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OnePlus, the 2014 Crunchies Startup nominee, has just released a successor to its popular “niche” smartphone OnePlus One; the  OnePlus 2.

Being in the market (or in the invitation letters) for 14 months, OnePlus 1 has received quite positive feedback from the media and the the fan community – and is equipped with CyanogenMod, one of the most loved Android modifications in the world.

The big change in the OnePlus 2 is that they have ended their partnership with CyanogenMod and instead replaced it with their own Oxygen/Hydrogen OS. Also the hardware specification is in tune with the most of the latest flagship smartphones made by other phone companies including Xiaomi, Huawei and Meizu.

With all the refreshment and new functions, OnePlus 2 is calling itself the “2016 Flagship Killer”. And I will give a close look into it (mine is the 4GB RAM/64GB storage version) and see if it can fly, or die.

Basics

  • Weighs 175 gram
  • 151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85 mm
  • 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 1.8GHz qcta-core process
  • 3GB RAM 16GB storage/ 4GB RAM 64GB storage
  • 3300mAh battery with Qualcomm QuickCharge 1.0
  • 5.5 inch IPS – NEO display
  • 13MP rear, 5MP front camera
  • MSRP:3GB+16GB ¥1999 or $329 / 4GB+64GB ¥2399 or $389
  • Product info page

Pros

  • Great details in hardware design
  • Another USB Type-C pioneer
  • 5 interchangable rear covers: Bamboo, Rosewood, Kevlar, Black Apricot, and Sandstone
  • Hydrogen OS is pure

Cons

  • the micro USB to Type-C adaptor is sold separately
  • the Snapdragon 810 processor is down-clocked to reduce heat
  • no support for China Telecom network
  • no NFC
  • Hydrogen OS is yet unrefined

Design

Honestly, the Chinese phone manufacturers are really trying harder to not spew out iPhone or Samsung copies for the time being.

The manufacturing techniques are cutting edge, and almost every new phone that has come out over the two years has its own features to show off. From Smartisan T1’s symmetric design to Meizu MX5’s aluminum unibody, and from Nubia Z9’s borderless display to Mi Note’s ultra thin frame, our aesthetic sense for smartphones in China has never been so high.

Considering this, I wasn’t too elated when unboxing the OnePlus 2 to find a standard offering in many ways. The design is still solid: big display in front, aluminum wrapping in the middle, and the backside has a distinct curve just like what’s in the Moto X. One little detail worth noticing is that the sliding switch on the left edge has triple options instead of two: Silent (Vibrate), Normal, and Do-Not-Disturb, which is handy for people who need to concentrate.

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Nightmare for OCD: the earphone jack is not vertically centered on the frame

  • The Rear Cover

Yes, the trend of changeable rear cover was from Motorola’s Moto X but OnePlus 2 surely does it better. The designer had put a small chip for different covers (StyleSwap they call it), so every time the rear cover is changed, the Hydrogen OS will pop up an exclusive theme specifically made for that material, which is really cool.

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  • USB Type-C and the “Hottest Cable”

With the support from Apple, Google and Nokia, USB Type-C is inevitably the future port for charging gadgets and transmitting huge data and video streams, not to mention the handy reversible connector. But in 2015 OnePlus 2 is just the second phone company in that implements this standard (the first is China’s LeTV Phone from LeTV).

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The supplied cable is in red and white and looks ravishingly chic, and the connectors (one is Type-C, other one is usual USB) on both ends are reversible, which is even more useful. Unfortunately, the micro USB to Type-C adapter is sold separately (29RMB), which is a bit of an annoyance.

  • Fingerprint, scan it quick, or not

For this year’s flagship smartphones, fingerprint sensors are a must have. OnePlus 2 is of course in it. The fingerprint sensor chip in OnePlus 2 is from Swedish company Fingerprint Cards AB and can respond in 0.36 seconds to finish the whole fingerprint scanning process, which is statistically fast.

One glitch is that the home button in OnePlus 2 can only be touched, not pressed, thus to light up the screen users have to first press the power button on the right side then put their finger on the home “pad” on the bottom center space to unlock the phone. Also there’s no OS-based animation transition during this process, so the open-unlock-login steps are neither practically advanced nor fast.

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This home button has aroused much controversy among Chinese netizens

  • The Triple Profile Switch

As I mentioned earlier, the sliding switch on the left edge has a triple profile to choose: Silent (Vibrate), Normal, and Do-Not-Disturb. In my opinion, it is even better than the one on the iPhone.

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  • Weak Points

Sadly, OnePlus 2 will not be putting up a “thinner, lighter” diagram like what Apple has done almost every year. The OnePlus 2 is 0.95mm thicker than its predecessor; second, it weighs 15 grams heavier and the average weight of 175 grams among competitors. It is the heaviest among the identical-in-screen-size competitors like iPhone 6 Plus and Mi Note. What are the thicker and heavier parts for? Well the camera is sharper and the battery is bigger, which for me is a reasonable deal.

