In all but a handful of areas, OnePlus's newly refreshed flagship legitimately matches Google's more expensive handset.

The Google Pixel XL isn't a cheap phone, nor is it supposed to be. Its competition is the iPhone — and, less directly, Samsung's Galaxy line. Yet the price hike compared to last year's Nexus 5X and 6P leaves the door open to OnePlus. The Chinese upstart has recently upgraded the OnePlus 3T to Android 7.0 Nougat, bringing closer to par with the Pixel's software.

Inevitably, there are corners to be cut when you're selling a phone around the $439 mark, compared to Google's $749 and up for the Pixel XL. But as it happens, the 3T does manage to give Google's larger Pixel a run for its money. Let's take a look at how it measures up across the board.

OnePlus 3T vs Pixel XL

With 5.5-inch displays, both the Pixel XL and OnePlus 3T are relatively large handsets. Overall, the 3T does a better job of masking its heft — it's both thinner and lighter than Google's phone, with more angular sides for easier one-handed wrangling.

That said, OnePlus's design doesn't shake things up too much, using much the same look manufacturers like HTC and Huawei have been riffing on for a few generations now. Despite claims (largely dubious claims, in my opinion) of it being an iPhone copycat, the Pixel's slightly-wedge-shaped, glass-backed profile is unlike anything else on the market. And that's probably no accident.

Google's back panel is more unique-looking, but OnePlus's feels better in the hand.

OnePlus 3T vs Pixel XL

That glass window, however, is notoriously bad for picking up hairline scratches — my Pixel XL started picking them up within days, even as I was babying it more than usual. (And as an aside, the fact that the glass is flush with the metal surface, with no camera hump, means the metal part can also pick up scratches more easily.)

On the inside, these two go toe-to-toe in terms of specs, with OnePlus actually beating Google in some areas — the 3T has more RAM and a larger base storage option. The Pixel, as we'll discuss later, has the better camera of the two by a comfortable margin. It also has an advantage in terms of screen resolution, but the jump from Full HD to Quad HD isn't especially noticeable unless you're looking really close.

In other areas, it's a wash: battery capacities are comparable, and both handsets have excellent fingerprint scanners, though on opposite sides of the phone.

Category OnePlus 3T Pixel XL
Display 5.5-inch 1080p Optic AMOLED 5.5-inch 1440p SuperAMOLED
Operating System Android 7.0 (Oxygen OS 4) Android 7.1.1 (Pixel UI)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
RAM 6GB 4GB
Storage 64GB/128GB 32GB/128GB
microSD No No
Dual SIM Yes No
Rear camera 16MP (1.1-micron pixels), f/2.0, OIS 12MP (1.55-micron pixels), f/2.0
Front camera 16MP, f/2.0 8MP, f/2.4
Battery 3,400mAh 3,450mAh
Quick charging Dash Charge USB-PD
Dimensions 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35 mm 154.7 x 75.74 x 8.6 mm
Weight 158g 168g
Price $439-479 $769-869

Having bounced between both phones for the past few weeks, I can't say I've noticed any huge difference in day-to-day battery life — no real surprise considering the largely identical display sizes, CPU and battery capacities. Both phones are good for a day's use, topping out at between 4 to 5 hours of screen-on time per day, depending on the proportion of time you're on LTE.

One advantage OnePlus has, however, is Dash Charge, the company's proprietary quick-charging standard that's a good deal faster than just about anything else out there when it comes to bringing a depleted phone back to life. (The other side of that coin is that you can only buy compatible cables and chargers from OnePlus, whereas Google's quick charging uses USB standards.)

In any case, what's much more meaningful is the difference in software. Neither phone strays too far from vanilla Android — both the Pixel UI and OnePlus's OxygenOS keep things looking and feeling pretty "stock." But in both instances there's a wealth of smaller features to get stuck into.

The biggie for the Pixel is Google Assistant, Google's AI, well, assistant which has been steadily gaining smarts since the phone's release, but which still hasn't reached "killer app" status. Assistant combines Google's knowledge graph with the information in your Google account, and some of the best speech recognition I've seen in a phone, to do useful stuff. (And there's an awful lot of stuff it can do.) But there are also limitations — including issues drawing in certain info from multiple Google accounts.

Pixel vs OP3T

Google Assistant still isn't quite the killer app it was made out to be.

The Pixel also gives you Google's revamped Pixel launcher, along with a selection of beautiful (and exclusive) live wallpapers, many of which use your location, the weather and time of day to visualize the current climate.

