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OnePlus 6T smartphone review


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A hero phone without the sky-high price

The Good The OnePlus 6T offers top-notch hardware including a lightning-speed processor and an excellent camera for hundreds of dollars less than its competitors. For US customers, it works on Verizon's network.

The Bad The phone doesn't have a headphone jack or a water-resistant design. Its in-screen fingerprint reader should work a tad faster.

The Bottom Line The OnePlus 6T is the most affordable, top-notch Android you can get. But if you already have the 6, don't feel the need to update.

This is how I know I'm in a tech bubble: When I'm with colleagues and peers at work, mostly everyone is familiar with OnePlus. But once I step out into daylight, say, when someone at a party asks what I do and then follows that up to ask what phones I like, I'm always caught off guard when they say, "OnePlus who?"I don't blame them. After all, OnePlus' main advertising method is word-of-mouth, pop-up shops and a strong social media and online presence. Altogether, it makes for a loyal and enthusiastic fanbase. But with no brick-and-mortar retailers stocking its products, no (prior) carrier relationships and no commercial advertising in the US, it makes sense that people here have hardly heard of the brand -- despite it now launching its ninth phone, the OnePlus 6T.

The company is trying to change that though. Though its phones work unlocked with GSM networks including AT&T, OnePlus is partnering for the first time with a carrier, T-Mobile, to sell the 6T starting Nov. 1. And while it has no commercial relationship with Verizon, the 6T is certified to work on the network. I tested it and it indeed makes calls and connects to LTE with a Verizon SIM. It doesn't work on other CDMA carriers like Sprint, however.

This is a good thing because if you're looking for a top phone, you should know about the OnePlus 6T. In a market where premium phones that go for more than $700, sometimes topping even $1,000, it offers much of the same top-tier hardware -- including a speedy Snapdragon 845 chipset, great dual-rear cameras and the latest Android Pie -- for hundreds less. (For specifics, check out the price chart below.) It's also the first widely available phone in the US to feature a fingerprint sensor embedded inside its display.

OnePlus 6T pricing

Phone Storage RAM Price
OnePlus 6T 128GB 6GB $549, £499 (AU$774 converted)
OnePlus 6T 128GB 8GB $579, £529 (AU$817 converted)
OnePlus 6T 256GB 8GB $629, £579 (AU$887 converted)

Faithful OnePlus fans are already privy to all this. And they might actually be disappointed in some of the 6T's changes, including the lack of a headphone jack and a higher starting price than before. The price was bumped up because the baseline storage option doubled from 64GB to 128GB.

But whether you knew about the company for years or just heard about them today, the OnePlus 6T is a fantastic phone that costs much less than its competitors. And if the company continues to make inroads with carriers and retailers in the US and other countries, it won't be long before I won't have to explain what it is at my next social gathering.

So if you don't know OnePlus by now, it's time you do.

OnePlus 6T's forward-looking in-screen fingerprint scanner

Though available on other phones like the Vivo Nex, Oppo R17, Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition and Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the OnePlus 6T wins bragging rights as the first in the US to have a fingerprint-on-display scanner (or FOD). That means you can scan your fingerprint on the front of the display to unlock your screen. It also means that the phone can have really thin bezels all around.

By putting the fingerprint scanner inside the screen, OnePlus claims it'll also eliminate the extra step of picking up your phone to unlock it. But I didn't notice any big improvements in my day-to-day life. When the phone is already in my hand, I have to look for the (relatively small) sensor area on the display and scoot my thumb down to use it. When the reader was on the back of the OnePlus 6, my grip would stay the same and I'd just move my finger (without needing to look for the sensor) to unlock my phone. 

Also, while the FOD works fast enough the majority of the time -- and OnePlus claims that at 0.34 seconds, it's the fastest FOD sensor -- there were instances when it didn't appear to work as quickly as the dedicated fingerprint scanner did on the OnePlus  6 (which could scan your fingerprint at 0.2 seconds). It might just be a hair of a difference, but from having used the 6 regularly, I can feel that split second variance.

If you're not feeling the in-screen fingerprint scanner, you can still use your face or a PIN to unlock the phone. But know that this is just the beginning for FOD. Other companies are getting into it, including Samsung, and 100 million phones are estimated to ship with it in 2019

It's not gimmicky that OnePlus included it in the 6T, as it looks like it could be a major feature in future phones, and I suppose it's always nice to be one of the first. But it could stand to work faster and take up a larger area on the 6T, so there's definitely room for the company to improve for the next iteration.

Because of the space the FOD takes inside the phone, OnePlus also lopped off the headphone jack on the 6T, joining the likes of recent iPhones, the Google Pixel 3 and others. The company confirmed this decision in September, but it may still sting for OnePlus fans who, given OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei tweets from years past, believed the company wouldn't abandon it. But alas, it did.

If you don't already own wireless headphones to listen to music and calls, OnePlus included a USB Type-C to 3.5-millimeter headphone port dongle in the box. As someone who likes her regular wired headphones, the whole move is a drag and carrying around an adapter gets annoying.

