OnePlus 6T review: Brilliant as ever, but the gap is closing
If you’ve read any Alphr phone reviews in, ooh, the past two years, you’ll know the familiar refrain: “Y is good, but the OnePlus X is better and cheaper.” I mean X in the algebraic sense, rather than the OnePlus X which was, ironically, something of a disappointment.
The OnePlus 6T is brilliant as ever. It packs the latest technology, and does so while undercutting the likes of Google, Apple and Samsung. But the price has been steadily rising, up 61% between the OnePlus 3 and 6T, and just as OnePlus disrupted the market, other Chinese handsets are looking to eat its lunch by offering more for less. Is it still the one to buy?
Yes and no. Read on to find out why.
OnePlus 6T review: Design[gallery:1]
Let’s get the bad news out of the way. If you thought the OnePlus 6 copying the iPhone X’s notch was bad enough, then I’ve got bad news. The OnePlus 6T has gone the way of the Apple, Google, Sony and countless others by jacking in the headphone jack. It’s Bluetooth, USB Type-C or an adapter from here on in.
It’s a deeply anti-consumer move, and one that’s no more welcome just because everyone else (Samsung aside) is doing it. In mitigation, OnePlus claims the move allows for a 400mAh bigger battery than the last version, but it feels like a poor compromise. I suspect most people would rather have a slightly thicker device and keep their beloved old earphones.
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Worse, the move to a phone with one fewer hole hasn’t made for a device that’s waterproof. Not officially, anyway. There’s no IP rating, and it’s just “water resistant”, apparently. Tread carefully around swimming pools, bathtubs and deep puddles, then.[gallery:2]
These disappointments aside, it’s all pretty positive. True, there’s no expandable internal storage, but when the device is only available in 128GB and 256GB configurations, that hardly feels like a deal breaker. What’s more, you get a very swish-looking phone whether you spend £499 for the former, or £579 for the latter.
Let’s talk about that notch first. It’s hardly noticeable: barely a notchlette. A small divot in the top of the phone, just big enough to house the camera. It means the screen really does dominate the whole device, offering an ample 6.4in of touchy goodness.
The bezel is hardly there, and that means no fingerprint scanner, which is now housed inside the screen, about three-quarters of the way down. Whenever you need fingerprint access – unlocking or paying for something – a green fingerprint overlay appears, which you just push your registered digit against. It’s almost always superfast, and it’s impressive just how little you miss having a physical button to push. OnePlus says the technology involved – a green light to illuminate and a separate camera to check – should continue to work even if you crack the screen. Obviously I didn’t test that in my time with the phone, but it’s nice to hear that the company is thinking ahead to the inevitable for butterfingered buyers.
Otherwise, the design is pretty nondescript, but in a very stylish way. It’s all very iPhone-ish, really, right down to the “Designed by OnePlus” text at the bottom of the back of the screen, underneath a giant OnePlus logo. It does raise the question of who else was going to design it, but there we are.
OnePlus 6T review: Screen[gallery:3]
Like its recent predecessors, the OnePlus 6T uses OLED technology, rather than the LED kind found in cheaper phones. The long and short of it is that you can expect perfect contrast and deep, inky blacks.
The screen on the device is a good example of the technology, but not quite up there with the best-in-class panels found on Apple or Samsung devices. Colour accuracy is slightly off, particularly in the purpley-violet and grayscale ranges. It’s also 1080p, meaning that it doesn’t pack in as many pixels as some of its rivals. On a screen this size, though, the odds are you won’t notice unless you spend a lot of time in VR.
Otherwise, there are no complaints. In sRGB mode, it covers 99.6% of the colour spectrum, and contrast is perfect thanks to the OLED technology involved. It gets bright enough to be comfortably viewable outside, too.
OnePlus 6T review: Performance[gallery:3]
As with almost every other big flagship phone released in 2018 – including the OnePlus 6 – the OnePlus 6T is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor.
