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OnePlus 8T early impressions: Plenty to like, but nothing remarkable

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The OnePlus 8T slots into the middle of the company’s latest lineup of flagship challenger phones, with a few minor compromises and a lower price. I spent a week with it ahead of its launch, and found it to be a solid choice for most people.

What’s great

I got the top-end 12GB RAM/256GB storage option to try out in Aquamarine Green. In the US, it’ll set you back by $749 (Rs. 54,940). It’s a fair bit cheaper in India at just Rs. 45,999 ($627), where it’s cheaper than a bunch of other handsets that feature the powerful Snapdragon 865 chip, like the Oppo Find X2 and the Xiaomi Mi 10 5G.

The 8T snags you a lot for your money, including a fantastic 120Hz display that’s plenty bright and vivid, top-of-the-line internals for snappy performance, and a versatile and capable camera system.

The OnePlus 8T features a glorious 120Hz display that supports HDR10+
Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal / TNW
The OnePlus 8T features a glorious 120Hz display that supports HDR10+

Between all that, it feels fantastic to use across productivity tools, social media apps, graphics-intensive games, and streaming services. That’s to be expected at this price range, so no surprises there. But given the competition, the 8T offers good value in this bracket.

I won’t get into many details about the camera, because my colleague Napier Lopez has a comprehensive comparison of the 8T’s camera system with that of the Google Pixel 5 coming up, and you should get a pretty good idea of what to expect there. That said, I will say it’s pretty versatile and performs well with a variety of modes and updated features from the previous generation. In particular, I enjoyed using the new Nightscape mode that makes it easy to shoot bright photos and video in low light.

I’m also a big fan of OxygenOS, and version 11 adds a bunch of new features that make it more enjoyable to use. This is also among the first crop of phones shipping with Android 11 out of the box (Vivo’s V20 beat it by a hair), so you’ll find a lot of optimizations and improvements to the interface and the way the platform works in general.

There are nice touches like the Insight always-on display mode, which tells you how many times you’ve unlocked your phone (in the hopes that you’ll be discouraged from needlessly checking it repeatedly), an updated Zen Mode to disable access to apps and notifications for up to two hours at a time, and a stylish yet understated interface design across the OS.

The Insight AOD manages to be attractive but also simultaneously deter you from using your phone, thanks to its unlock count
Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal / TNW
The Insight AOD manages to be attractive but also simultaneously deter you from using your phone, thanks to its unlock count

One of the biggest draws to the 8T is its 65W fast charging, which is ridiculous. You can juice up the large 4,500mAh battery in just under 40 minutes with the included adaptor and USB-C cable, and I routinely ended my days with more than 20% of power left on my phone over the past week. The 8 and 8 Pro only do 30W, which isn’t bad — and there aren’t a lot of other handsets that do 65W right now.

What’s not so hot

There’s not a lot to dislike about the OnePlus 8T — but it’s simply not a memorable phone. I can’t imagine this being fondly recalled or written about years from now as a groundbreaking device, or even one that stood head and shoulders above the competition.

It’s not quirky in its feature set, and it looks positively unremarkable. That’s not to say it’s not a nice phone. It feels solid, and the Aquamarine Green catches the light nicely, but that’s about it. The camera module looks like one you’ve seen elsewhere, and the rest of the body is really just a rectangular metal slab with a flat display.

I miss OnePlus’ early days, when it dared to incorporate unique design elements in the phone, interesting materials for its cases, and finishes you wouldn’t find with any other brand. The 8T is sadly just like many other phones you can buy today, including several that cost far less.

Compared to the 8 Pro, there are some minor differences in things like the kind of RAM (the 8T gets LPDDR4X, while the 8 Pro is on LPDDR5), the kind of storage (UFS3.1 on the 8T vs. UFS 3.0 on the 8 Pro), the sensors in the camera system (the 8T gets slightly lower-specced ones), and the lack of an MEMC chip which upscales lower frame rate content to match the screen’s high refresh rate for smoother animation. Oh, and you don’t get wireless charging on the 8T.

The refreshed camera module no longer includes a telephoto lens
Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal / TNW
The refreshed camera module no longer includes a telephoto lens

You also won’t get a telephoto lens like you do with the 8 Pro; there are only standard, ultrawide, macro, and monochrome lenses on the 8T. This might be a bummer for some folks, but I personally wouldn’t call it a deal-breaker. Going through the photos on my OnePlus 7 Pro that I used for the better part of a year, I found hardly any shots that utilized the optical zoom. How big a deal this is, is really up to you and how you like to shoot photos and video on the go.

