OnePlus 2 review: There can be only one

OnePlus 2 ReviewImage Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

Call them Android fanboys, enthusiasts, geeks or whatever else you want, but the fact remains: avid Android fans tend to have great taste in smartphones. They don’t want to deal with cumbersome user interfaces from smartphone makers, and they always have a zero-tolerance policy for carrier bloatware. “Pure Android” that is free of clutter is always preferential, and that’s why Nexus phones are so popular among hardcore Android fans.

But in 2014, a new player emerged and blew Android fans away. The OnePlus One had style, power, a shockingly affordable price and CyanogenMod software, which is often heralded by fans as an even better option than pure Android. For many savvy Android users, it was the perfect phone.

If you thought the OnePlus One was great, just wait until you see the OnePlus 2.

DON’T MISS: 5 killer Galaxy Note 5 features you won’t find in any iPhone

OnePlus will probably never be a household name in the United States or in most other major markets. This small Shenzhen, China-based company is minuscule compared to the giants it competes with. Despite its much smaller team and limited resources, however, OnePlus has managed to build what is easily one of the best smartphones the world has ever seen, inside and out.

And most impressively, it costs half as much as every other flagship smartphone on the market. Seriously… half as much.

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Beginning on the outside, The OnePlus 2’s hardware is on par with the best flagship smartphones in the world. In fact, the phone is far more sleek and solid than flagship offerings from some leading phone vendors, which is surprising considering OnePlus’ limited resources.

The face of the phone is home to large 5.5-inch HD display with an ear speaker, front-facing camera, LED notification light and sensors positioned above it.

The display is one of the few areas where there is a discernible difference between the OnePlus 2 and leading rival smartphones. It’s a very nice display, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nothing like the gorgeous Super AMOLED screens on Samsung’s phones or the vibrant LCD displays on Apple’s latest iPhones. Comparatively, colors on the OnePlus 2 screen are slightly faded, and the display doesn’t get quite as bright as other flagships.

Beneath the screen, you’ll find an oblong capacitive home button with an embedded fingerprint scanner flanked by two capacitive navigation buttons.

OnePlus’ second flagship phone is all about flexibility and customization, and that extends to the buttons on the face of the phone as well. The left navigation button is configured as the back button by default, and the right button opens the app switcher. But a “Buttons” section in the device’s settings menu allows the user to swap the two buttons in a matter of seconds, if he or she so desires.

Beyond just swapping button positions, the user can also set long-press and double-tap functions for each of the three buttons under the display. On my OnePlus 2, for example, I have the home button set to launch Google Now when I press and hold it, and a double-tap on the home button puts the phone to sleep. A long-press on the app switcher button opens my most recently used app, and a long-press on the back button opens the phone’s camera.

Of note, I have had some intermittent issues with the capacitive home button not recognizing a tap, and the fingerprint scanner is nowhere near Apple’s in terms of sensitivity and reliability. It’s probably roughly on par with the scanner in Samsung’s Galaxy phones.

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Moving to the metal frame that surrounds the edges of the OnePlus 2, the right side of the phone is home to a volume rocker and a power/sleep button, while the left side holds a three-position sliding toggle that switches the phone from “all notifications” mode to “priority interruptions only” mode, and finally to “no interruptions” mode, which disables all audio and vibrating notifications. All three physical buttons on the OnePlus 2 are metal to perfectly match the metal frame.

A standard quarter-inch audio jack and a secondary microphone can be found on the top of the phone, while the bottom is home to the primary mic, a bottom-facing speaker and a USB Type-C port.

Regarding the new USB-C port on the bottom of the phone, there are really only two things you need to know. First, the days of trying to connect your charger upside down are over, because USB-C is reversible, just like the Lightning ports on the iPhone. Second, the hundred or so Micro USB cables lying around your house are all about to be completely useless, because they won’t connect to the OnePlus 2’s new port.

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Around back, you’ll find a dual-LED flash and a 6-lens, f/2.0 camera that captures 13-megapixel photos and HD video at resolutions up to 4K.

Images and videos captured with the OnePlus 2 are impressive, though not quite on par with class leaders like Samsung and Apple. Color reproduction is solid and clarity when zoomed out is good, but zooming in to 100% reveals noise and blurring that is a bit more pronounced than it is on photos captured by phones like the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6.

Surrounding the camera is any one of five interchangeable back covers that include options in Kevlar, three different kinds of wood, and a “grippy” textured plastic that OnePlus calls “sandstone black.”

My review unit came with the sandstone cover and I’m a huge fan. The look is very unique, as is the feel, which is something akin to very course but dull sandpaper. Think of it as the polar opposite of the iPhone 6, which features an aluminum housing that feels like it was designed specifically to slide right out of your hand.

Of note, you’ll find dual nano SIM card slots beneath the interchangeable covers, but you won’t find a user-replaceable battery or a memory card slot.

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The OnePlus 2 is sleek and refined on the outside, but inside is where things really start to heat up.

Powering this new OnePlus flagship phone is a 1.8GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 CPU. While the clockspeed on this 64-bit chipset isn’t cranked up quite as high as some rival smartphones, this phone is no slouch. AnTuTu benchmark performance tests I ran on the phone yielded an average score of 58,698. According to AnTuTu’s website, that makes the OnePlus 2 the third highest scoring Android phone in the world, behind only Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and S6 edge.

