OnePlus has put Samsung on notice

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We got both the announcement and the embargo lift for OnePlus’ new top-tier smartphones yesterday. Here’s my review of the OnePlus 8 Pro and here is Jon Porter’s review of the OnePlus 8 — both with video.

These phones are interesting for slightly different — but related — reasons. OnePlus has always positioned itself as a scrappy insurgent nipping at the heels of bigger, more established companies. That’s code for Samsung, if it wasn’t clear. But every time, OnePlus’ value proposition was that it wasn’t charging you for stuff you didn’t care about so it could give you the best of stuff you did care about: speed and screen quality, mostly.

Which meant that OnePlus never really challenged Samsung directly, not really. The Galaxy and Note line of phones had two advantages over OnePlus phones. First, Samsung has had a remarkable run of deep carrier support in the US, with its phones getting more prominent placement and marketing support than competitors like HTC and LG. Second, Samsung’s phones always have every single feature you would expect on a “flagship.”

On the first, let’s be clear that much of that carrier support was fully earned through the quality of Samsung’s phones, not just co-marketing deals. Setting aside that one Note that had an unfortunate tendency to self-immolate, Samsung’s phones have been consistently reliable and good. Samsung’s willingness to let carriers lade their software onto its phones never hurt, either.

This year, really for the first time, OnePlus is now competing for US carrier attention much more directly. After some tentative support from T-Mobile, it now has a partnership with Verizon. Both Verizon and T-Mobile have apparently opted to go with the regular OnePlus 8 instead of the 8 Pro. I suspect they’re simply trying to position OnePlus as the less-expensive alternative to the Galaxy S20 and I further suspect that OnePlus ain’t even mad about it. That’s the core of how the brand started, after all.

But with the OnePlus 8 Pro, OnePlus is directly challenging Samsung’s other historical advantage: specs. There’s no longer a clear, spec-based reason to pick a Samsung Galaxy S20 phone over a OnePlus 8 Pro. Forced to decide, I’d argue that it’s a choice between a somewhat more consistent camera on the S20 and faster, cleaner software on the 8 Pro. But as I concluded in my review, it’s really a coin toss.

So the OnePlus 8 challenges Samsung on carrier relationships and the 8 Pro challenges it on features and specs. It could add up to a quite elegant story of a scrappy insurgent slowly building up its capabilities to take on a giant.

That is a nice story, but it doesn’t really match the reality of OnePlus. Though the company doesn’t like to talk about it, it’s a part of the huge conglomerate called BBK that also owns Oppo, Vivo, and Realme. Phones from those companies often bear more than a passing resemblance to each other, or at least their technologies have. Oppo’s new flagship Find X2 Pro does the same 1440p/120Hz trick as the OnePlus 8 Pro, for example.

It is a little surreal that we kind of just let OnePlus have its upstart narrative, knowing all along that it’s much more complicated than that. But I’ve made my peace with it — after all, we let GM have Saturn once upon a time. It’s possible to be an innovative division within a larger organization. Whether that’s what’s really happening or whether it’s just effective PR doesn’t matter as much as the quality of the phones. Reader, the quality is good.

One last note, one that almost became a rant that subsumed my entire newsletter today: I think Android users are getting a bum steer in 2020, and I blame Qualcomm and the US carriers.

That’s because while 5G is further along than I expected it to be at this point, it’s still nowhere near widespread enough or good enough to be a must-have. And yet to get a top-tier Android phone in 2020, you have to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 — which only works with Qualcomm’s 5G modem. I don’t know for a fact that a version of the 865 that worked with 4G would be significantly cheaper, but I strongly suspect it would be.

Which means that if you want to buy a flagship Android phone this year, you have to pay a 5G tax. And that tax simply isn’t worth it, not yet.

Streaming Wars

NBCUniversal officially enters the streaming wars with Peacock launch. What a weird rollout. It’s going to specific Comcast customers throughout this month, then there will be wider availability in July. This is not splashy at all, and it definitely positions the service in my mind as a thing for Comcast customers and not a full-on Netflix / Disney+ / Hulu / CBS / Prime / etc competitor. I don’t know if that’s the goal (it probably isn’t), but it’s definitely an effect. (Disclaimer: NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast, which is an investor in Vox Media, which owns The Verge.)

