The quick take
If you can look past the months of bragging about how this phone will be the best, you'll find a collection of great ideas in search of polished software to pull it all together. It's got a great camera, one of the best fingerprint sensors out there today, and a hardware design worth celebrating. But the OnePlus 2 still needs some work before it can stand beside the other great phones we've seen launch this year.
- Premium design
- Excellent camera
- Solid fingerprint sensor
- Great battery life
- Incredibly useful Alert Slider
- No wireless charging
- No Quick Charge
- No NFC
- Several glaring software bugs
- Display isn't great in direct sunlight
OnePlus 2 Full Review
In its short time as a smartphone manufacturer, OnePlus has demonstrated real skill for making a lot of noise and getting the attention of folks who love smartphone tech. The combination of base specs that rival current high end phones with a price tag in the mid-range is exciting. But as we saw with its first smartphone release those specs don't necessarily mean a high-end experience when the phone is actually in your hand.
It's a new year, and that means a new OnePlus smartphone. The OnePlus 2 follows in its predecessor's footsteps in promising top-of-the-line specs with a more modest price tag, though this year it's a little more clear this device falls squarely in the mid-range.
There also are some significant software differences this time around. Unlike most smartphone manufacturers, which can continue to evolve their fork of Android with new features and a more polished overall experience, OnePlus chose to start over with software this year with the internally maintained OxygenOS instead of Cyanogen OS.
We now have the OnePlus 2 in hand, so it's time to see just how well this "Flagship Killer" handles the real world. Here's our review.
About this review
We're publishing this review after a week of using the OnePlus 2. I (Russell Holly) have the international OnePlus 2, model ONE A2005, with a T-Mobile SIM in the first slot of the phone. Build ONE A2005_14_150807 is currently running on this phone, which is OxygenOS version 2.0.0 or Android 5.1.1, for those who don't speak OnePlus. According to OnePlus, this is not the build that will be shipping with the phone and has not passed Google's Compatibility Test Suite.
This phone was used with a Moto 360 paired for most of the review period, on T-Mobile's network in Glen Burnie, Md.
OnePlus 2 video review
A more premium feel
OnePlus 2 Hardware
Despite its high end internals, the OnePlus One didn't exactly have a premium feel on the outside. The sandstone coating on the plastic was nice for grip, but it still felt like a flexible, plastic phone. This year OnePlus has switched to aluminum for the outer rim of the phone, and the difference is substantial. It's cool to the touch, feels rigid and durable in the hand, and it looks great. The back plate offers a personalization aspect though additional StyleSwap colors available in different materials, but this review unit sticks with the classic sandstone black, which continues to offer a nice, grippy texture to the back of the phone.
Positioned almost a quarter of the way down the back of the phone is the camera, with a two-stage LED flash above and a laser autofocus below. The placement of the camera is a little lower than most would expect, and it looks a little odd at first. Surrounding the camera and accessories is the same dark aluminum you find around the edges of the phone, raised just slightly from the backplate.
The buttons that live on either side of this phone are made of the same aluminum as the rest of the body. The volume button is well seated and slightly raised off the side of the phone, and the power button that sits beneath it is cut to match. The Alert Slider on the left side of the phone is raised slightly higher, with a textured etching to make sliding the switch into either of its three positions easy. Each position is recognized with a satisfying click into place, followed immediately by a short vibration to confirm the mode you've just set the phone to.
The fingerprint authentication part of this experience works great.
It's odd to be excited by a switch, even though buttons and switches are things so many devices get wrong in misguided attempts to cut corners. That's one thing you absolutely can't accuse OnePlus of here. The casing that surrounds these internals is remarkable, if a little heavy. The OnePlus 2 scores points for avoiding the "our phone is thinnest" contest, but the added heft of this 6.2-ounce phone is undeniable.
Around the edge of the glass on the front of the OnePlus 2 you have a slight lip, which has a similar feel to the indentation where the fingerprint sensor lives at the bottom of the phone. It's a subtle decision that makes a huge difference when running your thumb over the glass to find the sensor without looking at the phone, and keeps the OnePlus 2 from looking like a plain flat slab on your table. This sensor doubles as the home button, and if you've got the fingerprint sensor set as the lock screen security method you'll be able to place your thumb on the sensor when the screen is off and immediately wake and unlock the phone. The fingerprint authentication part of this experience works great, though occasionally it fails to wake the phone the first time you place your thumb down.
