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OnePlus 2 Review: The $329 Flagship Smartphone

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OnePlus 2 Review: The $329 Flagship Smartphone

When part of your job is to review smartphones, picking up a new device and getting deja vue is a pretty common feeling. There’s just no getting around the fact that all these slabs with giant screens start to look, feel, and act pretty much the same.

The OnePlus 2 is just another one of these slabs, yet I couldn’t help but notice a freshness that I felt with the whole package that this little company offered. Before we get to the details of that package, lets talk about the history of the OnePlus 2 because it has a fascinating one.

This smartphone is the sequel to the OnePlus One, a smartphone made by the small company of the same name. Last year, we gave our Smartphone of the Year award to the OnePlus One, a $299 smartphone that was better than most phones twice the price. It claimed to be a flagship-killer—and while it didn’t sell anyone near what the Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6 sold, it certainly was in terms of bang for your buck.

The OnePlus 2 takes the same approach that its predecessor took and only sweetens the deal. Lets start by digging into what you get on the hardware end of things.

Hardware

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If you used the OnePlus One or are even familiar with the look of it, you could easily get the OnePlus 2 mixed up with one sitting next to it. It’s got the same 5.5-inch display, as well as that same sandpaper-textured back. The texture is one that I still really enjoy feeling in my hand—it’s hard to resist rubbing your finger against while holding the device. Not only is it really unique, it’s also great for curbing the slippery feeling that a lot of new phones tend to have. Unlike a lot of other phones with removable backs, the OnePlus 2 feels firm and well put together in your hand. No need for a case here!

Going back to that 5.5-inch display, it really does look good. It’s a standard 1080p display, unlike the “QuadHD displays” that many Android devices are featuring. However, I’m convinced that unless you hold the devices up next to each other, you wouldn’t be able tell the difference. Because it’s an IPS display, colors look natural and viewing angles are fantastic. It comes in at around 401 pixels per inch, matching almost identically the specifications of the iPhone 6 Plus. So while it’s not an update over last year’s model, it didn’t leave me feeling like a compromise.

There are a few new additions to the hardware of the OnePlus 2 though. First is a fingerprint scanner at the bottom of the front of the phone, which looks deceivingly like the home button you might find on a Samsung or Apple device, but isn’t a button at all. The fingerprint scanner part of it is fairly accurate—and once you get over trying to push it like a button all the time, it works fine enough for that as well. You can also set the long press and the double tap of the fingerprint scanner, giving you quick access to things like Google Now or the camera.

However, I did find it to be a bit finicky when it comes to actually registering a touch, especially next to the new “Back” and “Recent Apps” touch buttons on either side. The fingerprint scanner needs a bit more of a press, while the other two only require a light tap. The difference in sensitivity between them can be a little frustrating, especially for something as commonly used as a home button. Fortunately, you can turn on the typical Android software buttons and ignore these buttons if you prefer that.

Another new hardware feature that I do really like is the new Alert Slider on the side. The tactile slider lets you toggle between three different settings: All Notifications, Priority Interruptions Only, and No Interruptions. It’s similar to what iPhones have, but gives you even more control over what notifications you are letting interrupt you. The notification settings are a standard Android thing in Lollipop, but having a physical slider really is a nice touch. Switching to No Interruptions when you’re in a quiet place can be done in your pocket, which is really helpful.

Another one of the big talking points about the OnePlus 2 is the fact that it uses a USB Type C port for both data and charging. The benefits of this new USB connector shape have been explained in detail since it was first put in the new MacBook, but the OnePlus 2 is the first smartphone to implement it. As for now, the new port doesn’t give a lot of advantages, other than the fact that it’s reversible.

In fact, if anything the different port presents a lot of inconveniences, such as not having the widely available USB adapters for car and wall chargers. The charger that comes in the box is stylish and bright red, but is shorter than most mini-USB cords designed for smartphones. It’s ahead of its time for sure, but enough so that it feels like more of a minor inconvenience than a futuristic feature.

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An unedited photo taken with the OnePlus 2.

The camera on the back of the OnePlus 2 is a 13-megapixel shooter, which matches the same megapixel count as the one on the OnePlus One. However, the camera on the new phone is certainly a big upgrade over the predecessor. It’s a brand new sensor with 1.3-micron sized pixels, optical image stabilization, and a faster laser autofocus system. The result is a really great shooter that goes toe-to-toe with Android phones like LG G4 and the Samsung Galaxy S6.

It does great with nice micro photos and is able to focus well with really tight shots. Most cameras these days can shoot great photos in great lighting—and the OnePlus 2 really does do well in daylight. Colors are bright, but still feel pretty natural. In low-light settings, the OnePlus 2 fares well enough, but unfortunately does get a little grainy, especially when you zoom in and check out the details.

