Sep 27 2015

Review: OnePlus Two

OnePlus Two

Early in 2014 a new startup smartphone manufacturer OnePlus created quite a unique buzz among the technology sector when they announced their first product, a super powerful high-end smartphone that would cost half or even ⅓ of the mainstream flagships (Samsungs, HTCs and Apples). It received immediately its famous nickname “The Flagship Killer” and the moniker was was later mimicked by many others. The One turned out to be quite a success both in sales figures and in reviews and now it is my pleasure to lay my hands on its successor, OnePlus Two.

What is OnePlus?

One Plus Never Settle

OnePlus was founded in China in December 2013. Pete Lau, who was previously the Vice President of OPPO, became OnePlus CEO. It was later discovered that OnePlus is owned by the same company that is behind OPPO mobiles phones, OPPO Electronic1. Right from the beginning OnPlus had some pretty interesting and revolutionary marketing tactics. Lao explained it2:

Rather than put money towards a large marketing budget, we are focusing on online marketing and community interaction. Rather than working with retail partners, we rely on selling the device online.

Online sales had been used before by Xiaomi to cut down the costs but OnePlus had an ambitious vision: they would make their device available around the world.

For the Android version they chose to go with CyanogenMod. OnePlus One was one of the first phones to ship with pre-installed CyanogenMod. Normally it requires some effort and technical knowledge to install CyanogenMod to Android phones. This decision was warmly welcomed by the community and it created even more anticipation for the upcoming release. However the OnePlus Ones that are sold in China have OPPO’s Android version ColorOS installed instead. After Indian manufacturer Micromax made an exclusive deal with Cyanogen, OnePlus was forced to develop its own ROM, . OnePlus is also developing its own ROM3.

Not all OnePlus marketing techniques were widely accepted. They had some controversial campaigns, such as “Smash the Past” where applicants were suppose to smash their old smartphone (the more creatively the better), video record it and post it on Youtube in exchange for a brand new OnePlus One. Only that the applicable phones were pretty new and many criticized why the perfectly capable smart phones should be smashed instead of donating them to charity? Another controversial campaign was the “Ladies First” where female fans were asked to post selfies of themselves and 50 most liked would win a free One4.

As the hype and anticipation grew up, OnePlus made one crucial decision: The One would be available only via invitation in the beginning. This decision drove the fans insane. The One would not be freely available for anyone to purchase but you would need an invitation to buy one. This scarcity soon created a black market where the few lucky ones who could have purchased the One, would sell their device with a formidable profit. Also the invitations themselves where sold in various forums. OnePlus organized different competitions where you could win an invitation and if you were active in the OnePlus forums, you could end up with an invitation in your mailbox. The invitation system was created to deal with the uncertainty of the demand. OnePlus did not want to end up manufacturing a lot of phones that would not be sold. This was of course an unnecessary concern. There was a huge demand right from the beginning.

OnePlus decided to use the same invitation model with the Two and it is believed to become freely available after they have been able to ramp up the production.

Specs

Priced at $389/399 € (fall 2015):

  • 5.5″ 1920×1080 display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 64-bit Octa-Core 1.8 GHz
  • 4 GB RAM + 64 GB eMMC
  • Adreno 430 GPU
  • Dual nano-SIM
  • 4G LTE, 3G WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100 MHz
  • 13 MP back camera (f/2.0 aperture) with O.I.S. + 5 MP front camera
  • Finger print scanner
  • 3300 mAh battery (non-removable)
  • Dimensions: 151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85 mm
  • Weight: 175 g

Unboxing

The phone comes in a beautiful red carton box. In the box you will find a red USB Type-C cable, a charger and a quick guide. The USB Type-C cable has a really unique other end as it too can be connected both ways.

Chassis

The Two is beautifully crafted and every detail gives an exquisite look and feeling. I personally enjoy the matte metal band that runs around the phone. Like its predecessor, the Two also has a sandstone back that gives really nice grip.

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The top side has a standard 3.5 mm audio plug. The left side has a nice three-way notification rocker that has three positions: the bottom is “normal” alerts (ringtones, message alerts, alarms all audible), the middle is priority alerts only + alarms and the top position is alarms only (silent mode). The bottom side has beautiful machine drilled stereo speaker grills and the USB Type-C port. The right side has power + volume rocker.

The back side has dual tone LED flash, camera, laser focus emitter and the OnePlus logo.

Is is possible to use either capacitive buttons below the screen or Nexus-style onscreen navigation.

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It is necessary to remove the back cover to insert a nano-SIM or two. Unlike in the One, there is no NFC chip in the Two. Notice that the battery is non-removable.

