OnePlus 6 Review

Posted on July 14, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 24 Comments

Like its predecessors, the OnePlus 6 is a better value than other flagship smartphones. But the compromises that OnePlus makes here are a little bit harder to justify than was the case previously.

Design

For the past few years, OnePlus has unashamedly aped the designs of its more expensive flagship competitors. Some seem to take great exception to this, but I think it’s a brilliant strategy. Is, indeed, the very point of OnePlus: To provide the best of the smartphone world, and to do so for less.

Last year, the OnePlus 5T provided an elegant, tall and thin design that matched what the other flagship phone makers were offering. This year, the OnePlus 6 once again follows in the footsteps of the market leaders, albeit in more dubious fashion, by providing a notch that intrudes into the top of the display.

I am convinced that notches will prove to be a short-term side-branch in the smartphone evolutionary tree, and that we will one day look back and laugh at these designs. But I also believe that most users will get used to this occlusion with use. And that, in keeping with the OnePlus mantra, most of its customers actually want—and expect—this design element.

More important—and I can’t believe I’m writing this—I am at peace with the notch. And in keeping with OnePlus’ claims, the notch does allow for a taller and thus larger display, with smaller bezels. This is especially true at the top of the handset, which looks similar, in design, to the iPhone X.

(Don’t like the notch? No worries: There’s a way to “disable” the notch in software so that that entire area is blacked out and unavailable to apps.)

Getting past the notch, the other major design change for the OnePlus 6 is that it’s covered entirely in glass. This is normally done to aid in wireless charging, but the OnePlus 6 lacks that capability. Instead, the firm chose glass for aesthetic reasons.

I’m not a fan of this decision. Glass does look great, especially in the glossy Mirror Black color of my review unit, but only until you actually touch it. In real world use, glass is a fingerprint and dust magnet. Worse, it’s more fragile than metal and will need to be covered with a protection case. Which renders the entire experiment pointless, in my book.

You’re going to want a protective case

One final note on the design: OnePlus moved the dual camera placement on the back of the OnePlus 6 to the top center of the handset’s rear and they’re oriented vertically above the fingerprint reader. On the OnePlus 5, the cameras were in the top left of the rear and oriented horizontally, as with the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus. Why the change? I’m not sure, but it means that upgraders can’t use their existing cases, which is unfortunate.

Display

As with the OnePlus 5T, the OnePlus 6 features a stunning AMOLED display with bright colors, deep blacks, and truly white whites. (Whites on my Pixel 2 XL are much bluer.) But thanks to its notched design, OnePlus was able to elongate the display of its flagship even further this, moving from the 6-inch 18:9 design found in the OnePlus 5T to 6.28 inches with a 19:9 aspect ratio in the OnePlus 6. The resolution is up, too, and for the same reason, from 2160 x 1080 to 2280 x 1080.

Some will complain about the relatively low resolution of the display. But I’m not having it: This display is gorgeous, and using a 1080p-class display helps where it matters most, with performance and battery life. Only the Galaxy S9+ display outperforms it in day-to-day use.

The display features curved corners this year, too, where the display corners on the OnePlus 5T were sharp and straight-edged. I like the look quite a bit: The curves are prettier and more natural than those on the Pixel 2 XL, for example. Better still, the OnePlus 6 display is both brighter and more vibrant than that of the Pixel 2 XL. (Where the Google handset hits about 500 nits, the OnePlus 6 delivers about 575 nits of brightness.) It’s also easier to use outside.

Add this all up and what we have is a nice improvement over last year’s OnePlus 5T.

Hardware and specs

The OnePlus 6 technical specifications make other flagship handsets look almost laughable by comparison. There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset with Adreno 630 graphics, of course. But where other flagships make due with 3 or 4 GB of RAM, the OnePlus 6 offers 6 or 8 GB of RAM, depending on the configuration you choose. And there is 64, 128, or 256 GB of internal, non-expandable storage, again depending on configuration. (The review unit came with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, which I consider ideal.)

As you might expect, performance has always been fast and fluid. And while I haven’t used the phone long enough to see whether “Android rot” would take its toll, I never experienced any issues.

From a benchmark perspective, the OnePlus 6 scored high on Geekbench 4, which make sense given the specs, with a score of 2429 in the single core test and 8880 in multi-core. That’s better than the Samsung Galaxy S9+ (2325/8166). And much better than Snapdragon 835-based handsets like the OnePlus 5T (1944/6581) and Pixel 2 XL (1828/6026).

In real-world terms, I tried to figure out whether the improved specs would make for a better performance experience. But when I played PUBG Mobile, I experienced identical boot times and play experiences on both the Pixel 2 XL and the newer OnePlus 6. I’m not sure what to make of that. But the OnePlus 6 is no slouch, and its newer processor and more RAM should make it more future-proof.

(OnePlus does offer an excellent Do Not Disturb Mode for Gaming, too, which further enhances the usefulness of this handset for gamers.)