OnePlus made a point of highlighting the 600-nit brightness on this new phone to help compensate for the display only being 1080p, but that explanation rings hollow once you take the phone outside. In direct sunlight the OnePlus 2 struggles to show you much of anything, and it's noticeably worse than the Galaxy S6 and even the LG G4 in side-by-side comparisons. Indoors the display is great, and the overall image quality is a big part of that. You'd have a hard time finding someone who could point at this display and say it was demonstrably worse than any other high-end display indoors. The lower resolution isn't noticeable in most situations, which is to OnePlus' credit. Outside, specifically in direct sunlight, you had better get used to squinting.
With a disappointing speaker, you'll want to look to Bluetooth or a wired connection for audio playback.
The bottom of the OnePlus 2 is a nice looking array of holes on either side of a USB-C port. This particular USB-C port is only USB 2.0 in capability, but the future-forward design makes it so you'll be able to use any USB-C cable or accessory with it. Unfortunately, that means you won't be able to use any of your existing microUSB cables without an adapter. As ports go, this one is fairly similar to Apple's Lightning cable in use. You don't have to flip the cable around for a "right" way to put the cable in. Unlike Lightning, the port is deep and wide enough that the cable snaps in securely and doesn't wiggle around. It's a solid connection, and while there will be growing pains while the industry switches to this new standard it looks like we'll all be better off.
The speaker that lives to the right of this nice new USB-C port is decidedly less so. Audio quality is poor for just about everything. It's the sort of speaker you're likely to only use for phone calls, and even then it's not as loud as most new Android phones being released this year. Fortunately the headphone jack at the top of the phone offers a much better way to consume music and movies, because the speaker on this phone is truly not worth using.
With NFC and Quick Charge curiously absent from this phone, the OnePlus 2 lives squarely in the mid-range tier. In any category it's a well-built phone with some clever design decisions and a customization option that will make a lot of people happy, but it's not quite capable of being directly compared to the best being made by HTC, LG, and Samsung.
A Snapdragon 810 by any other name
OnePlus 2 Performance
Many pixels have given their lives in the debate over the performance and capability of the Snapdragon 810 processor and its ability (or lack thereof) to manage heat. It's not all that debatable that Qualcomm's latest processor is an upgrade over the Snapdragon 801 in name only, and heat management has a fair bit to do with that experience, claiming this processor overheats is demonstrably false. That didn't stop OnePlus from jumping on the chance to claim "its" version of the Snapdragon 810 was somehow special when compared to all other instances of the processor, from claiming they had the "cool" version to explaining their processor was seated in a special way on the board — and even claiming their 810 was handling processes as they entered the chip in a special way.
Marketing fluff and misdirection aside, this Snapdragon 810 looks and behaves quite similarly to all of the other 810-based phones we've come across this year that weren't pre-production, with two curious differences.
At no point during this review did the phone ever feel sluggish or stuttery, even under load.
It became clear early on in Snapdragon 810 testing that, due to heat management, there were few situations where all eight cores were actually running at the same time. When an 810-powered phone starts doing something complicated, two of the high-power cores would shut down, and the phone would essentially run like a Snapdragon 808. Instead of picking two cores and making those two cores the default off, OnePlus alternates every few minutes between the four most capable cores in the chip, supposedly to better balance the heat. As a result, there were no situations during our testing where all eight cores were running to complete any task. This included browsing, camera, games and even basic navigation.
Whatever justification OnePlus uses for this behavior, the results are clear. At no point during this review did the phone ever feel sluggish or stuttery, even under load. Like all phones it gets warm under heavy use, but never enough to be uncomfortable to hold. Heat radiates from the top of the phone down, so if you're holding the phone vertically you're unlikely to even notice it get warm. During gameplay, you'll notice your left hand getting warmer faster. Animations are smooth, games loaded quickly, and the browser rendered everything just as fast as you'd expect from this hardware. Like every other Snapdragon 810 phone we've come across, with one early exception, the software shines even though this processor isn't a massive upgrade over its predecessor.
A collection of clever ideas
OnePlus 2 Software
We've known for a while that OnePlus was ditching Cyanogen OS for their internally made OxygenOS, but this is the first phone to actually ship with the OS. OxygenOS is all about being lightweight and as close to Nexus-style Android as possible, and in many ways this OS delivers on that promise. If you're used to what most would call Stock Android you'll feel right at home on OxygenOS. A big part of this is a deliberate effort to make the OxygenOS enhancements look like a part of Google's setup, which helps keep the UI together in ways not many other companies have figured out yet.
