OnePlus 2 XDA Review: Bad Marketing, Mediocre Phone, Great Price

OnePlus 2 XDA Review: Bad Marketing, Mediocre Phone, Great Price

OnePlus finally brought us the sequel to its widely acclaimed OnePlus One. Now, it’s time to see if the OnePlus 2 has what it takes to rekindle the flame and reclaim the affordable flagship crown.

 

In this review, we’ll take an in-depth dive into the OnePlus 2. Rather than listing specs and talking about how the experience felt, this feature attempts to provide a thorough look with contents relevant to our reader base. At XDA, our reviews are not meant to tell a user whether a phone is worth buying or not — instead, we try to lend you the phone through our words and help you come to the decision by yourself. Before getting started, let’s get the specification sheet out of the way:

Android Version: 5.1.1 Lollipop Model Name: OnePlus 2 (ONE A2005)
Dimensions: 151.8 x 74.9 x 9.9 mm

(5.98 x 2.95 x 0.39 in)

Screen size
& screen ratio:
5.5 inches (~73.3% screen-to-body ratio)
Primary Camera: 13MP Secondary Camera: 5MP
Screen Type & Resolution: LCD, 1080 x 1920, 401 ppi Chipset: Snapdragon 810
Internal Storage: 64 GB/16 GB CPU: Quad-core 1.56 GHz Cortex-A53

Quad-core 1.82 GHz Cortex-A57

Card Slot: None GPU: Adreno 430
RAM: 4GB/3GB Battery: Li-Po 3,300mAh
NFC: No USB: USB Type C 2.0

Index

Design

The OnePlus 2 breaks the mold in terms of design, as it features what can only be described as a rough exterior that attempts to look solid, not fragile, and strong, not sleek. The OnePlus 2 is wonderful at this, and I believe anyone that holds it will be surprised at just how different of a smartphone it is — in a good way. Let’s begin by talking about the phone’s aesthetics, and then we’ll move onto the in-hand feel.

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The front of the device is sleek and black with average bezels that aren’t too thin nor too large, and they allow for good, no-nonsense handling of the device’s screen. The shape of the device, from the front, is partially reminiscent of the Nexus 5’s, and OnePlus slightly toned down the arch at the top and bottom of the device to shave off screen-to-body ratio and make the device slightly more serious and attractive. The fingerprint sensor at the front is sunk in an odd home-button-esque pit that actually serves no purpose, as it can’t be pressed and the key is capacitive. That being said, I actually came to prefer its presence than to wish for its absence after a week of usage.

The fingerprint sensor at the front is sunk in an odd home-button-esque pit that actually serves no purpose

 
The black front might seem a little too typical and at first glance, it doesn’t seem to truly match the rest of the device, but I’ll get to why this is a smart decision in a second. The edges of the device are a smooth and incredibly solid-feeling Magnesium alloy that simply screams quality, and it truly looks and feels sturdier than the aluminum frames of other phones. I wouldn’t want to put it to the test, but as far as looks go, it reinforces the steadfast theme of the phone. Something I absolutely love about the metal edges is the way they shine under many different lighting conditions, giving the device a very distinct look and making the edges noticeable even under low light.

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The buttons are clicky, but lack some travel and height. I don’t particularly like OnePlus’ decision to put both volume keys and the power button so close and on the same side, and at the particular height they put them at, but it is something one gets used to after a while. The alert slider feels every bit as premium as it aims to feel, with a tactile pattern and satisfying clicks. The top of the device holds the 3mm headphone jack and a single antennae strip, while the bottom holds two and two speaker grills… but following typical OEM tricks, only the right one actually works as a speaker.

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The real show is the sandstone back, which feels very different from almost everything out there

The back of the device is where things get more interesting: the metal accent at the back is reflective at its edges very much like the frame, and the camera module is located near the center instead of the typical top-alignment of most lenses. You will find the laser autofocus as well as a two-tone flash. The real show is the sandstone back, which feels very, very different from anything out there bar the original OnePlus One. This back is sturdier and feels more like the sandstone it tries to emulate, giving it a rough feeling to the touch that gives it great grip. This is by far the main thing other people seem to point out when they see the device in my hand, and it’s definitely something one grows to love about the phone. If you don’t love it, however, you have options. 

The OnePlus 2 also has other back cover options, advertised as Style Swap covers, which come in Bamboo, Wood, Carbon Fiber and Black Ash. All of these look good with the phone precisely because of the way it is designed: the metal accent, edges and black glass slab front flow well will all cover variants, and it really does feel like the phone was designed with various designs in mind. The result is a highly customizable phone with many stylish offerings. The back is also really easy to remove and reveals the dual SIM slot for two 4G LTE nano-SIMs.

