A Great Example of Flagship Value
OnePlus has made some unbelievable progress over the past few years, going from a company that had a hard time fulfilling component orders for more than a few thousand phones at a time, to being a company that is readily stocking its latest flagship at T-Mobile stores all across the US. The OnePlus 6T is OnePlus’s most ambitious phone yet, one that is a more premium device than ever and is also available in more countries than ever. It has smaller bezels, a smaller notch, and a cutting-edge in-glass fingerprint scanner. But it gives up a bit of its identity for these upgrades. It’s not the fastest phone we’ve seen from the company, despite marketing claims, and it’s missing the 3.5mm audio jack that OnePlus repeatedly said it wouldn’t remove. In the process of making it big time, the company seems as if it has begun to abandon the base that built it from nothing. That’s not to say it’s not a phenomenal phone, because it really is, especially for the price, but there are considerations to make before going in and some concessions that had to be made to make a truly flagship-level phone retail for nearly half the price of the bigger names on the market.
Specs and Unboxing
From a spec standpoint, there’s not a large difference between this device and the recently released OnePlus 6. It sports the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor as that phone, and a choice of either 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage for £499/€549/$549, 8GB of RAM with 128GB of storage for £529/€579/$579, or 8GB of RAM with 256GB of storage for £579/€629/$629. The phone ships in a shiny Mirror Black finish, as well as a matte Midnight Black version, which we have here for review, or a matte Thunder Purple color.
On the front is a 6.41-inch 19.5:9 Optic AMOLED display with 1080p+ (1080 x 2340) resolution. This display features smaller bezels than any OnePlus phone to date, as well as a significantly smaller notch than the OnePlus 6T, which only houses the front-facing 16-megapixel camera (1/3.1-inch size, 1.0µm pixels, f/2.0 81-degree lens). Inside the glass and aluminum body is a non-removable 3,700mAh battery with support for OnePlus fast charging at 5v/4a (20W). The fingerprint reader is also located inside the body, underneath the display.
On the bottom is a single speaker and a USB Type-C port with USB 2.0 speeds, as well as USB OTG support. There is no 3.5mm audio jack but the included 3.5mm to USB Type-C adapter works with the Dirac HD DAC inside the body of the phone. The phone sports a dual-SIM tray slot which houses two nano-SIM cards, but there is no microSD card support. On the back is a pair of cameras; a main 16-megapixel camera (Sony IMX519, 1/2.6-inch size, 1.22µm pixels, f/1.7 81-degree lens, PDAF, OIS), as well as a secondary 20-megapixel camera (Sony IMX376, 1/2.8-inch size, 1.0µm pixels, f/1.7 81-degree lens, PDAF).
Supported wireless technologies include dual-band WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, and Bluetooth 5.0. The phone is larger than the OnePlus 6, coming in at 157.5mm high (2mm taller), 74.8mm wide (0.6mm narrower), and 8.2mm thin (0.4mm thicker), with a weight of 185 grams (8 grams heavier).
OnePlus ships the OnePlus 6T with a pre-applied film-type screen protector for scratch resistance out of the box, and even includes a grey transparent TPU case inside each phone's box for minor drop and scratch protection for the rest of the phone. Aside from this you'll find the usual manuals and SIM tray ejector tool, a nice letter from CEO Pete Lau, and OnePlus's fast charger in the box. This fast charger is a 5v/4a 20W charger and should be used with the included red USB Type-C cable for maximum compatibility with OnePlus's super fast charging standard.
OnePlus 6T Hardware and Design
The launch of the OnePlus 6 changed the traditional metal formula out for a new “glass sandwich” build that makes little sense for any reason other than looks. The primary reason most manufacturers moved to this design was that it provided an easier way to waterproof the design and that it provided a material that would easily allow for wireless charging. OnePlus offers all the brilliant aesthetics of the glass sandwich design, including some gorgeous flat colors that resist fingerprints incredibly well and actually look more like powdered metal as our Midnight Black review unit does.
The problem is that OnePlus seems to have forgotten the purpose of this type of design, as the OnePlus 6T doesn’t include wireless charging capabilities or an IP rating for water and dust resistance. This would be inexcusable in 2018 for a high-priced flagship, but many have been able to slag it off because of OnePlus’s reduced price.
