OnePlus 6 – Compromise Connoisseur

OnePlus 6 (Avengers Edition 8GB/256GB)

MYR2799
9.5

Build Quality / Design

9.4/10

Performance

9.6/10

Value

9.5/10

Pros

  • Superlative performance
  • Light, frequently updated software
  • Improved cameras and impressive video
  • Really fast "Fast Charging"
  • Relatively affordable pricing

Cons

  • No official IP rating
  • Lack of wireless charging
  • No WQHD+ screen
  • Battery capacity (for the size)
  • No expandable storage

Will the latest attempt from OnePlus produce an affordable powerhouse fit for the needs of the discerning Tech Nomad? Today, let’s find that out together, shall we?

INTRODUCTION

After releasing 8 phones – including the less known OnePlus X, which ironically predated Apple’s own X by a few years – OnePlus might no longer be the unknown startup that it once was when they released their initial OnePlus One, the supposed “flagship killer” made available for a fraction of flagship prices.

Which was pretty ironic, considering that to deliver their promise of “Never Settle”, they have – in fact – had to settle.

But with their newest effort, they might have finally reached a point where all their efforts at streamlining have finally borne fruit: Creating a relative “flagship” with superlative specs and performance, with the least possible compromise – at a relatively affordable price.

Enter, the OnePlus 6.

DESIGN / BUILD QUALITY

For the first time (since the OnePlus X at least), OnePlus have abandoned the metal backs they traditionally had on their phones for a more “typical” glass sandwich design – a move that proved to be rather controversial, at least amongst OnePlus traditionalists.

However, in the case of the 6, it might actually be a worthwhile move, as the 6 is probably the sexiest-looking OnePlus phone… since the OnePlus X.

And it’s not fragile by any means either, with the 6 passing through YouTuber JerryRigEverything’s infamous bend test – relatively – unscathed.

The buttons are also clicky with a solid high quality feel to them, while the ever-useful alert slider feels as good as it has always been – though it has been relocated to the opposite side from where it was on the previous OnePlus models.

The 6 is available in five colourways so far, including the limited release Avengers Infinity War Edition on review today in Phantom Black (the others being Silk White, Mirror Black, Midnight Black and Red), which is as per OnePlus previous multi-coloured releases. And each of them are beautifully finished, with delightful visual flourishes of their own.

For example, with the Phantom Black finish this Avengers Edition unit comes in, there is a very noticeable Carbon Fibre finish applied to the back, which is actually built into the glass itself and shimmers in and out of view depending on how light hits it in a funky, bedazzling way.

Next, we move on to the screen, which has been slightly increased in size over the previous model thanks to that – highly controversial – notch. I personally have no qualms over the notch itself considering its not as severe as the ones on other similar phones, but yes it’s pretty distinctive. You can of course hide it from the settings, but in actual use the 6’s customised Oxygen OS has been tuned rather well to work around it.

That chin at the bottom however, is less appreciated, but at least it gives you space to start your navigation gestures from (if you opt for it over the traditional buttons, which is a very nice option TBH). The panel itself is a slightly stretched version of the AMOLED panel used on prior OnePlus offerings, and while it isn’t the best panel in its class by a long shot (that honor will probably continue to go to Samsung flagships), it’s good enough that YouTube is considering the 6 as one of their “Signature” devices.

Also, OnePlus’ insistence to stick with FHD+ rather than going up to 1440p like the rest of the flagship pack (or full 4k like crazy Sony did) might be a bit of a sore spot for some, but we at least appreciate the battery savings to be had by sticking with the lower resolution display (rather then running FHD+ on a WXHD+ screen like all the other Flagships are doing).

It also gets rather bright at full tilt, though noticeably less so compared to its Samsung and LG rivals. That said, the hardware capability for the “Super Bright Mode” that Samsung uses to get its AMOLEDs to such stratospheric brightness levels IS actually there, as some deep software digging over at XDA has found, although it is disabled by OnePlus (for some reason) and can only be enabled if you’re running a custom kernel (more on that and other rooting related stuff under Performance).

Also, that headphone jack. A very welcome move indeed, considering how a few manufacturers already have gone full #donglelife at this point. It’s probably comforting to know that the sound coming out of that jack is of decent quality and amplitude as well, though it’s not really up to what the LG G7/7+ manages with its Quad DACs.

