There are a ton of Android flagships to choose from, but if you want one that breaks away from carriers with a phone that puts you in control of your experience—and when you get updates—you have two big choices: Google’s Nexus 6P and the OnePlus 2. Specs aside, which should you buy? Well, here’s how they compare, after long-term use.
The Nexus 6P and the OnePlus 2 both appeal to the same type of buyer: someone who’s tired of trusting carriers for phone updates, want to buy an unlocked (but still supported) Android powerhouse, and use it wherever they choose. Plus, they don’t want to compromise on features in the process. The Nexus 6P and OnePlus 2, in that regard, are great, premier options that hit all of those sweet spots. Here’s the lowdown on each:
The Nexus 6P: Google’s current flagship Nexus phone, and Gizmodo’s Android phone for everyone. Manufactured by Huawei and shipping with pure Android Marshmallow pre-installed, this 5.7”, all-metal beast is almost toothin and trim, but still manages to ride the line between a nice big, bright screen without being a so huge you can’t use it one-handed. It packs a Snapdragon 810 eight-core processor, a 12.3-megapixel rear camera, 8-megapixel front camera, and a pair of brilliant front-facing stereo speakers that are loud and proud. It also has a built-in fingerprint-sensor on the rear-center of the phone. Oh, it’s also powered by USB-C, which means it charges that 3450 mAh battery super fast.
The OnePlus 2: The successor to the OnePlus One, one Gizmodo has praised for being powerful and affordable. The OnePlus 2 runs OnePlus’ OxygenOS, a customized version of pure Android that comes with useful tweaks without adding bloat. It’s a 5.5” powerhouse with metal trim, a grippy, sandpaper-esque “sandstone” backplate (that’s switchable for other styles and colors you can buy), and packs a Snapdragon 810 processor, dual-SIM (one slot can be used for added storage), a 13-megapixel rear camera, and a 5 megapixel front camera. The OnePlus 2 has a fingerprint sensor that doubles as the phone’s home button on the front, bottom-center, and charges its 3300 mAh battery via USB-C.
That’s a crash-course to each device, and probably as detailed about the specs as we’ll get here.Our friends at Gizmodo have two very detailed reviews with tons more photos (and some GIFs) linked above, and we’re not trying to duplicate them. Instead, we’re going to focus on what it’s like to actually use each phone for the time we’ve tested them, and the big features that will matter to you in the long run.
Regardless of which of these phones you pick up, you get a ton of power for your money. The Nexus 6P is available in three versions: a 32GB model for $499, a 64GB model for $549, and a 128GB model for $649. Each model is available in black, aluminum, and “frost” (white.) All models come with 3GB of RAM, and I tested a 64GB version, in black. On the other hand, the OnePlus 2 is available in two models, a 16GB version for $329 with 3GB of RAM, and a 64GB version for $389 with 4GB of RAM. I tested the 64GB version of this one, too.
The difference is pretty stark on paper. The 64GB models of each are $160 apart. True to its predecessor, the OnePlus 2 is aggressively priced, designed to undercut other flagships and draw attention for being powerful without the price tag.
Of course, there are other reasons for the price difference. The OnePlus 2 is a smaller device with a smaller screen, and it’s definitely not the same all-metal, all-slim, super-premium feel that the Nexus 6P has. Both phones share similar guts, but unlike other flagships, OnePlus opted not to include NFC on the OnePlus 2. They do include a fingerprint reader, but you’re not going to be using this phone for Android Pay, or any of the other cool NFC tricks you can do with pretty much any other Android phone.
Both of these phones feel premium, build-wise, maybe the Nexus 6P a little moreso than the OnePlus 2, but that’s debatable. Neither feel cheap, and both feel like they can take a few bumps without batting an eye. They’re both pretty big though, so if you’re no fan of large phones, you may want to get them in your hands to try out. In fact, even though my daily driver is a long-loved first-generation Moto X, the Nexus 6P has been the first phone to make me think that a larger phone doesn’t have to be unwieldy.
The Nexus 6P is actually thin and slim, with a bright, huge screen, and the fact that it’s so thin and light despite its all-metal body is what makes it easy to use one-handed. That’s saying a lot for me—I have large palms but short fingers, so being able to one-hand a phone is critical to me, and the 6P has made me a believer.
Beyond its beautiful all-metal frame and super slim design, the fingerprint sensor on the back of the 6P is in a position that your fingers naturally move to when you pull the phone out of your pocket or pick it up off of your desk (so make sure you scan your index finger!) which makes unlocking the device seriously as easy as picking it up or pulling it out to use. The chamfered power and volume buttons on the right side are nice design perk, and add a premium feel to an already premium phone. If anything, the Nexus 6P might be too thin (especially if I’m trying to get a photo one-handed,) but hey, good problems to have, right?
The OnePlus 2 is smaller by comparison, and noticeably heavier and thicker than other phones that compare. It’s even heavier than the original OnePlus One. That’s not really a problem until you need to unlock it one-handed. In my case, I have to reposition my hand awkwardly to use the fingerprint reader (something Gizmodo’s hands-on touches on,) so keep a good grip on it. Of course, its heaviness may be a drawback in one-handed use, but in two-handed use, like shooting photos, it’s solid to hold.
