OnePlus 6T review: A deeply appealing device from this plucky Chinese smartphone maker
The latest phone from OnePlus has just gone on sale, the OnePlus 6T, with striking updates and innovations
I've been using the OnePlus 6T for almost a month now, and I really like it. It's very much a continuation of the styling OnePlus used on the OnePlus 6 earlier in the year. That was the first to break with the metal-back styling of phones since the OnePlus 3 and opt for a glass enclosure front and rear.
This looks as smart and stylish as the last model – which is very stylish, by the way – and although it's a little thicker from front to back (8.2mm instead of the OnePlus 6's 7.8mm), it feels very comfortable in the hand, not least because it's narrower than the last model.
Still, it squeezes in a bigger 6.4-inch display because the screen proportions are different: This is a 19.5:9 ratio screen. There's a notch at the top, but it's pretty minimal, like a drop of water when it's just about to gain enough critical mass to drip from the bathroom tap, no bigger than that. It looks cute.
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This teardrop notch is one obvious change. The second comes when you flip the phone over. Unlike on the OnePlus 6, there's no fingerprint sensor just below the dual cameras.
That's because, excitingly, there's a fingerprint sensor actually buried in the display itself. Pick up the phone and the fingerprint icon lights up on the dark screen. Touch it, and it responds with a neat animation, like a fizzing electrical sphere, and unlocks to the home screen. It feels like the future.
Huawei has a similar technology, though a less glitzy special effect, on the Huawei Mate 20. Huawei's feels just that bit quicker, but this is far from slow. It's not as fast as a conventional fingerprint sensor, but at least there's the cute animation to entertain you – and it's still only a fraction of a second.
Also, it sits in just the perfect place, right at the bottom of the display, in the middle, while the Mate 20 Pro sensor is quite a bit higher.
That other Chinese brand, Xiaomi, also has an in-screen fingerprint sensor on its new Mi 8 Pro handset, though that requires a little more pressure.
Top tip: when you're enrolling your fingerprint, think about what angle you'll actually be unlocking it from. My vertical thumb print wasn't very effective. I registered it again coming at it from the angle that it turns out I would actually pick the phone up by and it worked like a dream.
Overall, the fingerprint unlock is pretty reliable, though it doesn't work as consistently as, say, Face ID on the iPhone XS. But it does the job more than nine times out of ten, so enough to keep you coming back to it rather than turning to the other ways to unlock the phone, such as facial recognition (consistent but not as much fun) or tapping in a PIN code.
When it unlocks, you get to see the display in all its glory. It covers 86 per cent of the front of the phone. You can even obscure the notch if you want, or at least set it so the display colours itself black on either side of it, so it blends in. But with such a pretty notch, why would you hide it? Well, only because it gives the screen a little more symmetry, near-matching bezels at top and bottom, it suddenly looks like.
The 6.41-inch display on this phone is bright and colourful, looking eye-searingly vivid in some wallpapers (which I love the look of, by the way). The wallpapers even bear the OnePlus slogan of "Never Settle", a reminder of the plucky Chinese brand's positive attitude.
It's a pin-sharp OLED screen, with 401 pixels per inch, that's the same as the iPhone 8 Plus and rather more than the iPhone XR. And it has OnePlus specialities like reading mode which turns the screen monochrome as though it were a Kindle.
It completely dominates the front of the phone and you'll be glad to know it's robust – it's made of Gorilla Glass 6.
As far as the rear of the phone is concerned, there are two finishes to choose from, Midnight Black (it means matte black) and Mirror Black (it means, oh, you can work it out). Both are attractive.
One of the most interesting things about the design is what's not there: The headphone jack. OnePlus is hardly alone in dropping this connection but nonetheless it's something that many fans have not been happy about, not least because the company championed the headphone jack one the OnePlus 6. Mind you, it means the phone has a bigger battery than last time, which on balance, is a decent trade-off.
OnePlus hasn't introduced waterproofing here, either, something which is a real boon in technology generally. So, don't drop it in the bath. And, be warned, this phone can feel slippy in the hand.
Something else that's absent is wireless charging. Now, scores of phones have had this capability and until recently it's gone largely unused. But the truth is that wireless charging pads are an unsung hero of the tech world, providing a genuine improvement in convenience that, once used, is hard to give up on.
Wireless charging is especially good at disguising limited battery life because the simplicity of putting it on a pad feels much less of a commitment than digging out the right cable and plugging it in.
So, although the company hasn't ruled wireless charging out for future phones, it's a shame it's not here now. Especially as the rear of the phone is glass, not metal.
Still, OnePlus prides itself on charging the battery fast, and that's definitely the case with the OnePlus 6T, which quickly goes from empty to enough to get through a day in around half an hour. That's part of the argument against wireless charging, of course, that it's not as fast.
Battery life is strong with a full charge leaving you with a third of a battery by the end of the day, often more. As mentioned, this battery is bigger than on the OnePlus 6.
Performance is good, too, thanks to the fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip and plenty of RAM to keep everything speeding along. It has the latest version of Android on board, Android Pie 9.0. OnePlus uses its own Oxygen OS set-up which is accessible and attractive.
The camera is a crucial element on every smartphone now and I found the OnePlus 6T camera to be a moderate improvement on the last model. The hardware is the same, but algorithms and software have been enhanced to better photograph faces, text, food and night scenes, OnePlus says.
The front camera is high-resolution, 16MP, and has similarly had a software uptick to make selfies sharper.
The rear camera hardware is good - a pair of sensors with 16MP and 20MP resolution respectively - but sometimes I found the images were low on detail in places. Low light was less of a problem than on many phones but I didn't feel the camera quite on the level of the best in the market, such as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and iPhone XS. Then again, those phones cost a lot more.
Which is a part of the story for OnePlus. Although the latest phone is not as super-cheap as its handsets were when it first arrived on the scene, the price ticket here, £499, is impressive. Especially since the storage on board is 128GB, where many rivals have 64GB as standard, still.
Camera apart, there's not much you miss out on with this phone (well, wireless charging and a headphone jack but they aren't dealbreakers) and there are some elements, such as the in-screen fingerprint sensor, which hardly any other phones can match. Add to that the strong performance, great battery life and fast recharge, and the OnePlus 6T is a deeply appealing choice.