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||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.
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.
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.
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.
Though all hardware specs between the 6 and 6T's cameras remain the same, OnePlus updated the latter's software to take brighter, more detailed shots with the overall aim of improving photo quality. And on the whole, the OnePlus 6T has a nimble camera that takes vibrant and sharp photos.
One new update, which the company calls "Studio Lighting," works solely in the background and is supposed to render photos of people as more natural and realistic. The most noticeable update, however, is a dedicated Nightscape mode. It captures better low-light pictures and you can swipe right to it in the camera app. Both these features will be available on the OnePlus 6 through an over-the-air update after the 6T launch.
I couldn't discern much of a difference between standard photos of people and portrait photos taken on the 6 and 6T. OnePlus did emphasize that the improvements Studio Lighting bring are subtle, but when I looked at skin tone, exposure and lighting, it all looked the same to me. (There weren't any notable differences when I pulled up the photos' histograms either.) One situation that did stick out though was when I took a selfie with the front-facing cameras. The photo taken on the OnePlus 6T had a bit more contrast and the skin tone was warmer.
With Nightscape though, you can tell the difference. Pictures on the OnePlus 6T had less noise and digital artifacts and retained more details than the OnePlus 6.
The OnePlus 6T also took impressive pictures compared to competitors like the Pixel 3 XL, the Galaxy S9 Plus and the iPhone XS Max. There were times when the OnePlus 6T had a wider dynamic range than the Pixel 3 XL in its default mode, brightening and punching up colors more. But when I switched to the 3 XL's HDR+ enhanced mode, it outperformed the OnePlus 6T. And while the 6T's Nightscape retained the same, if not slightly more, details than the Pixel 3 XL on default mode, when I switch to the Pixel's Night Sight feature, it works far better than the OnePlus 6T at lighting up dim scenes.
As mentioned before, the 6T took better selfies than the 6. But when set side-by-side with the other three, it didn't capture as much detail, and my skin looked pale in comparison. The Galaxy S9 and iPhone Max Plus also took superior portrait shots, wherein the falloff from the fore- and background looked more natural and smooth. The same bokeh effect on the OnePlus 6T and Pixel 3 XL still looked great, but they did have a few sharp patches. The 3 XL (which renders the effect using only one camera) retained more detail in the foreground, though.
Equipped with the same Snapdragon 845 chipset as the OnePlus 6, the OnePlus 6T works just as smoothly and steadily as its predecessor, and matches other top Androids with the same processor such as the Pixel 3 XL and Galaxy S9 Plus. Also, its benchmark scores were on par with these phones, but the iPhone XS Max's proprietary A12 chip blew all three phones out of the water.
The speed of the fingerprint reader is fine when it comes to day-to-day tasks, but I'd like it to work even faster. Rendering pictures on the camera's Nightscape mode can also stand to work a beat or two quicker. With everything else though, like launching apps and scrolling through webpages, the OnePlus 6T feels as fast as any top phone I've tried. I couldn't discern any speed difference between it and the Pixel 3 XL, Galaxy S9 Plus and iPhone XS Max, since all are lightning quick and reliable.
I'm not finished with battery drainage tests yet, but a preliminary run clocked over 16 hours for continuous video playback on Airplane mode. That's an excellent time, considering that the OnePlus 6's average was already at a solid 15 hours and 38 minutes. The time puts it in the ballpark of the Pixel 3 XL, which ran for 16 hours and 49 minutes and the iPhone XS Max's battery, which hovered around 17 hours. But the OnePlus 6T can't touch the Note 9's exceptional 19-hour run.
OnePlus 6T vs. OnePlus 6: Besides the longer battery life, you're not missing out if you already have a OnePlus 6. True, there's the in-screen fingerprint reader (if that's important to you) and the smaller notch, but those features are too minor to ditch a five-month-old phone. Plus, you can keep living the wired headphone life.
OnePlus 6T vs. Pixel 3 XL: If you can afford the Pixel 3 XL (and keep in mind there is a smaller, less expensive Pixel 3), you'll get a superior camera that can take excellent low-light shots, and prompt updates as they roll out from Google. But the 6T is a superb, more affordable, alternative given that both phones come with the same processor and a barely skinned version of Android Pie out of the box.
OnePlus 6T vs. Galaxy S9 Plus: The Galaxy S9 Plus has monster battery life and expandable storage, so you can capture tons of photos and video all day long -- and it still has a headphone jack. Get the S9 Plus if that's important to you or even the S9 if you want to save more dough. But if those aren't deal breakers, consider the 6T.
OnePlus 6T vs. iPhone XS Max: Between these two phones, I prefer the XS Max's camera and luxe looks. But it's comparatively expensive, so if you want a much cheaper Android, go for the OnePlus 6T.
|OnePlus 6T||Google Pixel 3 XL||Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus||iPhone XS Max|
|Display size, resolution||6.41-inch AMOLED; 2,340x1,080 pixels||6.3-inch OLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels||6.2-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels||6.5-inch Super Retina OLED; 2,688x1,242 pixels|
|Dimensions (Inches)||6.20x2.94x0.32 in||6.2x3x.03 in||6.22x2.91x0.33 in||6.2x3.0x0.3 in|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||157.5x74.8x8.2 mm||158x76.7x7.9 mm||158.1x73.8x8.5 mm||157.5x77.4x7.7 mm|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||6.53 oz; 185g||6.5 oz; 184g||6.66 oz; 189g||7.3 oz; 208g|
|Mobile software||Android 9 Pie||Android 9 Pie||Android 8 Oreo||iOS 12|
|Camera||16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto||12.2-megapixel||12-megapixel standard, 12-megapixel telephoto||12-megapixel standard, 12-megapixel telephoto|
|Front-facing camera||16-megapixel||8-megapixel standard, 8-megapixel wide-angle||8-megapixel||7-megapixel|
|Processor||2.8GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845||2.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz octa-core), or Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz octa-core)||Apple A12 Bionic|
|Storage||128GB, 256GB||64GB, 128GB||64GB, 128GB, 256GB||64GB, 256GB, 512GB|
|RAM||6GB, 8GB||4GB||6GB||Not disclosed|
|Battery||3,700 mAh||3,430 mAh||3,500 mAh||Not disclosed|
|Fingerprint sensor||Underneath display||Back cover||Back cover||None|
|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 (IP68), wireless charging, dual-aperture camera, iris scanning||Water resistant (IP68), wireless charging, dual-SIM (nano-SIM and e-SIM), Face ID scanning|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$549 (6GB RAM/128GB), $579 (8GB RAM/128GB), $629 (8GB RAM/256GB)||$899 (64GB), $999 (128GB)||$840 (64GB), $890 (128GB), $960 (256GB)||$1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)|
|Price (GBP)||£499 (6GB RAM/128GB), £529 (8GB RAM/128GB), £579 (8GB RAM/256GB)||£869 (64GB), £969 (128GB)||£869 (128GB), £929 (256GB)||$1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)|
|Price (AUD)||Converted: AU$774 (6GB RAM/128GB), AU$817 (8GB RAM/128GB), AU$887 (8GB RAM/256GB)||AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (128GB)||AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (256GB)||AU$1,799 (64GB), AU$2,049 (256GB), AU$2,369 (512GB)|