The hotly anticipated OnePlus 2 phone is just the second release from OnePlus, a small Chinese phone maker that came out of nowhere to sell more than a million of its flagship OnePlus One (launched in April 2014) without even advertising. The new device looks to be an even bigger hit, and deservedly so.

Why? Like its predecessor, the OnePlus 2 is a solid phone with premium specs and a mid-level price point ($389 for the 64GB model). Ours arrived today, and we were quick to take it for a test drive.

Overview

Pros

  • Great price for premium specs
  • Clean Android (5.1), almost stock
  • Impressive camera performance
  • Impressive video playback

Cons

  • No removable battery
  • No removable storage
  • No Near Field Communication (NFC) chip for mobile payments

Physical device

The OnePlus 2 looks similar to the OnePlus One, but has a decidedly sleeker appearance. The body of the OnePlus 2 is designed with an aluminum-magnesium alloy frame and stainless steel accents.

One of the first things I noted about the phone is its weight. The thing has some heft to it. It’s not what I’d call “heavy” but it does give the impression that there’s some premium hardware packed into the shell.

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It’s a large phone — about the size of a Samsung Galaxy s6. It fills up your hand. I have a medium-sized hand, so no parts of the screen seemed out of reach, but I can’t guarantee it will feel like that to others. The phone uses the same 5.5-inch full HD display employed by its predecessor, the OnePlus One, yet still achieves a smaller size by narrowing the bezel space between the edges of the screen and the edges of the phone.

OP_s03_c031And thankfully, the pumice-like texture of the Sandstone Black back cover prevents the device from sliding all over the place, so there’s less chance that you’ll drop it. You can also buy replacement back covers in Kevlar or wood tones including Bamboo, Black Apricot, and Rosewood.

At the right edge of the phone you’ll notice a three-position switch that’s used to control the amount of notifications you get. The bottom position tells the phone that it’s OK to deliver all notifications, the middle position means only priority notifications come through, and the top setting prevents any notifications from registering on the phone.

Setup

Setup for the device was about the same as for other recent Android devices you’ve used, with a couple of interesting bumps in the road.

When I entered the Wi-Fi name and password the phone initially said it had connected. But then it brought up a screen that said it was checking the connection, which might take two minutes. This lasted far longer than two minutes, and when that process finally timed out, I decided to skip the Wi-Fi setup, only to find out a little later that the phone had been connected the whole time.

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The other oddity had to do with a screen gesture feature that allows you to wake the phone up from sleep or turn on the camera by writing a shape on the screen. I turned on all four types of Gestures during set-up, only to find out that they were still set to Off when I began using the phone.

Everything else worked fine.

Camera

The phone does offer an improved rear camera. The 13-megapixel camera has 6 physical lenses, a dual LED flash, f/2.0 aperture, Object Image Stabilization, and laser focus. The original OnePlus phone used a Sony sensor, but for the OnePlus 2, makers switched to a sharper OmniVision sensor, as OnePlus CEO and co-founder Carl Pei told me during a visit at the VentureBeat offices.

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Above: Pry off the back cover and you’ll see the OnePlus’s dual SIM card slots.

Actually, the new camera was designed by a team of engineers whose members include a number of ex-HTC people. The front of the phone has a wide-angle 5 megapixel camera.

I took three photos with three phones — the OnePlus 2, the iPhone 6, and the LG G4 — and compared the results. I used no special settings in the shots; I just opened the camera, pointed and shot. The top photo was shot with the OnePlus 2, the middle was shot with the iPhone 6, and the bottom shot with the LG G4.

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Above: Image shot with OnePlus 2

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Above: Image shot with iPhone 6

LG G4 shot

Above: Image shot with LG G4

The OnePlus (starts at $329 retail) is a less expensive phone than the iPhone 6 ($650 retail) or the G4 ($550 retail), yet the photograph it shot compares very will with the two more expensive phones, and is arguably sharper and better-balanced.

Video Playback

I also found the video playback on the OnePlus 2’s full HD 5.5” IPS LCD display to be every bit as pleasing to the eye as playback on more expensive phones. The Taylor Swift I streamed from YouTube had a definite high-definition look to it. The colors seemed balanced and true-to-life. And most importantly, the detail of the objects in the video seemed very refined and sharp.

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Above: Screen capture of HD Taylor Swift video playing on OnePlus 2.

The video isn’t terribly bright, as I’ve seen on Samsung’s 2015 phones. But this doesn’t detract from the viewing experience at all.

Almost stock Android

The OnePlus 2 ships with OnePlus’s own operating system, OxygenOS, a rather conservative overlay to stock Android — in this case Android 5.1 (Lollipop). The phone will likely upgrade to Android M later this year.

This is one of the strongest aspects of the phone relative to other Android devices. What you get is something very near to stock Android, with some subtle but cool features overlayed on top.

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The add-on feature you’ll notice first is The Shelf, a screen that can be accessed by swiping to the right on the home screen. The Shelf is meant to be an all-purpose place where you can quickly access stuff you use all the time, like frequently used contact information, or frequently used apps.

The OnePlus 2 comes with 27 pre-loaded apps (the Verizon LG G4 comes with 59).

The OnePlus 2 is the first smartphone to use a USB-C cable for data and power.

Above: The OnePlus 2 is the first smartphone to use a USB-C cable for data and power.

Gestures

Now back to those gesture features I mentioned in setup above. Once they’re up and running correctly, they are unique and useful. When the phone has gone into sleep mode you can double tap on the screen to wake up the phone.

You can draw a little circle to turn on the camera. Draw a “V” to turn on the flashlight. You can also draw two parallel vertical lines to play or stop the music player. I found that all of these gestures worked as billed.

Bottom Line

OnePlus has garnered a lot of headlines over the past year, primarily because it offered a premium-spec phone, the OnePlus One, with an affordable $299/$349 (16GB/64GB) price tag. The follow-up, the OnePlus 2, extends the good design and component themes, and adds some compelling improvements.

The OnePlus 2 may be the only Android phone with a dedicated physical button on the side of the phone for silencing or otherwise controlling notifications. The OnePlus 2 is the first smartphone in worldwide release that uses the new USB-C cable for power and data. The rear-facing camera also gets a significant upgrade from the OnePlus One.

Whether or not the OnePlus 2 is good enough to get current OnePlus One owners to trade up is a hard question. I suspect many of them will. OnePlus has already sold 30,000 of the new model in its home country of China. And around 2 million people outside China have signed up on a waiting list to receive an invite to buy a OnePlus 2.

The 64GB OnePlus 2 will be available in the United States and the European Union starting August 11 for $389. The 16GB OnePlus 2 with 3GB of RAM will be available later for $329.

Key specs:

  • 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 system on a chip
  • Full HD 5.5” IPS LCD display
  • USB Type C power and date port
  • 3300mAh lithium polymer battery
  • Dual-SIM card slots
  • 64GB of storage and eMMC 5.0 flash memory
  • 4GB of RAM
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