by Andrew Heinzman on
If you find yourself constantly plugging and unplugging HDMI cables from your TV, then it may be time to buy an HDMI switch.
When it comes to Android manufacturers that offer insane bang for your buck, OnePlus is often at the top of that list. The company’s latest handset is the 6T, an iterative update from its predecessor, but a powerhouse nonetheless.
This is my first time reviewing a OnePlus phone—rightfully so, given the issues I’ve had with the company in the past. But like all companies, OnePlus had growing pains (a lot of them, in fact), but it seems that it has finally “grown up” so to speak. This company is far from the one that started by launching a campaign asking users you smash their phones just for a chance to buy a new one. Nay, OnePlus seems like a grown company with a more mature outlook.
Given the apparent difference in the company at this point, I thought it was finally time to take a closer look at what it has to offer with the 6T. This is a lot of phone for the money, and now that OnePlus should be on more people’s radar, it only makes sense to answer the question: should you buy this phone?
This phone starts at $550, which is a pretty small price tag for everything it has to offer. If you’re not familiar, here’s a quick look at the goings on under the OP6T’s hood:
That’s pretty much the bulk of what you need to know, but if you’re itching for all the gory details, you can find those on the 6T’s Tech Specs page.
With the hottest specs on the market right now, this phone flies. My review unit is the Midnight Black model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (which retails for $580), and it has yet to leave me wanting for anything in the performance department. It’s an absolute beast.
But that’s what’s expected from a flagship phone these days, right? Smartphones are at a point where we don’t talk about well they perform anymore—not because it isn’t important, but because it’s implied. A flagship phone should be a speed demon. It should do what you want and need it to do without so much as a hiccup. It should surpass expectations.
Good performance doesn’t sell phones anymore. It’s requisite.
And the OP6T delivers on that requirement in spades.
You might expect a $550 phone to not have the fit and finish of a $900+ phone, but that’s where you’d be wrong—the OP6T feels great. And it looks damn good too. Like I mentioned above, my review unit is the Midnight Black model, which is just absolutely sleek as hell. Flat black is one of my favorite colors for any hardware as it is, and the OP6T delivers a damn nice looking phone with a sleek matte finish. So clean.
The biggest issue I’ve found with the build is that it’s slippery without a case. That may not be true for the Mirror Black model, which is glossy and could have a bit more tackiness to it, but it’s true for the model I have. Fortunately, OnePlus has some killer first-party case options though, so you’re in luck there. I’m currently using the “Protective Case” (what a name, right?) in Sandstone. It’s super grippy and very minimal. I generally don’t like cases, so as far as they’re concerned, this one is pretty great.
Left: The back of the 6T; Right: the “Protective Case” in Sandstone
So yeah, overall it’s a good build. Everything is solid as a rock, and there’s nothing to complain about there. It is, however, missing one key feature that I think should be on all flagships in 2018 (and beyond): waterproofing. The OP6T is not water resistant or waterproof—at least according to the OnePlus website. It never explicitly states that the phone isn’t water resistant, but searching for the word “water” yields no results—which just means it doesn’t have any sort of protection against water. Because if it did, they’d, you know, talk about it.
The keen-eyed among you probably noted that the subhead reads “features”—as in plural. More than one. There’s only one other hardware feature that I feel like the OP6T could’ve had to make it even nicer: wireless charging. But hey, this is a $550 phone with the same internals (or in some cases, better) as most modern flagships. They have to cut some corners to keep the cost down. In this case, waterproofing and wireless charging where those corners. At least they’re things most people still consider “optional”—at least for the time being.
Al that said the 6T does have some unique hardware features, too—like its display-embedded fingerprint scanner. While it’s not the first of its kind, it’s one of the first that we’ve seen in a phone so widely available. In my experience with the 6T’s fingerprint scanner tech, it has been just as accurate as other recent fingerprint readers, albeit a bit slower. At its press conference for the phone, OnePlus talked up how fast the 6T’s in-display scanner is, which is true most of the time. Still, it’s not as quick as unlocking my Pixel 2 XL with the fingerprint scanner, but it’s also not so slow that I don’t want to use it. For the most part, my experience with the 6T’s fingerprint scanner has been fine, though I’ve had more instances of it not working than I ever have with any other Android device in recent years. Take that for what it’s worth.
Also for what it’s worth, I would’ve rather seen a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor on the 6T if it meant lowering the cost of materials enough to add waterproofing or wireless charging without raising the price of the phone—just my two cents.
Finally, I want to talk about the display for a second. There have been reports of some funky stuff with the screen on the 6T, but I haven’t experienced anything of the sort on mine. The display is probably one of the highlights of the phone. It looks great, but again, that should be part for the course on a 2018 flagship phone.
Android is unique in that manufacturers are allowed to almost do with it what they want—that means customizing it to the hilt like Samsung or leaving it stock like a Pixel. OnePlus falls somewhere in the middle with its version of Android, which is called OxygenOS, keeping a mostly stock feel but still offering a decent amount of extra customizations.
