OnePlus 2 Review: Exceptional? Yes. Excellent? Yes. Flagship Killer? Well…
Taglines are dangerous things. Yes, they can generate a fair bit of buzz. Stoke up passions. And well, sound very snazzy indeed. But on the flip side, they can also ramp up expectations. And that, to an extent is what we feel has happened with arguably one of the most awaited Android devices of the year, the OnePlus 2.
The very fact that the OnePlus 2 was so eagerly anticipated bears testimony to the success of its predecessor, the OnePlus One, which stunned the world by combining innovative design (the sandstone back cover became a thing to boast about) with cutting edge hardware at a remarkably affordable price. The OnePlus 2 was therefore expected to follow in its footsteps. And the company backed it up with the same tagline as the OnePlus One – “Flagship Killer.” The OnePlus One (OPO) had delivered on its promise to a large extent (some bugs notwithstanding), coming with hardware comparable with the best most brands could offer at a price that was in many cases, half of what better brands were offering. It is those VERY big shoes that the OnePlus 2 has to fill.
Thicker, but Smarter
Design wise, there is no doubting that the OnePlus 2 is a cut above its predecessor. Yes, there is no doubting that the OnePlus 2 is significantly thicker (9.9 mm as against 8.9 mm of the OPO) and heavier (175 grammes as against 162 grammes), but on the other hand, it is shorter (151.8 mm compared to 152.9 mm) and less wide (74.9 mm against 75.9 mm), and unlike its predecessor, which restricted itself to a metal rim, it rests on a aluminum and magnesium frame. It is almost slightly more straight-lined than the OPO, whose top and base curved out very subtly. The result is a device that fits more easily into one’s hands (though it remains a large phone) and while not being the lightest (the LG G4 is a mere 155 grammes), feels very reassuringly solid.
The shrinking of length and width gets more impressive when you factor in the fact that the OnePlus 2 has a display that is of the same size as the OPO – 5.5 inches. The absence of the steel rim, however, makes the front of the OnePlus 2 look absolutely jet black when switched off, with just the oval home button (which doubles up as a fingerprint scanner) sticking out, although lurking in that dark front is also a front facing 5.0-megapixel camera and an earpiece grille.
The sides have perhaps the most significant design change. In the OPO, you had the volume rocker on the left and the power/display button on the right. Well, in the OnePlus, they are both metallic and both on the right. There is however, a button of the left – what OnePlus has designated the Alert Slider, which allows you to control which notifications you wish to be alerted. This is the first time we have seen anything like this on a smartphone, although iPhone has had a hardware button to silence all notifications.
The back has a textured, grainy finish that the OPO had, but it somehow seems slightly more subtle (the back is removable, incidentally, although you cannot remove the battery). That said, we still think it will divide people along the lines of those who find it refreshingly different and handy, and those who simply find it prickly. Thankfully the wooden and Kevlar back accessories can cheer such people. The camera module on the back is also slightly different – this time the lens is between a dual LED flash and a sensor that has been placed to enable laser focus. The whole module has been moved lower (very Nokia-isque) but that doesn’t come in the way of you holding the phone. The top of the phone is bare except for the 3.5 mm audio jack, and on the base, the dual speakers flanking the USB-C port look more classy than in the OPO.
All said and done, we would not say that the OnePlus 2 is a traffic stopper in the looks department (we think the iPhones and the S6 Edge still score there), but is definitely a very smart-looking customer. And much more classy than its predecessor.
Rocking it in Hardware!
Its looks might be smart rather than spectacular, but you can switch those adjectives around when you peek beneath the surface of the OnePlus 2. For, within that frame lies some very powerful hardware indeed. The phone is powered by a 64-bit, octa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and is only the second device in the country (after the Asus ZenFone 2) to come with 4 GB RAM. Storage stands at 64 GB. Yes, there is a variant with 3 GB RAM and 16 GB storage, but it is the former that we got to review and which is making waves. The phone has a fingerprint scanner in the home button, and on the connectivity front, the USB-C port comes into play, which is reversible at both ends (the USB-C one as well as the USB one), making it the first phone we have seen with the USB-C standard, which results in much faster data transfers between devices. The battery has been knocked up to 3300 mAh from 3100 mAh on the OPO. And unlike the OPO, the OnePlus 2 is a dual SIM device (both nano SIMs, though). And then there is the little matter of the OS running on top of this – the OPO had been famously powered by Cyanogen but thanks to the differences that came up in that relationship, OnePlus had opted to develop its own OS, Oxygen and you will see it on the OnePlus 2, based on Android 5.1.