The real downside is that the the NFC function is removed. I agree that there’s no space in Chinese market for NFC nowadays, quoting what Lei Jun said about Mi 4 scrapping the NFC chip: “too few users”, but in a global scale, NFC is a technology that still in development and exploration. I don’t think barcode or QR code or iBeacon can kill it. So it’s a real shame that the OnePlus simply removed it just because others did it.

After all, OnePlus 2 is an comfortable phone to hold, and a powerful phone to run killer apps, but the design is low-profile and visually unidentified sometimes, which is not good for the typical iPhone users.

Features

Oxygen OS (up) and Hydrogen OS (down)

Oxygen OS (up) and Hydrogen OS (down)

IMPORTANT: This part is based on Hydrogen OS (氢OS) which is specifically made for users in China mainland and its user interface and user experience is hugely different from the Oxygen OS.

Up until now, Hydrogen OS is roughly a launcher with few tweaks and modified icons. It is hard to believe that this OS has no bundled native music player or mail client. In fact, it has pre-installed music app NetEase Cloud Music (网易云音乐), one of the 5 most mainstream music streaming services in China (and it is completely legal and free!).

The mail client is another 3rd party app from NetEase called MailMaster (邮箱大师) whose splash screen tells “Using Gmail with Ease”. The other 8 3rd party apps (or bloatware) are quite basic: NetEase News, NetEase Note, Weibo, Tencent Video, Meituan, AutoNavi Maps, Ctrip and AirDroid (1 year free premium account). I was astonished that it doesn’t pre-install Wechat or QQ, which are true daily apps and not likely to be uninstalled after unboxing.

Hydrogen OS also lacks a cloud service. There’s nothing like “OnePlus ID”,  the data you need to add is all from 3rd party accounts, like Tencent Phone Manager or Baidu Cloud. The good thing is the stock operation system – the Material Design style is well-kept; no unwanted background processes; no useless gadgets; no (what Chinese phone makers said) “minus 1″ screen; all the bloatware is removable – it could even be the cleanest one in the market.

Users can add any 3rd party services that they think would be safe or handy. On the other hand, the shabby system makes the phone not really the kind of “flagship” smartphone that is ready to work once opened. I do not suggest people buy this phone as their first smartphone, they will get lost in choosing which app is suitable.

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There are 3 apps that are branded with the OnePlus trademark – Oneday, Weather and Diaodiao. The latter two are more like homework in basic coding, so I will skip them.

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Oneday is OnePlus’ answer to Apple’s Passbook, and it differentiates itself by automatically transforming dull SMS into cards of information. Because in the age of Wechat, SMS has become a steady way to inform or authenticate things. The whole idea is very clever in my opinion, but the designers strangely didn’t hide it into the clock widget, which seems like a no-brainer. The first time I got to use it was when I accidentally tapped on the picture of a man’s chest. I’m sure this is not what OnePlus was looking for.

The swipe-down notification, swipe-up control center and drag-down universal search are all iOS like, but the toggles seems to be unchangeable, which is also similar to what iOS does.

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Performance/Battery

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 is infamous for its serious overheating problem, yet it’s the only option for flagship phones this year. So OnePlus 2 had solved this problem by down-clocking this processor.

This arouses another controversy among fan community but so far it doesn’t affect too much of the performance and the system remained sleek and quick to respond for me. This performance could also be thanks to the simple Hydrogen OS.

The standby time is acceptable thanks to a bigger 3300mAh battery (as I mention earlier) and the 1080p resolution display. Users should have no trouble using it through a full day and still have a chance to do a little extra. It’s a shame that OnePlus 2 only supports Qualcomm QC1.0 standard which takes 2h15min to charge from 0 to 100%, while QC2.0 will shorten the time distinctly.

Display/Camera

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OnePlus 2 gets a brighter and sharper display, according to the company, and it does look good in hand with good viewing angles and natural color. The resolution is full HD 1080 pixels rather than the popular 2k. The developers just made a decision between a longer battery life and a not-that-splendid display. But for me the full HD is gorgeous enough.

The OnePlus 2 comes with a 13-megapixel rear camera that focuses fast, and the 5mp front camera that is also okay. But the camera app in Hydrogen OS is too simple to use, it has not much more function and the speed of imaging is really unbearable. In my opinion it is the quick shutter that matters in phone-graphy, apparently OnePlus 2 doesn’t make it.

Bottom Line

OnePlus 2 will be facing more strong competitors in China than in other countries. Xiaomi, Meizu, Huawei, Lenovo, Nubia and others are rolling out new phones out this year, filling the price range from 599 to 3000RMB, and the space is limited and shrinking. Thanks to the lack of exposure of these other brands overseas, OnePlus 2 will continue to receive a lot of compliments from overseas. But the pressure will certainly only increase at home.

(this review is dedicated to @drizzled)