The most significant thing about the OnePlus 2 camera is that for whatever reason, there is a serious processing lag in both the OnePlus camera app and even in the Google Camera app. In better light things are okay, but once the camera has to do some work in lower light, the lag is really noticeable as you move the camera around. Now hopefully this is something that OnePlus can fix with a software update, but for now it’s a pretty big letdown to the overall camera experience and makes shooting what you’re trying to capture quickly that much more difficult.

Overall, the OnePlus 2 doesn’t outright topple phones like the Galaxy S6, LG G4, or iPhone 6 Plus for best camera—each have their fair share of strengths and weakness. Here’s what you need to know about the camera on the OnePlus 2: it produces some great photos and with some software tweaks it could really be one of the standout features of the device.

Software

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The OnePlus 2 runs a very light Android skin called OxygenOS. Unlike many other Android skins, OxygenOS feels almost identical to using stock Android—which is definitely a good thing. At Lollipop, Android feels cleaner, lighter, and more modern than ever before. The fact that the OnePlus 2’s software is so close to stock Android already makes this a smartphone I want to use over something like the HTC One M9 or Galaxy S6—lets just hope it gets a quick update to Android Marshmallow.

OxygenOS does make a few adjustments however—some more useful than others. It ships with its own OnePlus Launcher that has a with a new homescreen app called Shelf. The feature can be found to the left of the homescreen and is actually quite similar to what Apple is doing with its Spotlight feature. As for now, it just shows some recently used apps and contacts, though OnePlus says it has plans to do more with the service in the future. As for now, I found it to be pretty limited considering what you get with the Google Now Launcher.

The other things that OxygenOS does are fairly small, mostly in the realm of tweaks to settings that open up some more customization for the user. A few of them are pretty handy, especially App Permissions and Waves Enhanced Audio. App Permissions lets you have detailed control over which apps have access to your location or contact information, while the Enhanced Audio lets you bump up the max volume on a quiet podcast or do some quick EQ on a song.

Some other nice touches that you’ll find hidden in the settings of OxygenOS that I’ll quickly mention are a Dark Theme (as well as setting an accent color), changing the settings of the notification LED, and switching to a completely new icon pack. There’s a lot to dig into here and chances are if you don’t like a certain feature or settings, you can either turn it off or change it. The important thing is that none of it ever gets in the way of the stock Android experience.

Aside from that strange lag I mentioned in the camera, I couldn’t be happier with the performance on the OnePlus 2. The device is powered by the Snapdragon 810 processor, the very newest SoC from Qualcomm that’s only been used in a few devices this year such as the LG G Flex 2 and HTC One M9. That’s largely been due to the fact that the processor has been associated with overheating problems, though the newest batch (v2.1) seems to have taken care of the issue. The OnePlus 2 is blazingly fast, does great with high-intense graphics, and doesn’t overheat even after many hours of use despite what early rumors said.

Speaking of many hours of use, the OnePlus 2 has a huge 3300 mAh battery. Though it’s not removable, it does do quite well for a full day usage. The OnePlus 2 is above average compared to other flagship smartphones when it comes to battery life. In my experience it does better than both the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6.

On my days of heaviest use, I found myself plugging it in when evening hit, while on more normal days I’d make it to bedtime with around 20 percent left. So while it doesn’t have the fast charging that other devices have (it takes upwards of three hours to get a full charge), it makes it up by getting you through a full day in all but the most extreme use cases.

Verdict

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The OnePlus 2 not only stands out on the table, it also feels undeniably unique to hold and to use. For some people that’s going to be off-putting and for others, like myself, it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s an incredibly cheap phone with great performance, an impressive camera, and excellent build quality.

The OnePlus 2 is not a perfect phone. In more ways than one it feels the slightest bit unrefined, especially in regard to some of the software implementations in the camera, fingerprint scanner, and USB Type C port.

Overall though there’s no doubt in my mind that it holds up surprisingly well against the flagships that cost twice as much. With more and more carriers moving away from two year contracts where the majority of the price is “subsidized” and hidden in monthly fees, the relevancy of low-cost, unlocked phones like the OnePlus 2 will only increase. Rather than reinventing the wheel again, the OnePlus 2 builds off the steady foundation of the One and throws in some interesting features along the way.

The availability of the OnePlus 2 might be the biggest downfall of it, seeing as a wait list isn’t the ideal way for people to purchase a phone from a buyer’s perspective. But for a smaller company, the invitation-only system seems to have worked out pretty well for its predecessor, which sold over a million units in 2014 alone.

There aren’t a lot of huge reasons to upgrade from the OnePlus One, but if you’re looking for alternatives to the typical flagships out there, the OnePlus 2 is pretty much as good as it gets.