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OnePlus 2 review

With the release of its first device, OnePlus shook up the Android phone market. With its unorthodox – and often controversial – marketing, they managed to create a cult following with effectively no marketing budget at all. Of course, all of that would not be worth nothing if the product itself was poor quality, but the OnePlus One really delivered. A mid-range price with top-tier specs and Cyanogen software proved a recipe for success here, in spite of the rather arduous invite process.

Things are both the same and different for the OnePlus 2. The price is still extremely competitive amongst other flagships, but with the Cyanogen relationship having descended into a bitter war of words, OnePlus has instead chosen to create its own software build for this handset. The specification sheet, while still very high-end, has a few notable omissions that may cause buyers some concern.

The OnePlus 2 looks and feels quite different to the original, yet still maintains a family resemblance. This is most obvious on the back cover that has the same sandstone-grey finish. This makes the device unique to hold, very grippy against drops and provides a much higher-quality impression than glossy plastic. For this generation, OnePlus has made the back panel easier to change, with additional StyleSwap covers offering bamboo, rosewood, black apricot and kevlar finishes, should the sandstone not be to your taste. The SIM slot (actually, there are two – the device has dual SIM support) has migrated from a tray on the edge of the device to the back. There is still no microSD slot.

The OnePlus 2 oozes quality. The metal edge around the device uses a grey magnesium alloy, which is bevelled at the top, subtly echoing the silver trim around the screen on the original device. The volume buttons and power button on the right of the device also feel metallic and click convincingly. The speaker holes at the bottom of the device are beautifully drilled.

On the left hand-side of the device, you will find a feature that is unique to Android devices, but an inspired inclusion: a three-position switch to toggle between the three Lollipop-notification modes. Functioning in a top-to-bottom plane, rather than front-to-back as you would find on the iPhone, the switch itself has a textured finish and is a joy to operate. We suspect that after having this feature for a while, you won’t want to return to a device without it!

On the front of the device, which is black and unadorned with any logos, you’ll find the front-facing camera, an RGB notification LED, a fingerprint reader/home button flanked by blue-backlit configurable capacitive buttons and the Gorilla Glass 4, 5.5-inch 1080p screen.

OnePlus has elected not to switch to a QHD screen for this generation. From a performance and battery perspective, retaining a FHD screen is a good decision, with barely any noticeable quality difference when viewed alongside its higher-resolution peers.

At the heart of the OnePlus 2 beats a Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor. Qualcomm’s current flagship has taken a lot of heat (pun intended) regarding its issues with both temperature and battery life. OnePlus looks to mitigate both of these complaints by under-clocking the CPU. On the specification sheet, the maximum clock speed is listed as 1.8GHz, however, we are seeing a max speed of 1.56GHz in our tests (this is of course susceptible to change in future software releases). Regardless of what it is doing, it does work. We have no complaints about temperature, even in the most demanding of situations, and when in use it always feels smooth and responsive.

Two versions of the phone will be available – a 64GB model at launch, which has a very generous 4GB RAM, and a 16GB model following later with a still ample 3GB RAM. From a connectivity perspective, the OnePlus 2 ticks almost all of the right boxes – support for all the UK’s LTE bands (if you buy a European model, so beware imports of the Chinese version), dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1, but there’s no support for NFC. This may seem strange on a device with flagship-specs, but OnePlus says that research showed it was a rarely used feature on the original device. Should Google launch an NFC-based payment service in the future, OnePlus 2 users will be very disappointed to be left out in the cold. A puzzling decision.

One of the headline features of the OnePlus 2, is the inclusion of USB Type-C port, the new connector that we’ll inevitably see coming to all devices over the coming year. One of the key benefits of the Type-C is the fact that it’s reversible, so no more trying to plug your charging cable in upside down. Another key upgrade is support for USB 3.0, however, this is not included on the OnePlus 2 – the connector runs at USB 2.0 speeds. This is not a big issue except for those who regularly want to transfer large amounts of data. But what is a problem, is that the connector on the OnePlus 2 doesn’t support Qualcomm Quick Charge, something that we’ve come to take for granted on recent devices, to enable a quick topping-up of the battery during the day. We’ve found the phone takes up to three-and-a-half hours to charge.

The OnePlus 2 software build is called OxygenOS (version 2), based on Android 5.1. OxygenOS is very close to stock Android with a number of thoughtful enhancements and additions – hopefully OnePlus can do a good job of releasing version updates quickly.

Where stock Android is lacking, and where OxygenOS is a considerable improvement, is in the area of customisation. The OS supports customisable icon packs, includes a dark theme with customisable colour accents (although strangely you can’t change the accent colour on  the light theme) and has power-user favourites, such as multiple battery icon/percentage options, granular permissions control and extended button customisation. By default, the buttons below the screen function are back, home and recent, but these can be changed.

OP_s01_c001Actions for long-press and double-click can be added, or they can even be disabled completely in favour of Nexus-style on-screen buttons. Gesture-based app launching, even when the screen is off, is carried over from the OnePlus One, as is double-tap to wake up.

The fingerprint reader on the OnePlus 2 is a little different to that on the iPhone or the Galaxy S6, in that while it is also a home button, there is no physical click. Despite this, it can still be used to wake the device from sleep – simply place your finger on it, your fingerprint is recognised and the device then wakes up to your homescreen. Simple. Actual fingerprint reading on the button is extremely good. Very rarely does it not recognise your fingerprint as your own and it also works from all angles. However, the actual reliability of the button, for purposes aside from reading your fingerprint, seems to be somewhat variable.

Some users are reporting that occasionally, perhaps once or twice in every ten uses, it fails to recognise that you are touching the button at all, requiring you to remove and replace your finger. This is a minor annoyance when waking the device, but very frustrating when you are using the device and the reader is functioning as a simple home button. At the time of writing, OnePlus says it is “tuning the sensitivity of the fingerprint reader”, so hopefully this will become a nonissue. Nevertheless, it does appear at this stage, although some devices work more reliably than others.

The OnePlus One used a Sony camera sensor, but image quality overall was disappointing. One of the biggest upgrades to the OnePlus 2 is in this department, with the inclusion of an improved 13MP camera with 1.3um pixels, a f2.0 six part-lens, optical image stabilisation and a laser autofocus system, as seen on LG devices. Together with a dual-LED flash, the upgrade makes for hugely improved pictures. 4K video recording is also supported and a 5MP camera on the front means you’ll get good-looking selfies too. When it comes to raw image quality, the OnePlus 2 can’t quite match the heady heights of the best Android cameras, found on the Galaxy S6 and G4, but it is very close.

Where the experience is disappointing, is on the software side. The camera app is extremely basic with a limited number of modes and, unlike its competitors, it doesn’t offer an auto-HDR mode. Near-complete Lollipop Camera2 API support (RAW output isn’t available) at least means alternative apps, such as Manual Camera or Camera FV-5, are an option.

The OnePlus One was a great phone at any price. The OnePlus 2 is a very good phone, but at this price. Unfortunately, it’s not worthy of a top score. The lack of NFC we can probably overlook, but the current doubt and problems around the sensitivity of the fingerprint reader/home button together with the lack of fast-charging mean that the device falls short of perfection.