Android isn’t what it used to be.
In the early days, Android makers were racing to the top by making pricey phones with high-end specs that were designed to compete against the iPhone. It helped certain brands like Samsung rise to prominence, but all the others were left duking it out for third, fourth, or even fifth place.
But today some of the best Android devices you can buy won’t cost you a fortune. You can get a lot of excellent models for a fraction of the cost of the iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy phone.
OnePlus, a Chinese startup that’s only a few years old, has one of the best examples of that with its second flagship phone, the OnePlus 2.
For $US329 you get a phone with a crisp 5.5-inch screen, 16GB of storage, one of the fastest processors, a fingerprint sensor that rivals the one on the iPhone, and the next-generation connector for charging called USB-C. For an extra $US60, you get the same phone with more RAM and 64GB of storage. To put that all in perspective, the 16GB iPhone 6 Plus, which also has a 5.5-inch screen, costs $US749.
The downside: It’s going to be tough to find a OnePlus 2. The company only sells its phones online through an invitation system. Part of that may be a marketing ploy to juice interest (it works!), but it’s also because OnePlus is a young company that doesn’t have the same kind of manufacturing prowess Apple, Samsung, and others have. OnePlus needs to make sure it has a buyer lined up for every phone it makes.
I’ve been using the OnePlus 2 for about a week, and despite some minor limitations, I think it’s an incredible phone by any standard, not just because it’s cheap.
What is it?
Unlike most Android phones, OnePlus goes out of its way not to meddle with the basic version of Android. It runs a slightly tweaked version of the software that looks and feels like the so-called “pure” version Google makes.
Since the OnePlus 2 is unlocked, you also don’t have to worry about waiting too long for software updates. Typically, carriers have to approve a software update before it can be sent to users, which slows things down and helps explain why the vast majority of Android are running outdated software loaded with a bunch of junk the carriers add. OnePlus can update its phones whenever it wants, so you get the latest and greatest features almost as soon as they’re available.
The OnePlus only has a few extras on top of the basic version of Android, including a fingerprint sensor and new menu that suggests frequently-used apps and contacts. But I think that’s a good thing. Too many Android phones come bogged down with a lot of unnecessary extras that make the devices too complicated. Pure Android is excellent on its own, and OnePlus kept its changes to a minimum. It’s Android at its best.
The fingerprint sensor works flawlessly too. Until now, only Samsung and Apple have figured out how to make a fast and accurate smartphone fingerprint sensor, but the one on the OnePlus 2 is just as good if not better. I couldn’t trick it.
The OnePlus is also the first major Android phone to come with a new type of charging port called USB-C. USB-C was first introduced this year in new laptops from Apple and Google, and you can expect to start seeing it in more Android phones later this year and into next year. USB-C is the next generation of USB. It’s an all-in-one port that can charge the device, sync with accessories, and push video out to a monitor or TV. It’s also reversible, so you don’t have to fiddle around and guess which way to connect the cord to your phone.
The only major drawback is that very few gadgets are compatible with USB-C, so you’ll probably have trouble finding accessories and chargers. It’s sort of like when Apple switched its charger to the Lightning port in 2012 and everyone had to scramble for new adapters. But it won’t be long before most Android phones start using USB-C. The OnePlus 2 is just ahead of the rest.
As great as the phone is, it’s not much to look at. The OnePlus 2 is made of mostly metal and glass, but it’s basically just a plain black slab. It’s thick, heavy, and not nearly as attractive as the latest Galaxy phones from Samsung. But it still has a solid construction and doesn’t feel cheap. My biggest complaint about the design is the removeable flimsy plastic cover, which gives you access to the SIM card slot.
A few problems
There’s only one major drawback to the OnePlus 2: The camera isn’t that great. It takes decent photos, but the shutter speed is pretty slow. There’s a noticeable lag between the time you press the shutter button and the phone actually takes the photo. And the image quality is nowhere near as good as what you’d get from Samsung’s latest Galaxy phones or the iPhone 6.
The OnePlus 2 is also missing some key features premium phones have these days like a mobile payments app. But I doubt many people will miss that.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on a great Android phone
But those drawbacks are minor, and they’re easy to deal with considering how much phone you get for your money.
The OnePlus 2 is just the latest in an increasing number of Android devices that pack great hardware into an affordable package. I can’t think of one compelling reason to spend much more than $US400 on an Android phone, considering they all pretty much do the same things.
Unless you think spending an extra $US300 or so is worth it for a better camera and slightly better design (I don’t), you’ll want to get the OnePlus 2 or one of the other cheaper Android devices coming out soon.
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