OnePlus 2 is a $329+ metallic upgrade with a beefed-up camera

OnePlus 2

Almost exactly 15 months ago, the OnePlus One made its debut as a $299 flagship smartphone to wow the geeks; and it's even been lowered to $249 as of last month. That, of course, is to make way for the company's next act, the OnePlus 2 (we were asked to stick with "2" instead of "Two"). This update is actually not all that secretive no thanks to the teasers and a recent leak, but that's not to say you should lose interest in it, especially given the improved camera, better display, extra RAM and the switch from plastic to a more resilient magnesium alloy frame. Not to mention that the 2 also comes with a USB Type-C port, a fingerprint reader, dual nano-SIM slots and a special "alert" slider. As for the OnePlus 2's price: the 64GB version will retail for $389 while the 16GB version will cost you $329. Let's break it down.

OnePlus 2 First Look

It's interesting to see OnePlus adopting metal in favor of the cheaper plastic for its latest flagship, which explains why this new phone will cost a tad more than when its predecessor launched last year. That said, it's been well over a year for the first lot of OnePlus One users, so perhaps they won't mind the little extra cost for the much-anticipated update. And it's not just the change of material, either; take a closer look and you'll notice the subtle curve -- from the screen to the back side -- on the magnesium alloy frame. It's a bit like how Motorola crafted the latest Moto X, not as apparent, but still a nice touch. There are also stainless steel accents throughout that contribute to an overall more premium feel compared to the original.

Speaking of the back, yes, you can still swap the cover, but with much more ease this time: just pop it off from the bottom-left corner (after which you'll have access to the dual nano-SIM tray underneath). At launch, OnePlus will be offering four alternative covers -- Kevlar, bamboo, rosewood and black apricot -- should you wish to try something other than the black sandstone that comes with the phone. Bear in mind, however, that these StyleSwap covers will cost you around $27 each.

OnePlus 2

One notable addition to the OnePlus 2 is a special "alert slider" on the phone's left spine. Unlike the usual mute switch you would find on an iPhone, this one actually toggles among three different notification profiles: "None," which disables all notifications; "Priority," which only enables notifications from your priority contacts; and "All," which, you guessed it, enables all of them. Funnily enough, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei said this idea actually came from a Reddit user who wanted to solve a small pain point: The "Do Not Disturb" button isn't always easy to find on Android. CEO Pete Lau doesn't want to stop there, though, because to him, disabling all notifications means you want total focus, so he's even considering some sort of lockdown mode that forbids you from using your OnePlus 2 until you flip the switch to either "Priority" or "All."

As with many other recent top-tier smartphones, the OnePlus 2 is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810, a chipset consisting of a 1.8GHz octa-core 64-bit processor and an Adreno 430 GPU. In light of said chip's overheating rumors from earlier this year, OnePlus specifically pointed out that it's using the cooler 810 v2.1, which, in combination with the thermal gel and graphite stuffed into the body, should keep the phone palm-friendly in most cases (Qualcomm tells us that "virtually all OEMs who have announced devices based on the Snapdragon 810 processor are currently using version 2.1"). We didn't feel the phone getting too warm in our brief hands-on, but we'd need more extensive testing to see if this is truly the case.

Other specs are as you'd expect on a flagship phone today: 3GB or 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, 16GB or 64GB of internal storage (no microSD expansion due to risk of hindering performance), a 3,300mAh fixed battery and a near-native Android 5.1 in the form of OnePlus' OxygenOS. The latter offers a handful of innovative features beyond the default Lollipop interface. For one thing, it lets you toggle on-screen nav buttons on in case you dislike the capacitive hardware controls. You can also rearrange the order of those buttons and customize the look of the menu with "dark mode" and different accent colors.

OnePlus 2

The latest version of OxygenOS also introduces a beta feature called "Shelf," which you can access by swiping right on the home screen. It basically consists of a couple of default widgets of your frequently accessed apps and contacts, although a OnePlus spokesperson tells us that the company hopes to open up the Shelf API so that it can be customized further by developers.

What may appear to be a slight letdown would be the screen. On paper, it's the same 5.5-inch LCD with a 1080p resolution, rather than a sharper 2K option. Lau told me that he's not into the resolution war because 1080p is sufficient for most people; instead, he focused on improving the screen's clarity and brightness this time, because he found out that that's how the iPhone 6 Plus won over so many people. So if you place the One and 2 side by side, you should notice the improvement. But by itself, the OnePlus 2's display didn't strike us as particularly noteworthy at first glance. It's certainly brighter than most smartphones in its class (about 600 nits of brightness, we're told), but brightness alone won't necessarily make it stand out.

Beneath that display, you'll find another addition: a fingerprint reader. Unlike the Touch ID button on the iPhone, this particular version is entirely capacitive and is not "clickable" like other home buttons. We're told that the fingerprint reader is a hair faster than that of the iPhone -- less than 0.5 second -- and can hold up to five different profiles. On either side of it are the aforementioned capacitive navigation buttons which light up when they're in use. Another upside is that USB Type-C port: Few other smartphones have it, and even those are rarely available outside of Asia. The OnePlus 2 could very well be the first globally available handset to ship with it. Bonus: The USB cable it comes with is dual-reversible at both ends and promises to be tangle-free.

OnePlus 2

Camera-wise, don't be fooled by the same 13-megapixel and f/2.0 specs, because the real upgrade lies within the pixel size: A generous 1.3um instead of the common, but smaller 1.12um for this resolution, meaning it's more capable in dark environments and less prone to blurry shots. In addition to that, the new camera is assisted by optical image stabilization, laser autofocus and dual-LED flash. It's no wonder the OnePlus 2 is almost 1mm thicker and 0.46 ounce heavier; but who cares, right? Admittedly, the lowering of the camera looks funny and will take some getting used to, but it's designed that way so that your fingers are less likely to block the lens. On the other side of the phone, there's a 5-megapixel front-facing camera for those who seek to satisfy their selfie needs.

As nice as the OnePlus 2 is, we regret to bring you the sad news that it'll be launched with an invitation-based system on August 11th (Only the 64GB version will be available at launch; the 16GB version will come later). Yes, that does mean you'll have to keep an eye on OnePlus' forum, or ask around in the gym for some spare invites.

Update: OnePlus has confirmed that there's no NFC on its latest flagship, because "most of our users weren't using" it. It's certainly an odd move given that mobile payments are starting to take off.

Additional reporting by Nicole Lee.