Speaking exclusively with The Verge in the buildup to his company’s next flagship phone launch, OnePlus CEO Pete Lau has confirmed some rumors and hinted at what we should expect from the next device. The big strategic change is that the OnePlus 7 will be arriving with a plus-one: a super flagship, which will be called the OnePlus 7 Pro and will feature 5G and a significant display upgrade. While OnePlus isn’t yet disclosing pricing, that model can be expected to cost somewhere close to the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S10, Huawei’s P30 Pro, and Apple’s iPhone XS. It will mark OnePlus’ most direct challenge to the top tier of phones, building on the apparent success of the specced-up OnePlus 6T McLaren edition.
What OnePlus really wants to talk about right now is the new display inside the OnePlus 7 Pro variant. According to Lau, OnePlus is spending three times as much on its display this year than on previous models, expecting this new panel to “redefine fast and smooth” and set a new benchmark for mobile displays. “The first time I saw it myself,” the CEO says, “I was stunned.” Other than promising that the OnePlus 7 Pro display will be “super-smooth and very crisp,” OnePlus wouldn’t elaborate on the underlying specs. However, leaks and rumors of 90Hz screens are already floating about, which would be in accord with the teasers about unprecedented smoothness.
So far, only gaming-centric phones like the 120Hz Razer Phone 1 and 2 and 90Hz Asus ROG Phone have included displays with faster screen refresh rate than the conventional 60Hz. In all cases, the argument is that more frames at a time — 90Hz is equivalent to 90 frames per second — ensure a more fluid animation. Razer and Asus use faster frame rates within games, but doing similarly across the entire user experience can also reap benefits, as the 120Hz iPad Pro has demonstrated. Apple’s ProMotion system uses a variable refresh rate, not wasting system resources by pumping out 120fps on a static screen, and if OnePlus is indeed moving to a 90Hz panel, it’ll likely take the same approach.
If you want to get mathematical about it, an earlier teaser tweet from Lau includes the word “smooth” animated with three Os instead of two. And 90Hz is 3/2 of 60Hz, the typical smartphone refresh rate. So maybe the OnePlus CEO has already told us that spec indirectly. He certainly wouldn’t go on the record with much beyond an urging for OnePlus fans to wait and see the device for themselves.
The new OnePlus 7 will be more expensive than the OnePlus 6T, which in turn was more expensive than its predecessor. Lau now faces the challenge of convincing loyal OnePlus fans that yet another jump up in price will be worth it, given how OnePlus phones have vacated their original position as budget-friendly flagship killers. Now the company is trying to supplant the pricey flagships rather than merely undercutting them on price. Then again, Huawei achieved that same feat by improving and upgrading its devices at a faster rate than the rest of the market, and now its flagship P and Mate series of phones are credibly priced in line with Samsung and Apple’s best. OnePlus enjoys the added advantage of not being hated by the US authorities as Huawei is, giving it access to a hugely important and lucrative market that’s willing to spend more to get more.
Two things are apparent from the way Pete Lau talks about his company’s next phones. One is that 5G will be offered, but not trumpeted too loudly. OnePlus appears cognizant of how limited 5G network availability is, both today and in the near future.
More importantly, that new display is a big and risky investment for OnePlus, costing triple the usual price of most phone displays, not just those of OnePlus devices. No matter what additions, tweaks, and improvements OnePlus makes to its camera and other specs on the Pro — and Android Central has a good summary of all the leaked and anticipated specs for both OnePlus 7 models so far — the success of OnePlus’ new, more premium phone will hinge on whether users are as thrilled by the new display as the company CEO is.
Correction, 8:15AM ET, April 22nd: OnePlus originally indicated that the new, extra-smooth display will be on both OnePlus 7 models, however it will only be on the OnePlus 7 Pro. The article has been amended accordingly.