Good specs in a (relatively) cheap package has been OnePlus' schtick since the original OnePlus One, and with few flops it's stuck to that formula, bringing us to the OnePlus 6T. Deep down inside, it's basically just a tweaked OnePlus 6, dropping the headphone jack for an in-display fingerprint reader, bigger battery, smaller notch, and a handful of software improvements.

In a landscape where Google's latest phones start at $800, I think the $549 6T is a legitimate Pixel 3 alternative, delivering fantastic performance and much-improved photos with fewer subjective problems. You'll still envy the Pixel 3's camera and Call Screen, though.

Specs

SoC Snapdragon 845
Display 6.41" Optic AMOLED (2340 x 1080), 19.5:9
Battery 3,700mAh, Fast Charge 5V/4A compatible
Front camera 16MP f/2.0 Sony IMX 371 w/EIS
Rear cameras 16MP f/1.7 Sony IMX 519 w/EIS + OIS primary, 20MP f/1.7 Sony IMX 376K portrait camera
Headphone jack No
Software Android 9 Pie
Connectivity 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4G/5G, Bluetooth 5.0, aptX/aptX HD, NFC
Carrier compatibility GSM, Verizon LTE
Dimensions 157.5 x 74.8 x 8.2 mm, 185g
Colors Midnight Black (matte), Mirror Black (glossy) at launch
Price 6GB/128GB $549, 8GB/128GB $579, 8GB/256GB $629
Misc "Water Resistant"

The Good

Screen One can quibble about resolution, but the panel quality is great.
Camera Low-light performance has improved a lot.
Design Smaller notch and chin will please the picky, shape still feels comfortable.
Software Oxygen OS is still close to stock, and it's still great.
Price $549 is one of the cheapest ways to get a Snapdragon 845 in the US, and the 8/128GB and 8/256GB are the same price as before.
Accessories OnePlus' cases are sublime.
Alert Slider Still one of the only phones with a hardware switch for ring modes.
Battery life Two-day performance (for most of us).
Fast charging It's not called Dash anymore, but it's still incredibly quick.

The Not So Good

Headphone Jack It doesn't have one. 😢
Design, again Doesn't bother me, but many dislike glass backs, especially without wireless charging.
Speakers Not the best sound.
Water resistance Still no official IP rating.
Price, again $549 also represents a bump for the cheapest model (though it has double the storage now).

The review is sponsored by dbrand, the king of electronics skins. dbrand skins for the OnePlus 6T are available to order now.

Design, hardware, what's in the box

Like last year, OnePlus is initially offering the 6T in two colors: Midnight Black (matte) and Mirror Black (glossy). Our review and photos were of the $579 matte 8GB/128GB version. T-Mobile will also be carrying the 8/128GB SKU, but with a few minor differences: it will be single-SIM and carrier locked. Software and hardware for the carrier variant are otherwise unmodified and free of bloat (carrier apps are options at the time of setup), without even a T-Mobile logo on the back.

The implied raison d'être for the OnePlus 6T is its new in-display optical fingerprint reader. While previous generation optical sensors were not received favorably, I didn't have any problems with the 6T's — though note, it only works while the screen is on or in ambient mode.

 

In all real-world use, you can't tell the sensor is there without the icon, but it is visible as a faint halo with a bright, pinpoint light at an extreme angle. 

The sensor isn't as fast as the rear-mounted one on the OnePlus 6 — which was blistering in its speed — but it's more than fast enough, unlocking your phone in under a second. The company also claims it is as secure as its previous fingerprint unlocking methods, and things like a cracked display shouldn't break it.

The lighting has to be at just the right angle to see the subtle pattern on the back. 

The overall shape should be recognizable as a OnePlus phone. It has the same glass and aluminum sandwich construction that the 6 had, down to the "S" shaped effect on the back glass and "horizon line" styling.

Thickness of the OnePlus 6 (left) vs. OnePlus 6T (right).

This year's phone is a bit under half a mm thicker, 2mm taller, and 8g heavier than the OnePlus 6. You'll feel the difference, but I don't think it matters much in application. With the extra space going to increased battery capacity (3,300mAh to 3,700mAh), the benefits are more than worth it.

The earpiece lives behind/above the notch now.

OnePlus managed to cram a tiny bit of extra screen into the 6T (6.41" vs. 6.28") by shaving the chin and making the phone ever-so-slightly taller. It's still 1080p-equivalent (19.5:9 @ ~400 PPI), and that's still fine. The corner radius on the new display is much larger, occasionally almost cutting off content, and the new "teardrop" style notch is much smaller. In practice the difference isn't significant, Android 9 Pie won't show more than 4 notification icons anyway, but it is prettier.

