The leering, snarling public want to know: can OnePlus repeat the success of last year? You’ve probably heard the legend by now. Halfway through 2014, an unknown Chinese startup came out of nowhere, promising to deliver a flagship experience at an affordable price.
To the surprise of pretty much everyone, the OnePlus One was actually pretty great; it wound up being our top device of 2014. Even more surprising was that it bested some stiff competition; the Galaxy S5, Note 4, Note Edge, Moto X, Nexus 6, iPhone 6, etc. There’s still a feeling of disbelief that a small, inexperienced company could disrupt such an established hierarchy.
Which is why OnePlus is under such enormous pressure with the OnePlus 2. Anything less than last year’s achievement will be considered a disappointment. Nobody is more aware of this than OnePlus, as we found out during a discussion with the company in June.
Similar to the OnePlus One, the company’s new device combines high-end specs with a to-die-for price. At just $329 (or $389 for the 4GB model), buyers get a deliciously premium phone you’d swear was hundreds of dollars more. And the thing is unlocked for all you folks looking to avoid re-upping a contract commitment, though it won’t work with Sprint or Verizon.
That in and of itself is enough to convince customers to at least consider the OnePlus 2. But the device is so much more than an alluring price tag. You also get beautiful hardware, great battery life, a decent camera, fingerprint sensor, and dual-SIM support. It also runs some very elegant software — OxygenOS based on Android 5.1.1 — which in a lot of ways is better than stock Android (more on that later).
Other than price, the thing that stands out most is the phone’s impressive spec sheet: Snapdragon 810 processor, 4GB of RAM, 13-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization, 64GB of internal storage, a 3300mAh battery, USB-C, and a beautiful 5.5-inch Full HD display. Clearly high-end, though there’s one very controversial omission, and that’s the lack of NFC.
Here’s my take: it doesn’t matter. I’ve used all manner of phone over the past few years — big, small, expensive, cheap, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, everything — and not once have I needed NFC. Sure, I’ve used Apple Pay on the rare occasion, and let’s not forget Android Pay is just around the corner. But unless you rely on NFC to get through the day, you shouldn’t avoid the OnePlus 2. That would be a horrible mistake.
Part of the rationale is that nobody has found a killer use for NFC anyway — at least according to OnePlus. The company’s co-founder assured us that it took a very close look at NFC usage — the OnePlus came with NFC after all — and came to the conclusion that nobody will really notice it’s gone. And about Android Pay? Adoption will come eventually, but probably not within the first year, the company predicted.
Let’s not fixate on the lack of NFC, because customers still get a lot of phone to work with. What surprised us most last year was just how incredible the OnePlus One’s hardware felt. This year’s model is even better. The second you pick it up, your brain almost has to do a double-take. Wait, this thing is how much?
The new model’s design is pretty similar to the year before, with some subtle refinements. The outer frame is made of alloy of aluminum and magnesium, while the overall footprint has been minimized (though it’s very slight). That textured, fabulous sandstone material has also been improved — so OnePlus tells us — making for a more durable handset. The back can be removed as well, allowing customers to use one of five options (sandstone, bamboo, rosewood, black apricot, and Kevlar).
One of the more handy additions I’ve seen on a phone in a while has to be the OnePlus 2’s alert slider, which allows you to quickly switch between Android Lollipop’s three notification profiles: all notifications, priority notifications, and none. It sounds like a small addition, but it’s a lot more useful than you think. You no longer need to unlock your device just to switch settings, which is a big convenience when you pop into a meeting or just want some peace.
Aside from the metal chassis, the most obvious difference is the addition of a fingerprint sensor, which is the same oval shape of the Galaxy S6’s home button. And it works exactly as you’d hope. Place your finger on the sensor, and your device will unlock. That’s it. The good news: as OnePlus promised, it’s pretty stinking fast. I wouldn’t say it’s faster than TouchID or the technology used by Samsung. But it’s quick.
The more pertinent question is whether the sensor is more accurate than the competition. It’s hard to say. We did an entire video testing out the OnePlus 2’s fingerprint sensor, and results varied, just as they might using TouchID or the Galaxy S6.
When I first set the OnePlus 2 up, I found the fingerprint sensor worked 100 percent of the time. A+. And it’s still pretty accurate after a week of use, only failing to read my thumbprint on the rare occasion. The only real setback I encountered was when my hands were a little damp; this led to the sensor refusing to recognize my thumbprint.
Granted, that was a minor setback, and after drying my finger off, it read my print just fine. But I did the same thing with the iPhone 6 — thumb damp and all — and TouchID unlocked without issue. Take that for what it’s worth. I’m still big on the OnePlus 2’s fingerprint sensor, even if its accuracy falls at 95 percent or so; oh, and it comes with a cool trick. Even when the device’s screen is off, you can place your finger over the sensor, and it’ll wake the phone up. Neat! I wish the iPhone and Galaxy S6 did that.
Above that fingerprint sensor is a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, which OnePlus says uses the world’s most advanced in-cell IPS LCD and ultrabright LED technologies. In theory, not only does that mean you get a beautiful display to look at, but you get unmatched performance in direct sunlight. It also has a 1500:1 contrast ratio, making for deep blacks and vivid colors.
And it really does look great. I’ve never been wild about the whole 1440p craze, so 1080p serves me just fine, even over a larger 5.5-inch canvas. Content looks crisp, pictures pop, and games look fantastic. Viewing angles are pretty great, too, though you’ll mostly be staring at this thing head-on anyway. And, yeah, it’s shockingly easy to use outdoors (brightness can get up to 600 nits, which is superior to the iPhone 6’s 559).
