OnePlus is no longer the rookie you can ignore.
OnePlus is no longer the rookie you can ignore.
There are no shortcuts to greatness and no smartphone maker knows this more than Chinese startup OnePlus.
To fully understand and appreciate the company’s new OnePlus 6 Android smartphone, we need to take a brief trip back a couple of years.
In 2014, the company nobody had heard of had, against all odds, successfully launched its first phone, the OnePlus One.
The sales pitch was remarkably simple: The best Android hardware paired with virtually unmodified (aka “stock”) Android software with prices that’d cost hundreds less than premium phones from Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, or whoever.
Android diehards flocked to OnePlus. Through word of mouth and gimmicky “invite-to-buy” tactics, the company delivered what Samsung and Google’s Nexus devices couldn’t.
This unexpected disruptive momentum went straight to co-founder Carl Pei’s head and in 2015, the young and soft-spoken executive boldly hyped the OnePlus 2 successor as a “flagship killer.” OnePlus even went as far as launching the phone in a cringe-worthy VR live stream.
The OnePlus 2 was a good phone, but it was hardly a threat to any premium Android phones or the iPhone.
That cockiness has haunted Pei for years. But it has also humbled him and OnePlus. The company’s never uttered “flagship killer” since, instead opting for a more restrained “Never Settle” motto that pervades through every product the company makes.
Now that $1,000 phones are slowly squeezing everyone’s paychecks, the stakes in mobile are higher than they were when OnePlus landed on the scene. We’ve never needed a “flagship killer” more than now.
With the OnePlus 6, the company finally delivers on the hype.
The OnePlus 6 is OnePlus’ first phone with a glass back and it was worth the wait. I absolutely love the way it feels.
The Midnight Black (and Silk White coming later) has a frosted glass-like matte finish that doesn’t pick up fingerprints as easily as the Mirror Black.
But I ended up loving the latter more. There’s something special about the way it feels. OnePlus says it feels less like glass and more like ceramic and I totally agree. The glass back is really smooth and extremely slippery and — strange as this sounds — feels thin; it’s polished and there’s a delicateness to the material that’s not like the thick glass backs on my iPhone X or Galaxy S9+.
The glass back is complemented elegantly with an aluminum frame with tapers and curves on the edges that make the phone both visually thinner and easier to hold and use.
Even more jaw-dropping than the new sexy body is the display. It’s a little larger at 6.28-inches (the OnePlus 5T had a 6.01-inch screen), but the top of the screen now reaches the edge thanks to the notch design. There’s still a little sliver of a “chin” below the screen, but at least it’s slimmer than the ones on the LG G7 ThinQ and Essential Phone.
About the notch: It doesn’t bother me at all and shouldn’t bother you. The notch is here to stay so you might as well get used to them now (or turn it off if you really can’t stand it).
As you’d expect, not all apps play nicely with the cutout. I found most Android apps aren’t optimized for the notch (this should change once phones get upgraded to Android P); they’ll just open up in regular rectangular view.
The display sticks to the same AMOLED screen tech OnePlus has used in its previous phones and the resolution is still 1080p (2,280 x 1,080). And frankly, I couldn’t care less. I love a high-res screen as much as the next guy, but I never once felt the OnePlus 6’s screen wasn’t crispy enough.
As far as I’m concerned, unless you’re using your phone for mobile VR (you really shouldn’t be since the Oculus Go is now available and way better), 1080p is still sharp AF. Hell, the Galaxy S9 ships with a display that has more pixels, but by default it’s dialed down to “FHD+” resolution, which — wouldn’t you know it — is the same resolution as the OnePlus 6.
The screen’s every bit as stunning as the one on the 5T. It’s really bright and visible in direct sunlight, has wide viewing angles, and the colors are brilliant.
There’s only one thing about the display that bugs me: The radius of the curved corners are different for apps that don’t yet work with the notch. The asymmetry just looks… off:
The rest of the OnePlus 6 is classic OnePlus.The buttons and the Alert Slider switch (now moved to the right side) are all as lovely as ever — all wonderfully clicky and satisfying to press.
It’s great to see there’s still a headphone jack. The fingerprint reader on the back’s as fast and responsive as the one on the 5T. Same goes for the uber-quick Face Unlock feature (although I wish it worked with sunglasses like the iPhone X’s Face ID).
The speaker’s still mono instead of stereo; it’s loud, but it’s time to get the times with at least one front-facing speaker. There’s still no IP-rated water resistance; the OnePlus 6 is splash-proof like previous phones.