Other Google tricks include smart caller ID through the dialer app — something Nexus phones have enjoyed for a while. And unlimited full-res photo backup through Google Photos, so the size constraints of the 32GB Pixel are less worrisome than you might expect.

That's all built on the rock solid foundation of Android Nougat, with headline features like split-screen multi-window and an overhauled notification system. (And rounded off by Google's promise of two years of fast Android OS updates, and live customer support through the Settings app.)

With OnePlus, it's all about customization. From whether you want on-screen or capacitive buttons, to which icons are displayed in the status bar, to the color of just about everything. If you like to tune your phone and style its appearance and behavior to your own personal tastes, you'll find plenty to tinker with in OxygenOS.

OnePlus also has the ever-present alert slider, a staple iPhone feature which bizarrely hasn't found much traction in the Android world, and its three settings can be tuned to your liking as well.

Software

And there's a bewildering array of gestures you can enable, from double-tap-to-wake to more exotic options like drawing an O on the screen for the camera, or a V to open the flashlight. (Compare that to the solid but less diverse lineup of "Moves" in Google's Pixel UI, including basics like raise to wake, and double-tap to wake.)

OnePlus's software suite is all about customization.

The rest of the software is lean enough to not get in the way, with OnePlus fielding an array of Material Design-inspired apps that are speedy, fully-featured and gel well with the rest of the UI.

If there's one software trick I haven't found much use for, though, it's OnePlus's widget shelf, the main reason being that most widgets are poorly supported, and thus either broken or weird-looking. Your mileage will vary depending on the apps (and widgets) that you use.

Pixel camera

Camera performance is the clearest differentiator between these two.

Having used both extensively over the past few weeks, there's really no doubt in my mind that the Pixel has the better camera overall. But then, you'd hope so for a $400 premium over the OnePlus 3T. The difference is as much about Google's excellent auto HDR+ processing as it is about the different sensors and optics.

The 3T's camera is good, solid reliable. But the Pixel is on another level.

OnePlus goes with a traditional 16-megapixel camera with small 1.1-micron pixels behind an f/2.0 lens, with optical image stabilization. Google's 12-megapixel camera has the same f/2.0 aperture without OIS, but much larger 1.55-micron pixels. So right off the bat, you'd expect potentially more detail from the OnePlus 3T, and better low-light pics out of the Pixel.

That's mostly how things play out, but the megapixel advantage doesn't do OnePlus much good in a direct contest with the Pixel — though its camera certainly performs well for the price point.

Both phones produce good-looking images in daylight, though the Pixel delivers a brighter, more vibrant image, with slightly warmer colors too. The 3T is also a little more susceptible to motion, with the resulting blur being noticeable around the edges of shots.

In high-contrast and moving shots, Google's HDR+ processing (and bigger pixels on the sensor) allow its camera to create more balanced shots without blowing out brighter areas.

And in low light, the difference is even more striking. OnePlus quickly runs up against the physical limitations of its camera, whereas Google has both physics and software processing on its side, allowing it to capture stunning shots which ooze with color detail.

OnePlus's secret weapon when it comes to capturing more detail is HQ mode, which sucks in more fine detail at the cost of saturation and color detail. It's a very situational mode that can be susceptible to motion blur at times, and it's less reliable in producing a better shot than HDR+.

Ultimately, the OnePlus 3T has a good, solid camera that occasionally surprises you with a really excellent shot. HQ mode brings out lots of fine detail, but the smaller pixels on the sensor means your get darker, murkier low-light pics.

On the other hand the Pixel is better overall — with Google's camera, it sometimes feels like it's too easy to get fantastic shots, especially in low-light or high contrast situations. But you do sacrifice a bit of fine detail at times.

That's a major difference between these two — one of the biggest, next to the Pixel's advantage in software. The other trump card Google can pull is its phone's privileged position as the first device with new Android software versions. You know you're good for speedy updates for two years from purchase, something which is a far less certain if you buy the OnePlus 3T.

Google's camera magic also extends to video, where it's able to use the built-in gyro to smooth out wobbly footage, even when the camera's shaking about all over the place. It's easily the best video stabilization I've seen in any Android phone. By contrast, the OnePlus 3T is a solid performer in video, despite some focus-hunting issues in moving shots. But the lack of any software stabilization feature shows.

Whether extras like the above are worth the extra money though, has to depend on your budget. I think I could get by quite happily with the OnePlus 3T — camera, software and all — though I do appreciate how often the Pixel camera really does knock it out of the park with amazing photos. And in the longterm, the confidence that comes with Google's speedy software updates.