Reviews

OnePlus 6 Review

It doesn’t even seem that long ago that I reviewed the OnePlus 5T, but that’s only because it was four months ago, in January. Tied to making just one phone at a time, OnePlus has to update it every six months to stay relevant, so now we have the OnePlus 6, six months after the OnePlus 5T and not even a full year after the OnePlus 5 before that. This does create some problems but I’ll get into that later. For now, there is a shiny new phone to review.

 

Design

Speaking of shiny, the OnePlus 6 now has glass on the front and back of the phone. The glass in question is the latest Corning Gorilla Glass 5, which goes through multiple processes to achieve the exact shape and finish that we see on the phone.

The OnePlus 6 comes in two color variants and two different back textures. The Midnight Black and Silk White have a matte texture on the back with a smooth, sandblasted finish that gives the glass a frosted look. These variants are much more resistant to smudges and scratches but the downside is that they are extremely slippery.

Then there are the Mirror Black and the Avengers Edition, which feature a glossy, mirror finish back. The Avengers Edition has a carbon fiber pattern underneath the glass but it’s just a visual effect and the texture is identical to that on the Mirror Black model. This texture is extremely grippy and feels nicer in hand but the downside is that the fingerprints show up very easily on these variants. I also managed to get some micro-scratches on my Mirror Black unit within a week of use.

The side frame is made out of aluminum. The aluminum is painted glossy black on the glossy models and matte on the matte models to match the look and texture of the glass.

I do like phones with glass bodies but there is no denying the risk involved. For what it’s worth, I have dropped the phone on its back from a good three feet (accidentally, of course) and the phone was none the worse for wear. Still, that may not have been the case if it had dropped from a higher altitude or on a harder surface. With metal, you don’t have to worry about that.

Apart from that, the phone has a similar footprint to the OnePlus 5T and feels very similar in hand, especially the matte variants, which almost look and feel like metal at first encounter. The buttons have been slightly reworked on the sides and the alert slider is now on the right, which I prefer. The buttons are still nice and clicky and less easy to press accidentally this time around.

Around the back, the fingerprint sensor is located well within reach but I can’t always land my finger on it precisely 100% of the times because it is a bit smaller than I’d like and not being able to see it makes it worse. I still very much prefer having the fingerprint sensor on the front and with the advent of in-screen fingerprint sensors, maybe I won’t have to struggle with these rear-facing sensors for long.

OnePlus claims the OnePlus 6 is somewhat water resistant and able to withstand everyday things like rain or a drop in a puddle. There is no official certificate for the ingress protection, so there is no way to tell to what extent you can push your luck with this phone. Still, a basic level of protection against the elements should be enough for most people who don’t necessarily go swimming with their phones but if you’re the sort of person who does that then this is not the phone for you.

Overall, I really like the design of the new OnePlus 6. The industrial design of OnePlus phones has always been something that has impressed me considerably in the past and the OnePlus 6 continues that tradition. This phone looks and feels better than some twice its price.

 

Display

After the design, the display is the other major change with the OnePlus 6. The phone has a 6.28-inch, 19:9, 2280×1080 resolution AMOLED display with 2.5D glass, curved corners and a notch.

The notch is really what’s new here because quite honestly, this seems like exactly the same panel that is on the 5T but with some additional rows of pixels on top. For those not aware of the controversy, the notch was something that first came into attention when it was introduced by the Essential Phone last year. That phone had the display going all the way to the top edge but the front camera had to go somewhere and since Essential wasn’t content placing it on the bottom bezel like Xiaomi on the Mi MIX, it decided to have a small cutout in the top edge for the camera.

Essential Phone

However, the Essential Phone didn’t sell well (for reasons not related to the notch) so most people don’t blame Essential for introducing the notch. That blame went squarely to Apple and the iPhone X.

