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

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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.

8.9 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 10

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.

But the company is trying to change that. 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. 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.

Editors' Note, Nov. 21: We've updated this review, originally published Oct. 29, with additional impressions and comparisons to the Pixel 3's Night Sight feature.

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.

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The OnePlus 6T's teardrop-shaped notch.

James Martin/CNET

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 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.

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Without a headphone port, you'll need to use a dongle to connect your 3.5mm wired headphones.

James Martin/CNET

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.
  • OnePlus 6T loses the LED notification light -- a feature that enabled users to customize a blinking LED light for notifications. It was a signature, fan-favorite feature on previous OnePlus phones. Major bummer.
  • 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.

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