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May 17, 2018

OnePlus 6 hands-on preview: Still the best deal in town

by John_A

The unlocked phone done right.

If I wanted to cheat you out of a proper OnePlus 6 preview, I’d copy and paste what we wrote only six months ago about the OnePlus 5T. About 90% of the text would still apply, and I’d still heartily recommend you buy it if you want a well-made, relatively inexpensive Android phone with flagship specifications, solid build quality, and a reliable dual camera setup.

I’d tell you that you’re still buying from a company that has a reputation for shenanigans, or worse, and that there are no physical stores to which you can return a defective phone for repairs.

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I’d tell you that, by saving a few hundred dollars from the industry’s cream of the crop, you’re sacrificing a few important features, but nothing essential, and that, at its core, the OnePlus 6 is an uncomplicated and logical upgrade from its predecessor, which was an iterative, progressive jump from its forerunner.

I’d say all that.

But if I were writing a proper OnePlus 6 preview, I’d say all that and a bit more, because, despite its similarities to the OnePlus 5T, there’s still a lot to get excited about here.

See at OnePlus

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A short turnaround

A short disclaimer: Since I’ve only had the phone for a few days, there are things I’m not going to touch on in this preview, like battery longevity or camera quality. Those more involved tests will come very soon.

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A glass menagerie

The OnePlus 6, despite sharing nearly identical dimensions with its all-metal predecessor, has gained a bit of thickness and a sizeable amount of weight, and that’s owing to its Gorilla Glass 5 housing, a first for the OnePlus series. It looks better than any OnePlus phone to date, for sure, but it also looks quite a lot like quite a few other phones on the market right now, including the LG G7, Huawei P20 Pro and, increasingly, others.

Such is the price of maturity, and the OnePlus 6 wears it well. Yes, there’s a notch on the 6.28-inch Optic AMOLED, but the phone is no larger than the OnePlus 5T — OnePlus merely expanded the usable real estate. And while there are some software quirks associated with the notch, particularly in the now-truncated status bar, for the most part, it’s not distracting and the whole thing just works. The screen is good — bright and vibrant, with plenty of calibration options — but like Huawei’s flagships, OnePlus continues to resist the urge to move to QHD. To be honest, it’s no loss.

To accommodate a diminished set of antenna lines, the OnePlus-hardware-staple mute switch has been relocated to the right side of the phone. Given that the right-side power and left-side volume controls are in the same relative positions, this change isn’t that important, but being right-handed I did find it easier to use. Lefties may not feel the same way.

Around back are where you’ll find the biggest aesthetic changes to the OnePlus 6: not only has the dual camera shifted vertical, but the makeup of that second camera is a bit different, too. Actually, that’s not quite true, but the intent of the second camera has changed, which we’ll get to a bit later.

The phone may look familiar, but the quality is second to none for this price.

The rear fingerprint sensor, which was originally added to the OnePlus 5T, is now oblong and ever-so-slightly lower down on the phone, but I’ve come to use it less and less now that the phone’s face recognition is so reliable.

The OnePlus 6 still has a headphone jack on the bottom, along with a single downward-facing speaker — loud, but not beefy — and USB-C port. And for better or worse (but mainly worse), it’s got the same buzzy, overwrought vibration motor as its predecessor.

As far as hardware goes, you’re getting a lot for your money, but it’s clear that OnePlus is still saving strategically, and it’s the small things — screen resolution, haptics, speaker output, wireless charging — where its more expensive competition is taking the conversation.

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The specs don’t lie

Screen 6.28-inch OLED
SoC Snapdragon 845
RAM 6/8GB
Storage 64/128/256GB
Camera 1 16MP rear, ƒ/1.7, OIS
Camera 2 20MP rear, ƒ/1.7
Battery 3300mAh
Connectivity Gigabit LTE, 27 LTE bands
Security Fingerprint, face unlock
Dimensions 155.7 x 75.4 x 7.75 mm
Weight 177 grams
Colors Mirror Black, Midnight Black, Silk White
Price $529, $579, $679

As with all of OnePlus’s updates, specs rule the show here. In addition to upgrading to 2018’s staple flagship platform, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, OnePlus is for the first time offering a $629 256GB storage option to go along with 8GB of RAM.

The $529 base model still comes with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, which should be more than enough for most people, but without expandable storage, many will likely choose to go with the $579 middle option, which pairs 8GB of RAM with 128GB of storage, and also comes in two additional colors — Midnight Black and, starting June 5, Silk White — to go along with the standard Mirror Black.

(All three colors are gorgeous, by the way.)

Like I said before, aside from a few smaller omissions, it’s really difficult to fault the company for any of its specification decisions here, especially if you’re a number counter like many OnePlus customers are. This is the first OnePlus phone to reach gigabit speeds, thanks to Qualcomm’s X16 baseband and the antenna density to support 4×4 MIMO. Unfortunately, despite having the CDMA and LTE bands to support Verizon’s network, the phone is only certified to work on AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S. Oh, well.

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On the upside, the OnePlus 6 is unlocked and has two SIM slots, both of which can access LTE — a first for the OnePlus line.

If you’re after a pure numbers game, the OnePlus 6 dominates the industry.

The 3300mAh battery inside the OnePlus 6 is unchanged in capacity from the OnePlus 5 series, and is down slightly over the OnePlus 3 series, but the company says this one is the longest performer yet thanks to processor efficiencies and software improvements. I haven’t had enough time with the device to evaluate its longevity, but so far I have no reason to doubt OnePlus.