When Apple designed the iPhone X, it wanted a completely edge-to-edge display. It’s the only phone on the market today, even a year after launch, where the display goes all the way to the edge of all four corners of the phone. However, once again, the front camera had to go somewhere and as it turns out, the iPhone X has the most sophisticated front camera system on any phone to date due to the extremely complex Face ID system. And thus was born the notch that we know and hate today. Apple placed the entire front camera assembly with all the sensors, earpiece, and microphone inside a cutout at the top edge. I’m sure Apple engineers weren’t thrilled about it either, but it was a necessary compromise with no immediate alternative. What it did result in was a very distinct silhouette, one that would replace the original iPhone silhouette as the new shape and icon for the iPhone. Little did Apple know that it wouldn’t be very distinct for long.

iPhone X

Like clockwork, the Android manufacturers started their photocopy machines and ripped-off the iPhone X design wholesale. Anybody who says otherwise, or brings up the Essential Phone, is deluded. The Essential Phone notch looks nothing like the one on today’s Android phones but the iPhone X notch very much does. But here’s the thing; Apple’s decision to add the notch was born out of a compromise to have the elaborate Face ID assembly somewhere on the front and still have the display go corner to corner. On the other hand, every Android phone on the market today does not have a facial recognition system that’s anywhere as complex as on the iPhone X and they also have a chin. None of these companies need to have a notch, or at least not one that looks like the one on the iPhone X. They do because they want to mimic the look of the iPhone.

I do have respect for engineers at companies like OnePlus, Oppo or Vivo. They do come up with enough clever, inventive stuff on their own. However, this notch trend is an unabashed attempt at bandwagoning, and it’s also nothing new. We have all seen what Android phones looked like before the iPhone X (spoiler alert: they looked like the iPhone 7). As soon as the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X were revealed, suddenly every other phone sprouted a glass back and a notch. The advantages of doing that on Android are largely the same as that on the iPhones; the glass looks and feels better and the notch allows having more display space. But if any company states those reasons as their primary over the obvious one that they had to mimic whatever Apple is doing today because, let’s face it, it has always been Apple who sets the design standards for this industry, then they are just lying. Vlad Savov from The Verge said it the best,

Leaving the notch aside, as I mentioned earlier, the actual panel itself is seemingly identical to that on the OnePlus 5T. When set to the sRGB profile from the settings, the display on the OnePlus 6 is one of my favorites on the market, with excellent color accuracy, brightness and viewing angles.

The display also has a DCI-P3 color mode but it works the same as it used to on pre-Oreo versions of OxygenOS, which means it still sets the entire display to that profile. The way it should ideally work, and the way it does on iOS, is that the display has a maximum gamut of P3 but it will render each element on the display at its native profile. If you are viewing a P3 image, just that image alone will render in P3 color, not the entire display. The rest of the display will continue to render in sRGB. This requires color management and was added by Google in Oreo but not a single OEM that I know of has activated this feature in their build. Even Samsung continues to render the entire screen in a particular gamut instead of rendering items individually. Of course, the latter requires support by the app and hardly any app that I know of supports this feature, including Google’s own Photos and Chrome. So even if manufacturers implemented the feature correctly, it wouldn’t really work until the app ecosystem catches up. This, again, is just one of those things Apple is good at because it so tightly controls its ecosystem and how diligent iOS developers tend to be compared to Android developers at adopting new features.

The touchscreen on the OnePlus 6 is too sensitive for me in the current build. It’s all too easy to select something while just hovering your finger above the screen. Also, because the bezels are so thin on all sides, I end up touching the screen a lot while simply holding the phone in hand while in bed. I also have a habit of holding the top of the phone while holding the phone above me in bed, which also constantly activates the touchscreen. OnePlus needs to not just reduce the touchscreen sensitivity but also add some sort of palm rejection in software.

 

Software

The OnePlus 6 ships with OxygenOS 5.1 running on Android 8.1 Oreo. Basically, we have the latest version of everything and the company has also released an Android P beta for this phone, so we are off to a good start.