That said, there are still understandably tradeoffs made to keep the 6 priced where it is in comparison to its extensive feature set (even if OnePlus did – quietly – hike up the price YET AGAIN relative to the previous release), some of which is understandable and some of which is just baffling.

For one, the lack of wireless charging. Sure, its not exactly a “must-have” feature on a smartphone, especially when you have the tech formerly known as “Dash Charging” to juice up your 6 at rather ludicrous speeds – with a wire of course. Even so, wireless charging would have been nice to have, especially with that glass back and price bump.

Another – less acceptable – omission however, is the lack of any form of official IP rating for the phone. Granted, OnePlus did build into the 6 a basic form of waterproofing (or rather, “splash resistance”), but in an age of IP67 rated phones (and even tighter ratings from Sony), it’s something that’s pretty noticeable in its absence on the 6. Also, the lack of an SD slot is pretty sad, though it’s not entirely a surprise considering OnePlus devices never had one to begin with anyway. Plus the release of a 256GB model (finally) does lessen the need for one to be completely honest

Unless, of course, you’re one of those folks rocking a 400/512GB microSD in your phone because… reasons.

And finally, that glass back. Sure, it’s “in” right now and all the cool boys are doing it, but most of the time, it’s done for a reason: Wireless Charging. Which the 6 does NOT have. OnePlus says doing so did improve connectivity (wireless/cellular/GPS signals do travel better through glass then they do through metal), but there’s really only a marginal precieved improvement at best in exchange to a massively less sturdy back compared to the previous metal ones.

PERFORMANCE

Now THIS is one of two aspects in which OnePlus devices have traditionally shone the brightest: device performance. The combination of the latest specs and one of the lightest versions of customised Android available out there has been a long-time recipe of success for the company, and the 6 continues to follow this blueprint to a T.

Just in case you’re wondering what this “latest specs” entail though, here’s a list of what comes inside the 6, in particular this Avengers Infinity War Edition:

  • Snapdragon 845 processor
  • 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM
  • 256GB UFS 2.1 storage
  • Adreno 630 GPU
  • 16MP Sony IMX519 1/2.6″ main back sensor with OIS/EIS (capable of 4k/60fps and 720p/480fps video)
  • 20MP Sony IMX376K secondary back sensor (for depth data)
  • 16MP Sony IMX371 front sensor
  • 3300mah Li-Po battery with “that-tech- formerly-known-as-Dash-Charging”
  • Dual SIM; 4-Band carrier aggregation, LTE Cat.16/13 (1024Mbps/150Mbps) – VoWiFi and VoLTE certified
  • USB Type-C (v2.0)
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac
  • GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo
  • Bluetooth 5.0 (with AptX, LDAC, AAC and AptX HD)
  • NFC

Fuhhh, yeah that list looks pretty much on par for any flagship of 2018… until you realise that the 6 is actually priced a whole lot less. Which suddenly makes the whole package a LOT more enticing, right? And yes, having all this high end components and coupling it with OnePlus’ own Android Oreo 8.1 based Oxygen OS 5.1.3 (out of the box) is probably the main secret behind what makes the 6 just fly.

And fly it does. Providing what is maybe the fastest, smoothest Android experience we have ever experienced short of a pure AOSP or “Vanilla” Android powered device. There is very little to fault OnePlus here, as even the limited amount of customization they do bake into OOS is generally of the useful variety and has a very minimal impact on system resources. An example of these useful customization? The navigation gestures we mentioned a while back. Sure, the gestures take a page straight out of Apple’s book, but they still do work rather great. Also, off screen gestures and dark system themes round out the OS feature set, amongst others.

Topping on the cake? Fast, regular updates. Already, the 6 is on the Android P beta list, and if running bleeding edge Android is less “your thing”, the “current” 5.1.x Oreo branch of OOS has recieved multiple updates so far (it’s up to 5.1.11 now), with each update bringing noticeable improvements to how the 6 performs.

In short, software updates is probably another aspect where OnePlus has the competition knackered. We mean, in a world where your typical Samsung flagship would take somewhere close to 6 months to even be updated to the “latest” Android build or security update, the wait time for OnePlus devices is more like half of that.

Also, OnePlus is probably one of the most “development” friendly manufacturers out there, considering that to unlock the bootloader on the 6 and to root it is pretty much a piece of cake compared to the hoops that one has to jump through with the other OEMs (and some who don’t even allow it like *ehem* Huawei/Honor and LG). Why root though, considering the system is light and customizable enough? A good reason might be to unlock that “Super Bright Mode” we mentioned earlier by using a custom kernel.

