Any time a new flagship comes out, it's great to get some perspective on where we came from.
In the case of the OnePlus 2 and the OnePlus 3, the old adage of "the more things change, the more they stay the same" rings true. In the last year, the same basic formula is at play here in terms of size, internal specs and overall quality of experience — but with just a handful of important tweaks make the OnePlus 3 much more desirable than its predecessor.
So after a year of using the OnePlus 2, how does the OnePlus 3 stack up as a replacement? We're here to handle that question.
1. Hardware and design
OnePlus really stepped up its game when it moved to a metal-bodied phone with the OnePlus 2, and the company has taken things to their logical conclusion with the all-metal OnePlus 3. The solid chunk of aluminum has been dutifully carved out to form a phone, and while it doesn't have any particular flair or flash, neither did the OnePlus 2 — and it's hard to argue with the monolithic minimalism of the 3. Gone are the StyleSwap backs, replaced instead by Protective Covers of the same materials, but I see no problem with that — the OnePlus 3 feels more solid, and the option of going clean without a case and feeling the finely machined aluminum all over is a bonus.
Though the phones share a 5.5-inch screen size, the OnePlus 3 has taken a big step forward in terms of ergonomics. With curved edges, smaller bezels and a lack of harsh lines, the OnePlus 3 fits in your pocket and hand much easier than its predecessor — even if that means you don't have the extra grip factor of the sharp edges and Sandstone back anymore. I prefer the OnePlus 3's visual and functional design changes.
A logical progression, inside and out — and that's just fine.
On the front, that 5.5-inch display may be the same size and 1080p resolution in 2016, but that doesn't tell the most important part of the story — the new Optic AMOLED screen is significantly improved. No longer are we looking at a washed-out and dull LCD — we're instead greeted by a display with deep blacks, punchier colors and better visibility in sunlight. It's a huge improvement all around. Under the screen is a similar one-touch fingerprint sensor, but I've noticed it's considerably faster to recognize your finger and wake the screen when using it to unlock.
Internally the OnePlus 3 applies the same formula as the 2, adapted to the new year. The Snapdragon 820 and 6GB of RAM are expected jumps from the OnePlus 2, and I'm happy to see just one model with the maximum RAM and 64GB of storage — no more confusion surrounding a "lite" version this year. The OnePlus 3 also picked up a small, but notable, feature with the addition of NFC — a strange omission last year, to be certain. The only real "loss" here? Dropping 10% battery capacity down to a round 3000 mAh.
2. Software, performance and battery life
Although it was a long time coming, the OnePlus 2 did get its Marshmallow update just before the OnePlus 3 was announced. Even with year-old hardware the OnePlus 2 performs fantastically on this latest software, and with regular usage its speed is really no different than the brand-new OnePlus 3. Of course the faster (and more efficient) Snapdragon 820 processor and 6GB of RAM give you plenty of room to grow with future software updates and apps, but for the rest of this year and even into 2017, the OnePlus 2's internals will likely serve you just fine as well.
Performance and features are great on both phones.
Feature-wise the phones are almost perfectly matched, and OxygenOS is light and isn't as cumbersome as many custom interfaces you find out there. Aside from a few things being designed slightly differently and some settings being rearranged you won't notice a difference between the two, and that's a good thing. Let's just hope OnePlus keeps both phones up to date with the latest software on a more regular basis than it has in the past.
The OnePlus 2 has also been quite the battery champion in my time using it with Marshmallow (both on the beta and final software), and though the OnePlus 3 took a 10% shave in battery from its predecessor I haven't had issues with its longevity either. It still gets me through a day with plenty to spare, and I could easily argue that losing 10% in battery capacity is a fine trade-off for the inclusion of Dash Charge, which can add 60% battery back to the phone in 30 minutes.
Before I get to differences in photo quality, the first thing that separates these cameras is in launch, capture and processing speeds. Whether it's the little edge in processor speed or just optimization in the software, the OnePlus 3 can launch and capture much quicker, and when it comes to processing HDR, panorama or burst photos it's notably quicker to finish the task. This is particularly important because the OnePlus 3 has an auto-HDR mode, which I use almost exclusively now — this would just be frustrating with how slow HDR capture is on the OnePlus 2.
Smaller pixels, but camera quality takes a jump.
Both cameras are optically stabilized and offer the same f/2.0 lens, but the newer phone offers 16MP of resolution over last year's 13MP — the downside here is smaller pixel size, down to 1.12-micron from 1.3-micron pixels. In terms of capabilities, both offer 4K video, 720p slo-mo video, and RAW image capture. The OnePlus 3 moved to phase-detection autofocus from the 2's laser autofocus, which offers focusing at shorter distances but in theory should focus slower in low-light situations — I honestly didn't notice a difference in focusing speeds either way.
Now, on to the photo quality. Check out this handful of side-by-side samples.
The OnePlus 2 was definitely a middle-of-the-road camera performer, and it's nice to see that the OnePlus 3's camera matches or exceeds it in all of my testing. The OnePlus 3 offers better dynamic range and brightness (while keeping the propensity for natural colors), and due to the faster capture and processing is much sharper on HDR shots. At night time the OnePlus 3 also does better, despite theoretically having the "worse" setup with smaller pixels — it just shows how much camera tuning and a different sensor can matter in the end.
Up front, the OnePlus 3 moved to an 8MP sensor behind a f/2.0 lens, a solid upgrade from the 5MP and f/2.4 from before. The results are clear (literally), with the OnePlus 3 offering sharper front-facing shots. Whether that's important to you is another thing altogether.
4. Bottom line
Though it isn't a substantially different device compared to last year, the OnePlus 3 is absolutely a worthy successor to last year's OnePlus 2. With just a small bump in price OnePlus has improved the hardware, made a great leap in display quality, kept the specs high, improved the camera and added faster charging. And unlike last year, you don't have to wait in a queue to receive an invite just to buy it — the OnePlus 3 is just on sale like every other phone.
It's hard to argue this isn't an all-around solid upgrade.
Interestingly, some folks who have the OnePlus 2 today won't necessarily be compelled to upgrade to the latest from the company. For all of the improvements OnePlus made this year, there are many areas in which the OnePlus 2 still holds its ground today. Performance and battery life are right on par with this year's flagship, while the software is almost identical — and if you're not all for the slick lines of the OnePlus 3 you won't at all be disappointed by the hardware in the OnePlus 2 still. Sticking with last year's phone you still get great software, and current-gen features like USB-C and a fingerprint sensor.
But if you're looking for a new phone and were originally on the fence about a OnePlus 2 in 2015, you shouldn't have such reservations when it comes to considering the OnePlus 3. This is a better phone all around, and a great one to consider no matter what you're comparing it to. This is just what we want to see — phones getting notably better each and every year.
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