Tuesday, 28 July 2015

OnePlus Two initial impressions

After all the hype, the OnePlus Two is now official. Based on what I've seen on Google+ thus far, this is probably the most community-dividing phone since the Nexus 6. Many people are thrilled with the phone, but many others are appalled by some of the decisions OnePlus made for the "2016 flagship killer". As for myself, this is probably one of the most mixed bags we've seen so far when it comes to smartphones. Some great features are present, but at the same time some head-scratching omissions can't be ignored. With Motorola set to unveil its own flagship in less than an hour, it's important OnePlus released a phone that will be just as disruptive as the OnePlus One was last year. Here's a quick rundown of what I feel are the best aspects of the OnePlus Two, and the worst.

The good

1080p display
At a time when consumers are clamouring for better battery life, a 1080p display is one of the easiest ways to ensure your phone will have adequate battery life. 2K displays may offer a higher PPI but as far as real-life use goes, most people (apart from the eagle-eyed tech enthusiast) will be perfectly happy with a 1080p display. Besides, using a 1080p display in favour of a 2K display is a great way to keep costs - and ultimately the selling price - down, something OnePlus has made a key point of its market-disrupting strategy.

Fully customisable navbar
Like the OnePlus One, the Two maintains the ability to completely customise the navigation bar. Software keys or capacitive keys, the choice is yours. And in OxygenOS 2.0, the company gives users the power to choose the order of the buttons (back-home-overview or vice versa), and to assign long-press or double-tap actions to the buttons as well. A great example of how powerful Android can be.
Software, physical, back button on the left, the right, it's all up to you. Source
OIS and laser autofocus
I'm not big on mobile photography, but I highly appreciate the addition of OIS to smartphone cameras. Considering these devices are meant to be used for on-the-go photography, having image stabilisation is pretty much a no-brainer. And the addition of laser autofocus will greatly help with taking quick, in-focus shots on the move. Both these features should greatly reduce the number of blurry shots taken with this phone.

USB type-C
The OnePlus Two is among the first smartphones in the market to have a USB type-C port in place of the traditional micro-USB port. This will bring reversible connectivity to the device when it comes to plugging in the cable. However, the other end is still a USB type-A connector (just like the cables we use now), which isn't really a problem considering the market will probably take a few years to phase out type-A ports in favour of the new type-C standard. Computers, laptops, powerbanks, chargers, they all still have type-A ports, so a type-C to type-A cable makes sense in this transitional period.
Alert slider
One of the things I enjoyed about using an iPhone before switching to Android was the physical mute switch. Without needing to turn on my display, I could quickly mute my phone just by using the switch. OnePlus added a three-stage switch to the OnePlus Two, so you can easily switch between the "None", Priority", and "All" sound profiles without going into the phone's UI. How well this physical control mechanism will work with the software controls however, remains to be seen.
Change sound profile with just a flick of this button. Source
Incredible prices
Just like last year, the killer selling point of the OnePlus Two will be the price. For just $329 you can get the 16GB model (with 3GB RAM), and for $389 you can get the 64GB model (with 4GB RAM). The pricing for equivalent iPhone 6 models are $649 and $749 while the iPhone 6 Plus costs $749 and $849 for the 16GB and 64GB models respectively. That's how OnePlus disrupts the market.

The bad

No wireless/quick charging
I'm a huge fan of wireless charging. And many others love quick charging. The OnePlus Two comes with neither. To be a flagship phone but not have at least one of these options just doesn't make sense. It's a huge compromise to keep the prices down, which is understandable but still, it's hard to be a "flagship killer" when you don't have at least one of these charging options.

That home "button"
The OnePlus Two comes with a fingerprint scanner in the shape of a capacitive home button (not an actual press-able button like Samsung's). It works great based on the demonstrations I've watched. It even works from sleep, so you can just place your finger on the scanner when the phone is off and it will instantly unlock. But it still looks, meh. OnePlus made a big deal in the VR launch video about not having any branding on the front of the device (unlike competing smartphones) but having a physical "button" on the chin is just as bad, if not worse. 
Not feeling the "Galaxy" look. Source
Weird camera placement
The camera module is placed quite low on the back of the OnePlus Two. I'm sure it won't detract from the user experience but it just looks, odd. Completely aesthetic complaint, but a complaint nonetheless. 
OnePlus One on the left, OnePlus Two on the right. That camera. Odd. Source
No NFC
Many people have said that the omission of NFC is also a huge fail by OnePlus. I agree it is a bit of a bummer that the phone doesn't have NFC, but is it that big of a deal? To me, it's not. A small inconvenience at best. The lack of wireless/quick charging is a much bigger problem to me.

OnePlus is a unique player in the smartphone industry. It spends little to no money on advertising, instead relying on the internet and word of mouth to spread its mind share. Yet the company still managed to sell approximately 1.5 million OnePlus One's. Not bad for a first timer in one of the most fiercely competitive markets in the world. Great specs, great software, great price. That has helped OnePlus establish itself in a crowded smartphone industry. The OnePlus Two is a very mixed bag, with some very good features but also some very bad omissions. Ultimately though, I'm confident the OnePlus Two will be able to match, and then beat its predecessor in terms of sales numbers. With features that can match (not "kill") many flagships, and prices that fit nicely in the mid-range sector of the market, I'm sure many people will see this phone as a great bargain. The OnePlus Two may not be as disruptive as the One was, but it will still steal some consumers away from $600 flagship purchases.