On the surface, it looks and functions a lot like stock Android. The launcher is of OnePlus’ own variety and isn’t terrible as far as manufacturer launchers go, with a pretty standard set of features and customizations along for the ride. For example, you can set custom icon packs or toggle notification dots. The leftmost page of the launcher is what OP calls the “Shelf” and serves as a kind of catchall for your digital life—Memos, quick access to contacts, favorite apps, device usage, membership cards, and other widgets can all be added here. It’s kind of like Apple’s Today screen mixed with some Android flare. It’s kind of a neat idea, but I didn’t find it particularly useful. I personally much prefer Google’s Discover page there, like on the Pixel Launcher.
Left: The “Shelf”; Middle: Notch “enabled”; Right: Notch “disabled”
The Settings menu is where you’ll find most of the changes and optimizations offered by OxygenOS, though there aren’t an overwhelming number of options here. You can, for example, customize the battery entry in the status bar to your liking, with both bar and circle options available. Other customization examples include the option to disable the notch if you’d like (this is very cool), as well as change the menu and accent colors. I find the visual options on OxygenOS to be just enough—it lets you customize the bigger visual options in the OS without being overwhelming. It strikes a great balance between stock and personal.
But it’s not all about looks, either. OnePlus offers three different navigation options on the 6T: the traditional back-home-recents navigation, Google’s [terrible] gesture navigation (as seen on the Pixel 3), and OnePlus’ take on gestures, which is one of the better options currently available on Android. You’re free to use whichever you like, and transitioning between the three is pretty seamless.
There’s also a section in Settings for “Utilities,” which is where you’ll find the rest of OP’s features that don’t fit anywhere else. Gaming mode, parallel apps, scheduled power, pocket mode, and quick launch are all here and may or may not be things you find interesting. Again, many of these are features we’ve come to expect from non-Google handsets, but they’re also tucked out of the way if you don’t want them. As I’ve already mentioned, OnePlus does a great job of offering customizations that stay out of the way—use them if you want, ignore them if you don’t. The balance in OxygenOS is nearly perfect for both Android purists and those who want a little more pzazz from the OS.
Before we move on from talking about software, I want to touch on the 6T’s “face unlock” feature. It sort of angles itself as a FaceID clone, and while it’s the fastest face unlock I’ve ever used on an Android phone (seriously, it’s insanely fast) it’s worth mentioning that it isn’t a true biometric option and won’t work with secure apps like banking or Google Pay. Apple uses IR dot projection for FaceID, and Samsung pairs its face unlock option with iris scanning, both of which verify biometric data for better security. Face Unlock on the 6T is nothing more than a better version of Android’s generally awful “trusted face” feature and shouldn’t be used as an exclusive means of securing your phone.
Remember earlier when I said that a $550 phone is going to have some shortcomings? Well, the camera is another one on the 6T. Don’t get me wrong—it’s an excellent camera for the cost of the phone. But when compared to higher-end phones, like a new Pixel or iPhone, it just isn’t up to snuff. And while I wouldn’t normally consider comparing a phone to one that costs almost twice as much, the 6T positions itself as a flagship level phone, so I think it’s a fair comparison.
In my use of the phone, the camera performance was just okay. It was washed out at times and overly saturated at others. Portrait mode when using the front-facing camera is weaker than any other phone I’ve tried (it’s better when using the rear cameras though since there are two).
Left: Without Portrait Mode; Right; With Portrait Mode. Note the blurring of my shirt and the generally weak bokkeh otherwise.
Overall, it’s not a great camera. It’s not terrible by any means—it’ll get the job done when you need it, but just know that you can get a better camera in a phone (but it’ll cost you quite a bit more). Like I said, for the money, it’s a good camera.
After coming fresh off a month with the iPhone XR, I was spoiled by the insane battery life. I had to spend some time coming back down to earth with the 6T and get used to Android’s not-as-good battery again.
Now, let me make something clear: “not-as-good” doesn’t mean “bad.” The OnePlus 6T probably has the best battery life this size of Pixel (that I’ve used, anyway)—I didn’t even have to charge it most nights. The occasional bump from connected to Android Auto every time I go somewhere was enough to get me through most days, and I only needed to throw it on a charger overnight a handful of times per week.
At this exact moment, my 6T review unit is sitting at 53 percent with over four hours of screen on time since the last full charge. That last bit has to be noted because the phone was charged in the car a little bit last night—again, not enough to fill it up, though. Maybe a 10 percent bump or so.
In other words, battery life isn’t something you should have to worry about with the 6T. Unless you use the absolute snot out of your phone every single day, you’ll be good.
When it comes down to it, it’s pretty easy to call: this is the best phone you can buy for the money. For $550, you won’t phone anything else this good, this fast, or this attractive. Sure, it has some downsides—like the meh camera and lack of waterproofing—but for this amount of money, that’s not a huge deal.
The bottom line is this: if you have less than $600 to spend and want a new phone, just buy this one. You won’t regret it.
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