OnePlus 2 review: You'll have to settle for one of the best sub-$400 phones

For all the features missing from the OnePlus 2, it still manages to deliver one of the best overall experiences in its price range.

oneplus 2 beauty
Credit: Jason Cross
At a Glance
  • OnePlus 2

    Greenbot Rating

    OnePlus gives you a lot of phone for under $400, but we're left scratching our heads over some of the hardware decisions.

The motto of OnePlus is “Never Settle.” It’s an oft-repeated mantra featured prominently in everything the company does. What’s more, the OnePlus 2 is billed as the “2016 Flagship killer.” That’s right—the company markets this $389 phone by promising it will blow away next year’s best from LG, Samsung, HTC, and Motorola.

Marketing is always hyperbolic, but this is just laughable. While there’s certainly a lot to like about the OnePlus 2, it’s immediately obvious that OnePlus cut a bunch of corners to reach its price point. You don’t get a quad HD display, or wireless charging, or fast charging, or stereo speakers, or even NFC—all the things that this year’s flagship phones have made us grow accustomed to.

Had OnePlus decided to under-promise and over-deliver, it would be easy to praise this reasonably-priced phone for what it offers: speedy performance, 64GB of storage, and a pretty damn good camera for less than $400. By promising us the world, OnePlus has made it hard not to focus on all the things it didn’t deliver.

Prepare to settle

For the price you pay ($389 for 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM or $329 for the 16GB/3GB version) you get a lot of phone. But you definitely don’t get a “never settle” phone; OnePlus can't give you everything for under $400.

oneplus 2 front2 Jason Cross

The OnePlus 2 is a good-looking, well-performing phone at a great price, but it's missing a number of "flagship" features.

Wireless charging? It’s not there. Nearly every high-end phone of the last couple years supports fast-charging, but the OnePlus 2 doesn’t. It took about 2 hours 20 minutes to fully charge the phone, which is roughly twice as long as the Galaxy S6. The phone’s 5.5-inch display has a resolution of 1920 x 1080; not a problem in itself, but most high-end phones have 2560 x 1440 displays. You won’t notice the difference in resolution in daily use, but strap on a Google Cardboard and 1080p looks awfully pixelated.

oneplus 2 sunlight Jason Cross

In bright sunlight, the OnePlus 2 display (left) is easier to read than last year's OnePlus One, but doesn't match the super-bright AMOLED on the Galaxy S6 (right).

The OnePlus 2 doesn’t support the main Verizon network bands, so it’s all but useless on the nation’s largest network. If your carrier supports Wi-Fi calling (like T-Mobile) you won’t be able to use it until OnePlus pushes out a software update, which is supposedly coming soon. Worse, the phone lacks NFC, so you can forget about contactless payments. Android Pay is rolling out this fall, and this phone leaves you on the sidelines.

And for all you hardcore Android fans that lament the disappearance of removable batteries and expandable storage in the latest top-end phones, know that the OnePlus 2 has neither.

Zippy performance, solid battery life

For all the features missing from this self-proclaimed “2016 Flagship killer,” it does have a big engine under the hood. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 delivers benchmarks comparable to the best phones on the market. There has been some concern of excessive throttling to manage the chip’s heat, but that didn’t seem to be a problem in regular use. Yes, the phone gets pretty hot when running processor-intensive apps like 3D games, and benchmark scores would grow inconsistent if I didn’t frequently reset the phone and give it time to cool off. That has been true of every phone we’ve tested with the Snapdragon 810 inside.

But in regular everyday use, not running benchmarks, the phone availed itself well. Performance remained snappy, scrolling smooth, switching between multiple apps responsive.

oneplus 2 benchmarks pcmark

The OnePlus 2 delivers excellent overall performance, though it does get a little hot.

The OnePlus One achieved stellar battery life with its 3,100 mAh battery. So the OnePlus 2 must last longer with a 3,300 mAh battery, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Maybe it's the increased drain of the Snapdragon 810, or the brighter display (though we calibrate all our displays to 200 cd/m2 for battery tests), but the new phone doesn’t last nearly as long as the old phone. It lasts “only” about as long as other high-end phones this year—you can count on 4 to 6 hours of screen-on time, depending on the activity. Standby power is great: The phone lost only about 20 percent over a full day unplugged.

oneplus 2 benchmarks battery

Battery life is decent, but doesn't quite measure up to last year's OnePlus One.

oneplus 2 benchmarks 3dmark

Graphics performance is fantastic, and frankly, overkill for a 1080p display.

