OnePlus 2 review; solid device, held back by unfinished software

1
9.0 Excellent

The OnePlus 2 is an excellent phone in 2015, especially for a sub-$400 price tag. The device has great specs which includes the Snapdragon 810 processor, 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM, and a USB Type-C connector. The lack of NFC and below average software experience with OxygenOS hold the device back from true flagship contention, but it is still a competitor.

  • Design 9.8
  • Display 9.2
  • Performance 9
  • Software 7.9
  • Camera 8.8
  • Battery 9
  • User Ratings (1 Votes) 9

In early 2014 arose a company out of nowhere. That company was OnePlus and they took the world by storm with their ‘Flagship Killer’ dubbed the One. The OnePlus One broke new ground by offering flagship caliber specs at half the price. Even though the device was somewhat difficult to purchase, OnePlus still managed to sell over one million devices last year.

Fast forward an entire year, and we have the OnePlus 2. A device that tops the One in every category, both internally and externally. The OnePlus never had a big problem, but there was certain issues that added up. Yellow band issue, touchscreen issues, microphone issues, etc. The OnePlus 2 looks to alleviate those concerns with top-notch specs, a premium build, and still a great price.

Design

If you are familiar with the OnePlus One, the OnePlus 2 is a complete 180. Overall, it has the same shape, but comes with a magnesium/aluminum chassis. On top of that, it still ships with the trademarked Sandstone Black back cover, this time on both the 16 GB and 64 GB variants. The device for the review is the 64 GB variant, but they are identical externally.

Just like its predecessor, the 2 ships with a 5.5 inch display. The design of the device along with the curves makes it very easy to hold. Even though it nears the size of the Galaxy Note 5, it is much easier and more comfortable to hold. The OnePlus 2 comes in at 151.8 x 74.9 x 9.9 mm and comes in at 175 grams.

OnePlus 2 compared to G4 and Note 5

To compare it to the OnePlus One, it is thinner in both directions, vertically and horizontally.The OnePlus 2 is a full millimeter thicker than the One, but also houses a larger battery. I must say, fitting the same sized display in a smaller footprint is definitely a win for OnePlus.

The main difference between the two device is the build construction. Like I stated before, it comes with a magnesium/aluminum chassis that feels excellent in the hand. The One felt decent, but it wasn’t worth bragging about. The 2 however, feels excellent. The sides are rather straight, no curves to be seen. Personally, I really like metal frames on phones, but I don’t really like when they are curved. Metal is slippery already, so adding a curve to lessen grip-ability just isn’t very smart. The metal edge has a very nice finish to it that looks like it will hold up to every day bump and scrapes. It also gives it some extra grip, but ever so slightly.

OnePlus 2 front of the device

On the front of the device, the all-new ‘lightning quick’ fingerprint sensor is found on the bottom of the device where the home button resided on the One. Flanking it on either side are the capacitive buttons which light up as two lines. This allows the buttons to be reversible, whereas the previous device had the back button on the right, with the multitasking button on the left.

OnePlus 2 top of device

The top of the device houses the headphone jack along with a microphone. Other than that, the top is completely bare. It does not have an IR blaster. On the bottom of the device comes the speaker and highly-anticipated USB Type-C port. When the device is laying on its back, the grille to the right of the USB port houses the speaker, whereas the one to the left houses a microphone.

OnePlus 2 metal frame

The right side of the device is home to the lock button and newly relocated volume rockers. One complaint I had about the buttons on the One was that they felt cheap and weren’t very clickly. That changes on the OnePlus 2, as the buttons are now metal and feel very tactile and tight to the chassis. On its predecessor, the buttons felt very wobbly.

OnePlus 2 Alert Slider

On to the left side, living where the volume rockers used to reside, is something Android hasn’t seen before: an alert slider. The alert slider is something that has been exclusive to Apple devices for some time now, but has never found its way to Android. I am a big fan of this and OnePlus incorporated it very well. In class, it is so much easier to slide the switch all the way up to turn on “Do not disturb mode”. All the way down gives all notifications and the middle gives only priority notifications. Every time the switch is pressed, the phone gives a slight haptic feedback to acknowledge that it happened.

