The OnePlus 6 Barely Stands Out From the Crowd, But it's Redeemed by the Battery and Price

By Tom Pritchard on at

OnePlus seems to have been the darling child of the phone industry, seemingly coming out of nowhere to deliver the OnePlus One in 2014 – a phone that people literally couldn't get enough of thanks to all the hoops you had to jump through just to have the option of buying one. While that particular method of purchase is long gone, the OnePlus brand is still pretty popular, with an immense amount of hype surrounding the recent device. Almost on par with the likes of Samsung and Apple, which ain't too shabby for a company that didn't exist five years ago.

The OnePlus 6 will go on general sale tomorrow, though you can head down to a pop-up shop in select locations (the closest is London) to try and get your hands on one this afternoon. We got our hands on the phone ahead of time, all to tell you whether or not it's any good. Spoiler: it is, but don't expect any groundbreaking features or innovation.

Specs

  • 6.28-inch OLED display, 2280 x 1080 resolution and 19:9 aspect ratio
  • 6/8 GB RAM, 64/128/256GB storage
  • Snapdragon 845 octa-core chipset, with Adreno 630 GPU
  • Dual lens rear camera 16MP and 20MP, both with f/1.7 aperture
  • 16MP front camera, with portrait mode and f/2.0
  • 4K 60fps video, plus slo-mo mode (480fps at 720p, 240fps at 1080p)
  • Face Unlock, and fingerprint sensor
  • Bluetooth 5
  • Android 8.1, with OxygenOS and support for Android P beta
  • 3,300 mAh battery, with Dash Charge 2.0 support
  • Water Reistance
  • Dual-SIM support
  • Prices range from £469 to £569
  • Available in Mirror Black, Midnight Black, or Limited Edition Silk White

Design

The OnePlus 6's design is pretty unremarkable, as is the case with most smartphones. It's got a big screen with a minimised bezel, a notch that accommodates said screen without doing anything special to the camera et al, a selection of the usual buttons (including an alert slider to put the phone on vibrate or silent), a headphone jack, and a single speaker. That's right, a single speaker, which I'll get into later.

A lot of focus has been placed on the back of the phone, seeing as how OnePlus has introduced a curved glass backing that does look genuinely nice. Assuming, of course, that it won't be completely wasted by people who are going to slap the phone into a case. To be honest, aside from the Mirror Black, you can't even tell the back of the phone is made from glass at all. You should probably put it in a case, though. The OnePlus 6 is slim, and obviously made from a substance that's naturally fragile. It may be relatively cheap, but you want to make sure it's protected properly – and it's not like there will be any shortage of cases to choose from.

OnePlus CEO Peter Lau also confirmed that the glass design was also beneficial for connectivity, ensuring the best possible signal. In my experience that seems to be true, seeing as how the phone is able to connect to Wi-Fi and 4G at the back of the house – something my other devices struggle (and mostly fail) to do. It doesn't work miracles, but it does do a much better job.

Obviously the back also has a double lens camera, which is in a different place to the OnePlus 5T. according to OnePlus this was done because the middle of the phone is the thickets, and meant they had space for more things - specifically the reintroduction of optical image stabilisation.

Display

The first thing I have to say about the screen is holy fuck it's bright. So bright. It's been set quite low while I've been using it, and the simple act of looking at my notifications when I wake up in the morning basically blinds me. It's the kind of thing Gondor would use to summon Rohan's aid.

That's all there really is to say on that front. The screen is good. It's only full HD-level resolution (albeit in 19:9 aspect ratio rather than the usual 16:9), and it doesn't have HDR, but it's nice. It's bright, the colours are pretty vivid, and the touchscreen is nice and responsive. Sure it's not as fancy as some phones, with their QHD displays and low pixel ratios, but its not like you're going to notice much difference unless you're planning on strapping yourself into VR.

Software

The first few days with the OnePlus 6 were a lesson in how important it is to keep your phone updated. Not because of any serious reason, but because right out of the box mine had been declared 'Uncertified' by Google. Simply put, Android behaved as though it was a rooted device and wouldn't let me do things like pay for stuff with Google Pay. Fortunately an update rolled out last week that changed this, and meant the phone was a-OK by Google standards. That's well worth bearing in mind when you take the device out of the box, just in case what you buy isn't the very latest version of OxygenOS.

