Few smartphones generated as much buzz among Android enthusiasts in 2014 as the OnePlus One. While that buzz often emerged from a series of controversies spawned from a series of misguided attempts to drum up even more hype for something the company lacked sufficient inventory to sell in the first place, to go from being a company no one has ever heard of to something it seemed like half the Internet was talking about is significant. The phone itself wasn't too bad either, though it hardly lives up to the "Flagship Killer" title so frequently associated with its marketing.
The time has nearly come for OnePlus to unveil their sophomore effort, and like last year the company has kept the world on a slow morphine drip of information with the promise of a grand reveal on July 27. Here's a quick look at what we know so far, and what you should expect when it comes time to decide if requesting an invite is worth your time.
The '2016 Flagship Killer'
We all know that a smartphone is much more than a spec sheet, but OnePlus has done a masterful job ensuring that aspect of the phone is out in the world for everyone to talk about. The company has confirmed a hardware sheet just a hair above the top performing devices out there today, including 4GB of RAM and a 3,300mAh battery. These are significant because 3GB of RAM is the current standard for a high end smartphone, and at 3,300mAh the OnePlus 2 will have greater capacity than the LG G4, which is currently the only "flagship" without some sort of major battery life concern.
OnePlus is all too aware of its core audience and the interest in new technology.
We also know the phone will be running the controversial Snapdragon 810 processor, and although OnePlus made sure to point out it was the "cool" running variant of the chip we've since learned that most 810s on the market are this same version. The Snapdragon 810 has suffered from a significant amount of bad press, due largely to evidence that the 64-bit processor gets too hot to run all four of the faster cores in its big.LITTLE configuration for particularly long. In many cases, this chip struggles to run as well as the Snapdragon 800 and 801. While that doesn't mean there's any great need to be concerned about performance it does suggest this phone, like many other 810-based phones, isn't likely to perform processor-heavy tasks any better than its predecessor.
Chinese regulator TENAA revealed photos of the front and rear of the OnePlus 2 during its certification process, and included in those photos is a Samsung-esque physical button on the bottom of the phone and an LG-esque laser focus on the back. It's believed this physical button will include fingerprint scanning capabilities, and like the OnePlus One there's expected to be software that lets you choose between software buttons on the screen and soft buttons on either side of this physical button.
Something worth being excited about if you're into future-proof devices and shiny new things is the inclusion of a USB-C port on the phone. Assuming the phone ships shortly after launch, this will be the first consumer phone in the U.S. that includes this port. It also means you're going to need to buy all new cables for charging the phone, but it's a fun addition to the device all the same. OnePlus is all too aware of its core audience and the interest in new technology, and being future-forward consumers has always been a staple of the Android ecosystem, so this is something well worth being excited about.
Big promises from the camera
2015 has already been a huge year for cameras in Android phones. The Galaxy S6 and LG G4 have proven to be incredibly capable both in the front and rear cameras, and OnePlus has not been at all shy about comparing their not-yet-released smartphone to these heavyweights.
Several of the weekly teases from OnePlus since their slow drip began have included side-by-side image comparisons with Samsung and LG's best, and if the results are to be believed it looks like these cameras all have quite a bit in common. The data from these photos reveals a 13-megapixel sensor shooting in 4:3, and the laser on the back of the OnePlus 2 likely behaves similarly to that of the G4. What it appears this phone is lacking in the camera department is Optical Image Stabilization, which could prove problematic when capturing photos while moving or in dark environments. (And in any case we'll do our own testing, thank you very much.)
OnePlus has not been at all shy about comparing their not-yet-released smartphone to current heavyweights.
The camera was one of the biggest disappointments from the OnePlus One, so it's no surprise the company has worked hard to offer a noticeably better solution this year. Capturing and processing a photo is most of the work here, but providing a decent user experience in the process is also important. While it has been made clear that he's using a pre-production device with unfinished hardware and software, the brief glimpse into the camera UI offered by MKBHD is his video on the OnePlus 2 was more than a little underwhelming. It's not a huge deal if the end result is great pictures, but visually the experience seems a little plain.
Goodbye Cyanogen, Hello Oxygen
If you had become comfortable with the software included in your OnePlus One, get ready for a big change when you upgrade to this new phone. OnePlus has developed its own version of Android in-house, thanks to some important Android developer hires. Many of the talented names behind the popular Paranoid Android ROM now work for OnePlus, and their efforts have come together to create OxygenOS.
Since this is OnePlus, you can expect the phone to be easy to unlock and flash out of the box.
Unlike Cyanogen OS, which was created as a branded effort through the popular community project CyanogenMod, OxygenOS focuses on a clean, fast experience with few UI features that differ from Nexus-style Android. In theory, combining a lightweight version of Android with all of the power expected to be under the hood in the OnePlus 2 is a great thing, but optimizing Android for a single hardware experience with no roadmap isn't something this team has a ton of experience with. A quick look at the most successful Paranoid Android builds reveals mostly Nexus experiences, where the Android Open Source Project has all of the heavy lifting spelled out already. We'll need to put hands on before passing judgement on anything, but this team had several unique challenges ahead of them in building software for the OnePlus 2 and it'll be interesting to see how they do.
Since this is OnePlus, and their audience demands a certain level of flexibility, you can expect the phone to be easy to unlock and flash out of the box. It'll take the ROM community a little bit to prepare something worth using if OxygenOS ends up not being your thing, but there's going to be plenty of options. On the other hand, it sounds like Oxygen could be exactly what people want, so there may not be any great desire to replace the OS.
One step forward
So far there's nothing about the OnePlus 2 as a phone that we don't like. It's looking like a worthy successor to the One, and while there's plenty about the user experience we don't know about yet it's clear the company is focusing on improving where they were weak last year.
With any luck, this launch will continue the stellar year we've had so far with shiny new Android phones.
The only thing that hasn't changed in any measurable way is the invite system. OnePlus promises more units available at launch and a greater production scale, but the success of the phone last year and the promise of a less-than-$450 price tag is going to increase demand over last year. It took the company months to get the phone out to folks who wanted them at launch, and there's little to suggest the same problems won't follow the OnePlus 2 release. For some users, the notion that this phone is a "2016 Flagship Killer" could point to when they will be able to get their hands on the OnePlus 2
We're going to be right there with you at the launch of this phone on July 27, and like most of you we're looking forward to getting answers to the questions that remain for the OnePlus 2. With any luck, this launch will continue the stellar year we've had so far with shiny new Android phones and we'll have newfound respect for this crazy little company.