OnePlus 6T Review

Posted on December 10, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 22 Comments

The OnePlus 6T is the best value in flagship-class smartphones, and it offers some subtle improvements over its well-regarded but quirky predecessor. But as I noted in my first impressions article, the 6T also comes with some curious and controversial design choices.

Design

From a form factor perspective, the OnePlus 6T closely resembles its predecessor, and the handset itself is roughly the same size, and just a hair less heavy.

The biggest and most obvious change, of course, is the new notch. Where the OnePlus 6 has what I’ll call a traditionally-sized notch, for lack of a better term, the OnePlus 6T has a much smaller notch with a curved enclosure. It kinds of looks like a hill on the horizon, but upside-down.

The theory here, of course, is that the smaller notch will be less distracting than the previous version, or the even larger notches that we see on handsets like the iPhone XS. In practice, I’m not so sure that’s the case: Weeks into using the OnePlus 6T, I still notice this small notch regularly for some reason. And that never happened with the previous OnePlus handset.

I can’t speak to why this is so—perhaps it’s related in some way to how our eyes process visual information—but it’s real. That said, you can “remove” the notch in software, and because it’s so small, the resulting black color that extends across the top of the display blends naturally into the status bar at the top of the handset. Now that my review is done, I’m going to switch to using that.

Like the OnePlus 6, the OnePlus 6T is encased entirely in glass, a dubious design decision when you consider its breakability and the fact that this handset does not feature wireless charging capabilities. It is at least attractive, but most will want to cover it with a case. As did I.

Display

The smaller notch in the OnePlus 6T results in a bigger, taller display. So where the OnePlus 6 featured a 6.28-inch 19:9 AMOLED display running at 2280 x 1080, the OnePlus 6T hits 6.41-inches with an even taller 19.5:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2340 x 1080. Those additional pixels don’t result in a higher pixel density, however: Both handsets provide the same 402 ppi.

This is roughly how much the OnePlus 6T display (left) is than that of its predecessor (right): Not much

It’s 2018, so we have to have a conversation about using a 1080p display in a flagship smartphone. This will be controversial, since Samsung, of course, uses very high-DPI displays in its flagships. But Samsung also ships those devices at a lower resolution to help with battery life. And Apple’s iPhone XR provides a lowly 828p display that hits just 326 ppi.

So it appears that OnePlus may be on to something: That the right balance here is a reasonably high-resolution display instead of a crazy high-DPI unit because it will result in better battery life.

I think the display is gorgeous and colorful, and it hits a very bright 575 nits of light, which helps with outdoor usage. Also helping matters somewhat, OnePlus provides both a night mode for removing glaring blue light at night and a unique reading mode for apps like Pocket, NYTimes, and Amazon Kindle that changes the display to gray-scale for a better experience.

Hardware and specs

As always, the OnePlus 6T arrives with high-end specifications that should embarrass the makers of other flagship-class handsets. RAM choices include 6 GB and 8 GB, depending on the model, which is about double the RAM you get on other smartphone flagships. And for the 6T, OnePlus has upped the base storage to 128 GB, where others still offer just 64 GB at the entry level. There’s a 256 GB choice, too, but no microSD storage.

Like its predecessor, which was released just six months ago, the OnePlus 6T is powered by an 8-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and Adreno 630 graphics. From a benchmark perspective, one should expect this handset to score identically, or nearly so, with its predecessor, and it does, hitting 2368 on the Geekbench 4 single core test and 8987 on the multi-core test. (My OnePlus 6 review unit scored 2429 and 8880, respectively, back in July.)

Connectivity is excellent, and improved over the OnePlus 6. So in addition to the expected worldwide GSM coverage, the 6T is the first to support Verizon’s CDMA-based LTE network. That said, it doesn’t support Verizon’s older networks, nor does it support Sprint. Beyond this, the 6T ships with dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX and aptX HD for improved wireless audio, and NFC too. There is a dual-SIM card tray for those that wish to access two different networks without the inconvenience of removing and replacing cards.

Like all OnePlus flagships, the OnePlus 6T retains the firm’s best-in-market fast charging, and it ships with a fast charger in the box. (Unlike, say, Apple.) OnePlus claims simply that this technology will provide “a day’s power in half an hour.” My real world tests suggest that you’ll get about 60 percent of a full charge in that time, which is excellent.

Battery life is excellent, and it should be improved over that of the OnePlus 6. Where that phone featured a 3250 mAh battery, the OnePlus 6T comes with a much bigger 3700 mAh unit.