Put bluntly, the OnePlus 6T has the best display I've ever seen in a OnePlus phone. The 3/3T had issues with evenness, most exemplified with dark gray colors. The 5 and 5T had some of the same woes, but they were significantly diminished. Starting with the 6, OnePlus really stepped up its panel binning — only one of the two I played with had any evenness issues — and with the 6T this seems to have culminated in a near-perfect display. It also doesn't crush blacks as much as my Pixel 3; you can, in fact, watch Netflix or YouTube at night.

My only complaints about the display have to do with brightness: minimum could be lower, and maximum could be higher. I don't have a meter to check, but it does appear a bit brighter than the OnePlus 6, at least.

The OnePlus 6 does have one thing the 6T doesn't, though, and that's a headphone jack. A lot of interior space at the bottom is used by the new in-display fingerprint reader, which could explain the rationale behind killing the jack. That loss gives the bottom a new symmetrical design, with two sets of round-holed grilles flanking the USB Type-C port. Unfortunately, ones on the right are just for show/the microphone, the lone and mediocre speaker is on the left.

Unlike Google did with the Pixel 3, OnePlus also isn't giving you USB Type-C headphones to make up for it, they'll be an extra $20. OnePlus assures me the earbuds aren't using anything weird like USB-C's analog Audio Accessory Mode (they have a DAC), but they don't seem to work with all my other phones.

For the $20 price, the headphones are pretty great, especially if you value bass. I did find them to be a bit booming, with hollow, distant sound in the mids and slightly muddied, exaggerated bass compared to my current cheap earbud favorites, the $32 dual-driver Xiaomi Pro HDs. If you dig a wider (but slightly muddy and undefined) sound-stage in your earphones, you might like it, and I'm sure it'll work great for certain genres, but I prefer a bit more clarity for my jams.

The OnePlus 6T still has no real IP rating, though it is water resistant. The company assures us it will survive real-life use and things like rain, but it claims that there would be a ~$30 additional cost for IP certification, and it doesn't think its customers care to shoulder that added expense.

OnePlus does include a decent TPU case with the 6T, but I would strongly recommend you pick up one of the other first-party cases. I'm usually Android Police's biggest advocate against artificial materials, but I think that OnePlus' Red silicone case is quite nice, with a very fine and non-sticky texture that hides fingerprints well — though it does catch a bit sliding into a pocket. Historically the company's wood, kevlar, and nylon cases are also very nice.

A USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable and OnePlus' fast (previously "Dash") charger is also included. As always, it tops up your phone with ridiculous speed. Lastly, OnePlus does include a Type-C to 3.5mm dongle with the phone.

Software, performance, and battery

At heart, the OnePlus 6T shares quite a lot with the OnePlus 6 — most new features will be making their way to the older phone, we're told. So I won't rehash all the details of Oxygen OS. It is worth noting, though, that this is the first phone from the company to be released with Android 9 Pie, and one of the first phones outside Google's first-party hardware to launch with it. OnePlus promises bi-monthly security updates for the unlocked version, thought the T-Mobile SKU is on a different (and undefined) schedule.

While setting up the OnePlus 6T, I decided to test the new functionality added to the OnePlus Switch app. I was able to successfully copy over almost everything from my OnePlus 6 over Wi-Fi, including app data. Not all apps seemed to like it, but for the first time ever I didn't have to sign into Slack again on a new phone, which was great. If you're migrating from an older OnePlus phone, you should check it out.

The setup process for the in-display sensor is visually a little different, but the steps are the same. Apps that ask for your fingerprint will get an extra overlay with the icon, and it works as you'd expect: tap your finger to the icon to register your fingerprint.

The default animation when pressing your thumb to the unlock area is a bit too "xtreme" for me, with a ball of blue lightning flaring out around your touch. There are two other options, with a radial grid of dots (pictured below) called "Wave" being the least annoying of the three, but I'd still have preferred something more subdued like a simple expanding circle.

The display turns bright green beneath your touch to illuminate your finger for the optical sensor behind the display.

The biggest thing I don't like about the fingerprint reader is that it flashes the screen up to max brightness when you trigger it from the Ambient Display. Although that mode is mostly black, the clock can be pretty blinding with the brightness cranked. In other apps that use fingerprint recognition, OnePlus wisely places a dimmed overlay onto the screen, but at night be prepared for some mild blindness when unlocking your phone.

Look ma, no nav bar.

I'm a fan of OnePlus' gesture navigation, and based on OnePlus' 30% use statistics, so are many of you, though Google's gestures and the standard three-icon navigation are also available on the 6T. Unlike Google's gestures, OnePlus' save space by entirely eliminating the navigation bar. (For the unfamiliar, swiping up closer to either edge is back, swiping up in the center is home, and swiping up and holding is recents/multitasking, as depicted in the GIF above.) With no navigation bar, the only way to trigger Assistant with the gestures is using a new option via the power button, which isn't great, but it's better than nothing.

OnePlus even added a new super snazzy dynamic animation for returning to the stock homescreen via gestures from apps with a visible shortcut (visible below). Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of all of the changes.

