OnePlus 6 long-term review

OnePlus 6 long-term review

With the release of the OnePlus 6T imminent, it’s high time to get this long-term review out in the open! I’ve been using this phone pretty much exclusively since purchasing in May and, simply put, it’s one of the best phones I’ve ever used.

I’ve been a big fan of OnePlus and their ethos since their relatively recent aggressive push into the cut-throat world of smartphones. Back in 2014, OnePlus became an instant cult classic with their OnePlus One smartphone. Dripping the handset into the market using a first-come first-served invite system, they created huge demand for their handset which provided flagship level specs for an affordable price.

OnePlus promised to shake things in the industry up, and live by their motto to “Never Settle.” This was especially true with their first few phones which were very competitively priced. However, with the OnePlus 6, they have been accused of breaking away and going with the crowd (i.e. conforming to the trends dictated by Apple and Samsung), however I’m not so sure that’s true.

Firstly, let’s talk about the hardware. OnePlus has moved right on trend for 2018 and moved away from the aluminium chassis that has been used since the OnePlus 3 in June 2016, to an all-glass design. I think a more than few people had hoped that this would mean that the phone would have wireless charging, but OnePlus has omitted this from the phone (probably as a way to save cost).

While we are on the subject of charging. I don’t feel like the omission of wireless charging is a deal breaker. OnePlus has its own proprietary fast charging solution called Dash Charge. And it works well. Since debuting on the OnePlus 3, OnePlus has used the phrase “a day’s power in half an hour”.With the OnePlus 6, this equates to 0% to 60% charge in 35 minutes. These are OnePlus’s official measurements but I don’t have any reason to believe they aren’t accurate, it does charge very quickly.

When this sort of speed is available over cables, I don’t feel wireless charging is necessary or missed. The only issue with this is that you require the official charger and cable in order to obtain the fast charge speeds, cheap replacements or other manufacturer cables and plug won’t do.

Back to the hardware, and this is probably one of the nicest designed smartphones out there. The back of the phone curves nicely in the hand. The sides of the phone meld the back and front of the phones nicely, and makes handling the phone easier than if it had sharper edges.

I also have the Midnight Black variant, which has an almost matte feel to it (although the material is still glass), and has a subtle, almost brushed aluminium effect on the glass which reflects the light in an “S” pattern – hard to explain but lovely to see in person. I also handled the Mirror Black variant at the launch event and although it has a smoother feel, I know it would be a massive fingerprint magnet. The limited edition Pearl White variant also had the matte feel of the Midnight Black version.

The “S” effect of the Midnight Black model of the OnePlus 6.

On the bottom of the phone we find a USB Type-C post, a single mono speaker (sadly, no stereo speaker system, which is one thing I was disappointed wasn’t found here). Additionally we find a 3.5mm headphone jack, making its final appearance on a OnePlus phone. :’(

Last thing on the phone exterior I should mention is the alert slider, which can trace its roots all the way back to the OnePlus One. For the uninitiated, this physical switch – located just above the volume rocker – allows you to switch the phone between three alert states: ring, vibrate and silent. It has a corrugated feel to it, which gives the switch more grip, making flicking between modes easier. It’s still the only way to flick between these modes without even needing to take the phone out of your pocket; no surprise this is something the iPhone has also kept as a physical switch over all 13 flagship iPhone models.

Alert slider on the right hand side of the phone.

OnePlus has also added “waterproofing” to this phone. I put that in inverted commas as the 6 does not have an official IP rating that you’ll find on most other waterproofed handsets. OnePlus merely says that it should survive a dip into a sink or pool, but don’t take it swimming with you. I think this has been added more as a precautionary move to help it survive an accidental plop, which is actually more than enough for me!

The front of the phone is now dominated by the 6.28” screen. Although the resolution “only” tops out at 1080p, this is one of the nicest screens out there on a phone. Everything looks sharp and colours are crisp and pop nicely. This is no doubt down to the AMOLED tech used in this handset. In an attempt to go all-screen on the front, OnePlus has gone down the notch route (as most Android manufacturers have apart from Samsung and Sony so far). Thankfully this is one of the better notch designs out there, not being too wide or too deep into the top of the screen – at least not until the debut of the tiny water-drop notch on the 6T. There is also a small chin on the bottom – barely noticeable really.

Screen of the OnePlus 6.

Having an AMOLED screen, I was hoping that OnePlus could include an always on display like Samsung has on their Galaxy lineup. I absolutely love being able to glance down at the S9 and see the time and if I have any notifications. Sadly, although there is indeed the option for this in the settings, OnePlus’ version requires the user to touch the screen before the time will appear. Is it just me or does that mean the screen isn’t actually *always* on? OnePlus says this implementation is to save battery. Not sure how Samsung can pull it off without noticeable battery drain and OnePlus can’t but there we are.