The software experience on the OnePlus 6 is near identical to that on the 5T. The only real differences are with how the company handles the notch. You see, because the notch intrudes into the display, it has some very real ramifications on apps that Android makers didn’t fully consider when they decided to ape Apple’s significantly more well-thought out approach.

The notch on Android is part of the status bar. This pushes all the status bar content to the top corners while leaving all the space below the notch for the app. However, the notch is something only you and I can see when using the phone and is not visible to the application. As far as the app is concerned, all of the area at the top of the screen is still accessible.

Now, normally this isn’t a concern. Most apps don’t show anything in the status bar because that area isn’t available to them. All they can do is color the status bar a particular way to match the app, the way, say, Play Store does. However, when the app goes fullscreen, it has full access to the entire display, notch and all. As mentioned before, the app is unaware of the presence of the notch, so if it chooses to display content there, it will be covered by the notch. Imagine having your finger on one side of the screen and covering part of it. That’s basically what happens. For the app, your finger and notch are about the same despite the latter being part of the phone.

You can see this most readily in Instagram Stories. Open stories on a phone with a notch and the top row that shows your progress in the story is partially occluded. Same for any other buttons that might appear there when posting your own story. Then there are games, which, too, take up the entire display. Also, videos.

Another issue that arises because of the notch is that the status bar is now much smaller. OnePlus had to move the clock on the left side of the screen because there just isn’t enough space on the right. The right can display about four icons, after which it will just show an ellipsis, suggesting there are more icons that you can see by bringing down the notification shade. The rest of the icons and info is then stacked below the first row in what is basically a second status bar.

There is a solution to the first problem of the notch covering your content. The phone just lets you disable the notch, which prevents apps from accessing the area around it. Basically, the app can now only access the area below the notch when in fullscreen mode. You can enable it system-wide, which blacks out the notch everywhere or do it on a per-app basis. This doesn’t solve the second problem, where you still can’t have more than a handful of icons at the top; the icons still stay in the area next to the notch even after it is blacked out.

The OnePlus 6 also has very large diameter curved corners, which can crop into content such as games pretty aggressively. Stupidly enough, when you disable the notch, the fake curved corners it generates for the top edge of the display are smaller and don’t match the big curves for the bottom edge.

Another new and noteworthy feature in OxygenOS is gestures. Technically, it’s not exclusive to OnePlus 6, as it was actually introduced on the OnePlus 5T a few months back and the implementation on the 6 is identical. Nevertheless, the 6 is the first OnePlus to ship with it out of the box.

The gestures are basically what Apple ships on the iPhone X, but worse. You swipe up to go to the homescreen from any app. Swipe up and hold opens up the overview or app switcher. To go back, you have to swipe up from near the corners on the bottom edge.

The gestures are, honestly, just the worst. I am a huge proponent of gesture-based UI because of how intuitive they tend to be once you learn them but OnePlus has thrown everything good about them out the window. The gestures in OxygenOS are shoehorned into a UI that was never designed for gestures. Even though iOS was also never really designed with gestures in mind, Apple somehow managed to make it work and work well. Navigating the iPhone X is an absolute pleasure and the gestures feel fast, fluid and intuitive. The gestures on OxygenOS feel like operating a Rube Goldberg mechanism where the original action and the final output have very little in common. This is largely due to the animations, which haven’t been updated at all to match the gestures and still behave the same way as if you’re pressing the on-screen navigation buttons. They are incredibly jarring and completely break the flow of the action. Also, swiping up from the bottom edges to go back has to be the worst gesture in the history of computing. I understand swiping left is not really an option in Android as it would open the dreaded hamburger menu in many of the apps but this was definitely not the solution.

I tried giving the gestures a chance, both on the 5T when they first released and now on the 6 but after a few days I just couldn’t stand them. I hate on-screen buttons because they take up valuable screen space and for some reason OnePlus just can’t seem to display the right color for the navigation bar as it often tends to be white even in dark apps, which just makes me want to throw the phone at a wall. But despite that I would gladly use the buttons over the gestures any day. I would still like to see proper gesture support on Android one day (the half-assed attempt in Android P beta does not count) but that would require a UI overhaul at a scale that neither Google nor the OEMs are willing to or capable of doing.

