noise you get from digital zoom. I didn’t get to test the low-light enhancer Night Sight, as it won’t be available until next month, but it works much in the same way, using AI to stitch together a bunch of images with varying exposures to create one that’s brighter and crisper than a regular shot.
At this point, however, the Pixel’s camera is basically equal parts arrogance and hubris. No matter how good the Pixel 3’s camera is—and trust me, it’s really good—it would be that much better with optical zoom, a wider aperture, or a second lens. Like EIS on the original Pixel (which was replaced with OIS on the Pixel 2), computational photography can only do so much. It’s truly impressive what Google can do with a single lens, and the Pixel’s all-AI method results in some truly excellent shots you can’t get on any other phone. Nontheless, I can’t help but wonder how much better the Visual Core would be with a camera system like the one in the Note 9 or LG V40.
Two cameras really are better than one
The front camera is a different story. If you look inside the XL’s notch (or in the left corner of the bezels on the Pixel 3), you’ll see Google has actually upgraded the camera hardware, adding a second wide-angle lens for so-called groupies:
That wide-angle front camera is about as wide as the main rear camera, and I’ll admit it’s a cool feature: With a swipe along the bottom slider you can dramatically increase the field of view to let more people or more scenery in. Also fun is the Photobooth feature that will snap a pic when the camera sees something photo-worthy on your face, like a smile.
The Pixel 3’s front camera array shows how strong hardware can boost the results of computational photography, but there’s a catch: The second lens on the front doesn’t help with bokeh-effect portraits, like it does on other phones with two front cameras. Portraits have certainly improved on the Pixel 3, but they’re more hit-or-miss compared to Google’s dual-camera peers. Again, it’s incredible to see Google’s AI suss out where the subject ends and the background begins, but leveraging a second lens would surely results in even better shots.
Should you buy a Pixel 3 XL?
You need to ask yourself three questions before deciding to spend $899 or $999 on a the Pixel 3 XL:
Does hardware design matter more than software?
Does camera hardware matter more than image processing?
Do the best hardware specs matter more than the latest software?
More than ever, that’s the difference between the Pixel 3 and every other Android phone: hardware versus software. There’s the ridiculously good camera. The surprising and delightful AI flourishes. The Android 9 optimization. Out of the box, the Pixel 3 XL doesn’t feel like another great Android phone, it feels like a whole new platform. And as Google commits to bringing new features to old phones, the gulf between the Pixel family and the rest of Android will only grow wider. Yes, it costs more than ever (in the case of the smaller model, nearly 25 percent more), but Google is establishing a new level of premium with the Pixel 3 XL.
Of course, if you already own a Pixel 2, buying the Pixel 3 may not make much sense, as so many killer features will trickle down to the entire Pixel family. But if you haven’t upgraded your phone in more than one or two years, the Pixel 3 has to be considered—especially if you value a locked-down software experience above everything else.
And that’s the point of the Pixel 3: turning Pixel into a platform. Like the iPhone, Google is putting the user experience ahead of the specs or features enthusiasts crave. It may be a tougher sell—especially at premium prices—but it also comes with a guarantee few other phones can offer: This time next year, it’ll actually be better.
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As the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X continue to sell out immediately – seemingly the moment new stock is listed – there’s a lot of concern from regular consumers that scalpers are beating everyone to the punch. When it comes to the latest PS5 restock from UK retailer Argos, that seems to quite literally be the case, as a group of organized scalpers were able to take advantage of a loophole to buy up stock before Argos intended to open sales to the general public.
Initially reported by IGN after speaking to anonymous sources familiar with the matter and later confirmed by Argos itself, these scalpers – who organized using a paid Discord server – were able to buy up a number of PlayStation 5 consoles on January 25, a day before they were slated to go on sale at Argos. Some of those scalpers have even taken to social media sites to boast about their hauls.
Argos was apparently able to stop some of the early sales, but the company did confirm in a statement to IGN that there was a technical issue that allowed some people to buy up PS5 stock ahead of time. The company said that it “identified a technical issue which allowed a small proportion of customers to place orders early,” before stating the obvious and noting that these consoles are hotly in-demand.
“It’s clear our customers are excited for the new PlayStation. We released a small amount of additional stock and have seen huge numbers of customers trying to place their orders with us and we have now sold out,” the retailer said. It’s bad enough to have to contend with scalpers and bots when the playing field is otherwise even, but if there are organized groups out there who are looking for loopholes they can take advantage of, it’s pretty easy to feel extremely disadvantaged as a regular consumer just looking to land one next-gen console.