OnePlus 2 Sandstone Black

On to the back of the device, I remember when I first got the OnePlus One in the mail, I was excited to hold it in the hand because the Sandstone Black back cover was so highly talked about. It was one of the first phones to have a solid grip to it, and the OnePlus 2 doesn’t skip a beat. It seems to have a coarser texture this time around, which doesn’t bother me any.

OnePlus does offer the StyleSwap covers again, this time in Bamboo, Rosewood, Kevlar, Black Apricot, all available for purchase with no invite. Previously on the One, you needed an invite to purchase a StyleSwap cover, but it was eventually scrapped due to how challenging it was to change the cover. I did it for a friend and you definitely have to be careful, but it can be done rather easily, it just takes time. The good news is that the OnePlus 2 has a back cover that is much easier to be removed and can be done in mere seconds. I do have a Bamboo StyleSwap cover on the way, so keep a look out for that.

OnePlus 2 no back cover

The reasoning for the back cover being so much easier to be removed, aside from the obvious, is that it houses the SIM card slots. On the One, the SIM card slot was accessed on the side of the device. This time around, the OnePlus 2 features dual-SIM support. Once the back cover is removed, the SIM tray which is located to the left camera just slides out.

Display

The OnePlus 2 comes with a 5.5 inch LTPS LCD display with a resolution of 1080×1920. That means it comes in at a very modest 401 ppi. There is nothing wrong with the display as it is very clear and crisp. The short answer is that it is a complete upgrade from the One.

One of the biggest issues I have with smartphone displays, especially on devices that fall between the $200-400 range, is that the brightness range seems to be very slim. Now the range on the 2 isn’t very large out of the box, but that is due to the adaptive brightness. You can’t experience the full range until turning off adaptive brightness, then it can get dimmer and brighter than before. Using the phone at night, the display can get quite dim and the brightness is decent; the screen can still be seen clearly in the daylight though. Hopefully they update that in an eventual OTA update.

OnePlus 2 display

The color on the 2 is very good though. Watching saturated videos with intense colors is very satisfying, even though the panel isn’t QHD. Coming from the Galaxy S6 edge and Galaxy Note 5, the OnePlus 2’s 1080p doesn’t bother me at all. They did a very good job on the display, but I still wholeheartedly prefer AMOLED displays. The OnePlus 2 can hold its own, but still trails behind the G4’s panel and of course the S6/Note 5.

A welcoming side note about the glass that covers the display, is Corning Gorilla Glass 4. It does a much better job than the Gorilla Glass 3 on the OnePlus One in the fingerprint category. I remember when using my One, fingerprints would gunk up the glass super easily, to the point where I would regularily have to clean it off. So far, my experience with the OnePlus 2 is completely different.

Performance

There was some controversy when OnePlus announced that the 2 would be packing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, which was known for overheating in other devices. OnePlus tried to alleviate consumers by claiming they worked very closely with Qualcomm to make sure the software was optimized for the Snapdragon 810.

The specific ‘optimizations’ are unknown, but once it was found out that the 810 would be throttled to 1.8 GHz, from its original 2.0 GHz. The device in turn has four A57 cores clocked at 1.8 GHz and four more A53 cores clocked at 1.6 GHz. Not only that, but it runs the Adreno 430 GPU and is backed by 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM. Together, they all surprisingly work very well, much better than the HTC One M9 I reviewed a few months ago.

OnePlus 2 AnTuTu Benchmark

To give an example, my HTC One M9 that I reviewed only scored 52k on the AnTuTu Benchmark. That is along the lines of last year’s Snapdragon 805 processor seen in the Nexus 6 and Galaxy Note 4. On my one and only benchmark on my 2, it scored 58k, which is a huge improvement over the HTC One M9.

I will include the fingerprint sensor in this portion of the review because it essentially is hardware and has to do with performance. I have used TouchID and Samsung’s fingerprint sensors before, so I know how well it can be done. With the OnePlus 2’s fingerprint sensor, I was pleasantly surprised. It unlocked the device, even when the screen was off almost instantaneously. Now it would miss occasionally, but its recognition was definitely in the 90% area. It isn’t as great as TouchID, but I will say it rivals it and is better than what Samsung is employing in the S6/S6 edge and Galaxy Note 5/S6 edge+.

