Half the price, but just as good?
Episode 2 of our Bargain bin comparisons pits the Google Pixel XL against the OnePlus 3T. The first Phone by Google versus the Flagship killer, generation 3.5. The droid priced to match the iPhone against a high-end phone that won’t break your bank.
If there ever was a perfect match for this series – this is it. They’ve both got the latest and greatest chipset, 5.5-inch AMOLEDs, aluminum bodies, vanilla Android, even their battery capacities are similar. And the price premium? The Pixel XL would easily cost you 2x the price of the OnePlus 3T.
Admittedly, there are aspects where some difference in class can be observed. For example, the 3T’s display resolution is FullHD, while the Pixel XL sports a VR-suitable QHD panel. Google’s phone is also running the latest Android 7.1 Nougat, while the 3T is still on good ol’ Marshmallow, though an update is already in the works.
But in other areas, the 3T is actually superior (at least on paper) – 6GB of RAM vs 4GB, 64GB base storage vs. half that (neither has a microSD slot), 16MP primary camera with OIS vs. 12.3MP, no OIS, 16MP selfie shooter vs. um… half that – could the bargain alternative be better than its posh rival?
Google Pixel XL
|$||Around €440/$440||Around €900/$770|
7.4mm thick, 158g
8.5mm thick, 168g
|5.5″ Optic AMOLED|
Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
64 GB/128GB memory
32GB/128 GB memory
Unlike the first pair we compared last week, which had availability issues, these two are available globally. There is the occasional hiccup in OnePlus 3T stocks with some backordering, and the 128GB version is more of a unicorn, but basically you can get a 3T in most markets. Same with the Pixel.
With the Pixel XL you’re getting an 18W fast charger that’s not only Type-C but also one of the few chargers that adhere strictly to the USB power delivery spec. There’s a C-to-C and a C-to-A cable in the bundle as well as a C-to-A adapter for plugging in peripherals. The Pixel XL complies to the USB 3.0 standard.
Dash charger with the OnePlus 3T • PD charger and assorted cables with the Pixel XL
The OnePlus 3T, on the other hand, ships with a custom charger and cable combo that together enable DASH fast charging (5V, up to 4A). You need both for the fast charging though as the system relies on a custom pinout of the otherwise USB 2.0-specced Type-C port.
Neither phone ships with a headset.
Half the price, just as good: Yes and no. You are getting a fast charger with the OnePlus 3T, but it’s a proprietary solution so you have to stick to their approved accessories. There’s also the matter of the slower USB 2.0 connection.
The OnePlus 3T reuses the original 3’s design, to the point that some readers questioned whether we actually shot the 3T for its review (we did!) or just straight up reused the old images. That’s hardly a bad thing- the 3T looks and feels as upmarket as any big-name flagship.
An all-aluminum handset that measures just 7.4 thick, the 3T loses points in the looks department only for its protruding camera. But it is the Pixel XL it’s up against and its back is hardly a looker – you’ll learn to live with it, and you may understand why Google went bold, but does anyone seriously actually like that?
The OnePlus 3T’s fingerprint sensor is on the front, below the display. It works great even though it’s not an actual button and it doesn’t have any sort of haptic feedback. The Pixel XL fingerprint sensor is on the back, under a cutout in the back glass.
One thing the OnePlus 3T has and the Pixel XL doesn’t is a 3-position mechanical switch to toggle between normal ringing mode, do not disturb and silent. The OnePlus 3T can take a couple of nanoSIM cards while the Pixel XL is single SIM only. Neither phone is water resistant, though the Pixel XL does have an IP53 rating meaning it is splash-resistant. Not the 3T, though.
Half the price, just as good: Yes, if not better. The high-quality build and premium feel of the OnePlus 3T are up to flagship standard, while the Pixel XL’s half-glass back isn’t doing it any favors.
5.5-inch AMOLED panels on both phones, but the Pixel XL has a bunch more pixels – its resolution is QHD, while the OnePlus was more conservative and went with FullHD. The Pixel is thus a lot better suited to VR uses than the 3T, and that alone could be a deal-breaker for some of you.
AMOLEDs aren’t record breakers for brightness but both displays here post above average numbers in this department, with a marginal advantage for the 3T. It also edges ahead in the sunlight legibility test.
Not much to split the two in color accuracy either. The Pixel XL is somewhat more on point in default mode (avg. DeltaE 5.4 vs 6.4 for the 3T), but enabling sRGB mode on both phones shrinks the difference to 2.6 vs. 2.8.
|Display test||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio|
|Google Pixel XL||0||432||∞|
Half the price, just as good: We had a hard time calling this one, but No. The OnePlus 3T’s display is great and matches the Pixel XL’s in all areas but resolution. It’s a prime example of the saying, you get what you pay for.
