OnePlus are a company who claim not to like compromise. Indeed their slogan, “Never Settle”, certainly sums up the young Chinese company’s philosophy. The OnePlus One, which they released in 2013, certainly lived up to this mantra, offering flagship level hardware at a price point way below its competitors. It was what those in Silicon Valley might call “disruptive”.
Releasing their debut phone with very thin profit margins was a necessity for OnePlus, if only to establish themselves as a viable new manufacturer in an increasingly-crowded phone market. It certainly worked, even with their exclusive invite system meaning many people couldn’t actually get their hands on the phone – the Shenzheners are now firmly recognised as a major player in the smartphone world, even with their invite system still firmly in place.
More recently however, they seem to have deviated away slightly from their oft-boasted slogan. With expectations on the company shifting, and consumers demanding better hardware at a similar pricepoint to last year’s model, their slogan seems to have morphed into the more realistic “Sometimes Settle, Where Appropriate”.
Criticisms of this phone’s predecessor, the OnePlus One, included its slightly less-than-premium build quality. OnePlus have taken this criticism to heart, and have made significant steps to improve the hardware quality on the Two.
The phone incorporates a magnesium/aluminium frame with stainless steel accents, and has a metal band running around the edge of the frame which significantly improves the premium feel of the device. The buttons are also metal and have surprisingly satisfying clicky feedback. The phone has a headphone jack on the top, volume buttons above the power button on the right, and a special notifications toggle on the right. This toggle is interesting, in that it allows you to modulate how many notifications you get. It has three positions – All Notifications, Priority Notifications, and No Notifications. I’ll confess, as someone who gets anxious about missing important emails or emergency calls from family, I don’t tend to utilise the button frequently, opting instead for silent or vibrate mode when in lectures. It’s nice that they included it, but I can’t help but feel that a camera button would have been immensely more useful than a notifications toggle.
The back of the phone keeps the same rough black sandstone texture as last year’s OnePlus One, with the only difference being the grade of roughness (this year’s back being rougher to the touch). To me, it’s a significant improvement – the very fine nature of last year’s rough texture made the back feel every so slightly ‘fuzzy’ in the hand, and it was something I could never really get past. The back on the Two feels much more like pumice stone, and along with the metal band it makes the phone trivially easy to grip. The phone was never difficult to hold, unlike the Slip-N’-Slide that is the Galaxy S6 Edge. The back curves nicely in the hand, making the phone surprisingly ergonomic, whilst also increasing the space that OnePlus could fill with 3300 milliamp hours of battery. The battery easily sees me through the day, even with heavy usage, Bluetooth on to connect a Pebble smartwatch, and screen brightness on full.
The lone speaker is located on the bottom of the device (unfortunately not front facing) and is reasonably loud, if nothing extraordinary. It doesn’t hold a candle to HTC’s Boomsound speakers, and is not as good as the speakers included on either Sony’s Xperia Z3 or the new Nexus 6P.
Situated between the speakers is a USB-C port. Upon use, it’s quickly noticeable that this really is a format for the future. Transferring a 5GB 4K video file to my laptop was reasonably speedy, though the port does still transfer at USB 2.0 rates, just like the newer Nexus 6P.
The screen is a big improvement over last year’s One. The colour reproduction is good, with mostly accurate whites (if ever so slightly blue), the screen is bright and colours punchy, and despite not being an AMOLED screen, the LCD works wonderfully. 5.5inch, 401ppi, 600 nits
Spec whores may lament the lack of a 1440p screen, but I’d argue that you simply don’t need it – this 5.5” IPS LCD screen is beautiful and I challenge you to find a visible difference between its 1080p display and a 2K equivalent. I certainly couldn’t see a difference when comparing it with the 1440p Galaxy S6 Edge or Nexus 6P (AMOLED’s benefits in vibrancy and blacks aside).
Inside the body, you get a Snapdragon 810 with Adreno 430 GPU, and a large 4GB RAM. The phone comes with 2 SIM card slots. Whilst undoubtedly useful in certain situations, for the average user it would probably have been better to replace the second slot with a microSD slot like some other phone manufacturers do. The phone lacks NFC and fast charging – both losses are lamentable, yet not really deserving of the outrage expressed on the forums prior to launch. At 175g, the phone is weighty – the weight just adds a certain premium feel that quite a few other ‘top-end’ phones just don’t have; there’s something about the density of the device itself that makes it feel solid and reliable.
The fingerprint scanner is a point of contention – some OP2 users I know have had no problems at all with the fingerprint scanner and have compared it to the likes of the S6 reader or TouchID on the iPhone 6S. For me, however, the performance of the fingerprint scanner was spotty at best – often the reader itself would simply not register my fingers and I would have to try several times before eventually getting frustrated and just using the on-screen PIN code. When it did register however it would launch straight into the homescreen – albeit with slight lag. Initially I thought I was using it wrong and that my technique was at fault – however after 6 weeks of usage trialling various different methods to see what worked best and having the same issues with non-registering, I do wonder if it simply comes down to biological variations in people’s finger sizes.
In the 6 weeks I spent using it as my daily driver I developed something of a love/hate relationship with the camera. I initially found the 13MP back camera pretty uninspiring, yet I warmed to it over time. The phone performed relatively well in low-light conditions (probably due to the 1.3μm pixel size) yet not exceptionally. Certainly compared to the camera on the Galaxy S6 or G4 this is a step down, yet for a 2015 phone it’s perfectly acceptable. The f2.0 aperture produces decent shots, and the optical image stabilisation helps significantly. One aspect of the camera that stands out is the laser autofocus – the camera was always quick to focus, even if shutter speeds weren’t exceptional. The 5 megapixel front-facing camera was quite good, comparable to those of most other smartphones.‘Clear Image’ mode on OxygenOS’s native camera app made no discernible difference to photo quality, yet HDR made a modest improvement, if it did slightly increase shot times. The camera app was relatively fast to load from screen off, yet not nearly as fast as either the Galaxy S6, Nexus 6P or Xperia Z3. The dual LED flash was superb – not that it saw a whole lot of action in day-to-day camera usage. In functioning as a flashlight however, it worked far better than any other phone I’ve tested (Maglite really need to watch themselves). 4K video recording was very good, even with the internal storage being used up at an alarming rate (seriously, they need to reverse this trend of not including microSD slots).
It may seem like I’ve complained a lot about various aspects of this phone, and I have. Yet, despite all that, I really do like this device. At £289, the 64GB phone has a lot of the features of top flagships, certainly in terms of components, for about half the price. The build quality is premium, the camera is a solid offering, and the software provides a close-to-vanilla Android experience. For the money, I would definitely recommend it to anyone.
Image: Adam Shaw