Having said all that, I still do love OxygenOS a lot. Sure, I would have the software on a Pixel phone any day, not just for the clean UI but Google’s performance optimizations that other Android OEMs are, I’m now convinced, simply incapable of doing. But, OxygenOS, for me, comes closest to that experience that I covet so much on Google’s smartphones. It is relatively clean, generally well-thought out, sensibly specced and performs brilliantly most of the time. OnePlus phones really are a joy to use when you aren’t fussing around with gestures because of how smooth and fast they are. The inclusion of relevant and useful features is also commendable and everything feels like it belongs there. This is one balance Chinese OEMs often simply do not get right and when there is a choice between having a clean, simple UI and one loaded with features, they often go with the latter. But ever since OxygenOS first released, OnePlus has always erred on the right side of that scale and their phones are better for it.

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I would even go as far as saying I actually prefer OxygenOS to the super stock version of Android we find in the new Android One devices. As it turns out, stock Android is only really good when Google is working on it and most Android One devices I’ve used feel a bit rough around the edges. OxygenOS, on the other hand, is a mature platform with a sensible outlook to design and features and I generally find it more pleasing to use. It helps that it always comes on flagship hardware, which means it always gets the best chance to show what it can do.

Coming back to the Android P part, it’s nice that the company has not only pledged support for an upcoming update but has also released a beta and promised to keep updating it as we get closer to the final build. Of course, OnePlus is not the only company to do it but it’s nice that they are doing it at all. Still, one thing I have noticed with OnePlus in the past is that their software updates are only quick till they launch a new device and then suddenly their focus shifts to the latter. Ask any previous OnePlus device owner about the software update history and you will hear about a precipitous drop in updates following the launch of a successor. It’s not as bad as it used to be (I still feel bad for OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X users sometimes) but nevertheless, it is still a thing and I hope it would be less of an issue going forward.

 

Performance

OnePlus phones have always been fast and the OnePlus 6 is no exception. While there is a good amount of optimization underneath, it helps that OnePlus also uses noticeably short times for all the animations, which makes things just instantly pop into view and create a sense of speed. It’s actually quite a simple trick that you can do on any Android phone to save a few milliseconds off your time but for some reason everyone just ships the stock animation speeds and in some cases (like with Samsung) makes them even longer and more painful.

The thing with UI speed though is that there is definitely a point of diminishing returns and we are now starting to see it with Android as we did on iOS a couple of years back. The phones released this year aren’t really all that faster than the ones that came out last year even though there is a very measurable increase in the hardware capabilities. You can only animate UI so fast before it doesn’t noticeably get any quicker. The OnePlus 6 especially feels no faster than the 5T that came before it. Of course, the difference would more pronounced after two years, when the 5T would start showing its age and the 6 would still have enough gas in the tank for another year or so. That is really what separates high-end smartphones and the more budget ones these days; while cheaper phones have gotten faster and don’t feel all that much worse compared to something like the OnePlus 6, the OnePlus 6 is guaranteed to maintain its performance two years down the line while the cheaper phones simply won’t.

I also love how fast both, the fingerprint sensor and the face unlock, are on this phone. The fingerprint sensor is instantaneous as long as I manage to place my finger correctly on it at first attempt. Face unlock too works uncannily well all the time and although it’s not as secure as Face ID on the iPhone X, I’d rather have this over that and use a fingerprint sensor for the more secure stuff.

Other aspects of the OnePlus 6 aren’t necessarily as fast. The USB transfer speeds continues to be slow as molasses due to the outdated USB 2.0 interface. For phones that now come with up to 256GB storage, having such slow transfer speeds can be really annoying.

The audio quality through the loudspeaker is also godawful. I thought we were past having truly terrible speakers on phones these days until this showed up. OnePlus phones never really had good speakers on them but the 6 is particularly bad, possibly due to the beefed up ingress protection. The 5T doesn’t have a great speaker either but sounds considerably better in comparison.