The review unit I’ve been using is the model with 8GB of RAM – which is certainly overkill – and goes for £529. The £499 6GB version will be fine for most people: it’s worth remembering that the Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S9 pack in 4GB each, and as you can see performance is basically identical even when shifting intense graphics:
In other words, for Android devices, this is good as it gets – it just happens that that’s the same level of performance as about ten other handsets, including its predecessor. Any real-world performance boost you think you’re seeing is probably imaginary.
Probably, but not certainly. OnePlus has a software tweak up its sleeve called SmartBoost. This changes the way Android manages apps, learning from your usage and prioritising your favourites. The company reckons this could result in a 5-20% improvement in app-loading speed over time, although obviously it’s not something I could see in such a short space of time, and even if I could it’s likely to be marginal gains.
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Still, there’s one thing in the specifications that’s a solid boost: by sacrificing the headphone jack, OnePlus has made room for an extra 400mAh of battery capacity, taking the cell to 3,700mAh. Given the OnePlus 6 already boasted a generous 17 hours of stamina in our tests, presumably the 6T offers even more?
Yes, and how!
As you can see from the chart above, the OnePlus 6T lasted 21hrs 40mins in our standard looped-video test before switching off. That puts it well ahead of the OnePlus 6, but also the 5T, which wowed us with its 20hrs 52mins performance back in 2017.
OnePlus 6T review: Camera[gallery:4]
The OnePlus 6T’s camera is unchanged from the OnePlus 6, which is to say it is still a dual-array setup with a f/1.7 16-megapixel camera, supported by a secondary sensor for depth effects.
For most, a lack of change would be disappointing, but OnePlus gets a pass because the 6’s photography was very good indeed. No, not quite up there with the Huawei P20 Pro, iPhone Xs, Samsung Galaxy S9 or Google Pixel 3, but good. And again, £200-£500 cheaper than all of them.
But there’s a gremlin in the mix. The company seems to have messed around with the software processing, and it’s lead to some strange things in low light. Look at the 200% crop below, and you’ll see some ugly artefacts around the edges of objects.
It’s not all bad. In good lighting, things are slightly better, as demonstrated by the shot below.
However, if you wanted proof that this is a software quirk rather than a super-secret hardware change, then this is it: updating our review OnePlus 6 to Android 9 Pie – the version that ships with the 6T – makes the pictures indistinguishable.
To be clear, this kind of artefacting is only apparent with extreme zooming, and in regular use, the stills provided from the camera are pretty damned good: colourful, balanced and packed with detail as the images below show.
There are some extra perks in the software, too. Google Lens is now part of it, for a start – using AI to identify objects you’re looking at, be it a product or a breed of animal. It’s not perfect, claiming my run-of-the-mill domestic shorthair is a more exotic Bombay Cat, but it feels like a nice addition all the same. Nightscape mode is also welcome, brightening up scenes where there’s not too much light – though as with past implementations of this, images do feel like they lose a little something via the process.
One area where the OnePlus 6T gets a completely non-caveated thumbs-up, though, is on video recording. Being able to record footage at 4K, 60fps and stablised is something most (though by no means all) flagship phones boast – but often the devil is in the details. You may be able do all these things, but not at the same time: if you want 60fps, you’ll have to drop to 1080p, for example.
Not so the OnePlus 6T, which allows all three at the same time for excellent video capture. It’s not quite as good as the iPhone X or Xs, but given it retails for just under half the price, it’s more than good enough and much better than most of its rivals, Huawei P20 Pro included.
OnePlus 6T review: Verdict[gallery:6]
So is this the best OnePlus phone ever? Yes, but you already knew it would be.
A more useful series of questions would be: “is it significantly better than the OnePlus 6?” (no), “is it good value for money?” (yes) and “can you do better for less?”
It’s the last of these that should worry OnePlus a little. For the past few years the answer has always come back as a no, but now things are less clear. Most cheaper Snapdragon 845 devices require you to enter the grey market and possibly face import tax, but with Xiaomi formally entering the UK market soon, that’s about to change. In particular, the Pocophone F1 seems to have OnePlus 6T-matching specs at a fraction of the price.
If it lives up to its promise, OnePlus no longer has the luxury of being our go-to recommendation. But that’s tomorrow’s problem. For now, the 6T maintains OnePlus’ superb record of getting in Alphr’s good books.