Stock issues for both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 have been constant since the consoles released in November. With demand as high as it is, these stock problems aren’t likely to be solved anytime soon. Those of you looking for tips on securing a console can check out our buying guide for more information, but unfortunately, we don’t have any tips on beating groups of organized scalpers taking advantage of a retailer’s technical problems.
The OnePlus 8T couldn’t have come at a better time. When OnePlus launched the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro earlier this year, they were the company’s most expensive phones ever, and they came amidst a premium smartphone slump fueled by economic uncertainty and a global pandemic. In short, people needed the Samsung Galaxy A71 but got the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.
With the 8T, OnePlus has returned to its roots. At $750 from OnePlusRemove non-product link, not only is it $50 cheaper than a comparably specced OnePlus 8, but it also brings the kind of high-end features and innovations that fans expect without cutting too many corners. You’re still not getting wireless charging, which is almost a running gag for OnePlus at this point, but you are getting stupendous 65W Warp charging out of the box.
While you’re missing out on a few other “pro” features like a curved Quad HD display and the newer Snapdragon 865+ processor, nothing about the OnePlus 8T feels inferior to phones costing upward of $1,200. Stacked up against the $700 Galaxy S20 FE and $799 iPhone 12, the OnePlus 8T is once again a true competitor.
Editor’s note: We’re still testing the OnePlus 8T and will update this review accordingly.
This story is part of our ongoing roundup of the best Android phones. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.
A beautiful design all around
Like every other phone in 2020, the OnePlus 8T doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It has a 6.55-inch display with a hole-punch camera and rounded corners, and a glass back that isn’t too glossy or slippery. It feels good in my hand and pocket, and likely hits the sweet spot for most people looking for a larger-screen phone.
OnePlus sent me the Aquamarine Green colorway, and I was instantly smitten. Like a chameleon, it changes between green and blue based on the lighting, and the color-matched sides create a nice contrast with the display. The camera array on the back is derivative of the flagship Galaxy phones and thus loses some of OnePlus uniqueness—particularly compared to the circular array on the 7T—but the 8T definitely ranks as one of the nicest phones OnePlus has ever made.
The niceness continues to the front as well. While at first glance the 8T has the same overall look as the 8 and 8 Pro, with a left-aligned hole-punch camera and slim bezels, a closer inspection will reveal that the bezels are more balanced. It’s a small thing, but OnePlus’s use of a bendable chip-on-panel OLED allows the top and bottom bezels to be symmetrical, which makes a subtle but meaningful difference.
It’s not quite as uniform as the iPhone 11, but it’s very close, and it’s an engineering feat that portends great things for the OnePlus 9. The OnePlus 8T is one of the few Android phones that feels like it was designed inside and out with a purpose, rather than assembled using pieces that somehow had to fit.
One thing you’re not getting with the OnePlus 8T is IP-rated water resistance, but you shouldn’t let that deter you. OnePlus won’t guarantee water resistance in the 8T, but it’s repeatedly treated the issue with a wink and a nudge, even going so far as to dunk the OnePlus 7 in a bucket of water. So my guess is the 8T will withstand its share of splashes and brief dunks.
Fewer pixels and more speed
Nestled inside those bezels is OnePlus’s best display to date. It’s not quite as pixel-dense as the OnePlus 8 Pro’s Quad HD+ screen, but it’s richer, brighter, and faster than the 8’s screen. Even compared to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which has one of the best displays I’ve ever laid eyes on, the OnePlus 8T more than holds its own, even with far fewer pixels.
The 8T’s Full HD 1080 display isn’t just nice to look at. OnePlus has upped the refresh rate to 120Hz (from 90Hz on the 8), and the difference is palpable. Scrolling is buttery-smooth, and animations fly by. It gives the phone a true high-end feel. It’s a great compromise over a higher-resolution display, especially when you consider Samsung forces users to lower the resolution when they switch to the 120Hz refresh rate. It’s so nice, when I switched back to 60Hz for battery testing purposes, it felt like I was scrolling through thick mud.
