Smartphone Showdown: Samsung Galaxy S8 vs OnePlus 3T

Samsung’s best ever goes against the smartphone world’s best value

20 April 2017
by Stuff Staff

It used to seem like there was a dramatic difference in quality and capabilities between top-tier flagship phones and mid-rangers – and then OnePlus came along.

Somehow, OnePlus found a new middle ground: the near-flagship phone, one that matched the big guns in nearly every respect but found a couple of concessions to keep the cost down. And the results have only gotten better and better, with the OnePlus 3 standing as its best offering to date. Its replacement, the OnePlus 3T, is a slight improvement, albeit for more cash.

OnePlus has ruled our list of the best smartphones in the world since last summer, replacing the Samsung Galaxy S7. And now the Galaxy S8 has come to retake the throne.

If money isn’t an issue, then the Galaxy S8 is your clear pick for an Android right now. But money is always an issue, especially when we’re talking about a nearly US$300 difference. So what really sets these phones apart, and should you really pay that much more for a Samsung?

DESIGN: FINE VS FABULOUS

The OnePlus 3T is a good-looking handset, especially with the Gunmetal and Midnight Black varieties. It looks fully premium, standing tall against the vast majority of flagships, with an all glass and aluminum build. It’s nicely curvy on the back, and shows no obvious signs of being cheaper than the pack.

It’ll win out against a lot of typical or ordinary flagship phones, but those terms do not describe the Samsung Galaxy S8. This phone is straight-up stunning, with a curved screen and barely any bezel at all, with the display blending pretty seamlessly into the little additional surface seen on the top and bottom.

It’s the most beautiful slab of smartphone we’ve ever seen, and honestly, it’s not even close. You’ll pay extra for style here, but we doubt you’ll feel bad about it.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

SCREEN: QUAD OR FULL HD

On a 5.5in panel, a 1080p display is pretty great – and that’s definitely true of the OnePlus 3T. This AMOLED screen is plenty bright and has deep blacks, although we found the contrast a little blown out. It’s really crisp, though, and will be more than good enough for most users.

But it’s a step down from most of the top Android flagships these days, which are using higher-resolution Quad HD panels. The Galaxy S8’s 5.8in AMOLED screen is the best smartphone display we’ve ever come across, not only delivering dazzling contrast and impressive brightness, along with Quad HD clarity, but also mobile HDR support that enhances supported content.

It has some uncommon dimensions, though: it has an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, which means it’s taller than usual in the hand, but that helps keep the Galaxy S8 from feeling massive. In truth, despite the extra 0.3in on the screen specs, the S8 shaves several millimeters off of the phone’s total width, making it plenty comfortable in the hand.

The 1080p screen is part of how OnePlus undercuts the competition, and it makes total sense. It’s one concession you can make without losing much quality of experience. But if we’re talking best of the best, the Galaxy S8 is absolutely unparalleled right now.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

CAMERA: SPEND FOR BETTER

When we reviewed the OnePlus 3T, we said, “The amount of detail you can get from this phone is fantastic.” That said, we also admitted when reviewing the OnePlus 3 (which uses the same back camera sensor), that “the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is significantly better.”

The OnePlus 3T’s 16-megapixel main camera offers plenty to like, including speedy snaps, lots of detail, and a pretty great HQ mode for low-light shots. However, we grumbled about the oft-jacked-up ISO, which makes for grainy shots, as well as the sometimes overwhelming image processing results.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy S8 builds upon last year’s 12-megapixel shooter with an array of software tricks. Now the phone grabs three photos with each snap and uses the spares to improve the single result, minimizing blur and other defects in the process. Thanks to optical image stabilisation and quick dual-pixel autofocus, you’ll get clear, fabulous results most of the time.

The 3T’s camera will be plenty fine for most on-the-go shooters, but anyone who needs a standout main camera will be more appeased by the Galaxy S8 in this showdown.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

PERFORMANCE: PURE POWER

With a Snapdragon 821 chip and a staggering 6GB RAM, the OnePlus 3T is well-equipped to handle just about any game, app, or media thrown its way. This chip was top-of-the-line as of last autumn, so it’s no slouch at all, and this Android is plenty fast with the OxygenOS skin on top of Nougat.

Still, Samsung puts out a bit more muscle with the brand new Exynos 8895 chip in the UK and many other territories, or the Snapdragon 835 in the United States and potentially elsewhere.

Both are made with a 10nm process, which means more components are fit into the same amount of space as the older chips, and it’s therefore more efficient and powerful as a result. Likewise, the TouchWiz skin doesn’t bog down Android Nougat at all, and the 4GB RAM is plenty enough to power any level of mobile multitasking.

In day-to-day usage, you probably won’t see that much of a difference between the two, and the Snapdragon 821 is plenty fast. But again, the Galaxy S8 just packs in a bit more muscle if you’re looking to feel good about splashing all of that extra cash.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

BATTERY AND PERKS: S8 IS GREAT

The OnePlus 3T packs a 3,410mAh battery, which is an improvement from the 3,000mAh cell found in the original OnePlus 3. However, we had some weird results when we tested it out, actually seeing faster drain from video playback tests. In terms of everyday use, however, it’s a solid all-day performer – it’s not built for more, but it should give you until sleeptime.

The Galaxy S8, meanwhile, uses a smaller 3,000mAh battery, but we saw strong results in our testing. It lasted all day and still gave us about 30% left to play with by the time our heads hit the pillow. Both phones have fast charging capabilities, but only the Galaxy S8 has wireless charging in this matchup.

When it comes to additional perks, Samsung’s premium touch really starts to stand out. For example, the OnePlus 3T doesn’t have a microSD slot to expand its storage from the built-in 64GB or 128GB (the latter is extra). The Galaxy S8 can take a 256GB microSD card, however, to supplement the 64GB that’s found inside.

The Galaxy S8 also offers the Gear VR headset, which packs in some great game and app experiences, as well as the DeX dock for turning your phone into a desktop PC of sorts using an external monitor. It also has iris scanning, which might come in handy since the S8’s fingerprint sensor is admittedly in an awkward spot on the back. Look, a negative!

Also, the Galaxy S8 is IP68-rated water and dust resistant. The OnePlus 3T has none of that, which is surely one of its biggest sins as modern smartphone.

Look, the OnePlus 3T gives you just about everything you need as a streamlined, super-capable phone, but it doesn’t have the added benefits. You’ll pay more for the Galaxy S8, but you can also do a lot more with it. Again, if money isn’t your key concern…

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

VERDICT: S8 SUPERSTAR

It shouldn’t be a surprise: the Samsung Galaxy S8 offers the best of the best in every category, from the dazzling design to the stunning display, horsepower, camera, and various perks.

But that’s what $760 buys you. What about $460? Well, that buys you a phone that is damn fine all around, but aims just a hair lower on a couple of key specs to save you cash.

That doesn’t come through very well in a head-to-head comparison like this, because they’re in different leagues. For almost £300 extra, you’d better get top-of-the-line everything, and that’s exactly what you get with the Galaxy S8. And that’s precisely why it’s now the top dog on our list of the best smartphones in the world right now.

But the OnePlus 3T sits right below, and this is why: it’s about as good overall as any other flagship phone available today while undercutting them all by sometimes $200 or more. And if you want a super-great smartphone that doesn’t pack every single bell and whistle available today, then the OnePlus 3T might be your best bet.

In other words, the OnePlus 3T is the better value – but the Galaxy S8 is the better device. And right now, it’s also the best phone in the world.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

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