The OnePlus One was one of the biggest smartphone bargains of 2014. With flagship specifications but an incredibly low price, it was unbelievably good value and showed up nearly every top-end, £500+ smartphone released that year.
The only problem was actually getting hold of one; OnePlus initially used an invite-only system, rather than partnering with mobile networks or online retailers. Invites were like gold-dust, too, as you either had to know someone who’d managed to get one (once you’d purchased one you’d also get a handful of invites for friends and family), or you had to participate in an invite contest to win one.
Unfortunately, the same applies to the OnePlus 2, so even if you have the £289 asking price it’s unlikely you’ll be able to buy one at launch – unless of course you know someone who already has one. This puts it firmly in the enthusiast-only circle, although an initial glance at the spec sheet might have you asking why. It still has a 5.5in, 1,920×1,080 resolution display, a rear 13-megapixel camera and either 16GB or 64GB storage options. So far, so OnePlus One.
Instead, the biggest upgrade comes in the shape of a 64-bit, octa-core, 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, giving the OnePlus 2 the same processing power as more expensive rivals like the HTC One M9. The 16GB version has 3GB of RAM, already a step up from the old handset, but the 64GB version has a huge 4GB, giving it the capacity for heavy multitasking without a stutter.
My review sample had the latter specification, and it just goes to show what an extra 1GB of RAM can do. In Geekbench 3’s multicore test, the OnePlus 2 scored a massive 4,744, which is streets ahead of other flagships with the same processor but only 3GB of RAM, including Sony’s Xperia Z3+, which only managed 3,987.
In fact, it’s second only to the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and S6 Edge+, as the ordinary Galaxy S6 only managed 4,501. The S6 closed the gap in Geekbench 3’s single core test, beating the OnePlus 2’s score of 1,210 with 1,427, but this is still highly impressive given the OnePlus 2 is almost half the price. Needless to say, the OnePlus 2’s Oxygen OS, which is based off Android 5.1, ran beautifully, with no signs of slowdown even when jumping in and out of apps at speed.
Unsurprisingly, the OnePlus 2 is a superb gaming device as well, as it managed to produce an impressive 1,396 frames in the offscreen GFX Bench GL Manhattan test, which equates to roughly 23fps. Again, only Samsung’s Galaxy S6 family has managed to best this so far, putting the OnePlus Two’s graphics capabilities miles ahead of any other smartphone in its price range.
The only area where the OnePlus 2 lets itself down is its web browsing performance, as it only managed a Peacekeeper score of 827, which is barely 100 points in front of the 3rd Gen Moto G. It showed in daily use, too, as scrolling up and down news articles with embedded videos on the Guardian, for instance, was often quite jerky. Performance improved slightly when browsing in Firefox, but both the Chrome and Dolphin browsers proved more troublesome. Still, it’s perfectly fast enough given its price, even if it is somewhat below average for this particular chipset.
One thing you needn’t worry about is battery life, as the 3,330mAh battery lasted a respectable 11h 13m in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to 170cd/m2. While not as impressive as the 13 hours I got from the Galaxy S6 andMoto X Play, it still beats the HTC One M9 and is just 45 minutes behind the LG G4, so its stamina levels are certainly competitive compared to this year’s other top handsets. There’s even a reversible USB Type-C port for charging, so you can finally bid farewell to fiddly Micro USB ports.
Of course, 5.5in handsets aren’t for everyone, but it’s actually one of the more compact big screen phones I’ve seen; being just a few millimetres taller than the LG G4, one of the smallest 5.5in handsets available. The curved back fits well in the hand, and its metal frame is easy to grip. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of the standard sandpaper-esque texture on the rear panel, but you can always switch it out for one of OnePlus’ £20 removable wooden swap covers if you prefer.
^ The fingerprint scanner is built straight into the home button and can open the phone in around a second from sleep mode
The handy volume slider button on the left side in addition to the standard volume rocker borrows heavily from Apple’s iPhone, letting you quickly switch between three sound profiles: alarms only, priority notification mode and all notifications. There’s also a fingerprint scanner built into the flush home button, which supports up to five fingerprints and takes little more than a second to unlock the phone straight from sleep mode. While not quite as quick as the Honor 7, it still worked very well when I tried it out for myself and is certainly as good as the scanner on the iPhone 6.