As surprising as the fingerprint sensor, the external speaker is quite the contrary. The quality is decent, but the speaker is definitely one of the more quieter ones. Music has no low-end, and very high-end saturated. It sounds very good at very low volumes, but that doesn’t cut it. Sometimes it’s so quiet that I have a hard time hearing my notification sound.

The internal headphone jack quality is on point with other devices though. That kind of makes up for it in my eyes, as I listen to music with my headphones on much more than I do through the external speaker. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as the Samsung or LG’s, but it is around there.

Software

I had to add to its own category, because there is no sense in causing another categories score to go down for one issue. A while back, I posted an article titled The OnePlus 2 will be my next phone, but I have one concern, and it turned out that one concern, came true. While OxygenOS is very stable, it definitely has its drawbacks.

One of my main reasons for purchasing the OnePlus One was to experience CyanogenMod on a device that was made for it. It was great. It came with many customizations, decent update times, and a great development community if you wanted to switch over to the nightlys. OxygenOS was hyped as a stable and fast ROM for the One, and that’s just what it was.

Screenshot_2015-08-28-20-33-23

Now that the OnePlus 2 ships with OxygenOS 2.0.0 out of the box, it is a lot better rounded than the version 1.0 found on the One, but I still find it not enough. The customization tab in the settings only has three options… THREE. Realistically, there is only two: changing the system to a dark mode/accent colors and change the color of the LED notifications.

Although those customizations are there, they are still very limited. Most ROMs allow for the ability for the user to select any color they wish, usually by hexadecimal or by manual picking a color. On the 2, OxygenOS only allows for pre-determined colors. The colors available for the theme accents can be seen on the left and the LED colors can be seen on the right.

Another thing that grinds my gears about the software experience is how the quick pull-down is always enabled. On default Lollipop, one swipe brings up the notifications, two swipes brings up the quick settings toggles. On the 2, the notification shade always gets pulled down all the way, unless there is a notification, but even then you have to swipe down from the left side of the screen to access the notification. I would understand this choice if there was an option to disable it, but there isn’t.

One of the biggest issues with the software though, has to do with both the hardware buttons and the on-screen buttons. I don’t mind hardware buttons, as they leave open precious screen real estate. They come enabled so I didn’t even think twice about changing it to on-screen. That is until I found out that the hardware home button is only reliable around 70-80% of the time. It is very frustrating to have to press the home button multiple times to go home. No worry, the OnePlus 2 allows me to switch, so I did. I was enjoying it, everything was responsive, that was until I opened Snapchat.

The thing about Snapchat is that it employs the expanded desktop, meaning it hides the notification shade and navigation buttons. The only issue is that the OnePlus 2 doesn’t allow for the navigation buttons to be hidden, so it is always prevalent. This is a problem because it blocks out some of the select-able options in the app. To my surprise, there isn’t an option in the settings for that either.

One aspect I do like in the software is OnePlus’ new Shelf on the homescreen. It is sort of like their take on Google Now, but with more customization and less features. It holds a list of the most used applications and frequent contacts. Personally, if this screen was able to be set as the default homescreen, I might give it a try.

One thing to note is that when OEMs try to implement their own version of Google Now to the left of the homescreen, sometimes it is very sluggish when swiping back and forth. On the OnePlus 2’s launcher it is very smooth and I have no complaints whatsoever. It is just as crisp as Google Now found on the Nexus devices.

Unfortunately, aside from Shelf being able to be customized, the homescreen lacks basic features such as adjusting the grid size. The same goes for the app drawer. I am a fan of maximizing the space on my screen, so for the majority of my time, I am using the Nova launcher.

Now, before you think I’m just hating on OnePlus’ OxygenOS, understand that these are all just personal opinions. I know that all of these issues of mine can be fixed via a software update, so I’m not going to let it weigh on my experience too much. I know OxygenOS is only a few months old and I’m sure it will continue to gain features. Like I stated earlier, I am impressed with how stable and quick it is, no complaints there.

Camera

One of the things that OnePlus kept talking about leading up to the announcement of the OnePlus 2 was how hard they worked on the camera. They were even so confident, they had MKBHD review it before the device was even launched. The 2 is sporting a 13 megapixel camera with an f/2,0 aperture. It isn’t quite the f/1.8 of the G4 or the f/1.9 of the S6/S6 edge, but it is still a decent camera. On top of that, the front camera has been upgraded as well to a 5 megapixel camera.

