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Pixel 3 vs. OnePlus 6T: Which Android should you buy?

It's a battle between a superb camera and an impressively low price tag.

James Martin/CNET

If you're in the market for a premium phone right now, know that there's more than just the latest iPhone versus Samsung's Galaxy S9 to consider. This year, two other contenders, the Pixel 3 and OnePlus 6T, also deliver a top-tier Android experience with the latest-and-greatest in processing speeds, cameras and software features.

Starting at $899 (£869, AU$1,349) the Pixel 3 (and its larger counterpart the Pixel 3 XL) has an exceptional camera that takes the most consistent photos in any lighting scenario. Its call blocking feature, which runs on AI straight from Google, also gives it an edge over other great phones this year.

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But at the same time, the OnePlus 6T is the most affordable, top-notch Android phone you can get. It starts at only $549 (£499, converts to AU$775), is equipped with a solid camera and an in-screen fingerprint scanner. Best yet for American buyers, the OnePlus 6T now sells through T-Mobile (though you can also pick it up directly from OnePlus' website), and it works on Verizon's network too.

These two terrific options go head to head in design, camera, software and performance. See which one comes out on top.

OnePlus 6T's in-screen fingerprint reader vs. Pixel 3's water resistance

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 and the phone has really thin bezels all around. During my time with it, the FOD worked fast enough the majority of the time, but it didn't work as quickly as the dedicated fingerprint scanner did on the previous OnePlus 6.

Because of the space the FOD takes inside the phone, OnePlus lopped off the 6T's headphone jack (though the Pixel 3 doesn't have one either). If you don't already own wireless headphones to listen to music and calls, OnePlus included a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter dongle in the box. You can also buy the brand's USB Type-C earbuds for an extra $20 (£16, converts to AU$30). The Pixel 3, on the other hand, comes bundled with its own Pixel Buds for free.

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The Pixel 3 looks similar to last year' Pixel 2, but subtle design tweaks like thinner bezels and a glossy lining around the phone add more polish this time around. I'm also a big fan of the Pixel's new color variant "Not Pink."

The OnePlus 6T's in-screen fingerprint reader.

James Martin/CNET

If you're eyeing the bigger Pixel 3 XL though, you'll notice that it has one of the thickest on-screen notches we've seen. Even though you can hide it, it's not very flattering compared to the OnePlus 6T's teardrop-shaped notch (which you can also mask with black bars). Just be glad that Google fixed the bug that made two notches appear on the display.

But whether you get the Pixel 3 XL with the notch, know that both size models have wireless charging, and they can juice up on any Qi-compatible charging mat. (Fast-charging, however, only works on Google's own Pixel Stand charger.) The Pixel is also rated IPX8, meaning it can survive in about 3 feet underwater (1m) for 30 minutes.

Winner: While being the first to have an in-screen fingerprint scanner is commendable for the OnePlus 6T, as far as bonus features go, I find the Pixel 3's wireless charging and water resistant capabilities more useful.

OnePlus 6T's camera is admirable, but the Pixel 3 wins out

At hundreds of dollars less than its competitor, the OnePlus 6T took impressive pictures that were either on par or better at times than the Pixel 3's camera (on auto mode). For example, there were times when the OnePlus 6T had a wider dynamic range than the Pixel 3 when the Pixel was in its HDR+ mode. The 6T brightened and punched up colors a bit more. But when I switched to the Pixel's HDR+ enhanced mode, it noticeably outperformed the OnePlus 6T.

Another instance was low-light photography. Both can take excellent shots in dim lighting -- brightening up objects and capturing as much information and focus as possible. In the 6T's Nightscape shooting mode, it retained the same, if not slightly more, details than the Pixel 3. However, Google plans to roll out its own night mode called Night Sight on the Pixel soon. We had a chance to test a non-finalized version of this feature and already it looks very, very promising. So much so that I anticipate that the Pixel 3's Night Sight will exceed the 6T's Nightscape.

A selfie taken on both cameras.

Lynn La/CNET

A photo taken indoors with the OnePlus 6T and the Pixel 3 XL.

Lynn La/CNET

As for taking photos of people, the bokeh effect on the OnePlus 6T and Pixel 3 looked great, but they did have a few sharp patches amongst the softly blurred background. If I had to choose though, I liked how the Pixel retained more foreground detail. Plus, Google's phone renders the effect using only one camera, as opposed to the OnePlus 6T's dual-camera setup.

Finally, I preferred the selfies I took on the Pixel. The OnePlus didn't capture as much detail in my face and hair, and it made my skin look much paler. The Pixel also has a second front-facing camera for wide-angle shots.

Winner: It's hard not to be impressed by the OnePlus' camera prowess given its low price tag, but the Pixel 3 is superior.

