Archives for June 25, 2018

OnePlus 6 Review: A Fast And Smooth Phone For Half The Price Of Apple Or Samsung

Ben Sin

The OnePlus 6.

Over the past five years, Shenzhen-based OnePlus has managed to do something that most Chinese tech brands have struggled to accomplish: build a hip image in the west, and gain a devoted following to boot (people were actually lining up around the block to buy the phone at launch).

The company was able to do this by offering two things: flagship-quality handsets at almost half the price of other big brands; and a very clean Android experience that westerners tend to prefer.

With the OnePlus 6, the story is mostly the same. I’ve been testing the phone thoroughly for two weeks, and the two thoughts that constantly came to mind were:

Is the 6 every bit as polished as the absolute top dogs? Not quite all the way there. It can’t charge wirelessly; it has no official IP water and dust resistance certification (though tests have shown it will survive being submerged in water briefly); its 6.3-inch OLED display doesn’t get as bright as the Galaxy S9’s; and its camera can’t quite produce night shots as stunning as the current king, the Huawei P20 Pro.

Are these things worth the extra three or four hundred bucks though? It depends on who you are. I think most people would say no.

Ben Sin

Glass all around.

Ben Sin

The bottom of the phone houses a single speaker grill and a USB-C charging port.

The fast and the familiar

If there’s one area to nitpick the OnePlus 6, it’d have to be the hardware design. Don’t get me wrong, the OnePlus 6 is a beautiful, well-built, premium-feeling glass sandwich handset. It’s just that the phone not only has notch design that’s found on almost all other phones, but the overall look and in-hand feel of the 6 is very similar to the Oppo R15 Pro and Vivo X21. There are superficial differences such as the shape of fingerprint scanner and camera module positioning, but for the most part all three phones feel eerily similar in the hand. There’s a good explaination for that—all three companies are owned by the same parent company hence the likelihood of shared production lines—and considering that OnePlus markets to a very different crowd as Vivo and Oppo, I am not going to hold it against OnePlus too much, but it’s still something worth mentioning.

But move past the physical similarities and you’ll be greeted by what makes the 6 special: the speed. The speed is a combination of three factors: there’s a whopping 8GB of RAM in my demo unit, with the most powerful Qualcomm chipset (845), plus OnePlus’ software, OxygenOS, is the cleanest and leanest of all Android skin. I’ve been on the road for the past three weeks and bouncing between multiple phones, and the speed of the OnePlus 6 is noticeable. The iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S9 aren’t slow phones by any means, but the OnePlus 6 is noticeably zippier when I’m jumping between apps. On the iPhone X, specifically, re-opening an app I had opened a couple hours ago will result in a second of load time. On the 6? It’s almost instantaneous.

I’ve gone on record calling OxygenOS my favorite version of Android, even more than stock Android, and that still holds true.

I do wish, however, that OxygenOS would offer some form of one-hand mode, as phones today are mostly too large to fully use completely one-handed. Other than this, I have no complaints about OxygenOS at all. I love the ambient display that shows notifications and time in low-powered black and white format whenever I pick up the phone, and I love all the customization options such as the ability to change the entire color scheme of my phone’s settings and notifications panels.

Pixel almost-perfect

OnePlus phones have been very good since, well, day one. The area that’s kept them from being the best have been the cameras, which tend to fall far short of whatever Huawei or Samsung is on the market at the time. The 6 fixes this mostly by further fine tuning its image processing software and giving its main 16-megapixel sensor a larger pixel size of 1.22-microns. The larger pixels results in noticeably more details and light in low light shots. During the day, the 6’s images are well-balanced if a bit muted, as the auto HDR mode seems to be a bit hesitant to go all out.

Ben Sin

The OnePlus 6 has a 16-megapixel camera with a 20-megapixel secondary lens.

A big win for the 6’s camera is that it can shoot videos at 4k 60fps, which most phones aside from the iPhone 8/X and Samsung Galaxy S9 can’t do. Videos in this mode do come out a bit shaky, as the OIS doesn’t work here. Shoot in 1080p or 4k 30fps, though, and OIS is there to help jitters significantly.

Ben Sin

A night shot captured by the OnePlus 6.

Ben Sin

A macro shot, taken with the 6’s manual controls.

The secondary 20-megapixel lens helps detect depth, which really helps produce natural-looking bokeh shots.

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A bokeh shot taken of a stray dog in Cuba.

Ben Sin

Notice the depth of field around the statue is spot on, but the two women who walked by messed with the camera’s depth sensors.

As I mentioned earlier, if I wanted to blow up the images and pixel peep, or really compare night shots side by side, the 6’s image still fall short to something coming out of the Huawei P20 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S9, but the 6 is inching closer to equaling those much pricier handsets.

