Review, Smartphone

OnePlus 6T Review: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

In typical OnePlus fashion, the company released a second flagship device in the second half of the year, the OnePlus 6T. On the surface, the 6T isn’t radically different from its predecessor, but it does bring some notable improvements under the hood.

But in its pursuit to make the 6T a better device, OnePlus made several sacrifices here and there too, and some of them could prove to be deal breakers for some folks – especially for those who believed in OnePlus’ motto to “never settle.” Nonetheless, the 6T is a good flagship smartphone, but it’s not without flaws.

Specifications

Display6.41-inch FHD+ Optic AMOLED (2340 x 1080)
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.8GHz octa-core
GPU
Adreno 630
RAM6/8GB
Storage128/256GB, non-expandable
Camera (rear)
16MP f/1.7 + 20MP f/1.7
Camera (front)16MP f/2.0
Battery
3,700mAh
Dimensions157.5 x 74.8 x 8.2 mm
Weight
185g
OSOxygenOS based on Android 9 Pie
ConnectivityLTE
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
USB Type-C

Naturally, the OnePlus 6T is a well-equipped flagship smartphone. Compared to its predecessor, the 6T has a bigger 3,700mAh battery, an in-screen fingerprint sensor, as well as a slightly larger display. All of these are good things, but unfortunately, the 6T also loses its predecessor’s 3.5mm headphone jack and LED notification light.

While these aren’t necessarily must-have features, there will be folks who won’t be thrilled by these exclusions. On top of that, this doesn’t live up to OnePlus’ “never settle” motto either. But hey, it is what it is.

Design

OnePlus has improved by leaps and bounds when it comes to designing its smartphones, and the OnePlus 6T looks and feels great. The glossy metal frame feels premium, the glass back is nice to the touch, and I like the heft of the phone. It weighs 185g, and measuring 8.2mm thin, the 6T feels surprisingly slim despite packing a sizeable 3,700mAh cell.

However, the OnePlus 6T is also way too slippery for my liking. At least, this is the case with the Mirror Black model I’m reviewing. I’ve lost grip on the phone more times than I care to admit throughout the review period, and in the end, I use the device almost exclusively with the provided casing.

I legitimately feel like I will drop the phone eventually without the casing, and I’m usually very careful with my devices.

Besides that, the overall design of the OnePlus 6T is pretty darn sleek. The minimal bottom bezel is nice to look at – though I do wish it doesn’t have any “chin” at all – and the small notch maximises the amount of notifications that are shown in the status bar. I would’ve preferred for there to be no notch at all, of course, but that’s a design limitation we have to live with for the time being.

Oh, OnePlus’ signature alert slider is also retained on the OnePlus 6T, and it’s surprisingly handy on more than one occasion. I don’t have to fiddle with the volume button anymore to silent my phone, and with a simple flick of the slider, I can exit silent mode easily. It’s a really useful feature.

As a whole, the OnePlus 6T is a well-designed smartphone with solid build quality, though I still don’t like the slippery nature of the phone. The lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack and LED notification light may be deal breakers for certain folks too.

User Experience

OxygenOS on the OnePlus 6T (unsurprisingly) offers a very pleasant user experience. Based on Android 9 Pie, OyxgenOS has always been known as a fuss-free version of Android, and it still remains true here. There are very minimal bloatware, there’s an app drawer, and the phone feels fast and zippy no matter what I throw at it.

Of course, this level of performance and fluidity is expected for a device powered by a Snapdragon 845 SoC, and the OnePlus 6T’s very generous 8GB RAM plays a role too. Gaming on this phone is also without a doubt an enjoyable experience; as it should be for a device as powerful as this.

However, that is not to say OxygenOS doesn’t have its flaws, and there are a couple of things worth noting. For one, streaming music from the OnePlus 6T to my car’s audio system through Bluetooth hasn’t been a very smooth process. Occasionally, the audio would cut out at random intervals, and I have absolutely no idea what’s causing it.

Then again, I wasn’t able to replicate this issue consistently, so it’s not an entirely big issue. But it’s still worth a mention.

Another aspect of OxygenOS that could’ve been improved on is an always on display of sorts out of the box. Sure, it can be “enabled” with some under the hood tweaking here and there, but it would’ve been great if this feature was offered natively – even more so now because of the 6T’s lack of a notification LED light. Besides, the ambient display already looks great enough to serve as an always on display.

Speaking of display, the OnePlus 6T has a bright and vibrant 6.41-inch 1080p Optic AMOLED screen. This being an AMOLED panel, it has very deep blacks, and very punchy colours. Viewing angles, as always, are great too on this phone. The 1080p resolution may be off-putting to some folks, but it helps tremendously in battery life.