Oh, and before we forget, it’s probably pretty well known by now but OnePlus has probably taken the art of “fast charging” and turned it into an art with… well… “Fast Charging”. It used to be called “Dash Charging” but due to some legal disputes, the tech is currently just generically called “Fast Charging” instead, which is a shame considering that next to Huawei’s brand spanking new “Supercharge 2.0”, OnePlus’ FC is probably the best out there: being able to charge your device from 0 to 60% in about 35 minutes, and to top it up fully from 0% in about an hour.

All while keeping your battery and device relatively cool due to the regulation circuits staying in the charger rather than in your phone, which will do wonders for the long term health of your battery to boot. Moving along, we come to camera performance, which traditionally has NOT been one of OnePlus’ stronger suites. See, to be completely honest, while OnePlus HAS jumped onto the twin camera bandwagon for a while now (ever since 2017’s OnePlus 5), it has never really had a concrete image of what it wanted to achieve with those two units.

Which is to say that second camera on the 6 might be of rather dubious actual value, at least for photos.

However, the primary 16MP shooter has been improved enough that we could actually put aside the mess that OnePlus might have made with the secondary one. Where the 5T makes middling shots that are decent and at times, passable; the 6 produces photos that are actually quite good. Not that the Google Pixel 2, the Samsung S9+ or the P20 Pro has anything to worry about, as the 6 can never really quite surpass that trinity of top-end shooters. For now. Most of the faults the camera does still have are software-based though, with OnePlus yet to crack the magic sauce behind the sharpening/noise reduction algorithms driving the camera. We’re pretty hopeful that they do, as the improvements already made does give us a peek into what the sensor is truly capable of.

On the video side, however, a combination of 4k/60fps, 720p/480fps and effective OIS/EIS already makes the 6 a force to be reckoned with, even amongst the big boys. Videos taken with the 6 are smooth, well stabilised with excellent clarity and dynamic range. The auto focus for videos does hunt a little bit in low contrast scenes however, but recent updates has seemed to improve the situation by a bit.

Oh, there’s also that Fingerprint Sensor sitting right below the camera bump, and while it’s a lot smaller (and boxier) than the large round one the previous 5T had, its still protected by glass and reads fingers very, very quickly. Gone however, is the swipe to access notification gestures the 5T once had, though this omission is pretty easily ratified with third-party software.

Wireless and cellular performance has also been rather impressive as well, with solid reception and excellent speeds thanks to AC WiFi and a huge array of supported cellular bands (with the International A6003 model gaining a few US related cellular bands over the Asian A6000, which the model in this review is one of). Bluetooth on the 6 comes in the latest 5.0 guise, which brings with it a nice connection stability boost and (thanks to Android Oreo) other audio related goodies like AAC and LDAC streaming on top of the standard SBC codec… PLUS the much anticipated AptX HD upgrade on top of your garden variety AptX. Plus, the Qualcomm BT stack seems to be a WHOLE lot better sorted out compared to what Huawei had in their Kirins, considering that I get far less audio dropouts and smartwatch disconnections on the 6 compared to my previous Honor 8. Also, the device comes with dual-SIM capability right out of the box, which can be rather nifty if you travel a lot or if you’re one of those folks who like to mix and match cellular service providers as per your needs.

So yeah, it’s a wall of pros so far… so did we have anything at all that we didn’t like about the performance of the 6?

Well, for one thing, there’s the battery life. Coupling a huge display, 8GB of RAM and a upgraded processor with the same 3300mah battery as the previous model seems like a recipe for battery life disaster – which the 6 thankfully avoids, averaging around 4-5 hours SOT under our brand of heavy usage (possibly thanks to OOS’s lean build coupled with that FHD+ screen). That said, that kind of battery capacity is still not up to par considering that the similarly sized Huawei P20 Pro manages to have 4000mah battery crammed into it, with a noticeably more solid SOT to match. Something like a small bump up to at least 3500mah would have served the 6 well here, but while we do understand that that might have driven costs up, it would have been money well spent.

Granted, while “the tech formally known as Dash Charging” does make it ridiculously easy to keep the battery topped off, more battery life would have been appreciated nonetheless. Which actually brings us to the next issue we have with the 6, which is charger compatibility.

