Tech Guide

This Android smartphone has a well-deserved cult following – and it’s about half the price of the Samsung Galaxy S8

Key Points
  • The Midnight Black 3T is the latest phone from Android cult favorite OnePlus
  • It feels like an $800 phone at about half the price, and is speedy with no carrier contract required
  • But don't expect timely software updates, and the company has bad rep for support
Todd Haselton | CNBC

There's a smartphone brand you might not have heard of, but if you're looking for a solid new Android phone at a bargain price, it needs to be on your radar.

People line up for OnePlus

The company is named OnePlus and it offers excellent Android phones for almost $300 less than the Samsung Galaxy S8.

It's built a cult following among Android users. It's the only other brand besides Apple whose fans will line up around a full city block just to buy a new smartphone. I saw it with my own eyes with the launch of the company's OnePlus 3 last year.

These fans flock to buy a flagship-level smartphone at a price that often costs half as much as what other smartphone makers charge. OnePlus is also known for its customizable software and gorgeous industrial design. Pick one up, and you'll feel like you're holding an $800 phone, even though it costs several hundred dollars less.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Its most recent release, the OnePlus 3T, was launched in November, and the new Midnight Black Edition arrived on my desk this morning.

I'm suddenly reminded why people are head over heels for OnePlus.

Style and speed

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The OnePlus didn't make its name with cutting-edge hardware features. With the 3T, you won't get a glimpse into the future of smartphones as you do with the newest Samsung Galaxy phone: no curved display, iris scanner or virtual reality support.

But you will get a stylish and extremely fast phone at a bargain price.

The 3T has software that was optimized to run quickly, plenty of ways to personalize the phone to your taste, a great camera, terrific battery life and an all-metal smartphone design that's otherwise reserved for devices that cost several hundred dollars more.

It also has nice practical touches for busy travelers, like Dash Charging, which gives the device a full day's juice after just 30 minutes at the outlet, and support for two different SIM cards, which means you can use one SIM at home and leave another in for when you travel abroad.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The OnePlus 3 is also one of the few phones on the market that still offers audio profiles through a dedicated hardware button, which means you can easily switch between silent, do not disturb, and ring modes -- helpful if you're in and out of meetings all day.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The OnePlus 3T is unlocked, which means you aren't tied down to a carrier. In the U.S., it'll work on T-Mobile or AT&T -- just walk into a store and request a SIM card and a data plan. Since you aren't chained in, you can cancel your service with either carrier without having to worry about paying an early termination fee, or the full price of a leased smartphone. (Be sure to read my thoughts on how to free yourself from wireless carriers for more on the topic.)

What you see is what you get

Todd Haselton | CNBC

There are some caveats to know about, however.

First of all, what you see is more or less what you get. OnePlus has faced criticism for leaving some of its older phones running older versions of Android, which may not have the latest features and may not be as secure as the newer versions. So don't expect timely software updates on the 3T after it ages.

OnePlus also has a pretty bad reputation for support.

It does offer a good deal on insurance for accidental damage: a 24-month plan sets you back $80 -- that's about $3 a month, or half the price of most other insurance plans, and is cheaper than the $100 you'd spend to replace a cracked screen on most phones.

But you'll save some dough…

Todd Haselton | CNBC

But the best part about the OnePlus 3T is the price.

It starts at just $439, and the premium model with twice the out-of-box storage of the Galaxy S8 costs just $479. If you're shopping for a new Galaxy S8, you're looking at a starting price of $720, and that's for the entry-level model. The iPhone 7, meanwhile, starts at $649 with half the storage space as the OnePlus 3T.

If you're ready for a new phone but don't want to spend the big bucks necessary to get one of the flagship phones from a big name like Apple or Samsung, it's worth getting to know OnePlus.