- I’ve been a diehard Apple user for as long as I can remember, and I’ve exclusively used iPhones since shortly after the first one came out in 2007.
- When it came time to retire my iPhone 6S this year, I was frustrated by the high price of Apple’s two newest iPhones, the XS and XR.
- After reading about the well-reviewed OnePlus 6T, I decided to give it – and Google’s Android operating system – a try.
- After three weeks with the OnePlus, I’m in love with its high-end feel at an affordable price, and with Android’s customizability and intuitiveness. It feels fresh in a way that Apple hasn’t in years – for me at least.
I’m what you might call a Day One Apple user.
I’ve used Apple products and Mac computers for as long as I can remember, from the Power Macintosh my parents had in the family room, to my first iBook, to multiple iterations of iPods.
When the first iPhone came out in 2007, I was dazzled. I saved my earnings from my summer job at a swim club and bought it a few weeks after it hit stores. Like just about everyone else who has ever had an iPhone, I loved it.
Throughout the years, I’ve upgraded with semi-regularity every other year: 3GS, 4S, 5S, 6S. Each time, I toyed with the idea of trying Google’s Android operating system. I played with the top-of-the-line Android phones at the AT&T store, read a bit about how much more “open” the ecosystem was – and then ultimately stuck with the iPhone.
On this past cycle, though, I held out for as long as possible. My 6S was still intact after three years, operating with adequate speed for what I needed. The new bells and whistles on the newest generations of iPhones were rarely that astounding – 3D Touch, Face ID, a missing headphone jack – so why bother upgrading?
Then my battery stopped holding anything resembling a reasonable charge, even after I used Apple’s battery-replacement program. Calls and service started dropping regularly for seemingly no reason.
In October, I had to admit: It was time for a new phone.
Apple’s newest phones feel like less bang for your buck
As I looked at Apple’s options, I had the creeping feeling that there just wasn’t a lot of value to be had. The top-of-the-line options – the iPhone X and its successor, the XS – felt ridiculously priced, at $US999.
As I travel constantly for work, I needed an unlocked phone that works with any carrier, meaning I wouldn’t be using a carrier’s locked-in upgrade program to pay off the phone in pieces. I’d be paying the full price up front to be able to use it with any carrier just about anywhere in the world.
Though smartphones these days are more akin to mini-computers with cameras attached, $US900 or $US1,000 for a phone seemed absurd – particularly when it feels as if they rarely last more than two years. My digital cameras, on the other hand, stay relevant for five years or more.
Apple’s cheaper option at $US599, the iPhone 8, was more or less a marginal improvement over the 6S. The XR, the option right below the XS, costs at least $US750, which is still a lot of money.
My choices seemed to be to pay an arm and a leg for a great phone, or pay $US599 for a slightly newer version of the phone I already owned.
I felt as though Apple had forced my hand. I can’t be the only one.
First I tried a budget Android phone and found that even a $US300 phone can do just about everything an average person wants
I started looking at other options from – gasp! – Android phone manufacturers.
At first I looked at the budget options and settled on the $US230 Moto G6, which many say is the top budget phone right now. I ordered it on Amazon, because of its easy return policy, and switched over when the phone arrived two days later.
It took a few hours to get the phone operating how I like, with the requisite apps and settings tweaked, but truthfully, it was easier than I thought it would be. I had been using Google Photos for backup for the past year or so, my email runs through Gmail, and just about every other major app I use operates in the cloud (Adobe Lightroom, Instagram, WeChat, WhatsApp, Spotify, etc.). All I had to do was redownload my apps and log in.
Even at $US230, the phone was way faster than my 6S and could handle every app I threw at it. The reality is that unless you’re trying to run graphics-intensive games, just about any smartphone you pick these days will run just fine.
As I used the phone over a week, I kept finding little things I loved about Android.
Double-tapping the power button to open the camera app is a game-changer for me as a street photographer; it makes getting elusive shots that much more possible.
The operating system’s app launcher (i.e., the home screen) is changeable into any configuration you choose, with the ability to drop in widgets for the weather or multiple time zones, as well as a Google search bar.