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There are some other things I want to mention about the design, the first one relating to the screen. Since the earliest testing, I felt that the OnePlus 2 got smudgier than it should and lacked the same kind of travel other screens have. I attribute this to the coating solutions chosen. The capacitive keys having no real label can go both ways — it is nice that OnePlus is not forcing people to even use them, and they also give you the option to modify the layout, so the keys do work. But giving them the blue-light dashes is odd, particularly since you can theme the phone to have accents and a physical exterior completely incoherent with the lights’ color, something most annoying when choosing red accents. I personally disabled the backlight of the keys, and I alternate between those and software keys as well.

As a final note, the build of the OnePlus 2 is phenomenal, and its weight and general construction make it feel imposing, strong, and premium, all at once. It is rare for OEMs to build a device that is not only original in its design, but also both expensive feeling and robust. The OnePlus 2 hit all those notes for me, and it really does feel quite unique in that regard.

Software — User Interface ^

The OnePlus 2 runs Oxygen OS, a step in a slightly different direction from the OnePlus One’s CyanogenMod S and the now-popular Cyanogen OS. The team behind this ROM – which includes notable developers from Paranoid Android – had set forth a simple goal: make the software fast, lightweight and only add sensible software additions. For the most part, they succeeded, and it all begins with the Android skin here …  or lack, thereof.

It all begins with the Android skin here …  or lack, thereof.

Oxygen OS is very close to stock Android in many ways, including the base look of the UI and most settings, and all the key navigation interfaces. There are some sensible additions, such as a search bar and “close all”  button in the multi-tasking menu. Another part of the default offering where you will find differences is the Launcher, as the Oxygen OS launcher, while close to stock, allows for better item rearrangement and also sees slight theming from the global theme you pick for the phone.

You can select various colors for UI accents, including toggles and the status bar brightness slider

This is where theming comes in: while the UI is generally what you’d expect from Stock Android, there are small yet neat customization options that allow the phone to match your preferences better. The first comes from a system-wide theme selection, but this is limited to a regular and dark theme. While it’s not a huge step forward, many users love dark themes, and this reaches into the launcher and other important areas of the phone, but not stock applications like other ROMs are known for. Other than that, you can select various colors for UI accents, including toggles and the status bar brightness slider. This is a small change, but it really does help with making the phone match with your swap style back (if any) and choice of homescreen. However, it must be noted that the capacitive keys are of a static color which can make them clash with certain accents, and that the accent selection works only on the dark theme.

There is not much more in terms of theming, but you can select the battery icon and change it for a circle or text. Something to love about UI customization, though, is navigation keys: OnePlus does not force you to use the capactive keys, and like with the OnePlus One, you can opt for software keys instead. What’s more, you can customize the order of the keys, their actions and longpress actions. This makes switching to the OnePlus 2 from, say, a Samsung device, much more convenient. You can also turn off the capactive keys backlight, and always enable the home button even with capactivie keys. Having last-application-switch option avaialble for mapping is something custom ROM lovers will find very attractive.

There is not much more to the OnePlus 2’s UI, and that’s a good thing. This remains close to stock while still giving you some nice customization options. Those who are looking for a more customization-heavy skin or love theme engines and the like can look elsewhere for now. But if there are only a few things you want changed, Oxygen OS let’s you do that just fine.

Software — Features & UX ^

Like with the UI, Oxygen OS minimizes additional features as well. But what’s great about this approach is not that the changes are small, but that they are minimal in the sense that they do not add clutter in their execution. Small things such as toggle rearrangement are made intuitive, and like mentioned above, many small improvements make navigation and general multitasking much easier. But that’s not all: OnePlus went out of its way to include various features that are not available on most OEM Lollipop offerings, and won’t become mainstream until Android Marshmallow releases.

Screenshot_2015-09-26-18-38-44First of all, you have the Dark Mode which made its way to the M Developer Preview. While a small feature, it’s something XDA users in particular love, and usually go out of their way to get on their phones. Another such thing is granular permission control. You can toggle individual permissions from applications, and you can also see the last time that particular permission was triggered. The value of this feature alone is immense, and it can help you save battery life and keep your privacy without needing Xposed or other mods. From what I tested, it works fine, and preventing apps from waking the phone or accessing audio recording worked like a charm. It’s worth noting that this feature should be used wisely as it could break certain functionality.

