Hands on with the OnePlus 2: Still the best bang for your buck

OnePlus has done it again with the OnePlus 2. Will this be its year?

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No more speculating. No more teasing. The OnePlus 2 is official and I put my hands on it. I gripped its metal-and-wood body. I tapped its 5.5-inch screen. I used its 13-megapixel rear-facing camera to snap photos and its 5-megapixel front-facing camera to take selfies. I put it in my purse pocket and in my colleague’s pants pocket to get a sense of what it’s like to cart it around as a daily driver.

But what I realized after my first hour with the device is that OnePlus’s second stab at a smartphone may actually have a chance at being the “flagship killer” it’s being advertised as. It’s powerful, it runs a near-perfect version of Android, and it offers some extraordinary features you’d have to pay extra for with other flagship devices, like 64GB of storage right out of the box. Of course, whether OnePlus is successful will depend entirely on how much better it is at marketing this time around, but at least they’ve got a product worth the fanfare.

A familiar-looking phone

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The OnePlus’s wood backings are really attractive in person.

I made a comment earlier in the day to my buddy, Joshua Vergara, about how the OnePlus 2 looks like a more high-end LG G4. It offers a similarly angular, masculine aesthetic. The optional wood backing on the OnePlus 2 makes the phone more dense and, as a result, gives it that premium polish that many Android phones lack. Even though it feels slightly bulkier, however, I liked the overall look and feel of the OnePlus 2. It’s essentially a refined version of last year’s OnePlus One.

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The OnePlus 2 is comfortable to hold.

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The OnePlus 2’s helpful three-position alert switch, which lets you set your sound profiles to On, Priority, or Silent without going into the operating system.

Whereas some Android manufacturers have tried their best to get rid of buttons, OnePlus made them all available to you. There’s the standard power button and volume rocker on the right-hand side, a helpful three-position alert switch on the left, and three overlay navigation buttons on the bottom. The Home button has the fingerprint sensor embedded into it, and it’s super easy to use—even easier than the Galaxy S6’s. If you don’t want hardware buttons, you can choose to eliminate that lower quarter-inch of screen space in favor for on-screen navigation. The choice is yours and yours alone, which is not something most OEMs offer.

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The OnePlus 2 offers a ton of gestures.

If buttons aren’t your thing, you can use gestures. With the screen off, you can draw a circle to launch the camera, or a V to launch the flashlight. Admittedly, it’s a weird functionality to include in a smartphone—I would have preferred the ability to double tap the capacitive Home button to launch the camera instead—but the phone is surprisingly responsive.

A familiar-looking interface

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It’s basically stock Android’s application drawer. Even though it’s not.

The OnePlus 2 runs Oxygen OS 2.0, which is based on Android 5.1. The version I played with was a near-ready pre-production version, but besides a few bugs I really liked what I saw. You can’t tell that Oxygen OS isn’t Google’s flavor of Android. It looks near stock Lollipop, but with a bunch of added extras thrown in. Most of the extras are in the Settings panel, but you’ll find some in the Application Drawer, too. There’s also a neat Home screen page called the Shelf, which resides where Google Now normally does to the left of the first home screen. It displays your most used applications and frequent contacts. You can also add widgets if you don’t want them to take up your Home screen. Genius!

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One of the best parts of Oxygen OS: the handy Shelf that lives on the left-hand Home screen.

The apps that OnePlus bundled in follow Google’s Material Design guidelines to a T. I had to actually ask OnePlus if they were Google’s apps or theirs. I offer kudos to OnePlus for not attempting to reinvent the wheel—which is what Cyanogen originally set out to do with the first OnePlus.

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Sorry, OnePlus. Not feeling this app. 

I didn’t like the reimagined camera application, however. It looked like Google’s version, but offered a slightly different menu hierarchy. It was confusing to use. I never liked Google’s interpretation of the camera app, either, so by default I really don’t like One Plus’s.

A familiar set of specs

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Hey! Cool! The OnePlus 2 utilizes USB Type-C! 

The OnePlus 2 runs on a Snapdragon 810 processor with 4GB of RAM. It’s fast and furious, like every other flagship phone out there. I’m curious to benchmark it, and to compare its scores to the other high-end phones, but I don’t expect to see any surprises. We’ll revisit it after six-to-eight months of usage to see how it fairs.

While the OnePlus 2 is a demon on the inside, it’s lacking some crucial features that could hurt its “flagship killer” status. It’s missing quick charging, wireless charging, and NFC. I can deal without wireless charging ability, but I've been spoiled from the Galaxy S6. The lack of NFC is also worrying in regard to OnePlus 2’s compatibility with mobile payments. You can’t use Android Pay (coming soon!) out in the wild without NFC. It also means there’s no Tap & Go functionality to move your stuff from phone to phone, which is a huge bummer for a phone swapper like myself.

A pretty great phone with an unknown future

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The OnePlus 2 coyly lays on its side, showing off it’s slightly bulky figure. 

I’ll admit that, even with all the hype surrounding it, I didn’t think I’d enjoy the OnePlus 2. I’m still a little wary of the company because of last year’s transgressions, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the OnePlus 2 actually offers “more bang for your buck.” For under $400, off-contract and unlocked, you get a powerful premium flagship device with gorgeous swappable back covers, 64GB of storage, a 3300mAh battery pack, an energy-efficient 5.5-inch 1080p display, and a near-stock Android experience.

OnePlus promises that its community and its users are its main priority. This is its year to prove that. It’s got the product to back that claim, but hopefully its actions will, too.

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