OnePlus 6T Review: To Be Honest I Think I Prefer the Physical Fingerprint Scanner

By Tom Pritchard on at

On Monday, OnePlus unveiled the OnePlus 6T to the world, ready for release next Tuesday. Well, it was actually released yesterday for people who went and queued up at one of the many pop-up stores, but it wasn't like you could have it hand-delivered to your front door. Before you buy it you probably want to know what it's like, and more importantly if it's any better than the considerably cheaper OnePlus 6 that was released back in May. I've spent some time with the phone, and here's what I found.

Specs

  • 6.41-inch OLED display, 2280 x 1080 resolution and 19:5:9 aspect ratio
  • 6/8 GB RAM, 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 in-display fingerprint scanner
  • Gorilla Glass 6 display, with Gorilla Glass 5 covering the rear
  • Bluetooth 5
  • Android 9, with OxygenOS
  • 3,700 mAh battery, with fast charging
  • Water Resistance
  • Dual-SIM support
  • Single speaker and USB-C audio
  • Prices range from £499 to £579
  • Available in Mirror Black or Midnight Black

Design

Phone design isn't exactly the kind of thing that changes very often, and the same is true of the differences between the OnePlus 6T and its predecessor. The general shape is the same, as is the layout of all the physical hardware. A couple of key components have shifted slightly, but for the most part it's all in the same place - alert slider and all. It's got Gorilla Glass 6 on the front, and on the back we have the same glass-backed design as before - albeit made from Gorilla Glass 5.

It's phone-shaped, which isn't any surprise, and it keeps the full-screen display that we got to enjoy on the OnePlus 6. It is slightly bigger this time around, and while we're talking a difference of just 0.13-inches it does take a little bit more getting used to - even if you have big hands like mine. It's still comfortable, because that really isn't that much of a change, though I can imagine this is going to be bad news for people who have a growing distaste for larger phones.

The other thing to note is that  there's a much smaller notch than before, and is much more discrete than the monster that's included with the Pixel 3 XL. The reduction in size came about thanks to the fact that OnePlus removed the IR sensor from the OnePlus 6, and shifted the speaker grill upwards so it's away from the display. You still have the option of filling in the gaps on either side, which does a similarly good job of hiding the notch area as the OnePlus 6, but either way this is part of the screen that was never going to get used anyway. Notch or no notch, you need room for the icon bar.

Interestingly, the reduced notch means there's no notification light this time around. While some people may find that to be a problem, I can tell you that the colour-changing LEDs on the OnePlus 6 have become a bit of a pain. It's hard to ignore your phone when it keeps buzzing and flashing green and white lights at you all day long. That said, the Blue fast charging indicator is a bit of a loss, and if you want to make sure your phone is actually fast charging you'll have to pay closer attention to what's on screen. If it's a lightning bolt (which also appears blue on the ambient lock screen) then you know it's working. If it's the usual filling battery icon, you're in regular mode, like some sort of slow charging pleb.

Software

There's not a whole lot to discuss software-wise, other than the fact the 6T runs Android 9 right out of the box. The OnePlus 6 needs to install an update, naturally, but after that point there's almost no noticeable different between the two. The settings are the same, the features are basically the same, the gestures are the same, and so on. In case I wasn't clear enough, everything looks the same, and that probably says more about OnePlus's upgrade team than it does the 6T. To be fair, the phone is supposed to be an incremental upgrade, so you can't expect huge changes. Needless to say if you have the OnePlus 6, you aren't really missing much on this front.

One little change has been made to Gaming Mode, letting you view text-only notifications that subtly show up on screen while you play. That's an extra option to the existing all-or-nothing approach in the OnePlus 6, and ensures you can keep tabs on everything without having a massive bar blocking half of your view. Similarly, the 6T has something called 'Smart Boost' which can utilise the data from apps that aren't in use, to help speed up the functions on those that are.

There's also been a few changes to the camera software, including built-in AI for object recognition. Unlike a lot of companies, however, OnePlus is not in your face about it. In fact, if you hadn't known AI is there you won't even notice. It's barely mentioned in the settings either, with the only noticeable inference of a smart camera system being two options that will automatically take a photo if it spots someone smiling, and switches to Night Mode when things get dark enough. It's worth noting, however, that the latest version of the Oxygen OS beta has added Night Mode to the OnePlus 6, and Google Lens is on the way, which increases the parity between the two models.

Camera

And now's the perfect time to talk photography. You may have noticed that OnePlus hasn't changed any of the camera hardware from the last time around, and the sensors are all exactly the same as those in the OnePlus 6. The AI is there, and will supposedly help adjust the settings to take the best possible picture, but how have things changed? I put it to the test against the OnePlus 6, iPhone X, and Huawei P20 Pro to see what was what.

Included we have night photography (lit and poorly lit), and with the case of the OnePlus 6T and P20 Pro I took shots in regular photo mode and the specialised Night Mode from the menu. There's also some low-light indoor shots, again with both modes where applicable, outdoor daytime at 1x and 4x zoom, plus portrait mode.

