Google is on the verge of releasing new Nexus devices, but in the meantime the Nexus 6P has been on sale more and more often. The price is often the same or at least close to the OnePlus 3. This $400 device is often cited as one of the best deals for smartphone buyers, but how does it stack up against Google’s $500 Nexus 6P? Both phones have aluminum unibody frames and clean builds of Android, but the Nexus is a Google device. This could have huge implications in the coming weeks, even if the OP3 has the edge on hardware.
The Nexus 6P and OnePlus 3 both have an aluminum unibody shell, and they’re almost exactly the same thickness (7.4mm for the OP3 and 7.3 for the 6P). They feel solid and like premium pieces of hardware, though the Nexus 6P is overall slightly larger with its 5.7-inch display. Meanwhile, the OP3 has a 5.5-inch display. The Nexus 6P has front-facing stereo speakers, but the OP3 has just a single bottom-firing one.
On the back, the OP3 is just a plain sheet of aluminum with a small camera hump at the top. It’s more understated than the company’s past flagship phones, both of which had grippy sandstone material on them. The Nexus 6P is a little more busy with a rear-facing fingerprint sensor and a large black Gorilla Glass window at the top that houses the camera and antennas. It has this in lieu of antenna lines like the OP3. The 6P’s design is more contentious, but it does look interesting at any rate.
The Nexus 6P’s rear-facing fingerprint sensor is one of my favorites, largely because of the position. That spot is ideal for waking up the phone when you pick it up. It also provides a comfortable place to rest your finger and steady the phone — this is known as internal stabilization. It’s very fast and accurate in my experience. However, so is the OnePlus 3’s fingerprint sensor. It’s actually a pleasant surprise how good this one is. It’s front-facing under the screen and doubles as the home button (on-screen buttons are also an option). I’m less thrilled with the tiny dots on either side of the home button that act as the back and overview buttons. The OP3 also has an alert slider on left side of the phone. This lets you toggle between full notifications, priority, and silent without waking up the phone.
Both phones have USB Type-C ports, but the support for fast charging is a little different. The Nexus can fast charge with any high-current adapter (it goes up to 3 amps). The OnePlus 3 uses a technology called Dash Charge (a licensed version of Oppo’s VOOC). It’s a touch faster than the Nexus 6P (a full charge in a little over one hour), but it only works with OnePlus’ official charger. Also be aware the Nexus 6P has a much larger battery at 3450mAh versus just 3000mAh in the OP3. As such, the Nexus 6P tends to get noticeably more battery life (even with the extra pixels).
One of the OP3’s weak points is the display. It’s not bad, but it’s clearly one of the places OP had to save some money. It’s a 5.5-inches, but only 1080p. With an AMOLED, that means you will see a little blurriness around text and other small features because of the PenTile matrix. The Nexus 6P still has one of the best screens available with its 5.7-inch 1440p AMOLED. This is the same panel used on the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 — it’s bright, has excellent colors, and looks very sharp.
The OnePlus 3 is a newer phone, so it’s no surprise that it has newer hardware. This device packs a Snapdragon 820 SoC, which is a quad-core ARM chip found in devices like the Galaxy S7 and LG G5. The OP3 is hundreds of dollars less expensive, though. The Nexus 6P, by comparison, has last year’s top-of-the-line Snapdragon 810. This is an octa-core chip that has a similar maximum performance level as the 820, but it tends to get warm and slow down as a result. That said, the Nexus 6P doesn’t seem to suffer from this as much as earlier 810 devices. The OP3 is maybe just a little faster.
The Nexus 6P has 3GB of RAM, which was par for a flagship phone in 2015. This year, most premium devices have moved on to 4GB. The OnePlus 3 goes well beyond that with 6GB of RAM. The thing is, this is mostly a marketing ploy. It doesn’t hold onto apps in memory any better than phones with 4GB. The difference between the OP3 and Nexus 6P when it comes to memory usage is minimal.
