Pixel 2 vs. OnePlus 6: Which Android phone is best?

Pixel 2 vs. OnePlus 6: Which Android phone is best?

When it comes to choosing an Android phone, it may seem like the go-to option is the Samsung Galaxy S9 (or S9 Plus). But there are plenty of others that don’t cost as much, including the Google Pixel 2 from 2017 and the OnePlus 6, which was released in May.

The Pixel 2 is Google’s marquee phone, and starts at $649, £629 and AU$1,079 for the 64GB variant. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 6’s price is notably cheaper at $529, £469 and AU$702, and is made by a darkhorse of a company whose inexpensive and powerful phones have garnered a loyal fan base.

Both are top-caliber phones, but each have different benefits and disadvantages. If you’re torn between the two, we’re here to make it easy for you. We pit them head-to-head against each other to see which one is the better phone based on their design, cameras, software features and performance.

Design: Pixel 2’s water resistance or OnePlus 6’s headphone jack?

Neither phone stands out when it comes to design. Aside from their one-off color variants (the Pixel 2 in blue and the OnePlus 6 in white and rose gold), both look bland. But the Pixel 2 is waterproof. Similar to the move Apple and Samsung made with their flagships, waterproofing the Pixel 2 not only makes it truly competitive to the top-tier phones, but it’s just more durable for users too.

google-pixel-2-0476-024

The OnePlus 6 has a large screen and barely-there bezels.


Josh Miller/CNET

I wish the OnePlus 6 had followed suit. (OnePlus does claim that the OnePlus 6 is more water resistant than past iterations, but because it’s not IP-certified for water protection you can forget about dunking it safely underwater.) But in every other design aspect, the phone has the upperhand. It has a bigger 6.28-inch screen, ultra-thin bezels and a headphone jack. The latter is particularly beneficial to me since it means I can still use my beloved headphones without carrying around a dongle. 

Winner: OnePlus 6. Its bigger screen and headphone jack make up for the fact that it isn’t waterproof.

Camera: It’s called ‘Pixel’ for a reason

The Pixel 2 has one of the best cameras out there, and that still holds true months after its launch. Even with just a single rear-camera compared to the OnePlus 6’s dual-camera, I found images to be a hair sharper on the Pixel 2. Its HDR+ enhanced feature rendered scenes with tricky lighting and different exposures better, and it handled low-light environments excellently, capturing darkened details that the OnePlus 6 didn’t retain.

Lastly, while both phones have optical image stabilization, only the the Pixel 2 uses it for video (while the OnePlus 6 uses electronic image stabilization, or EIS, for video). On top of that, the Pixel 2 integrates gyro-based EIS with its OIS. In the end, the footage recorded on the Pixel 2 was way smoother and steadier.

You can see more details in the bricks and shadows with the Pixel 2 (left) compared to the OnePlus 6 (right).


Lynn La/CNET

The Pixel 2 (left) and the OnePlus 6 (right) capture an image in indoor lighting.


Lynn La/CNET

The fur in this closeup shot is more refined in the Pixel 2 (left) than the OnePlus 6 (right).


Lynn La/CNET

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Taking a portrait shot with the Pixel 2 (left) and OnePlus 6 (right).


Lynn La/CNET

This isn’t to say the OnePlus 6 takes terrible pictures or anything. It’s quite the opposite — pictures were vibrant and sharp. In addition, it offers 240fps at 1,080p (like the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X) while the Pixel 2 has 120fps at 1,080p. OnePlus 6 slow-mo video looks more dramatic and buttery smooth. But when it comes to which phone takes the better photos, I have to hand it to the Pixel 2.

Winner: The OnePlus 6 takes fantastic pictures, and some are up to par with the Pixel 2 — no easy feat considering how much cheaper it is. But, I prefer the Pixel 2 when it comes down to it.

Software features: Pretty equal, but with one small difference

On the surface, both phones appear neck-and-neck when it comes to software. After all, they both come with a near-vanilla version of Android Oreo out of the box and they both can run the beta version of Google’s latest mobile OS, Android P, which adds features like gesture navigation and an updated notification menu.

Launching the Google Assistant on the Pixel 2.


Jason Cipriani/CNET

But if you dig a bit deeper, there are a few differences. OnePlus has useful add-ons that the Pixel 2 doesn’t, like a Shelf page on the homescreen for top contacts and memos, an LED notification light and individual app lock.

On the Pixel 2, you can access the digital assistant, Google Assistant, by squeezing on the sides of the phone. (You can launch Assistant on the OnePlus 6 by long pressing the home button.) It also has the Google Lens built into the camera’s photo app and Assistant. Lens uses Google’s vast search database to call up information on a visual object like a landmark, book cover or piece of art. However, the LG G7 has Lens too and other Android phones are will follow suit.

Overall though, none of these features are very compelling. But what truly gives the Pixel 2 an advantage is the fact that it’s Google’s phone, and it’ll receive fresh updates the moment they roll out from the company.

Winner: It’s a close one but the Pixel 2’s prompt updates gives it a slight edge over the OnePlus 6.

Performance and battery: OnePlus 6 dominates

As the newer phone by nearly seven months, the OnePlus 6 has a faster and more efficient processor. Packed with a Snapdragon 845 chipset from Qualcomm, the OnePlus 6 flies by the Pixel 2 (which has last year’s Snapdragon 835) in our benchmark tests.

Geekbench v.4.0 single-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 multi-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Its higher-capacity battery also milks more hours of usage time. In our battery life lab tests for continuous video playback on Airplane mode, the OnePlus 6 lasted an average of 15 hours and 28 minutes — exactly two hours more than the Pixel 2.

This doesn’t mean the Pixel 2 is a slouch by any means. Though the OnePlus 6’s better hardware make it faster on paper, the Pixel 2 is still as zippy and reliable today as it felt when I first took it out of its box. And while numbers don’t lie, you won’t feel much of a difference in speed when it comes to day-to-day use.

Winner:  With its updated hardware and longer battery life, the OnePlus 6 rises to the top.

And the winner is…

With their superb hardware and performances, the Pixel 2 and OnePlus 6 are unsurprisingly tied two-for-two, albeit for different reasons. So how do you choose? It really comes down to which of these features is most important to you.

For me personally, I’d go with the Pixel 2. That’s because 80 percent of why I use my phone is to take photos of my friends and family. I’ve also gotten used to using a dongle for my headphones (though I wish I didn’t have to), and because I can be clumsy with my phone, water protection is important to me. This makes the $120 difference (for the 64GB variants) worth it for me.

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Both the Pixel 2 (top) and the OnePlus 6 have their unique pros and cons.


James Martin/CNET

Of course, if you’d rather have a longer battery life, a larger screen and more money in your pocket (all of which are completely reasonable things to want), definitely buy the OnePlus 6. It has all the better specs of the two and a lower price tag to boot.

Whatever phone you end up going with, keep in mind that their successors are likely not too far behind. True, “wait for the next one” can be said for every major phone, but it’s especially relevant for these two. If everything holds steady, the rumored Pixel 3 will launch in only four months, and the assumed OnePlus 6T is expected a month after, in November based on OnePlus’ track record.

That being said, if you’re undecided but don’t need a new phone ASAP, consider waiting to see what Google has in store in October. Being on a one-year cadence schedule, it’s safe to assume that the Pixel 3 will be more of a major update as well (compared to the expected jump from the OnePlus 6 to the 6T), and rumored specs include wireless charging and two front-facing cameras.

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