Less excellent, the OnePlus 6T inexplicably doesn’t include wireless charging capabilities, as do all other flagship smartphones. And in keeping with the flagship normal, the 6T unfortunately drops the headphone jack too. At least the firm provides a USB-C to headphone jack dongle in the box—Apple doesn’t—and it’s even color-coded red like the firm’s charging cables, a nice touch.

While we’re focusing on things the OnePlus 6T doesn’t have, it’s worth pointing out that the firm has not gone to the expense of getting its handsets tested for water resistance. OnePlus says only that its handset is “splash proof,” and while I suspect it would survive a quick dunk in a sink or toilet, I’d hate to have to test that theory.

Cameras

The OnePlus 6T ships with exactly the same camera system as its predecessor, which is a bit surprising given how much weight flagship smartphone buyers give to this important feature. But you go to war with the army you have, and in this case, it’s a dual rear camera system with a 16 MP Sony IMX 519 main sensor and a 20 MP Sony IMX 376K secondary sensor, each with a f/1.7 aperture. The main sensor supports both optical and electronic image stabilization, but the secondary sensor supports neither.

(The front-facing camera, with its 16 MP fixed-focus Sony IMX 371 sensor and f/2.0 aperture, has likewise not changed.)

Camera systems like this are pretty well understood at this point, and while OnePlus did literally nothing to improve the hardware, there were apparently some deep-level software improvements—which, to be fair, are also coming to the OnePlus 6—that should improve quality and lower noise across the board. But I can’t say that I’ve seen a perceptible change in general camera quality.

More noticeably, OnePlus has added a number of useful new software features to its Camera app that do improve matters.

Key among them is a new Nightscape mode, available from the Camera app’s overloaded overflow menu, that works like a bit like the Night Sight feature from Google’s Pixels by letting in more light in low-light situations. This helps you avoid using a distracting flash, but it also requires you to hold the handset pretty steady for a few seconds. Long story short, it works surprisingly well, but it requires a lot of post-capture processing time. And Nightscape is preferable to the processed low light effects you get with Samsung’s flagships by default.

Pixel 2 XL in Night mode (top) vs. OnePlus 6T in Nightscape mode (bottom)

As with its predecessor, the 6T also supports a nice portrait mode, plus Pro mode, Time-lapse, and Panorama, and a slow-mo capture mode. OnePlus has long provided excellent tools for those that wish to take and edit videos as well.

The OnePlus 6T portrait mode works with non-human subjects, unlike iPhone

Given that the camera hardware hasn’t really changed since the OnePlus 6 (or even the OnePlus 5T, really), nothing here is going to wow anyone with a Google Pixel or modern Apple iPhone. But the OnePlus 6T is still capable of some truly great shots and should be more than adequate for anyone other than professional photographers or those who value photo quality above all else in a handset. With the possible exception of vacations where I want the best possible quality, I would have no issues using the OnePlus 6T as my daily carry.

Security

The OnePlus 6T’s in-display fingerprint reader is arguably this device’s marquee new feature. The question, of course, is whether it works as well as the excellent back-mounted fingerprint reader that OnePlus provided on its previous two flagships.

And … it’s not as fast, overall. It is surprisingly quick when it works, however, but I’ve experienced a few instances—especially when my finger is wet—where it doesn’t work at all. This is especially odd because there’s a green starburst-style animation on-screen at the fingerprint reader, so it sits there animating while not unlocking your phone for an extended period of time. Then you’re finally prompted to use a PIN like its 2007 again.

That said, the OnePlus 6T in-display fingerprint reader is quite a bit faster than Apple’s woeful Face ID facial recognition scheme, and it doesn’t require an additional swipe to actually get into the phone.

The only real issue I have with it won’t impact most OnePlus customers: Because I use so many different handsets, I will often pick up the OnePlus 6T and find my finger moving to where it expects the fingerprint reader; on the back. But what it finds, instead, is the camera flash. This will likely impact new OnePlus 6T users for a short period of time. But once you get used to it, using the in-display reader will just seem natural.

Put simply, I’m surprised OnePlus pulled this off. A first-generation in-display fingerprint reader should be slow, unreliable, and distracting. But it’s not. And while we all have whatever peculiar preference when it comes to signing-in to a phone, the in-display fingerprint readers works great overall.

(If you want even better speed, OnePlus also offers a Face Unlock feature. I don’t recommend this, however, as it most certainly not secure.)

Unique hardware features

Like previous OnePlus handsets, the OnePlus 6T retains the firm’s unique hardware alert slider, which is found above the Power button on the right side of the device. (The volume buttons are on the left.) This textured switch lets you move the phone between three notification modes, Ring, Vibrate, and Silent. It’s such a great thing to have.

