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Review

OnePlus 2 review: Hyped assassin

OnePlus came out of nowhere into the limelight last year with its first smartphone. The OnePlus One was popularly called the flagship killer as it offered specifications seen in flagship smartphones o

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OnePlus came out of nowhere into the limelight last year with its first smartphone. The OnePlus One was popularly called the flagship killer as it offered specifications seen in flagship smartphones of brands like Samsung and HTC but was sold for half their price. The model worked extremely well for the company as it sold 250,000 units of the OnePlus One in India in slightly more than seven months and 1.5 million units globally in about a year.

With the OnePlus 2, the Chinese startup is extremely bullish about doing even better and is already bragging it as the flagship killer of 2016. In essence, it is claiming that the OnePlus 2 would be better than the successor of the Galaxy S6 that Samsung is expected to launch next year. To find out whether the claims are valid or just a marketing gimmick, I put the OnePlus 2 through its paces for almost two weeks by using it as my primary smartphone.

I will be honest. I was salivating the moment the first photos of the OnePlus 2 leaked on the Internet hours before its launch. After nearly two weeks of using the OnePlus 2, I am not exactly spellbound by its looks but it is how the phone feels in my hand that keeps me hooked to it. At 175 grams, the OnePlus 2 is quite heavy but the weight is well distributed. No doubt that the phone feels solid and premium to hold.

Unlike its successor, there is a solid aluminum and magnesium alloy frame, which is what you will be in contact with mostly while holding the phone. The frame bulges a bit towards the rear from the center, which lends a soothing curvature at the back that fits well in the palm of the hand. One unintended benefit is that your skin is unlikely to be in much contact with the rough sandstone finish back panel, which I find a little annoying as it tickles my hand.

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There are two new design additions that I have not seen on any other Android smartphone yet. The first is the Alert Slider, which is a three-way slider button on the left edge. The button essentially switches between three notification modes – All Notifications, Priority Interruptions and No Interruptions. The idea is neat but it takes time getting used to. Thanks to muscle memory, I kept pressing the volume down button to set the phone on vibrate-only mode before entering meetings. Even after nearly two weeks, I have to force myself to use the Alert Slider.

The second new addition is the fingerprint sensor. I have seen many kinds of fingerprint sensors in smartphones, including ones where you have to swipe your finger, fingerprint sensors on the back panel of the phone, a sensor embedded in the home button and if leaks are to be believed, even the power button would have a fingerprint sensor. But the OnePlus 2’s fingerprint sensor is something else.

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At a glance, the fingerprint sensor on the OnePlus 2 seems to be like a regular home button variety, like that on the iPhone or the Galaxy S6. But what looks like the home button on the OnePlus 2 isn’t a button at all. Instead it is a touchpad of sorts and it also doubles up as the home button. The process to save fingerprints to unlock the phone is quite similar to what we have seen on the iPhone and Galaxy S6 and you can save up to five fingerprints.

During my testing I found the fingerprint sensor performance to be unreliable enough to come close to disabling it at least once daily. Don’t get me wrong. When it works, which is about 70 percent of the time, the fingerprint sensor unlocks the phone in no time at all. During those times it is as fast as that on the Galaxy S6 if not faster. So that’s good.

However, when it randomly decides not to work, you are left with no option but to revert to the pattern lock. There are times when it registers a response but refused to match it against my stored fingerprint. Then there are times when it won’t even acknowledge the presence of my finger by vibrating slightly. I’m hoping this is something that can be patched with a software update.

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On paper, the OnePlus 2, like its predecessor, has a 1080p 5.5-inch display. But in actual usage the display on the OnePlus 2 is far superior. I compared it with a colleague’s OnePlus One and I found the OnePlus 2’s display to be brighter, relatively less reflective and less prone to fingerprint smudges, making it easily legible even under direct sunlight.

While being better than its predecessor, the 1080p display on the OnePlus 2, many might think, doesn’t go too well with the company’s marketing that this phone is the 2016 flagship killer. Among other features, which I will come to later, having a 1080p display is so 2013. We already have flagship smartphones with 2K displays and OnePlus is still stuck with a 1080p display.

But I think this is a brilliant move by OnePlus. With no real benefits of a 2K display over a 1080p display (the OnePlus 2 has a pixel density of 401ppi, which is good enough for the human eye), having lesser pixels to work with would ensure lesser computing power requirement, which translates into lesser battery power consumption. I, for one, find it difficult to differentiate between a 1080p display and a 2K display, unless both of them are kept next to each other.

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The highlight of the OnePlus 2 for me has to be its two cameras. The rear 13-megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture and 1.3µm pixels do a great job. Irrespective of the lighting conditions – whether indoor or outdoor, during day or night – the camera comes out with good results. Photos are sharp with close to reality colors when clicked in good lighting. Even when lighting isn’t perfect, I found photos didn’t have as much noise as is the case with most phones at its price segment. The OnePlus 2’s rear camera comes with optical image stabilization, as well. The laser auto-focus seems to work as well with the camera getting an almost instant focus lock.