Another feature that Marshmallow is bound to popularize is fingerprint scanning. The OnePlus 2 features a shockingly fast fingerprint scanner, and from what I’ve seen, it’s actually faster than the Note5’s as well when it comes to unlocking the phone from scratch. The fact that it’s not a button you must press actually plays in favor of it and its home-button location. I did notice, however, that the device seems to unlock a tad slower with additional fingerprints, something you might want to keep in mind. Placebo or not, it doesn’t feel like a big difference.

Another thing to love about the OnePlus 2 is its 3-stage “Alert Slider”. This functions as a quick way to mute your phone without having to operate the UI through the screen. At first, I thought this would be a gimmick, but it is very useful. If you typically walk into classrooms, or your schedule has you switching your phone to vibrate often, then you will like this. Either way, it’s one of those things that you don’t know you want until you try it. I do believe that the order should be different, and that sliding it down should mute the phone. But with that personal preference aside, this is a hardware feature I wish more OEMs implemented, and due to the quality and feel of the button, this has become my favorite Android-exclusive OP2 feature. As a side note, it does seem to bug out when in conjunction with Wear’s notification settings, and changes in one might not translate to the other. I suggest using the alert slider exclusively instead of Wear’s settings, and being mindful if you want to avoid notifications in class or meetings (speaking from experience).

Off-screen gestures have also made a comeback here, and they are as brilliant as ever. Opening up the camera or toggling the flashlight are made easy with simple swipes, but even unlocking the screen with double-tap to wake is a pleasure. It also works better than on other devices I’ve tested with the feature, such as the ZenFone 2, and this coupled with Lollipop’s lockscreen notifications make it a useful addition for offices and classrooms.

OnePlus also has a “shelf” feature which acts as a Google Now replacement… in a way. It lives in the same location of the drawer, and so far, it’s very basic. It’s mostly a glorified widget homescreen, with a folder with most used applications, favorite contacts, weather, and the like. There is nothing here that can’t be ingeniously replicated with third-party solutions, and it does not work that well either. This is the one aspect where I feel Oxygen OS tried to be more like Samsung than Google, and it shows. Luckily, you can simply opt out. The service is admittedly a work in progress and is bound to get better over time, but at the moment there is nothing that makes it particularly worthy of the spot.

One last thing I want to mention is that while it offers some customizability, Oxygen OS is missing some basic settings that are present in the custom ROMs it tries to emulate. It feels like the software team didn’t want to imitate CyanogenMod nor Cyanogen OS, and as a result, many custom ROM favorites are missing, from theming to settings. A personal grip I have with Oxygen OS is that there is no way to disable right-side quick-pulldown — something that should be a no-brainer toggle on any ROM that has such a thing.

Overall, the OnePlus 2’s software is pleasant. Exclusive features like the alert slider are a surprising pleasure to use, and overall, the UX of the phone feels like a step above stock in terms of general functionality. I do, however, feel like many of its additions do not find their way into your daily routine, and they are also not huge when they do. But even then, considering the minimal spirit of the approach, the OnePlus 2’s software is a breath of fresh air in the sea of heavy manufacturer skins. There is room for optimization improvements, though, which I’ll touch on further down below.

Performance ^

The OnePlus 2 features the infamous Snapdragon 810, something which, at the time of its reveal, immediately turned off eager fans. The OnePlus One was, after all, a performance powerhouse due to its Snapdragon 801 and efficient software — and the price only made it better. Not just that, but the OnePlus One typically fared better than other Snapdragon 801 devices in both real-world and theoretical performance. What can we expect out of a device with the Snapdragon 810, 4GB of RAM, and a stock-like ROM? And most importantly, does the device get hot? Let’s find out below.

CPU & System ^

The Snapdragon 810 might sound like a compromise… and while it is capable of delivering good performance, consistency is still very much a problem. The OnePlus 2, too, brought modifications to its default use of the alleged revision of the infamous chip. The device is clocked at 1.8GHz instead of the default 2GHz, for example. In terms of benchmarks, this actually does not seem like too big of a deal. The device still performs very well in most CPU-bound benchmarks, and it also displays comparable performance to other Snapdragon 810 devices. In the suite of real-world-centric benchmarks below, you can see that the OnePlus 2 actually competes with the top of the pack, trading blows with Samsung’s Galaxy Note5 and S6 flagships.