At the same time, 3300mAh is probably enough to get through a day; devices like the Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL, which both have slightly bigger batteries, have enough space to maneuver at the end of each working day, so I’m not too worried.

OnePlus 6 specs: More expensive, more swagger

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The camera’s the thing

OK, let’s talk camera. Every smartphone is only as good as its camera, or cameras if you’re being snarky about it, and the OnePlus 6 makes some important changes to shore up that side of things. But to understand the OnePlus 6’s camera setup, we have to go back to the OnePlus 5, where the dual-sensor combination took shape.

With the 5, OnePlus decided to follow Apple’s and Samsung’s lead by giving its second shooter a focal length double that of the primary, allowing both for “telephoto” shots and, more importantly, bokeh effects through its portrait mode. Like any feature borne of algorithms, OnePlus’s portrait mode wasn’t great at first but improved significantly through software updates. By the time we got the OnePlus 5T, the feature was reliable and, more importantly, fun.

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But the 5T changed the core idea of the secondary camera, shooting (mo’ pun intended) for better low-light shots with a sensor that only kicked in under dark conditions. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that well for such a task, and the OnePlus 5T maintained the company’s reputation for below-average nighttime photography.

With the OnePlus 6, the company is taking a deliberately simple approach — one that’s worked for Samsung, Apple, Huawei and many others. It’s increasing the size of the main sensor — it’s still 16 megapixels, but the individual pixel size has grown to 1.22 microns from 1.12 in the OnePlus 5 — which, along with optical image stabilization (OIS) and a wide ƒ/1.7 lens, should make for much-improved low-light photography. (The IMX519 sensor found in the OnePlus 6 is brand new and other than the Oppo R15, which formed the basis for the OP6’s design, it’s yet to ship in volume.)

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And the 20MP secondary sensor? Well, it’s the same one used in the OnePlus 5T, but its sole purpose is to add depth information for the phone’s much-improved portrait mode. No low-light tricks; no telephoto gimmicks.

OnePlus can’t make up its mind about the purpose of its phones’ secondary camera, so dedicating it to portrait mode makes sense in a reductive way.

I can’t share photo samples just yet, but suffice it to say the OnePlus 6 takes some excellent photos in most lighting conditions, although sheer physical limitations will likely prevent it from competing against phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 Pro at night. It’s inevitable, though, that the Snapdragon 845’s ISP, which has boosted so many phones’ photographic abilities, will help here; in my early testing, low-light photos tuned for high sensitivity (ISO) produced fewer artifacts and less grain and than in any OnePlus device to date.

On the front, we’re looking at the same 16MP sensor as the last two generations, because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

As for video, well — there’s 60fps 4K video (with an unfortunate 5-minute recording limit) along with 480fps slow motion at 720p (or 240fps at 1080p), both new to the OnePlus line. The company’s also touting a much-improved video editor to accommodate both these new features.

OnePlus 6 cases

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As it does with every phone, OnePlus has announced a bunch of first-party cases in a number of materials, colors, and levels of protection. From the simple red silicone to a new ultra-protective and grippy nylon bumper, there’s something for everyone here.

These are the official OnePlus 6 cases you can buy at launch

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Software simplicity

I have very little to complain about when it comes to OnePlus’s OxygenOS software.

There are a few new features, like improvements to the well-received Gaming Mode, that PUBG fans will love — I’ll get to those more in the full review — and, as usual, OnePlus peppers its software with splashes of esoterism, such as drawing letters on the screen to open apps, but overall this is about as unadorned an Android 8.1 experience as you’ll find today.

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What’s even better is that starting today (May 16), early adopters can download a beta version of Android P for the phone. It’s sure to be buggy, and may not ensure the phone receives stable P before the end of the year, but it’s mana for anyone who pores over software updates.

If you’re into gestures on Android, OnePlus’s implementation is as good as you’re going to get right now.

And yes, the gestures that came to the OnePlus 5 and 5T are here, too, and they’re a bit more refined on the tall 19:9 display. I still prefer the on-screen navigation keys to get around the OS, but coupled with a very minor bottom chin, turning on the gestures gives you about as much full-screen real estate as I’ve seen on an Android phone.

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The cost of doing good business

If you’re in the market for a OnePlus phone, it’s likely because you get great value for your money. Starting at $529, the OnePlus 6 is a $30 from the 5T, which itself was a $30 jump from the 5, and so on. That’s been OnePlus’s strategy since its first device, the OnePlus One, was released for $299 in 2014 — slowly up the cost every generation, and improve just enough to justify it.

If you can wait it out, and can justify the extra $50, the Silk White model is worth it.

As for the colors, I got a chance to use all three, including the limited-edition Silk White, which debuts two weeks after the other two versions in just one configuration. And as much as I like the shiny, fingerprint-attractive Mirror Black version, and as comfortably familiar as is the matte-finish Midnight Black model, I’m hoping to get my hands on the Silk White at some point. The textured white back, coupled with subtle gold accents, is a sight to behold, and an even better phone to hold.

Of course, if you’re prone to dropping your expensive phones, OnePlus has an extensive line of cases, from wood to carbon fiber to, new this year, a ballistic nylon “bumper,” that should appeal to everyone.

Available starting May 22 in North America, Europe, and India, the phone will roll out into other markets in the coming weeks.

See at OnePlus

OnePlus 6

  • OnePlus 6 hands-on preview
  • OnePlus 6 vs. OnePlus 5T: How much changes in six months?
  • OnePlus 6 vs. OnePlus 5: Should you upgrade?
  • These are the official OnePlus 6 cases
  • The OnePlus 6 doesn’t work on Verizon or Sprint
  • Join the discussion in the forums

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