OnePlus 6 vs. OnePlus 3 – Is it time to upgrade?

OnePlus 6 vs. OnePlus 3 – Is it time to upgrade?

The OnePlus 6 has been in the hands of reviewers and consumers alike for over a month now. While it’s pretty clear that it’s currently one of the fastest phones around, many will be wondering whether it’s worth the upgrade. I myself came from the OnePlus 3, and I can say without a doubt that it is an upgrade (shocker!)… but is it a $529 upgrade? In this article, we’ll compare the OnePlus 3 and the OnePlus 6  so that you can decide whether you want to hold on to that OnePlus 3 for an extra while or not.

Note: Both of these devices were purchased by me. These devices were not provided by OnePlus nor XDA, and this is not a sponsored post.

Design and build quality

OnePlus 6

The best way to describe the OnePlus 6 is simply “2018.” It’s nearly entirely glass, with a notch present and a dual camera setup. An aluminum frame between the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back creates a glass sandwich of sorts. What’s more, there are reportedly over 40 steps taken in creating the glass on this device, with different procedures taken for each color variant. For example, the company says that there are actually crushed pearls under the glass of the Silk White variant, though most certainly not the luxurious kind you’d expect to make the price shoot up beyond reach. Still, the result is definitely nice.

I personally have the Silk White variant, so while I can’t talk about other designs, the overall layout is the same. It’s got a bit of a slippery grip, but that’s no problem thanks to the included silicone case. Buttons are tactile and firm. The device’s design screams premium, and the “Designed by OnePlus” insignia on the back signals that the company knows that. Sadly, there is a lack of wireless charging, so in a way, the glass on the back is actually a downside. I personally like the glass back, but that’s up to you to decide. It’s just another place your device could theoretically shatter, so if you have butterfingers then maybe it’s best to stay away. Or just use a case.

One thing is for sure, this device does feel like a tank. The build quality is strong and the design is one of the most attractive we’ve seen from the company yet. In terms of haptics, it’s no contest – the OnePlus 6 wins hands down.

OnePlus 3

The OnePlus 3 was characterized by its graphite aluminum body and sharp edges. This was the first truly “OnePlus” design that we know today, with many elements of its design language having continued to the OnePlus 6. The chamfered edges are much sharper here than on the OnePlus 6, and it still certainly looks like a flagship. The company’s logo hasn’t moved either, and even without it, you could probably guess what company designed it. The bottom layout of the device looks exactly the same as on the OnePlus 6, with the speaker, USB-C port, and headphone jack fixed in the same spots. The buttons remain tactile even after two years, and the alert slider is as rock-solid as ever.

And speaking of wear and tear, the device is still nearly like-new. The metal is unscratched and the screen only has a few micro scratches. I never used the included screen protector, as I ordered one of the first batches of the OnePlus 3 and the included screen protector was really, really poor. The included screen protector improved in a later batch. I don’t necessarily see the OnePlus 6 lasting quite as long, and I see it falling victim to lots of scratches all over. Time will tell in that aspect.

I’m a huge fan of the aluminum frame here too, and where the chamfered edges meet the glass is my favorite aspect of it. The OnePlus 3’s design remains elegant yet somewhat bold. Even the antennae on the top and bottom look natural and thoughtfully placed. I still personally prefer the OnePlus 6, but in terms of design, some may sway to the older device.

But there is one problem, and that’s the display. I don’t necessarily dislike it, but the bezels suddenly seem a lot larger than they did back when it first launched. Obviously, that’s because of newer devices pushing the boundaries of what we once thought of as “bezel-less,” but it’s something to note. If you don’t mind the display, then you can pretty much overlook that. Talking about displays, after two years I haven’t noticed any burn-in on my screen. That’s a pretty good lifespan for an AMOLED panel, and I’d definitely feel comfortable squeezing another year out of it, if not more. Having said that, a 16:9 panel feels somewhat archaic in a sense. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with one, but an 18:9 panel just looks a whole lot nicer, in my opinion. This last point is something that one must really try and get used to in order to fully appreciate, though.


