OnePlus Phones get a OneMinus for Accessibility

The time has come to upgrade my Android phone. Two and a half years ago I got an Essential Phone. I enjoyed the stock Android experience, but the company went out of business. Major operating system updates stopped, and my battery has begun to lose its charge. Say what you will about Essential, but they addressed every accessibility issue. I use TalkBack, Android’s screen reader for the blind, so this meant a lot.

I read a number of reviews of the leading Android phones as of July 2020. Critics consistently recommended the OnePlus 8 Pro. It runs their own version of Android called OxygenOS. A quick search turned up a Stack Exchange post telling sighted people how to turn off TalkBack, so I knew that the built-in accessibility gesture would work. I decided to opt for the OnePlus 8 because I didn’t need the better display or wireless charging.

It arrived the next day from Amazon and I began setting it up. I found one or two unlabeled controls during the installation, but nothing which stopped me. I did not like having the fingerprint sensor in the glass so I could not feel it, and OxygenOS did not provide any spoken feedback. I found that Face ID worked more accurately in many environments, but neither worked perfectly.

I transferred all of my information with OnePlus Switch. I even got my music and ringtones. I appreciated the full sounding stereo audio. I talked to some friends using Signal and TeamTalk, and they all said that I sounded better than I did on the Essential Phone. I instantly saw the appeal of the three-position ringer switch. I found the shape of the phone ergonomically pleasing. I began to love my OnePlus 8. Then I got a phone call.

TalkBack told me to swipe up with two fingers to answer, but it did not work. I tried several times, getting more frantic with each futile swipe. I only had a blank screen and a ringing phone. I could not find any controls to activate. Nothing worked. The phone stopped ringing, and I got a voicemail message. I called voicemail and brought up the keypad. The buttons did not work! I found an unlabeled button at the bottom of the screen which I hoped would hang up the phone. Luckily, it did.

I used another phone to make more calls and had the same result, and with it the same terrible realization: I had purchased a shiny new smart phone which wouldn’t let me answer the phone! Clearly they had done no accessibility testing. It felt like a slap in the face.

A web search turned up a post on their community about the inaccessible swipe gestures], and another specifically about the keypad issue. Obviously they never resolved either. The path of least resistance became clear.

I returned the OnePlus 8. It currently sits downstairs, waiting for the UPS courier to bring it back from whence it came. I learned my lesson. I will stick with stock Android from now on. I wonder which phone I should buy.