Speaking of OxygenOS, for those that don't know, it's basically OnePlus's particular brand of Android, though you wouldn't be able to tell at first glance. The goal was, according to OnePlus, to keep the phone as close as possible to the 'pure' Android experience, and it definitely feels that way. If you've moved across from a Pixel device you might not even be able to tell the difference at first, which is a good thing. Purer Android means less time waiting for software updates, and more time playing with the newest features. And with OnePlus taking part in Google's 'Project Treble', that's not just an assumption. Hell, if you really want to, OnePlus will let you install the Android P Preview. You just need to download it from the OnePlus website.

Purer Android also means "minimal bloatware". OnePlus installed a few extra bits on there, but aside from a single app they're all system applications that you don't 'use' like regular apps. The only stuff you're really saddled with are the Google apps, but they're just a fact of life for Android phones at this point.

Pure software means there are very few surprises to be had, though OnePlus has added its own features into the mix. The crucial point is that its picked features are designed to offer something meaningful, or something the community has demanded. The option to fill in the screen space around the notch is a good example of the latter, and the latest update I installed does let you black it out. And quite successfully. The only times you can really see that the notch is there are when you've got some semi-bright light directly behind you, or if you're pulling down the notification menu. The filling in doesn't put that screenspace to waste, though, and all the information that used to live there is still visible, including battery level, time, network, Wi-Fi strength, and so on.

OnePlus also added the option to customise how the navigation bar appears on your phone. You can keep it fixed and always there, a disappearing bar that can be summoned with a quick swipe, or do away with it entirely and use gestures instead. I'll admit I wasn't keen on the gestures at first, but after a bit of time (and attempting to replace them with the summonable navigation bar) I realised they're actually quite clever. There are three of them you can use: swipe on the left (or right) hand side to go back, swipe in the middle to go to the homepage, or swipe and hold to access the multitask menu. There have been some occasions where the phone got confused as I tried to drag something up from the bottom of the screen, taking me back to the home screen, but for the most part they work really well. It's the kind of thing Google might steal for Android Q.

There are also other programmable gestures in the settings, letting you perform specific actions or open up apps by drawing on the screen or pressing the right combination of buttons.

Camera

As with the OnePlus 5T, and most top tier smartphones, the OnePlus 6 has a dual-lens camera system featuring a 16MP and 20MP lens. The system works by using the 16MP lens as the main camera, while the 20MP lens is specifically for Portrait Mode. According to One Plus neither one is designed to independently gauge distance, so they work together to muster up the bokeh effect phone companies have been going crazy about. A key point to mention is that there is no telephoto lens, as was the case with the OnePlus 5T, so there's no optical zoom.

Another missing feature is the lack of AI or machine learning in the camera, unlike other companies that have been going AI mad. The logic behind this decision was that OnePlus only uses technology that it feels works really well. Well enough to justify the extra expense, which is the same reason why the 6 doesn't have wireless charging. So really, by not frivolously adding features simply because the rest of the industry is doing it, the OnePlus 6 is able to stay as relatively cheap as it is.

From a basic approach, with all the settings set to default with zero zoom, both phones came out with pretty similar results. The only real difference comes down to the aspect ratio, which means the OnePlus 6's default 19:9 photos look slightly  different. The OnePlus 6 also seems to have brighter colouring, though not to the point that the P20 Pro looks terrible in comparison. The downside is that photos taken through slightly tinted glass look a bit gloomier on the OnePlus 6, whereas the P20 Pro basically ignores it.

In terms of close-ups, the OnePlus came out ahead. Using my Subway as an example, the OnePlus managed to keep the whole sandwich nice and focused while the P20 Pro seemed to be more interested in the pepper at the expense of the surrounding bread. The difference is arbitrary, but still.

It's also clear that the OnePlus 6 has a much, much better portrait mode. Mainly because the bokeh effect is actually visible. The P20 Pro came out really disappointing because there's no evidence it's even there. I ended up taking multiple shots, and only one of those had any sort of background blurring. Admittedly, though, some of the OnePlus portraits did come out looking a little washed out.

One of the main differences I noticed was that the P20 Pro's zoomed photos were an awful lot better than similar ones taken by the OnePlus 6. In fact, aside from the time I zoomed all the way in (10x) you can't really tell. The OnePlus 6 on the other hand doesn't have the same optical zoom and AI features offered by the P20 Pro, so the zoomed photos do come bundled with some deteriorated quality.