Performance

OnePlus 6

There should be no contest here. We already know just how much the OnePlus 6 outperforms even other flagships with the same processor. As a result, it will come as no surprise that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 is much, much more powerful than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820. The Adreno 630 GPU does a great job in terms of gaming, and the OnePlus 6 is still pretty competitive in terms of smoothness. In terms of raw computational power, this is the fastest smartphone available currently, due to its copious amounts of speedy RAM, it’s top-of-the-line storage and the greatest from Qualcomm. That’s not to say the OnePlus 3 is a poor performer, but it simply can’t compete with the latest that Qualcomm has to offer. Take a look at this smoothness graph taken from a scrolling sample on the Play Store’s “Top Charts” entries.

As you can see, the OnePlus 6 is very smooth when scrolling. Minimal frame drops, great gaming performance, and fast app launches. What’s not to love?

OnePlus 3

As we’ve already said, there’s just no contest here. There is nothing wrong with the OnePlus 3 in its current state. It is still very much a top performer, and you’ll get perfectly acceptable performance. If the performance you have is enough, then you certainly don’t need to upgrade yet. Take a look at the smoothness graph of the exact same workload below.

It’s not that the OnePlus 3 is slow or that it stutters a whole lot, it’s that the OnePlus 6 is just better. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 is leaps and bounds ahead of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, and it shows. If you’re finding performance is good enough on the OnePlus 3, then you don’t have much reason to upgrade in this department. I personally am very happy with the upgrade thanks to the performance alone, but it depends entirely on what you value in a smartphone. If you don’t value gaming and you aren’t using your phone for any intensive tasks, then maybe you can hold off on the upgrade for now.

I think it goes without saying that we all expected the OnePlus 6 to best the OnePlus 3 in performance. Newsflash, 2018 flagship is faster than 2016 flagship. There’s not really a huge amount to compare here, and to spend ages talking about benchmarks in particular would be rather useless. The OnePlus 6 beats the OnePlus 3 in basically every performance metric imaginable, and that’s to be expected. As we’ve already mentioned, the OnePlus 6 fares quite a bit better in gaming. PUBG on the OnePlus 3 runs pretty terribly, but the OnePlus 6 handles it without a hitch. Having said that, you’ll have no issues with most games on the OnePlus 3.

The OnePlus 3 is still very much a powerful device and was one of the best of its time when it launched. As such, it does still best other flagship devices that launched around the same time. Even better, the OnePlus 3 boasts a large development community which has sought after squeezing every little bit of performance out of it as possible. This was one of the first devices to get a fully functioning EAS port and has pretty much all of the official ROMs you’d hope for. Development support hasn’t gotten quite off of the ground yet for the OnePlus 6, but it’s only getting started and we are doing our best to ensure that it grows.


Camera

We’re going to do things a little bit differently in this section. One side of the photos belong to the OnePlus 6, and the other belongs to the OnePlus 3. For some of the photos, it should be obvious, but that’s not the point. Some of these photos are incredibly close. Which side is which is revealed at the end, so you can scroll through these at your leisure and make up your mind as to which is better. You might be surprised.

Note that we used OxygenOS 5.1.8 for the OnePlus 6 shots. These are not the improved shots from OxygenOS 5.1.9.

Left: OnePlus 6 // Right: OnePlus 3

OnePlus has worked a lot on their cameras since the OnePlus 3. The OnePlus 5‘s slogan was “Dual camera. Clearer photos”. While that did ring true relative to previous devices released by the company, advertising the OnePlus 5 for its camera in particular felt a bit dubious. Having said that, it does show the company’s commitment to providing a great camera experience. While it’s still not up to par with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Huawei P20 Pro, this camera can take some seriously good shots at times. It’s not the best camera on the market, but the potential is there. That’s also not to mention that a Google Camera HDR+ port is in the works, which should improve the experience tenfold. The secondary camera here is used for depth perception and works very well in portrait mode. Slow motion is also a pretty cool feature, but often a gimmick.