Software: Android Pie topped with some extras

The Pixel 3 and OnePlus 6T run Google's latest Android Pie out of the box. They both incorporate 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.

Other than that though, OnePlus doesn't add much else to the OS. This isn't bad necessarily; one of my favorite things about OnePlus phones is its minimalistic take on Android and lack of bloatware. Unlike other phones that sometimes slather superfluous amounts of software, OnePlus keeps things refreshingly simple.

On that note though, while the Pixel 3 adds more to the OS than the OnePlus, these features end up being pretty useful. Call Screen, for example, answers calls on your behalf, and you can read a transcript of the conversation in real time to decide whether or not to block a call or answer it. The Pixel's Digital Wellbeing feature also shows you how you're spending your time on the phone and lets you limit app usage accordingly. The phone will receive prompt software updates once they're available and Pixel owners get unlimited cloud storage for photos as well.

pixel-3-software

The Pixel 3's Call Screen and Digital Wellbeing feature.

Screenshot by Lynn La/CNET

Winner: Though I appreciate OnePlus' restrained approach to Android, the Pixel adds practical features to the user experience without overdoing it.

OnePlus 6T has the upper hand with speed and battery

Equipped with Snapdragon 845 chipsets, the Pixel 3 and OnePlus 6T are zippy and responsive. Between them, I don't really notice any differences in speed with day-to-day tasks like launching apps or firing the camera shutter. But if we were to split hairs, the OnePlus 6T does have the slight edge over the Pixel 3 on benchmark tests. Check out both scores below:

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 single-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 multi-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

As for battery life, both phones scored excellent marks and lasted over 16 hours on our test for continuous video playback on Airplane Mode. More specifically, the Pixel 3 XL, which has a bigger 3,430mAh battery than its smaller Pixel 3 counterpart's 2,915mAh battery, clocked in 16 hours and 49 minutes. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 6T lasted longer, with an average closer to 17 hours.

Winner: The OnePlus 6T has the edge on this one.

And the winner is…

op6t-and-pixel-3

The OnePlus 6T (left) and the Pixel 3 XL (right).

James Martin/CNET

The Pixel 3 is objectively the better phone, aside from processing performance and battery life. It has a water resistant design, a superlative camera and useful software goodies from Google that promise to keep you updated on Android features and security patches.

But it's also hard to ignore the fact that the Pixel 3 starts at $350 and £240 more than the OnePlus 6T. If you go for the latter, you still have a fast and reliable phone, and also more cash in your pocket to buy plenty of other things -- like a pair of wireless headphones, for example.

Whichever one you go with, you're still walking away with an excellent phone, and if you can afford the Pixel 3, know you have one of the best Androids around. But if want to save some money, the OnePlus 6T is your better value buy.

OnePlus 6T and Pixel 3/3 XL specs


OnePlus 6T Google Pixel 3 Google Pixel 3 XL
Display size, resolution 6.41-inch AMOLED; 2,340x1,080 pixels 5.5-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels 6.3-inch OLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 402ppi 443ppi 522ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.20x2.94x0.32 in 5.7x2.7x0.3 in 6.2x3x.03 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 157.5x74.8x8.2 mm 145.6x68.2x7.9 mm 158x76.7x7.9 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.53 oz; 185g 5.2oz; 148g 6.5 oz; 184g
Mobile software Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie
Camera 16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto 12.2-megapixel 12.2-megapixel
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel 8-megapixel standard, 8-megapixel wide-angle 8-megapixel standard, 8-megapixel wide-angle
Video capture 4K 4K 4K
Processor 2.8GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 128GB
RAM 6GB, 8GB 4GB 4GB
Expandable storage None None None
Battery 3,700 mAh 2,915 mAh 3,430 mAh
Fingerprint sensor Underneath display Back cover Back cover
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack None No 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 (IPX8), wireless charging, Pixel Buds USB-C headphones included
Price off-contract (USD) $549 (6GB RAM/128GB), $579 (8GB RAM/128GB), $629 (8GB RAM/256GB) $799 (64GB); $899 (128GB) $899 (64GB), $999 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £499 (6GB RAM/128GB), £529 (8GB RAM/128GB), £579 (8GB RAM/256GB) £739 (64GB); £839 (128GB) £869 (64GB), £969 (128GB)
Price (AUD) Converted: AU$774 (6GB RAM/128GB), AU$817 (8GB RAM/128GB), AU$887 (8GB RAM/256GB) AU$1,199 (64GB); AU$1,349 (128GB) AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (128GB)

Google Pixel 3 review: Google pairs an amazing camera with serious AI smarts

OnePlus 6T review: A hero phone without the sky-high price