Note that we have not mentioned the camera and the display. Well, that’s because those are the two perceived chinks in the hardware armour of this device. The 5.5 inch display remains a full HD one as in the case of the OPO (minus those quality and touchscreen issues), and the megapixel count of the rear camera too stays at 13, although in its case, it is supplemented by laser focus, optical image stabilisation and a dual LED flash. That said, unlike the other specs on the device, neither really compares favourably with the flagships the device has set out its stall to slay. The rationale given for a full HD display in an increasingly “if it is a flagship, it has to be quad HD” smartphone era is evidently the fact that the difference between a full HD and quad HD display is not too discernible to the general user, who does not lose too much in terms of experience. As for the camera, the iPhone has shown us that it is dangerous to go by megapixel counts alone in this field. Some might also complain about the absence of an expandable memory option and NFC, but we do not see either as a deal breaker, really.
Even with the reservations of the critics, the fact is that the OnePlus 2 is very well-endowed in the hardware department and can go toe to toe against most high-end Android devices out there.
A Very Good – if Quirky – Performer
And all that hardware and software does blend in well to deliver a very good performance. There had been some cynical eyebrows raised when OnePlus had claimed that the Snapdragon 810 in the OnePlus 2 was a different generation and had been tweaked to tackle its heating problems, but while the phone does heat up, it never gets to uncomfortable levels, no matter what you throw at it.
And speaking of throwing things at it, you can pretty much do so without any fear of slowdowns or lags – we found the device handling Asphalt 8 Airborne with nary a hitch, and surprisingly using just four cores of its octa core chip (it used six cores to play the much less demanding Stick Cricket 2, but ours not to reason why, as long as it delivers on the performance front). OnePlus claims that their patented core management technology does all the magic, which some might refer to as ‘throttling‘, but all tasks like Web browsing, editing images and videos, and running multiple apps were handled niftily, so we would like to give OnePlus the benefit of doubt here.
The fingerprint scanner takes a bit of time to set up but once done, works very speedily. In fact, it’s arguably faster than anything else in the market today, including the iPhone 6. But that’s majorly because it’s not a button per se, but touch-based. If you’re used to home buttons, it feels a bit awkward to use it at first, but can get used to it. We had mixed feelings about the Alert Slider which allows you to designate which notifications you will receive – all, priority ones, or none. Yes, it is handy but we are not sure it merited a separate button – a dedicated camera button would have been preferable, really.
Call and sound quality are very good, and battery life is decent – a single charge should generally see you through a day. No, it is not as vastly better than the OPO as some had anticipated given the larger battery size, but it is still very decent for a large display device. While OPO was giving around 6 hours of Screen On Time (SOT), the OnePlus 2 averages around 4.5 hours – which is still better than most flagships released this year.
The USB Type-C port at the moment might strike some as more of a hassle than an asset as they will have to carry it along everywhere and no longer rely on using just about any micro USB cable for charging their devices or transferring data. But then, that is a pain that users of a certain company in Cupertino have been bearing bravely for years. For some reason, OnePlus has decided not to include Qualcomm’s Quick charging, and this means that the phone takes around 2 – 2.25 hours to charge from 0 to 100%. Practically speaking, it charges from 10 to 90% in about 95 minutes, which doesn’t sound as bad.
OnePlus’ Oxygen OS seems to have drawn its inspiration mainly from stock Android, which is a good thing in our books, as it does not clutter the interface much, and makes the phone easy to handle. Mind you, it does seem to hog a lot of space on your device – our 64 GB edition came with a total space of 54 GB available to the user, which is definitely on the higher side. And while it does not quite seem to offer as many interface tweaks as Cyanogen did, it does come with some neat tricks of its own – you can set the functions of the Home and touch buttons beneath the display, making two chopping motions launches the torch, drawing an O on a switched off display will launch the camera, and yes, you can double tap to unlock a display. We will go into Oxygen OS in slightly more detail in another article but for the moment, suffice to say that if you have used an Android device, you will have no problems in getting used to the OnePlus 2.
What you will also have to get used to, however, are odd moments of eccentricity. We have had times when the flash on the back switched on for no apparent reason (ironically, this first occurred when we took the handset out of the box for the first time), and sometimes apps crash for no apparent reason – even the camera has a few times. Few apps like Fenix, Camera FV-5 etc have issues with the OS compatibility. Our unit also sometimes seemed to lose its data connection, although restarting it generally fixed matters, and the fingerprint scanner occasionally seemed to refuse to recognise our digits. To its credit, OnePlus has been rolling out updates to improve performance at regular intervals already. It is rare to see a device get so many updates within such a short period of being available for review, although given the penchant of many other brands to ignore user issues, we would prefer to see this as a positive.
