On the face of it, it seems downright unfair to compare the brand new top-end Galaxy S7 edge to the 10-month old less-expensive OnePlus 2. Most folks looking to spend $350 on the latter aren't also considering dropping $750 on the former. But let's remember the OnePlus 2 marketing message — "2016 Flagship Killer," they called it when it launched mid-summer last year.
So we're going to compare the OnePlus 2 to what is arguably the leading flagship of 2016, the Galaxy S7 edge. Let's see who does the killing.
Hardware and specs
For the money, the OnePlus 2 is an impressive piece of hardware. Even though it's a bit big and monolithic in a way, it feels as solid as anything else out on the market and will stand up to some abuse as you use it for a couple of years. The sandstone back is really great, but the ability to mix things up with a new back plate (without making the phone feel cheap in any way) later on down the road is a huge bonus. The blocky shape and relatively sharp edges make it a bit easier to grip on a daily basis, but that doesn't mean it's quite as enjoyable to hold as the wonderful curves of the Galaxy S7 edge.
And it'd be a shame if we forgot to mention the OnePlus 2's "alert slider" on the left edge of the phone, which lets you quickly switch between all, priority and no notifications without even looking at the phone. That's just as great today as it was the day it was announced.
On the other side of things, Samsung's phone is undeniably more interesting to look at, but is also dramatically more fragile. Though it's built on a metal frame just like the OnePlus 2, its panes of glass on both sides with dramatic curves are far more prone to scratches and cracks over time. In quite the opposite situation as the OnePlus 2, the Galaxy S7 edge is easier on your hands, but tougher to get a firm grip on when you're using it.
Two dramatically different design philosophies, with each having little victories.
Both phones have a 5.5-inch display, hoping to sit a step below the "phablet" class of phones, but in reality they're quite large and not always simple to navigate in one hand. As for the displays themselves, the Galaxy S7 edge runs away with it in terms of quality. The QHD Super AMOLED display is wonderful, so long as you're not looking for the most accurate colors (which most people aren't). It has colors that really pop, and better brightness and outdoor visibility than the OnePlus 2. The 1080p LCD on the OnePlus 2 is solid but unspectacular — colors are a bit washed out, and it doesn't have as wide a range of brightness levels, particularly when you view it in direct sunlight.
In terms of raw numbers on a spec sheet, the OnePlus 2 actually stacks up pretty well to the Galaxy S7. The OnePlus 2 expectedly has a bit slower processor with the Snapdragon 810, but matches the Galaxy S7's 4GB of RAM and doubles its base storage with 64GB on board. The phones have comparable — but mediocre — speakers, and go toe-to-toe with great one-touch fingerprint sensors. The OnePlus 2 has a leg up (in our eyes) with its USB-C port, and offers dual SIM slots for those who need them, but misses out on NFC, wireless charging and an SD card slot that are all in the Galaxy S7 edge.
Software and performance
One of the reasons our in-depth comparison between these two phones (after a quick look a couple months back) took a while to come out was that the OnePlus 2 was still running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop when the Galaxy S7 edge was released. Though OnePlus originally committed to a Marshmallow update for the OnePlus 2 in the first quarter of 2016, we're now into the second half of May with no update. Tired of waiting, we unlocked the bootloader on our OnePlus 2 and installed the latest Marshmallow beta build from OnePlus, which was released to enthusiast owners on March 30. The software is quite good, actually, and has us excited to see the proper stable version, but keep that in mind as we compare the software here.
Keeping with its OxygenOS strategy, OnePlus doesn't add a whole lot to Android 6.0 Marshmallow. As such, the experience is quite good — everything is slick and fast, and the phone never does anything you aren't expecting. If you've used a phone with stock Marshmallow before, you know everything you need to here.
You can complain about some aspects of Samsung's software, but OnePlus isn't even pushing Marshmallow yet.
Samsung, as we know, changes quite a bit from stock Android but does a great job to help people who have used past Samsung phones to feel at home on a Galaxy S7 edge. The software is undeniably lighter and easier to handle than past versions, and the only real complaint to be had at this point is the mound of duplicative and generally useless apps that are pre-installed with no way to fully remove. But along with those apps you get lots of useful tweaks and features.
When it comes to updates, the initial thought is to expect OnePlus to be in the lead here as the nimble company with just a few phone models to support ... but as we covered at the start, this isn't really the case. Sure Samsung is still pretty bad about getting full platform updates out to all variants of its flagship phones, but it has proven as of late that it can get monthly security updates out the door with increasing frequency. Many of Samsung's phones are behind by a month, or sometimes two, but since the start of 2016 it has really kicked things into gear and pushed out a lot of monthly security updates.