As for the OnePlus 3, two years in camera hardware is a long time. What was once a decent shooter… is still a decent shooter. There’s nothing wrong with the photos it produces. Admittedly, we can see a drop off in detail in some of the photos, as images look more washed out and a lot less sharp in comparison. It can certainly still take decent shots worthy of a mid-range device today, so it still fulfils its purpose. It even bests the OnePlus 6 in some photos, particularly the last one. Having said that, it’s more or less no contest in comparison to the dual camera setup of the OnePlus 6. If you’re not hugely into photography though, it’s no big deal. This device will do you fine for basic snaps when you’re out and about. Admittedly some of the shots made it very clear which photos belong to which device. The level of detail in some of the OnePlus 6’s shots gives the game away right away.

As for the OnePlus 6, the only way from here is up. A Google Camera HDR+ port is on the way, and you can already try it out. Some of what it could do on the OnePlus 3 is incredible, and we’re sure it’ll be no different here. It just needs time to get off of the ground.

These photos were taken by Demian Brunt on the OnePlus 3 using the Google Camera HDR+ Port.


Audio

Here’s an interesting observation – the speaker and headphone jack output quality are both better on the OnePlus 3 than on the OnePlus 6. The speaker on the OnePlus 6 does get louder, but I genuinely believe the OnePlus 3 has better quality coming out of it. The headphone jack volume output is also no comparison. When I got my OnePlus 6, one of the very first things I did was figure out how to increase the headphone jack’s volume. It’s that quiet.

In terms of recorded audio, however, the OnePlus 6 is miles ahead of the OnePlus 3. Capable of handling loud environments, the OnePlus 6 is in a league of its own in comparison. If you’re buying a phone purely for its audio though, I’d recommend looking elsewhere. The headphone jack quality is mediocre, the speaker isn’t great, and the mic quality still has its fair share of problems. The Honor 9 Lite still has a better microphone than the OnePlus 6. It’s still much improved over the OnePlus 3, of course, but it’s nowhere near the greatest either in the audio department.


Connectivity

Somewhat of an oddity, I feel that the OnePlus 6 has a better range in both Wi-Fi and mobile data. However, it has a tendency to stray towards 3G rather than 4G. I have signal in places I didn’t on the OnePlus 3, but I also find myself on 4G a lot less. It has been problematic for me as I often have to use my phone’s 4G connection at home, which I can’t really get anymore. I’ve tried forcing a 4G connection via the dialer along with constantly cycling the mobile data and it’s gotten me nowhere. It’s very strange.

Of course, it does overall beat the OnePlus 3 in connectivity as you’d expect. Like I said, it has a better range on Wi-Fi and the mobile data is overall better. There’s not a whole lot you could ask for, and I’m hopeful that the 4G issue is more of a software thing. In more population dense areas I didn’t have an issue getting a 4G connection. If you live in a town or city you should be fine with the OnePlus 6. You can check out the connectivity capabilities of both devices below.

OnePlus 6 connectivity and band support

Category Specification
Connectivity Wi-Fi: 2×2 MIMO, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz/5GHz

Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5.0, with Qualcomm aptX & aptX HD support

NFC: Yes

Positioning: GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo

LTE Features Supports 4xCA, 64QAM, 256QAM & 4x4MIMO.

Supports up to DL CAT16 (1Gbps)/UL CAT13 (150Mbps) depending on carrier.

LTE Bands – NA/EU FDD LTE: Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/20/25/26/28/29/30/32/66/71

TDD LTE: Band 34/38/39/40/41

TD-SCDMA: Band 34/39

UMTS(WCDMA): Band 1/2/4/5/8/9/19

CDMA: BC0/BC1

GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz

LTE Bands – CN/IN FDD LTE: Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/20/25/26/28/29/66

TDD LTE: Band 34/38/39/40/41

TD-SCDMA: Band 34/39

UMTS(WCDMA): Band 1/2/4/5/8/9/19

CDMA: BC0/BC1

GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz

OnePlus 3 connectivity and band support

Category Specification
Connectivity Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz/5GHz

Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.2

NFC: Yes

Positioning: GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou

LTE Features Supports up to DL CAT6
LTE Bands – NA FDD LTE: Band 1/2/4/5/7/12/17/30

