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

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.

oneplus2screenshot01.jpg
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.

oneplus2screenshot02.jpg
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.

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
If you love taking pictures of your food for sharing on social-media platforms, this camera will do well. Aloysius Low/CNET
With enough lighting, the phone can capture plenty of details, including the patterns of the ant in the flower. Aloysius Low/CNET
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
The phone doesn't seem to handle low-light shots well, so turn on the flash. Aloysius Low/CNET
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.

oneplus2clearimage.jpg
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
4,461
ZTE Axon Pro
25,742
868
3,958
Xiaomi Mi Note Pro
20,266
1,108
3,986
HTC One M9
22,685
1,078
3,999

Legend:

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).

oneplus2screenshot03.jpg
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

Comparable Phones

All phones

Best Products

All best products