OnePlus is like that tiny little Yorkshire Terrier sizing up the much larger Siberian Husky it just met on the street. It’s barking at the top of its lungs, trying to get some kind of recognition. Hey everyone, look at me, I’m just as strong as everyone else!
For the better half of this summer, OnePlus, Android’s latest Chinese startup darling, has been over-enthusiastically hyping its second flagship smartphone, the OnePlus 2, as a “flagship killer.”
It’s sensational marketing at its best. Love it or hate it, the strategy worked and the company got everyone all pumped up for its Google Cardboard VR launch, which despite being a complete letdown, was admittedly interesting for the novelty factor.
Originally scheduled to launch Aug. 11 in North America, the OnePlus 2 has been delayed by up to three weeks.
That hasn’t stopped the anticipated phone from locking in 2 million reservations (and counting) from interested customers. The OnePlus One, by comparison, sold 1.5 million devices worldwide since its launch last year; peanuts compared to the hundreds of millions of phones Apple and Samsung sell per year, but apparently impressive enough to keep the small startup afloat to build a second phone.
Alright OnePlus, you got my attention. The OnePlus One was the sleeper hit Android phone of last year, but can the OnePlus 2 give the company a repeat and make the startup a household name?
The price is right, but the cool finishes will cost extra
The OnePlus One was a great phone, but the only real reason anyone bought it was because it was only $300 at the time. In previous years, Google’s Nexus phones got a lot of attention for good performance at a low price, but last year Google decided not to sell the Nexus 6 at dirt-cheap pricing like it did with the Nexus 4 and 5, and it waited until late in the year to launch it. That’s part of the reason people flocked to the OnePlus One, even though getting an invite to buy it was next to impossible.
Whether OnePlus likes it or not, the company’s success hinges on pricing that’s lower than other flagship phones.
The OnePlus 2 comes in two models: 16GB for $329 and 64GB for $389 (what I tested), more expensive than the OnePlus One, but far cheaper than an iPhone 6 or Galaxy S6 that sells for $600-plus.
Though the phone costs less than most premium phones, its build quality is exceptional.
The metal frame is stylishly sleek and sturdy, and the chamfered edges glimmer in the right light. The volume and power button on the right side work with a satisfying click and the new mute switch on the left side is subtly textured to prevent accidental activation in your pocket.
The two listed prices get you the Sandstone Black version, which feels like a cross between sandpaper and skateboard grip tape, but way less coarse. It’s simply sublime and keeps the phone from slipping out of your hand.
You’re not stuck with Sandstone, though. It’s actually a SwapCover that pops off. OnePlus sells the phone in four other finishes: Bamboo, Kevlar, Black Apricot and Rosewood.
Lightning, USB Type-C and Micro USB cables compared pic.twitter.com/DlUBhQTkhj
— Raymond Wong (@raywongy) August 14, 2015
One feature that you will either love or hate is the USB Type-C charging port. This wonder port is reversible and I love it because it’s the future of USB. But like the switch from Apple’s 30-pin to Lightning, it’s going to be annoying at first, unless you’re well prepared. A few times, I returned home from the office, only to realize I didn’t bring the included USB Type-C cable with me to charge the phone up. They were very much “D’oh!” moments.
Great specs, but rivals have more
When you call yourself a “flagship killer,” you’d better be sure you come packing serious ammo or you’ll get laughed at for bringing a knife to a gunfight.
As you can see for yourself in our detailed comparison of the OnePlus 2 versus the Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4, Moto X Style and HTC One M9, the latter is the only phone it seems to beat on specs. And that’s not saying much since HTC dropped the ball big time on the M9.
The 5.5-inch display with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution (full HD) may not be as pixel dense as the 2,560 x 1,440 resolution (QuadHD) screens the GS6, LG G4 and Moto X Style are rocking, but it’s still a great panel with wide viewing angles.
Besides, the 1080p screen means battery life is excellent. Whereas the GS6 only barely manages to last a full day (I usually have to rapid charge it mid-day), the OnePlus 2’s 3,300 milliamp-hour (mAh) battery made it through entire 12 hour days with 10% to 15% battery life remaining with what I consider medium to heavy usage. And that was without turning on the power savings mode.
Below the screen is a fingerprint sensor embedded into the home button that works just like the iPhone 5S/6/6 Plus’s TouchID sensor. Once it’s set up, just place your finger on the sensor and the phone unlocks; it’s quicker than the iPhone and roughly as fast as the Galaxy S6’s own fingerprint sensor.
I paid extra attention to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chip while testing the phone as it’s widely known that it’s literally a hot one; prone to overheating and randomly shutting down phones because of the high temperature. Version 2.1 of the chip, which is what’s in the OnePlus 2, is supposed to run cooler.
I didn’t experience any of the extreme warmth like on the ZTE Axon Pro, but the phone did occasionally get warm toward the upper back half. Not burning hot, but warm enough for you to be concerned about it at times.
Regardless, Android 5.1 Lollipop with OxygenOS (more on that below) is blistering fast. When I received the phone, I did notice a few animation issues and the slightest bit of lag when opening and closing apps, but a software update OnePlus provided (which will be pushed over the air for retail models) ironed those kinks right out.
As an unlocked phone, there’s also no carrier bloatware on it. Devices sold in India through Amazon India will come with the Amazon app pre-installed, but it’s removable.
As expected, the OnePlus 2 has better cameras than its predecessor. Photos look good and have OK dynamic range from the 13-megapixel back camera, and the laser autofocus (a feature copied right from the LG G3/G4) is quick, but the GS6 and iPhone 6 are a hair better.
In low-light shooting, the GS6 and LG G4 crush the OnePlus 2. The GS6 and iPhone 6 are also quicker to process High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos.
Selfies from the 5-megapixel front-facing camera are pretty good, better than the iPhone 6’s 2-megapixel camera, but again the GS6 and LG G4 take crisper selfies.
That said, the OnePlus 2 will support RAW photo capture (like the LG G4) through a future software update. With RAW capture, the camera can collect more information that can be recovered and tweaked with a photo editor. I didn’t get to test RAW during my review period, though.
Enhanced Android Lollipop
I like CyanogenMod, the highly customizable Android distribution that shipped on the OnePlus One, but I like OxygenOS even more.
Mostly, OxygenOS is a pure Android experience (like a Nexus), but with a few extra enhancements that make it better. It’s very similar to how Motorola augments Android for its phones.
And like Motorola’s extras, there are some genuinely useful features exclusive to OxygenOS that stock Android doesn’t have.
For instance, you can draw a circle to turn on the camera or a “v” to turn the flashlight on and off when the phone is in standby. Both are practical, and though I was able to quickly get used to pulling the phone out of my pocket and drawing a circle with my thumb (it can be a small one anywhere on the screen) to fire up the camera, I like the Moto X and third-gen Moto G’s twist-to-launch gesture, and the GS6’s double-tap home button to launch camera features more.
There are some ot