As the smartphone market mature, storied brands such as Sony, LG, and HTC are struggling to compete against Apple and Samsung.
However, Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus has found a niche of value-oriented buyers who are willing to buy a flagship phone online from a relatively unknown Chinese company, provided that phone has all the latest technology and a nearly stock version of Android.
With its latest model, OnePlus 6, the company has refined its formula further, adding the latest design language alongside Qualcomm’s most powerful processor, while still maintaining a price point hundreds of dollars less than the iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy S9+.
The OnePlus 6 has top-of-the-line specs but goes on sale this week starting at just $529/€519/£469. This is a significant discount to rival large-screen flagships that range from $800 to $1000.
Part of the savings comes from OnePlus’ business model: it designs and sells just a single phone at a time, it does no advertising, and it only sells direct online. Selling premium phones direct is not unique to OnePlus; Huawei’s Honor and Xiaomi also sell this way, though both of those companies have many low-end phones in their lines.
The OnePlus 6 is on-trend with a large, 6.28-inch AMOLED display with a notch design. Thanks to the 19:9 aspect ratio, the larger screen fits in a curved glass case that is narrower than the previous OnePlus 5T. OnePlus has added the latest silicon and imaging capabilities: a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 6 or 8 GB of RAM, and a dual camera rear setup for depth effects. OnePlus continues its tradition of keeping the software simple: OxygenOS is close to stock Android, and the OnePlus 6 supports Google’s Android P beta at launch.
While OnePlus has kept the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack, it is also selling its first wireless headphones, Bullets Wireless, which are also well-priced at $69.
The OnePlus 6 is excellent value, however there are compromises. In the past, OnePlus was a step or two behind the leaders on camera quality and design. The latter is no longer true: the OnePlus 6 looks like every other glass-on-glass-with-notch flagship we have seen this year. However, while the camera has gotten better, it still lags the very best from Google, Apple and Huawei.
Those competitors offer their phones in two sizes, while the OnePlus 6 effectively only comes in extra large. The OnePlus 6 does not have wireless charging, and it is only water resistant, not fully waterproof.