I’ll start with a confession – I have never owned an Android phone. For all their faults and drawbacks, I like iPhones, it’s all I’ve had since the 3GS. In fact, my only dalliance with Android came from a brief fling with a Nexus 7 tablet way back in 2012. I wasn’t too fussed on it back then, so I’ve never really given it another chance… until now.
When OnePlus sent us their new phone, the OnePlus 6, Gareth thought this might be the ideal opportunity to give me a flavour of what Android phones are doing these days and insisted that I be the one to review it. I’d be lying if I said I was super enthusiastic, but I was intrigued to see what was going on on the other side of the fence.
OnePlus are known for delivering a hefty punch at a more wallet-friendly price. To call them a budget brand would be misleading as it implies a lower quality, and that is certainly not the case here. While the 6 follows their value for money business model, it feels like a very well put together piece of kit. The materials used along with the fit and finish are equal to that of any of the big name brands and it looks great with its curved glass back and sleek lines. There are minimal controls on the edges, volume rocker, power button and a slider that switches between silent, vibrate and volume. In the bottom you have a 3.5mm headphone socket, so no adapters or Bluetooth required. The charging is done via USB type C and dash charging is supported, so you can get yourself up and running again in no time flat. Nice! The phone is listed as water resistant, although there is no IP rating so it’s unclear just how waterproof it actually is. I’d say you’ll be fine if you get caught out in the rain, but maybe try to avoid submerging it just in case.
OnePlus have crammed a lot of premium features into this handset, and it’s not some watered down version either, the facial recognition works exceptionally quickly and smoothly and never gave any problems (so long as you are lit well enough for the camera to see you!). The fingerprint scanner on the back was an interesting new design to me, as I’m used to it being on the front. No doubt experienced Android users are well practiced in its use. You find it by feel alone, it’s quite small and its right under the camera, so there were a lot of occasions when I was getting used to it where I was trying to unlock the phone with my finger on the lens! When you do develop the muscle memory to go straight to it, it again works quickly and smoothly.
I don’t want this to become an Apple Vs Android debate, but all I have to compare the OnePlus against is my trusty old iPhone 7, so that will be the benchmark against which I’ll be basing this review.
The first thing you notice is when you get the 6 in your hand is the size. It’s is a big phone, much more comparable to an iPhone plus. It has a beautiful big 6.28” screen, bright and vibrant which stretches fully across the width of the handset. There is a very small bezel at the bottom and the now terribly trendy notch at the top. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about notches on phones, but to be honest, I really didn’t mind it at all. When using apps, it tends to cut off the area on either side of the notch, producing a rectangular picture anyway. You really notice it in the apps menu, but the only things displayed in that area is device information, so not only did I not mind, I actually rather liked it. Personally, I found the screen a bit big for my tastes. I have pretty large hands but I struggled a little to use the phone one handed as my thumb didn’t reach the top of the screen. This, of course, is totally a preference issue though.
The screen itself is very sensitive to touch, they slightest glance is registered. I noticed that with having such a tiny bezel, the meat of your hand would sometimes touch the screen, depending on your grip and it was hard not to touch the screen when you are trying to pick it up while watching video content. Strangely, despite the very sensitive touch register and the super speedy Snapdragon 845 processor, I did not find the 6 quite as smooth as my iPhone when it came to gesture movement on the screen. It’s by no means, bad, quite the contrary, it is more than responsive enough, but it just didn’t have that silky smoothness that I’m used to. I also found the iPhone’s screen to be a little sharper, but it’s pretty marginal and when there is such a substantial difference in screen size, it’s really not much more than a data point.
The OnePlus reacts very quickly thanks to the aforementioned processor and its 8gb of RAM, there is no lag to commands and everything I tried in my day to day use responded exactly as expected. Games load quickly and there is no stuttering or delays while playing. I am very much a layman when it comes to phone use, I’m not trying to hack NASA or create artificial intelligence, so from my perspective, it really did everything I wanted it to with absolutely no fuss. Surely that’s all you can ask of any phone. For the actual speed test results, be sure to check out the unboxing video.
The phone uses an Oxygen OS which is refreshingly devoid of too many non-deletable proprietary apps that you’re never going to use. I appreciated the uncluttered look and while it took a little getting used to where various settings etc were, I actually found it much more straightforward and intuitive that I was expecting. Waking the phone took a little getting used to. With the iPhone, you can check notifications etc just by tapping the home button as the phone sits on my desk, holding your finger on it will unlock it. With the 6, you have to either hit the power button, then swipe and enter your pin or lift the phone so the camera can see you, or lift it so you can reach the fingerprint scanner which I found a little inconvenient. Either way, my point is that you generally have to lift the phone to open it. Take that for whatever its worth.
