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OnePlus 2 review: High-end smartphone performance for half the price

The sequel to last year's OnePlus One comes with better hardware and design -- but is it really a 'flagship-phone killer'?

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Aloysius Low
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Aloysius Low

Senior Editor

Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.

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12 min read

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.

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7.8

OnePlus 2

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.

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.

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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.

OnePlus 2 debuts with metal frame and beautiful design (pictures)

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

If you're familiar with Android, OxygenOS takes almost no time to get used to. Even iOS users who are considering switching should have no issues (apart from learning about widgets and getting apps from the app drawer to the main home screen) since the two OSes are very similar these days.

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Shelf (on the left) gives you your most used apps, which I found more useful than the home screen (right). Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

While sticking with stock Android is an option, OxygenOS comes with a few custom features such as using a double-tap to wake it up, customizable icons and a new feature called Shelf that lets you quickly access your most-used apps. Shelf is currently in beta testing and entirely optional. You can enable it during setup and is accessed by swiping right from the home screen.

This gives you quick access to your most frequently used apps and contacts. But if your frequently used apps are already on your main screen, this can be feel a tad redundant, to be honest. Other features include different themes, such as dark mode, and gestures such as drawing a circle when the screen is off to quickly turn on the camera.

There's one main thing I didn't like, and it's the fact that the icons are just too big. OnePlus needs to either give you the option to shrink the icons as well as the gaps between them, or try to streamline the feel a bit more. In fact, Shelf seems to have the right idea, packing in a lot more compared to the large clunky feel of the main home screen.

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There are custom gestures you can turn on -- we've seen this before on Oppo phones. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Given that the OS is pretty new, there are still plenty of bugs, though I suspect these can be fixed via a software update. For example, the one thing that irks me the most is that the zoom function for viewing pictures is broken -- every time you try to do so, the images just snap back into place.

Another bug I found annoying is that palm detection on the phone just isn't on par, so if you're reading on the Kindle app, and depending on how you hold the phone, swiping to the next page results in you actually increasing or decreasing the font size as your palm counts as another finger for the pinch and zoom action.

Camera and video

  • 13-megapixel (bottom) rear-facing camera
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera
  • 4K video recording (rear)
  • Laser-assist focus, f/2.0 aperture, dual-LED flash

The OnePlus 2's camera app is a modified version of Google's default Camera app. The basic modes are there: you can take HDR ( high dynamic range) shots -- which correctly show high contrast for challenging scenes like landscape modes -- panoramic pictures and switch between modes by sliding your finger on the screen. You can also lock the exposure by holding on to a spot. It does lack auto-HDR, a feature that some of the higher-end handsets, such as Samsung Galaxy S6 or the iPhone 6 possess.

OnePlus has made much ado about the quality of its camera, and this is one feature that doesn't disappoint. Colors are accurate, objects easily snap into focus and there's plenty of detail. You'll have to swipe from the right side to view your recently taken shots, but this doesn't work well in landscape mode. There are times where the focus seems to be off -- the phone can detect something other than the subject of your photo and lock focus on that. This is likely a software issue that can be fixed in a future update.

Video quality was fine. You can take 4K video with the rear camera, and the front 5-megapixel shooter takes full-HD shots. The OnePlus 2 easily adjusts to lighting conditions and focus when you're shooting with video, so no issues there.

One thing I liked about the camera is the depth of field effects and while it's not as good as a proper dSLR with a larger sensor, the OnePlus 2 gets the job done. Take a look below at our sample test shots to see how the camera did.

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This HDR shot manages to lighten both the dark trees in the background as well as the buildings in the background without blowing out the picture. Aloysius Low/CNET
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If you love taking pictures of your food for sharing on social-media platforms, this camera will do well. Aloysius Low/CNET
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With enough lighting, the phone can capture plenty of details, including the patterns of the ant in the flower. Aloysius Low/CNET
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The phone struggles to handle the warm indoor lighting, and some details are lost (especially in the lines of the test chart). Aloysius Low/CNET
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The phone doesn't seem to handle low-light shots well, so turn on the flash. Aloysius Low/CNET
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The dual-tone flash manages to fill up the test shot nicely without any parts looking overexposed. Aloysius Low/CNET

While the pictures turned out pretty good, the app itself felt a little lacklustre. I'm disappointed OnePlus didn't do more here, since the app lacks things such as Auto-HDR, real-time filters and a manual mode for the power users who will likely pick up the phone. It does, however, have a Clear Image mode, where it stitches up multiple photos for a clearer-looking shot. I didn't find it to be as impressive as it sounds though, with the resulting image only just slightly sharper by a hair.

