It has been 460 days since OnePlus last announced a smartphone — its only smartphone, actually. And as co-founder Carl Pei is quick to tell everyone within earshot (which on the Internet is a lot of folks) this is somewhat unusual in this ecosystem. Unusual is a good word to describe just about everything OnePlus, right down to the way this second phone is being introduced to the world. Not necessarily bad, not necessarily good, but unusual enough to grab you attention and give just enough reason to see what the company is all about.
Now that the OnePlus 2 has been made officially official, we can much more about the device itself. Like OnePlus as a company, the phone is unusual. Looking at the specs sheet and a handful of photos doesn't do the overall experience justice. It's probably inappropriate — not to mention pointlessly early — to go around calling this phone a "2016 Flagship Killer" but the OnePlus 2 is an experience clearly greater than the sum of its parts.
Here's our hands-on and first impressions.
Metal, wood and solid specs
A focus on build quality and experience
Despite being a decently comfortably phone to hold and use, the OnePlus One never really felt like a "premium" device. It felt a lot like it deserved the $300 price point it was assigned, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing that's clearly not the experience OnePlus was trying to convey. The OnePlus 2 is a refinement of the original design in every way, and as a result looks and feels like a quality piece of hardware.
As far as the overall look and feel goes, think OnePlus One, or the newer LG G4. A new metal frame wraps the edges of the OnePlus 2, with radio strips and speaker holes that look vaguely familiar if you've used a Samsung Galaxy S6 or 2014 Moto X. The polished metal helps the phone feel a little cool and smooth to the touch, but if you're doing something that causes the phone to heat up this is the first place you'll feel it.
The metal frame to this phone adds a little overall weight, which when combined with the 9.9mm thickness makes the phone appear a little chunky on paper. While it's true the OnePlus 2 is slightly thicker than the heavyweights announced by the competition this year, it doesn't feel any more or less unwieldy in the hand than the LG G4. You do notice a bit of heft when picking the phone up, especially if you're used to something like a Galaxy S6, but this girth and presence adds a sense of durability to the overall feel. The OnePlus 2 just plain feels sturdy, with no flexing or shifting like its predecessor.
Of all the specs to improve from the first to second generation, at first glance you might not think the display was on that list. In fact, OnePlus has moved from a 1080p IPS LCD with 440 nits of brightness to a 1080p IPS In-cell LCD display with 600 nits of brightness. (The overall size remains 5.5 inches.) The difference in brightness is surprisingly significant, and at no point during our hands on did the display ever feel lacking.
Colors appear reasonably balanced, whites and blacks are presented with clarity, and the phone gets almost as bright as the Galaxy S6 in outdoor mode, which is impressive. While it lacks the pixel density of the newer QHD experiences, nothing about what we saw today left us with the impression this display was lacking. It may not be the best display in the industry, but it looks and feels great.
OnePlus 2 specs
|Display||5.5-inch IPS LCD 1920x1080 (401 ppi)
In-cell touch, Gorilla Glass
|OS||OxygenOS (Android 5.1)|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core @ 1.8GHz
Adreno 430 GPU
|Storage||64GB or 16GB eMMC v5.0|
|RAM||4GB or 3GB LPDDR4|
|Rear camera||13MP f/2.0, 6 lenses, OIS, laser focus, dual-LED flash
4K video, slow motion 720p at 120fps
|Battery||3300 mAh (non-removable)
USB-C charging port
|Cellular (US)||GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz
WCDMA Band 1/2/4/5/8
LTE Band 1/2/4/5/7/8/12/17
Dual Nano SIM
|Cellular (EU/IN)||GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz
WCDMA Band 1/2/5/8
LTE Band 1/3/5/7/8/20
Dual Nano SIM
|Connectivity||802.11ac Wifi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS + GLONASS|
|Sensors||Fingerprint, digital compass, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, ambient light
Multicolor LED notification light
|Dimensions||151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85 mm
|Colors||StyleSwap covers in bamboo, black apricot, kevlar, rosewood and sandstone black|
A familiar layout
Buttons and ports
If you were hoping OnePlus would do away with the ability to choose between soft touch buttons and software buttons in order to create a more bezel-less experience, you might initially be a little disappointed by the front of the OnePlus 2. A large square button in the center of the bottom portion of this phone is flanked by a pair of soft-touch dashes, the purposes of which are entirely up to you to choose. By default you get back and multitasking, with a great big home button in the middle.
Actually, calling the center space here a button isn't technically true. There's no physical button for you to press in, like you've seen from Samsung hardware. It's a soft-touch button, but it's also a fingerprint sensor. This button is unique in that it can be activated even when the screen is off, and if you've got a fingerprint saved to the phone you'll find it is the fastest way to unlock and access your device. It also will allow the phone to take advantage of the new fingerprint features coming in the M release of Android later this year.
The alert slider is a truly exceptional addition.