Frankly, the Snapdragon 810 is overkill here, and OnePlus should have opted for the Snapdragon 808 as LG did with the G4. As the phone has only a 1080p display, the faster graphics performance of the 810 isn’t really needed, and the cooler operation and lower battery drain of the 808 would have made for a better overall experience.

A very good, very simple camera

No phone, no matter how affordable, can get away with taking substandard pictures. Fortunately, the OnePlus 2’s 13 megapixel rear camera (with f/2.0 aperture) and 5 megapixel front camera both avail themselves well when it comes to making memories. It produces clear shots with good color balance and relatively little noise in a variety of conditions. I wouldn’t put its results above the Galaxy S6 or LG G4, but it’s not far behind, and that’s where a top-end phone needs to be.

oneplus 2 camera studiolow

With dimly-lit subjects using interior studio lights, the OnePlus 2 delivers brighter, less grainy shots than the OnePlus One. But it can't match the LG G4's detail and true-to-life color balance.

The phone sports laser autofocus, as the LG G4 does, and in bright light it does indeed focus and shoot quickly. Once the lighting level drops, shutter lag creeps in and there’s too much delay between pressing the shutter button and taking the photo. The phone has optical image stabilization, but it doesn’t seem to work quite as well as on other flagship phones we’ve tested. The panorama mode often produced rather blurry images, to the degree that I assume there’s a bug in it.

oneplus 2 camera controls

The camera controls and basic and straightforward to a fault.

The camera software is very simple and focused (pardon the pun). You get the standard expected settings to adjust resolution, toggle shutter sound, or show gridlines. You can shoot video at 720p (up to 120 frames per second slow-motion), 1080p (up to 60fps), and 4K (up to 30fps). Tap in the image area to set the focal and exposure point, and drag your finger around that circle to further tweak exposure. It works well and provides most of what you need, but it’s a little short on features. Notably absent is a manual mode, which OnePlus says is coming in a software update.

Stock Android, only better

Last year, OnePlus had a parting of ways with Cyanogen, who supplied the operating system for the OnePlus One. It replaced Cyanogen's OS with its own OxygenOS, which was essentially just stock Android with the added ability to rearrange the quick menu items, to choose between on-screen or capacitive hardware navigation buttons, and to perform a couple of simple gestures like “double-tap to wake.”

oneplus 2 shelf and permissions

The Shelf beta (left) is inoffense and customizable, but not very useful. Far more useful is granular app permissions (right).

The new OxygenOS 2.0 takes the same “don’t mess with Android” principle and layers on a few more useful tweaks. The same gestures are there: draw an “O” on the sleep screen to launch the camera, a “V” to turn on the flashlight, or double-tap to wake the device (notably missing is double-tap to sleep). There are a few gestures to control music playback, too.

I love OnePlus’ commitment to offering options. Everything is a choice. You can disable or enable those gestures one-by-one. You can choose between showing on-screen software navigation buttons, or using the hardware capacitive buttons beneath the display. The left and right buttons are marked by simple horizontal blue lines, giving you the flexibility to swap the “recent” and “back” buttons if you wish. You can set long-press and double-tap shortcuts for the home button and the recents/back buttons.

New to OxygenOS is a beta feature called the Shelf, accessed by swiping right on the home screen. It contains a list of your most frequently used apps, frequently accessed contacts, and space to place widgets. I don’t personally find it that useful, but at least it’s fully customizable and you can easily turn it off if you like. Unfortunately, you can’t choose to replace Shelf with Google Now. Offering an option to do so would seem to fit OnePlus’ core philosophy, and I hope to see it in a future update.

oneplus 2 software

Among the OxygenOS 2.0 customizations to Android is an audio equalizer with profiles (left), rearrangeable quick menu items (center), and customizable system buttons (right).

Also new is an App permissions menu in Settings that lets you turn on or off individual permissions for apps. You don’t think Dropbox should be able to access your contacts? You can turn off that permission individually (though there’s no telling what that will do to the functionality of the app). This is a great feature that mimics an important part of the new app permissions structure in the upcoming Android M release.