Any Android user will laugh at this, but for an iPhone user who’s used to the endless grids of apps, it’s a huge improvement. Apple hasn’t really updated the look of iOS in years. You could say it’s a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but there’s something to be said for trying new ideas.
I’ve noticed other helpful tweaks.
Notifications feel more customisable and artificial-intelligence-powered – if you keep dismissing a notification, Google picks up on that and will give you the option to stop showing it. That saves me the time of going into my settings and individually configuring each app’s notifications.
I’m sure iOS users can sympathize. At a certain point in my iPhone use, I stopped looking at the notification screen because it was so cluttered with information I didn’t need and never asked for.
And that’s without getting into how useful and accurate Google Assistant is. While it’s not quite at the level of accuracy as Amazon’s Alexa, it’s much better than Apple’s Siri (though I admit that I’m still getting used to Assistant).
The budget phone’s camera was lacklustre, so I decided to try the best-kept secret in smartphones: the OnePlus 6T
The Achilles’ heel for the Moto G6 was the camera. There was no way around it.
The phone’s camera was not even comparable with my 3-year-old 6S’s camera, let alone that of a newer Apple phone. It’s hard to be mad about that for a $US230 phone, but as an avid photographer, I wasn’t going to be happy in the long term.
While I had never heard of the company, OnePlus has been building up a loyal base of customers for its high-end yet affordable phones over the past five years. It released the OnePlus 6T, its latest iteration, in October to rave reviews, including from my colleague.
At $US580, it was more expensive than the Moto G6 but still cheaper than just about every iPhone. And reviews were saying it could compete with flagship smartphones like the iPhone X or the Google Pixel.
“I feel like I’m cheating with a smartphone that costs $US550 at its base and does everything I want it to do just as well as the other top phones I’ve tried this year,” Villas-Boas wrote in October.
I decided to give it a try.
The OnePlus performs like a $US900 phone at a fraction of the price
After about three weeks of using the phone, I have to agree with the reviewers: The OnePlus 6T is that good. It’s fast, has most of the premium features as pricier phones like the iPhone X and the Pixel do, and even carries some spiffy new tech, like its in-display fingerprint sensor.
Still, I was worried about was how the camera would perform.
Around the time I bought the 6T, my girlfriend purchased the iPhone XR. As we’ve been travelling over the past month, we’ve been comparing shots as we go.
While I wouldn’t say the 6T’s camera is clearly better than the XR’s, it is a very competitive race. There are lighting situations where the XR outperforms the 6T, and other times where the 6T outperforms the XR.
Most of the time, it’s a matter of taste. The 6T’s images tend to be more saturated and have deeper blacks, whereas the XR’s shots tend to have more detail.
But then I discovered one of the joys of using Android: the openness of the platform and its community of superfans. On the OnePlus subreddit, I saw that some crafty developers had brought over Google’s proprietary GCam app that on the Pixel has been described as the best smartphone camera around.
While I don’t use GCam all or even most of the time, because the app isn’t exactly stable – complications of not being an official, Google-sanctioned version – I’ve been using it for special situations, like at night. GCam’s night mode combined with the OnePlus 6T’s camera blows the XR out of the water. It’s crazy good.
And just the act of tweaking the phone to my needs felt fun in a way my iPhone hadn’t in years.
I’ve found one big problem with switching from iOS to Android: giving up iMessage
I’ve found that the biggest hurdle for an iOS user switching over is iMessage. Apple did a sneaky, smart thing by embedding its locked-in messaging system in the default SMS app.
As most of my friends and family are on iOS – and everyone is seemingly allergic to the “green bubbles” – I suddenly found myself in the unenviable position of trying to persuade my immediate circle to use WhatsApp.
The more I use Android, the more I am convinced that iMessage is the only major difference between the operating systems. Of course, there are others, ranging from Apple’s iCloud service to the generally better security of Apple’s OS, but the most visible barrier for most iOS users is giving up iMessage.
And I won’t lie: It’s a pain. While I don’t mind WhatsApp, iMessage definitely feels like a smoother and cleaner messaging service. At this point, if there’s something that’s going to drag me back to iOS in a few years, it will probably be that.
But for right now, I have no regrets about switching. It’s been delightful.
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