I also think OnePlus’ camera software app layout is among one of the best. Switching between modes requires just swiping left or right or hitting buttons in the lower part of the disdplay, which makes the camera easy to use even with one-hand.

Ben Sin

The Pro mode offers manual controls and is easy to use with one hand.

Punches above its weight class 

Elsewhere, the OnePlus 6 offers more than its price tag suggests. The 6.3-inch OLED panel is not quite as bright or punchy as what’s found on Samsung’s Galaxy S9, but it’s every bit as good as everything else on the market. The notch doesn’t get in the way, as enough Android apps have worked around the slight cutout. Gaming performance and battery life are also top notch, with the latter giving me five hours of screen-on time, which is just enough to go a whole day.

There are two things I have to nitpick: the bottom firing speaker is weak, but given that there is a headphone jack and bluetooth 5.0 support, that is not a huge deal. I’m more annoyed by the mediocre haptic engine. Generally, I love typing on Android more than on iPhones because I enjoy vibration feedback as I type on each key (Apple doesn’t allow this). On a phone with a great haptic engine (LG G7 and LG V30), it feels almost as though each key my thumb hits is vibrating individually. It’s a great tactile experience. On the OnePlus 6, the vibration feedback is so mushy and all over the place that it actually resulted in me getting more typos. After a couple of days I turned off the vibrating keyboard altogether and typed like I was on an iPhone.

I think the lame haptics bothers me more than it would most people though.

The price is right

OnePlus’ tagline for the OnePlus 6 is “the speed you need,” and while I can’t say I really “need” the 3% speed/smoothness boost over something like an iPhone X or Huawei P20 Pro, it is absolutely welcome. The OnePlus 6 is the fastest and smoothest phone I’ve ever used (yes, including the Pixel, which is surprisingly buggy given how much Android purists swear by stock Android), and I find myself scrolling through apps in overview mode sometimes just to watch the zippy animations.

More importantly for consumers, however, is that the OnePlus 6 is at the very least a top two best value in smartphone right now. Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 2S and Mi 8 both offer the same Snapdragon 845/8GB RAM combo at a relatively close price point, and other than these two nothing else offers the same level of power without a significant bump in price.

Ben Sin

The 6 is a great value.

The Common Drug That Makes Opioid Overdose Five Times As Likely

(Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

Opioid overdoses continue to increase, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all overdose deaths in the US, but a high percentage of those overdoses also include other drugs. A new study shows that the combination of opioids with one common class of drugs in particular is especially risky in the first 90 days of concurrent use. Those drugs are benzodiazepines (often called “benzos”), the class that includes alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and clonazepam (Klonopin), meds frequently prescribed to alleviate anxiety.

The study examined data from more than 71,000 Medicare Part D beneficiaries to find out how simultaneous use of opioids and benzos influence overdose risk over time. Patients were divided based on whether they had only taken opioids prior to overdose or had a supply of both opioids and a benzo drug. For those in the group with a supply of both, the researchers subdivided by the cumulative number of days they’d taken an opioid with a benzo.

The analysis showed that overdose risk was five times higher for patients taking both drugs during the first 90 days compared to those only taking an opioid. Risk was doubled for those taking both drugs during the next 90 days. After 180 days, risk of overdose was roughly the same as taking only opioids.

“Patients who must be prescribed both an opioid and a benzodiazepine should be closely monitored by health care professionals due to an increased risk for overdose, particularly in the early days of this medication regimen,” said lead study author Inmaculada Hernandez, Pharm.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, in a press statement.

The researchers adjusted the results to account for a range of demographic factors and clinical factors, including the number of clinicians that prescribed the drugs. The adjustment revealed that risk increased with the number of clinicians involved — the more clinicians prescribing drugs to any given patient, the greater the risk of overdose. The researchers think this result points to lack of communication between doctors treating the same patient.

“These findings demonstrate that fragmented care plays a role in the inappropriate use of opioids, and having multiple prescribers who are not in communication increases the risk for overdose,” said senior study author Yuting Zhang, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

The risk of combining opioids and benzos has been studied extensively, with alarms sounded by multiple public health groups and government agencies, including the US FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FDA released an emphatic warning earlier this year, citing risk of respiratory depression when taking both drugs because both are potent central nervous system depressants.

Respiratory depression occurs when breathing becomes slow and erratic and the body can’t adequately remove carbon dioxide. In the case of overdose, breathing can completely stop, leading to respiratory arrest and potentially death.

More than 30% of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzos, according to the NIH National Institute of Drug Abuse (a third common drug, alcohol, another central nervous system depressant, often also plays a role in overdose deaths involving opioids and benzos).

A 2017 study found that among more than 315,000 privately insured patients, the number that were prescribed both an opioid and a benzo increased 80% from 2001 to 2013. Similar to the latest study, that study also found a significant increase in overdoses among patients taking both drugs.

The latest study was published in JAMA Network Open.