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:

XDA VIDEO OF THE DAY
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.