Connectivity is excellent, unless you’re a Verizon (or Sprint) customer, that is: The OnePlus 6 supports virtually every other carrier worldwide, plus it provides dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5 with aptX and aptX HD (for improved wireless audio), and NFC. There are also dual SIM capabilities again, which makes it possible to configure the phone for two different wireless carriers.

Charging happens over USB-C, as expected, and the phone comes with fast-charging support, as noted below. But what I’m really standing up and applauding is that OnePlus is continuing to support a headphone jack, a feature both Apple and Google have foolishly walked away from.

While the hardware components are generally top of the line, the OnePlus 6 is still missing some features one should expect of a flagship smartphone. These don’t detract from it being a better value than true flagships, but it may make the OnePlus 6 less of a “flagship killer” for some.

The most egregious missing feature, perhaps, is that the device is “splash-proof” but not waterproof. That’s unacceptable here in 2018, and especially for a handset that most will buy online, which makes a replacing a water-soaked phone time-consuming and possibly expensive.

Almost as bad, the OnePlus 6 only provides a single mono speaker, which is of course located on the bottom of the device. Given my experience with stereo speakers everywhere else—it’s available in all recent iPhones, in the Samsung Galaxy S9+, and in my Google Pixel 2 XL–I miss having it here. And that single speaker isn’t particularly impressive, either.

Despite its glass back, the OnePlus 6 also lacks wireless charging. (As noted below, the OnePlus 6 does somewhat make up for this with its fast-charging functionality.)

Finally, the storage isn’t expandable, though this is one area I can explain away: With pricing this inexpensive, there’s no excuse not to get as much storage as you can at purchase time.

Cameras

On the surface, the OnePlus 6 dual rear camera system seems identical to that of its predecessor, with a 16 MP main sensor and a 20 MP secondary sensor, each with an f/1.7 aperture. Even the pixel sizes are the same.

But there are some subtle differences and improvements. The main Sony sensor is 19 percent bigger than before, and it now supports optical image stabilization (OIS). You can also shoot 4K video at 60 fps now, up from just 30 fps.

In general, photo quality is very good.

Yes, I universally saw richer contrast and more detail in the side-by-side shots taken with the Pixel 2 XL. That isn’t all that surprising. But as a daily shooter, the OnePlus 6 doesn’t disappoint. Remember, most smartphone users don’t have the best mainstream phone camera in the market with which to compare.

Outside scene: Pixel 2 XL (left) and OnePlus 6 (right)

You may recall that the OnePlus 5T switched to the lower-resolution secondary camera in low-light conditions and used the main sensor in an accessory capability to help avoid noise. Well, that was apparently a one phone experiment. The OnePlus 6 uses the primary sensor in low-light conditions and the hardware maker seems to be relying on OIS to help with noise.

It works, to a degree: Low-light photos taken with the OnePlus 6 are generally of higher quality, and feature better color accuracy and less noise, than those taken with the OnePlus 5T. Indeed, the color accuracy is quite good, unlike with the Samsung Galaxy S9+, which tries to out-think the photographer in low-light conditions. But this camera is not in the same league as the Pixel 2 XL in such conditions. Again, no mainstream smartphone camera is.

Low-light example: Pixel 2 XL (left) and OnePlus 6 (right)

What hasn’t changed is that these cameras only work together as a system when you enable Portrait Mode. Otherwise, the OnePlus 6 simply utilizes the 20 MP primary sensor for both still photos and videos.

Portrait Mode dog

And Portrait Mode is surprisingly decent. Which is interesting, since this kind of feature often just a gimmick, even on the recent iPhones that popularized it. But the OnePlus 6 does great with edge detection on subjects both animate and inanimate. And I like that Portrait is a top-level camera mode, right next to Photo and Video. Users will be tempted to trying it out, and the on-screen prompts will help them know when they’re getting it right.

Portrait mode flowers

(Sorry to keep beating the drum on this, but the Portrait Mode on the Pixel 2 XL, which I rarely use, is still superior to that of the OnePlus 6.)

Less discoverable and less easily-used, Portrait Mode also supports optional “flair,” which are subtle orbs, hearts, or stars effects you can add to the blurred background of a shot. These can only be enacted at the time of the shot; they’re not something you can add or edit later. (They’re also not available if you use Portrait Mode with the front-facing selfie camera.)

Rounding out the still photo features, the camera also supports a Pro mode, Time-lapse, and Panorama, as before.

Camera app’s Pro mode

But the OnePlus 6 offers surprisingly rich video and video editing features, too. There’s a new slow-motion video capture mode, and unlike the one in the Samsung Galaxy S9+, I was able to get it working consistently. It provides a 480 fps recording speed for up to one minute, and you can later trim the clip to exactly the part you want.

Speaking of which, you can also access a very useful video editor for normal (non-slow-motion) videos which offers trim, filters, and background music capabilities. Very nice.