Other design takeaways:

  • The onscreen notch is smaller than it was on the OnePlus 6. It's now a less obtrusive "teardrop" instead of a black tab (more like blech tab, amiright?) and I like it. (It makes sense to shrink the notch anyway since the front of the phone doesn't include extra sensors or an infrared camera that, say, an iPhone requires to make Face ID work.) But if you still hate the teardrop, you can blacken the sides that flank it in Settings for a more traditional look.
  • Though it's only apparent when you have both in the hand, the OnePlus 6T is heavier than the 6, and it feels much more dense. For specifics on the phone's measurements, as well as more info on the display, check out the spec chart at the end of this review.
  • OnePlus 6T comes in two coatings: a matte Midnight Black variant and a glossy Mirror Black. I prefer the understatedness of the matte variant. OnePlus didn't mention any other colors in the works for the 6T, but in the past, it released other variants after an initial phone launch (such as red, gold, white, pink and even an obscenely expensive black and white design).

OnePlus 6T serves up Android Pie

Running Google's latest Android 9.0 Pie out of the box, the OnePlus 6T incorporates many of Pie's updates including gesture navigation, adaptive battery (in which the phone learns what apps you don't use often and limits system resources to them) and more options to tweak your phone's settings when it's in Do Not Disturb mode.

There are additional gestures unique to OxygenOS -- that's what OnePlus calls its Android skin -- that you can enable too, though I rarely recall them while using the phone (like drawing "||" on the lockscreen to play or pause music??). But other than that, and a few extras things listed below, OnePlus didn't add much else to the OS. I welcome this, given that one of my favorite things about OnePlus phones is its minimalist take on Android and lack of bloatware.

More software tidbits:

  • The accent color can be any color. This is an unimportant thing, but I'm jazzed that accent theme colors aren't limited to eight shades any longer. You can choose any color now, and even search by hex code. Woo!
  • Smart Boost works in the background and helps to launch your frequently used apps and games faster. I haven't used the phone enough to notice any differences, but OnePlus claims the feature improves launch speeds by 5 to 20 percent.
  • Activate Google Assistant by long-pressing the power button (coming soon). Though not available at the time of release, you'll be able to launch Google's voice-powered digital assistant by the power button. You can still access it in other ways, like saying "OK Google" or long-pressing the onscreen home button.

OnePlus 6T camera: Minor but welcome improvements

Though all hardware specs between the 6 and 6T's cameras remain the same, OnePlus updated the latter's software to take brighter, more detailed shots with the overall aim of improving photo quality. And on the whole, the OnePlus 6T has a nimble camera that takes vibrant and sharp photos.

I couldn't discern much of a difference between standard photos of people and portrait photos taken on the 6 and 6T. OnePlus did emphasize that the improvements Studio Lighting bring are subtle, but when I looked at skin tone, exposure and lighting, it all looked the same to me. (There weren't any notable differences when I pulled up the photos' histograms either.) One situation that did stick out though was when I took a selfie with the front-facing cameras. The photo taken on the OnePlus 6T had a bit more contrast and the skin tone was warmer.

With Nightscape though, you can tell the difference. Pictures on the OnePlus 6T had less noise and digital artifacts and retained more details than the OnePlus 6.

The OnePlus 6T also took impressive pictures compared to competitors like the Pixel 3 XL, the Galaxy S9 Plus and the iPhone XS Max. There were times when the OnePlus 6T had a wider dynamic range than the Pixel 3 XL in its default mode, brightening and punching up colors more. But when I switched to the 3 XL's HDR+ enhanced mode, it outperformed the OnePlus 6T. And while the 6T in Nightscape retained the same, if not slightly more, details than the Pixel 3 XL, I have yet to test out the latter's Night Sight feature. (Night Sight hasn't launched to users on the 3 XL yet, but test shots from it already look promising.)

As mentioned before, the 6T took better selfies than the 6. But when set side-by-side with the other three, it didn't capture as much detail, and my skin looked pale in comparison. The Galaxy S9 and iPhone Max Plus also took superior portrait shots, wherein the falloff from the fore- and background looked more natural and smooth. The same bokeh effect on the OnePlus 6T and Pixel 3 XL still looked great, but they did have a few sharp patches. The 3 XL (which renders the effect using only one camera) retained more detail in the foreground, though.

 

Other camera features:

  • Like the OnePlus 6, the 6T can record slow-motion video at 240 frames per second at a big 1080p resolution.
  • Google Lens comes built in. Baked into the Pixel 3 phones as well, Lens uses the phone's camera to identify objects and then gives you information about those objects. Read more about Google Lens.
  • For photo enthusiasts, you can save photos in the raw image format, which retains huge amounts of info compared to the standard JPEG.

