OnePlus 6T First Impressions

Posted on November 5, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 17 Comments

Following in the footsteps of its impressive predecessor, the OnePlus 6T shrinks the notch and adds an in-display fingerprint reader. It’s one of the most eagerly-awaited new Android flagships of 2018. But can it live up to the hype?

I believe it can. In fact, in some ways, the OnePlus 6T exceeds one’s expectations to such a degree that it almost makes a mockery of the hype that accompanies unexceptional handsets, like the Google Pixel 3. It doesn’t just offer better specifications, it’s more future-proof. And it’s far more affordable.

That value always been the key to OnePlus and its products is well-understood. Less well-understood, I think, is that OnePlus has also always done its own thing. That is, the company doesn’t just sell more for less. It creates something unique, in its software and configuration choices, that really differentiates it from the many Android handsets out there in the market.

And these choices are sometimes controversial. In my review of the OnePlus 6, for example, I noted some odd choices for a flagship smartphone, like its lack of stereo speakers, wireless charging capabilities, and waterproofing.

That product design is “all about compromise” is one of the single dumbest things a reviewer can write. And in the case of OnePlus, it’s just plain inaccurate: The firm has reasons for every decision it makes. And rather than caving in some areas so that it can make more positive strides in others, what OnePlus is trying to do is, I think, is create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s trying to do for Android what Apple does for the iPhone.

This is a laudable goal, but as we push forward to the OnePlus 6T, some of the design decisions—compromise or not—are more questionable than ever. After acknowledging that the majority of its user base used the headphone jack in previous models, OnePlus remove it from the OnePlus 6T. It added an in-display fingerprint reader that is slower than the excellent rear-facing reader from previous handsets. And it still doesn’t include those features—stereo speakers, wireless charging, and waterproofing—that I complained about last time around.

And so we’re at an interesting place. And I suspect that the OnePlus 6T, despite its incredible value, will be a hotly-debated topic in these circles for months to come.

So let’s start the debate. A OnePlus 6T review unit arrived today, and I’ll be using it as much as possible over the next few weeks to see whether it improves on its predecessor and still offers a unique value in the suddenly-overpriced world of smartphone handsets.

On paper, the value is real. OnePlus outfits the 6T with an incredible 6 or 8 GB of RAM, depending on model, far more than the measly 4 GB that Google uses in the Pixel 3 and 3 XL. It features a tiny, teardrop-shaped notch that makes the Pixel 3 XL’s buck-toothed monstrosity look even more embarrassing by comparison. It’s built with premium materials and suffers from none of the reliability issues that continue to dog Google. And it starts at just $550, a full $350 less than a comparable Pixel 3 XL. Even the value-priced iPhone XR, which costs $800 for a 128 GB configuration, is hundreds of dollars more expensive.

From a high level, the OnePlus 6T looks a lot like its predecessor. But my review unit is a matte black, as opposed to the shiny black of the OnePlus 6, that I prefer.

OnePlus 6 (left) and OnePlus 6T (right)

It’s also a bit thicker and heavier, though this is something I’d never have noticed if I were looking closely at both side-by-side.

OnePlus 6T (top) and OnePlus 6 (bottom)

The camera hardware looks identical—which, of course, it is.

And the various buttons and sliders found on the OnePlus 6 carry forward unchanged: The OnePlus 6T still includes the alert slider that is unique to this lineup.

On the bottom of the phone, the headphone jack is conspicuously missing. So the USB-C port is bordered on each side by two identical sets of holes, with the microphone on one side and the phone’s solo speaker on the other.

OnePlus was nice enough to bundle a USB-C to headphone adapter dongle in the box, which is the minimum, methinks.

What it doesn’t bundle is a pair of USB-C headphones—even Google does this—though the review unit came with a set.

Headphones not included

Looking at the two phones side-by-side, I can also see that the OnePlus 6T is just a tad taller. The difference is just about the exact height of the Android status bar. More notable, perhaps, is that the teardrop notch is possible one-third the size of the perfectly reasonably-sized notch in the OnePlus 6. That said, this new design means that OnePlus had to remove the LED notification light. (Which I disabled anyway.)

Initial set up was a multi-step affair, with OnePlus adding its own screens for configuring the in-display fingerprint reader and various OnePlus-related options midstream.

You can enroll your finger AND your face!

This type of thing has become problematic in mobile, in my experience. So where Windows 10, for example, requires just a few interactive screens, both Android and iOS really put you through the options wringer before you can use the device.

I’ve only taken a handful of test photographs so far—literally, the phone arrived less than two hours ago–but I’m struck by the accurate color reproduction and clarity. I realize this camera will never challenge the one in Google’s Pixel handsets, but it has me wondering if I could live with it day-to-day. I know that most people would be quite satisfied with it.

Still life sample shot

Anyway. I’ll keep testing the phone, and if it’s possible, I switch the OnePlus 6T onto Project Fi—a configuration that is not officially supported—and actually use as my day-to-day handset. Either way, I’ll have more soon.

 

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