The camera photo quality certainly is not at par with the Galaxy S6 but is close enough. Even the front-facing 5-megapixel camera is a class act. Not only does it capture a wider angle than many other selfie cameras but even the quality of photos is much better than what I come across in most phones.

The OnePlus 2’s brilliant set of cameras are let down by the software user interface. The camera app, for instance, doesn’t have many manual settings or tweaks for enthusiasts to play with. Unlike the OnePlus One that ran on Cyanogen OS, the OnePlus 2 will come only on its own Oxygen OS, which is nothing but stock Android (currently on Android 5.1 Lollipop) with minor visible tweaks. The laziness of the attempt is most visible in the lack of any gallery app. Instead, after clicking a photo the phone by default takes you to the Google Photos app, which I find to be a great backup solution but not ready to be the primary gallery app.

Talking about Oxygen OS, I am surprised OnePlus is calling it an OS, when it is not even a UI skin on top of Android. Even Samsung with its heavy customizations calls TouchWiz a UI and not an OS. One of the charms of the OnePlus One was Cyanogen OS and the amount of tweaking one could do on it. Sadly, there is not much that one can do on Oxygen OS.

So you get a shelf on the left of the homescreen where it shows the apps you use the most and the contacts you reach out to most frequently. There is an option to choose between a light and dark theme. You can customize which key below the display would be your back and multitasking keys or whether you want to disable them altogether and use onscreen keys. Thankfully individual app permission manager has been retained, which lets you grant or disable permissions for individual apps that have been installed. You can even select some commands like double tap the display to wake up the phone. The one thing that really caught my attention was the quality of speaker audio. OnePlus says it has integrated Waves MaxxAudio technology into Oxygen OS and it really works. But beyond that it is spartan and almost stock Android.

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Taking a peek under the hood, the OnePlus 2 adds a major feature that was missing in the OnePlus One – dual-SIM. However, it comes with two nano-SIM card slots, which is a rarity, considering nano-SIM cards are yet to go mainstream even after three years since the iPhone 5 first introduced them. The OnePlus 2 also has 64GB of internal storage but no microSD card slot, which has sadly become the norm for most smartphones. There is also 4GB of RAM of the LPDDR4 variety, which is the fastest available right now. Combine this with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chipset and almost stock Android, the OnePlus 2 turns out to be a pretty smooth operator.

OnePlus has bravely gone ahead with the Snapdragon 810 even when others have avoided it because of heating issues. The company claims that it has worked closely with Qualcomm for a new version of the SoC and that “the 2 will be cooler than ever.” However, that certainly did not seem to be the case with my review unit. Any task like charging the phone, being on a call for more than 15 minutes, watching YouTube videos and at times even randomly, the OnePlus 2 would start heating up. It was most noticeable from the metallic frame on the top of the phone above the camera. It wasn’t the burn-your-hand heating but one that certainly raises concerns.

Another concern of mine with the OnePlus 2 is its battery. One of my recurring memory of using the OnePlus 2 has been carrying the USB Type-C cable everywhere with me. The OnePlus 2 has a 3,300mAh battery, which in most cases should be good enough to last at least a day. Yet, for some reason, it won’t last me even half a day. Once I stepped out at 1PM with 48 percent battery and I was searching for a charging point by 6PM!

The OnePlus 2 has a USB Type-C port and doesn’t support QuickCharge. The battery takes nearly two-and-a-half hours to charge completely! Even getting to the 50 percent mark takes nearly an hour. Given these numbers and the slim odds of finding a USB Type-C cable easily, I expected the OnePlus 2 to have better power management.

After using the OnePlus 2 for nearly two weeks, I have my fingers crossed that flagship smartphones in 2016 manage to do better. It certainly has its highs, especially when it comes to the design and camera performance. At Rs 24,999, the OnePlus 2 offers 64GB of internal storage and 4GB of RAM, so it is certainly value for money if you want the latest and greatest specifications.

What lets it down is the abysmal overall performance. The nightmare that is the battery, the moody fingerprint sensor and the half-baked Oxygen OS, makes me question co-founder Carl Pei’s statements that OnePlus cares about the overall user experience and not just about the hardware specifications. At the end of the day, I find the OnePlus 2 to be a work in progress smartphone that needs a lot of work in power management and overall software features. In its current avatar, it could possibly be considered a good upgrade of the OnePlus One. It could also be a flagship killer but purely on the basis of the price, but certainly not on the basis of my experience.

The OnePlus 2 goes on sale exclusively on Amazon India tomorrow for Rs 24,999.

  • Published Date: August 10, 2015 10:01 AM IST
  • Updated Date: August 10, 2015 3:15 PM IST