The OnePlus 6T might be the company’s big break in America

After weeks of teasing, OnePlus has finally announced the new OnePlus 6T, which improves upon the OnePlus 6 that was released about six months ago and introduces some new technologies. You can check out our full review for all of the details on how the 6T works and where it slots in this crazy season of smartphone launches.

But as good as the OnePlus 6T hardware is, it’s only half the story for the company. The 6T represents two significant steps for OnePlus in the US: it’s the first OnePlus device to be compatible with Verizon’s network, and it’s the first OnePlus phone to be sold directly by a US carrier. Prior to the 6T, OnePlus phones could only be purchased directly from the company, and they would only work on AT&T or T-Mobile’s networks (and their derivatives). With the 6T, OnePlus is finally able to reach customers on the largest wireless network in the US, and at the same time, attract new phone shoppers walking into T-Mobile stores across the country.

Verizon compatibility is something that Americans interested in OnePlus’ affordable-yet-capable phones have been asking about for years. (It’s also something I’ve mentioned in every review of a OnePlus phone I’ve written.) In an interview, OnePlus CEO Pete Lau told me (through a translator) that getting a phone on Verizon’s network wasn’t possible for OnePlus until Verizon launched its certification program for open-market devices or phones not sold by Verizon. Once that was available, it took OnePlus about a year to get its devices certified for use on Verizon. OnePlus also extended its network compatibility worldwide: the 6T now works on 233 carriers in 74 countries.

The OnePlus 6T has support for Verizon’s primary LTE band as well as features like VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling on the network. According to OnePlus, the Verizon experience should be like any other carrier: pop a Verizon SIM card in, and it should just work. If you don’t already have Verizon service and want to activate a OnePlus 6T on the network, you just have to go to a Verizon store, and it can be done.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

I’ve been testing the 6T on Verizon for the past week, and my experience lines up with those claims. I was able to pop a Verizon SIM card in either of the 6T’s two SIM slots, and the phone automatically recognized it, loaded the appropriate network configuration, and connected to the network. The 6T only works on Verizon’s LTE network — it doesn’t have the CDMA support necessary for Verizon’s older networks — but since Verizon’s LTE coverage is nationwide at this point, that shouldn’t be a concern for most people.

Even more important than Verizon compatibility is the fact that the OnePlus 6T will be sold in every T-Mobile store in the US (over 5,600, according to Lau), complete with in-store placement and advertising. T-Mobile customers will be able to purchase the 6T on the carrier’s payment plans, marking the first time a OnePlus phone is able to be financed in the US, as well as take advantage of incentives such as trade-ins. (T-Mobile is even accepting trade-ins from all OnePlus devices, dating all the way back to the OnePlus One from 2014.)

Lau says that the OnePlus 6T sold by T-Mobile (the carrier will only be offering the 8GB RAM / 128GB storage model in the glossy black finish) is identical to the version that will still be offered directly by OnePlus, with the only exception being that the T-Mobile version will have a single SIM slot instead of two. There will be no special branding or logos on it; it will be visually indistinguishable from every other OnePlus 6T sold. It will even have the same aggressively low price as the model sold by OnePlus.

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

In addition, Lau says that the T-Mobile version will not be loaded with unwanted bloatware, as is often the case with devices sold by carriers. Users will be able to opt to install a handful of T-Mobile utility apps during setup, but they will be able to bypass them if they want or uninstall them after the fact if they change their minds. How T-Mobile’s involvement will affect OnePlus’ software update rollouts, which are traditionally quick and frequent, remains to be seen. But Lau says the company is currently working on how to make updates as quickly as possible while still maintaining T-Mobile’s carrier certification.

The vast majority of phones purchased in the US are bought in carrier or other retail stores, and it’s rare for a device to be sold by a carrier without loads of extra bloatware and superfluous branding to remind you who you pay each month for service each time you pick it up. In fact, before the OnePlus 6T, the only companies to get phones in carrier stores without such cruft have been Apple and Google. Needless to say, OnePlus has put itself in good company.

OnePlus has been selling its phones to US customers for years, but as successful as it has been with direct online sales so far, the opportunity for growth is far greater now that it has a carrier pushing its devices as well. The smartphone market may be more crowded than ever, but OnePlus has carved out a niche for itself by providing a high-end experience for a much lower price than the competition. OnePlus also has ideal timing for its push: traditional players like HTC and LG have faded away in the US as Samsung and Apple have run away with the market and global leaders like Huawei have been locked out.

With Verizon compatibility and T-Mobile marketing now on its side, OnePlus has the opportunity to move from the niche to a mainstream audience.

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