Should you consider the OnePlus 8T?

If you’re in the market for a well priced phone that willcomfortably keep pace with the rest for a few years, and works well across the board, this is a safe choice. OnePlus’ software is fuss-free and gets regular updates, and the 8T comes with a good camera system that feels like a substantial upgrade from those in last year’s models. And of course, there’s plenty of power on tap.

It’s just not unique in any way, like the pricey Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Note Ultra, or the swivel-screen LG Wing, or even the tall ‘power user’ Sony Xperia models that launched this year. And for a lot of folks, that won’t matter. At its price point, it’s certainly tempting (even more so in India) — so I’d certainly recommend checking it out before you buy a new phone this year.

For more gear, gadget, and hardware news and reviews, follow Plugged on Twitter and Flipboard.

Published October 14, 2020 — 16:34 UTC

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How Riot used tech from The Mandalorian to build Worlds’ astonishing mixed reality stage

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After a hard-fought win over Korean team Gen.G, all five members of Europe’s G2 Esports stood at the edge of a pool of clear, glistening water to take a bow and celebrate their victory. Two members then picked up their star teammate, Rasmus “Caps” Borregaard Winther, and held him over the water, as if to throw him overboard. It’s a good thing they didn’t — despite how real the water may have looked to viewers, it was nothing but pixels.

The annual League of Legends World Championship is currently underway in Shanghai, and like most major events, it has had to be re-envisioned in order to be possible in our new pandemic-dominated reality. Typically, the early stages of the tournament are something of a traveling road show, with different rounds taking place in different cities. In 2020, things had to change.

With travel restrictions in place, and fans no longer able to attend matches, the team at League developer Riot tried something different. They built out a set made up of massive LED screens in a technology setup similar to what Disney used to create The Mandalorian’s sci-fi landscapes. It has been used to startling effect. Matches have looked like they’ve taken place in a cloudy, cyberpunk Shanghai skyline or amid a flooded landscape. What could have been a drab competition in the absence of fans has turned into perhaps the most impressive Worlds in recent memory.

“There are any number of days where we come to the set and say ‘Wait, I don’t think this has ever been done before.’ You just kind of get used to it after a while,” says Michael Figge, creative director at Possible Productions, which partnered with Riot on the event.

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The feat is all the more impressive when you consider the compressed schedule. Typically, producers from Riot and Possible spend well over a year planning for Worlds, but that simply wasn’t possible this year. It wasn’t until May that the decision was made to utilize this tech in a studio without fans.

The setup is a powerhouse, and Riot says that the LED screens — there are more than 900 LED tiles in total — display visuals at 32K resolution and at 60 frames per second. Those visuals were made using a modified version of the Unreal Engine, and in total, the team is made up of 40 artists and technicians. Nick Troop, executive producer for Worlds 2020 at Riot, describes it as “a creative tool that gives us effectively infinite power to manifest whatever our collective imaginations bring to the fore.” And he says one of the most important elements of the whole setup is the way things are shot, powered by four specialized cross-reality cameras.

“Rather than having a single projected camera perspective, we actually have two running simultaneously, effectively all of the time,” he explains. This allows the broadcast team to work in a more traditional way; they can swap between the two simulated perspectives at will, using four cameras to shoot the action on set. “It means that the broadcast team can do what feels to them what feels like a ‘normal television show,’ but in this curated, and beautiful series of environments,” says Troop.

For viewers watching on Twitch or YouTube, the LED soundstage is transformed into a sprawling fantasy world, with AR technology used to make the images expand beyond just the screens. You still see players sitting at desks and playing, but their surroundings are quite elaborate. In a nod to the current state of League of Legends, where four elemental dragons are of pivotal importance in a game, each of the four preliminary rounds of Worlds was styled with a different element.

[embedded content]

Initially, there were lots of crumbling rocks and mountains to represent the earth dragon; this was followed by the cloudy Shanghai skyline for the air dragons; later, the set appeared to be flooded with water that stretched on forever. This weekend, during the two semi-finals games, things will shift to fire.

While this technology has been used before, most notably on The Mandalorian, this is the first time it’s been done live. “Pretty much every [cross-reality] expression that has been broadcast to this point has not been live,” explains Possible’s Figge, whose company has worked on everything from Super Bowl halftime shows to Justin Bieber concerts. “It’s been pre-shot, similar to a lot of AR stuff for awards shows in North America. It’s risky to do live. We’re doing up to 10 hours a day of live television on this stage. There’s no second chance at it.”