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I always measure the devices that I test. Based on my measurements the real dimensions are exactly like the official specs. Also the weight is 175 g like it should be. Exceptional!

Notification LED

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The notification LED is a true multicolor LED with thousands of colors. The UI shows only a few options but for example Whatsapp notifies messages with a light that changes through many different colors.

Display

In my opinion the 5.5″ 1920×1080 display is the perfect choice, providing crisp sharpness and power efficiency. Also 5.5″ is large enough to enjoy photos and videos and yet small enough to operate with one hand (at least after you practice). Also, the panel provides excellent viewing angles and vivid colors.

Fingerprint Scanner

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The fingerprint scanner is excellent! It is super fast and if you initialize it properly feeding fingerprints from different angles, it is very accurate and performs very well. It even works if the display is turned off so you don’t need to wake up the phone before scanning your fingerprint like in iPhone 6. Also, it is conveniently placed under the display and not behind the phone like some other Chinese phones. Please note that it is a capacitive button and not a real physical button that you can press.

It takes about 0.7 s to scan the fingerprint, analyze and verify it and unlock the phone, that is crazy fast!

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Setting up is really intuitive. You can give it up to five fingers and if you place the fingers on the reader in many different angles, it increases the accuracy.

Android OS & Apps

Since OnePlus had to give up Cyanogen because of the Micromax deal, they have developed their own Android ROM, Oxygen. It is still a work in progress but in my opinion it is already very good.

Unlike in many other Chinese phones, the OnePlus Two does not have any unnecessary China-only apps, such as Weibo, Baidu and Youku. So there is no need to uninstall/disable bunch of apps after unboxing.

At the time of testing Oxygen version was 2.0.2 (it was OTA updated 2.0.1 → 2.0.2 while I had the device) and Android version was 5.1.1.

Storage (Internal/Extendable)

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64 GB eMMC has useable area of 54 GB of which ca. 48 GB is free. OnePlus Two does not have a memory card slot so the memory is not extendable.

RAM Usage

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Oxygen OS seems to handle memory consumption very well. Of the 3 GB RAM available only about 1 GB is used and 2 GB is free. This of course varies if you run several memory-hog apps but in general Oxygen does a great job!

Languages/Locale

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Oxygen OS supports many languages as can be seen in the screenshots.

Unobtrusive Call Recording

Unlike many other Chinese ROMs, Oxygen OS does not support call recording, obtrusive or unobtrusive.

Recognizing Caller Identity (With & Without Country Prefix)

In the past I have had problems with Chinese ROMs, the majority of them not being able to recognize the caller identity if the phone number is saved in contacts with or without country prefix. The fix is to edit all contacts and to save all number with or without country prefix, depending on the carrier. This can be quite burdensome. Oxygen OS however recognizes both variations and always shows the caller identity if it is saved in contacts. Great job OnePlus!

Benchmarks

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The OnePlus One was superior in benchmarks when it came out, but the Two is not quite so. It is still a beast but Samsung Galaxy S6 beats it in almost all tests. Does this show in anywhere when using the phone? Not at all! The Two feels super fast and it is absolutely a joy to use.

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Charging

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OnePlus Two is one of the first phones to have USB Type-C plug that can be plugged in both ways (the connector is symmetrical). Unlike OnePlus marketing team likes to tell, OnePlus Two is not the first phone to have it as LeTV phones have it and became available in early summer of 2015. Anyway the provided red and flat USB cable is beautiful and a piece of art itself. The other end (USB Type A) is also unique as it too can be connected both ways! What a welcome innovation!

It takes 15 min to go 0% → 30%, 45 min for 0% → 50%. Full charge 0% → 100% takes about 90 minutes. In the Oxygen version I used (2.0.2) there was a bug that the battery percentage was not always updated while charging and sometimes the remaining time was not true (“6 min until full charge” when in fact it was about an hour left).

Battery Life

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The 3,300 mAh battery seems to be a perfect choice as it provides enough juice for the whole day and on the other hand it fits inside a slim chassis. During my two-week test drive I took the phone from charger at 07 am in the morning and the battery level was 30%–40% at 10 pm. And I use a lot of different apps, I listen to music, stream videos and talk on the phone. However I do not play any games so a heavy gamer could run out of juice during the day.

Heating

Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 has been infamous for heating in intensive use. It is true that OnePlus Two also heats in use but the metal strip radiates heat efficiently keeping the phone itself not too hot. Like almost all phones, the Two also heats from the top (where the processor is located). However the phone did not get uncomfortably hot in my test use and the battery lasted well.

