OnePlus Two review: good, but not killer

And you still need a bloody invite to buy one

Written in accordance with our Reddit-inspired review policy.

As we reported earlier this year, more than 200 people queued for just five minutes with Chinese startup OnePlus’s second phone, the OnePlus Two. As with their first product, the One, it promised flagship specs at a budget price: in fact, OnePlus tout it as a “2016 flagship killer.” That’s not a typo, they’re genuinely saying it’s better than next year’s top-end phones. A big claim for a handset that costs, at most, £289.

So does that claim stand up? In short, no. Not even close. I’ve been using this phone as my main, personal handset for well over a month, and it’s good – but nothing remarkable. Here’s our in-depth OnePlus Two review.

1. The handset

  • Sandstone Black with removable StyleSwap covers (sold separately)
  • 151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85 mm
  • 175 g

The first thing I noticed about the OnePlus Two is its heft. Thanks to the metal trim and curved back panel, this phone is a whole lot heavier than it looks. It’s also pretty girthy compared to most smartphones this year: just shy of a full centimetre thick at its widest point.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though – I’ve dropped it pretty hard from pretty high, and it’s still in great condition. It’s a very sturdy phone.

The OnePlus Two only comes in one colour, unlike the One which had a rarer white variant. It arrives with a back cover made of the same horrible, scratchy material that the OnePlus One had: a texture that’s been likened to everything from skateboards to nail files. It’s not the nicest feeling on your hand, so we’d recommend grabbing one of the £20 StyleSwap covers. These clip on and off really easily, and are available in Bamboo, Black Apricot, Rosewood and Kevlar. Yep, actual Kevlar. We went for Bamboo, which has had endless compliments (and random stroke requests) from people who’ve seen me with it.

Image: OnePlus

One of the nice things about sporting a OnePlus handset is that it acts as a membership badge for Club Geek. Random people will come up to you on the tube and ask/tell you about the phone. Depending on how much you like awkward strangers, you might love or hate this, but I quite enjoyed it. I also enjoyed going into Carphone Warehouse to buy a case for a different phone, and having the man behind the counter attempt to v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y explain to me that the phone I was holding wasn’t, in fact, a Samsung. After which I explained equally slowly what it actually was, and he said “OnePlus? Is that an American company?”

It’s a fun phone to own.

On the handset itself, you’ll find two soft keys on either side of the home key/fingerprint sensor (back on the left, apps on the right), a physical priority switch on the left hand side (like on an iPhone), a volume rocker on the top left and a nice big power button below that. The headphone jack is on the top left edge, and the USB type C charging port is at the centre of the bottom edge, in between the…

2. Speakers

No complaints here. The loudspeakers sit behind six drilled holes on each side, and put out loud, clear sound that isn’t muffled by your hand or putting the phone down on a surface. Rear-facing speakers are one of my least favourite handset design choices, so this is good placement.

It’s also refreshing to see that the back panel of the phone doesn’t vibrate at higher volumes, which is often the case on non-metal handsets.

3. The screen

  • 5.5 inch LCD in-cell
  • 1080p full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels), 401 pixels per inch

The display on the OnePlus Two is one of its real high points. Bright, pin-sharp, responsive, colourful, wide viewing angles. Excellent.

No, it’s not quad-HD like some flagships, and there’s no improvement over the OnePlus One (which had the same size and resolution screen), but it’s more than pretty enough for most people’s eyeballs.

It’s quite glossy, so you’ll get a bit of reflection in bright light, but that’s standard.

4. The hardware

  • 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 1.8GHz octa-core CPU
  • 4 GB/3 GB RAM
  • Fingerprint sensor

There are two versions of the OnePlus Two: one with 16GB storage and 3GB of RAM at £239, and one 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM at £289. We had the 64GB version, and with a relatively small price difference, we’d suggest you do the same.

While the hardware is certainly very good for this price point, we have to quibble with OnePlus’s marketing again. “When you vow to Never Settle, you can’t cut any corners,” they say.

Um. This phone has no NFC.

On an Android.

In 2015.

That is very much a cut corner if you ask us. NFC, if you’re not familiar with it, stands for Near-Field Communication and is the same tech that makes Apple Pay work. Granted, we don’t have Android Pay in the UK yet, but this is a global phone that ships to the US, where it’s up and running. It’s also useful for Android Beam, where you transfer photos between Androids by tapping them back-to-back, and for transferring all your content and settings over to your new handset from your old one.