It still doesn’t explain the need for switching to glass though, especially when most folks are just going to cover up their phones with a case, as it makes a more fragile phone without the typical positive trade-offs that a glass back brings. OnePlus has also failed to update the vibration motors to anything better than what it’s provided before which makes the device feel instantly old next to phones from LG, Samsung or Google in 2018. Then there’s the strange decision to keep slow USB 2.0 speeds for that USB Type-C port, meaning you’re going to be sitting a painfully long time if you ever need to transfer large files, such as videos, via USB cable from the phone.
It’s a good thing the rest of the design helps distract from the obvious negative that a glass back brings, including OnePlus’s brilliant and unique alert slider. Found on the right side just above the power button is a switch that toggles between mute, vibrate, and ring sound modes. This is one of the best unique design traits in the industry as it allows for instant changing of sound modes without even having to look at the phone, much less unlocking it. While this excellent design trait was thankfully kept over the years, one big promise to fans was broken in a rather unceremonial way with the OnePlus 6T: the removal of the 3.5mm audio jack.
Yes, after years of patronizing competitors and holding polls asking fans if they want to keep the headphone jack and despite the overwhelming majority of fans answering yes, OnePlus shipped its first phone without this important port. As a phone manufacturer that has lived by the motto “by the fans, for the fans” for so many years, 2018 has been a year where they have consistently done the opposite of what fans have been outspoken against.
From the notch on the OnePlus 6 to the 3.5mm audio jack in the 6T, it’s obvious that OnePlus is more beholden to what OPPO is doing with their designs than taking the time and effort to actually design a phone for themselves, as the sister devices for each OnePlus phone just so happens to have identical design and component choices.
What's also interesting about this choice isn't just the removal of the 3.5mm port, but the fact that OnePlus kept the high-quality Dirac HD software functions for wired audio in OxygenOS, more specifically designed for its own wired USB Type-C headphones than anything. The OnePlus 6T certainly looks like a OnePlus phone, which is a huge plus in a year where so many phones look nearly identical, but it’s not without sacrifices for the price.
OnePlus 6T Security and Fingerprint Scanner
Not the Speed You Need. At first, anyway.
The irony of OnePlus using the slogan “Unlock the Speed” for the OnePlus 6T is directly related to how the phone is unlocked. OnePlus replaced the traditional front or rear-facing fingerprint pad with an in-display one that’s located directly underneath the glass and display itself. This new fingerprint sensor isn’t new or unique to the OnePlus 6T, but it is by far the best in-glass fingerprint scanner we’ve used on a smartphone to date.
OnePlus achieves this feat by using a better hardware solution to reading the fingerprints than with the first generation technology they experimented with a year ago, but by also combining an intelligent software solution that builds a better fingerprint model over time. Over the past several weeks of usage, it became clear that this must have been happening, as my right thumb unlocked the phone significantly faster over that period of time.
My left thumb, on the other hand, consistently had difficulty unlocking the phone with any sort of accuracy or speed until I realized the phone learns from usage. Once I realized this, I dedicated myself to only unlocking the phone with my left thumb for a few hours and saw monumentally better results because of this. What began as a frustrating and slow experience of trying to unlock the phone unsuccessfully for quite a few days eventually developed into a solid experience that felt, more or less, equivalent to a more traditional capacitive touch fingerprint scanner.
This is particularly surprising because OnePlus seems to be the OEM that has figured out how to make in-glass fingerprint scanners actually feel good, much less as accurate as more dedicated solutions. Even after the accuracy fixes over time though, unlocking with the in-glass method is simply not as fast as the dedicated methods found on previous generation OnePlus devices, but it’s likely not enough of a problem to cause irritation, especially given how cool it looks and feels.
The new in-glass fingerprint scanner also opens up a brand new quick launcher, activated by pressing and holding the fingerprint scanner after the phone has been unlocked. Icons will appear in a horizontally scrolling fashion, moved between by sliding your thumb left or right, letting go to select an app or action.
Any app can be added to this list, and any system-wide quick action can be placed here too, allowing for the ultimate quick way to launch just about anything with the swipe of a finger, straight from the lockscreen. It’s a phenomenal evolution to what OnePlus has provided in the past regarding actions on the lock screen, and it’s all in addition to those options which are still present and usable.