This is not a rarity, however, and many devices with year-old processors can make get those kind of decent scores in these holistic tests. This years’ ZenFone 2 also approached the PCMark and Basemark OS II despite the more abstract benchmarks putting the processor closer to a Snapdragon 801. The same story happens with the OnePlus 2, which offers GeekBench and AnTuTu score that are in-line with those of other Snapdragon 810 devices. This is of little surprise, and in terms of practical benefits, it means little. It would be a significant relief if the OnePlus 2 managed to be as stable as some of these chipsets, but sadly this is not the case.

The OnePlus 2 does not overheat, but it certainly does throttle. There are sudden drops in benchmark scores when this happens, and something similar happens when gaming (more on that below). During actual system usage, this does not happen as drastically nor as commonly as it does with intensive tasks. In terms of app-loading, the Snapdragon 810 offers performance comparable to the ZenFone 2 and the Note 4 (running a light-weight CM ROM). It does outspeed heavier TouchWiz builds on both the Note 3 and Note 4, but not the Note5 and its insane app-opening speed. It must be noted that in order to maximize app-opening times, one must use a third-party launcher, as the default one has a slight delay before triggering the application animation. Information on heat will follow in the GPU & Gaming section.

GPU & Gaming ^

The Adreno 430 is one of the redeeming factors of the OnePlus 2, as it offers very competitive performance and can trade blows with the Exynos’ Mali-T760 in off-screen and theoretical results. The lower screen resolution that the OnePlus 2 comes with makes it easier for it to surpass the competition in terms of on-screen results, and this device scored higher than other Snapdragon 810 devices, on average, on my GFXBench tests. It does make me wonder what it would be of not just the OnePlus 2’s performance output but also its stability if it had to push the extra burden of a 1440p screen.

The benchmarks also translate into real-world gaming environments and high-performance graphics tasks, but only for a limited time. In my testing, I noticed that the OnePlus 2 does one of two things: either it sustains a stable FPS count but gets rather hot (most noticeable on Asphalt 8), or it gets to a point where the device begins throttling itself and frames-per-second become disparate. Below you can find some examples recorded on Gamebench, with the appropriate GPU and CPU usage overview. It’s very easy to spot the moment this device throttles.

This takes me to heat, which I’ll expand in the real world usage section as well. While gaming, it is common for the device to surpass 40 degrees Celsius, at which the heat becomes noticeable in the hand. Once the device’s surface gets to 43 to 44 degrees Celsius, the OnePlus 2 becomes a tad uncomfortable, as the metal edges and accent get significantly hotter than the rest of the device, and the top gets much warmer than the bottom as well. Below are some pictures that describe the temperature after a 10-minute session of Dead Trigger 2.

In short, previous devices I reviewed this year were much more stable in their performance and efficient in thermal management. The Zenfone 2’s Atom Z3850 remained cool even after numerous back-to-back benchmark runs, and the Note5’s minimal heat and efficient distribution made me label it “a thermal pleasure to hold at any time”. The OnePlus 2 is anything but, and light usage alone can get it to 38 degrees Celsius, which is on the high-end for the more efficient SoCs. That being said, it rarely becomes a truly significant annoyance with light tasks and it mostly reaches the point where it becomes uncomfortable during heavy tasks such as gaming.

Storage & Memory ^

The OnePlus 2 features 16GB or 64GB of storage with 3GB or 4GB of RAM respectively, depending on which variant you pick. My version is the 64GB variant with 4GB of RAM, and out of the box the phone comes with around 52.7GB of storage available (after updating to Oxygen OS v2.0.2). The storage of this device is rather fast, with speeds faster than some of last year’s flagships like the Note 4. Below you can find the listed speeds and how they compare to the Note 4 and Note5, two of the bigger flagships to kill from 2014 and 2015.

As far as multitasking goes, the OnePlus 2 does an excellent job at retaining applications in memory, and is much better than other phones that have come out this year — be that because they have 3GB of RAM or because their memory management solutions were flawed. This phone competes head to head with the ZenFone 2 and it offers nearly identical memory management when testing heaving apps. Redrawing rarely, if ever, happens during typical usage and there are no complaints to be had on this phone’s memory management — none surfaced during my usage, at least.

Real-World UX ^

The OnePlus 2 is a weird beast in terms of real-world UX. There are some semblances of brilliant performance at times where the device is at its best. However, and as mentioned above, consistency in performance is just not something you should expect out of the OnePlus 2. I would wager that a big part of this is due to the Snapdragon 810 found inside, and the workarounds put in place to prevent it from doing what it’s best known for. But not all.