For starters, the relationships OnePlus acquired through the release of the OnePlus One are still here in OxygenOS, which means MaxxAudio as a baked-in equalizer and SwiftKey as an included keyboard, but the bloatware stops there. Choosing between SwiftKey and Google Keyboard is part of the initial device setup, so if one's not your thing you never have to worry about it again. MaxxAudio is there in the app drawer, but it can be turned off and disabled if you've got another app you prefer for audio enhancement.
Quick Settings in OxygenOS look almost exactly like Stock, save for a little toggle up in the top right. From here you can change where the icons live in your tray, and place priority on other icons depending on your use. It's the kind of subtle change a lot of users would love, and one of several things many consider flashing third-party ROMS to access.
If you're a fan of making your phone do exactly what you want it to, permissions control is your new best friend. We're still a little ways out before final Android 6.0 Marshmallow builds are in the wild, but that didn't stop OnePlus from implementing its own system under the current permission system. It's a simple thing, for better or worse. You can see the permissions each app asks for, and with a simple toggle flip you can disable whatever you want. This raises the same concerns as a third-party system accomplishing this through root access — the apps don't know you're removing that permission. It's really easy to break apps with this setup, since the apps aren't built to handle failure here, which they will be under Marshmallow. If you know what you're doing, the ability to turn off permissions for certain apps is great. If you wander in there and start unchecking everything because you thought it would fix something, you'll quickly discover just how broken your phone can get without access to those apps.
While OxygenOS lacks a full theme engine like the one seen in Cyanogen OS on the OnePlus One, a Dark Theme with control over accent colors has been made available. This Dark Theme skins the Material elements of Android 5.1.1 in shades of black and grey, but not the apps themselves. It's great is you want a dark app drawer or settings panel, but not nearly as comprehensive as its predecessor. The accent colors are a nice touch, but are only available in the dark theme. In the light theme, you're limited to the standard color scheme.
Unfortunately, the build we're using for this review isn't what most would consider stable. There's some rendering issues with a handful of Material Design apps that clearly point to a build that hasn't passed Google's Compatibility Test Suite. Beyond this, at several points during the review the phone crashed to a reboot after doing simple things like launching the camera. When it works, it works well. When it doesn't, you lose the ability to read text or have to wait for the phone to reboot in order to grab the picture you want. OxygenOS shows a lot of promise, but it couldn't be more clear the OS isn't ready for prime time yet.
The main event
OnePlus 2 Camera
Quality photography is rarely a feature you associate with mid-range Android phones, but 2015 has proven to be a remarkable year for cameras. And a comparably massive new OmniVision sensor (which we learned during an interview with OnePlus' co-founder was exclusive to OnePlus for a while) was used in this phone. A big part of what makes this sensor special is the 1.3-micron pixels used to capture images — noticeably larger than the pixel size found in your average smartphone sensor. Bigger sensors are always a good thing, and in this case it helps set the OnePlus 2 right up there with the Galaxy S6 and LG G4 in image quality.
The OnePlus camera app is fairly generic. Because the sensor is 4:3 and not 16:9, there's a lot of black space where the shutter and settings live on the UI. You can crop the image to 16:9 and fix this, but lose some of your picture size in the process due to the crop. The app includes simple flash, HDR, and Clear Image toggles as well as a Beauty toggle for facial smoothing. Clear Image mode increases sharpening, while HDR and flash are fairly self explanatory.
Taking photos in full auto is fantastic. The camera quickly focuses on a target and stays focused even if you shift the phone slightly. You can tap to focus if you feel the need, and doing so brings up a brightness wheel right where you tapped. You can quickly adjust as needed, which is a nice way of offering those controls. The brightness wheel only works in full auto, even though it shows up and animates if you tap to focus in any of the other modes. It just doesn't do anything if you move the little sun around on its wheel in the other modes, which is kind of irritating.
Shooting in Clear Image mode is only useful if you're taking a photo of a large scene with lots of activity in the distance. The sharpening doesn't offer much up close, so while it's a nice option to have it's unlikely be used particularly often. HDR mode gets the job done if you're dealing with too much light, but it's not quite as capable as it could be. It does a great job avoiding those aggressive light bands you frequently see with smartphone HDR, but colors in the foreground have a tendency to appear slightly washed out. You'll also notice a significant delay in shooting either HDR or Clear Image modes, ranging from a half-second to a painful three seconds depending on the image, during which the camera offers little more than an animation with the word processing above.