The 6 offers a 16mp dual camera and I was really intrigued to see how this would compare against my iPhone 7, which isn’t exactly known for having a particularly advanced camera. I took a variety of pictures on each phone, in fading light, at max zoom, close up etc. I was actually surprised to find that I thought the iPhone’s look a little better to me. Although I think this has more to do with the screen quality on the phone rather than the camera capabilities. It’s an excellent camera and when transferred uncompressed, you can see the quality of the shots it can produce. The front-facing camera is also excellent so you can easily satisfy all your selfie needs. The 6 easily trumps the iPhone when it comes to its video capabilities, offering 4K filming.
To add to the value of the product, OnePlus include a slim silicone type case and a screen protector already fitted. You can’t ask much better than that. Admittedly my screen protector was a little askew, but to be fair, it’s probably no better than my cack-handed attempts to install one. I have to applaud OnePlus for including these extras, they are accessories that you would actually want unlike the stickers, lanyards etc that come with other phones.
Altogether this is a really rather nice phone and I have had a surprisingly positive experience with it. So with all these excellent feature set and its lower level price point, it’s a no-brainer, right? Well just hold on a second before you place your order. When a product is priced as competitively as the OnePlus 6, there have to be compromises and costs cut. Unlike most modern, feature-laden, glass-backed smartphones, you won’t get wireless charging. Personally, that’s not much of a big deal to me, you’ll have to decide yourself just how important that is to you. The 6 supports dual sim cards, but curiously there is no facility for expanding the memory. This is somewhat offset by the generous 128gb onboard memory capacity, but if you regularly film in the rather impressive 4K, 60FPS option, you could find yourself short of memory pretty quickly. Given the choice, I’d have thought that expandable memory would have been the more popular consumer option.
These are very minor quibbles though and completely understandable omissions, given all that you are getting for your money. However, the biggest problem for me is the sound. You have a single speaker at the bottom and to be honest, I didn’t find it very good. At any kind of decent volume, it blared and vibrated. At this level of phone, to not have stereo output is somewhat unforgivable.
I don’t know if it’s a particular issue with Android in general, or this phone specifically, but the quality of sound wasn’t great either. Speech wasn’t too bad, but the music was pretty poor. There is no built-in EQ like there is on the iPhone and those aftermarket audio apps that are available from the PlayStore didn’t really do enough to make up for it. There is an option for sound EQ, but only on headphones, and even then, only if they are wired. When using Bluetooth headphones, the headphone sound options are greyed out. I used pretty high end wired headphones to give the phone the best opportunity, but immediately I discovered that the downloaded EQ app and the built-in headphone EQ did not like each other and constantly tried to outdo the other, resulting in a very mixed level listening experience. After trying several combinations and various settings, I could never get close to a sound that I was particularly happy with. I understand that the major benefit of the Android platform is that it can be tailored, customised and tweaked to suit the user, and I openly admit, with more time and experience, perhaps I could have improved this. However, in the interests of fairness, I have to judge the phone as it comes, right out of the box. I should not have to start delving into the dark corners of the Android forums just to get half decent sound on Spotify. I use my phone for music a lot, both through headphones and in my car, so this is an area of particular importance to me.
Aside from the music aspect, this really is a cracking phone, especially when you consider what else you can get for your money. I was honestly surprised by how much I liked this phone. I loved playing games and watching videos on the bigger screen and the battery life is nothing short of amazing too. I was able to watch 2 full games of the world cup streamed through the BBC iPlayer or ITV hub as well as my usual daily usage and there was still plenty of battery life left at the end of the day. I was more than impressed with that, especially given the size and brightness of the screen.
I’ll not go so far as to say that I’d be going to the dark side and trading in my iPhone just yet, I like the simplicity and familiarity of the iOS, but it has certainly raised my interest in the Android platform and I will be genuinely sorry to hand the phone back.
I think one area where the OnePlus 6 may really shine is the business sector. You have dual sim slot for work and personal use, a processor that is more than up to general office tasks and a heck of a battery. Couple this with the lower price point and you suddenly become an appealing fleet option. For regular customers, if you can’t quite stretch to the level of flagship phones or are not that bothered about using your phone for music, I can absolutely recommend this phone. It will do everything the average Joe will want and more besides. It’s a great looking, high-quality device that offers outstanding value for money. I look forward to seeing what OnePlus bring out in future.
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