Overall, I feel that most smartphone users will be quite happy with the OnePlus camera experience. It takes very good photos and offers incredible video functionality. It is a marked improvement over the OnePlus 5, and outperforms the Galaxy S9+ in some, but not all, areas. No, it doesn’t match up to the Pixel 2 XL, but that’s a very high bar. (And the OnePlus 6 is the better handset, overall.)

Unique hardware features

OnePlus continues to have one of the fastest fingerprint readers on the market, and it’s located on the back of the device, where it belongs. That said, it’s no longer fingertip-sized and round for some reason, like the version on the OnePlus 5T, which was ideally shaped. And I find it a bit harder to accurately hit the new, smaller, and oblong fingerprint reader on the OnePlus 6.

Following in the dubious footsteps of Samsung, OnePlus has also added a fast but insecure Face Unlock feature to this device. I strongly recommend not using this feature, as it is insecure and easy to fool.

Like previous OnePlus flagships, the OnePlus 6 provides something unique in the Android world, an alert slider that is textured so you can find it by touch. This year, it’s on the right edge of the device, above the power button. (It was on the left edge, above the volume buttons, on the OnePlus 5T.) And the functionality has changed a bit: The switch now toggles between Ring, Vibrate, and Silent modes, whereas the modes were Ring, Do Not Disturb, and Silent on the 5T. It’s an excellent addition.

The OnePlus 6 also provides an LED notification light in its notch so that you can optionally receive a visual cue–in the form of a pulsing light—for notifications. I leave this off, but I can see where it would be desirable to some.

And continuing the tradition of its predecessors, the OnePlus 6 provides fast-charging capabilities via its proprietary and bundled Dash Charge cable and charger (which are required for this feature to work). And it works: You can obtain about 50 percent battery life in just 30 minutes and be fully charged from a dead phone in just over an hour.

Speaking of which, I didn’t perform any formal battery life tests, but the handset comes with a large mAh battery. And I found battery life, at least anecdotally, to be excellent. And on par with that of my Google Pixel 2 XL, which features a 3520 mAh battery.

Software

While I generally take a hard line stance against egregious Android customization, the OnePlus 6 take on this—called OxygenOS and based on Android 8.1—is at least well-intentioned. It’s optimized for performance, and many feel that it provides a cleaner Android image than does Google’s stock image.

There is some truth to this, though I find the stock theme to be a bit old-fashioned compared to stock Android, and reminiscent of the look and feel of my 2015-era Nexus 6P. Fortunately, OnePlus provides several icon packs, and you can get more from the Google Play Store. So you should be able to find a look and feel you like.

Aside from a handful of customized or unique apps—like File Manager, Gallery, Notes, and few others—the biggest contribution that OnePlus makes to Android in this release is tied directly to the taller new display: You can replace the stock software-based navigation bar with unique on-screen swipe gestures, providing your apps with access, literally, to the entire display. (Well, sans the notch.)

This is a bit different to what we see on some other Android handsets, which often let you toggle the display of the navigation bar. But it also requires you to actually learn the OnePlus gestures, so you’ll need to devote some effort to that.

Overall, I like the OnePlus approach to software, despite some of the old-fashioned icons.

Pricing and availability

OnePlus provides several OnePlus 6 models for purchase. Each is an incredible value given their respective specifications.

The entry-level model offers 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage and is available only in Mirror Black, a glossy take on the most traditional smartphone color. It costs just $529, which is about $30 more than the entry-level OnePlus 5T from last year.

Step up to a $579 price point and you get 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, and your choice of Mirror Black, Midnight Black (a matte version), or Silk White, which is particularly elegant looking. Since starting this review, OnePlus has also added a stunning new Red version of this model as well.

At the high end, OnePlus also offers a $629 configuration with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage in Midnight Black only.

To put these prices in perspective, an iPhone X with 64 GB of storage costs $999, almost $400 more than the equivalent OnePlus 6. A similarly-configured Samsung Galaxy S9+ would set you back $840, about $300 more than the OnePlus 6. And a 64 GB Pixel 2 XL costs $750, about $220 more than the OnePlus 6. The math is fairly obvious here.

OnePlus backs your purchase with a one-year warranty. You can extend this warranty for one more year for $32. But the firm also offers optional 12- and 24-month protection plans at a cost of $72 or $140, respectively. Since these plans cover accidental spills and cracks, you might seriously consider this option.

OnePlus also sells a nice selection of protective cases and accessory bundles. Due to its glass body, a case is strongly recommended.

Recommendations and conclusions

Like its predecessor, the OnePlus 6 is highly recommended. It is an unparalleled value and a viable alternative to far more expensive flagship handsets like the Apple iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy S9. The issues I have with this phone are minor, but many, so be sure to scan the “Cons” column below for any deal-breakers. And then consider how much it would cost to purchase a flagship alternative. I suspect that many will find that the OnePlus 6 is the right choice.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Low price, great value
  • Flagship specs with excellent performance
  • Beautiful display
  • Modern design
  • Headphone jack
  • Carrier unlocked

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • No wireless charging
  • Single mono speaker
  • Not compatible with Verizon (or Sprint)

 

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