There are a multitude of smartphone brands in the world, so it takes something special for a new one to grab our attention.
Something like speccing your device to the nines, selling it for less than half the price of the big-name competition and then allowing people to get their hands on it first by smashing their current phones on camera? Yep, that’ll do it. OnePlus burst on to the scene like no other gadget brand in recent memory and the excellent Reader’s Gadget of the Year-winning OnePlus One more than lived up to its promise.
And now, 15 months on, we turn to its successor the OnePlus 2. It’s a from-the-ground-up fresh design, with competition-trouncing specs, innovative features such as USB-C charging and an Android-based operating system you can’t get on any other device (except for the OnePlus One). It’s staggeringly affordable at US$329 (S$450) for the 16GB version (64GB is US$389, around S$535), and OnePlus is promising it’ll be easier to buy than its predecessor.
There is lots to love here, although some of the decisions OnePlus has made - no microSD expansion, for one - are odd considering the hoops it's expecting buyers to jump through in order to get hold of one. Read on for everything we know so far about this intriguing device.
Screen: 1080p still packs a punch
Like the OnePlus One before it, the 2 has a 5.5in 1080p display, and it’s surrounded by a slender Gorilla Glass 3 bezel. So you don’t get 2K as you would on a Samsung Galaxy S6 or LG G4, but the flip side is that the screen should be more frugal, so we’d expect the OnePlus 2 to pack a decent battery life. Also, it’s supposedly significantly brighter than that of its predecessor... although we didn’t have any cause for complaint in that area anyway.
Style and build: same look, seriously refined
Pleasant as it looks, the OnePlus isn’t going to win any awards for imaginative design. It’s the child’s sketch drawing of a smartphone: a rectangle that glows on one side and has a roughly centrally-mounted lens on the other.
The key differences from the OnePlus One are the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner mounted below the screen (more on that shortly) and the new laser autofocus underneath that aforementioned lens. Also, the frame and buttons of the device have been upgraded from plastic to a shiny magnesium/aluminium mix, and the distinctive roughflocked back can now be swapped out for carbon fibre and wood-finished versions. It looks rather dashing, and if it’s anything like the OnePlus One it will be solidly constructed.
Power: inching ahead of 2015’s flagships
The brain of the OnePlus 2 is Qualcomm’s embattled Snapdragon 810, the system-on-chip used in Sony’s Z3+, HTC’s One M9 and LG’s G Flex 2. It’s a powerful, 64-bit, octo-core piece of silicon, but there have been widespread reports of it overheating and ruining things. The OnePlus is dodging the issue by using an updated version of the chip, along with extensive cooling tech. And that should mean that this thing flies, particularly as it’s coupled to a whopping 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM (a full gigabyte more than the Galaxy S6 and LG G4). The more RAM, the more headroom for demanding apps, so multi-tasking should be flawless.
Camera: borrowing the best bits from the LG G4
Just like last year, the OnePlus 2 packs a 13MP snapper round the back. The last model’s camera was fine but uninspiring, particularly next to offerings from Samsung, Apple and LG, so the 2 ups the ante with bigger imaging pixels, optical image stabilisation and the nifty, insanely quick laser autofocus used in the LG G3 and G4. It’ll shoot 4K video, too. We have high hopes.
Round the front, the 5MP selfie camera remains. That should be plenty for all but the most self-obsessed human beings.
Features: fingerprints, switches and dualSIMs
The OnePlus 2 is almost entirely free of extraneous features. Perhaps, even, to a fault. Unlike last year’s OnePlus One there’s no NFC. It’s an odd omission given the big new feature is a fingerprint scanner, and it means you won’t be able to use the device as a contactless wallet or Oyster card.
Worse still, unlike the One you can’t supplement the 16GB or 64GB of storage with a microSD card. For some of OnePlus’ power user audience, that could be a dealbreaker.
Still, the fingerprint scanner (which isn’t a button, in case you were wondering) reportedly works extremely quickly, getting you from locked to home screen in under a second. That’s impressive.
There’s a three-position metal switch on the side that allows you to toggle notifications on, off, or just those to which you’ve assigned high priority; a very handy addition for anyone used to the iPhone’s silence switch.
Finally, you can stick two SIMs in the OnePlus 2 and both will work simultaneously. Could be useful for those with a work and a personal device, and will be a boon for regular international travellers.
OS: Oxygen OS, an exclusive fork of Android
OnePlus is very proud of its own unique version of Android, which it’s calling Oxygen OS. Unlike the excellent but featurestacked CyanogenMod used in the One, its raison d’être is to add some useful new features to Android 5.1 without bogging it down with dross. The customisation looks light and tasteful, and OnePlus promises that it runs smoothly.
One neat feature is per-app permissions, allowing you to block others from accessing private/restricted/NSFW data; another is the Dark mode, which darkens the background for night-time eye-friendliness. We’re looking forward to giving it a spin.
Battery: Bigger, with more versatile charging
There’s a 3300mAh whopper of a battery powering the OnePlus. A few have bigger, many (including the Galaxy S6) have smaller, and given the relatively undemanding 1080p screen resolution on offer here, it gives us high hopes that this could be a two-day device.
Charging is via a slick new USB-C port, which is bi-directional, allowing you to jam the cable in either way round just like Apple’s Lightning standard. We’re expecting USB-C to be adopted by many manufacturers later this year.
One thing missing is the quick charging capability of competing devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S6. It also doesn’t support any form of wireless charging (unlike, again, the S6), and the battery isn’t swappable (just like the S6, HTC One M9 and others).
Pricing and availability
The good - no, amazing - news is that this giant-killing device costs less than half what competing flagships do. As mentioned above, it tips the scales at just US$329 (S$450) in its 16GB guise and S$538 in the 64GB model, and will be launched in our region exclusively with Lazada. For reference, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 starts at S$998.
Given that microSD expandability is off the cards, most will want the 64GB model. Fortunately, that’s the one available first in Q4. However, you'll need to monitor OnePlus' social media channels in order to get invites to buy, so remember to keep an eye out. The 16GB version will only be released later, with no definite date set yet.
OnePlus 2: Initial verdict
OnePlus’ second coming is as exciting as we’d hoped it would be. Here, you can get a device that in every key area matches or betters 2015’s other flagships, and at less than half the cost.
It looks great, and the software tweaks OnePlus has applied to Android seem thoughtful and useful. We’ve little doubt that it’s going to be riding high in our Top 10 shortly, and that it could be contender for Phone of the Year.
But OnePlus has made a couple of decisions that don’t sit quite right with us, particularly given the 2's target audience.
This is an enthusiast’s gadget. You can’t just wander into a store and snap one up - you have to wait until OnePlus bestows an invitation upon you. You have to really want one.
Enthusiasts are typically power users and early adopters. They want the latest tech and the most powerful devices. In many ways the OnePlus 2 ticks those boxes, but in others it just scrawls a big fat cross.
It has no NFC, just as contactless payments have started to take off and Android Pay is readying for launch. This takes away the opportunity to gain nerd-cred by unnecessarily paying for everything with a tap of your phone, and is made all the more galling by the inclusion of fingerprint scanning security.
It has no microSD expansion slot, or 128GB option, which means storing your high-res audio music collection on it will rapidly fill your memory.
It has no swappable battery. Enthusiasts LOVE swappable batteries.
If none of the three points above matters to you - and to this writer, and most of the Stuff office, they don't - this could be a killer device, and you should consider it for the incredible value it offers alone. But if they do matter, you have a tougher decision to make.
Stay tuned to Stuff for a full review of the OnePlus 2.