OnePlus is an odd duck in the smartphone business. It tends to make one phone at a time with a simple and clear goal: to pack all the latest trends and tech into an Android phone that costs about $500. It doesn’t waste time developing a ton of custom features, like LG’s crazy AI-powered camera, nor does it make any effort to woo U.S. wireless carriers. If you want a OnePlus phone, you have to buy it unlocked, directly from OnePlus. For as offbeat as it seems, the strategy appears to be working.
The 2017 OnePlus 5T sold out faster than anticipated and now OnePlus is back a mere six months later with its successor. If you obsessively follow smartphone trends, you can probably guess the OnePlus 6’s new features: A longer screen with a notch cutout up top, glass on the back, Android 8 Oreo, and a top-shelf Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor.
The OnePlus 6 holds no major surprises, and that’s exactly how OnePlus likes it.
Gestures and Glass
Metal frame. Gorilla Glass back with curved edges. If you’ve held a top-tier smartphone in the last year, you can imagine exactly what the OnePlus 6 feels like.
The 6 is roughly the same size as the 5T, with a taller 6.28-inch 1080p AMOLED screen (spoiler warning: it looks great in spite of its HD resolution) that stretches from the bottom (almost) all the way up to the tippy top. Unlike LG’s G7, OnePlus makes no major effort to hide its notch. It’s only 3/4 of an inch across, which makes it less distracting than Apple’s iconic (or, depending on how you feel, infamous) iPhone X notch, which is so wide that there’s little room for anything else along the top edge.
The fingerprint sensor sits a bit lower on the back of the phone, but I noticed that it seemed less capable than before. It’s still speedy at unlocking, but one of my favorite features on the 5T was the ability to swipe the fingerprint sensor to pull down the notification tray. The 6 cannot do that. Luckily you can still swipe down from anywhere on the home screen to open notifications, or swipe up to pull out the app drawer. These are simple features that make life with a large-screened phone way more enjoyable. I can only hope that OnePlus adds this functionality with a software update.
OnePlus’s mute switch is now on the right side of the phone, letting you easily switch to vibrate and silent modes, much like the toggle on the side of every iPhone. The built-in audio jack is also a godsend if you love music. You get the versatility of USB-C and a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can jam out while you charge the device.
The slick glass back may give you trouble, though. It’s more slippery than some Android phones, which has led to a few slip-ups where I had to catch the phone before it hit the ground. It also attracts fingerprints and converts them into a gross, gunky patina at an alarming rate. To my surprise, OnePlus includes a semi-transparent plastic case with each OnePlus 6, which makes it a bit easier to grip, and should offer some protection. If you’re paranoid, this Dretal case should buy you even more peace of mind.
The screen protector that comes preinstalled on the OnePlus 6 should also help the phone stay protected. That is, as long as you don’t accidentally tear it off like I did. Oops.
Snappy and Speedy
OnePlus doesn’t mess with Android Oreo much with its variant it calls OxygenOS. My unit got the latest security patch (hopefully the first of many), and the experience is nearly identical to a Google Pixel 2—currently our favorite Android phone because of its camera and thanks to feature and security updates direct from Google.
The OnePlus 6 is particularly snappy. Apps and menus seem to open even faster than the LG G7, another 2018 phone with a Snapdragon 845 chip. OnePlus explained that this added quickness is because it prioritizes what parts of an app it needs to load, increasing speeds by about 10 percent. It also made small efforts to increase performance in games and can boost network speed of those games by slowing down any apps sucking up data in the background.
Battery life is about 1.5 days—nothing dramatic but also no worse than most high-end phones. There’s no wireless charging, but the custom USB-C charger does juice up the phone very quickly by offloading some charging management to the included fast charger.
A Capable Cam
Photo quality continues to slowly improve with each new OnePlus. The 16-megapixel main rear camera has a bigger sensor this time around, and does an adequate job under most conditions, even if it still struggles in low light sometimes. The background-blurring portrait mode seems to be more reliable, but it’s still not uncommon for the phone to accidentally blur part of a foreground object.
There’s a super slow-mo mode now (netting you 480 fps at 720p), and added optical image stabilization for video, which can record in 4K at 60 frames per second.
The 16-megapixel selfie cam takes a sufficient selfie that’s noticeably less washed out in bright light, but I’m still bothered by the odd way it saves them mirrored (backward) by default. You can fix this by swiping up from the bottom of the camera app and hitting the settings button that’s hiding in the corner.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the convenient Face Unlock feature. It’s quick and works well enough that I hardly notice it, though I worry about security since it’s not nearly as robust as a Galaxy S9 or an iPhone X in that regard. Hopefully there aren’t a lot of phone thieves out there with 3D-printed copies of my face. If there are, I might be in trouble. Then again, maybe not.
On the whole, the camera is good relative to the cost of the phone, but it’s nowhere near the quality of the Pixel 2.
A Bargain Without the Bin
I might not love its fragile glass construction or its middle-of-the-road camera, but let me make it abundantly clear: the OnePlus 6 is a kickass Android phone and the best unlocked device you can buy for around $500. The only big caveat worth highlighting is carrier compatibility. The OnePlus 6 still only works on AT&T, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and others that use similar networks. Even though it technically has the right bands, it won’t run on CDMA carriers like Sprint or Verizon.
OnePlus sells two unlocked versions of the 6: a $529 model with 6GB RAM and 64GB of file and photo storage and a $579 upgrade with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage. If you have a lot of photos or apps, get the 128GB version. There is no way to expand the phone’s memory, so once you’re out of storage space, you’ll have to start micromanaging your memory, which isn’t fun. For most folks, 64GB should be enough, but check the capacity of your current device just to be sure.
If you want the best of the best, you can purchase Android phones that edge out the OnePlus 6 in one regard or another, but it’s hard to beat a phone that’s as powerful as a Galaxy S9, yet nearly $200 cheaper. OnePlus continues to offer stellar value here, making the OnePlus 6 a true bargain.