 

Camera

The OnePlus 6 has a dual camera system on the back consisting of a 16MP f1.7 primary and a 20MP f1.7 secondary. While the secondary camera on the OnePlus 5 was a telephoto camera and the one on the 5T was dedicated to shooting in low light, the secondary camera on the 6 is just a depth sensor that enables portrait mode and improves focusing time. Why the sensor had to be 20MP for such a simple task, I’m not sure. Probably because it looks better on a spec sheet.

The camera app is really good. It has all the necessary features and is easy to use. I just wish the HDR and flash buttons were toggles instead of a menu but apart from that there isn’t a lot for me to complain about here.

Before getting into the image quality, I must preface this with saying that my review unit was running an early version of the OS and the devices that will be shipping today will most certainly have a newer version. If there are any major changes between now and then, I will update the review but for now I will just talk about the software and hardware I have in my possession.

The OnePlus 6 actually has a really good camera. The images are sharp with a really nice level of detail and great texture but without a lot of oversharpening. The colors look vibrant but natural and the camera also nailed the white balance every time. The dynamic range is pretty good, which is just as well because the HDR mode doesn’t work very well and just makes the image more contrasty. The exposure is just a touch on the brighter side, which can cause some images to look a bit washed out but it’s not a big deal.

The low light image quality is also quite good. Images are detailed and bright and there isn’t a lot of noise in them. Some small bright sources of light such as lamps can still get overexposed at night and there was no easy way to fix it but that’s about all I could fault.

The camera app has a 2x zoom mode, a remnant from the OnePlus 5 that had a telephoto lens. It’s strictly digital zoom now but it actually does a decent job and it can be hard to tell until you zoom right into the captured image.

The portrait mode also works quite well most of the time and was able to separate human subjects from the background quite well. I still don’t like using a wide-angle lens for portrait use, though, as it tends to distort the subject compared to a telephoto lens and also has too much of the background in the frame. I really wish OnePlus had kept and improved upon the telephoto lens on the 5.

Compared to the camera on the 5T, the 6 is a big step ahead. In daylight, the 6 images are sharper, clearer and have better texture. The dynamic range is also significantly improved and the images look less contrasty. In low light, the images are brighter with significantly improved detail. The big improvement comes from the OIS on the 6, which completely smoothes out camera shake and gives much clearer images compared to the somewhat blurry images on the 5T.

The OnePlus 6 also has improved video features. The camera can now capture 4K at 60fps in HEVC but you don’t get EIS in that mode. For that you have to record in 30fps, where you get both, OIS and EIS. The phone can also record slow motion video in 1080p at 240fps and 720p at 480fps.

It’s this latter that I found the most fascinating. Unlike the cool but finicky 960fps mode on the Galaxy S9, the 480fps mode on the 6 can record continuously for one full minute, which doesn’t sound much at first but when you realize it will be slowed down 16x, that’s essentially 16 minutes of footage.

The results were really impressive. I did manage to get some cool looking videos out of this mode and because you can record for so long you really don’t have to worry too much about timing your moment just right as you can just trim later. The video is of course soft and not really 720p in quality but looks good enough on the phone’s screen.

The 1080p at 240fps was also not bad. The video is much sharper and it’s also a wider frame than the 720p mode. It’s not as slow as the 480fps mode but you can still get some cool looking footage with it.

The 4K60 mode can be a bit jittery due to the lack of EIS and the higher frame rate only makes the jitter more noticeable. The 4K30 mode has excellent stabilization and is more suitable for everyday use but has a tighter crop and a softer image.

Overall, I was impressed by the camera improvements on the OnePlus 6. I’ve never particularly been impressed by the quality of images from OnePlus phones but the 6 is the first one that I wouldn’t mind using as my daily device.

You can find all the same images and videos here in full quality.