Backing the 13 megapixel rear shooter is optical image stabilization and laser auto focus. This really helps it in lower light shots, which I found the device did a good job lighting up the image. OnePlus definitely worked hard on their processing software on the 2, and it shows in the quality of the image.

The camera is very good at bringing in the colors and really outputting a solid image. This makes it a very good point and shoot type of camera, for someone who likes to get the best out of their images without doing in post-editing.

OnePlus 2 image processing

One thing that bothered me about the camera was that while it was quick at taking the pictures, it wasn’t quick to ready it for another one. As the image above shows, the device would also process the image for a second after the image was taken. This is somewhat frustrating and annoying if you are trying to take more than one shot.

Battery

The feature most smartphones in 2015 lack, is the battery life. It seems manufacturers have gotten obsessed with slimming down devices so much that the device barely lasts throughout the day (Galaxy S6/S6 edge). The good news is that OnePlus think about taking that approach on the OnePlus 2. They understand, especially from feedback on the OnePlus One, that battery life is a very important, if not the most important category.

So, instead of slimming down the 2, they actually added a little thickness to include the 3,300 mAh battery, which is 200 more mAh than the One. It was a very good move, since they are moving from the timeless Snapdragon 801 to the power hungry 810.

Although the back of the device is removable, the battery is not. No need to worry though, as the OnePlus 2 easily powers through the day. That is definitely a good thing because it does not support quick charging and USB Type-C cords are currently hard to find. I’m sure that will change eventually.

OnePlus 2 battery life

I have been using the 2 as my daily driver on and off for the past two weeks and for a phone in 2015, it is in the top of the pack for battery life. My day usually consists of waking up around 6 AM and not getting back home until 9 PM. The device would easily power the the 15 hours with some juice to spare. For the most part, I would get home with 30-40% left. This would come with moderate usage, around 2-3 hours of screen on time and terrible reception half the day. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t on par with the OnePlus One.

 

On the other hand, when the device has a good amount of service and is connected to WiFi, it has serious potential to get some good screen on numbers. The image above shows what it’s capable of when those certain requirements are met.

Screenshot_2015-08-21-00-08-13

With a 1080p display and a massive 3,300 mAh, I kind of wished it would last a little longer, but I still have hope that will come through with software updates, or once I switch to CyanogenMod once that’s released. Regardless, it does have potential. OxygenOS does not include Power Saving, so that could be added in the future to extend the battery life. At the end of the day, it is still ahead of the Galaxy S6/S6 edge, LG G4, and HTC One M9, which also has the Snapdragon 810, in the battery life category.

Conclusion

The OnePlus 2 is a fitted successor to the OnePlus One. It comes with even better specs and an upgraded build for only a slightly higher price tag. OnePlus was able to use a top of the line processor and an include a metal chassis while still keeping the device under $400. I’ll call that a win in my book for sure.

In my opinion, the build on the 2 is the perfect combination of metal and plastic. The metal chassis really adds rigidity to the device and it feels excellent in the hand. The back doesn’t feel creaky whatsoever and feels very firm. Add the additions of easily swappable StyleSwap covers and the design is top-notch.

While the device is solid internally and externally, I am completely satsified with the device. The thing that has me disappointed is the software experience of OxygenOS. Coming from CyanogenMod on the OnePlus One to OnePlus’ in-house ROM OxygenOS was definitely a step backwards. I am still optimistic that with time, OxygenOS will become a solid alternative to CyanogenMod one day, but that day hasn’t come yet, and doesn’t look to be coming in the near future.

At the end of the day, the OnePlus 2 outperforms many in the same class, but I wouldn’t call it the ‘Flagship Killer of 2016’. It is a worthy competitor in 2015, but not the killer the OnePlus One once was. Overall it is still a great phone and will only get better in time with software updates.

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About Author

I skateboard, listen to metal, write on my website FWNED, autocross, and love messing with new phones. Currently I’m using a Pixel XL running Pure Nexus with ElementalX as my daily driver.

  • derrick

    great review. Very thorough.