There are three actual buttons on the phone, and while the power button and volume rocker are well-placed and feel nice, the so-called "alert slider" is truly exceptional. It's a three-stage toggle switch that offers a quick flip between the notifications in Android 5.1.1, and the quality of the physical switch is great. You can hear it click from None to Priority to All, with a subtle vibration from the phone to confirm the switch even if the screen is off.
Hardware notification toggles aren't usually a part of the Android experience, but now that OnePlus has deployed this alert slider it's hard to imagine any other way to quickly jump between modes. (And those of us who remember the proper mute switches of the Palm era can't wait to try this out.)
Across the bottom of the phone you'll find an array of symmetrical holes — and the USB-C port so many are excited to see. The holes are there for a Mono speaker and microphone, and while the environment wasn't exactly conducive to testing speaker quality the team gets points for a visually pleasing design. Just like last year, OnePlus is including a cleverly designed flat cable. This year that cable will be USB-C on one side and a reversible USB-A port on the other. According to OnePlus, these special cables are patented now, and will be selling in their store shortly after launch for a surprisingly low $5.
Five material choices
A stylish and functional outer shell
The back of the phone is mostly up to you. OnePlus has realized its goal of swappable covers and is releasing this phone with five of them. Sandstone, Kevlar, Dark Apricot, Rosewood, and Bamboo are what will be available. These back panels are nice and sturdy, and take a fair bit of force to remove from the back of the phone. Under this plate you'll find a dual-sim tray, contacts for the NFC chip in the backplate, and not much else. As a purely visual flourish, it works well.
We wouldn't go so far as to say each of the backplates has been created equally though. The Rosewood and Sandstone feel the best, especially if you liked the backplates for the OnePlus One. The Bamboo looks great but is a little slick and slippery. The Kevlar looks like it should feel a lot better than it does, but unfortunately the thin layer against the plastic is a little weak. The Dark Apricot feels really nice but doesn't look nearly as nice as the others. Personal preference being the order of the day, the ability to choose is fantastic.
We've known for a little while that OnePlus was using a Snapdragon 810 processor in this phone, but the company has gone out of its way to ensure the experience is a high enough quality to dispel any concerns about heat. To address this, OnePlus invited the folks from Qualcomm to the launch event to talk about how closely the two companies had worked to create the best possible experience.
The processor optimizations should keep heat low and performance high — and everything was fine in our time with it.
In a brief chat with Qualcomm's Michelle Leyden-Li, it was made clear this optimization was similar to what is offered to almost all of their hardware partners. Where Qualcomm was able to lend some extra support in this case was with the camera, specifically the laser-autofocus included in this device. While we've only had a couple of hours with the phone, heat and performance didn't seem like an issue, much like what we've experienced with the HTC One M9. (Remember that both phones are using the newer version of the 810, apparently.)
Overall, there's a lot to like about the look and feel of the OnePlus 2. It's sturdy, comfortable, and some of us are already looking at our existing daily drivers wishing there was an alert slider. First impressions being what they are, this phone absolutely has our attention.
Needs a few updates
Unfinished but impressive software
We're not going to focus too much on the software in this hands on, due largely to the pre-production nature of the builds we experienced. OxygenOS is expected to be ready to go in time for launch, but there's likely to be an update a couple of weeks after the initial launch with some further camera optimizations. Unfinished as it was, the experience was positive. The OS is plenty snappy, and if you're a fan of Nexus-style Android you'll feel right at home with this version of Android 5.1.1. There's plenty of subtle differences, like the ability to adjust your quick settings and a special Dark Mode with your choice of color accents, but overall it's a simple, fast experience.
OnePlus is including MaxxAudio and SwiftKey on the phone at launch, with the ability to remove both at first boot if you're not a fan of the added software. You'll also find a new "shelf" that lives to the left of the primary homescreen, which allows you to create a sort of quick drawer for your digital experience. It's something we're looking forward to spending more time with, especially if it's going to be even more polished by the time we're looking at the final version of the operating system.
The camera is another area we're going to wait to focus too much on, especially after Carl Pei mentioned a better experience is a few weeks out. But what we saw at the event in nearly perfect lighting was impressive. The camera software isn't nearly as plain as some of the early leaks lead us to believe either, and there's some interesting options for low light we're really looking forward to spend some additional time with. What we leave you with in the mean time is a one-shot compare with the Galaxy S6 edge. You can find the original files for those photos here.
We like what we see
One hell of a first impression
It appears as though there's a lot to like about the OnePlus 2, especially at $389 for the 64GB version with 4GB of RAM on board. The $329 version with 16GB of storage and 3GB of RAM wasn't available at the event to compare, which is really just the tip of an enormous iceberg of questions we have about the final version of this experience.
OnePlus has successfully pulled off another smartphone launch, and they did so in their own unique way. We've walked away from this hands on eagerly awaiting more time to explore this experience, and before too long we'll see exactly how much this company has improved from their first design to their second.