One of the challenges was balancing the desire to make things look cool without interfering with the players. Everyone onstage — teams, coaches, and support staff — has a somewhat different visual experience than viewers at home, since the AR elements only appear for viewers at home. This turned into something of an advantage for the broadcast team.

“When we do these games, it’s really important for the competitive integrity of the sport for the players not to be able to see the game on the Jumbotron or anything like that. It’s a really difficult design problem,” says Figge. “With this stage, everything that’s above a certain level of height on the stage is completely virtual. It’s augmented reality. So we have the game playing in the background and the players can’t see it.”

A comparison showing how the stage looks to players (left) and viewers (right).
Photo: Riot Games

That said, while players don’t get the full experience viewers do, it was still important that being onstage felt special. This is the World Championship, after all, something teams from across the globe have been striving for all year long. Without the roar of a crowd to hype up players, the spectacle of a vibrant fantasy backdrop is a solid second option. Those onstage can’t see the AR elements, but they can see the graphics on the screens around them. “It helps ground the player,” says Troop. “They can still have a sense of the [game] world reacting, in a way that I think helps with their Worlds experience. There is a certain mindset that comes from being on stage, and we wanted to preserve that.”

[embedded content]

In most years, the technical showcase of Worlds is reserved for the opening ceremonies at the finals. In the past, that’s included an AR K-pop concert and a holographic hip-hop performance. It’s still not clear what this year’s big show will look like (though it will likely involve K-pop again), but you could argue that the early rounds have already stolen the show thanks to this new technology. Each round even opened with its own mini ceremony, featuring choreographed dances set in the fantasy realm; performers jumped across crumbling stone bridges and twirled around with magical spells. Despite the circumstances, Riot turned what could have been a low-key edition of Worlds into a surprisingly memorable one.

“It’s been more educational than frustrating,” says Troop of the experience so far.

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The Apple Watch Series 6 Is Already $20 Off

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Best Tech DealsBest Tech DealsThe best tech deals from around the web, updated daily.

Apple Watch Series 6 (44mm) | $415 | Amazon
Apple Watch Series 6 (40mm) | $385 | Amazon

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It’s only been out a week since launch and we’re already seeing discounts on the Apple Watch Series 6. Amazon has some 40mm models down to $375, while the 44mm falls to $415, both about $20 off and shipping anywhere between 1-4 weeks out.

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The Apple Watch Series 6 runs laps around the competition as far as technology is confirmed. It features everything you love about the Series 5 watch like an ECG heart rate sensor, and also adds new tricks like a blood oxygen sensor and an always-on altimeter, making it more ideal than ever for fitness buffs.


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Samsung thinks its new 85-inch Interactive Display is the digital whiteboard for the COVID-19 classroom

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Samsung would like you to believe its new 85-inch Interactive Display can bridge the gap between students in the classroom and students studying at home, now that blended-learning is the new normal across the country. In reality, it’s just a slightly bigger digital whiteboard — but assuming it doesn’t cost too much, the tweaked vision does sound intriguing.

Now that COVID-19 has swept the country, some students are huddling around tiny Chromebook screens at home while others stay in class, and Samsung’s internet-connected digital whiteboard promises to let students and teachers collaborate with each other, whether they’re in that classroom drawing on the board or adding to it in real-time from their laptop at home. The goal here isn’t to necessarily connect everyone better – they’ve had a few months to get a handle on that over Zoom – but rather to let the kind of collaboration that can happen when everyone’s together, happen while students are apart.

Samsung’s 65-inch Flip 2
Samsung

While the Interactive Display is mostly just a larger version of Samsung’s existing Flip 2 digital whiteboards, the 85-inch size means it’s as large as an actual school whiteboard (though it weighs far more at 164 pounds). Compared to the previous 55- and 65-inch models, more students could theoretically use the board at once. Samsung imagines the display primarily mounted in a classroom where they can use its 4K touchscreen and support for four pens (it comes with two) to write and draw; it supports up to 20 fingers (and pen tips) simultaneously. Teachers might be able to hook up multiple computers or other video sources to the display, too, with two HDMI 2.0 ports compared to the one on the Flip 2.

But before you petition your school for one, it’s worth mentioning that the device has no announced price. The 65-inch Flip 2 comes in at $2,599.00, and Samsung’s 85-inch TVs start at $1,799.99, so perhaps the Interactive Display won’t cost too much more than those? Still, most schools are even more constrained during the pandemic than they would be normally, and this screen doesn’t even come bundled with some of the education software Samsung is advertising. I think it would be great for these to be used in schools, but to me, Samsung’s framing for the Interactive Display sounds a little more opportunistic than realistic.

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