The OnePlus team first released the ‘One’ on an unsuspecting public in April 2014, immediately billing it as a ‘Flagship Killer’. The combination of it’s very low price of entry, and outstandingly high specs exceeding those of some of the best phones on the market at the time made it very sought after, however there was only one problem – you could only obtain the device by invitation only.
This caused some ridiculous buzz and a frenzy on their forums the world over with people begging for invitations constantly and news spreading mainly by word of mouth. You could class what the OnePlus team have achieved as marketing genius, as they’ve not needed to do much promotion for their device, but just rely on the hype driven by fans and anticipation for the device by invitation. Since the supply of each device was met by the demand of invitation, you were guaranteed a device fresh off the line, and each would come with a production date showing you when it was ‘born’, kind of like a Budweiser.
With the unveiling of the OnePlus 2 this week, the OnePlus team are at it again, employing the same invitation strategy as before, and relying on hype to drive things. It appears to be working, as they have erected pop up events all around the world, with thousands flocking to each one just to catch a glimpse. Having seen and played with the 2 recently, and being an existing ‘One’ user myself, I no longer believe the hype, and initial impressions of the device left me feeling ‘meh’ instead.
Innovation – where is it?
Whereas the One offered something fresh, with class leading performance, and a custom version of Cyanogen putting all that power to good use, my initial use of the 2 felt like not much has really moved forward. The 2 is almost the same size and shape as the One, but does look and feel a bit more premium. As standard it still has a ‘sandstone’ back, which feels great, and is as grippy as the One. The phone is meant to be quite a bit powerful (Snapdragon 810 2.1 octa-core 1.8Ghz processor, 3GB/4GB RAM) but that comes with slight increase in price, now starting at (a still bargainous) £239 for the lower 16GB/3GB RAM model.
There are 4 other main differences cosmetically that set it apart from the One. These are a fingerprint reader that is integrated in the home button, but rather than a physical button, it is a capacitive panel instead, the USB-C connector on the bottom instead of the current ubiquitous MicroUSB standard which unfortunately doesn’t support the advanced aspects such as fast charging or fast transfer (yep, still only USB 2.0 functionality!), the hardware notifications slider on the side, which lets you set notifications in one of 3 positions, and lastly, the camera itself, which is not only lower down the device, but now supports laser autofocus with OIS; a staple feature on the flagship range of LG phones allowing speedier and steadier focus/shooting.
Since the OnePlus Team’s very public and acrimonious split with Cyanogen, this time around they have their own flavour of OS baked into the 2 by default called Oxygen OS. It is essentially near-stock Android, but with a few mods to take advantage of the extra hardware features forming part of the device. What stood out for me was that when you slide left on the device, you get a screen similar to HTC’s own Blinkfeed that shows the most recent Apps, Contacts, and Social networking messages grouped together. Other than that, the phone itself didn’t really feel substantially different to the original One, maybe even a step down compared to how well Cyanogenmod gelled with the One.
As you’ve seen above, there are some extra features in the device that should set it apart from the cream of the crop, and give you a reason to invest, after all, they are calling it ‘2016 Flagship Killer’ but the problem I’ve found is that it really doesn’t do anything exceptionally well or different over what can be obtained in cheaper, lesser devices, or even by it’s own older brother, the One. Considering the new and improved Moto X range is releasing this summer with many improvements and at a cost that will be close to the top range OnePlus 2, the OnePlus team will need to prove themselves better now than ever, especially since every included feature in the 2 is a ‘nice to have’ rather than one that would change the game.
The laser autofocus camera, and notifications slider let you do things a little quicker, but hardly affect the general experience compared to other devices with gesture capabilities, and still remains middle of the road. USB-C is more of an inconvenience right now, since the support for it in other devices isn’t there yet, nor is the benefit of faster use. Really, the fingerprint reader remains it’s best innovation, as it lets you secure and log into the device faster, however it is again just a convenience. They’ve largely lumped these features in without giving much thought to its use.
What might have really changed things is if these features were better augmented into the device, such as having NFC (strangely lacking!) which would make it more worthwhile once Android Pay is available. Having a better camera to make use of the laser autofocus instead of the same 13MP one as last year, would have elevated it into being a better shooter instead of a mediocre one. Making better use of USB-C for faster charging and transfer would have made this attractive instead of a hindrance from lack of adoption. The notification slider could have worked just as well as a software gesture (turning your phone over to mute?) or just have a straight mute button over a 3 stage slider, which is a little redundant. The OS itself needs some helpful innovations that can make it stand on its own against the likes of stock Android itself, and the excellent Cyanogenmod.
Who is this for?
In my humble opinion, this phone is definitely not for anyone that doesn’t care about being cutting edge, or those that see this as a straight upgrade to the OnePlus One, or previous generation (2014 midrange – flagship) phones. I see this as an incremental release, with overzealous hyping (Flagship Killer? Please…) that lacks any real innovation that would elevate it above some of the devices we can look forward to over this summer/winter period. It IS for tinkerers and developers, that could do with the power, 64GB storage and huge 4GB RAM from the more expensive £289 model (with non-expandable storage, the cheaper 16GB model is a bust). Another thing going for it is that regardless of how the device software is modified/changed, the warranty will remain intact, much like the original One. There are also a small number of people that may appreciate the fact that it has dual SIM capability, but won’t mean anything to the vast majority of people. Dual SIM implementation in Android is pretty cumbersome anyway. I didn’t get a chance to see this working on the 2, but doubt much would have changed with this. Did I mention that you can change the back cover of the phone? Nice, but whatever…
Aside from this, it’s other features are mostly superficial. Things that were overlooked include the screen (still 5.5″ at 1080p), any real improvement in camera quality (same spec as last year with focus and stability enhancements), battery which isn’t replaceable (and only 200mAh more than the One at 3300mAh), no NFC, no wireless charging, no ingress protection (so the device is still susceptible to water damage), no memory expansion via microSD, and Oxygen OS, which is where the real innovations should come from, but is more of a let down. Sure, it is a fine stock Android skin, but as previously mentioned, I can get the same general experience on much lesser devices. For a ‘Flagship Killer‘ it sure is missing a lot of good flagship features. Also, if the OnePlus team hope to compete against the raft of comparable handsets due out this summer from Motorola, LG, Samsung, Huawei and Google, then they need to get rid of those damn invitations, and make general sale much quicker.
In summary, or TL;DR, the OnePlus 2 is nothing special, and it not worth the upgrade over a One or any other 2014 midranger or flagship. It is far from a flagship killer, it shouldn’t be labelled as such, and will probably only benefit those that intend to replace the OS completely. For most people that could care less about specs these days, I’d go as far as class it as a solid feeling handset with a mediocre experience. If you are without a phone, then yes, at the price it is being offered for, it is a great deal for it’s top-end specs (and if you’re lucky enough to get an invitation this half of the year), however it isn’t good enough to replace any mid-high end device from last year. Seriously, don’t believe the hype, unless you enjoy disappointment.