The OnePlus 3T and the Pixel XL pack nearly identical batteries – 3,400mAh for the 3T and the 3,450 for the XL. There is of course the tiny difference of the display resolution – the high resolution screen of Pixel XL should be more taxing on the battery.
Well our tests showed that’s the case only in video playback where the 3T outlasts the Pixel XL by more than 2 hours. In Wi-Fi web browsing the OnePlus phablet calls it quits a little earlier than the Pixel, and in voice calls the Phone by Google can last a couple more hours than the 3T. Neither web browsing time is truly impressive though, while both phones are very efficient when it comes to talk time.
With minimal differences in most areas, it’s no wonder that their overall endurance ratings are comparable. Still, the 3T’s better longevity in the video playback department gives it a 5-hour edge altogether.
Half the price, just as good: Yes, indeed. Actually, if you watch a lot of videos, you’ll find the OnePlus 3T to last you longer.
You’d expect nothing else from a Google phone than vanilla Android, but the Pixel XL actually comes with a customized Google Now launcher. The Pixels are the only phones at this point to support the Google Assistant. There’s a long-press action to evoke contextual menus 3D Touch-style, and the app drawer is just that – a drawer you pull up from the app dock.
There’s also the matter of having software support straight from Google itself with major Android releases promised for two years and another one on top of that for security patches. Additionally, with the Pixels you’re getting unlimited lifetime original quality photo and video cloud storage (4K too) – it’s hard to do the math.
On the OnePlus 3T you’re treated to a stock-looking but in fact pretty extensively tweaked Android Marshmallow. The custom ROM goes by Oxygen OS, now in its 3.5.3 version, and offers gestures, a Shelf feature to keep the most used apps, contacts and widgets a swipe away, and a deep clear option for keeping pesky background services from eating at your resources.
Half the price, just as good: No. We tend to take a pretty firm stance on the subject of flagships running the latest Android version. The OnePlus 3T doesn’t, unlike the Pixel XL. The Phone by Google also carries a promise for timely updates and comes with unlimited photo and video storage. That said, the myriad of added features and the community behind the Oxygen OS do offset some of those Pixel advantages, to some users at least.
Both the Pixel XL and the OnePlus 3T are powered by the Snapdragon 821 chipset, only the 3T has the version with the higher-clocked CPU – 2.35GHz vs. the Pixel XL’s 2.15GHz. It also enters this comparison with the upper hand that a lower-res display gives – fewer pixels to render.
Unsurprisingly, the higher clock rate gives the OnePlus 3T a significant advantage in CPU benchmarks – in single-gore GeekBench in particular the difference is substantial. The gap between the two is smaller in multi-core, but it is still there.
Half the price, just as good: Actually better – the 3T consistently outperforms the Pixel XL in all benchmarks. The lower resolution gives it a marked advantage in graphics benchmarks too.
Loudspeaker & audio quality
OnePlus 1 and 2 used to score Excellent marks in our loudspeaker test, but not the 3 and 3T. The latest OnePlus only managed a Good rating. The Google Pixel XL, on the other hand, aced this test and earned our highest rating – Excellent like the OnePluses of old.
|Speakerphone test||Voice, dB||Pink noise/ Music, dB||Ringing phone, dB||Overall score|
|Google Pixel XL||73.4||72.1||84.1||Excellent|
As for audio output quality through the 3.5mm jack, both phones are excellent performers when plugged to an external amp – clean and loud. Then again neither one impresses when it needs to drive a pair of headphones – volume levels drops, distortion creeps in and stereo crosstalk gets a hike.
|Test||Frequency response||Noise level||Dynamic range||THD||IMD + Noise||Stereo crosstalk|
|OnePlus 3T||+0.03, -0.01||-94.3||94.3||0.0034||0.0063||-93.4|
|OnePlus 3T (headphones attached)||+0.53, -0.30||-92.9||93.0||0.017||0.434||-49.7|
|Google Pixel XL||+0.01, -0.03||-94.0||94.0||0.0033||0.0066||-92.9|
|Google Pixel XL (headphones attached)||+0.17, -0.04||-92.0||92.7||0.0067||0.125||-62.0|
Half the price, just as good: Not really. The OnePlus 3T’s loudspeaker is quieter, and while the Pixel XL is no benchmark for headphone audio quality, it’s still a tiny bit better than the 3T.
The OnePlus 3T and Google Pixel XL come with what looks like the same cameras of their respective predecessors. For the OnePlus 3T that’s a 16MP Type 1/2.8″ Sony IMX298 sensor with 1.12µm pixels mated to an f/2.0 aperture lens. This 3T features OIS, unlike the Pixel XL. The Pixel XL, on the other hand, packs a larger but lower-res Type 1/2.3″ 12.3MP Sony IMX377 (1.55µm pixels), again behind an f/2.0 lens. Ah, also both differ from their respective predecessors – in software and processing.