On a first note, I want to re-address heating: the device does not overheat, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get hot. This phone tends to get on the warm side pretty easily through everyday tasks, including constant background data usage, navigation, and hotspotting. I do all of these things combined for a total of at least one hour each day, so I do notice that the device crosses past 38 degrees Celsius during these tasks. This doesn’t mean that performance suffers at those points. Above I showed some severe throttling, but this is not an everyday occurrence under every use-case. Heavy throttling is mostly noticeable during 3D gaming multi-tasking with heavy background and active processes.

Screenshot_2015-09-26-22-51-28But there are a few things holding back this device from performance excellence. Despite running a very light UI, it doesn’t feel as smooth as it could be. Once more I want to emphasize the difference between fast and smooth. The device can open up applications rather fast, and even things like opening up the camera are faster than the average. But there are some stutters here and there and it feels like the device trips on its own speed. The OnePlus One had performance as a high-point, but the OnePlus 2’s performance is not particularly impressive, especially when contrasted to the speed of more powerful devices like the Note5 and the fluidity of less powerful releases, such as the ZenFone 2.

That being said, there is something the OnePlus 2 does very right and that is multitasking. The device can easily see 2.6GB of free RAM when clean, which is substantially better than the Note5’s typical 1.7GB to 1.4GB of open RAM with few apps. The device is bloatware-free and that makes a difference in every-day performance. Multitasking on the phone is a bliss, and you can easily hold 10 apps or so, and even 5 or 6 heavy games (I was able to have all of the above-listed games at once without a hitch). While some argue 4GB phones aren’t a necessity, and that the extra gigabyte of RAM that 2015 phones brought is overkill, the OnePlus 2 makes it a noticeable convenience and a breath of fresh air when compared to the illusory memory juggernauts from Samsung.

Screenshot_2015-09-23-20-56-30If I had to nitpick my personal issues with the OnePlus 2 performance, I would place the blame on the Snapdragon 810 when doing heavy gaming, and on Oxygen OS for the minor software annoyances. The OnePlus 2 sometimes skips frames when lowering the notification shade, and there have been some performance bugs and instability with third-party applications and even Google apps like Chrome. The chipset is simply not great for sustained periods of heavy usage (like gaming, heavy streaming and/or multitasking), and once the device begins throttling, you will notice it. And sometimes, the device gets uncomfortably warm, particularly since the heat gets concentrated at the top of the device and its sides (as shown above). The device heats to 38 degrees Celsius (outside temperature) daily while more efficient devices so do rarely under similar or harder workloads, and hitting 44 degrees Celsius is a typical result of heavy usage as well.

Overall, and considering the price, the OnePlus 2 is not a bad performer. But there is room for improvement in default software (the launcher, for example, has noticeable delays in app launching and returning, but you can replace it), and this is a device that will most likely get that due to custom ROM development. I will address more of this one the development section below, but I believe the OnePlus 2 will see good development, and current custom software looks very promising.

Camera ^

The main camera of the OnePlus 2 might not abide to the seemingly new standard of 16MP shooters, but I have always believed that 13MP is good enough. What is immediately noticeable, though, is that the pictures come out with a 4:3 ratio on this setting. Leaving image size and ratio aside, the hardware doesn’t stop there — there is also OIS on board, and to make things even better, laser autofocus is present too. Those two typically make for a package worth being excited for…. but sadly, the OnePlus 2’s camera does not make a great use of it.

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That’s all you get without swiping or tapping.

Let’s start with the camera app: the OnePlus 2’s viewfinder UI is barebones, has few settings (no manual mode, nor RAW were present in the build I tested, but it’s allegedly coming), and it’s clunky. I believe this is the best way to put it, because switching between video and pictures takes a swipe and a slow switch, HDR is also hidden behind a button, and the gallery for previewing is simply awful: it doesn’t tie into any apps by default, it does not allow you to zoom, and it tends to add weird artifacts to the image previews.

The actual picture-taking capabilities of the OnePlus 2 are good, but by capabilities I mean potential — in general, pictures from this device fall behind most competitors in terms of exposure, colors and noise. More on that below, but another issue I want to address is the picture-taking experience: it’s slow, and the videos below demonstrate why. The OnePlus 2’s laser autofocus still does not make for extremely fast focusing, exposure has crazy variations, the viewfinder tends to skip frames (particularly under low light), and picture-taking itself is slow. Very slow. Especially HDR — it’s overwhelmingly slow, as it takes at least a full second to process the image. The top smartphone cameras can give you HDR previews in the viewfinder, but the OnePlus 2 takes a substantial amount of time for worse results. I’ve missed many great shots with this phone’s camera.             