TDD LTE: Band 34/38/39/40/41

TD-SCDMA: Band 34/39

UMTS(WCDMA): Band 1/2/4/5/8

CDMA: BC0

GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz

LTE Bands – EU/Asia FDD LTE: Band 1/3/5/7/8/20

TDD LTE: Band 38/40

UMTS(WCDMA): Band 1/2/5/8

GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz

LTE Bands – CN FDD-LTE: Bands 1/3/7

TDD-LTE: Bands 38/39/40/41

UMTS(WCDMA): Bands 1/2/5/8

TD-SCDMA: Bands 34/39

CDMA: BC0

GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz

It’s pretty clear that OnePlus has put a lot more time into ensuring global compatibility of mobile networks on the OnePlus 6. There is a huge number of bands supported, and there are no longer issues based on where your hand may be covering the device. The OnePlus 6 has improved infinitely on the connectivity experience of the OnePlus 3.


Battery

There is absolutely no contest here either, as the OnePlus 6 beats the OnePlus 3 hands down in this department. The OnePlus 3 has a 3,000 mAh battery (3,400 mAh if you have a OnePlus 3T) while the OnePlus 6 has a 3,300 mAh battery. That doesn’t sound like such a large increase, but the actual battery improvements come from the more power efficient SoC. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 boasts major efficiency improvements over the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. The 835 also boasted huge improvements over the 820, so it’s pretty clear why the battery life is immensely better. If your battery is dying quickly on the OnePlus 3, the OnePlus 6 is very much a worthy upgrade. The overall efficiency of the processor is where gains are made, and the decreased power requirements also keep thermals low. What pushed me to upgrade in the first place was my OnePlus 3’s terrible battery life. But these are all deductions you can make from looking at a spec sheet – how do they fair in real-world usage?

The OnePlus 6 has been one of the best devices I’ve ever used in terms of battery life. Yesterday, I took it off the charger at 11 am, used it for about 8 hours of SOT and put it back on the charger at 3 am. It had about 6% left, but that’s not the point. My OnePlus 3 would have died about three times at that stage, basically tethering it to a charger. The battery has certainly degraded, but if you’re looking to upgrade then yours probably has too. EX Kernel Manager shows my battery drainage to be about 14-16% an hour, while on the OnePlus 3 it sat around 25%. Here are some battery stats from my OnePlus 6. I used a lot of Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and Reddit. Oh, and I played about half an hour of PUBG too. I also had Always On Display enabled (via magisk), which drains the battery a good bit as well.

This battery life is much improved over the OnePlus 3 for my usage, and I even had a poor signal as well. If you find your battery stats looking worse than this with lighter usage, then maybe you should consider an upgrade. OnePlus 3 devices bought at launch will begin to suffer heavy battery degradation very soon, so I’m sure many owners are starting to notice it. The battery life in the screenshots above aren’t even considered that good either.


Should I upgrade?

Overall, I personally recommend upgrading if you can afford it. While other devices may offer slightly better value for money (looking at Xiaomi), the quality user experience provided by OxygenOS and the openness of OnePlus devices, in general, are what draw me in. Couple that with a beautiful design, good camera, and great processing power, and I feel that you can’t go wrong with updating. Nearly every aspect of the phone has been improved upon majorly.

Another reason why I feel that the OnePlus 6 is a worthy upgrade is that it’s a great all-rounder. You can pick up an Honor View 10 for a similar price, but then you can’t unlock the bootloader. If you wanted to go for something a little more mainstream, the Samsung Galaxy S9 can also be bought for around the same price. There are issues with that too though, such as Knox. Not only that, but international variants use Exynos processors which measurably perform below the Snapdragon 845. The OnePlus 6 is a great all around device. It’s up to you whether you want to upgrade. Is performance adequate for your needs? Does the battery last? If you found any of our criticism of the OnePlus 3 as a flagship in 2018 disagreeable, then maybe you don’t need to upgrade quite yet.

If you’re looking for a 2018 version of the OnePlus flagship from 2016, then look no further than the OnePlus 6.

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