Anyway, the Pixel XL comes with a barebones camera app that lacks a proper manual mode. It does have Panorama and Photo Sphere modes plus a lens blur mode to simulate shallow depth of field. The separate stills and video viewfinders are greatly appreciated too.
The Oxygen OS camera app on the OnePlus 3T is indisputably more powerful, even if it looks simple on the surface. You get a manual mode to exercise control over parameters like ISO, shutter speed and white balance, and the 3T can also save RAW files. Separate viewfinders on this one too.
We’ve been raving about the image quality of the Pixel XL ever since the first shots we took with it. Staying away from dual cameras and such, Google focused on software instead and came up with an improved HDR+ Auto mode that is constantly capturing frames once you open the camera app, and when you hit the shutter release it combines the last nine frames resulting in preserved highlights, cleaner shadows and truer colors in low light.
The Pixel’s images have a very pleasing look to them with high contrast and vivid colors, with a slightly warm output in HDR+ Auto.
The OnePlus 3T, on the other hand, has an advantage in detail – more pixels is just more pixels, and in bright daylight their size isn’t all that relevant. It’s also got a lot more laid back processing than the Pixel, with less saturated colors and a hands-off approach to noise reduction, resulting in visible noise even at base ISO.
Feel free to do some pixel peeping yourself in our Photo comparison tool.
Half price, twice the number of pixels – that’s four times as many pixels per dollar that the OnePlus 3T is offering over the Pixel XL. A 16MP f/2.0 selfie cam sits above the 3T’s display, while the Pixel XL is packing an 8MP f/2.4 unit. Naturally, that’s only half the story.
Both phones shoot great selfies and the 16MP resolution of the OnePlus 3T is mostly for bragging rights – the Pixel XL’s images are very detailed as well. It’s a rather philosophical question just how much resolution you need for social media, though we do tend to complain when we see a 5MP front snapper these days.
The Pixel XL has a tendency to introduce a reddish cast in its Auto mode, it’s more accurate in HDR+ Off. The OnePlus 3T’s color rendition is somewhat muted, though skin tones are reproduced faithfully.
Both smartphones record 4K video, naturally. On the OnePlus 3T the bitrate is an unusually high 55Mbps, while the Pixel XL’s 2160p footage only gets 42Mbps.
The Pixel uses its bits wisely and detail levels are comparable in both phones’ videos – excellent. Noise is a bit higher on the OnePlus 3T, but only marginally so. Colors, contrast, dynamic range – it’s hard to find fault with either device.
In 1080p footage you’d have a hard time picking one over the other as well. Detail levels are comparable, only the narrower FOV of the 3T gives it a slight advantage in distant textures – it just brings them closer.
When you’re done with the video samples, head over to our Video compare tool to see how the two phones handle the controlled environment of our studio. We’ve also thrown in the iPhone 7 Plus for good measure.
Half the price, just as good: That’s pretty much the case in the camera department. The OnePlus 3T camera is noisier and not as good in low light but it resolves more detail in good light. And even though the selfie colors are muted, the photos are noticeably higher in resolution. The video output in 4K and 1080p, however, is comparable between the two phones.
A tailor-made match-up to illustrate our ‘half-price, just as good’ concept, the OnePlus 3T vs. the Google Pixel XL brings few surprises to anyone familiar with the two. The gap is as narrow as it gets and may largely be irrelevant to a wide user demographic. We still managed to find the added value in the Pixel XL, but it’s a difference that’s not as easy to measure with test equipment.
The 3T can certainly stand up to the Pixel XL in all key areas, and is actually superior in some. It’s the more attractive design and has a bit longer battery life and it definitely has an edge in performance. It’s not quite on par with the Pixel in the audio department, but the Google phablet isn’t exactly a reference in the field. As for cameras, neither phone will disappoint and whatever differences there are, they aren’t as significant as to be decisive.
The Pixel XL however has the better display, there’s no denying that. The OnePlus 3T may be its equal in all other areas, but not in the resolution. You can’t turn a blind eye to that, though, as it’s limiting the OnePlus 3T’s use for mobile VR, which everyone seems to be into lately. You may not care, and we’d understand (the number of VR headsets we have and don’t use will attest to that), but it’s where the affordable price introduces a limitation.
Another aspect is software. The Pixel XL is running the newest Android version available and that’s going to be true for at least two years on. The OnePlus 3T is so last year with its Marshmallow and no Oxygen OS layer will change that, regardless of how feature-rich it may be. Then, there’s also the exclusive Google Assistant on the Pixel XL for when you’re too busy to type, and we’re pretty sure you can’t put a price on unlimited photo and video storage.
We’re old enough to know that if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. It was inevitable that we’d get there, but the question can always be rephrased to ‘double the price, twice as good?’ So even if the OnePlus 3T isn’t quite the full package that the Pixel XL is, for the money the 3T is beyond ‘good enough’.