Brandon Mendoza’s OnePlus 2 Review

Introduction:

OnePlus released their 2015 flagship in the form of the OnePlus 2, the OnePlus One’s successor and older brother. While 2014 saw the android smartphone at a more typical position, 2015 was a year saturated with higher end phones with lower end prices. Last year, OnePlus held the crown for being one of the only companies to internationally launch a high-end phone at a lower end price. This year, things were drastically different as we saw the launch of many devices directly competing at the same level and aiming for the same market that OnePlus held. We saw the Moto X Style/Pure, Asus Zenfone 2 and the Alcatel Idol 3, along with other smartphones, all phones with great specs and prices at half or a third of other major flagships. With that in mind, OnePlus has some serious competition, they are no longer the only OEM at the “affordable flagship” level, so how does the OnePlus 2 hold up after two weeks of usage as my daily driver? Let’s find out.

Hardware/Build Quality:

Before we get into the other aspects of hardware, I want to mention that the OnePlus 2 does not offer NFC functionality, including but not limited to Android Pay. There is no hardware support and there will never be, if NFC and NFC payments are essential to you, this is not the phone for you. It is a decision I don’t comprehend, it is a simple, but very useful technology and I can’t fathom why OnePlus decided to leave this out. With Android Pay out now in the US, it’s absurd that the OnePlus 2 has no NFC. While I am not an active user of NFC and not something that impacts me greatly, I wish OnePlus would have included it. With that in mind, we can move on to the other hardware aspects of The 2.

As I mentioned in my first impressions article, the very first thing that stood out to me when picking up the OP2 for the first time was its heft. The 2 is not by any means heavy (only a couple grams heavier than its younger brother), but the weight distribution of The 2 is something that I can only describe as dispersed evenly. Furthermore, we add The 2’s aluminum frame and sandstone back, which provides a nice texture for a good grip, and overall we have a very solid and premium feeling device. After using The 2, holding The One with a bamboo, StyleSwap felt like I was holding a plastic toy. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but the phone feels very premium and solid in the hands, something that becomes apparent whenever the device is picked up.

The volume rocker, power button, and alert slider are all in very ergonomic positions. Even with what I consider to be smaller hands, I am able to easily reach all of them comfortably in one handed use. The volume rocker and power button have a smooth finish that matches that of the aluminum frame and are easy to press with a good click and feedback. On the other hand, the alert slider has a really nice grippy textured finish that makes moving between the three positions easy and noticeable. It’s a little counter-intuitive to have the bottom as “all” and the top to be “none” and something I wish I could change in order to reverse the order but nonetheless the alert slider is easily identifiable.

The 2’s display is a 5.5” 1080p screen that provides great viewing angles and decent viewing in direct sunlight. The screen gets much brighter than the display found in The One meanwhile, the dimness level is at around the same. The 2’s display has warmer colors with more natural color reproduction. There is a nice amount of contrast and saturation that all combine to make a great and enjoyable display. Gaming, media consumption, browsing and everyday use are enjoyable on The 2’s screen.

Overall, the phone is built great and feels premium and solid in the hands. It is a very enjoyable experience, while not a QHD display, it proves to be a great display. As for how it holds up in terms of endurance, I can say I have accidentally dropped the phone twice, once on concrete from chest level and the other from waist level on a hard tile floor. Both times there was no visible damage to the phone besides a small scuff like mark on the sandstone that was easy to wipe away. However, it is important to mention that both times where there was damage was the screen. I have gone through two Tempered Glass Protectors due to both falls causing damage. While the rest of the phone was intact. I highly recommend that you buy a tempered glass protector for not only this phone but any phone as they can save you from paying hundreds of dollars in repairs.

Software/Performance:

In my first impressions, I mentioned I liked Oxygen OS 2.0 and that it was much improved than its first iteration for the OnePlus One. That still holds true. While Oxygen OS holds up in day to day use, it is far from perfect and there are certain things that I have found with Oxygen OS 2.0 that need improvement. This does not mean Oxygen OS 2.0 is bad, it gets the job done pretty well.

Let’s start with the good, Oxygen OS offers a very clean and near stock android experience. There is no bloatware besides Google’s required apps additionally, Oxygen OS comes with the OnePlus Launcher, a modified version of the Google Now Launcher that includes Shelf to replace Google Now on the most left screen. Other changes to Oxygen OS, include App Permissions (like those that will be found in Android Marshmallow), Dark Mode (turns parts of the UI dark with an accent of a chosen color), “SIM Cards” (to control the usage of the Dual SIMs), Gestures (Double Tap to Wake, Circle to open Camera, V for flashlight, and media controls), and finally a fingerprint sub menu to delete and rename fingerprints stored and used for the fingerprint scanner. All of these are great additions on top of Android and something that make the experience better. However, I would still like to see more features and customization added in future updates of Oxygen OS.