Similarly the OnePlus 6 performed worse in low light, something that wasn't helped by the fact it wasn't very easy to get it to focus in the right place. So the images come out dark, slightly blurry, and a lot noisier than they do in the middle of the day. The P20 Pro had similar issues with focus and noise, but the pictures came out a lot brighter than the OnePlus 6. Neither phone performed in a near-zero light environment, which should be expected.

Overall, the OnePlus 6's camera is pretty good. It's not going to win any awards for "greatest smartphone camera ever", but if you want a phone that comes with good quality point-and-click photos that don't require any fiddling with the settings (which you can do in Pro mode) then it doesn't disappoint.

Audio

As mentioned before the OnePlus 6 only has a single speaker, for reasons I can't fathom. Honestly, only including a single speaker on what is designed to be a premium-tier phone should be a capital offence. You could forgive it on a sub-£200 device for obvious reasons, but even though the OnePlus 6 is quite cheap in comparison to the competition I can't see any reason why OnePlus would think it's a good idea to avoid stereo speakers. Even Samsung, which held out on mono-speakers years longer than it conceivably should have, opted to add two speakers to the Samsung Galaxy S9.

I asked OnePlus what was up with this particular feature choice and was told the question would be passed onto someone someone who can offer an explanation. As of publication, I haven't heard back.

Because there's only one speaker, the sound, naturally, isn't great. It's especially true for me, having spent the past several weeks enjoying the audible delights of Dolby Atmos-enabled devices. Honestly I just found the OnePlus 6 to be tinny and pretty lacklustre. It was loud, far louder than my current everyday phone, but loud doesn't necessarily mean good. I'm honestly quite disappointed, because this sort of thing shouldn't be happening on a phone like this. Plus, like the older Samsung Galaxy and iPhone models, the speaker is right at the base of the phone making it quite easy to accidentally cover up with your hand.

Battery

The OnePlus doesn't use conventional fast charging solutions, instead using the company's proprietary Dash Charge system. It promises "a day's power in 30 minutes", and according to OnePlus it considers 60 per cent battery enough to get you through the day. I also noticed that Dash Charging shows up differently than regular slow-charging, with a solo lightning bolt icon and a blue notification LED. Regular charging shows the standard battery/lightning bolt combo, and a Red LED.

The 6 also doesn't offer wireless charging, despite the glass back, which OnePlus says was a deliberate decision. The goal was to keep the phone as low-cost as possible, and it was decided that wireless charging didn't provide enough benefit to justify the extra cost. Plus, as I pointed out at the time, if you keep your phone in a case wireless charging is usually useless.

To give the battery a run for its money, I went with a usual basic test – streaming a film from Netflix over Wi-Fi with brightness turned to maximum. Bluetooth and location services were also on for good measure. This time we went nice and timely with Deadpool, which runs for 1 hour 49 minutes. By the end of it the OnePlus 6 had 83 per cent of its power left over, which is pretty damn impressive. It's not the best I've ever seen, but it's certainly up near the top for a phone that doesn't have a ludicrously large battery.

As for general use, I've found that the battery lasts quite a long time - no doubt helped by the fact it's 300 mAh larger than the phone I've been using for the past two years. As I write this (3.45pm) the phone's display has been on most of the day doing one thing or another and I'm at 53 per cent. If I'd been doing that on my old phone, I'd probably be stuck at 15-20 per cent about now. According to the settings menu, that's just under seven hours of juice. You have to watch out for the brightness gauge, though, especially in this bright sunny weather. Because of how bright the phone is at the lowest settings, turning it up will decimate your battery. Not enough to kill it off entirely, but every time I hit the 15% warning the brightness had been at maximum for several hours.

And a good battery life is invaluable, because charging is a pain. Buying multiple dash chargers is also a pain, because they're expensive and you can't always take the one from the box everywhere you go.

Face Unlock

Like pretty much all top-tier phones, the OnePlus 6 has a Face Unlock feature, which lets you use your face to open up the phone. It also continues the fingerprint-scanning tradition, unlike *some* companies. Like all non-iPhone X devices, Face Unlock isn't anything particularly special. It's not clear exactly how it works, but after looking at the notch through another camera it seems as though there's some sort of IR sensing going on.

