Update July 12: Amazon and Google both have major deals on the Nexus 6P today. Amazon has the Nexus 6P at $403 for the 64GB mode — essentially the same price as the OnePlus 3 — and $479 for the 128GB model. Meanwhile, Project Fi is also offering the 64GB Nexus 6P for $399. Given those prices and Google's obvious track record for updating Nexus devices, we're inclined to vote for the Nexus 6P as long as the sale is active.
With each of its phones, OnePlus has consistently aimed at the same type of customers who would normally consider a Nexus — hitting on the big points of lower prices, great performance, simple software and the ability to customize things if you so choose. The OnePlus 3 at $399 has crept up a bit in price, but also value, and that nicely meets the improved hardware and overall experience on offer from the Nexus 6P.
And though the latest high-end Nexus is about eight months old at this point, it holds its ground quite well against all incoming 2016 flagships and for many is still the go-to high-end Android — but does it top the OnePlus 3? We're here to answer that question right now.
Hardware, design and specs
As the first all-metal Nexus phone, the Nexus 6P brought the brand to new heights in terms of materials and overall hardware quality. Your opinion may differ some based on which color you chose (and feel bad if you don't have gold), but there's no denying that this smooth aluminum chassis with bits of flair from chamfered edges is really nice. The OnePlus 3 follows much the same design language, with the same smooth metal exterior and understated curves — though OnePlus really does things a bit nicer with its solid unibody construction and masterfully smooth combination of metal and glass on the front. It may not be as much of a standout in terms of looks, but it feels more solid in many ways than the Nexus 6P.
Both phones are quite slippery in the grand scheme of things, though the smaller footprint and lighter weight of the OnePlus 3 helps counteract that. I still find the Nexus 6P to feel just a bit too tall sometimes (and I'm definitely not alone here) when I'm shuffling it around in one hand, and that doesn't really arise with the OnePlus 3.
The solid aluminum body gives the OnePlus 3 a spectacular feel.
Most of that extra height and width is due to the 5.7-inch display on the Nexus 6P, which is AMOLED like the 5.5-incher on the OnePlus 3. The Nexus 6P has the distinct advantage of a higher resolution, 2560x1440, than the last-gen feeling 1920x1080 of the OnePlus 3, but of course that doesn't tell the whole story. Text is just as crisp on the OnePlus 3 to my eyes (remember we're still talking over 400 ppi here), and it matches the Nexus 6P in terms of colors and viewing angles as well. (And that's before you get into the manual color balance controls on the OnePlus 3.) I find the Nexus 6P to be a little more capable in ramping up the brightness for outdoor viewing, which is one shortcoming the OnePlus 3, but neither one pushes up to the quality of a phone like the Galaxy S7.
Internally, things match up nicely. The newer OnePlus 3 of course has a faster Snapdragon 820 processor and 6GB of RAM, but the Snapdragon 810 and 3GB in the Nexus 6P don't hold you back at this point. Both can be had with the same 64GB of internal storage, though it's the default on the OnePlus 3 and a $50 upsell on the 6P — and you won't find a microSD card slot in either. A great one-touch fingerprint sensor is found on both, as well as loud but unspectacular speakers ... though the front-facing pair on the Nexus 6P is a bit fuller and more optimally placed.
Software, performance and battery life
The Nexus software experience obviously appeals to those (myself included) who prefer the slick, smooth and efficient layout of Google's own vision for Android, and OnePlus hasn't strayed far from that experience. OxygenOS, as it's called, is basically a custom ROM makers' take on Android, taking a base of Marshmallow and adding a handful of great customization features. Being able to edit quick settings, turn on a dark mode, tweak the status bar and change minute settings sets it apart from stock Android, without the baggage of bloatware apps. And best of all, you don't have to use these customization features, you can leave it basic and it'll work just as it does on the Nexus 6P.
With light and simple software, performance on both is really great. The little bump in internal specs is noticeable on the OnePlus 3, however, with app launching and multitasking that's just a half step quicker than on the Nexus 6P — and the OnePlus 3 doesn't seem to succumb to the (very) random slowdowns that I get on my Nexus 6P from time to time. When you're focused on a single app, performance is fantastic on both, of course — that's just table stakes nowadays.
It really depends how much weight you put on software updates.
The real differentiator here is in the software update category. When it comes to getting timely updates — both security patches and full platform jumps — you can't go wrong with a Nexus phone, and we all know that at this point. And is you're someone who wants to be on the bleeding edge — and chances are you do if you want a Nexus — you will get the very first access to new versions, like Android N right now, through Google's own phone. This is a very big deal for much of the target audience of these two phones, and you need to decide if the fastest possible updates holds weight for you.