The night photography was a bit of a mixed bag. In well-lit areas there wasn't really much difference between any of the phones, night mode or not. But taking away the light was a much different story. For one there's a massive difference between the OnePlus 6 and 6T, in that the 6T's image is actually clearly visible. The colour is also a lot more visible and vivid than that on the P20 Pro and iPhone X. In fact, the P20 Pro almost looks monochrome in comparison.

As for night mode, the general picture doesn't look a whole lot different - aside from the fact it automatically switches to a 4:3 aspect ratio rather than 19:9. That said, Night Mode does a fantastic job of reducing the overall amount of noise. That makes it a lot clearer than the other devices, other than Huawei's Night Mode which is has similarly low levels of noise – albeit looking slightly more washed out colourwise.

As for daytime, there's almost no difference between the 6 and 6T, at 1x and 4x zoom. That said, some of the colours are a bit more vibrant in places. Overall, though, the 6T is no better than any of the other photos taken on the iPhone X and P20 Pro. Maybe if it had been a bit less cloudy – but it was October so there's not much that can be done about this.

As for Portrait mode, things are a bit disappointing. It's no different to the OnePlus 6, and is frankly quite crap. But then again, in the same situation so was the P20 Pro. The only phone that made much of a noticeable difference, and provided that bokeh effect people seem to love so much, was the iPhone X.

So as you would expect the lack of changing camera hardware means photo quality has barely changed. That said, the low-light has improved considerably, especially from a noise reduction perspective, even if the photos themselves don't look amazingly good. That's a good thing, and here's hoping OnePlus make some other changes like this when the OnePlus 7 rolls around.

Biometrics

Interestingly this green light is not part of the Android display, in that it won't show up on screenshots or screen recordings.

The biggest selling point of the OnePlus 6T is that it has a fingerprint scanner built into the display, dubbed Screen Unlock by the company. Face Unlock is back too, though it hasn't actually changed from the camera-only system featured in the 6, so that's barely worth mentioning. Back to the shiny new things.

The scanner is light-based, and beams up a blast of greeny-blue light to take a picture of your fingerprint. It's not a very common phone feature, and so far the only mainstream phone to come with one in the UK (officially at any rate) is the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. But being first isn't OnePlus's thing, and it insists that it only releases features when they can hold up to the company's high standards. However as a reviewer it is my duty to inform you that the in-display fingerprint scanner isn't all good news.

The OnePlus 6T is one of the first mainstream phones to come to Western markets with an in-display fingerprint scanner. Needless to say it's pretty new tech, and OnePlus has made it clear that it's not going to be as good as the dedicated scanners we've seen in previous phones. It's slower for one, and it definitely feels like it's a bit rustier than the scanners I'm used to using on other phones. For starters, it needs you to be a lot more precise with how you position your digit (in this case it was my thumbs).

I remapped my thumbprints quite a few times in the first couple of days with the device, simply because I kept putting my thumb down and finding the scanner wasn't recognising my thumbprint. The remaps helped at first, but there are still times where my thumb alignment is just slightly off which the phone doesn't like. It seems as though part of this stuff stems from the fact you have to cover the whole sensor, and if it sees something it doesn't like it won't unlock the screen. The rear scanner on the OnePlus 6 didn't have this problem, and was happy to scan a partial print - just as long as it had enough to recognise it is actually my finger.

But despite some of those growing pains, the in-display scanner does work, and quite well. It's noticeably slower, despite there only being a 0.15ms difference between it and the rear-mounted scanners of days gone by. I also managed to get used to placing my thumb in the right place quite quickly. It only took me about a day, though, so while you have to be patient you don't need to be that patient.

One final point to note is that the in-display scanner only registers you when the screen is on. So to speed up the unlock process, it's best to have the ambient screen mode switched on, or at the very least activate the 'double tap to wake' gesture. Otherwise you'll end up having to press the power button, which makes the whole process take far longer than it should.

The in-display fingerprint scanner is a snazzy piece of tech, and this clearly the start of a shift in smartphone tech as they move away from the physical scanners we've had for the past five years. That said, I actually prefer the physical one. For starters it's designed to be used without having to look at it, so I can unlock my phone while it's still in my pocket - further speeding up the process. Maybe I'll get to that point with an in-display scanner, but since the scanning area feel indistinguishable from the rest of the phone it's going to take a long time.

Yes, you can unlock the phone from the front again, which a lot of people are going to love, but I never found the rear-placement to be a problem. I'm certain I'm in the minority, and as impressed I am that the in-display scanner works, I think I'll stick with the old one for as long as I can get away with.

Audio

Sadly, like the OnePlus 6, the 6T does not come with stereo speakers. There's just the one at the bottom of the phone that generally sounds a bit rubbish compared to some of the other devices out there. Some people don't give a damn about having extra speakers on their phone, and while you definitely shouldn't be playing music through them in public, sometimes there are times you want to use it without wearing headphones or hooking it up to some sort of external speaker.