But if it has a few rough spots, what the OnePlus 2 does not have are lags – we had absolutely zero instances of the phone being stuck, no matter how many apps we were running on it. This is truly flagship level performance, right up there with the likes of the Galaxy S6 Edge, the LG G4 and the Xperia Z3+, and often better.
The Camera and Display Question
As we mentioned earlier, there had been a few heads shaken in disappointment when OnePlus decided to stick with the same display resolution and camera megapixel count in the OnePlus 2 as in the OPO. But their performance is in a different league altogether. The display is one of the brightest we have seen for a while and makes its predecessor’s look very dull in comparison (and the OPO had a very decent display, remember).
The 13.0-megapixel rear camera is a very good performer too. Whereas the one on the OPO had been decent in detail but not in the color department, the shooter on the OnePlus 2 works much faster (the laser focus is clearly not a spec stunt) and also is much better in the color department – some might find the colors a bit too warm, but at the end of the day, what matters to most consumers is that the device churns some very pleasant looking shots. Low light performance too has improved significantly and the dual LED flash is so much better than the token single LED one. So, yes, the display and the camera of the OnePlus 2 are significantly better than those on their predecessor.
The big question is: are they better than those on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and the LG G4, which pretty much set the benchmarks in those departments for us? Truth be told, we are not too sure. On a good day and in near perfect conditions, the OnePlus 2’s shooter will give those of the S6 Edge and the G4 a good run for their money, but most times, we see the latter winning. The Optical Image Stabilization too isn’t as good while taking videos as we see on other smartphones. And while the difference between a full HD and quad HD display is not immediately obvious, the G4 and the S6 Edge once again sneak ahead when placed right next to the OnePlus 2.
We would like to stress that the camera and the display on the OnePlus 2 are very good indeed and among the best at its price point, but alas, that “flagship killer” tagline forces us to compare them with the best out there. As we said, taglines are dangerous things.
All of which leads us to conclude that the OnePlus 2 is definitely one of the best devices you can get out there if you are looking for high-end hardware at a relatively affordable price. At Rs 24,999 / $389 for the 64 GB storage and 4 GB RAM version, the device is a formidable proposition indeed, and if you look at the sub-Rs 25,000 (or even sub-Rs 30,000) market, is pretty much in a zone of its own as far as the specs-price equation is concerned. It is well-designed, comes with hardware most flagships would be proud of, and if you are ready to put up with a few eccentricities and the absence of fast charging and NFC (not deal breakers in our book), it, will run smoothly more often than not.
But is it the flagship killer that its makers claimed it is? Well, we think its predecessor was closer to that designation. For, while the OnePlus One could pretty much go toe to toe with most flagships in the market, the OnePlus 2 will find itself pushed into a bit of a corner when talk of displays and cameras come into the picture. No, we do not think that the difference between the quad HD display and a full HD one is as massive as the spec sheet would have us believe and yes, we know that there is more to good photography than just megapixel counts, but that said, there is no denying that most of Android’s current flagship line up (the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, the LG G4, the HTC One M9+ and the Xperia Z3+) are a step (and sometimes more) ahead of the OnePlus 2 in these departments. Where the OnePlus 2 really shines is in its ability to deliver a lot of very good hardware and a decent software experience at a price that is well below that of the flagships of the older brands. Mind you, it is not that far ahead of the newer ones – the Asus ZenFone 2 has a 64 GB and 4 GB RAM edition that is priced slightly lower, then there is the Moto X Style with Snapdragon 808 and QHD screen for similar price, and there are rumours that Xiaomi’s Mi 5 will not be too far away from the pricing of the OnePlus 2.
Where does that leave the OnePlus 2 then? Well, let’s summarise:
- In terms of hardware and software at its price point (and even above it to an extent), it is unmatched.
- In terms of performance, when not in buggy mode, it is one of the best devices around.
- If we had to recommend a very good phone below Rs 25,000, this would be (at the time of writing) the first name that comes to our minds in most cases.
But is it a flagship killer?
To be blunt: No.
But then, which consumer wants to sink a flagship? All they want is a device that works brilliantly and does not cost the earth. The OnePlus 2 does both.
And in our books, that is more important. Definitely more than any flagship-sinking claims made in a tagline.
Do you want to sink a flagship? Go get a torpedo.
Want a great phone at an amazing price? Go get the OnePlus 2.
Taglines are dangerous things…