And yes, the OnePlus 6T’s generous 3,700mAh battery can return great battery life. On average, I was getting between five to six hours of screen on time, and it’s effortless to get through a typical work day with this phone. In fact, if you were a lighter user, I’m confident you can get two days worth of usage out of the 6T.

As for the phone’s charging rate, it’s pretty decent. Within 30 minutes of charging, the OnePlus 6T got up to about 50% from empty. Not the fastest charging rate I’ve seen, but still respectable nonetheless.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed using the OnePlus 6T as my daily driver. OxygenOS, despite its shortcomings, is one of my favourite versions of Android. On top of that, the phone’s in-screen fingerprint sensor, despite its slightly finicky nature (all sensors like it virtually share the same weakness), can recognise my fingerprint relatively fast when done right.

If you don’t quite like the in-screen fingerprint sensor, the 6T’s face unlock feature works very quickly too. But it’s worth noting that it will not work in complete darkness – the front-facing camera lacks any infrared module for the face unlock feature to identify faces in the dark.

Camera

More often than not, the camera performance of a flagship smartphone plays a huge rule in how desirable it is, and this is especially true for myself. After all, if I were to pay a premium price tag for a high-end phone like the OnePlus 6T, I’d expect its camera to serve me well.

And for the most part, the OnePlus 6T is a great shooter. Its 16MP f/1.7 + 20MP f/1.7 dual camera system – the very same one found in the OnePlus 6 – works great in daytime, and this comes at no surprise for a flagship smartphone. So the real question is, how good is it at nighttime photography?

Well, it’s decent. The 6T can capture good-looking low light shots without too much effort, and the night mode does help brighten up images quite a bit, though the end results can look rather artificial at times. As a whole, I’m quite satisfied with the phone’s low light camera performance.

But if you were to ask me if the OnePlus 6T can hold a candle to the camera performance of class leaders like the Samsung Galaxy S9+ or Huawei P20 Pro, it’s a definite no. OnePlus has much to do before it can compete on equal ground with those phones.

Competition

In Malaysia, the OnePlus 6T prices were recently revised. Now, the base model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage retails at RM2,458, while the 128GB and 256GB variants with 8GB of RAM go for RM2,738 and RM2,989 respectively.

These price tags are slightly on the higher side of things, and at this price point, the OnePlus 6T has quite a number of noteworthy competition.

Samsung Galaxy S9

When it comes to flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S9 sets the benchmarks on what you should expect from devices in this class, and the OnePlus 6T loses out in a few areas. Not only does Samsung’s offering has superior camera performance, it also has a more impressive display, IP68 water and dust resistance, as well as support for expandable storage.

And more importantly, the Galaxy S9 is even more affordable than the OnePlus 6T now – you can currently get the S9 with 64GB of storage for only RM2,259. Sure, that’s only half the storage of the OnePlus 6T’s base model, and yes, this variant of the S9 only has 4GB of RAM, but I’d argue you don’t need any more RAM than that on a smartphone.

That is not to say you should forget about the OnePlus 6T, because it does have a couple of winning features. For one, it has better battery life thanks to its larger 3,700mAh battery, and OxygenOS’ similarity to stock Android may be more attractive to consumers, especially Android purists.

Huawei Mate 20

Huawei has come a long way in the Android space, and the Mate 20 is a testament of this. Retailing at relatively the same price point as the OnePlus 6T at RM2,799, the Mate 20 offers 128GB of expandable storage, 6GB of RAM, a newer Kirin 980 chipset, a more sophisticated 12MP + 16MP + 8MP triple camera system, as well as a larger 4,000mAh battery.

That being said, EMUI 9 on the Mate 20 is one of Huawei’s weakest points, and generally, the 6T offers better software experience thanks to the intuitive, no-nonsense software approach of OxygenOS. Aside from that, the 6T also has a more vibrant Optic AMOLED display, compared to the Mate 20’s IPS panel.

Conclusion

The OnePlus 6T is, in more areas than one, a better smartphone than its predecessor. But OnePlus also took two steps back with the 6T, and for two main reasons: the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack and a notification LED light.

Of course, the real issue goes much deeper than that: OnePlus’ motto to “never settle” is in contradiction with the absence of these two features. When the OnePlus 6 was launched, the company was more than happy to say that most of its users want a headphone jack and a notification LED light; two hardware that are on the OnePlus 6.

But several months later, the OnePlus 6T was introduced with these two “important” features removed. And in the process, it’s very likely that the company has disappointed some – or most – of its avid fans.

On its own, the OnePlus 6T is a great flagship smartphone with several winning qualities despite its shortcomings. In fact, it’s a phone I’d happily recommend to those who are looking for a device with good software experience and sleek design.

However, OnePlus has to figure out how to strike a good balance between what its fans want, and what itself, as a smartphone maker, wants to achieve with its products. The next phone OnePlus launches could very well be its most important one yet, and it will decide the company’s future direction.