To give the single speaker some credit, it is quite loud. That's something, but dual speakers do sound better. I have the iPhone X and Huawei P20 Pro on hand, and the two of them have significantly better audio than the OnePlus 6T. Even the new Amazon Fire HD 8 sounds better, and that costs £80. £80! Needless to say, compared to my laptop and tablet – which each have a quad speaker system – the 6T sounds like garbage. And you don't have to be an audio hipster to recognise that.

If you're going to use it regularly the 6T's standard sound is fine, I suppose, but it's not what I'd called good. It's a serious oversight by OnePlus, and hopefully they fix this with the OnePlus 7. I said this last time too, and nothing happened.

Battery

In terms of battery I did my standard streaming test to see what was going on. If you remember my OnePlus 6 review you'll know that I had it running the original Deadpool from Netflix over Wi-Fi at full brightness and was left with an impressive 83 per cent battery. Deadpool is no longer on Netflix, so I've had to substitute it for Doctor Strange, which has the same 1h59m runtime. At the end of it the 6T came out with just 85 per cent. That's kind of disappointing, if you ask me, especially since this phone has an extra 300 mAh hours of battery.

But! There's a logical explanation for that. The OnePlus 6T's screen is ever so slightly bigger, and it's also slightly brighter at maximum brightness. That easily accounts for the discrepancy. Not that the battery life is bad, since the OnePlus 6 already had a pretty hefty battery life already. Even some battery-sucking apps like Pokémon Go, or slapping on features like the Wi-Fi hotspot, didn't do a great job of draining it very quickly. My attempts to drain the battery as fast as possible only managed to lose me a maximum of 20 per cent in an hour. That was with all the most power-intensive features activated- to the point where the phone was overheating.

Fast charging is still here too, even if OnePlus has dropped the 'Dash Charge' brand for a variety of reasons. According to the marketing materials it's designed to offer "a day's charge" in 30 minutes. While OnePlus hasn't revealed what that means, charging the 6T from zero left me with 52 per cent battery after 30 minutes of fast charging. After an hour it was 91 per cent.

Other Points

So there's no headphone jack, which is a bit of a grind, but OnePlus has included a USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor in the box. A lot of companies have started not doing that, so this is nice. USB-C Bullets headphones are available, but they're not included with the phone and cost £15.99 a pair. They sound fine, nothing overly special, but if you want some throwaway wired headphones without needing an adaptor they'll do nicely.

The design changes also mean the OnePlus 6T will not fit into a OnePlus 6 case. You might be able to squeeze one into certain 6 cases, but the new button and mic placement means they won't match up. Do yourself a favour and buy a dedicated case.

The 6T is water resistant, more so than the 6, but there's still no IP rating. As to why, OnePlus explained that IP ratings can be misunderstood because they don't cover enough information. It also didn't want to add the excess cost of getting a rating to the price of the phone. In other words a quick tumble might not kill your phone, but don't make a habit of taking it for a swim.

The weirdest thing was that OnePlus included a pair of cringey stickers inside the box. Stickers with all sorts of pompous phrases like "mine's a OnePlus". If Apple did that you wouldn't be that surprised, and while OnePlus are big about their community and popularity, this just comes off as naff and tacky.

Overall

The OnePlus 6T is a nice phone, but it's really not that different from the OnePlus 6. Not different enough to warrant upgrading from the six-month old handset, anyway. If you're a legacy OnePlus users with a 5T or older, then this may seem like a no-brainer. The 6T is faster and more powerful than the last T handset, and it has a better battery to boot. Moving from another phone brand might be a tricky situation. I noted that the OnePlus 6 had very few qualities that made it stand out, barring the battery life and price. If you're a Samsung or iPhone user then those may well be enough, but other Chinese brands offer those similar perks. The main difference being that Oxygen OS is quite clean, and closer to stock Android than most other brands can dream of.

The most important thing to remember is that the 6T is good, it's reasonably cheap, and it has a good battery life. Sure it has a fancy futuristic fingerprint scanner too, but that's not really the kind of killer feature that can make or break a phone.

TL;DR

  • A good phone, but not enormously different than the OnePlus 6 - especially if it's been upgraded to Android Pie
  • The in-display fingerprint scanner can be a bit finicky, especially with print positioning, but works quite well
  • It is noticeably slower at times, however
  • There's no headphone jack, but there's an adaptor in the box. USB-C headphones cost an extra £15.99
  • Low-light camera performance has significantly, but daytime photos haven't noticeably changed
  • Audio is fine, but suffers thanks to the lack of a second speaker
  • The battery isn't much better than the OnePlus 6, which was already excellent
  • Fast charging gets you from zero to 52 per cent in 30 minutes, which is supposedly a whole day's worth of power.
  • Available to buy from Amazon, Vodafone, John Lewis, Carphone Warehouse, O2, EE, and OnePlus.