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While it's hard to tell, the Clear Image shot is slightly sharper with a little bit more clarity in the details. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance

Benchmark Tests Comparison

OnePlus 2 22,645 1,142 4,461ZTE Axon Pro 25,742 868 3,958Xiaomi Mi Note Pro 20,266 1,108 3,986HTC One M9 22,685 1,078 3,999
  • 3DMark Ice Storm (unlimited)
  • Geekbench 3 (single-core)
  • Geekbench 3 (multi-core)
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor, the phone is smooth and lag-free. The camera starts up quickly, and you will have no issue with its gaming performance -- on Asphalt 8, the OnePlus 2 ran as smooth as butter (though it can get uncomfortably hot, as mentioned earlier).

Compared to other devices that sport the same Snapdragon 810 processor, the phone does remarkably well. It beat both the ZTE Axon Pro and HTC One M9 when it came to Geekbench 3 single-core and multi-core benchmark, though it didn't fare as well as the Axon Pro on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test.

Battery life

With an unremovable 3,300mAh battery, you'd be expecting the phone to last you pretty long -- especially since it doesn't have a power-sapping Quad HD display like other high-end phones. This, was, however, not the case when it came to our video looping test. That came in at just under 10 hours: 9 hours 46 minutes (the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 hit 15 hours, by contrast). Thankfully, my own anecdotal usage showed that the phone will last you a full day of moderate use.

There could be some reasons behind this: perhaps the system isn't optimized properly for video playback, which we test with, or the screen could be consuming more power than other display types. Regardless, I had no issues with the phone's longevity when it comes to daily use.

Call quality and data speeds

  • GSM/EDGE: (850/900/1800/1900MHz)
  • LTE bands 1/3/5/7/8/20 (Europe, Australia, India)
  • LTE bands 1/2/4/5/7/8/12/17 (US)
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi 2.4GHz b/g/n and 5GHz a/n/ac

Call quality was generally satisfactory, I didn't encounter any odd buzzing or distortion that could occur on some lower-end phones. I didn't have any issues with hearing the person on the other end as well, and they didn't report any issues either. The volume of the audio speaker is fine as well. You won't have any issues with it being too soft.

As for the phone's data speeds, these were tested on Singapore's SingTel network and on the Ookla's speedtest app, and the highest upload speeds were 93.39Mbps and 31.76Mbps respectively. This is pretty good (but mostly due to the faster networks in Singapore).

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Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Conclusion

While OnePlus would like you to believe its marketing claims of being the 2016 flagship killer, in truth, the OnePlus 2 is merely another high-powered flagship phone that stands out with a price advantage. Don't get me wrong, though; it's still an excellent device and will give current 2015 handsets a run for their money, especially ones that cost almost twice as much.

While the OnePlus 2 probably won't be able to "kill" next year's devices, given how similar the features of high-end flagships are becoming, this phone will easily last you at least two years before you want to consider upgrading.

Again, while the OnePlus 2's main factor is that it's cheap, it isn't the only phone of its type in the market. Those in Asia can also look at the Xiaomi Mi Note (though it does use an older processor) while elsewhere, ZTE's Axon Pro seems to offer similar value for money, albeit at a higher price.

That said, the OnePlus 2 will be quite hard to come by due to its "invite only" method of purchase, but if you're willing to wait for this phone, I daresay you'll be satisfied with your purchase.

The OnePlus 2 is a worthy sequel to the OnePlus One. Aloysius Low/CNET
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7.8

OnePlus 2

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Camera 8Battery 6
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