Even though we're running a beta build of software on the OnePlus 2, performance has been quite good and a notable step up over the stable Lollipop that's officially on the phone right now. A Snapdragon 810 and 4GB of RAM is hardly a bad setup for performance, and when running just a 1080p display it isn't surprising that regular usage is neck-and-neck with the Galaxy S7 edge. We haven't found any slowdowns or hiccups on the OnePlus 2's software that make it fall behind the Galaxy S7, which is smooth and quick as they come.
When it comes to battery life, the numbers don't tell the whole story here. Even though the OnePlus 2 has a smaller 3300 mAh battery to the GS7 edge's 3600 mAh, battery life has been really great on the OnePlus 2 running Marshmallow. The Galaxy S7 edge is hardly a slouch here, and easily makes it through a day with battery life to spare, but the OnePlus 2 goes through the day with upwards of 30% battery remaining, no matter what we do. That's just fantastic, and having that much cushion in the battery means you really never have to worry about it. The lower resolution screen and slimmed-down software certainly have something to do with that.
So many words have been spent talking about how the Galaxy S7 edge's camera performs, and with a couple months under my belt using it my conclusions haven't changed. The GS7 edge is still the best in our eyes when it comes to quickly pulling out the phone and snapping an eye-pleasing shot, even if its fine detail isn't as tack-sharp as you want and it sometimes stumbles in troublesome lighting conditions. Though it's probably a lateral move in overall quality when compared to the Galaxy S6, that still puts it at the top of the heap for most people.
OnePlus can't catch Samsung's cameras, but then again very few can.
On the other end, the OnePlus 2 has been known for having a really solid, if unspectacular camera. Regular snapshots in auto mode are good, but HDR isn't as great as it should be and the software experience is pretty bare bones. When updating the phone to marshmallow, I feel like the camera has improved. The shutter speed is better, regular shots are still solid and HDR has improved its processing speed. The camera interface is even easier to use — albeit still not jam-packed with features — and now has an option to double-press the power button to launch, like modern Nexuses.
In terms of numbers, the Galaxy S7 edge has a new 12MP sensor with 1.4-micron pixels, behind an f/1.7 lens and supported by OIS. The OnePlus 2 has a formidable 13MP sensor with 1.3-micron pixels, behind an f/2.0 lens and also supported by OIS, plus the assistance of laser autofocus.
So how do they compare in head-to-head shooting? Well, the Galaxy S7 edge is still in the lead here for us. Check out a handful side-by-side comparison photos below.
Either camera will give you quick snapshots that are really solid in most lighting conditions, but the Galaxy S7 edge seems to offer a better dynamic range and more brightness across the board. And while the GS7 edge can sometimes exhibit odd chroma noise and grain, losing fine detail, the OnePlus 2 often experienced similar issues in the same situations. The biggest difference between the two cameras was notable at night, where the poor dynamic range of the OnePlus 2 was more pronounced, and it struggled to resolve the darkest parts of scenes.
The bottom line
Let's be honest, we all knew from the outset that it was an extremely lofty goal to say that an affordable phone released in July of 2015 was going to go toe-to-toe with the highest-end phone in Samsung's lineup that launched seven months later. And to give OnePlus a little credit, the company did tone back its marketing message some to move to the more ambiguous "flagship killer" moniker, dropping the "2016" declaration.
But in either case, the OnePlus 2 does offer a pretty solid experience today, even if it doesn't match what you can get for over twice the price in the Galaxy S7 edge. The OnePlus 2's Marshmallow update adds new life to it, and once it starts hitting everyone's phone it'll be a big boost for its owners. The camera still isn't spectacular but it's better than average, and in terms of specs and main features it still compares nicely to 2016 phones. Sure the OnePlus 2 is missing a few fringe features and doesn't have the most inspiring design, but that was also true the day it was announced.
The Galaxy S7 edge offers a far better display, nicer looking (and feeling) exterior, superior camera, a handful of additional features and fantastic performance, and is worthy of being at the top of the line for Samsung. It's a better phone than the OnePlus 2, to be certain. But it also retails for $700 or more, depending on where you're shopping — it darn well better offer more than the OnePlus 2.
There may not be many OnePlus 2 owners out there jumping up to a Galaxy S7 edge, but they can know there's both something worth the money in the upgrade and also plenty to be proud of in their current phone.
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