OnePlus 2 review:

High-end smartphone performance for half the price

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OnePlus 2 (sandstone black)

(Part #: CNETOnePlus 2-sandstone black)
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

1 stars 8 user reviews

The Good The OnePlus 2 offers high-end performance at a low price, while not skimping on design. The rear camera delivers pretty good pictures as well.

The Bad The phone lacks both fast and wireless charging and the USB Type-C port doesn't offer any performance benefits. Some software bugs hamper the user experience.

The Bottom Line The OnePlus 2 offers powerful hardware and beautiful design at a comparatively low price, but availability through the OnePlus invite system makes it hard to acquire.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Camera 8.0
  • Battery 6.0

Surrounded by plenty of hype, the OnePlus 2 is a smartphone that packs a great camera, a superfast octa-core processor and metal construction in a package that costs way less than what you'd expect to pay for in a typical high-end phone -- but it performs almost just as well.

While the phone's good for its price, there are a few things that it's lacking, such as NFC (near-field communication) for mobile payments and pairing devices, fast charging and even wireless charging -- those have been omitted to keep costs down.

That said, I'm impressed with the design improvements over the original OnePlus One , and while there are a few small stumbles, the 2 still manages to strike the right chords. However, the more expensive construction means the OnePlus 2 comes with a higher price tag than the OnePlus One. Still, at $330 (about £215 or AU$450) for the 16GB version and $390 (roughly £250 or AU$535) for the 64GB model, this handset is a heck of a lot cheaper than most flagships on the market today. (By contrast, the 64GB Samsung Galaxy Note 5 costs about $800 full retail, roughly £500 or AU$1,100.)

OnePlus isn't the only company around that's offering phones that are just a step down from premium for a whole lot less -- Xiaomi, Motorola and Alcatel are but a few of the companies that have seen opportunity in this strategy, in the hopes of grabbing market share from big players like Samsung and Apple.

Getting a OnePlus 2, however, will prove to be a challenge. The phone isn't sold through carriers or retail stores -- you'll need an invitation to snag one for yourself. This means waiting for an invite through social media (you can find OnePlus on Facebook, Twitter and Google+), or even joining contests in the OnePlus forums. While this does generate even more hype and anticipation, it's not an easy road for interested buyers -- and that's perhaps the biggest disappointment for this superior sequel.

Editors' note: This review was conducted before the 2.0.1 firmware update was available. We'll update this review once we've had a chance to see if that update improves performance and/or battery life.

Design and build

  • 5.5-inch display with 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution
  • 5.9 by 2.9 by 0.4 inches (152 by 75 by 9.9mm)
  • 6.2 ounces (175 grams)
  • Four aftermarket cover designs

The OnePlus 2 bucks the trend a little by being slightly smaller than the original phone, while still keeping a similar lineup of features, such as the 5.5-inch full-HD display, protected with Corning's Gorilla Glass 4. Instead of a plastic rim, the OnePlus 2 comes with a metal frame for a premium feel, and has five different rear covers. I spent some time with the sandstone black version and really liked the sandpaper feel. It provides a good grip, so you'll never have to worry about it slipping. If smoother covers are your thing, you'll also be able buy new backplates for about $27 (roughly £20 or AU$40) in rosewood, bamboo, black apricot and Kevlar.

One of the OnePlus One's key design elements was the raised screen, and the 2 keeps this around. While I didn't like it on the original, it's a better fit on the 2 -- I suspect this is due to the higher-quality metal frame and the fact that there's not much wasted space on the top and bottom bezels, as with the predecessor. Instead, the raised screen actually gives the phone some distinct flair you won't find on other handsets.

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The phone sports metal rims and a raised screen. You can also see the fingerprint sensor just below the screen and the Type-C USB port. Josh Miller/CNET

Just below the display is a fingerprint sensor that you can use to wake the phone. Interestingly, it isn't a button, but more of a shallow depression that you place your finger over. It will turn the phone on even if the screen is off.

Instead of having the SIM card slot along the side like current phones, the OnePlus 2 hides it neatly behind the rear cover. Unfortunately both SIM slots are nano-SIM only, so if your current phone doesn't have one, you'll either have to get a new SIM or trim it down.

