Our best smartphone of 2014 finally has a sequel, and with it come some monumental expectations. This year, OnePlus no longer has the luxury of being an unknown startup; if something goes wrong, the company has nowhere to run and hide, and no excuses to fall back on. It’s either put up or shut up. OnePlus is in the big leagues now.
Talking to the company’s co-founder Carl Pei at a low-key event in San Francisco, there was a muted nervousness around the rented out showroom. Last year, just as the mobile market was turning stale, OnePlus came out of nowhere. Several months later, and a few hundred thousand eager customers are already lining up to buy its new device. But even though the pressure is on, Pei still has a relaxed swagger about him. He’s confident the OnePlus wasn’t just beginner’s luck.
After having used the OnePlus 2 for a few hours, it’s very apparent that the company has not only built a device that’s better than the first, but one that can easily go toe-to-toe with the top phones on the market. The specs are high-end, the design is better than ever, and there are some thoughtful additions that make for a more enjoyable experience. As Pei told us, it wasn’t just about appeasing spec hounds; OnePlus wants to create a sequel that offered improvements all around.
There’s a fingerprint reader, for example, and a switch that easily mutes notifications (think of the iPhone). Oxygen OS, meanwhile, has a new software feature known as Shelf, which shows you quick contacts, recently used apps, and more; it’s a feature that Pei says will improve over time as OnePlus gets feedback from customers. These are small touches, to be sure, but they’re designed to make a more impactful difference over the longterm. Something OnePlus is keenly focused on as it looks to make an even bigger impression on potential customers.
On the design front, the aluminum frame gives the device a more premium feel over last year’s model, while the addition of the fingerprint reader adds convenience and an extra layer of security. It’s a tighter experience overall; it feels better in the hand, though the footprint is pretty much identical. But you can tell OnePlus put as much care into engineering this device as it did the year before, carefully constructing a phone that feels much more high-end than its price would suggest.
That emphasis on design means the device can easily stand among the best on the market: iPhone 6 Plus, Galaxy S6, HTC One M9—and that’s saying a lot. This time around, there are more options, too. The sandstone black is the default, but there are four other back plates to choose from: Bamboo, Black Apricot, Rosewood and Kevlar, which is becoming an increasingly popular option among manufacturers. Just pop off your back plate, and easily replace it with your choice.
In our limited time with the OnePlus 2, it didn’t appear slow or buggy, though the company admitted some things are being finalized before a launch next month. Still, what we saw was smooth, quick, and incredibly fun to use. Oxygen OS looks much more refined than when we last saw it, a promising look at what could be a top ROM. It was always going to be a challenge moving away from Cyanogen, but Oxygen OS seems like more than a worthy replacement.
OnePlus is in a tough situation—but an enviable one for such a young company. Expectations are higher than ever, and the company knows this. But even though there was a palpable nervousness from executives at today’s pre-briefing, OnePlus still has that same swagger it did last year; Pei seems up for the challenge, and after having used the OnePlus 2 for a few hours, it’s plain to see the company has another winner on its hands.
It’s a little more expensive at $389, but not by much considering the specs. In addition to the quicker processor, more RAM, large battery, and excellent design, customers also get a fingerprint reader, some cool additions to OxygenOS, and USB Type-C. Yeah, this phone is future proofed, adding terrific value to an already affordable device.
With more than 200,000 already waiting for an invite, demand is certainly higher this time around. OnePlus came out of nowhere in 2014 and offered what we considered to be the best of the best. Now that the company has our attention, can it repeat last year’s feat? That remains to be seen.