On the left-hand side of the UI you can swipe in to access video, panorama, slow-motion, and timelapse. Video offers a similarly bland UI with resolution toggles up to 4K, with a warning as you start recording to let you know you can only record 10 minutes of 4K at a time. Unlike the normal camera mode, shooting in 4K presented a series of focusing issues unless you tapped in a specific area. The camera clearly struggled to focus on something in motion, and trying to correctly focus when this happens takes the camera far too long. Fortunately, this issue didn't present itself when recording below 4K.
Getting a great photo in daylight isn't ever a problem, but when the sun sets or you're in a dark room things get a little more complicated.
Panorama mode puts the phone in portrait, and offers a simple set of guiding dots to follow during capture. These dots move quickly if you aren't following to help guide you back tot he path, and the simple stop button on the screen lets you choose when the panorama has finished. The stitching in this mode is quite good, both with objects up close and at a distance. The only time the panorama mode seemed to struggle was with obvious things, like heavy motion from the subject you capturing.
Slow Motion and Timelapse both prefer landscape, with a gentle animation directing you to the right way to hold the phone. There are no settings for Slow Motion, and Timelapse only offers 720p, 1080p, and 4K options for capture. Both interfaces are simple one button affairs, with the results appearing in the gallery when you're finished. It's a simple setup, but gets the job done and looks nice in the process.
There's clearly a lot to like about this camera, but it's not without flaws. Getting a great photo in daylight isn't ever a problem, but when the sun sets or you're in a dark room things get a little more complicated. OIS seems almost disabled in the dark, judging from the results of the photos taken over the last week. That's not to say you can't get a decent photo in low light, it just usually requires a steady hand. Focusing in low light works surprisingly well still, almost no need for tap to focus, but once you see that processing animation there's a good chance your photo isn't quite what you had hoped it was going to be.
Currently this camera is missing a Manual mode for smartphone photographers who want more control, but OnePlus claims an update will be coming soon to add the feature. With OnePlus continuing to focus on camera quality after launch, it's not hard to see this phone offering even more competition to the other smartphone cameras out there.
Just shy of great
Knowing that we're using unfinished software on a version of the phone lacking some of the bands needed for full use here in the U.S., we're not going to say a whole lot about the battery just yet. During the week we've had the phone, connected to a Moto 360 90 percent of the time, we were able to get through a 15-hour day with 25 percent of the battery remaining. This was an average of 3.5 hours of screen-on time with at least half an hour of gameplay at some point in the day and Adaptive Display on the whole time. While that's not the best battery life out there, it's a full day by most folks standards.
It's also a 3300 mAh battery with results similar to the Verizon Wireless LG G4, which only has a 3000 mAh battery and is connected to all the right bands. From what we can see here, again pointing out the unfinished nature of the software and the wrong hardware for the region, the OnePlus 2 isn't quite as good at conserving battery as it probably should be.
Not quite polished
OnePlus 2: The Bottom Line
OnePlus has put this phone in an awkward position. If you set aside all of the hype, doublespeak, and over-promising done by OnePlus over the last couple of months, you walk away with a $400 smartphone that could offer a great overall experience to everyone. It's a capable phone with a lot of great ideas waiting to be pulled together into a complete thought. The fingerprint sensor is well-done, and implementing it without including a physical home button is great. The Alert Slider is a fantastic idea that works well. The camera alone makes this phone something worth checking out.
Software is an important part of the experience, and OxygenOS on the OnePlus 2 just isn't ready yet. On their own, most of the software issues we found wouldn't be considered a particularly big deal. Together, you get a piece of hardware that borders on high end with a truly exceptional camera that stumbles at the finish line. It's certainly possible for OnePlus to fix these issues, and if that happens this phone will be a lot easier to recommend.
Should you buy the OnePlus 2? Not Yet
As a general rule, phones that crash to a reboot aren't ready to have money spent on them. Perhaps more important than the software is the position the OnePlus 2 currently sits when compared to other Android phones on the market today. Shelling out $400 for a OnePlus 2 — which you can only spend once you've made your way through the OnePlus Invite System — is a big ask when surrounded by hardware that is less expensive, more capable ... and immediately available. If you're looking at the OnePlus 2 as a great phone for the price, you'd probably find the 2015 Moto G to be an incredible bargain at $220. If raw power is your goal, the LG G4 is available unlocked right now for an additional $80 and includes NFC, Quick Charge, and Wireless Charging with an added case.
If you're looking for reasons to buy a OnePlus 2, chances are you're going to find something else available today that better suits your needs. If you're a fan of OnePlus, you like what you see, and you're a fan of OxygenOS, you will thoroughly enjoy this phone.
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