The camera’s detail is actually not bad, and it does make good use of the 13MP it offers in its images. I want to reiterate that it is capable of very good shots, just not as easily as with other phones. Exposure typically makes images look washed out, and certain focus points turn skies into overwhelming masses of light. What’s more, I’ve had surprisingly blurry pictures come out and I had to go into a habit of taking multiple pictures of a same subject — which is annoying considering the speed of the camera, a problem which becomes more severe after long photography sessions and when the device gets warm. Some pictures I took in broad daylight display weird noise as well, even on white backgrounds. Low light pictures are a hit or miss, but I managed to get some good detail out of a few indoors shots. The selfie cam does its job during the daylight, but it also sees bad noise in lower light.      

Video is a different story, and I am actually pleased with how 4K video (sadly there is no 60fps1080p) turned out on this device. There are still some inconsistencies in exposure, which seemingly adjusts at the wrong times. But other than that, the detail is good and colors look slightly better than with regular pictures.

Display ^

The OnePlus 2 has a 1080p display at a time where most manufacturers have at least experimented with 1440p. While a bold move to some, I think it’s sensical given the chipset at hand. The display on the OnePlus 2, considered holistically, is pleasant to look at, but the compliments stop at that. The added pixel density is not something I notice on 1440p panels, personally, so excluding that, the other individual aspects of the device are competitive with the mid-range devices in its price bracket, but not the highest-caliber flagships.

The OnePlus 2 gets decently bright for an IPS LCD panel of this price-point. AMOLED screens have topped this category lately, and the OnePlus 2 does fall behind the Samsung powerhouses of this year, particularly when they max out at their auto-brightness. Under extreme sunlight conditions, the OnePlus 2 is visible, but not visible enough to be as operational as other, brighter phones with recent AMOLED screens. This is particularly noticeable during camera shootouts in broad, strong daylight. The panel of the OnePlus 2 cannot match the contrast of the very best panels either. But in day to day use, I have only noticed the inadequacy sporadically. The screen doesn’t get too dim, though, which, in addition to it’s mediocre blacks and viewing angles, makes the phone annoying to use when woken up by texts at night.

The auto-brightness of the OnePlus 2 could use some work, and in the end I decided to simply disable it

As for white accuracy, I noticed early on that the OnePlus 2’s whites are balanced to the eye, but compared to the Note5 basic mode’s white (6,588 K), it might bother the pickiest of users by being colder, something more noticeable in gradients. The blacks this IPS LCD panel generates are decent, but the pitch-black bezel accentuates them in an unflattering way, and at certain angles these really do lighten up more than they should — particularly when looking at it from the corners. The viewing angles for most real-world images and situations are what you’d expect from an IPS display, though, and this issue seems mostly relegated to blacks and whites.

Red, greens, and blues are pleasant to the eye, but under comparisons with the Note5 on basic mode – one of the most color-accurate panels out there – the OnePlus 2 , the colors look a little washed out, particularly in reds and greens — the latter looking very odd in comparison to accurate greens, something which I also noticed in the accents and a built-in green wallpaper. Color gradients on the phone are good and display a smooth transition without the typical loss of grays and darker hues of many AMOLED panels.

The screen of the OnePlus 2 is, in my opinion, one of the better aspects of the device, but only when keeping the price point in mind. If I had to nitpick, I’d also say that the auto-brightness of the OnePlus 2 could use some work — it is the kind that is adaptive and rather than dictate the brightness, it efficiently adjusts it with your slider position in mind. I’ve found myself tinkering with it more than I would like to, and in the end I decided to simply disable it. Excluding that minor annoyance, the OnePlus 2’s screen provides a decent viewing experience, just nothing spectacular. Oh, and I haven’t had any yellow tints nor touchscreen issues, or any other infamous OnePlus issues, so that’s one plus.

Battery Life and Charging^

The OnePlus 2 features a rather monstrous 3,300mAh battery, which would lead one to believe its ability to last through the day is off the charts. After all, the OnePlus One was well-known for its endurance, and it and other devices like the Xperia Z3 can last for days with smaller battery packages. My tests, however, show that this is not the case for the OnePlus 2. It’s battery life is not bad, but it is markedly worse than the OnePlus One’s, especially when factoring in the specifications. Cue testing and results:

The best Work Battery Life score I received on PCMark (medium brightness, non-adaptive) was just shy of 6 hours and 50 minutes, and one bad run at medium brightness gave me a disparate result of 5 hours and 26 minutes, a variation I haven’t seen with any other device. This is not a particularly stressful benchmark either, and I typically run it to estimate the actual efficiency of the components. The 3,000mAh Note5, in comparison, scores 8 hours on average with a higher-resolution display. It still does very well in comparison to other devices, though, even if it’s not as efficient as it could be with its components. Other individual tests show that the OnePlus 2 is behind the OnePlus One in terms of GeekBench battery life benchmark, too, and general real world battery life is comparatively worse as well.