The OnePlus 2’s 5.5in, 1,920×1,080 screen picks up fingerprints more quickly than normal, which meant I was constantly having to clean it to keep it looking pristine. An sRGB colour gamut score of 89.6% is a little below average, even for a mid-range smartphone, with reds and magentas being the weakest coverage areas by far. This can mean colours aren’t quite as deep as other smartphone displays, and I could see the difference when I compared it side by side with the Moto X Play.
Admittedly, the OnePlus 2 has a much brighter screen than the Moto X Play, hitting a massive 599.41cd/m2 when set to maximum brightness, which takes away some of its vibrancy. Still, it does mean that whites are much cleaner – the Moto X Play’s look positively blue by comparison – and the screen’s black levels are surprisingly low for such a bright phone, measuring just 0.29cd/m2. Likewise, its high contrast ratio of 2,039:1 provides plenty of detail and illuminates dark shadow areas much more effectively than the Moto X Play.
The 13-megapixel sensor on the back may not sound particularly large, considering even budget smartphones are now starting to use 13-megapixel snappers, but the OnePlus 2 definitely has one of the better cameras I’ve seen at this resolution. Colours were rich and vibrant in my outdoor shots and there was plenty of detail present across the frame. Even better, I barely saw any signs of noise, keeping photos looking crisp and natural throughout. There aren’t many modes available, but HDR did help capture details in darker areas as you’d expect.
^ With its bright, vibrant colours and crisp detail, the OnePlus Two’s 13-megapixel camera is one of the best I’ve seen
Indoor performance was even more impressive, as colours still had plenty of punch, even in low lighting conditions and noise was once again kept to a minimum. There was plenty of contrast available, too, and it coped extremely well with the plant stems in our still life arrangement. Smartphone cameras often struggle in this area, but the OnePlus 2 managed to capture each one with only a minimal number of artefacts around the edges. The fur of our teddy bear was admittedly a little smudged in places, but turning on the flash soon helped to rectify this.
^ Indoor performance was particularly impressive, as colours were rich and noise was kept to a minimum
OnePlus has also just announced that it will be rolling out a new software update (Oxygen OS 2.1.0) starting from 21st September which includes a new manual camera mode. I’ll be testing this out as soon as it becomes available on my handset, but OnePlus has said that it will introduce RAW support for third party camera apps, which will be good news for anyone who likes to tweak their pictures in photo-editing software on their PC or laptop.
Ultimately, though, a large part of the OnePlus 2’s appeal rests on its choice of its Oxygen OS rather than standard Android. It still looks a lot like vanilla Android, but it adds several handy features, such as customisable navigation buttons, gesture controls (including double tap to wake), a dark colour scheme that’s slightly easier on your eyes, and the ability to have full control over your app permissions (something that it getting a big overhaul in Android 6.0 Marshmallow as well).
This is particularly useful for those who like to keep their data private, as it means you can disable individual apps from accessing certain pieces of information rather than simply having to agree to everything in order to use it. For instance, if you don’t want Dropbox accessing your Contacts, you can disable it in the App Permissions menu and still have full use of the service.
The Oxygen OS 2.1.0 software update mentioned above will also include a new colour balance slider in the Display options for adjusting the colour tone of your screen, allowing you to switch instantly between warm and cool colour casts, as well as telephony service improvements so there’s no longer any lag when turning Airplane mode on and off.
With so much going for it at such a great price, there’s no denying that the OnePlus 2 is a fantastic handset that’s great value for money. It’s just a shame that you can’t actually buy one through normal channels, as that’s the only thing holding me back from giving it a Best Buy award. If you manage to get an invite, then you should definitely take advantage of it, but for everyone else, the Motorola Moto X Play is the next best handset in this price range and a very worthy alternative. TheMoto X Play may not be as fast, but it does have a better screen and superior battery life.