For day to day performance, Oxygen OS is very smooth and responsive. Navigating menus, switching apps, opening the app drawer, jumping from app to app, using social media, browsing the web and all daily tasks are a breeze and are done quickly and effectively by Oxygen OS. Overall, Oxygen OS does a good job in daily tasks and works 99% of the time. There have been a few cases where Oxygen OS just hang on me and wouldn’t respond until after a few seconds, more on that in the Oddities section of the review. Likewise, there were a couple of random instances where a couple of apps crashed on me, not something that happened frequently but nonetheless did exist. While Oxygen OS does an overall good job, there is still room for a lot of improvement and still far behind from the One’s Cyanogen OS 12 in terms of features and customization.

“The Messy Kernel Theory”

I originally had written a couple of paragraphs regarding a few observations I made under the assumption that they were related to kernel. To summarize the theory, I had a couple of scenarios where I observed benchmarks among other apps and saw patterns that seemed odd. Part of this included seeing inconsistent benchmark results and some misinformation from CPU-Z. I made that theory based on what I observed while I am no kernel expert nor did I claim to be one I came to that conclusion. However, that theory proved to be incorrect and I was provided a very nice and detailed explanation by the developer Sultan from XDA.

“This theory seems to be backwards, and your benchmarks may have been conducted incorrectly. OnePlus’ kernels are the most “traditional” kernels I have seen out of any Snapdragon device. For reasons unknown, OnePlus’ software engineers religiously follow Qualcomm’s reference implementations for basically every low-level software component, including the kernel. The OP2’s kernel is, overall, very very very close to Qualcomm’s reference kernels, and is thereby the most traditional kernel of them all. By Qualcomm’s reference kernels (more commonly known to people here as “CAF”), I mean the kernel source code that Qualcomm provides to phone manufacturers to use as a base for developing kernels for specifically their devices. Qualcomm makes the original kernel for Snapdragon devices, and then manufacturers tailor it to their devices’ needs.

On a large scale, OnePlus made very few modifications to the reference kernel source code from Qualcomm, so it is the most traditional kernel you’ll find from a phone manufacturer. However, the OP2’s kernel can be considered “messy” and “inconsistent” in some cases during day-to-day usage because OnePlus does not tweak their kernels a lot, and this is where OnePlus’ being too traditional goes a bit sour. Most, if not all, performance-related settings have not been significantly tweaked, and many advanced software features that can provide a virtually free increase in battery life have not been enabled (see my post here for more details on this: https://www.reddit.com/r/oneplus/comments/3it366/wait_no_more_mkbhd_made_the_review_video_like_5/cujhjtf).

Moving from general performance on to benchmarks: in order to produce accurate and consistent benchmark scores, you should be disabling CPU hotplugging (mpdecision), enabling all CPU cores, changing the CPU governor for all CPU cores to “performance”, (somehow) forcing only the A57 CPU cores to be used, and disabling the thermal control daemon. The default performance settings used on the OP2 are targeted toward normal usage (not full-power benchmarks), so your benchmark scores will always be inconsistent if you use the default performance settings (as the CPU frequency is always changing, CPU cores are always turning on/off, etc.).

Also, the information you saw regarding the display size (i.e. 10″ reported and 5.7″ reported) is not relevant to the kernel. The display-controller drivers (MDSS; Mobile Display SubSystem) in the kernel do not pay attention to the physical screen size at all; they instead pay attention to the specified resolution of the display. The kernel doesn’t even know what the physical size of the display is, so CPU-Z couldn’t have parsed the display’s physical size from somewhere in the kernel. CPU-Z actually fetches this information from the internet, from some device database they have stored somewhere, so what you saw was likely a mistake in CPU-Z’s database. (CPU-Z may also try calculating this stuff on its own when there is no internet connection, but its calculations are just guesstimates and can’t be considered totally accurate either).

Tl;dr The OP2’s kernel is so traditional that it feels messy, when in actuality it is very clean.”

Camera:

The camera is something that has become an important part of a smartphone and having a great camera is what a lot of people look for. I can safely say that the OnePlus 2 has a great camera that performs great in most shots and good in low light shots. While I will argue that the S6 and G4 still hold the crown for the best cameras in the market this year, I would say that The 2 gets pretty close and is more than capable of taking great shots.

First and foremost, The 2 brings with it a new camera app that is based and very similar to Google’s camera. The UI is very simplistic and looks as if Google Camera and iOS’s camera had a child. To switch between the different modes, you slide from the left to bring up the menu. You can tap to focus on areas and take pictures while recording. One thing that stood out to me is how much better the panorama mode is on the OP2 than the OPO’s. Time lapse works pretty well, meanwhile photo and recording will be covered up next.