When I first got this phone, I automatically went to transfer everything, and then remembered. Ugh.

OnePlus’s answer is that no one really uses NFC. We agree in terms of mainstream users, but this isn’t a phone for them. It’s a nerd phone. And nerds love making things happen by tapping their handset. The lack of this near-ubiquitous feature also puts a dent in OnePlus’s claims of futureproofing – how can it beat 2016 flagships if they can make contactless payments and this can’t?

OK, rant over. Aside from NFC, I’ve also had some performance issues with this phone. When I first got it, I had major problems with lag when I was typing – it’d take a good few seconds to catch up with what I’d written. That seems to have fixed itself with a software update, but I still get lag with the home key. Quitting out of an app takes so long that I often tap the key a second time because I think it must not have registered the first. But it did. It’s just slow.

I’ve also had a few errors when trying to get back to the home screen, like this ghostly state (which persisted more than long enough to take a screenshot):

(Left: how it's supposed to look. Right: glitch)

The lights on the capacitive buttons on either side of the home key also often stay lit up when the screen’s off, which is probably impacting battery life (I doubt the phone’s properly dozing when this happens). Oh, and the fingerprint sensor just entirely fails to work about a third of the time. Get used to seeing the normal unlock screen when it fails three times and gives up.

All of that said, the OnePlus Two handles intensive activity well, it just gets slow when it comes to app-switching. The handset also gets pretty warm while playing games and watching Netflix, but not to any great degree.

5. The software

  • OxygenOS (based on Android 5.1 Lollipop)

After their high-profile falling out with Cyanogen, OnePlus have made their own version of Android, called OxygenOS. As non-stock versions of Android go, it’s a good’un – very few changes to the base OS, and the ones they have included are useful. There are some extra settings and customisation options, and a frequently-used apps and contacts screen to the left of the home screen. I don’t use it much, but I’m sure some people will.

However, I have two big problems with OxygenOS.

Firstly, it doesn’t come with a gallery app. What kind of phone doesn’t come with a gallery preinstalled? You have to choose a third-party one and install it yourself. I use QuickPic, but it vexes me that this was necessary.

Secondly, OxygenOS can be buggy in terms of interacting with apps. The main ones I’ve had problems with are Facebook and Facebook Messenger, both of which have been crashing on open for weeks now (yes, I have the latest versions of the app and OxygenOS, before you ask).

Can you imagine Samsung leaving their users with no Facebook app for weeks? There’d be uproar. OnePlus, sadly, have done nothing, so your only option is to directly install the APK (software package) yourself. There are endless support threads about this across the internet from confused users. But that’s OnePlus’s philosophy when it comes to tech support: fix it yourselves.

(I’m a little bitter about OnePlus’s support, because I had a faulty OnePlus One and they refused to do anything without video proof of all each and every fault. Amazing.)

6. The storage

  • 16GB or 64GB storage
  • No microSD slot

We were a bit surprised to see OnePlus putting two SIM card slots in this phone, yet no microSD. Surely more people want expandable storage than have two SIMs?

The choice of storage options seems a little polarised, too: there’s a massive difference between 16GB and 64. We’d have thought it’d make more sense to have a 32 and a 64, but presumably they were trying to keep the price of the lower-end model as tiny as possible.

As we’ve said of Apple and HTC, offering 16GB phones with no expandable storage is unfair on consumers. The OnePlus crowd are more tech-savvy than most, but even so, 16GB isn’t really enough for a phone you’re going to use for more than 6 months – especially one that records in 4K.

7. The selfie camera

  • 5 megapixels

In good lighting, selfies come out well on the OnePlus Two. In anything less than bright light, though, you’re going to see quite a lot of grain.

OnePlus Two selfie camera samples:

Not bad, but not great.

8. The main camera

  • 13 MP
  • Optical image stabilisation
  • 4K video recording

I have issues with the main camera on the OnePlus Two. My gallery is full of shots like these:

That’s because the camera is pretty slow, and pretends it’s finished taking a photo before it actually has. It plays the animation of having taken the photo, you assume that means it’s finished and move the phone away, and you end up with shots like those above.

When you hold it in place a little longer, though (and the light conditions are good), photos are excellent.