Having a small notch means that there isn’t space for any fancy face scanning tech in there. Instead, OnePlus uses a less-secure camera version to pick out features of your face and use this to unlock the phone instead. Although less secure, this actually worked really well. Often I couldn’t get my finger to the fingerprint sensor in time before the face unlock already kicked in and unlocked the phone!

The dreaded notch – not the worst example!

Speaking of the fingerprint sensor, this has now moved from the front of the phone under the screen (where it has been found since the OnePlus 2), to the back of the phone underneath the camera system. This works as well as a fingerprint sensor does in 2018, being fast and pretty accurate and allows you to unlock the phone without first pressing the power button to turn on the screen first. However, honestly, I didn’t need to use it too much thanks to the speed and accuracy of the face unlock.

The OnePlus 6 tagline is “The Speed You Need,” relating to the beefy internals you find under the hood. What we’re looking at here is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, paired with either 6 or 8GB of RAM, and up to 256GB of ROM (decent internal memory required, as there’s no SD expansion option here by the way). Indeed, the phone is probably the fastest I’ve used, especially when it comes to downloading and installing apps – this especially impressed me (much as it did on the Huawei P20 Pro). Switching between apps is also rapid, with little to no stuttering or slow-down when performing this action. This performance is probably bolstered by having that slightly lower resolution than you may expect on a phone rocking an 845.

The dual camera system.

On the back we have the dual-lens camera system, comprising of two 16MP, 25mm, f1.7 sensors, allowing for depth perception for portrait mode shots. OnePlus has never really been placed up amongst the big hitters in the camera department (with Apple, Samsung and Google). However, I’ve found the pictures taken by the phone to be great – full of detail and with accurate colours. There’s also a 16MP camera on the front for your selfie game.

Collage of photos taken by the OnePlus 6.

Software wise, the phone is running OnePlus’ very lightly skinned version of Android Oreo dubbed Oxygen OS, however I have upgraded my model to the Pie version, available through OnePlus’ beta programme. This comes with all the usual Pie enhancements found in the official vanilla software, but with a great enhancement to the new gesture system which has very much split opinion in the community.

Firstly, users simply have the choice of the system they want to use on the phone: the traditional three buttons, the Pie gesture system, or OnePlus’ own gesture system. The Pie system that OnePlus is using here I actually find slightly easier to use than the vanilla Pie system. Getting to your app list is available using an easy flick up from the home screen, no need for a double swipe/one ridiculously long swipe up used in the vanilla version. The small swipe to get to the recent apps still exists, as is the swipe on the home button to flick through your recent apps. All in all, I find this an improvement to the vanilla system.

Alternatively, OnePlus’ own gesture system is an option as well. This gets rid of the navigation bar altogether and goes all-in on gestures. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen goes home, and swiping up and holding takes you to your apps list. The back button is replaced by swiping up near the edge of the screen on either the left or the right. I found this system a little finicky, so preferred using the “official” Pie system.

Navigation options in the settings, with the Pie option shown in the navigation bar itself.

The last thing I think I need to mention is the price. I picked up a 128GB/8GB handset for £519 (the 6T offers similarly priced models). Whilst that is certainly more expensive than OnePlus handsets in years gone by (which is causing a bit of outrage amongst loyal OnePlus fans), it’s certainly a very competitive price compared to other flagships available at the minute. Remember that the iPhone XS starts at £999, almost double the price, and I would argue it’s certainly not double the phone – in fact that’s with half the internal memory!

Sticking with Android, perhaps the closest rival is the Samsung Galaxy S9+, which itself costs £869, still a massive £350 more than the OnePlus. Alternatively, you could choose the Google Pixel 3XL, and be asked to pony up £969 if you want the same memory option of 128GB. In my opinion, OnePlus still offers a flagship level experience for much, much less than other companies offer. Honestly, this phone could still be £200 more than what OnePlus are charging and it would still be a contender, but at £519 it’s incredible value.

All things considered, there’s very little that I didn’t like about the OnePlus 6. The snappiness of the software, combined with that beautiful design, a surprisingly impressive camera, a lovely screen and the super-handy facial unlock, culminated in a handset that was a joy to use. With the 6T, OnePlus has perhaps the strongest base model upon which to improve (in fact, for the first time on a ”T” upgrade they’ve actually kept the internals the same, improving mostly on the notch and using an under-screen fingerprint sensor). Most importantly, I still believe OnePlus offers what made people take notice of them in the first place – they offer a flagship level device on a budget. Perhaps that budget has increased over the past few years, but stacking it side by side with the flagships from other manufacturers, the value is clear to see.

OnePlus had a winner on its hands with the 6, and it looks like the 6T will only build upon that.

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