Disney Plus’ butt cover-up hides a much bigger problem. They covered up Daryl Hannah’s butt in Splash, an early Tom Hanks movie. This is a Big change that will Cast Away all your beliefs about movies, leaving you Sleepless in Seattle and then putting you on the Road to Perdition. Disney’s decision to alter history really puts them in A League of Their Own — they’ve chosen to Sully their reputation.

Sling is offering free TV every evening for new customers. Great that they aren’t asking for a credit card to use this, so you won’t have to remember to cancel it later.

Sony is giving away Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection to PS4 owners. This isn’t streaming news but it’s a thing to do on your TV. I’m just about done grinding through the last of the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy, so this offer couldn’t come at a better time. Kudos to Sony for offering it to everybody, not just PlayStation Plus subscribers.

Pandemic & tech

Unemployment checks are being held up by a coding language almost nobody knows. A very Verge story from Makena Kelly. Sometimes tech happens so fast we assume that anything can be spun up or switched out with ease. But that’s an illusion.

Colorado — like most states and territories across the country — is experiencing record unemployment numbers. But the state’s unemployment system is built on aging software running on a decades-old coding language known as COBOL. Over the years, COBOL programmers have aged out of the workforce, forcing states to scramble for fluent coders in times of national crisis. A survey by The Verge found that at least 12 states still use COBOL in some capacity in their unemployment systems. Alaska, Connecticut, California, Iowa, Kansas, and Rhode Island all run on the aging language.

Your temperature might never be 98.6 — and that’s normal. Amazing video by the Verge Science team.

Apple and Google have a clever way of encouraging people to install contact-tracing apps for COVID-19. Casey Newton provides more detail on the system being developed. Importantly, Google and Apple have promised to wind it down someday. For Android, it’s getting distributed through Google Play. That’s great for phones that have Google apps, but gets complicated for phones that don’t — like Huawei’s phones and everything sold in China.

Here’s how Apple and Google will track the coronavirus with Bluetooth. Chaim Gartenberg explains the opportunities and limitations of Bluetooth LE for this context.

Apple makes user location data from Apple Maps available to help COVID-19 relief efforts. This is good, but at this point I think that Apple, Google, and Facebook should find a way to aggregate their aggregated data.


Boosted board riders turn to each other after the company’s collapse. If you have a Boosted board, definitely read this story by Sean O’Kane. Actually, read it no matter what. The internet is at its best when these small communities of support get formed.

VanMoof’s less expensive S3 and X3 e-bikes leak. Thomas Ricker notes the price is as much as $1,000 less than the previous generation, but should still be better — the price decrease comes from volume and supply chain. Really hoping that, as with smartphones, this becomes a trend.

The company’s third-generation electric bikes have been overhauled with new brakes, a new saddle, improved electronic shifting, and an updated front-hub motor

More from The Verge

Google is reportedly building its own processor for Pixels and Chromebooks. Ina Fried at Axios has the scoop. Here’s the thing: if Samsung hasn’t been able to break Qualcomm’s US dominance with its Exynos processor, I sort of doubt Google has a great chance. Google is surely good at certain types of silicon, but this is a whole different level. I hope Google is trying because we need competition, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up just yet.

The chip, apparently codenamed “Whitechapel,” may be an eight-core ARM processor built using Samsung’s 5-nanometer process, according to Axios. The processor could be optimized to run Google’s machine learning technology and may have a portion of the chip designated to improve Google Assistant’s performance, according the report.

OnePlus announces the Bullets Wireless Z headphones. Low key these might the OnePlus things I’m most excited about. When I go out into the world again I’ll be embarrassed to be wearing neckbuds all day long. But at home? They’re way more comfortable and convenient than truly wireless earbuds. No digging them out of a case when it’s time to hop on a video call or when I want to listen to music. Less funny looking on those calls than proper big cans. They’re the fancy sweatpants of Bluetooth headphones.

Wear OS smartwatches are now sending reminders to wash your hands. I spend a lot of time dunking on Wear OS, so let me just say this is smart and was released in a timely manner. Bravo.

Animal Crossing’s turnips are bringing the internet together. Ashley Carman interviews the people making tools to game the Stalk Market.

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