OnePlus 6 smartphone

Teardown: OnePlus 6 smartphone

Image credit: OnePlus

A smartphone offering premium performance at a very competitive price.

Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus has come a long way. It started out using scarcity marketing, with handsets available by invitation only. It launched its new flagship, the OnePlus 6, at a glitzy event in London’s Olympic Park in May and now has a UK carrier deal with O2.

But the core part of its strategy holds firm. OnePlus aims to offer phones that compete with top-of-the-range rivals from companies such as Apple and Samsung but which are also far cheaper.

An unlocked OnePlus 6 is sold in Britain at prices ranging from £469 to £569 in configurations from 6GB RAM/64GB storage to 8GB RAM/256GB storage. Galaxy S9 pricing starts at £739, iPhone X at £999.

This has required trade-offs. The 6’s 6.28in display may be huge for an Android phone, but has fewer pixels per inch than the Apple or Samsung flagships. The main dual-camera combines a 16MP unit with a 20MP depth sensor but even with the addition of optical image stabilisation (earlier models only had electronic  stabilisation) it is still reckoned to offer less precise images than its competitors.

Meanwhile, some work on waterproofing has been done but not to formal certification. There is then no wireless charging (despite its all-glass case) and only a single speaker with rather thin output.

That sounds a lot, but the overall package retains a premium feel. Most of the 6’s lower specifications only become evident if you place it side-by-side with an S9 or X. That is because, elsewhere, OnePlus matches the competition.

Qualcomm’s same eight-core, 10nm Snapdragon 845 application processor as is found in the S9 powers the 6. Features such as a fingerprint sensor, facial unlocking and an easy switch between vibrate and ringtone are all present. And, as a result of what may have been another trade-off by OnePlus, the phone is highly responsive.

The company’s Oxygen implementation of Android Oreo is unfussy, concentrating on adding useful short-cuts and display options rather than bloatware. With 6GB of RAM (and right now the 8GB option arguably overeggs things), apps and functions launch almost immediately. Users are also being given an early-adopter option to upgrade to Android P Beta – though, as ever, ‘Beta’ there says caveat emptor (‘buyer beware’).

But how does the 6 manage to be so very much cheaper? You can propose three factors beyond the technical trade-offs and more restrained OS development costs.

The most obvious is industrial design. From the notch at the top of the almost all-screen front to the main camera bump to the all-glass case and wafer-thin bezel, Apple aesthetics have provided a starting point. A few bucks saved there.

The second is brand recognition. OnePlus may be able to hire out an Olympic Park venue now, but it still needs many more consumers to rank it alongside not just Apple and Samsung but LG, Google and Huawei in the high-end smartphone tier. Some margin-slashing to enable that could be a factor (already, China’s other emerging ‘glamour’ smartphone player Xiaomi is reckoned by analysts to be selling its handsets at an average profit of as little as £5-6).

The third is OnePlus’s ownership. The company started marketing itself as a ‘cool’ independent spin-out from BBK Electronics, but that pretence has now largely been dropped. BBK is its big daddy and became the world’s second largest manufacturer of smartphones during 2017 (though its main brands – OPPO and Vivo – are largely unknown outside Asia). Its purchasing clout, spread across multiple divisions, probably also helps OnePlus constrain its bills of materials.

The iFixit teardown team found many replaceable modular components inside, and the component specification is overwhelmingly dominated by two sources, Samsung and Qualcomm.

However, iFixit also concluded that some aspects of the inner design were “overwrought”. Where some elements do use screws rather than glue, aiding repair, one or two are hidden away. The ringer-vibrate switch also takes the form of a rather hefty slider, soldered in place.

“Is it something to do with ingress protection? Or maybe it gives the switch better tactile feedback?” iFixit wonders.

The display is meanwhile glued in place and tricky to remove, though that is a debatable concern since any removal would only really be likely if it was already damaged.

Overall, the jigsaw has been assembled to make sure that the 6 retains the same slimness as its rivals. The iFixit score for its repairability is nevertheless a middling five out of 10. On the coolness scale though, the one OnePlus really cares about, the 6 scores much higher.

OnePlus 6

Key components: exploded view

 1  Rear panel

 2  Antenna frame

 3  Motherboard

 4  Front/display assembly

 5  SIM tray

 6  Front ‘selfie’ camera

 7  Rear main dual camera

 8  Loudspeaker assembly

 9  Battery

 10  Headphone jack

 11  Daughterboard

Motherboard

 12  Diversity receive modules, Qualcomm

 13  Audio codec, Qualcomm

 14  NFC controller, NXP Semiconductors

 15  DRAM on apps processor, Samsung/Qualcomm

 16  Flash storage, Samsung

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