The 2 adds Laser Autofocus and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). The Laser Autofocus works great when taking shots and does a great job of auto adjusting, however if you choose to focus on a specific area you can easily do so with a tap and The 2’s camera will quickly and accurately adjust. I have a set of images where I had three points of focus of the same shot and you can see how well the laser AF handled that. Similarly, the OIS allowed shots to be kept still allowing for better image quality. Even when walking or taking pictures of moving objects the camera did a really great job of handling those tasks and producing great pictures. On the flipside, low light shots were pretty good. Not the best I’ve seen, but certainly above average. In my shots, there was not a lot of digital noise and the camera did a pretty good job of keeping detail and not over exposing.

While the OnePlus 2 is capable of taking great shots, we move on to the video recording of The 2 which ends up being a slightly different story. First and foremost, as is shown in my OPO vs OP2 Stabilization Comparison Video, there is most certainly OIS. The hardware is there and it is apparent. As to why some apps are showing “image stabilization” as false, is attributed to the fact the OP2 lacks EIS (electronic image stabilization. The OIS works pretty well and there is no issue there, but it’s possible and I would like to see OnePlus also add EIS as well to make the video recording smoother. The videos I have taken have a nice amount of detail and end up having a good quality. Where an issue arises is with the cameras auto focusing. While the majority of the time, it does a great job of keeping the frame focused and quickly adjusting when needed there are plenty of times where it struggles to adjust. Most of the time it would take a little longer, but it would eventually focus correctly. It didn’t take an absurdly long time, but it is notable when it takes a longer to focus. Other than that, the videos look pretty good, if OnePlus were to add EIS as well, I think the recording quality would increase.

I’m not by any means a camera person, I am a point and shoot guy. With that said the OnePlus 2’s camera supports manual controls, not through the native camera app yet, but OnePlus is said to bring those in an OTA update sometime this month, however, third party apps like Manual Camera can be used to take advantage of the manual controls. I only messed around with it a little, but those options are there. With that said, as a point and shoot type of person I am very pleased with the performance of the OnePlus 2 camera, while I am sure that the Galaxy S6 and LG G4 still have better cameras, particularly in low light, the OnePlus 2’s camera is very solid and produces great quality pictures and videos.

Some Picture Samples:





With HDR

Focus on Wrapper

Focus on Bottle

Focus on Background

Raw Files and More Picture Samples Can be Found Here:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/7fpvpyzbsdx7n72/AAAtvLe9gc3jQYFqOCm_xvMua?dl=0

Battery Life:

Battery Life is something that I found was hard to measure because my daily usage varied drastically each day. Although, through my usage I would say that overall the battery was at about the same level as the OnePlus One’s. With medium usage, I was able to get through the day and with heavy usage I was able to get through most of the day with the SoT floating around 4-4.5 hours. While I did say that with heavy usage the OP2 lasted me most of the day, before you freak out, keep in mind that the OPO lasted me most of the day with heavy usage, at around the same amount as The 2’s. I am sure for most people and most users the phone will last the whole day and charging during the day won’t be a necessity.

As for the amount of time it takes to charge, during a couple of timed tests, the OnePlus 2 took just under 2 hours and 20 minutes to charge from 0% to a 100%. Not the fastest charging in a phone especially given the widespread usage of quick charging in other phones. However, most people will be able to get through the day without the need through charge, and simply leave it plugged in overnight. Battery life is something I would like to see improved for Oxygen OS and I am sure will improve with future updates but as a start, The 2 has pretty good battery life.

Oddities/Misc:

I’ve created this section of the review to briefly hit upon some smaller and miscellaneous things that I noticed through my review period. This includes good and bad things as well as just random things I observed. One of the first things I noticed regards the native camera app. The 2 supports 120fps slow motion at 720p. There is this really odd thing that occurs when you switch to the slow motion mode in the camera. The viewfinder zooms in as compared to other modes. I thought it was my imagination, but that is not the case, even when it actually records, it’s zoomed in and cropped by default. I’m not sure if this is on purpose or not but I did also record using CameraNext Mod(a modified version of the Camera app found in the OnePlus One) and when I recorded slow motion there, neither the viewfinder nor the actual video were zoomed where the native camera ones were zoomed in.

Stock Camera SlowMo

CameraNext Mod SlowMo

Another random occurrence relates to the rare occurrences where Oxygen OS would hang on me. Meaning that just at a random time, the software would just freeze for a few seconds and not respond until a few seconds. Something similar occurs when toggling airplane mode. Oxygen freezes for a few seconds. This is not by any means something that happened frequently, but I did see it happen a couple of times.