The Nexus 6P steps up to the plate with a 3450 mAh battery, considerably larger than the round 3000 mAh in the OnePlus 3. No matter the recipe for how they get there, both phones can give you a full day of use without making you look at the battery percentage in a panic near the end of the day, though in my time with the Nexus 6P it seems to really drain fast when hitting the phone with heavy tasks — gaming, lots of mobile data use and multitasking can tank it quickly. On the flipside the OnePlus 3's battery life was far more consistent no matter what I did, even when that included travel, which is the great destroyer of phone batteries.
Neither battery is removable and you can't get wireless charging through the metal cases, so those are out of the comparison, but both offer their own fast charging methods — unfortunately neither one follows the most common Qualcomm Quick Charge standard. Dash Charge on the OnePlus 3 can charge at the rate of 60% per 30 minutes on the charger, but you can only get compatible chargers from OnePlus — the Nexus 6P's Rapid Charging is more generic by design and has a few more charger options out there, including mobile power banks. So long as you're willing to invest in a couple compatible chargers (each includes one in the box) I don't see an issue with either phone's system, and bravo to both for going toward the future with USB-C ports.
The Nexus 6P takes a rather interesting approach to its camera with a 12.3MP sensor comprised of larger-than-average 1.55-micron pixels, but eschews OIS in the process and sets it all behind an f/2.0 lens. The OnePlus 3's camera in comparison is a bit more "traditional" with 16MP of resolution, much smaller 1.12-micron pixels, OIS and also an f/2.0 lens.
The two camera interfaces are unsurpringly similar in that they're simple, sparse and generally get out of the way when you're shooting. Both make it easy to quickly toggle common settings, switch modes and move to the front-facing camera, though the OnePlus 3 pulls way ahead with a complete manual mode if that's your sort of thing. It's hard to pick a winner in terms of interface ... so how about the photo output? Check out this handful of side-by-side samples.
Both do well in daylight, but the Nexus 6P's HDR+ wins at night.
Both cameras are very capable and do a good job of producing true-to-life photos that aren't blown out, particularly when you're evaluating the Nexus 6P using HDR+ mode. Without HDR on both phones tend to be a little on the washed-out side of things, with the 6P being extra poor in terms of dynamic range. Photos from the phones have distinct looks, but I can't quite call out one as better than the other — the OnePlus 3 looked very true to life, as well as sharp, while the Nexus 6P perhaps had a little less fine detail and exposed a little brighter in most scenes. At night, it was all about the Nexus 6P with HDR+, exhibiting sharper lines and dramatically less noise than the OnePlus 3, which itself is faster to capture at night but that's the one place it wins.
This points out the one real weakness of the Nexus 6P: not only is it almost entirely reliant on HDR+ to take (admittedly great) photos, particularly in low light, but HDR+ mode takes an amazingly long amount of time to capture and render the photos, and subsequently bogs down the whole system. If we're looking at one-off photo quality, the Nexus 6P certainly takes on the OnePlus 3 and tops it in low light ... but at the cost of having a slow, inconsistent performance issue in the camera that can be downright frustrating.
Even with the same pixel size as the competition the OnePlus 3's 5MP front-facing camera doesn't quite capture as much detail as the Nexus 6P's 8MP sensor. The OnePlus 3's setup may offer slightly better performance in some lower-light situations thanks to its wider f/2.0 aperture, but HDR+ on the 6P is a big help on the other side.
The bottom line
In many ways, these two phones compare quite well to one another. In both the OnePlus 3 and Nexus 6P you'll find solid metal hardware, a good screen, one-tough fingerprint sensor, good battery life, fast charging and a solid camera. The Nexus 6P is a bit bigger and tougher to manage in one hand, but the benefit is a bigger screen that has just a bit more room for everything you want to do. There are little differences here and there, with the OnePlus 3 having a slight advantage in some respects simply because it's eight months newer, but for use today and a year into the future, the differences aren't all that pronounced.
Day-to-day use of the software won't reveal many differences either, so long as you're drawn to the simple design and functionality of Marshmallow. But although OnePlus has worked in nice software customization options, the guarantee of regular software updates on the Nexus — and the ability to use Android N right away — far outweighs those customizations for most people.
Then of course there's the price, where OnePlus nicely undercuts the $499 Nexus 6P by a full $100 — the gap widens to $150 if you expect to get 64GB of storage on the Nexus. So now not only are you going to give up a little bit in terms of hardware to get fast and reliable software updates, but you're also paying a extra for the privilege. Even at $499 the Nexus 6P represents clear value in its own right being much cheaper than most of the high-end competition, but the OnePlus 3 being available today at a lower price should make you think a little before you drop extra money on a Nexus 6P that's just a handful of months away from likely being replaced with the latest Nexus phone.
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