Despite the new glass back there’s no wireless charging of any kind. It’s a bummer, but not a deal-breaker since the phone still has OnePlus’ proprietary Dash Charging tech capable of juicing the phone from 0-60 percent in 30 minutes.
By far, the OnePlus 6 is the company’s sleekest phone design yet, and I’m not afraid to say it makes the Galaxy S9 look and feel dull in comparison. It really puts other premium Android phones to shame when it comes to construction.
ULTRA FAST AND RESPONSIVE
Performance-wise, I can boil the OnePlus 6 down to a simple statement: It’s the fastest and smoothest Android phone, period.
Specs matter to a lot of people, so here’s what you get with the OnePlus 6:
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip
- 64, 128, or 256GB of storage
- 6GB or 8GB of RAM
- 3,300 mAh battery with Dash Charging
- Dual SIM card slots (both supporting LTE)
- Android 8.1.0 with OxygenOS 5.1.3 skin (basically near-stock Android)
And here’s what each model will cost:
- $529 for 64GB of storage + 6GB of RAM
- $579 for 128GB of storage + 8GB of RAM
- $629 for 256GB of storage + 8GB of RAM
Techies will know what all this stuff means, but if you’re not into speeds and feeds, let me translate that for you: Those are better specs than Samsung’s Galaxy S9 or any other flagship Android phone.
On Geekbench 4, a benchmarking app that scores how fast the phone is compared to other devices, my 8GB RAM/128GB storage OnePlus 6 review unit scored a 2,439 single-core score and 9,090 on the multi-core score. In comparison, the Galaxy S9+ mustered a lower 2,150 single-core score and a 7,764 multi-core score.
The OnePlus 6 is a monster when it comes to sheer performance. The only smartphone that beats it (and all Android phones) is the iPhone X, which racked a 4,425 single-core score and a 10,325 multi-core score.
What all this stuff means in day-to-day usage is a speediness and responsiveness like no other phone. OnePlus 5 and 5T owners already know what I’m talking about.
On the OnePlus 6, there’s none of the lag that accumulates after installing all your apps. There’s none of the glitchy animations found on other phones. Suspended apps re-open so fast it’s like they were never paused at all. And 3D games like Asphalt 8 run just a bit better with the new Gaming Mode, which redirects more data to game apps.
Also, the gigabit LTE antennas definitely do their job. I had trouble streaming Cobra Kai (it’s sooo good!) from a hospital building’s deadzone on my iPhone X (it kept buffering forever), but had no issues on the OnePlus 6. Both phones had T-Mobile SIM cards and yet the iPhone X struggled. I ended up giving up waiting for my iPhone X and binging half the series in full HD resolution on the OnePlus 6.
I’ve long been a big fan of OxygenOS, the highly customizable features that OnePlus layers on top of stock Android, and I still have nothing but praise for it. Android skins usually slow the operating system down, but that’s never been the case on for OxygenOS.
If anything, the features OnePlus includes (all of which can be turned off if you don’t want them) greatly add to the stock Android experience. Features like the black-and-white Reading Mode and Parallel Apps (which lets you install two instances of apps like Facebook or Instagram) are still really useful.
One feature I really like is the gesture navigation. Similar to the iPhone X, you can use swipes to replace the Back, Home, and Recent Apps functionality. They take about five minutes or less to get used to and once you learn them, you’ll become a swiping master and virtual buttons will feel archaic.
Of course, you can still stick with your virtual on-screen navigation buttons, but it’d be a waste of the screen’s extra pixels.
In retrospect, I was, perhaps, a little too harsh on the OnePlus 5T’s cameras.
Having been spoiled by the iPhone X’s, Pixel 2’s, and Galaxy Note 8’s fantastic cameras, the same shots from the 5T didn’t hold up… on a computer display.
And that’s where I think I — all of us, to be honest — need to recalibrate my expectations.
Whether we like it or not, the majority of people are not looking at their smartphone-shot photos on a computer. They’re posting them to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. — platforms that are mostly viewed through phone screens.
Few people are looking at photos in their original full megapixel resolution. Few people are scrutinizing image noise on a large computer screen. And fewer people care about the subtle differences between one phone’s cameras versus another because almost all premium smartphones take pictures that look “good enough” for Instagram.
Furthermore, phone screens have leapfrogged virtually all non-professional computer screens. They’re brighter, have better contrast, and can display more colors.
The OnePlus 6’s screen is AMOLED so blacks are truly deep and inky and it also supports DCI-P3, a color space that allows a wider range of colors to be displayed.