I 💖 the new animation. 

The swipe-up-from-center gesture is a bit more awkward to use now. If you swipe up too far, it'll spit you on the homescreen, and if you don't swipe far enough, you'll just get dropped back into your app. The change seems minor, but it can be tough to tell whether you've triggered what you want.

There's also a new Smart Boost feature that replaces Android's standard memory management system. OnePlus told me that it "wants you to be able to run 30 apps simultaneously," an admirable goal when a $1,000 Pixel can have trouble with more than a few. This new system clears apps as pressure on memory increases by killing those you're likely to use less, rather than those that have been running in memory for longer.

Smart Boost or not, the OnePlus 6T might be the fastest phone you'll use this year. I did some side-by-side testing with my Pixel 3 and was surprised to see the OnePlus 6 regularly beat it when opening apps and loading content. There's still something special about how Google calibrates its touch response that feels a tiny bit more fluid and natural, but the OnePlus 6T just has this sensation of sheer, brute strength performance.

It wouldn't be a launch without bugs, and I did notice a few. Occasionally YouTube turns the area surrounding the notch into a white bar. Netflix failed to display video once in a while. Screen calibration settings are also sometimes overridden by Night Light, forcing you into a saturated mode.

While I don't enjoy Oxygen OS' growing departure from stock Android, it's still close enough (for now). The stock launcher continues to have its weird and slightly useless shelf rather than Google Feed Discover, though.

OnePlus claims 20% improvements in battery life with the 6T, a result of the bump in battery capacity. That might be a slight exaggeration, but it is definitely better. In a day spent going from Boston to New York City and back, with plenty of Google Maps GPS navigation and YouTubin' on the long bus ride home, I was able to pull over 5 hours of screen on time.

For the intensity of use during that period, those are great numbers. In lighter workloads, I've hit 5 hours over two days. With AMOLED-optimized dark themes and a custom kernel, I think one could likely exceed 8 hours.

Camera

Oneplus added a new "Nightscape" mode to the 6T, as well as generally improved low-light processing — both of which we're told will also be coming to the older OnePlus 6 since the two phones share identical camera hardware, portrait-only secondary sensor and all. The overall low-light improvements are substantial.

 

Left: OnePlus 6. Right: OnePlus 6T.

On a crop, details are much muddier than they should be, and a lot of fine detail is lost. But noise has been reduced, and more of the scene is visible. Taken as a whole photo, these are good results.

Left: Normal photo. Right: Nightscape version.

Nightscape has more subtle changes. I was told that it's basically another HDR mode, so the results are about improved dynamic range (see the difference with the car headlights and windows above) and reduced noise. This isn't like Google's Night Sight, it's just a way to take less noisy night-time landscapes.

The overall results still don't compare at all to Google's Pixel 3 (or 2, or OG), but for half the price it's hard to complain, and with the degree of low-light processing improvements, the results are no longer just mid-range.

For the price, I think the camera is fine. You'll get much better shots from a Galaxy S, Note, or Pixel, but at a greater cost. I'd really like to see OnePlus take the Google route and just do one really nice sensor in a future phone, but I doubt the company's other markets would look at the change favorably in a pure-specs, "but it has more cameras" comparison.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Losing the headphone jack sucks, but that's a fight I know I'm going to lose in the coming years, and OnePlus has made a very good phone with the 6T. I don't consider the in-display fingerprint reader to be a game-changing addition since there's no real benefit over a rear-mounted solution, but it is interesting to play with. Given the camera and software improvements are also coming to the OnePlus 6, though, the older phone picked up used could be a better deal. All you'd be missing out on is the bump in battery life, a smaller notch, and a slightly better screen.

From a budget perspective, you can finally get financing for OnePlus' phones here in the 'states via T-Mobile ($0 down and $24.17/month over 24 months) if you're willing to use the carrier for your service. There's also a very good carrier promotion running that will allow you to trade in some older phones for up to $300 off, and any OnePlus phone gets you the full discountThose coming from the company's oldest phones like the OnePlus One, OnePlus X, or OnePlus 2 should probably take advantage of it.

OnePlus fans with devices older than, say, the OnePlus 5 might consider the new phone a worthy upgrade — though even older models like the OnePlus 3 are still great phones in 2018, and expected to see an update to Android 9 Pie. Other Android enthusiasts that were put off by the Pixel 3's slightly ridiculous pricing and laundry list of issues might be pleased with the 6T since it's both cheaper and free of all those various problems, even if you miss out on the Pixel's (many) benefits.

Buy it if:

  • You're willing to settle when it comes to camera performance.
  • You want flagship hardware at a more realistic price tag.
  • The software experience is important to you.
  • You don't just want to go fast, you need to go fast.

Don't buy it if:

  • You have a higher budget and want better camera performance.
  • The loss of the headphone jack would cramp your style.
  • Digital security is #1. OnePlus has had problems with that in the past.

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