Beyond weight, the OnePlus 2 is slim and clean looking. The power and volume buttons are easily accessible on the sides (albeit a little high on the case for my tastes, but again, small fingers.) The notifications slider on the left is pretty sweet, and makes it easy to turn all of your notifs off (slide all the way up) or go priority only (slide to the middle) without pulling the phone from your pocket. It quickly became one of my favorite features, and much easier than feverishly pressing the volume control to go from medium volume to do-not-disturb because I was in a meeting.
The only place I really have to ding the OnePlus 2 (or rather, really praise the Nexus 6P) is in the audio department. The dual front-facing speakers on the Nexus 6P are incredible. Compared with virtually every other phone on my bench right now, the 6P’s speakers shine through. The OnePlus 2’s main stereo speaker is at the bottom, and sounds tinny and noisy by comparison. It does, however, come with a pretty slick audio tuning tool, with an EQ, granular audio controls, and different “profiles” for music, video, and games, but the speaker just doesn’t do it justice. Those controls are great when you connect headphones or speakers, though.
On paper, the batteries for both phones have similar battery capacity. In actual use however, I found the Nexus 6P to be much better, but that might be because of Android Marshmallow’s “Doze” feature, which drastically improves battery life. And does it ever: there were times when I didn’t use the Nexus 6P for probably well over a day at a time, and the battery barely discharged at all. Over the first few weeks, I charged it maybe two or three times, total—that’s a far cry from the “just plug your phone in at night” mindset most of us are in.
With heavy use, I could discharge the Nexus 6P’s battery in a day, but I really had to use the thing—web browsing, photos, music, texting, even mobile gaming. If this is your daily driver, you’ll easily be able to eke out more than a day from the battery, which is nice. You’re not screwed for your morning commute because you forgot to charge overnight: You’ll be just fine until you get to the office, or have a chance the next day to charge. That’s a nice feeling.
The OnePlus 2 manages its battery well too, just not as well. Maybe it’s because it’s running Lollipop still, or as some people say, Oxygen is battery heavy. I didn’t really get that impression. I did, however, like OxygenOS permissions editor, which lets you kill some of the more battery-hungry features from apps you have installed (at the risk of breaking those apps, of course.) With light use, I had to charge maybe once a day or so, but with heavy use, you’ll definitely want to plug in at night, if not earlier. If you’re a mobile gamer, well, you know the drill.
The quality of a phone’s camera is probably one of the most important things to me personally, and while I can tell you all about it, it’s better to see some example shots. For that purpose, I have a few example galleries you can check out:
They’re not side-by-sides, just some examples of what you can get with each camera. Long story short, they’re both very good. You’ll notice in some places the OnePlus 2’s camera can get a little washed out in bright light, but overall it’s not bad. With the Nexus 6P I focused on low-light shooting and color, and while it doesn’t really stand out, it’s certainly better than previous Nexus cameras, and much better than some others at its price. I found it a bit more forgiving than some other low-light shots I’ve seen, but I was shooting for landscape and not people, so your mileage may vary. Either way, whether you’re trying to preserve vacation memories or just Instagramming your night out, both offer high quality photos you’ll love to look back at, and be happy to share. You may just need to work to get a perfect shot, instead of just a good one, especially in lower-light environments.
One thing worth noting is that neither camera has image stabilization (well, the OnePlus 2 does, but it’s not that great.) If you’re shooting video (especially in 4K, which both phones are capable of doing) or using HDR mode (which takes a little longer to process the image,) you’ll need to use the old sniper-breathing trick to get those stable shots. The Nexus 6P claims to have video stabilization but it didn’t work too well in my tests (although its video quality was stellar.)
I’m also not in love with Google’s default photos app on the Nexus 6P (which is why we recommend a different one, although it means you’ll miss out on built-in camera gestures) but it’s servicable. The OnePlus 2’s photos app used to be similarly bare, but has been updated to include ISO controls, white balance, contrast and brightness, and more. They even flash a little animation on screen when you switch from photo to video mode to remind you to turn your phone sideways and shoot in landscape. Nice one, OnePlus.
If you have shaky hands, you may prefer the OnePlus 2’s optical image stabilization, or maybe you’ll prefer its more advanced settings and shooting modes (the “clear image” and “beauty” modes are back from the OnePlus.) The Nexus 6P’s camera is good too (especially at 4K video,) even though you’ll need a third-party app to really dial in your settings. Casual shooters likely won’t notice the difference, but advanced users will be able to point to the 6P’s low-light woes and lack of features in the photo app.
You didn’t expect a clear “winner” here, did you? There’s too much of a personal element involved in buying a smartphone for us to just tell you what to buy. The real question here is “how important is this feature to me in the grand scheme of things?”
A photo-lover may like the sound of the OnePlus 2’s camera, but prefer the longevity of the Nexus 6P’s battery, and it’s lighter, better build. An audiophile may prefer the Nexus 6P’s stellar speakers, but not its price. Maybe you like Android Pay, or want Marshmallow. Maybe you like the OnePlus 2’s dual SIMs, but you’ve been scared off by its old, shady PR antics, its slightly newer shady PR antics, its out of spec USB-C cables, or its invite-only purchasing system (noteworthy: OnePlus just killed invites for the OnePlus 2. Anyone can buy it now.) We can’t blame you either way. At the end of the day, it comes down to the features you care about, the company you want to support (or not support, depending), and of course, the little things that matter the most to you.
Without reservation, however, we can say both devices are great, and two of the best and most exciting phones on the market right now. You’ll be happy with whichever one you purchase, and most people won’t notice the differences so much that they’ll ever wish they had the other in their pockets.