Thanks to these better display technologies, it’s no wonder photos are gonna look less vibrant on my MacBook Air or my old computer monitor.
With these factors in mind, I went about judging the OnePlus 6’s cameras. But I didn’t want to examine them in a vacuum so I asked friends and family which photos they thought looked the best — on their respective screens and viewed at screen resolution.
Many friends blindly chose the Pixel 2’s cameras (still one of the top-rated smartphone cameras around). Some liked the Galaxy S9+’s and iPhone X’s shots. But many also preferred the OnePlus 6’s photos. Color accuracy aside, a lot of my friends said the OnePlus 6 photos “popped” or looked “crispy.”
When I enlarged the same photos on a computer screen and showed how color and sharpness compared, I was met with indifference.
Below, I’ve uploaded photos taken from the OnePlus 6 versus the Galaxy S9+, Pixel 2 XL, and iPhone X. They’re all unedited JPEGs and you can click on them to view them in their original resolution.
Have a look yourself and you can see the OnePlus 6 takes some pretty good-looking pictures. The rear dual camera system’s still a 16-megapixel (f/1.7 aperture) main shooter paired with a secondary 20-megapixel (f/1.7) camera as the 5T, but there are few additions that have greatly improved image quality.
First, the main camera now comes with optical image stabilization (OIS), which has virtually eliminated soft-looking photos. Autofocusing is fast and spot on. This is what the 5T’s camera should have been.
And second, low-light performance is much better thanks to a bigger image sensor with larger 1.22-micron pixels to suck in more light. Combined with the OIS, low-light photos are sharper and brighter.
Outdoor shots look great as well. If you look closely at the comparison shots below, you can see how much OnePlus has closed the gap between the Pixel 2 and iPhone X.
Samsung’s Galaxy S9+ has slightly better dynamic range (see the black section below the scaffold in the left corner of the center square frame), but the difference are negligible. Had I edited the OnePlus 6’s photos, they would have looked more pleasing, for sure.
Selfies are crisper than on the OnePlus 5T, too. OnePlus has dialed down the beautifying features so the 20-megapixel front-facing camera takes more realistic selfies.
The Galaxy S9+’s selfies are a little too soft for my taste and the Pixel 2 XL and iPhone X’s — more color accurate as they are — make me look tired like a zombie. The OnePlus 6 strikes a good balance between vibrancy, sharpness, and field of view. Good job, OnePlus.
Almost all phones now come with a “portrait” mode (called “Live Focus” on Samsungs) enabled by dual cameras, and the OnePlus 6 is capable of the same trick.
Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference on how you like your bokeh (background blur).
Like all portrait modes, the one on the OnePlus 6 is far from perfect. But like the other camera improvements, the phone does a great job replicating this faux depth-of-field effect. The bokeh is less intense compared to other phones, but it also doesn’t blur the foreground as much.
You can really see how each phone’s portrait modes compare when you crop in. Pretty sure iPhone X is the big loser here.
The cameras can also record 4K video at up to 60 frames per second and HD-resolution slow-motion at up to 480 frames per second. I didn’t spend an extensive amount of time with either of these features — they’re good as far as I can tell — so if you’re big on shooting video, you have some new options.
It’s incredible how much better the OnePlus 6’s photos look compared to shots on the OnePlus 5T.
When I reviewed the 5T, I harped about how an average camera was unacceptable on a premium phone. A lot of reviewers gave the cameras a pass. I knew OnePlus was capable of shipping a better camera and they really delivered with the OnePlus 6.
Rise of OnePlus
OnePlus can be described in a single word: hungry.
The startup phone maker has been crushing it since the OnePlus 3 and is quickly establishing itself as household phone brand. It’s not quite a titan yet, but if it keeps pumping out high-quality phones like the OnePlus 6, the Android world is in for a nasty reckoning. Samsung should be sweating bullets if it isn’t already.
For $529, the OnePlus 6 gets you performance that crushes Samsung’s Galaxy S9, near stock Android without bloatware, gigabit connectivity, one of the best edge-to-edge displays, extraordinary battery life, and a headphone jack.
If you don’t think that’s a crazy good value for a premium Android phone, you might wanna go to the doctor and get your head checked.
Stunning design and build quality • Most responsive Android phone of 2018 • Stunning edge-to-edge display with small notch • Amazing battery life • Still has a headphone jack • Killer pricing
No stereo speakers • No wireless charging • No IP-rated water and dust-resistance
The Bottom Line
Senior Tech Correspondent