With OnePlus 6, is OnePlus still asking you to settle?

OnePlus’ quest to win over the hearts and minds of America’s Android handset customers might be hampered by one choice

he line of potential customers started at 25th street, snaked its way onto Fifth Avenue, in the shadow of the majestic Flat Iron Building, and terminated halfway between Fifth and Sixth Ave on 24 St. Hundreds were waiting to buy a hot new smart phone…and it wasn’t an iPhone.

The waiting is the hardest part.

Inside the pop-up Store in The Flat event space, which I visited this week, there was a party atmosphere as dozens lined up on one side of the narrow venue to touch and play with OnePlus’s new $529, unlocked OnePlus 6 smartphone and dozens more lined up to buy one of the new Android handsets.

Near the front stood two respected YouTube influencers, handset reviewer Marques Brownlee and antic tech maverick Linus, surrounded by starry eyed fans hoping for a selfie with the icons.

It smelled like success and reminded me of the circus atmosphere Apple cultivates at its iPhone product launches. However, barring the iPhone X launch, recent handset launches from the Cupertino tech giant have been relatively muted affairs.

OnePlus has never been above shamelessly copying Apple. The OnePlus is, at a glance, an iPhone X doppelganger. Those similarities quickly fade as soon as you take a close look at the much larger (6.28 inches vs. 5.8 inches for the iPhone X) OnePlus 6 and notice the smaller, though similarly shaped, notch (which houses a 16 MP camera/facial recognition tech, sensors and a speaker).

Apple-ish.

OnePlus is also not above stunts. In the past it sold its phones as invite-only devices and then in a VR space (a first for any smartphone company) and even did an ill-conceived Smash the Past promotion to promote the OnePlus One.

The company has grown out of these tricks and has, in recent years, traced a new path to success: reviews and influencer seeding. Those reviews have been, for the most part, enthusiastic and positive.

Now, having seen the OnePlus 6 in person and played with it a bit, I can see why. It’s a gorgeous-looking, well-balanced and clearly feature-rich phone. The devices OnePlus set up for us to play with were all arrayed on a series of brightly lit tables. The white light contracted our pupils, making it almost impossible to look at the phones. Most everyone had to turn away from the tables while holding the phones, making the friendly, but omnipresent, product security nervous.

This 19:9 AMOLED screen is gorgeous.

Each handset was designed to play a demo program that highlighted key elements of the handset (Performance — it runs Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 CPU — Dual Camera) on a continuous loop. You could exit out to get to the Android 8 interface, but it would automatically return to the demo within a minute.

Squeezed among people who were waiting for hands-on-time with the device, to buy one for themselves, or to get some of the ice cream OnePlus was dolling out at the end of the purchase process, I turned the OnePlus 6 over in my hands. It had a Gorilla Glass 5 back that looked, remarkably, like brushed metal, but when I shined a light on it, I could see the curved design etched into the layers. Here was some real craftsmanship. Next to this phone was another OnePlus 6 with a glossy back (white and rose gold are also on the way). In the right light, you could see dozens of fingerprints. I knew which chassis material I wanted.

The Gorilla Glass 5 back is a fingerprint magnet.

Nowhere is OnePlus’s iPhone mimicry more evident than it is on the OnePlus 6’s dual camera. The 16 and 20 MP lenses are aligned vertically in a pill shape that looks exactly like the one you’ll find on the iPhone X. OnePlus, however, places the lens housing in the center of the phone and about two-thirds up from the base (right above the stacked flash and fingerprint sensor). Oddly, I found myself placing my finger on the lens when I held the device. I assume this is just an adjustment I’d have to make if I bought one.

This design isn’t obvious to the naked eye.

Like Samsung, OnePlus dropped the micro-USB in favor of USB-C, while maintaining a 3.5 mm jack. As products like wireless AirPods rise in popularity, I wonder how much longer manufacturers will be able to lord this design and function decision over Apple.

The 19:9 AMOLED screen was bright, sharp and expansive. I love edge-to-edge screen technology and, as with the iPhone X, wasn’t bothered by the little notch cutout at all.

It’s odd how the photos don’t fill the whole screen.

I took a couple of pictures — selfies with the16MP front-facing and a few with the portrait-capable dual cameras — but the lighting in the event space was sub-optimal at best for photography. Marqus Brownlee, who had already spent quality time with the phone, told me the photography was good, though he still thinks Google Pixel takes the best photos.

OnePlus’ new slogan is Never Settle. It’s a good line but seems to ignore the fact that you do have to settle a little if you want the $529, unlocked OnePlus6. First, you don’t get rated water protection. The phone is water resistant, but I don’t think it can handle a prolonged drop in a pool or toilet.

The famous 3-position alert switch . All OnePlus phones have this fascinating feature. On the right is the base with USB-C and, yup, a 3.5 mm port.

Second, if you want the OnePlus 6 and you’re on Verizon, you’re out of luck. OnePlus 6 is GSM only, with no support for Verizon’s CDMA network. As a Verizon customer who is happy with the network (if not the price), why do I have to choose a different network just to get a sexy new phone? It’s not 2007 and OnePlus is not Apple (Apple famously launched the iPhone exclusively with AT&T and took years to add Verizon support). I asked OnePlus’ PR team why the company didn’t support CDMA, but no one had a good answer.

Verizon has, according to Statistica, roughly 35% carrier market share. That’s a lot of potential customers, but I get it. Together, AT&T and T-Mobile make up more than 50% of the market. Who needs Verizon?

Choice, though, implies you don’t have to settle for what you don’t want. Anyone who wants the affordable and well-appointed OnePlus 6 should be able to get it. As it stands, Verizon customers who want a powerful Android Phone for less than $600 may have to settle. To be fair, the choices aren’t terrible. I’ve been playing with a $250 Motorola Moto G6. It’s a big phone with a nice screen (that struggles in sunlight) and takes decent photos. It doesn’t compare to the OnePlus 6, but, like I said, I guess sometimes you have to settle.

As I left the OnePlus 6 pop-up store event, I took one last look at the line. Though OnePlus had been letting in customers a few or so at a time for hours, it looked just as long as before. Perhaps OnePlus customers don’t care about the caveats. They’re willing to wait.

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.

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