The volume keys have also been moved to the right side next to the power button to make way for a new Alert Slider on the left. The slider has three settings -- receive all notifications, receive only priority alerts, or mute notifications entirely. It's a handy and quick way to manage your smartphone usage, though you'll need to manually set which applications can show when you have it turned on for priority alerts. Most of the time though, I skipped the middle setting and went straight to do not disturb or full notifications. I suspect some of the more fastidious users will make better use of this feature, but switching between both full or none seemed to be the more efficient option to me.

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The volume and power keys are located on the right side. Josh Miller/CNET

Located at the bottom is a USB Type-C port, making this one of the first few smartphones to sport the new port (though I daresay we'll likely see more phones with this feature later this year). Do, however, note that this is a USB 2.0 port, and not the new-fangled USB 3.0 port. This means transfer speeds will be similar to current phones, and will not be able to hit 5 gigabits per second. That said, it is reversible, so you'll never have to figure out which side up to plug in your phone ever again.

The speakers are located next to it, and while it looks like it has a dual-speaker setup based on the speaker grilles, there's really only one and if you're holding the phone in landscape mode for gaming, your hands will block the sound if you're holding it a certain way -- you'll need to flip it around.

On the back, the 13-megapixel camera has been shifted downward and OnePlus has added laser-assist focus. For the front shooter, OnePlus has chosen to use a 5-megapixel sensor (more on the camera later). Although the back cover comes off, there's no microSD card slot on this phone -- that's bad if you're getting the 16GB version, but fine on the 64GB -- and you can't remove the battery.

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The OnePlus 2 comes with a range of different back covers. Josh Miller/CNET

Hardware

  • 1.8GHz octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor from Qualcomm
  • 16GB or 64GB of internal storage (no expandable memory)
  • 3GB or 4GB RAM
  • 3,300mAh embedded battery

OnePlus touts the phone as a flagship killer and on paper, the phone has the chops to do it. The 2 comes packing a 1.8GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 4GB of RAM on the 64GB storage version and 3GB of RAM on the 16GB model. Both models pack an embedded, unremovable 3,300mAh battery.

While you may have qualms about the 810 processor, which some have said overheats, OnePlus says its OxygenOS has been optimized to work with the hardware, so it won't overheat. I'll be honest, I think it's a nonissue either way, especially based on my experience with Xiaomi's Mi Note Pro , which uses the same processor. The alleged overheating issues of the 810 processor simply didn't seem present for me.

To see if the OnePlus 2 overheated, I took both it and the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro and ran the game Asphalt 8 on them, leaving each phone to continue playing the victory screen for 20 minutes. Then I aimed a temperature gun at the back and sides. Both phones registered a max of around 41 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit). Since the sides of the OnePlus 2 are metal (which I suspect helps conduct away the heat), the phone can be a tad uncomfortable to hold when playing games with it.

I've mentioned the phone's 13-megapixel rear camera -- here are more details. It comes with built-in optical image stabilization, an f/2.0 aperture and laser-assist focus -- that's the area you see below the lens. The sensor's pixels are also larger, OnePlus boasts, for taking better low-light shots and we'll find out if this is true in my camera analysis below.

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The phone has a rear 13-megapixel camera with laser assist focus. Josh Miller/CNET

What this phone lacks, compared to many higher-end phones, are features such as NFC, wireless charging and quick charging. It's also missing a microSD card slot for expandable storage, but the trend is finally moving away from such ports -- the recent Samsung flagships, such as the Galaxy Note 5 , also do without the microSD slots.

To ensure compatibility with high-speed 4G LTE networks, OnePlus will be selling three different versions of the phone. There's one that works with US 4G carriers; a global version that works in the UK, Australia and Asia; and one model just for China. If you're thinking of getting the phone, make sure the phone is compatible with your region, or you'll end up without 4G. As a GSM device, it will send and receive calls and texts on all GSM carrier networks.

In the US, this means the phone will work on AT&T and T-Mobile networks, but not Verizon or Sprint.

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A closer look at the fingerprint scanner. Josh Miller/CNET

Operating system

  • Google Android 5.1.1 Lollipop OS
  • Shelf feature that gives you quick access to frequently used apps
  • Customizable themes

Last year's OnePlus One launched with CyanogenMod, a custom Android build that isn't issued by Google. This year's OnePlus 2 comes with the company's own OxygenOS right out of the box. OxygenOS is a custom skin that's very close to stock Android, and is based on Android Lollipop 5.1 (the latest version of Android).

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