OnePlus 2 review: Apple and Samsung need to be worried

A phone with an unbelievable spec list for an impossible price

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For

  • Bright screen
  • Strong camera
  • Low price

Against

  • Software bugs
  • Home button hit and miss
  • No NFC or microSD

OnePlus upsets the flagship applecart once again as its tricky second album outdoes its debut record. Rock on.

OnePlus took the mobile world by storm in 2014 with its debut smartphone, the OnePlus One. It blended a wonderful mix of features with an eye-catching price point, declaring itself the "flagship killer" - and we loved it. So can lightening strike twice for this fledging Chinese firm?

The OnePlus 2 is tasked with filling the large shoes left by the surprise arrival of its predecessor, and it's got its work cut out as rival manufacturers look to steal the firm's cut-price flagship phone limelight.

Even though the OnePlus 2 will set you back just £239 (or £289 if you opt for the 64GB model) SIM-free, you'll be fooled into thinking it costs much more with a premium metal frame encompassing the handset for a classier feel.

Round the back things aren't quite so premium, with a plastic rear cover seeing the uncomfortable texture of sandpaper greet your palm. It's fair to say we don't love this, but you can buy alternative rear plates including Kevlar and a range of real wood finishes. They cost £19.99 a piece, but feel much better and make the OnePlus 2 look a lot smarter.

It's slightly chunkier at 9.9mm, but you're unlikely to notice too much when it's slid into your pocket and considering the overall size of the handset it all feels in proportion. Plus it's allowed OnePlus to squeeze in a bigger battery. Hurray!

Finger friendly

One of the standout new features is the fingerprint scanner hidden below the touch sensitive home key. It's a option usually reserved for handsets double the price of the OnePlus 2, so count yourself lucky it's wiggled its way in here.

You can register up to five of your favourite digits - we recommend both thumbs and both pointers - giving you flexibility when it comes to unlocking the handset. You don't even need to wake the screen, just hold your finger on the sensor and the phone will spring into action.

Trouble is it doesn't work every time. OnePlus is working on an update to improve home button sensitivity, so fingers crossed this will improve over time. Just be aware some patience may be required.

For those familiar with the OnePlus One you may be disappointed to find the OnePlus 2 has stuck with the same 5.5-inch full HD display setup, but fear not. The screen technology has been given a boost, providing a brighter display and wider viewing angles.

That makes it great for seeing outside, as well as getting your mates to huddle round and check out the latest hilarious viral meme on YouTube.

Fresh air

On screen you'll find Android 5.1, which OnePlus has coated in its Oxygen OS. This subtle, yet powerful interface brings a host of additional functions and tools to the Android system giving you a greater sense of control and customisation.

On the surface it looks similar to Google's stock Android offering, but dig a little deeper - head to Settings for example - and you'll find the handy additions OnePlus has included.

You can program the navigation keys below the screen, allowing you to swap the back and multi-tasking keys over, depending on if you prefer them on the left or right. You can also add second commands for long presses on the keys, giving you greater functionality at your fingertips.

There are some useful gesture controls too, allowing you to launch the camera, switch on the flashlight and skip music tracks when the screen is off. Draw a circle on the screen and the camera will spring to life, while a V will trigger the torch.

These shortcuts mean you're less likely to miss a vital snap, and help get you home from the pub after your local council switches off the street lights to save energy.

Music lovers get a treat with the inclusion of MaxxAudio which enhances your tunes with richer bass, while also treating you to a graphic equaliser allowing you to really fine tune your audio playback.

It's not just songs that it improves, with separate settings for movies and gaming, ensuring you get a top notch audio experience from the OnePlus 2.

I've got the power

With a powerful octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor and 4GB of RAM (or 3GB if you opt for the 16GB model) there's a whole load of power under the hood of the OnePlus 2.

It can handle pretty much anything you throw at it, from the graphically intensive Real Racing 3, to a whole host of apps running in the multi-tasking pane. For the most part it's a fast, fluid experience.

It's not all fun and games though, as we found a few software bugs and performance hiccups which kind of spoil the OnePlus 2 party a bit.

There's the laggy home button we've already mentioned, a delay in the dialler between hitting call and the phone actually registering and an odd quirk in the text message client.

Create a new message, hit send and when your buddy responds (hopefully they will) their reply will be in a separate message stream to your first missive. It's confusing, and slightly annoying.

Then there's the realisation that OnePlus has again shunned expandable storage with no microSD slot on the handset, plus there's no 128GB option like the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 Plus. You'll want to keep an eye on your downloads then, especially if you've plumped for the 16GB version.

NFC has also been oddly missed out. It featured on the OnePlus One, and with Android Pay set to arrive in late 2015 it seems like a pretty big missed opportunity. OnePlus says people don't use NFC enough to make it worth including, but if it takes off in the next six months with the help of contactless payments the OnePlus 2 could be in some trouble.

The rear facing 13MP camera has been given some new tricks in the OnePlus 2 with a laser auto-focus joined by OIS (optical imaging stabilisation).

These help the handset take clearer, brighter and less blurry shots. Low-light photography is greatly improved, and the HDR function is impressive as it brightens up dark areas in photos very well.

The camera app is relatively intuitive to use, but it's not as straightforward as Apple's implementation, while the range of tools at your disposal are rather limited. Full manual controls will arrive with a later update, but if you're one of the first to get their hands on the OnePlus 2 don't expect too much control from the camera.

Charging the future

There's a world's first to be found on the base of the OnePlus 2. That innocent looking USB port is actually something a little bit special. It's the first USB-C port to feature on a smartphone.

What does that mean? It means when you plug your phone in to charge at night you don't have to mess around with getting the cable round the right way. It'll plug in either way, just like Apple's Lightning connector on the iPhone 6. It may not be life changing, but boy is it satisfying.

You may find yourself plugging it in a little more often though, as the OnePlus 2 doesn't sport wireless charging (or fast charging for that matter) - features its higher priced rivals do.

The OnePlus 2 is good for a whole day, from waking up to going to bed on a single charge, but you won't get more than 24 hours from the handset before a recharge is required.

And that could be an issue if you're not with your USB-C cable which came in the box, because the likelihood is no one will have a spare you can borrow - it's just too new.

If you are running desperately low you can always engage power saving mode which will reduce background activity, lower performance and dim the screen to help you eke out the last drops of life.

Verdict

The OnePlus 2 has managed to build on its predecessor in a number of ways, while maintaining the low price point which made the original so popular.

There's a better camera, improved screen, nifty fingerprint scanner and a premium design to keep Apple, Samsung and co. looking nervously over their shoulders.

It's not perfect, with a handful of software bugs and the lack of features some may deem relatively core to the smartphone experience - but don't let that put you off.

If you're looking for a high-end smartphone without the high-end price tag your search is over. The OnePlus 2 is for you.