While OxygenOS may not have the extensive theme support found in other Android spin-offs, it’s hard not to like what I see here. This is Android as it should be: sticking to Google’s interface conventions and design while seamlessly adding useful features that don’t disrupt the way the OS looks or operates. It’s the philosophy followed by Motorola and Nvidia, and I only wish more Android hardware makers would follow suit.

Improved hardware design with a few odd choices

OnePlus has made a more attractive, better-built phone than it did last year. The display is the same size, but a much slimmer bezel makes the phone smaller and easier to hold. The metal edges give it a solid and hefty feel, and the sandpaper-y removable back cover has a comfortable and grippy feel. It’s still a little on the plain side—there's a Nexus-like vibe to it—but the materials and craftsmanship show a level of polish and sophistication that inches this phone closer to the expensive, high-end flagship phones it allegedly wipes the floor with.

One particularly nice touch: a three-way switch along the left side that matches the three notification profiles in Android. You can quickly and easily change your phone between Silent, Priority notifications only, or All notifications without waking the phone from sleep.

oneplus 2 switch Jason Cross

This three-way switch gives lets you control over notifications without even waking your phone.

The fingerprint scanner doubles as a home button, and detects fingerprints about as quickly and accurately as any I've tried. The phone unlocks correctly more than 90 percent of the time, and in a second or less. It’s fast and accurate, much like that on the Galaxy S6. Oddly, the fingerprint pad is not a button—it doesn’t actually depress when you push on it. This lack of tactile feedback is more annoying than you'd expect. It’s hard to know if the phone didn’t respond to your double-tap shortcut because it didn’t register, or because it’s just taking longer than it should.

oneplus 2 port Jason Cross

The USB Type-C port only supports USB 2.0 speeds, and no fast-charging. And that fingerprint scanner is not a button; there's no tactile "click" when you press it.

This is the first phone we’ve tested with a USB Type-C port, which you may think means you get the faster transfer speed or greater power delivery of USB 3.1. This phone is using the Type-C connector most associated with USB 3.1, but it’s just the connector—the phone itself only supports USB 2.0. So you get the benefit of a reversible plug (yay!), but you can’t use any of the dozens of micro-USB cables you have lying around (boo!). The Type-C plug is definitely the future of USB, but I can’t help but think OnePlus jumped the gun by tossing it on a phone that doesn’t live up to the performance and power expectations set by other devices using the same plug.

If only OnePlus made different hardware choices

For a phone with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage that costs less than $400, the OnePlus 2 delivers a lot. It’s fast, has a nice design, a good display, and a very good (if basic) camera. Performance is stellar, though the phone gets unreasonably hot at times, and the “stock Android with enhancements” OxygenOS is a joy to use.

OnePlus’ motto is not “great bang-for-the-buck,” it’s “never settle.” It doesn’t bill the OnePlus 2 as “the under-$400 champion,” it proclaims it to be the “2016 Flagship killer.” This sort of hyperbole isn’t doing the company any favors, and it only sets up expectations that it can’t meet if it's going to maintain this aggressive pricing.

Even so, it's hard to understand why it made some of the hardware choices it did. Why dual SIMs instead of removable storage? Why no replaceable battery? Both are features that OnePlus’ core market of enthusiasts care deeply about. Why insist on the Snapdragon 810, when the 808 would have been cheaper, delivered a comparable real-world experience, and given the phone better battery life? Why use the USB Type-C connector while not supporting fast charging or fast USB 3 transfer speeds? Why skip out on NFC altogether right when mobile payment systems are just starting to take off? Why isn’t the fingerprint scanner an actual clickable button?

oneplus 2 dualsim Jason Cross

The OnePlus 2 supports dual SIMs, which is handy, but I can think of half a dozen features I'd rather the phone support instead.

For all the great things the OnePlus 2 delivers at a very reasonable price, it’s almost impossible to use the phone for any length of time and not wish for what it might have been. Even if you could buy it without sitting on an aggravating waiting list, I would hesitate to recommend it to someone who isn’t fully aware of the phone’s compromises. As often as OnePlus likes to say “never settle,” using this phone was a constant reminder that I was doing just that—settling for one of the best sub-$400 phones instead of buying a more expensive phone that has it all.

 

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At a Glance
  • Greenbot Rating

    OnePlus gives you a lot of phone for under $400, but we're left scratching our heads over some of the hardware decisions.

    Pros

    • Powerful processor and lots of storage for the price
    • Very good camera

    Cons

    • No NFC
    • No wireless charging, no fast charging
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