There are other smart compromises as well. While ‘T’ models usually opt for the best possible processor, the 8T uses the Snapdragon 865 chip rather than the newer 865+ one. This helps keep costs down without giving up too much in the way of speed. However, OnePlus compensates for the speed loss by combining the chip with UFS 3.1 storage and 12GB of RAM, so apps launch and load incredibly fast. And of course, the 8T supports 5G (though only on T-Mobile’s network). Compared to the similarly priced Pixel 5, the OnePlus 8T is an absolute screamer, and it doesn’t feel any slower than the $1,300 Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Equally impressive is the OnePlus 8T’s battery life, despite a relatively average 4,500mAh capacity (technically twin 2,250mAh batteries). In benchmarks, I recorded a whopping 11 hours and 37 minutes with the 120Hz display turned on, and even longer with it off (though the app crashed before I could get a recorded time). That’s a good deal longer than other phones I tested with bigger batteries. You should have no problem keeping the 120Hz option on all the time.
Helping matters is that the OnePlus 8T charges a whole lot faster too. Normally I would knock a phone for not having wireless charging in late 2020—and it’s definitely a detriment for the 8T—but the 65W Warp Charge is simply mind-blowing. Not only does it fill up a nearly empty phone in less than a half-hour, with sustained charge speeds of 55 watts according to my testing, everything you need is included in the box. Unlike Samsung, which sells its super-fast charger for $50, OnePlus supplies a USB-C charging cable and a 65W adapter in every 8T box. What’s more, you can use it as a 45W charger for other devices, including laptops. The OnePlus 8T represents the kind of charging breakthrough we’ve been waiting for from Apple or Samsung.
An always-on display at long last
That long battery life and fast charging also allow OnePlus to finally add a long-overdue feature to the 8T: an always-on display. Previous OnePlus phones have had an ambient display that would activate upon raising or tapping, but the 8T has a real-deal always-on display like nearly every other Android phone.
And it’s a good one. OnePlus has put its stamp on things with three unique customization options. I only got to try out the Insight, which was designed in conjunction with The New School: It offers an excellent visualization of your digital well-being stats, including unlocks and overall use. It’s an nice twist on an old standard. I’m looking forward to testing the Canvas (which creates line drawings of your photos) and Bitmoji AODs when they arrive in a future software update.
The always-on display is part of the general revamping of OxygenOS, which tweaks just enough to establish its own identity without upsetting too much about the minimal experience. It’s noticeably different than the Android 10-based version, but most of the changes are for the better. Android purists will wail at the further deviation from Google’s vision, but OnePlus’s continued refinement of OxygenOS is impressive.
A camera that keeps getting better
OnePlus’s phones have always had good cameras, but from what I’ve seen so far, the 8T’s is borderline great. On the hardware side, you’re getting four lenses that rival what you get in Samsung’s Ultra phones and Apple’s iPhone Pro:
Camera 1: 48MP, f/1.7, OIS Camera 2: 16MP Ultra-wide, f/2.2, 123-degree FOV Camera 3: 5MP Macro, 3cm focal length Camera 4: 2MP Monochrome
You’ll notice the distinct lack of a telephoto lens, but in all honesty, that’s never been OnePlus’s strong suit. I’m still not sure we actually need a lens dedicated to something a digital filter can do, but at least this one shouldn’t be able to see through people’s clothing.
In my initial testing, the OnePlus 8T truly shines with night mode. Previous versions were somewhat spotty, with decent brightness but blown-out details and shaky white balance, but the 8T truly gets it right. It’s still not quite in the league of the iPhones and Pixels, but it more than holds its own against the latest Galaxy phones. It’s an impressive leap for OnePlus’s computation photography and bodes well for the next generation of OnePlus phones.
Should you buy the OnePlus 8T?
I’m still testing the OnePlus 8T and will update this review when I’m finished, but the results so far leave a strong impression. For $749, you’re getting the specs, design, and performance of a thousand-dollar flagship. It even stands up to the $799 iPhone 12, at least on paper.
So if you’re turned off by the prospect of paying four figures for a phone but still want top-of-the-line specs, a great Android experience, and a fantastic design, the OnePlus 8T is a fantastic option for $750. For just $50 more than, say, the Galaxy S20 FE, you’re getting a whole lot more, including ridiculously fast charging, twice as much RAM, and Android 11 out of the box.
But OnePlus isn’t just selling an upper mid-range competitor. It wants to take on the highest-end phones, as evidenced by its thinly veiled tagline: “Ultra stops at nothing.” OnePlus has returned to its most successful formula with a phone that’s pretty powerful and, well, just plain pretty.
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