One last thing about the hardware: the bottom-facing speaker is loud and clear, though I wouldn’t call it exceptional. OnePlus has included an Audio Tuner app if you want to get really technical with your sound, though you’ll only really notice a difference with headphones plugged in. There are three stock sound profiles: music, movie and game, which can all be tweaked to your exact preference. I left everything stock.
That leads us into the software, which is pretty stellar, both for its restraint and for what it adds. Earlier this year, OnePlus announced it was building its own ROM atop Android due to the premature breakup with CyanogenMod. We got a brief taste of the first version a few months back, and things have really come a long way since then.
During my six days with the OnePlus 2, I didn’t run into a single issue. Not one. Far better than you can say for TouchWiz or Sense. Even the most seasoned software struggles to avoid issues, which says a lot about the care OnePlus put into Oxygen’s formal debut on the OnePlus 2. I give the company major credit for releasing such a slick ROM.
Performance was smooth, apps never stalled, and I didn’t feel like the software ever got in the way. That’s because what you get is mostly stock Android, an experience that OnePlus never tries to obscure under its own ideas. The tweaks you’ll find are smart and subtle, and never force their will upon users. That’s rare, and only bested by what you’d find from Motorola.
OnePlus said it actually worked very closely with Qualcomm’s engineers to fine-tune OxygenOS specifically for the Snapdragon 810. That means certain processors for certain tasks. For example, larger cores will takeover for graphics-heavy gaming, while smaller cores are used for simple things like text messaging. That not only lends itself to a smoother and more pleasant experience, but one that promises — and delivers — excellent battery life. (Check out Quadrant, Antutu, and Geekbench scores.)
The OxygenOS experience starts with the way you unlock the device, which I mentioned above. Beyond that, there are a handful of ways to customize the software; rearrange the quick settings panel; switch to Dark Mode and change the accent colors; set app permissions; use a different icon pack; choose between on-screen and capacitive buttons; toy with LED notifications; use gestures; and, finally, assign long press and double tap actions to the capacitive buttons.
There’s also a new home screen to the left called Shelf, which is essentially a screen for widgets; it’s very similar to the layout of Google Now, with different widgets separated as cards. It’s a convenient way to access frequently used apps, contacts, and more, and it helpfully keeps the clutter of icons off your home screen. If you prefer, you can always choose not to use Shelf altogether, but it wound up being something I used way more than I anticipated.
You can check out a more in-depth tour of OxygenOS 2.0 here.
With hardware and software so good, you’re probably wondering, “How is the battery?” I’m glad to say you’ll get plenty of life out of the OnePlus 2’s 3300mAh battery, which is a little bigger than the one included in last year’s model. In the beginning, when Jon was testing the device, battery life was a huge concern. He posted some results on Twitter, which you can check out here and here. But after a software update early on, things have improved quite a bit.
I tried hammering the device with Twitter, music, games, YouTube, email and everything else within reason — I never saw the merit in nonessential battery testing — and it held up like a champ. I got through hours and hours of normal human usage, and still found myself with plenty of leftover battery at the end of the day. It was much, much better than the Galaxy S6, let’s just leave it at that. What a difference some careful optimizations and a 1080p screen makes.
The bummer part of the OnePlus 2, however, is that you don’t get the benefits of Quick Charge or wireless charging, which aren’t deal breakers, but the features are certainly missed (Quick Charge in particular). I became very fond of Quick Charge after using the Galaxy S6 as my daily driver, but because USB-C has been included in the OnePlus 2, users won’t experience the joys of such technology. (Check out some screenshots of battery life here and here.)
One other note about the software update we received: it seemed to squash our early concerns with heat. When Jon was using the device, he felt the Snapdragon 810 got warm after pushing the processor through apps, video and other tasks. But following the update, it didn’t appear to get any hotter than, say, the Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6 Plus. It gets warm — all phones do — but not uncomfortably so.
Another area where OnePlus says it put a lot of care into was the camera. And I have to say: after peeping at images from a wide range of situations, the OnePlus 2’s camera did produce some great results; the laser autofocus works well; images are detailed; lowlight performance is good; and dynamic range is solid. OnePlus says the 13-megapixel sensor has been improved over last year’s model, as have the optics, and it’s very apparent when you put the two side-by-side. That said, the camera is by no means the best out there.
While photos are decently crisp, and colors accurate, I found the camera’s actual performance to be a disappointment. Devices like the Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 are capable of snapping pictures in the blink of an eye. The OnePlus 2, however, can be downright sluggish — there’s a noticeable pause between pressing the shutter button and actually taking a photo — which could pose a problem for parents with hyper kids.
I’m sure with a little more tweaking, OnePlus can eliminate the issue altogether. On that end, OnePlus has already said that a manual mode is on the way, as is RAW image support. For now, the OnePlus 2 offers the usual modes: photo, video (with 4K), panorama, slow motion and time-lapse. Beauty, HDR and clear image modes are available, too.
Last year’s OnePlus One produced just OK results, and quality actually improved after a series of software updates. The caliber is already high, but I imagine things will get even better as the company’s engineers fine tune and further optimize the software.
The OnePlus 2 is better than the first model in every way, but as a self-professed "flagship killer," it's still missing some big features.
OnePlus OnePlus 2
Creating a worthwhile sequel is never easy. But after using the OnePlus 2 for a week, I’m confident in saying this device is better than the first in every way. OxygenOS is a treat, battery life is terrific, the fingerprint reader works very well, and the hardware is perfectly fine.
However, it still lacks some big hardware features many of its competitors possess. There’s no Quick Charge and wireless charging support, no expandable storage or removable battery (something increasingly rare nowadays), and it doesn’t come with NFC, which many people have already said is unforgivable.
That said, you have to remember that, at the end of the day, the OnePlus 2 is cheaper than most high-end phones. Beginning at just $329, you get a flagship experience for a fraction of the price, which is more than enough to merit a purchase — if you could get an invite, that is.