We often think of the mobile versions of console or PC games like Fortnite as the lesser ones, sacrificing visual fidelity and performance in order to make them playable on a less powerful, portable device. But phone manufacturer OnePlus has made a notable stride in closing the gap. Through a direct partnership with developer Epic Games, the new OnePlus 8 phone is capable of running Fortnite at a higher framerate than even the console versions of the game following its new update.
The OnePlus 8 is the company's latest phone and it's the first one that's able to run Fortnite at 90 frames per second, which is no small feat. The phone's Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor has the power capabilities, and the display panel's 90Hz refresh rate allows for the higher frame rate. But it's also the work alongside Epic and the necessary optimizations made to the OnePlus-specific build of Fortnite on mobile that make it possible. We got an exclusive look at this particular version of Fortnite--which is now available--before its release to experience it for ourselves.
On the OnePlus 8, Fortnite will come with frame rate options up to 90 FPS. In selecting it, the overall graphics settings will default to 'Low.' That's the catch. So while it doesn't necessarily look the prettiest, this sort of performance mode makes for the smoothest possible gameplay experience on phones. It's worth noting that resolution scaling remains at 100% as well, running the game at the phone's native resolution of 2400x1080.
It's also still impressive that the OnePlus 8 can run Fortnite up to 'Epic' graphics settings at a fairly consistent 60 FPS, too. High-end Apple phones such as the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max and beyond are capable for running Fortnite at 60 FPS (while the iPad Pro can hit 120 FPS), but with the OnePlus 8, not only is an Android-based phone reaching this level of performance, it's offering something beyond that.
In my experience, the advantage of 90 FPS doesn't exactly have the same effect on a phone as it does on a PC where quick, twitch reactions and the precision of mouse aiming will truly reap the benefits. However, it's noticeably smoother than 60 FPS and a world of difference from 30 FPS, which most Android phones (and the Nintendo Switch) run the game at. While we haven't been able to track exact frame timings and metrics, it's been able to maintain amid chaotic firefights on screen without perceivable frame drops. One thing I noticed was that the backplate would get quite hot near the camera, and in a situation without a phone case, you'd need to be careful in how you hold the phone. And naturally, running 90 FPS will force the phone to work harder and likely draw battery life faster than it would otherwise. Still, it's technologically impressive and showcases the power you can pack into a phone for gaming.
In speaking with OnePlus chief marketing officer Kyle Kiang, he revealed that this is a product of a 10-month partnership with Epic Games. He mentioned that by December last year, the team was working with a custom build of Fortnite and began testing a month later with constant optimizations throughout the subsequent months. The achievement is a big deal to OnePlus, and as Kiang stated, "It's the first time there's been a smartphone that can run Fortnite and the Unreal Engine at 90 FPS."
Kiang talked through some of the reasons OnePlus has been able to achieve this in its short six-year history by saying, "One of the reasons we were successful in the early days was that our approach was a bit different, making one product at a time, very focused on the quality of the user experience for people that basically wanted a pure Android experience; so no bloatware." He cited a focus on hardware performance to target users that simply want apps to run their best and passing on fancy features, which carved out a niche for OnePlus. "By making those products early on for a really demanding audience, I think we got our product philosophy down pretty well," Kiang said.
OnePlus started by selling its phone directly to customers but has since branched out to other carriers such as T-Mobile (also being the first on its 5G network) and Verizon, and even selling phones through Amazon. Epic Games eventually took notice, which has led to this exclusive 90 FPS build of Fortnite on the OnePlus 8 smartphone (and the 8 Pro that runs 90 FPS but at a higher resolution).
As for what it means for the future of games on phones and how OnePlus fits into that, it's hard to say. I asked Kiang if this is an indication of further developments for games running mobile, to which he simply said, "You can expect this to be a theme for us: performance, high refresh and its natural connection to where mobile gaming is going to go."
Along with the launch of the 90 FPS build of Fortnite, the game will be installable through OnePlus' built-in Game Space app on Android--however, this is currently a regional exclusive feature in India for now. This essentially eliminates the step between phone users looking for the Fortnite app on the Google Play store and instead makes it an integrated option through the Android OS on OnePlus 6 phones and beyond.
In a press release alongside OnePlus' official announcement, Epic Games CEO and founder Tim Sweeney said, "Easy installation with one touch really simplifies the process of installing software, and removes friction usually found on other Android devices." He called this "a big step forward," but when I asked Epic about whether or not we can expect this in other regions, they said there's nothing definitive at the moment.
Whether you play Fortnite or not, the fact that mobile devices, particularly smartphones, have been making strides in delivering console-like experiences is an exciting prospect. And in a way, the OnePlus 8 phone is actually offering a performance feature that consoles simply don't have: 90 FPS. It may not run the game with the utmost graphical fidelity, but if frame rate and better performance is what you're after, OnePlus seems to be a promising option.
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