OnePlus 2 hands-on: the flagship killer grows up
It’s been teased, it’s been leaked, and now the OnePlus 2 — the latest “flagship killer” — is finally here. I got the chance to play with the new phone for a few hours this afternoon, and I came away pretty satisfied. First, let’s get one thing out of the way. The OnePlus 2 is an evolution of last year’s OnePlus One — it’s not a radical departure. For example, the display still features the same full HD (1920×1080) resolution, and the camera still clocks in at 13 megapixels, but both are noticeably better.
Let’s start with the design. The OnePlus 2 is about a millimeter or two shorter and narrower than its predecessor, and about the same thickness. It’s not obvious until you place the new handset next to the OnePlus One, but you’ll feel the difference in hand. The faux-chrome rim around the edge of last year’s phone has been replaced with a real machined metal rim (similar to what you’ll find on the Galaxy Note 4, including the seamless plastic antenna cutlines). On the OnePlus 2, the glass screen now covers the entire front of the device, but the back no longer wraps around the edges. The camera pod is positioned lower in back compared to the OnePlus One.
Speaking of back covers, these are still interchangeable, but no longer wrap around the edges of the handset. This makes them easier to remove (again, similar to the Galaxy Note 4, complete with a little indent for your fingernail), but the only thing you’ll find behind the back cover is a slide-out dual-nano-SIM holder. Yes, the OnePlus 2 features dual SIMs, but no microSD card slot, removable battery, or Qi wireless charging (the two pins you see in the pics allow the phone to detect which cover is installed). Like the OnePlus One, The new phone will be available with familiar grey sandstone and bamboo back covers, plus a few other choices of wood, and fake carbon fiber. There is no white back cover anymore, sadly.
Around the edges of the OnePlus 2, you’ll find the a standard headphone jack and secondary mic on top, a volume rocker and power/lock key on the right side, a USB Type C port, mono speaker and primary mic on the bottom, and a really awesome new alert switch on the left side. This switch lets you choose between no notifications, priority notifications only, and all notifications — the same options you see on screen when you hit the volume rocker on a Nexus. After using this for a couple hours on a OnePlus 2 logged into my primary Google account, I really want to see this switch on every Android phone.
I already mentioned that the OnePlus 2 comes with a 1080p display. At 5.5 inches, it’s also the same size as last year. The company tells me it’s an in-cell LCD panel that’s much brighter in direct sunlight, and generally much improved. It certainly looks gorgeous and while I really wanted a quad-HD screen, I understand the compromise on resolution considering the price point. Speaking of cost, the OnePlus 2 will be available in the US and Europe by invitation only starting August 11 for $389 with 64GB of built-in storage. A 16GB version will sell for $329 at a later date.
Rounding up the front are the earpiece, a notification light, and a 5MP front-facing camera on top, and two capacitive buttons flanking a fingerprint scanner on the bottom. This fingerprint scanner operates just like the one on the iPhone or Galaxy S6, but it’s faster than the former and more accurate than the latter. I configured it for my right thumb and was impressed with how fast it recognized my fingerprint. Like with the OnePlus One, capacitive buttons can be swapped between “back” and “recent apps” or disabled if you prefer on-screen Android buttons.
While the f/2.0, 13-megapixel camera in the back of the OnePlus 2 didn’t receive a bump in resolution, it’s been thoroughly upgraded with optical image stabilization (OIS), laser autofocus, and a brand new Omnivision sensor with 1.3-micron pixels. OIS is pretty much a requirement for a flagship handset these days, and as you’d expect, the laser AF system is super fast and accurate. But a good camera is as much about hardware as it is about software, so is the OnePlus 2 camera any good? I took a bunch of pictures during the event and the results are good, but the camera app is pretty basic — just an evolution of the default Android camera app — and, in my opinion, that’s just not going to cut it. According to the company, RAW support is coming soon, and I was able to install apps like Manual Camera (which allow shutter speed control). Still, that won’t let you take a 1- or 2-second long exposure like you can on the LG G4, so the verdict is still out.
Under the hood, the OnePlus 2 uses the infamous Snapdragon 810, an octa-core big.LITTLE chip clocked here at 1.8GHz and paired with 4GB of RAM. OK, so maybe infamous is a bit harsh, but it’s well documented that Qualcomm’s latest SoC sometime struggles with heat and power management. This has impacted gaming performance and battery life on other phones like the HTC One M9, but my time with the OnePlus 2 was too brief to provide a definitive answer. Performance was never an issue, but I did notice the handset getting pretty warm when using the camera and playing games. Battery life (the cell is rated at 3300mAh) seemed good enough considering I started with a half-charged device and finished with about 25% capacity after pounding on the OnePlus 2 for nearly 3 hours. OnePlus assures us it’s worked closely with Qualcomm to minimize any heat and performance issues, so the verdict is still out.
So, is the OnePlus 2 a “flagship killer?” No, but it’s definitely giving the current crop of flagships a run for their money. The OnePlus 2 is a solid high-end phone at a very competitive price, and much needed update to the OnePlus One. Sure, I’d have liked to see a quad-HD display and a microSD card slot on the spec sheet, but when you consider that a OnePlus 2 with 64GB of built-in storage only costs $389, these are minor quibbles. You still end up with a beautifully designed and crafted handset with a machined metal edge, gorgeous display, modern internals, a big battery, and competitive camera hardware for nearly half the price of the competition. My only gripe is the lackluster camera software and the lack of Qi wireless charging. So yeah, I’d definitely consider rocking a OnePlus 2 as my daily driver. Will you?