OnePlus claims Face Unlock works within o.4 seconds, though I found its usefulness to be limited. Don't get me wrong, it was helpful to have activated in certain situations where typing out a PIN or hitting the fingerprint scanner would have been a pain. That said, if I was pulling it out of my pocket (for example) my finger would run over the fingerprint scanner anyway and the phone would be unlocked by the time I was looking at it.

Face Unlock has a noticeable delay. Not so long that it's a chore to have to wait, but it's not instantaneous. Similarly, it's also limited in low light situations, especially if you have the screen's brightness turned right down (and you might, seeing as how it's like staring into the sun). But that brightness does come in handy, and even at around 25% of maximum brightness there's enough light for Face Unlock to recognise you. That's in what would have been a pitch-black environment too.

It worked perfectly well even after I shaved off a significant beard growth, but it doesn't like it when you close your eyes which is worth bearing in mind.

Other Features

Gaming Mode: While mobile gaming isn't really as big a deal as consoles or PC, there are still plenty of people who play games all the time and don't want their phone mucking things up - especially now games like PUBG and Fortnite are around. Gaming Mode essentially optimises the whole process for you, making sure you're not disturbed by excess notifications and to restrict the amount of data being used in the background - reducing the amount of lag you experience.

Reading Mode: Designed to be easier on the eyes for when you know you're going to be staring at text, Reading Mode essentially strips all the colour from the OnePlus 6's display and makes everything monochrome. Apparently this mode is also useful for minimising distractions, like when you're about to go to bed, though as far as I can tell there are no settings to activate Reading Mode at specific times of day.

Invert Colours: If you prefer to see things inverted, it's in the quick launch menu.

Button Programming: Currently the OnePlus 6 has a menu specifically designed to let you reprogram different button combinations. Sadly, at the time of writing, everything is greyed out, so the only one you can actually choose to deactivate is pressing the power button twice to open up the camera.

Water Resistance: While the OnePlus 6 seems to be the first device confirmed to be water resistant, OnePlus has made it clear that there is no official IP rating. It's designed for "everyday" water resistance, rather than X minutes in Y metres of water. So don't go dunking it in the sink to test out, especially since OnePlus doesn't cover water damage.

Overall

The OnePlus 6 is a little bit large for my taste, even with hands as big as mine, though part of that can be attributed to jumping from a phone with a display that's just over an inch smaller (5.1-inch, to the OP6's 6.28). So I had to go from being able to use my thumb to reach any part of the screen without having to move my hand, to a phone where that just wasn't possible. If I wanted to go from a position where I could hit the navigation gestures, and switch to pulling down the notification bar, I had to slide my hand up the phone to reach.

That's a matter of taste, and it's the kind of situation you'll be in with any bezel-less display, but it would be nice for OnePlus to consider a slightly smaller model. Even if that means sacrificing some of the more outlandish hardware features like the dual lens camera or the extra RAM. Just my thoughts on the matter.

For the most part, though? It feels like a basic Android phone. The extra software features are nice, even if they weren't all that necessary, but there's nothing here that really makes it stand out. For a phone that's been hyped as much as this one, there's isn't a whole lot to get that excited about. But, the OnePlus 6 makes up for all that with two of the most important things we can ask from a smartphone. It's cheap, with prices ranging from £469 to £569, and it has a battery life that will put some of the big dogs to shame. When you think about it like that, you don't really need anything spectacular and innovative. Not that the smartphone industry has been particularly innovative in recent years anyway.

I can't get over the fact that there's only a single speaker, though. It's such a pointless oversight, especially since there have been people complaining about the lack of stereo sound on the OnePlus 5T - to the point where there are ways to hack a basic system together using the mini speaker at the top of the phone that's only really supposed to be used for phone calls. Hopefully the inevitable OnePlus 6T will finally fix that issue.

TL;DR

  • Nothing particularly innovative with the hardware, were it not for brand loyalty it'd be hard to see the OnePlus 6 stand out from the competition
  • A fantastic battery life, and a price tag well below what you'd expect from a phone like this
  • Single speaker sound system, which feels ridiculously short sighted
  • Feels a bit large, but for the most part a comfortable experience that doesn't have any huge surprises
  • Face Unlock works well, even if it is a bit limited at times. Just make sure to keep your eyes open
  • The camera has its faults, but overall it produces great photos with minimal expertise needed.
  • Low light capabilities were disappointing, but not unusual