Proximity Sensor

I occasionally had some problems with the proximity sensor when making phone calls. The phone did not turn the display off when I placed it on my cheek so I accidentally opened up some apps. But the problem was seldom and I believe it can be fixed in future updates to Oxygen.

Audio & Speaker

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Unfortunately the stereo speakers are not really stereo speakers as the right machine drilled speaker grill is the only one actually output any sound so the left one is a mere design gimmick. Also, the sound output is no more than an average without any bass frequencies, as one would guess. But the true gem is the 3.5 mm audio output!

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OnePlus Two has MaxxAudio software that when combined with high quality D/A audio chip provides absolutely the most amazing audio experience that I have ever heard! It literally blew my mind when I plugged in my Xiaomi headphones, enabled MaxxAudio and tuned the sound to my liking using the intuitive GUI with sliders.

Music Player

The provided music player is Google’s Play Music.

FM Radio

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Unfortunately OnePlus Two does not have an FM radio tuner so you have to stream your radio stations from the Internet which also means that it consumes more power compared to a true FM tuner.

Camera

OnePlus One had a good camera but left me somewhat disappointed. It did not have O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) and had quite a lot of noise in dark scenes. After about a year of development and the addition of O.I.S., my expectations were quite high regarding the Two’s shooting capabilities. And I can tell you OnePlus did not disappoint me this this time!

The full frame (4:3) photos are captured in 4160×3120 resolution, yielding approximately 13 million pixels. If you select 16:9 from the options, photos will be captured in 3840×2160 resolution yielding 8.3 million pixels as the photo is cropped in the middle.

Camera Settings

Oxygen camera software is quite basic offering just a few of the most relevant options, such as HDR, panorama, self-timer and time-lapse. But if it lacks in the number of options it excels in quality as the implemented features work really well!

Normal Shots

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The camera captures every detail and the photos are super sharp! Also, the colors are natural and accurate.

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Macro Mode

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Like all modern smartphone cameras, also this camera produces awesome macro shots with razor-sharp focus and a nice and soft bokeh.

HDR Mode

The High Dynamic Range can help when the lighting is challenging, there are bright and dark areas and if you adjust the shutter speed to the other, then the other will be over/under exposed. The HDR mode takes several photos (usually 2-3) with different shutter speeds and then combines the optimally exposured areas from each photos into one result photo. I love HDR and I use it personally really often. What it also usually does is that it saturates colors giving the photos more vivid and richer colors. Not all photographers like the color saturation but it is a matter of personal preference.

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Oxygen HDR mode produces rather aggressive color saturation as you may see in the photos.

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Panorama Mode

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Panorama mode is fast and accurate, it stitches photos together nicely.

Low-Light Conditions

I dare to say that all modern smart phone cameras take good pictures when there is enough light, for example in bright daylight or sunshine. The true quality of the optics is revealed when there is little light available.

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This is where OnePlus Two really shines. I have been shooting with it in really dark conditions and it can still capture amazing details with as little noise as possible. For example, I did not use flash when taking the photo above.

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The dual-tone flash provides good light as you see below. It was literally pitch black and I barely saw anything with naked eye.

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Secondary Camera

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The secondary or “selfie” camera on X has the resolution of 2592×1944 yielding 5 million pixels. It is more than enough for regular Instagram selfies and the optics seem to be just fine for self portraits.

Video

The quality of both primary and secondary camera is good but as you can tell from the video above, it pixelates in fast moving and high detail scenes but that is common in every compressed videos. My only complain is the high-speed recording as there seems to be something wrong because it clearly drops frames and does not produce smooth slow motion. I believe this could be fixed in future Oxygen versions though. Otherwise I am very satisfied with the overall video quality.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Sturdy chassis
  • Premium quality
  • Great display
  • USB Type-C
  • Great camera with O.I.S.
  • Awesome audio output (from 3.5 mm jack)
  • Dual nano-SIM
  • Still affordable
  • Super fast fingerprint scanner
  • Physical three-way silent button
  • Oxygen OS with frequent updates

Cons:

  • Occasionally insensitive proximity sensor

Where to Buy?

Unfortunately at the time of writing (September 2015) the OnePlus Two can be bought with the invitation only. However it is believed to become freely available after they have been able to ramp up the production.

Summary

With premium quality chassis, beautiful design, a great camera, an awesome 3.5 mm audio output, a super fast fingerprint scanner and good battery life, it is pretty difficult to find any flaws of the OnePlus Two. OnePlus has really done a remarkable job adding key features and improvements compared to the already good One. Is it worth the higher price tag though? In my opinion it is worth every cent.

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