OnePlus 6 Review—A series of downgrades is saved by the low price

OnePlus might not be a perfect Android device maker, with fairly regular controversies involving its security mistakes, bad advertising decisions, and lack of a concrete support policy. But OnePlus is really good at making high-end hardware at a low price, though, and for some people that’s enough to forgive the company’s other flaws.

For 2018, the company is introducing the OnePlus 6. While OnePlus’ flagship pricing is once again jumping up $29 to $529, the OnePlus 6 is still one of the cheapest Snapdragon 845-powered devices you can buy. With a switch to a glass back and a notched display design, OnePlus’ flagship seems more generic than ever. But for that price, it’s still hard to beat.

Design and build quality

The OnePlus 6 is one of the first Android devices we’re reviewing that comes with an iPhone X-style notch, but it is not one of the first ones announced. OnePlus joins LG, Asus, Huawei, HMD/Nokia, Oppo, and like 17 no-name Chinese OEMs in producing a notched smartphone in 2018. Given how many in-development Android phones we’ve seen that are aping the iPhone X’s most recognizable feature, we’re going to end up talking about notches a lot in 2018.

Notches have been this year’s controversial topic in the Android community, and I fall on the side of thinking a notched design can be a genuine improvement to a smartphone. Anytime you maximize screen space and minimize bezels, you’re making the phone better. Eventually, you run out of bezel to remove, and the remaining front-facing components—the camera, earpiece, and sensors—need to go somewhere, which gives birth to the notch.

SCREEN 2280×1080 6.28″ (402ppi) AMOLED
OS Android 8.1
CPU Eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (Four 2.7GHz Kyro 385 Gold cores and four 1.8GHz Kyro 385 Silver cores.)
RAM 6GB or 8GB
GPU Adreno 630
STORAGE 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB
NETWORKING 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC
BANDS (NA/EU version)
GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
TD-SCDMA: 34, 39
WCDMA: 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 19
LTE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 32, 34, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66, 71
PORTS USB 2.0 Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack
CAMERA Rear: 16MP main camera, 20MP secondary camera
Front: 16MP camera
SIZE 155.7 × 75.4 × 7.75 mm
WEIGHT 177g (6.2oz)
BATTERY 3300 mAh
OTHER PERKS NFC, quick charging, fingerprint sensor, notification LED

I think “running out of bezel” is kind of key to a good notch design though. You should only cut into on the screen area if you have no other place to put the other components. Plenty of Android OEMs seem to get lazy though and just toss a notch into their design to keep up with what they perceive as the cool new trend in smartphone design. This definitely feels like the case when you look at something like the Huawei P20 Pro.

The OnePlus 6 doesn’t quite get rid of the existing bezels, as it still has a small bottom “chin” of dead space. But so far it is this the best notched design we’ve seen from a mainstream Android OEM. The OnePlus 6’s notch is small enough to fit inside a normal-height status bar, so you don’t have an ugly double-height status bar like on the Essential Phone.

Some people just don’t like the look of a notch, but for them I think OnePlus has a great solution in the settings, where you can turn the notch permanently black. Thanks to the deep blacks of the AMOLED display, this makes the notch nearly disappear, and you still have the time and status bar icons in your fake “bezel.” The rounded display corners are even replicated below the black status bar, further selling the illusion that there’s no notch at all. I’m still kind of torn on how I think a naked notch looks, but I think the all-black notch area with icons in the “bezel” looks great.

One of the standout features of the last few OnePlus devices has been the metal back. As more and more manufacturers have been switching to an all-glass design, OnePlus has stuck with the more durable, harder-to-implement metal device up to the OnePlus 5T. The industry switch to glass phones seems mainly driven by easier signal routing in and out of the phone, since glass is RF transparent. While device makers have mostly nailed down cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth reception in a metal device, wireless charging in a consumer device has always needed a glass or plastic back.

With the switch to an all-glass design, OnePlus is taking on a number of negatives. First, glass is famously more fragile than metal, and so you have double the chance of shattering the phone if you drop it. Second, glass backs are usually fingerprint magnets, and the “Mirror Black” version that I have for testing is no exception. It quickly turns into an ugly, greasy mess, and I’m constantly compelled to wipe down the phone.

At least these negatives are somewhat offset by the addition of wireless charging, right? Wrong. OnePlus didn’t actually add wireless charging to its all-glass phone. So the glass back is a pure downgrade over the metal back of previous models, and the move throws out one of the rare unique characteristics OnePlus could have added to its phone.

But on the whole, OnePlus is offering a speedy, high-end phone at a great price. You get a 6.28-inch, 2280×1080 Samsung AMOLED display that looks great even on low brightness. It’s powered by a Snapdragon 845 SoC and a 3300 mAh battery. RAM and storage depends on the pricing tier, but for the baseline $529 (€519, £469) you get a respectable 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. For $579 (€569, £519), you can upgrade to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, or jump up to 256GB of storage for $629 (€619, £569). It’s all way, way cheaper than the competition. Comparable hardware like the Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Google Pixel 2 XL are both around $850.

Extras abound, too. There’s a headphone jack and an option to add a MicroSD card or a second SIM card. There’s also OnePlus’ usual physical three-position volume switch. This year it switches between “silent,” “vibrate,” and “ring;” previously, it enabled Android’s “do not disturb” mode. There’s also OnePlus’ “Dash charging,” which embeds an extra set of power management circuitry in the proprietary power brick. This means the power brick gets hot instead of your phone battery when charging, so the charging speed is less likely to slow down due to heat. Unfortunately, the device is not compatible with high-speed charging offered by USB-PD chargers, which nearly every other Android phone now supports for fast charging. USB-PD chargers will still work, just slowly.

The new fingerprint reader is a disappointment given that it’s inexplicably smaller than last year’s OnePlus 5T. You can no longer fit a whole fingertip on the sensor, which greatly increases the chance of a failed scan. Like the Galaxy S9, the tiny sensor is a rectangle that can only capture about half a fingerprint at a time. I measured the short side to be 7mm, while a normal-size fingerprint reader, like the one on the Pixel 2 XL, is an 11mm circle.

Also like with the Galaxy S9, I got much better results from the fingerprint reader after registering the same finger twice. OnePlus’ software will sometimes complain that the fingerprint is “already registered,” but just keep trying and eventually you’ll get enough unique scans to finish a second registration. After doubling up on the fingerprint data, the reader was fast and accurate, but sticking a normal-sized reader on the back would have saved me the hassle.

The single bottom-firing speaker is not great. Some of these notched phones, like the iPhone X and LG G7, use the earpiece as a second speaker and overall sound fantastic. The OnePlus 6 speaker sounds pretty bad and is the only media speaker on the device.

The OnePlus 6 does not have the strong, submersible water resistance of the competition. The marketing on only says the phone can “guard against rain,” and the company told me the phone does not have an official water ingress rating. The fine print on OnePlus website says “OnePlus does not recommend excessive submersion” and the warranty does not cover “exposure to liquid, moisture, dampness, sand, or dirt.”

There’s no carrier deal to think about here. The OnePlus 6 is sold unlocked online and will work with GSM carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T in the US. The CDMA carriers (Sprint, Verizon) are, as usual, out of luck.

Again, this is all for $300 less than the competition, so it’s easy to forgive any flaws. You really don’t feel the difference in price, either. The OnePlus 6 feels just as well-built and premium as any other glass flagship.

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