OnePlus Two camera samples:

Low light performance varies, but is generally acceptable even without flash:

However, when you test the OnePlus Two’s camera against a 2015 flagship – in this case the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus – you can see a clear difference in quality:

S6 Edge Plus:

OnePlus Two:

S6 Edge Plus:

OnePlus Two:

S6 Edge Plus:

OnePlus Two:

No contest.

9. Battery life

  • 3300 mAh
  • Non-removable
  • USB type C charging port

Honestly, battery life on the OnePlus Two hasn’t been as good as I was expecting. The One had famously epic battery life (though my faulty one didn’t), and the Two has a larger-capacity power pack with the same size screen to power – so it should be better. But I’ve been using my portable charger every day with this phone.

Speaking of which, the fact that it uses USB type C to charge is really cool and forward-thinking, but also a total ball-ache. None of your existing cables will work without a converter, and OnePlus don’t include one – just a cable. They do sell a converter, for £8, but it’s not included with the phone. This is a bad decision. They could easily have jacked up the price by a tenner and included it “free” to make people happy. You really, really need one. If you’re buying this phone, we’d highly recommend picking one up at the same time, although like us you’ll probably lose it instantly.

An hour of screen time at max brightness will cost you 20% of the OnePlus Two’s battery. The LG G Flex 2 and the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3C have the same size and resolution screen – controlling for battery size, that puts the OnePlus two on almost the same level as the £200 Alcatel, and a little worse than the £480 LG. Which is roughly as it should be, but again can’t claim to compete with the flagships.

Turning auto-brightness on would help with battery stamina, but I’ve found the adaptive brightness on this phone fairly unusable. I can be sitting in the same room at the same light level and it’ll jack it up, then turn it down, then up, then down, and it’s all a bit too sudden and dazzling. So I had to take the hit to battery life and turn it off.

There’s no wireless charging or even quick charging on this phone – forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but 2016 flagships will definitely have those.

10. UK price and availability

The OnePlus Two is available now in the UK – if you’ve got an invite. Yes, OnePlus are still pushing this immensely irritating and frustrating way of buying phones.

I got my three invites yesterday, and couldn’t find a single person who wanted one. Which is lucky, because it turns out they’re tied to my email address. Why do OnePlus think I want four of the same phone…?

In any case, if you’ve got an invite, you can buy the phone directly from OnePlus. It’s £289 for the 64GB version, and £239 for the 16GB – although like the white OnePlus Two, the 16GB never seems to be in stock.

If you don’t have an invite, try Reddit or the OnePlus forums.

Gadgette’s verdict

Have I said enough times that this is not a 2016 flagship killer?

It is also not a 2015 flagship killer.

This is a phone that’s good for the price, though has stiff competition even in the mid-range bracket (eg. the £250 Honor 7) – and OnePlus would do well to be honest about that. Pitching its abilities so far above reality doesn’t do the phone any favours. It’s a good handset at a good price. But it’s not a flagship by anyone’s standards (when was the last time you saw a flagship with no NFC?).

Essentially, OnePlus are the Apple of Android. They sell their products with hype and hyperbole, relying on their army of obsessive fans to refute criticism on their behalf. The company also makes some absolutely baffling decisions – persisting with the invite model despite all the frustration it’s caused, trying to give away phones by telling women to write the logo on their bodies, and genuinely expecting people to give up a £600 Samsung for their £289 handset.

Ignoring the marketing BS, there are a lot of good things to say about OnePlus’s second handset. The screen is a beauty, the camera is excellent in good light, the battery is capacious and the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor, USB C and swappable back covers is appreciated at this price. There are downsides, too, of course: the laggy camera performance, fingerprint sensor issues, software bugs, and no microSD. But you’re allowed downsides in a 64GB handset for £290.

As for whether you should buy this phone (assuming you can get an invite… sigh): well, I wouldn’t. I mean I have technically bought it (OnePlus wouldn’t give us a review unit), but I’m not keeping it. I’ve been using it day-in, day-out for over a month and I’d rather go through the hassle of switching all my stuff than keep this phone.

Why?

Because when I spilt water on it the other day, I walked, not ran, to get a towel. Because when I needed to take an important photo, I reached for another phone as I didn’t trust the Two to get the shot. Because the most enthusiasm I can muster when people ask me about it is “meh.”

It’s fine. It’s OK. It’s good in some ways and bad in others. But for me at least, OnePlus Two doesn’t equal love.

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 276 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.