The OnePlus 2 is quite unlike any other phone of this year. Sure, it's a slim rectangle and has hardware we know well. But you can't buy it from shops, or even from the websites of any of SG's networks.
Where Samsung and co. go to great lengths to try to persuade you to buy their phones, it can at times seem as though OnePlus makes buying its phones deliberately difficult. First, you can only buy them from the OnePlus store. Second, you need an invite to even place an order. An "invite"?! Who the heavens to these people think they are?
And yet, this hasn't stopped hundreds of thousands from scrabbling to get their hands on the new OnePlus 2.
And that's for the 64GB storage version. There's an even cheaper 16GB model incoming too.
It's pretty special. And absolutely worth chasing after if you have the patience to cope with the unique shopping experience.
Scratch my back
One of the real head-turning elements of the OnePlus 2 is that no part of it feels like it belongs in an affordable phone. It out-premiums the LG G4, for example, with a metal band that runs around its sides and an unusual rear texture that feels nothing like good old plastic.
Those of you familiar with the OnePlus One may remember this style. It's a rear cover texture that sits somewhere between felt and sandpaper, giving you a rough and grippy surface that has some of the tactile vibe of fabric.
I find it a much more satisfying feel than glossy or even soft-touch plastic, although if you hate the sound of this style, OnePlus also offers covers finished in kevlar, rosewood, bamboo and apricot (the tree, rather than the orange fruit itself). There are plenty of touch sensations on offer, each quite different from the norm.
You do have to pay extra for each of these, but it's not a bad deal when they feature real wood and kevlar, not just a plastic veneer.
To keep things running slicker than an oil spill on an ice rink, OnePlus has chosen the 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor running at 1.8GHz. We did have concerns about the phone heating up due to the chequered history of the chip, but didn't notice anything untoward during our two weeks of usage. This included heavy multi-tasking as we switched from playing Asphalt 8 to browsing websites to editing images with Snapseed.
OnePlus’ collaboration with Qualcomm, spawning a special variant of the 810 which runs much cooler, seems to have paid off. What really helps things is the mega-wallop of 4GB RAM, which enables you to have endless apps open once with no drop in performance.
The 16GB variant of the OnePlus 2 only has 3GB of RAM, however, so we'll let you know how well that performs once we get our hands on it.
While the screen stays exactly the same spec-wise as the OnePlus One (5.5in, 1920 x 1080), there is a considerable increase in overall brightness. The contrast ratio too has been bumped up to 1500:1, and that should satiate your cravings for deeper blacks.
Colours are punchy and, as you play games or watch HD videos, the display manages to extract maximum levels of detail with the 401ppi it has at its disposal.
Play it loud
We'd always recommend plugging quality headphones into your smartphone to listen to music and watch videos, but sometimes you need to jolt your roommate out of his beauty sleep. And for that, you'll find the front-facing speaker on the 2 perfectly capable. It's louder than the OnePlus One's, and much crisper.
Not camera shy
On average more than 70 million photos are uploaded to Instagram each day, and probably more than half of those are selfies. The 5MP front camera on the OnePlus 2 has you covered on that part. But moving on to more important things...
Probably the single most-wanted feature every OnePlus fan/potential buyer was looking for in the OnePlus 2 was a better rear camera, an advanced piece of lensery that would let you take spectacular low-light shots. As you can see from the images below, the OnePlus 2 clearly destroys the shots taken by the OnePlus One and comes dangerously close to besting the iPhone 6 when it comes to shooting in the dark.
Images shot in low light offer a natural colour tone with the 2, but as you can see the iPhone 6 manages to squeeze out more detail from the frame, even in low light. Pictures shot outdoors with the OnePlus 2 exhibit crisp colour reproduction and the new camera app is a joy to use.
The interface has vastly improved and switching between still, video, panorama, HDR, timelapse and other modes is a no-nonsense job. All you need to do is swipe down or up on the screen to choose the modes.
The new camera on the OnePlus 2 supports 4K video recording and shooting of slow-motion videos at 120fps. Whether you're shooting stills or video you get lightning-quick autofocus, thanks in large part to the laser focus module (placed under the camera assembly on the rear). The camera also has OIS (optical image stabilisation), which helps in shooting slick tracking videos.
We'll test it fully against the current market leaders, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 as part of our full review process.
Oxygen OS lets you breathe easy
One of the things the Oxygen OS gets right this time around is the way it helps you navigate swiftly to get a heap of tasks done. Swipe down on the screen and you're welcomed by the quick access menu, but this time the Wi-Fi and the Bluetooth tabs have drop down functionality that you can use to access a host of wireless networks or Bluetooth devices around you. This saves a lot of time you'd otherwise waste in accessing the settings menu to get the same job done.
Another handy feature is the way you can swap or recall a previously open app, game or a webpage. Let’s say you have Gmail open and you feel the need to change the track you're listening to. The normal way to do this would be to press the back button and open the Music app or to invoke the list of open apps and then access it. Here all you need do is keep the back button pressed for about a second and in an instant the OS will take you back to the app you were using earlier. Total recall, baby!
You can change this and tons of other settings by navigating to the ‘Buttons’ tab under ‘Devices’ in ‘Settings’. Finally, you can also make use of the ‘Dark Mode’ and even change the accent colour according to your liking.
Overall, we found Oxygen OS 2.0 (which runs atop Android 5.1.1) to be extremely light and snappy to work with. Nothing to complain about this time around.
Charge me up
We found that, on average, the OnePlus 2 with its 3300mAh battery (200mAh more than the OnePlus One) lasted an entire day as we constantly absorbed the office Wi-Fi, surfed aimlessly, watched trailers and played a few sessions of Asphalt 8 Airborne after lunch.
Upcoming Oxygen OS tweaks should improve the battery life even more. And before we forget: charging with the reversible USB Type-C slot is an absolute stress-free experience.
Baby got back
When most smartphones were notorious for being slippery, the sandstone-wrapped OnePlus One ensured users had a good grip on things. With the launch of the 2 you again get the Sandstone-finished back, but you can now also remove it and swap in a Bamboo, Apricot, Rosewood or (our favourite) Kevlar back cover. To do that, you access the tiny gap on the rear left and gently lift the cover off.
OnePlus 2 verdict
The OnePlus 2 manages to edge out the One in every area that matters. These include build quality and finish, camera image quality, processing prowess and OS.
It packs in way more features than its predecessor and manages to live up to the hype. We genuinely love the fact that the 13MP rear camera takes striking shots when you're outdoors and is a proper challenger to the iPhone 6 when it comes to low light photography. Support for dual-SIM slots will put a smile on a lot of users who own more than one phone number. Likewise, for the first time we actually enjoyed using fingerprint recognition on a device apart from the iPhone.
OnePlus has listened hard to its fans and users worldwide and come up with a smartphone that truly can change the game all over again. With spot-on pricing and performance to boot, OnePlus 2 is definitely the flagship killer for 2015, if not 2016. It's truly a job well done.