The 810 is Back to Settle Things Out, We Don’t Buy It Yet
OnePlus is seemingly never short of controversies, and they keep finding themselves in front line of buzz. While they had their fare share of mistakes with their past phone and its campaign, they created a mostly remarkable phone that earned the title of the Flagship Killer that Never Settled. Now we know that the Snapdragon 810 will make an appearance in their next phone… and they are settling big time.
Before delving into the Snapdragon 810, it must be noted that this is not the sole point of this claim. For its price, the OnePlus One was a great phone. It still is, especially after recent price drops. What does the OnePlus 2 bring to the table? So far we know that we cannot expect a removable battery, nor a microSD card slot, nor wireless charging. We can also expect the infamous Snapdragon 810, albeit with some revisions that we will look into down below.
The first bit is related to battery life: the OnePlus One featured excellent longevity, and this has proved to be an aspect of smartphones that everyone – casual and hardcore users alike – desires. We don’t have many details about the OnePlus 2, but what we do know is that it will not feature a removable battery. This is a feature that power users in particular love, as seen with the backslash that the Galaxy S6 received and the praise that the G4 got for it. OnePlus’ user base contains many power users — its remarkable custom software development is one of the many signs of that. But the OnePlus didn’t feature it, so at least they would not be regressing.
The lack of wireless charging is not a terribly important downside, but the standard is becoming more and more popular, and many first-world businesses and restaurants are beginning to adopt the technology (anecdote: a week ago I was able to charge my phone and watch at an airport despite no plugs being free due to wireless charging!). We also know that OnePlus is against expandable storage due to the performance problems that it can generate for some users and developers – but the fact remains that most consumers would rather have the option than not have it, and in a world of sluggishly evolving storage options, skipping this is not the best thing for a phone that intends to not settle.
These are ways in which the device is seemingly settling, but it doesn’t stop there: the rest of the alleged (yet unconfirmed) specifications point towards a 1080p display. While I am one of those users that does not like 1440p screens and beyond (I run 1080p on my Note 4), this is obviously not a step forward. If anything, though, it makes more sense — the Snapdragon 810 featured performance quirks even on 1080p panels, so jumping to 1440p like the Mi Note Pro did might not be the best idea. But the processor is the most worrying yet also interesting parts, and despite the “v2.1” tag, we are not sure if OnePlus deserves our trust without further evidence and details.
The Fire Rises
The 810 chronicles is something we’ve detailed and covered extensively, and just when we think that we are done with the nonsense, new pieces bring the subject back to life. To summarize things for the uninitiated: the Snapdragon 810 has had a history of heating concerns that were fixed by throttling every device that featured it. This led these phones to output worse performance than they should, and much less than what was initially promised. The problem was seen time and again, and detailed in reviews, analysis and testing. No Snapdragon 810 phone escaped the faults, which also typically included a hit on battery life. OnePlus is adamant in defending the chipset, and with their announcement this story came back once more:
OnePlus made a forum post proudly announcing their new processor. The company was quick to address the concerns regarding overheating in their opening post, trying to ease readers into the idea by saying that this is a revised version of the processor that is cooler and more efficient than before. The fun then begins:
“We refuse to compromise on either quality or performance, and we believe that Qualcomm and their engineering team will deliver the best user experience to OnePlus users because they always have. When companies trust each other, great things happen.”
Have they always delivered? How did that work out for HTC, exactly? They are at a decade-low drop, after cutting their sales forecast by as much as 35%. The company had plans to write off $94 million of impaired assets, and shares fell 9.9% to the lowest since 2005. HTC will post a loss for the current quarter – why? Some analysts believe it could have been because HTC did not pay enough attention to the thermal issues of the 810.. Every single Snapdragon 810 device has been shown to heat more than it should and to throttle because of it. The G Flex 2 was released with a big performance deficit, the M9 had to be throttled and scaled down with a software revision, the Mi Note Pro also showed signs of overheating on its SD810 v2.1 and now the Z3+ is also facing heat issues with the same chip, something which Sony itself admits.
So far, every company that has trusted Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 has underperformed, and the chipset played a big part in the demise of the M9. Oneplus, however, claims the following:
“We worked very closely with Qualcomm’s engineers to integrate an improved version of the chipset (v2.1) in the OnePlus 2, and fine-tuned both hardware and software. The 2 will be cooler than ever.”
We have heard praise like that before. At MWC 2015, during the HTC Utopia event, HTC talked wonders about the M9’s processing package. Here you can find their presentation on the SD810, allegedly the “most powerful processor in the market”. Xiaomi also called the 810 “the most expensive and most powerful processor ever”, but they couldn’t manage to tame it properly despite their claims about heat issues being solved and despite applying 4 graphite cooling fins. It’s also worth noting that this was the Snapdragon 810 v2.1 as well. To try and convince us, OnePlus links to a “cooler than ever” article… from Qualcomm… that dates back to February 2015, before the M9 was even announced. That’s hardly the most reliable, unbiased and up-to-date source for such a claim.
After a lot of backslash, OnePlus retaliated with a forum post where (for some reason) they claimed that “they were mad” at the rumors, and tried to ease our minds (again) by stating some facts about the Snapdragon 810. They first claimed that the processor is much faster than the younger 801, but given the latest video comparison where the newer chip trails behind, we remain skeptic until we see it for ourselves. That was not enough, so they informed us that they have downclocked the 810 to 1.8GHz (from 2GHz) for cooler temperatures. So they settled for lower frequencies on the A57 clusters. Then they spill the beans on the price, stating that the phone will be priced higher than the rumored $322.
A Dark Night for OnePlus?
AnandTech just published an analysis of the Snapdragon 810 v2.1 found in the Mi Note Pro, and the results show improvements – albeit not much. To summarize: the GPU is clocked higher and its performance has increased by about 5%, which benefits the Mi Note Pro as it pushes a 1440p display, but the gains are nowhere near enough to close the gap with the GPU in the Exynos 7420. Memory latency and bandwidth saw improvements, and the A57 cores do not throttle as much. But even with those enhancements, in high load conditions all threads are still forced off of the A57 cluster and onto the A52 low-power cores. This basically means that heat and throttling in the Mi Note Pro (and thus the Snapdragon v2.1) are still concerning factors.
We can’t say that OnePlus did not fix these problems until we see in-depth reports or get a hands-on, but so far there is no practical reason to believe any of their statements. Collaborations with Qualcomm have failed in the past, OEMs have lied time and again about the performance and heat issues of the Snapdragon 810, attempts to fix those with revisions and/or extra cooling have not been enough for companies like Xiaomi and Sony, and OnePlus seemingly admits that they have had to tweak the processor’s frequency to mitigate the issue.
The fact that they also linked to an old and false article by Qualcomm on the matter and then threw a tantrum that only made things worse all bring back memories of the OnePlus that caught headlines not because of their great product, but because of their lack of professionalism. I personally feel like the poorly structured damage control only made things worse for them, but only time will tell.
We are eager to hear more about the OnePlus 2, and hopefully get a hands-on at some point to see how it fares for ourselves. But as of now – and despite their past successes – the “Never Settle” narrative is seemingly falling apart. It seems odd that rather than go for a sure-fire improvement, the first thing the company revealed about the phone is the controversial SoC — a bad kind of controversial. These issues can be solved (even if our hopes are down at this point), and we hope they can indeed find a workaround as their previous phone offered a great package. Can they pull it off again? For now that’s one extra doubt that we must add to our list.
What do you think of OnePlus and their upcoming phone so far? Fire your thoughts at the comments section!