Before getting started on my more subjective real world results, keep in mind usage varies from user to user, and I am a very heavy user with my smartphones. I am usually on LTE and I also hotspot at least an hour every day. That being said, the OnePlus 2 has never given me past 4 hours of screen on time, something I could actually accomplish on the Note5 with very similar usage. I typically get 2 hours and 45 minutes to 3 hours and 30 minutes of screen-on-time, including an hour of music streaming and/or hotspotting, throughout a 14 hour work day. Considering that I spend so much time on LTE, this is actually not too bad, but it definitely proved to be less than I wish it offered me and much less than I expected… and it’s inconvenient for a few good reasons related to charging.

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Do you C this? It’s a nuisance.

The device takes around 3 hours to charge from 0 to full

The OnePlus 2 does not feature wireless charging, because OnePlus considered it too slow (luckily, we now have fast wireless charging). The device also proudly flaunts its USB Type C cable, but this is a misleading marketing trick as it does not yield faster charging speeds.
 

Truth be told, the OnePlus 2 has a USB 2.0 port and does not support Quick Charging, which renders its charging speeds uncompetitive. The device takes around 3 hours to charge from 0 to full, and as is the case with most smartphones, topping the last 20 percent is painfully slow. If you’ve grown used to QC2.0, this is a big turn off. Even if it’s not something you actively notice on your QC2.0 device, the OnePlus 2 charges so slowly it’s noticeable regardless: on one instance, I was using it while it was plugged in and the battery bar barely moved in 20 minutes. Even when considering phones tend to receive less power input when in use, plus the drain, this is a turn-off.

Another thing worth noting is that the USB Type C cable in the OnePlus 2 is not something you’ll find everywhere – in fact, I’d wager you’ll rarely find a spare one anywhere – so you will want to carry it around with you. I learned this the hard way on two occasions where I wanted to charge the phone or transfer data but I had forgotten the special snowflake cable at home. This will not be a problem once USB Type C receives widespread adoption. And there is legitimately usefulness to its reversibility, but it’s not something practical enough to warrant such a sacrifice; plugging the OnePlus 2 with lights off is satisfying, but being unable to plug it at most places if you forgot the cable is certainly not. In my opinion, this sincerely does not feel like future proofing.

Audio ^

The OnePlus 2’s audio is very good with headphones, but very bad in its speakers. The two speakers at the bottom are only one speaker, a trick that many OEMs seem to go for lately. The deceit is further amplified by the fact that the speaker doesn’t get too loud — I personally have been frustrated by this when doing chores and deciding to leave the phone playing audio through a speaker. A few meters of distance between you and the phone will put the audio at a disadvantage. Actual audio quality is not too bad, but it isn’t phenomenal. The OnePlus 2 does seem to have a good DAC, however, and this shows in the headphones.

Screenshot_2015-09-27-21-57-11

Audio through headphones is decent and competitive with phones of last year (this year, though, hi-fi audio seems like a bigger focus for various OEMs), and streamed music on this device gave me no problems in audio nor performance. The device comes with MaxxAudio by default, too, and there are many sound options integrated into the ROM. For example, summoning the volume scrubber lets you access preset sound modes such as “Game”, “Movie” and “Music”, which slightly alter the output.

These do make a slight and appropriate difference, but their value mostly lays on the convenience of having them readily accessible. It also comes with its own software equalizer and ways to configure audio output, but if you are an XDA user, you’ll probably want viper4android instead. Even then, purists can enjoy audio as-is.

 

As for call quality, I haven’t had any complaints other than, perhaps, slightly mushy microphone when outside. Below you will find a microphone sample of the OnePlus 2 and the Note5 (respectively) for comparison.

 

Thoughts on development ^

The OnePlus One became one of the most developed-for devices outside of the traditional OEM sphere, and in many ways, its development achievements were remarkable. The OnePlus One saw amazing kernels and it had its hardware pushed beyond traditional smartphone limitations. Users of this device are most likely satisfied with the optimizations granted by their ROMs, as they build on top of what already was an excellent user experience. The OnePlus 2 looks to be very promising as well.