 

Battery Life

The OnePlus 6 has a 3300mAh internal battery. The battery capacity is the only spec on this phone that’s underwhelming, especially since past OnePlus phones have had larger batteries. OnePlus does pair it with a fairly aggressive battery management software so the end result is still a good day of usage. I was about to get 5-6 hours of use out of the phone with about a day of standby time, which is was usually enough to get through the day. However, the battery management is a bit too aggressive and caused apps like Truecaller to stop working. The good thing is that you can disable it on a per-app basis or disable it entirely across the device.

The charging system on OnePlus phones has always been one of the best part of the device. Called DASH charging (for now), the feature allows the most absurdly fast charges I’ve ever come across on any device. Getting 50% charge in about 30 minutes of charging is easy and removes the stress associated with charging your phone in time. The bad thing is that both the charger and the cable are proprietary and there are no power banks currently available that support DASH charging.

Lastly, OnePlus missed the opportunity to add wireless charging to the phone. Metal bodies prevent the induction charging feature from working but that’s not an issue with glass. Unfortunately, likely to save costs, the feature was left out of the OnePlus 6.

Update: After two months of daily use, I have to conclude that the battery life on this phone is no longer decent and I’m finding myself charging a lot more often. At this point I would rather call the battery life disappointing, especially the standby time, which even by Android standards is bad.

 

Pricing

The OnePlus 6 is available at three price points.

At the base ₹34,999 price point, you can only purchase the Mirror Black variant in 6GB RAM + 64GB storage. For an undemanding user, this is a great option and unless you are the sort of person who needs a lot of storage space, it’s great value. Just know that there is no expandable storage on the OnePlus 6, so the 64GB is all you’ll ever have.

For ₹39,999 you have a choice between Mirror Black, Midnight Black and Silk White. The latter two are matte, which might be more to taste for some people. All three come with 8GB RAM + 128GB storage, making them future proof.

Lastly, for ₹44,999 you can get the Avengers Edition. This phone has the same finish as the Mirror Black but a cool looking carbon fiber pattern underneath, along with a gold Avengers logo, gold OnePlus logo and a gold alert slider. The software has some extras, such as a gold theme, some Avengers wallpapers (not that great) and a clock widget with the Avengers typeface. The best part is the Iron Man case that’s part of the packaging. This variant also comes with 8GB of RAM but 256GB of storage. The extra storage and the exclusivities do make the higher price worthwhile so if you have a flexible budget then this is the one to go for.

 

Verdict

For the first few days of using this phone, I was having an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I felt like I had already used this phone before, not too long ago, and that wasn’t all that surprising. People give Apple and Samsung shit for not innovating enough every year for their new phone but OnePlus is on a bi yearly cycle and has even less time between models to do something truly new. Besides, there is also a new model coming in six months, so the current one has to leave a few things on the table for the next one. As such, there is a sense of same old, same old with the OnePlus 6, especially for people like me who has used every OnePlus phone since the first one.

But, not every person is a phone reviewer and for those coming in from a two year old OnePlus 3 or some other device, there is a lot new here to like.

The design is genuinely impressive; the display is very close to being edge to edge and it’s the closest I’ve come to experiencing like I’m holding just the display on an Android phone. The effect can truly be striking at times, especially with a good wallpaper. The glass back, while not the most robust, also looks stunning and feels great to hold. Little things like the alert slider and the feel of the buttons is also what elevates OnePlus design above others for me.

The display, too, is great. Sure, the notch can be a bit annoying but with Android P, things should get better as Google has added official support for the notch in the OS. As long as the developers update their apps for it, it will soon become a non-issue.

The performance, as usual, is excellent. It is one of the fastest phones available on the market and costs half as much as the other phones that feel similarly quick. It also takes great pictures now, has decent battery life and has insanely fast charging.

With a starting price of ₹34,999, the OnePlus 6 takes the mantle from the 5T to become the best phone in this price range. It’s not perfect but there’s no other phone that offers so much value for this much money. If you’re on 5 or 5T, I’d suggest wait another year. For everybody else, this is the new phone for you to buy.


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