On the battery life front, the OnePlus 3 doesn’t do badly. However, this phone does have the smallest battery of any of OP’s flagship phones. 3,000mAh is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s a step down, and all that RAM and the fast SoC do eat up power. It’ll get you through the day with moderate usage, but if you use it heavily you might end up wanting to recharge it in the evening. If the Dash Charger is handy, you don’t even have to charge it for very long. The Nexus 6P with its 3,450mAh battery will make it a little longer, despite having a higher-resolution screen.
Some smartphones can take really stunning photos that can be confused with images from a “real” camera. Neither of these phones are quite to that level, but they’re very good. The Nexus 6P is the first Nexus phone with a truly solid camera in the form of a 12MP low-light shooter with laser autofocus. It has bigger pixels to brighten up shots without too much noise. The results are usually quite impressive.
The Nexus 6P has amazing HDR processing, as long as you can hold the phone still for a moment for it to capture. It’s a little slower than home high-end phones in that respect. The Nexus camera app has traditionally been a little behind on features, but it’s getting better. In low light is really where the Nexus 6P shines. It can pull out a solid photo in settings that would render a lesser phone useless. One major drawback, it doesn’t have optical stabilization, only electronic. It works okay, but the OP3 has both electronic and optical stabilization.
The OnePlus 3’s camera was a pleasant surprise this year. The OnePlus 2 was mediocre in this department, but it did have laser autofocus. OP dropped that this year, probably to save money. Capture times are fast with the 16MP camera, and photo quality outdoors is great, and even in low light it does fine. It’s not quite as good as the Nexus 6P, but close. One drawback here is that OP’s HDR mode does little to no good.
Neither the 6P or OP3 are going to stand up to the Galaxy S7 when it comes to camera quality, but they’re both solid performers all around. I’d give the edge to the 6P because of the low light performance and HDR photos.
At this moment, both phones are in a good place when it comes to software. Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow is the most recent build of Android, and that’s what you get on both devices. What about in the future? Well, that’ll be good news for the Nexus 6P and not so good for the OnePlus 3. But first, the present.
The OnePlus 3 runs a nearly stock build of Android called OxygenOS. The settings UI, quick settings, and other system features are mostly untouched. You can edit the quick settings, which is nice. OnePlus’ home screen has a few interesting features, but I don’t think any of them are very useful. There’s no reason not to just use Google Now Launcher or something similar. There are a few neat things going on in OxygenOS that you don’t get elsewhere, like the dark system UI and the aforementioned alert slider, which can be tweaked in settings. Compared with stock Android, there are more bugs. OP has been aggressive about addressing those, though. Several bug fixes have rolled out in the last few weeks.
The Nexus 6P runs pure, unadulterated Android 6.0.1. This is Android straight from Google without any OEM modifications or interference from carriers. The Google Now Launcher is the default home screen, and the full suite of Google apps is pre-installed. You also get screen-off “OK Google” voice support, which non-Nexus devices rarely have.
Because both phones run Marshmallow, you get features like granular permissions, doze mode, and Google Now on Tap. It’s what comes next that will set the Nexus 6P apart. Android 7.0 Nougat is right around the corner with features like split-screen apps, improved Doze mode, and Daydream VR mode. That software will come to the Nexus 6P as soon as it’s released. The OnePlus 3… not so much.
OnePlus has to take the open source code and make a new version of OxygenOS before device owners will get it. It took OP more than eight months to get Marshmallow to the OnePlus 2. Hopefully the OnePlus 3 won’t have to wait as long for Nougat. Either way, if you care about being on the latest and greatest, get the Nexus.
These are both great phones, and the similar pricing makes it tough to choose between them. The Nexus 6P has the edge in screen, camera (slightly), and battery life. The OnePlus 3 is maybe a tiny bit faster, and it has a few cool hardware tweaks like the alert slider. The software is really where the Nexus 6P pulls ahead. It’s marginally better now simply because it’s more stable, but very soon it will be a whole version ahead of the OnePlus 3.
The OnePlus 3 is available unlocked for use on GSM/LTE networks for $400. The Nexus 6P usually starts at $500, but it’s been on sale lately for $400 for 32GB (larger capacities are available). Also be aware that the Nexus 6P is unlocked and compatible not only with GSM networks, but CDMA ones as well.
Now read: Samsung Galaxy S7 vs. OnePlus 3: Premium Android at any budget