OnePlus 6T performance and battery

Equipped with the same Snapdragon 845 chipset as the OnePlus 6, the OnePlus 6T works just as smoothly and steadily as its predecessor, and matches other top Androids with the same processor such as the Pixel 3 XL and Galaxy S9 Plus. Also, its benchmark scores were on par with these phones, but the iPhone XS Max's proprietary A12 chip blew all three phones out of the water.

The speed of the fingerprint reader is fine when it comes to day-to-day tasks, but I'd like it to work even faster. Rendering pictures on the camera's Nightscape mode can also stand to work a beat or two quicker. With everything else though, like launching apps and scrolling through webpages, the OnePlus 6T feels as fast as any top phone I've tried. I couldn't discern any speed difference between it and the Pixel 3 XL, Galaxy S9 Plus and iPhone XS Max, since all are lightning quick and reliable.

I'm not finished with battery drainage tests yet, but a preliminary run clocked over 16 hours for continuous video playback on Airplane mode. That's an excellent time, considering that the OnePlus 6's average was already at a solid 15 hours and 38 minutes. The time puts it in the ballpark of the Pixel 3 XL, which ran for 16 hours and 49 minutes and the iPhone XS Max's battery, which hovered around 17 hours. But the OnePlus 6T can't touch the Note 9's exceptional 19-hour run.

Should you get the OnePlus 6T?

OnePlus 6T vs. OnePlus 6: Besides the longer battery life, you're not missing out if you already have a OnePlus 6. True, there's the in-screen fingerprint reader (if that's important to you) and the smaller notch, but those features are too minor to ditch a five-month-old phone. Plus, you can keep living the wired headphone life.

OnePlus 6T vs. Pixel 3 XL: If you can afford the Pixel 3 XL (and keep in mind there is a smaller, less expensive Pixel 3), you'll get a superior camera and prompt updates as they roll out from Google. But the 6T is a superb, more affordable, alternative given that both phones come with the same processor and a barely skinned version of Android Pie out of the box.

OnePlus 6T vs. Galaxy S9 Plus: The Galaxy S9 Plus has monster battery life and expandable storage, so you can capture tons of photos and video all day long -- and it still has a headphone jack. Get the S9 Plus if that's important to you or even the S9 if you want to save more dough. But if those aren't deal breakers, consider the 6T.

OnePlus 6T vs. iPhone XS Max: Between these two phones, I prefer the XS Max's camera and luxe looks. But it's comparatively expensive, so if you want a much cheaper Android, go for the OnePlus 6T.

OnePlus 6T spec comparison

  OnePlus 6T Google Pixel 3 XL Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus iPhone XS Max
Display size, resolution 6.41-inch AMOLED; 2,340x1,080 pixels 6.3-inch OLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels 6.2-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels 6.5-inch Super Retina OLED; 2,688x1,242 pixels
Pixel density 402ppi 522ppi 529ppi 458ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.20x2.94x0.32 in 6.2x3x.03 in 6.22x2.91x0.33 in 6.2x3.0x0.3 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 157.5x74.8x8.2 mm 158x76.7x7.9 mm 158.1x73.8x8.5 mm 157.5x77.4x7.7 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.53 oz; 185g 6.5 oz; 184g 6.66 oz; 189g 7.3 oz; 208g
Mobile software Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie Android 8 Oreo iOS 12
Camera 16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto 12.2-megapixel 12-megapixel standard, 12-megapixel telephoto 12-megapixel standard, 12-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel 8-megapixel standard, 8-megapixel wide-angle 8-megapixel 7-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor 2.8GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz octa-core), or Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz octa-core) Apple A12 Bionic
Storage 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 256GB, 512GB
RAM 6GB, 8GB 4GB 6GB Not disclosed
Expandable storage None None 400GB None
Battery 3,700 mAh 3,430 mAh 3,500 mAh Not disclosed
Fingerprint sensor Underneath display Back cover Back cover None
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C Lightning
Headphone jack None No Yes No
Special features In-display fingerprint sensor, dual-SIM, Dash Charging, notifications toggle Water resistant (IPX8), wireless charging, Pixel Buds USB-C headphones included Water resistant (IP68), wireless charging, dual-aperture camera, iris scanning Water resistant (IP68), wireless charging, dual-SIM (nano-SIM and e-SIM), Face ID scanning
Price off-contract (USD) $549 (6GB RAM/128GB), $579 (8GB RAM/128GB), $629 (8GB RAM/256GB) $899 (64GB), $999 (128GB) $840 (64GB), $890 (128GB), $960 (256GB) $1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)
Price (GBP) £499 (6GB RAM/128GB), £529 (8GB RAM/128GB), £579 (8GB RAM/256GB) £869 (64GB), £969 (128GB) £869 (128GB), £929 (256GB) $1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)
Price (AUD) Converted: AU$774 (6GB RAM/128GB), AU$817 (8GB RAM/128GB), AU$887 (8GB RAM/256GB) AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (128GB) AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (256GB)

AU$1,799 (64GB), AU$2,049 (256GB), AU$2,369 (512GB)

 

 

Edited by TBO
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