I rarely include performance test results in my reviews, but I felt compelled to do so considering the target market for this particular phone.

Far more important than test scores on paper is how the phone performs in real life, and I can assure you that the OnePlus 2 has been as smooth as butter during my tests. Under the normal load of everyday usage, the phone takes everything in stride. Even when I turned up the heat and ran multiple resource-intensive apps at once, the phone was still quite difficult to trip up.

Supporting the octa-core Snapdragon chipset is supported by either 3GB or 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, depending on which model you purchase. My review unit is the 64GB model that includes 4GB of RAM, while the less expensive 16GB version ships with 3GB of RAM.

For the specs hounds out there, OnePlus uses speedy eMMC v5.0 flash memory chips in the OnePlus 2. eMMC v.50 chips are not quite as fast as newer and pricier UFS 2.0 chips found in Samsung hones like the Galaxy S6, but they still offer impressive performance and support bandwidth up to 400Mbps.

Where connectivity is concerned, the OnePlus 2 supports dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n and 5GHz 802.11a/n/ac) and Bluetooth 4.1. The version that will ship to the U.S. beginning next month also includes quad-band GSM (bands 850 , 900, 1800, 1900 MHz), five-band WCDMA (1/2/4/5/8), and eight-band 4G LTE (bands 1/2/4/5/7/8/12/17). This means the phone will fully support LTE service offered by AT&T, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular, but will not support one of Verizon’s three LTE bands (band 13) or any of Sprint’s LTE bands.

The OnePlus 2 does not include an NFC radio. For a very small number of people, this will be a deal-breaker. But truth be told, NFC is hardly a necessity for the OnePlus 2. The overwhelming majority of people who buy this phone will be avid gadget enthusiasts, and this phone will be ancient history by the time NFC-based mobile payment services really begin to proliferate in most markets.

In other words, if you buy a new phone every year and you’re complaining about the lack of NFC in the OnePlus 2… stop. You’ll have a OnePlus 5 in your pocket by the time NFC-based payments are accepted everywhere you shop.

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OnePlus calls the software running on the OnePlus 2 “OxygenOS 2.0,” and it’s based on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop.

Think of it like this: OxygenOS offers everything great about Android with a few enhancements that are there if you want them, but completely unobtrusive if you don’t. You’ll also find none of the clutter that other vendors like HTC, Samsung and LG throw on top of Android, and it’s free of all the carrier junkware you would find on most phones sold in the United States.

Here are a few of my favorite Android Lollipop enhancements available in OxygenOS:

  • Themes: OxygenOS supports custom icon packs right out of the box. Third-party icons aside, you can also go to Settings > Customization and change the system-wide accent color in the user interface.
  • Dark mode: Speaking of settings available in the Settings > Customization menu, “Dark mode” is a beautiful dark theme that replaces Android Lollipop’s light theme with a dark one. It’s easy on the eyes, and it’s definitely my preference.
  • LED notification colors: In the same section of the Settings app, you can configure custom LED notification colors for four different indicators: Battery low warning, battery charging, battery full and global notifications. I should note that the 3,300 mAh battery in the OnePlus 2 lasted well past the one day I get out of most Android phones.
  • Gestures: Beyond the configurable capacitive buttons I mentioned earlier in this review, the OnePlus 2 also supports a series of gestures that can be enabled or disabled. Examples include double-tapping the display to wake the phone up from sleep mode, and drawing an “O” on any screen to quickly open the phone’s camera.
  • Enhanced app permission control: If you want full control over which apps can and cannot access your private data or certain Android processes, the OnePlus 2 is the phone for you.OxygenOS shows you every single permission for each app, and it allows you to block access to different permissions individually. For example, you’ll need to agree to let Twitter access your location in order to install the app, but with OxygenOS, you can block access immediately after you install it. Equally cool is the fact that it will show you whether or not an app is actually using each permission it has access to, along with the date of the last time each capability was accessed.

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Sadly, demand for the OnePlus 2 is through the roof, but supply is extremely short. As a result, the company uses an invitation system to sell its phones.

Invitations are not easy to come by, but there are a few ways to get one. Someone who has already purchased a OnePlus 2 can invite you to buy one, or you can enter into one the company’s contests and try to win one.

Finally, you can sign up to OnePlus’ reservation list, but there are currently more than 3.85 million people on the list ahead of you.

For those of you who do manage to secure an invitation, it’s important to note that you’ll only have 24 hours to purchase a phone before your invitation expires. The 16GB OnePlus 2 with 3GB of RAM costs $329, and the 64GB model with 4GB of RAM costs $389.

Yes, those prices are simply incredible.

It certainly isn’t easy to purchase a OnePlus 2, but it’s well worth the effort. This gorgeous Android phone competes with and beats mass market flagship phones that are twice as expensive, and it offers the pure Android experience that so many users crave.

The OnePlus 2 truly is the best smartphone in the world by a staggering margin when taking quality, performance and value into account. In fact, no other mass market smartphone even comes close.

More information about the OnePlus 2 invite system can be found on the OnePlus website.

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