Having all the charging gubbins in the charger rather than in the phone means that without the specialised charger, the 6 will charge rather leisurely, rather than at the drag car on crack speeds it usually does. And while third party chargers that are capable of doing the 6’s protocols do exist, zero cross compatibility with other FC protocols (like Qualcomm’s own QC) does mean that whatever FC chargers you DO have is going to be pretty useless to charge 6 quickly with.

Next up, we have that single mono speaker. Not only is it situated in the worse possible place for landscape use (it regularly gets blocked by our palms while gaming/youtubing), OnePlus didn’t even choose a more robust earpiece receiver so that they could at least resort to a psuedo-stereo mode like the P20 Pro does. And for all intents and purposes, it simply sounds decent compared to the more wholesome sound that most other flagships produce.

Finally, another cost cutting measure is that the Type-C connection on the 6 is only of the USB 2.0 variety, with much lower connection speeds and a complete lack of video-out capability unlike some of its pricier rivals. Which is rather unfortunate considering that, both a faster USB connection and video-out could have increased the media and work capabilites on the 6 by a noticeable margin, even with the additional costs incurred.

VALUE

If one of the two main tenets of the OnePlus “philosophy” is performance, then the other would probably be value. And for years they have generally kept to their promise for the best blend of performance components available for the least amount of cash, and the 6 doesn’t disappoint here either. In a time when Samsung (S9+), Huawei (P20 Pro), LG (G7+ ThinQ) and Apple (iPhone X) would charge you considerably above RM3k (about 900USD) for the price of entry into the “flagship club”, the lowest spec (6GB/64GB) OnePlus 6 could be had for a sizeable chunk cheaper then the competition.

Granted, that “discount” will cost you the compromises that the 6 have had to make to stay at that price point (unrated ingress resistance, no wireless charging, no stereo speakers, no SD slot, USB 2.0), but at least performance-wise the 6 meets or even surpasses many of these so called “flagships” pretty easily.

Include the much improved camera over its predecessor, and the “flagship-level” design and build quality, and what you get is probably the best buys of 2018…

… at least until the 6T rolls around in a few months time, if you can wait that long. Otherwise the 6 is still pretty much the best bang for your current buck.

That is, unless you are able to accept even MORE compromises (even performance and build-wise) in the absolute pursuit of value. In which case the Asus Zenphone 5Z and the freshly released (and unfortunately named) Pocophone F1 would like to have a word with you.

Finally, in terms of warranty and aftersales, well, this particular Avengers Limited Edition unit had to be purchased from a parallel importer simply due to the fact that it is ONLY officially available in China and India, so we can’t really comment on that part specifically. However, for the local distributor units (under local official distributor Mihan Sdn. Bhd.) of the 6 in all of the “other” colourways, you do get not only one, but TWO years of warranty (at least at the time of writing), which really only serves to increase the value preposition of the 6 here in Malaysia.

CONCLUSION

As with every OnePlus device before it, the OnePlus 6 has – for the better part – kept steadfast to its “Never Settle” motto. At least for the performance and build quality you can get for the money you pay. The only real difference on the 6 is that, thus far, this is probably the closest that OnePlus has ever gotten to that lofty ideal. Even taking into consideration the compromises made, price hikes 6 has had versus the 5T… and the upcoming launch of the (probably even pricier) 6T, the 6 is still very much the most convincing embodiment of that OnePlus motto yet.

In the end though, what does all of this mean for your average Tech Nomad? Well, for one, the 6 remains one of most solidly built powerhouses for the least possible cost, with the least possible compromise; which already pretty much makes it a winner for most Tech Nomads in need of a new smartphone. I mean lower costs do mean that it is easier to replace if anything does happen, not to mention that solid build and superlative specs does help to keep it from needing to be replaced in the first place. And hey, the wide cellular band coverage and dual-SIM capability can be really helpful for folks constantly on the road like us.

Sure, we can also opt for even lesser priced, lower performance options available out there, but considering that there might even be instances where we might even have to do actual work on these devices (hey, this review itself was mostly written ON the OnePlus 6 being reviewed, ironically enough), why settle for something with less power and longevity for comparatively meager savings?

So, with all its pros and cons taken into account, us here at Technomadica has decided to award the OnePlus 6 with a 9.5 over 10, hereby ensuring its entry to our coveted TECHNOMADICA CHOICE circle of excellence.

Our particular unit here was purchased from Mobile2Go, which also sells local distributor units (with that sweet 2-year warranty) in all of the other (non-Avengers) colourways available. Do check them out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.