A few months back I questioned my mobile allegiance and pledged to find a new phone by the New Year. The fall was a fiesta of smartphone debuts, including those you’re probably tired of hearing about, like Apple’s iPhone XS/XR and the Google Pixel 3. While I was convinced a new droid was in order, I was confident I’d end up with either the Pixel 3 or the Sony XZ3, simply because all the flagship specs that I really wanted were there – along with a couple “luxury-like” features such as Google’s AI photo enhancement endeavors or Sony’s version of an AI-enhanced lens and high-resolution audio playback. However, as research fatigue set in, so did my doubts about buying into the flagship market.
It’s now totally normal to spend $800+ on a device that’s not necessarily designed to last more than 2 years. On top of that, we go for insurance, data and streaming plans, screen protectors, expensive cases, etc., for something that is likely to take a hard fall or a spill, or perhaps even get lost or stolen. I’m not saying today’s top shelf phones aren’t worth it, but it does feel like the process of buying one has lost a certain amount of its charm with the often $1,000 price tag and minimal incentives from major carriers. Easy trade-ins and no-interest financing for most make it a relatively smooth process, but there’s no doubting that the mobile telecom purchase experience has changed from its earlier iterations when consumers could count on some type of upgrade or bonus for riding out two years. Like a lot of younger people, $800+ isn’t the type of cash I love to spend up front. I began to wonder if I could get the general raw power I craved at a price I could afford outright, which brought me back to a product that has been attracting a lot of buzz of late, OnePlus.
OnePlus is a boutique smartphone powerhouse based out of Shenzhen, China led by Pete Lau and international tech wonderkid Carl Pei. OnePlus’s new 6T flagship phone sports the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor as its top Android competitors, but comes with more RAM and a sleek, stripped down form of Android known as Oxygen OS. Where OnePlus cuts costs is largely in the software. While giants like Apple and Google have invested considerably on developing machine learning enhanced photo enhancement, OnePlus is focusing on the fundamentals. The 6T was the first OnePlus to be launched with a major carrier, as T-Mobile picked up the OnePlus flag this winter – and while the new model was tempting, I couldn’t help but notice the $100 off OnePlus was offering on the original 6 model, which debuted only 6 months earlier.
The culmination of my research concluded in the purchase of a OnePlus 6 packed with 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. The phone doesn’t include an in-screen fingerprint scanner, waterproof IP rating or wireless charging, but still has a tactile reader on the back of the phone, an intact headphone jack, dual-sim card support and massive 3100 mh battery. The phone is super thin, feels futuristic and is lightning fast. Oxygen OS is minimal, but in a beautifully Scandinavian type of way that adds resolution and depth to the Android stock OS. A feature I didn’t expect to love but have found to be very appealing is ‘Reading Mode’, which applies a kind of visual filter that softens the appearance of text by reducing saturation and removing harsh white and blue light. I recently started a new book that I can only get on Kindle and set Reading Mode to be applied every time the app is opened. The result is lovely and I’m hoping it will assist in one of my New Year’s resolutions: to read more books and scroll less social.
When asked about Apple’s missed sales targets, CEO Tim Cook cited repair of old phones as the culprit. Taking a more long-term view on device purchasing is probably healthy, both for people and the planet (which Apple ironically noted during the XS release). Therefore, I’m excited I found a phone with hardware that should withstand a couple years of update cycles, backed by a dedicated community of followers contributing to the development cause. Lastly, one of my favorite small touches was the pre-applied screen protector and free coupon for a classy, cool case – all for roughly half the price and hassle of leasing a new flagship phone. My final decision surprised me, but as the process dragged on, the path forward became more clear: stop trying to put all the proverbial tech eggs in one basket. Allow an ecosystem of repair and upgrades to flourish and avoid forcing sales at the expense of your customer. As Apple can attest to, it can have the opposite effect.