Additionally, something that I noticed very recently is that the stock messaging app (Google’s messenger) has some issues with MMS’s not sending or being received. I did some testing and this is neither an issue with the phone nor my carrier but rather with the app itself. Plenty of times it would say that MMS’s didn’t send, but sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. I’m not sure if this has to be fixed by Google’s side or by OnePlus side, but that MMS bug exists. I would guess it’s on Google’s side as it also affects hangouts. Using Textra I haven’t had MMS issues but that’s something to be noted nonetheless.

A few other small things that I noticed include the fact that there is a slight delay between pressing the home button and the OS reacting. It’s very reminiscent of exactly the same scenario that occurred in The One, last year. It does not hinder performance, but the slight delay is there. As mentioned in my first impressions, the OP2’s screen has warmer colors than that found in the OPO’s, not a bad thing at all, but I would still prefer to have a built-in screen calibration tool into Oxygen OS similar to the one found in Cyanogen OS 12. With that said my device does not have the grounding issues that some are experiencing.

Overall Impressions:

Before buying the OnePlus 2, I was very skeptical about how it would continue the legacy of its younger brother, the OnePlus One. I was unsure if I was going to keep the device as my daily driver. I can safely say I was pleasantly surprised and my expectations were surpassed. I was originally one of the people to believe that a fingerprint scanner was a gimmick and I never saw myself using it. Now I use it every single time I unlock the phone. I actually can’t go back to a phone without a fingerprint scanner, it has become something that I look for in a smartphone. It’s one of the reasons I decided against the Moto X Style/Pure. The convenience offered by the fingerprint scanner is just unbeatable. In my usage, it has proven to be quick and accurate with the once in a while miss. Similarly, the alert slider was something I didn’t see myself using frequently as said that in my first impressions article. However, that has drastically changed, much like the fingerprint scanner, I end up using the alert slider frequently, it’s very convenient to go to class and with a couple of presses mute my phone. It makes me question why other Android Manufacturers haven’t added something similar.

I don’t take pictures that frequently, I’m simply a point and shoot kind of person. I am very pleased with the results that the OnePlus 2’s Camera has created. It does a great job and OIS and Laser AF make a difference. I’ve already praised the build quality of The 2 enough and that’s something I will continue to do so. It feels premium and solid in the hands, I would go as far as saying it feels like one of the best flagships out there, and yes I have held an S6 and G4 before, and they feel pretty good, but the OnePlus 2 just manages to have a really solid feel in the hands. Oxygen OS does a good job as a stock ROM, It’s definitely cleaner than most stock ROMs out there. It has a couple of odd things that need to be fixed but nothing that makes the phone unusable or unstable. As a fan of the stock android feel, I really appreciate what Oxygen OS is doing.

The OnePlus 2 has a lot going for it. Most people can live and don’t mind the lack of wireless charging, quick charging or a QHD display, those things have arguable drawbacks as well advantages. The lack of NFC is where the hit really comes in. The OnePlus 2 claims to be a “2016 Flagship Killer” and without NFC that’s impossible. You can argue that NFC payments have not taken off yet and that’s partially true, but I can see this pushing a lot of people away. Which is quite disappointing, because The 2 is a really great device. Now don’t get me wrong regardless of these features the OnePlus 2 is a great phone at a really good price making it a great bang for the buck phone. It is a flagship with high-end specs, a premium build, a great camera, and plenty of other features that make it an overall great phone.

Is it a 2016 Flagship Killer? No, I don’t think so. I don’t believe there is such thing as a future proof phone. I am sure that the OnePlus 2 will age pretty well much like its younger brother, but it is not a 2016 flagship killer. Is it a 2015 flagship killer? In some respects yes. It goes toe to toe with the highest end smartphones this year. It’s a flagship killer in the sense that you’re getting a high-end phone at a mid-range price, it might not have the best camera, or the best display, or the quickest charging, but as a whole package it has a lot to offer, a lot to like. I don’t regret buying the OnePlus 2 and I think it’s an overall great phone, besides to really obscure invite process, I would recommend The 2 to anyone looking for a high end phone that provides an overall great package and doesn’t mind the loss of NFC, and happens to be at half the price than most flagships out there.

My favorite thing to test on the OP2, oh… nevermind… awkward.

TL;DR

The OnePlus 2 is a great phone, with a solid and premium build, solid battery life, a great camera, a clean OS and a few other features on top. It lacks NFC, Wireless Charging, Quick Charging and a QHD display, but regardless the OnePlus 2 continues to be an overall great smartphone package at half the cost of most flagship phones. If you can live without NFC and don’t mind jumping through a couple of hoops to get an invite, you can’t go wrong with the OnePlus 2.

OnePlus 2 Pictures