It’s hard to photograph, but the textured OnePlus 6T alert slider is right above the Power button

Missing, alas, is the LED notification light that graced the top of the OnePlus 6 and previous OnePlus handsets. The company tells me this was removed in order to accommodate the smaller notch, and that few users used it anyway. (I did not.)

Software

In keeping with its performance mantra, OnePlus specially customizes the Android software that ships on its handsets to provide the best possible performance in as many situations as possible. I normally don’t like to see heavy Android customization. But the OnePlus user experience, called OxygenOS and now based on Android 9, is not particularly egregious.

That said, I still find that OxygenOS looks a bit more old-fashioned that Google’s stock Android, mostly because it uses some old-school icons for things like Phone, Settings, and Camera. But you can at least customize the UI to your heart’s content—by such things as icon packs, gestures, and other features—or just replace it with a third-party launcher.

OnePlus doesn’t overload Android with duplicate apps as Samsung does. But it does provide some useful apps that are missing in stock Android, including Downloads (which is really just a shortcut to the device’s Downloads folder), File Manager, (photo) Gallery, Notes, (audio) Recorder, and others.

There are also some nice OnePlus-specific apps such as OnePlus Switch, to help you move from another handset, and Community, so you can keep up with the company’s forums and support. Don’t like this stuff? You can uninstall all of it. Suck it, Samsung.

Overall, I like what OnePlus has done here, but I’d prefer a more modern default look.

Pricing and availability

Like its predecessors, the OnePlus 6T is priced to sell and is a far better value than any iPhone, Google, or Samsung flagship. The starting price is $550, which provides you with an incredible 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage in an age in which most flagships provide 3-4 GB of RAM and start with 64 GB of storage. Upgrades are reasonable, too: For $30 more, or just $580, you can get models with 8 GB of RAM (!) and 128 GB of storage. Or for $630, you can go for the high-end models with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage.

Doing the math here is almost laughingly quite one-sided in the OnePlus 6T’s favor, but it’s worth examining.

Apple’s cheapest new iPhone, the XR, starts at $750 and provides just 64 GB of storage; to match the OnePlus 6T, you need to upgrade to 128 GB of storage for a total price of $800. So Apple’s most affordable flagship is really $250 more expensive than the OnePlus 6T.

Over in Google’s fantasy land, a 64 GB Pixel 3 XL likewise costs $900, but a 128 GB upgrade lands at $1000, which is $450 more than the OnePlus 6T. And then you have to deal with the possibility of a major hardware failure, given the reliability of that company’s phones. (As I write this, the Pixel 3 XL is temporarily on sale, so a 128 GB version costs $850, which is $300 more than the OnePlus 6T.)

And then there’s Samsung. A 64 GB Galaxy S9+ starts at $740, but the 128 GB version is $790. That’s $240 more than the 6T. And while that’s not as severe as the other two examples, it’s still $240. And it’s worth pointing out that the S9+ is only a few months away from being replaced by a newer version.

From an availability standpoint, most OnePlus customers will purchase a 6T directly from the company’s website. That can be slightly problematic because the firm doesn’t offer any monthly payment plans beyond PayPal Credit payment splitting (with an expensive 26 percent interest rate). That’s not a great solution, so most would have to come up with the full cost of the handset upfront, which might offset any potential savings for many.

But in a first, the OnePlus 6T is also available from a U.S.-based wireless carrier, T-Mobile. So that might be an interesting option for those who can use this carrier and would like to pay for the device over time.

Recommendations and conclusions

Because the OnePlus 6T provides a curious mix of high-end components and missing features, you’ll need to examine the “Cons” list below to determine whether it can meet your needs. The pricing certainly helps: Selling for hundreds less than other flagship-class smartphones, the OnePlus 6T provides incredible value.

For me, none of the missing features—the headphone jack, stereo speakers, wireless charging, and world-class camera key among them—are necessarily showstoppers. But they are concerning, and I don’t feel that OnePlus can use its “no compromises” slogan here without an asterisk. There are many compromises, in fact. Whether they matter to you is, of course, a personal decision.

But its flagship specifications, incredible performance, and reasonably clean Android image make the OnePlus 6T one of the best smartphone choices on 2018. The pricing will almost certainly put it over the top for many.

The OnePlus 6T is highly recommended. Just be sure you can live with its quirks and missing features.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Reasonable pricing
  • Excellent performance
  • Fast and convenient in-display fingerprint reader
  • Best-in-market fast charging
  • Carrier unlocked
  • First OnePlus handset to support Verizon (LTE only)

Cons

  • No headphone jack
  • Single mono speaker
  • Camera doesn’t rival the market leaders
  • No wireless charging
  • Not officially water-resistant

 

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