Disruptive Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus has just unleashed its new star player, the OnePlus 2. We find out whether it lives up to its self-proclaimed title as the ‘2016 flagship killer.’
OnePlus doesn’t do small phones, last year’s One was a relative behemoth and as its successor packs a similar screen it boasts similar dimensions too. It’s a little shorter and narrower, a sliver thicker and feels notably more premium.
The company has taken a leaf out of Sony’s book and added a finely milled aluminium frame with tactile buttons to match. Distinct speaker and microphone holes have been drilled into the phone’s base either side of a new reversible Type-C USB connector too. Whilst it’s interesting to see as one of the first instances of the connecter we’ve come across, its scarcity means that right now it’s as inconvenient as Apple’s Lightning connector was when it first launched.
An iPhone-esq physical switch on the left side of the frame lets you quickly toggle between different profiles; all notifications, priority notifications and what amounts to a ‘do not disturb’ mode, which feels great under-finger and ups the convenience factor by letting you silence the device in your bag or pocket eyes-free.
The Sandstone black OnePlus One featured a distinctive high-grip plastic back and the company has revised the finish for this year’s iteration. The Sandstone black 2.0 treatment features a finer grain so it’s nicer to touch without losing its non-slip properties.
OnePlus has also refined the design of the back plate so that it’s easier to swap out with one of the four other StyleSwap 2 material choices currently on the cards. We favoured the woven carbon fibre option, but you’ll also be able to pick up a rosewood cover, a black apricot cover and a bamboo cover, the most popular option from last year’s OnePlus handset.
The included USB Type-C lead boasts a flat anti-tangle cable, OnePlus’s red/white livery and a patented reversible full-sized USB connector too, ensuring maximum convenience and minimal faff.
Same stunning screen
There’s little to say about the screen on the OnePlus 2 except that it’s good. Like its predecessor it features a 5.5-inch Full HD panel and whilst some may have wished for a Quad HD offering in 2015, it’s still a gorgeous display with a pixel density of 401ppi.
The marginally smaller dimensions also ensure more of the phone’s frontage is occupied by display and although brightness drops off a touch at more extreme angles, you still get great overall legibility, clarity and accurate colour reproduction.
A breath of fresh air
After the somewhat messy breakup between OnePlus and Cyanogen last year, we were curious as to the direction the interface design team would take the experience they were developing in-house.
Oxygen OS is OnePlus’ own skin, sitting atop Android 5.1 Lollipop and similarly to the likes of Motorola, it only makes minor, considered alterations to the stock Android experience.
Out the box the most obvious difference is the addition of ‘The Shelf’ which features frequently used apps and frequently accessed contacts on a pane brought in by swiping right from the home screen. Beyond that Oxygen OS is all about customisation.
From accent colour to the placement of notification quick settings, you can tweak and change almost every facet of the look and feel of the interface. You can swap out the white backgrounds of menus and system apps to black if you prefer, alter the colour of accented details within the UI and even what colour the LED should glow when you receive a notification.
Below the display is a new fingerprint sensor that feels extremely responsive, out-performing both the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 when being used to unlock the device. You can even use it whilst the screen is off to jump straight into the main home screen and OnePlus has also promised integration with the new Android M API when it becomes available. It doubles as a capacitive home button for added convenience too.
Tapping the unmarked soft keys either side of it calls into affect different actions depending on your setup. From the settings you can swap the placement of the back and task-switching buttons or forgo the physical keys altogether and bring them on-screen if you prefer.
Gestures for waking the phone, toggling the flashlight, quick launching the camera and music playback are welcome inclusions too.
With the OnePlus 2 the elephant in the room is undoubtedly the heavily bad-mouthed Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor, but from our experience the phone consistently ran cool, with the exception of extended, intensive gaming and whilst the 2 felt warm, it didn’t give any real cause for concern when you test it alongside its most notable rivals.
Depending on the storage skew you opt for dictates the amount of RAM you’re given too. OnePlus didn’t go into specifics as to why there’s a distinction in the amount of RAM at launch, but for the price we’d be happy to fork out a little as bigger must surely mean better in this instance.
The 64GB skew we used never stuttered or stumbled, through multitasking or intensive actions like shooting 4K video. What’s more, Oxygen OS feels far more stable than the Cyanogen Mod experience found on its predecessor.
The power plant is a fixed 3300mAh cell, which despite its capacious size and the lower-than-average screen resolution doled out only two-days of use. Of course two-days is highly respectable longevity in this day and age, but based on our experiences with its predecessor, we thought OnePlus might have managed to offer even more usage from a similarly sized cell.
Connectivity and power is one of the most divisive elements of this phone. On the one hand, the phone’s integrated dual 4G nanoSIM support is rare and impressive, but co-founder Carl Pei’s lack of concern for leaving out NFC altogether feels misplaced. If indeed this is the 2016 flagship killer and the likes of Android and Samsung Pay hit their stride next year, a lack of any means of contactless payment feels like a significant oversight. That said, it may be the intention to release the second OnePlus handset of the year to coincide with the launch of those exact services.
That reversible USB is impressive to say the least, but the lack of wireless or fast-charging is a little disappointing, particularly as the phone’s huge battery takes a notable amount of time to charge.
Lasers and cradles
If the Lumia 930 and the LG G4 had a baby, the camera tech would resemble something you find in the OnePlus 2. The phone uses a 5-megapixel front sensor and a 13-megapixel rear sensor as with last year’s model, but the main snapper now employs OIS (optical image stabilisation) and laser autofocus to take sharper pictures faster.
In practice results look promising across the board with a preference towards colour accuracy over the saturated results, the exception being the phone’s HDR mode, which boosts colours and sways towards the warmer end of the spectrum. Low-light performance is fairly solid too, with only low levels of visible noise and the camera has a particular talent for macros. High contrast environments push the cameras dynamic range to its limits and fine details look a little soft, but the OnePlus 2 packs a solid all-round performer.
Naturally that Snapdragon 810 also affords you 4K video recording, slow motion capture and pretty rapid auto-focus, whilst the front camera boasts clear Full HD video and an active beauty mode for selfies that doesn’t go overboard.
I’m sorry, how much?
The OnePlus 2 does exactly what it says on the tin; it delivers an excellent smartphone experience at an insanely competitive price point. Provided you can land yourself an invitation the 16GB model will set you back £239 and the 64GB version, the one we’d recommend goes for £289.
Whilst there are some notable imperfections not found in more costly flagship rivals, the list of negatives is dwarfed by the positives based on our encounter with the phone. We’re intrigued about what’s to follow from the company later this year, but if you’re in the market for a new top-tier contender right now, this would be a very smart purchase indeed.