I've used iPhones since the original came out in 2007. But after 10 years of increasingly expensive iPhones, I switched to Android — specifically, the OnePlus 6T.
- I've been a diehard Apple user for as long as I can remember, and I've exclusively used iPhones since I got the original shortly after it 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 newest phones, the XS and the XR.
- After reading about the highly-reviewed OnePlus 6T, I decided to give it — and Google's Android operating system — a try.
- After three weeks, I'm in love with the the OnePlus's high-end feel for an affordable price and 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 up 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 whose 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 out Android. 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 went ahead and stuck with the iPhone.
On this last cycle, though, I held out for as long as possible. My 6S was still intact after 3 years, operating with adequate speed for what I needed out of it. The new bells and whistles out of the newest generations of iPhones were rarely that astounding — 3D Touch, Face ID, a missing headphone jack — why bother upgrading?
Then my battery stopped being able to hold 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 they provide 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 $999.
As I travel constantly for work, I needed an unlocked phone that works with any carrier. This meant I wasn't going to be using a carrier’s locked-in upgrade program to pay off the phone in pieces. I'd be paying the full price upfront, so I could use it with any carrier, just about anywhere in the world.
Regardless of the fact that smartphones these days are more akin to mini-computers with cameras-attached, $900 or $1000 for a phone seemed absurd. Particularly so, when it feels like they rarely last more than two years. My digital cameras, at least, stay relevant for five years or more.
Apple’s cheaper option at $599, the iPhone 8, was more or less a marginal improvement over my then-current phone, the 6S. The XR, the option right below the XS, still cost $750 minimum, which is still a lot of money.
My choices seemed to be pay an arm-and-a-leg for a great phone, or pay $599 for a slightly newer version of the phone I already owned.
I felt like Apple had forced my hand. I can’t be the only one.
First, I tried a budget Android phone and found that even a $300 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 Moto G6 for $230, which many say is the top budget phone right now. I ordered the phone on Amazon thanks to its easy return policy, and switched over when the phone arrived two days later.
It took a few hours to get my phone operating how I like, with the requisite apps and settings tweaked, but truthfully it was easier than I thought it would be. I’d already been using Google Photos for backup for the last year or so, my email runs through Gmail, and just about every other major app I use operates in the cloud (Lightroom, Instagram, WeChat, WhatsApp, Spotify, etc). All I had to do was re-download all my apps and log in.
Even at $230, the phone was way faster than my 6S and could handle every app I threw at it. The reality is, unless you are trying to run graphics-intensive games, just about any smartphone you pick these days will run just fine.
As I used the phone over the course of a week, I kept finding little things that 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 weather, multiple time zones, and a Google search bar.
Any Android user is going to laugh at this, but for an iPhone user used to the endless grids of apps, it’s a huge improvement. Apple hasn’t really updated the look of iOS in years. You can say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but there’s something to be said for trying out new ideas.
I’ve noticed other helpful tweaks.
Notifications feel more customizable and AI-powered. If you keep dismissing a notification, Google picks up on that and will give you the option to stop showing them. That saves me the time of going in directly 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 never even looked at the notifications screen anymore 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 Siri, though I admit that I'm still getting used to the Google Assistant.
But the budget phone’s camera was lackluster so I decided to try out 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 one of Apple’s newer phones. It’s hard to be mad about that for a $230 phone, but, as an avid photographer, I wasn’t going to be happy long term.
That’s when I heard about OnePlus from my colleague on the tech desk, Antonio Villas-Boas, who called the Chinese company's wares “the best smartphones you’ve never heard of.”
While I had never heard of the company, OnePlus has been building up a loyal base of fervent customers for its high-end, but affordable phones over the last five years. The company has just released its latest iteration, the OnePlus 6T, in October, to rave reviews, including from my colleague.
At $580, it was more expensive than the G6, but still cheaper than just about every iPhone. And, reviews were saying that despite the phone’s price, 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 $550 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 $900 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, 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 same time I bought the 6T, my girlfriend purchased the iPhone XR. As we’ve been traveling over the last month, we’ve been comparing shots as we go. While I wouldn’t say the 6T is clearly better than the XR’s camera, 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 with deeper blacks, whereas shots from the XR tends to have more detail.
But then I discovered one of the joys of using Android: the openness of the platform and its community of super-fans. On the OnePlus subreddit, I discovered that some crafty developers had brought over Google’s proprietary GCam app that, on the Pixel, has been said to be the best smartphone camera around.
While I don’t use GCam all or most of the time due to the fact that the app isn’t exactly stable — complications of not being an official, Google-sanctioned version of the app — I’ve been using it for special situations like at night. The 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
For an iOS user switching over, the biggest hurdle that I have found is iMessage. Apple did a sneaky, smart thing embedding its locked-in messaging system into the default SMS app.
With most of my friends and family on iOS — and everyone seemingly allergic to the “green bubbles” — I suddenly found myself in the unenviable position of trying to convince 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 the Apple iCloud service to the generally better security of Apple's OS, but the most visible barrier for most iOS users is having to give 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 is 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.