Despite its terrible launch riddled with inefficiencies and delays, and even despite the terrible invite system, the device already has a healthy selections of ROMs including popular names such as TEMASEK, Resurrection Remix and an unofficial build of Paranoid Android as well. This is, in part, because rooting and flashing ROMs on the OnePlus 2 is as easy as it has been, and also because OnePlus and the Oxygen OS team encourage these developments.

If all of that wasn’t enough, some developers from the OnePlus One are also active and many great things have come from that as well. Exodus ROM is already present, and the popular AK kernels are being built for this device as well. The OnePlus 2 is not only filled with promises of good development, but reading the forums shows a satisfied and excited user base.

Many devices this year have come with several roadblocks to XDA development. The latest Galaxy phones, the LG G4, the ZenFone 2 and various others saw early hurdles in achieving root or bootloader unlocking, but the young OnePlus 2 managed to deliver a more flash-friendly experience once more. Many of the issues with the OnePlus 2 can be fixed through intelligent tweaking, modding and quality ROMs. Things like performance and battery life already improve on Oxygen OS with the AK kernel. If you are into tweaking and flashing to maximize a phone, the OnePlus 2 opens up plenty of potential.

Final Thoughts ^

There are many things I intentionally left out of the review to not cloud the objective judgments of the individual aspects. Many of you know the level and kind of marketing the OnePlus 2 had behind it, with promises of it being a “flagship killer” of not 2015 phones, but also 2016 phones. I spent enough time with this device to say that this is simply not true, and it is one of the most unreasonable claims I personally ever heard a company make about their product. I said it before and I’ll say it again: this cannot be a 2016 flagship killer because, in many ways, it doesn’t kill 2014 flagships.

But when looking at the package and then reflecting on the price, one does see the OnePlus 2 slightly more positively. At $389, the 64GB OnePlus 2 is a competitive product. However, the market has changed since the OnePlus One made its rounds, and now it’s not rare for one to find phones in the sub-$400 range that can compete with the OnePlus 2. For example, the Moto X Pure has competitive specifications and early reviews praise its user experience, design and general quality. The upcoming Nexus 5X is also a competitor to look out for, but even without new phones, the Nexus 6 is routinely going on sale for $350 or less, and it packs not just amazing specifications for the price, but also a good developer community and guaranteed support for Android Marshmallow and future updates.

There are certainly great aspects to the OnePlus 2. The build quality, for one, is a breath of fresh air from traditional flagship materials, build, and fit. Thing like the Alert Slider are more valuable than they seem at first glance, even if they are not infallible. The software experience is what I’d call stock plus one, and it is certainly more comfortable than plenty of the horrible manufacturers skins we see OEMs (particularly from China) come out with.

But for every good thing, there is something not-so-good. Make no mistake, this phone is still worth buying, but it’s not as universal in its appeal as the OnePlus One was. The compromises are stark and clear, and things such as the lack of NFC are now more tangible than ever due to Android Pay (but on the plus side, it’s not like XDA users can go nuts over that). The fingerprint scanner is one of the best in terms of performance, but limited in functionality as this device cannot make mobile payments like other Android phones which further holds it back. The Snapdragon 810 also puts some performance instability on a hardware level, and while custom Kernels and optimized ROMs can improve the experience, the potential of the hardware still sees a compromise.

Conclusion^

The OnePlus 2 does not truly excel in any areas. If I had to summarize the experience, I’d say it is mediocre or average. Other than the Alert Slider, the OnePlus 2 doesn’t seem to offer more than what other phones out in the market can. The camera can produce great results, but with more work and less frequently than the best phone cameras. The screen is good for the price-point, but it also has nothing on high-caliber panels. The speakers are meh, performance is decent (but with a lot of potential). The battery is worse than its size, resolution and processor allude to, and charging is painfully slow for a 2015 flagship. The things that make this phone stand out, I’d say, are the price, the design, and the development scene.

So that leads me to XDA, and why a power user would want this phone. The OnePlus 2 already offers a way for flashaholics to get their fix, and current developments also show promising results and fixes to some of the shortcomings of this device. The developer community could grow further as time goes by, especially with proper support from OnePlus. The price point is also very good and so is international availability, if you can go through the invite system with your sanity intact.

None of this means that the OnePlus 2 is a flagship killer. It’s just a good smartphone and a mediocre flagship, with a good price and bad marketing.

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