OnePlus Scales Back to Stock Android for a Sweet Breath of OxygenOS

Come with us to explore OnePlus Scales Back to Stock Android for a Sweet Breath of OxygenOS

When I first reviewed the OnePlus 3, I had plenty of positives to sing about the device’s software UI and the resulting user experience. OnePlus had accomplished a truly-lightweight ROM that enhanced the UI in meaningful ways, while leaving the core of Android alone.

This was one of my favorite parts of OxygenOS, and the user experience for OnePlus 3 users running stable builds hasn’t changed much in this regard. The software package is smooth and offers few compromises as well as a healthy amount of customization; it feels thought-out and reserved in a comfortable way. But things change in the realm of software and companies try new things – which we should encourage, with proper feedback – which led to the creation of OnePlus’ “community builds” (essentially a beta program), where the company was free to experiment with the device’s software without impacting the UX of those that liked that original OxygenOS experience. OnePlus has turned its track record around when it comes to updates starting with the OnePlus 3, and they have been listening closely to feedback — so it was a surprise when users found that the community builds actually changed much of the original OxygenOS, and not always for the better.

While the OnePlus 3’s software was almost invariably praised by reviews and users alike, some internal changes meant that the software development model that created OxygenOS had to be reformed. Essentially, OnePlus realized it was impractical to keep two separate software development teams working on two disparate ROMs – Oxygen and Hydrogen – so the company decided to merge these teams and unify the underlying framework to consolidate the experience and provide faster software updates. We have written about the perceptible increase in support with this new device, but the early community builds showed a drastic change in the user interface and the introduction of a slightly-altered design language (incorporating more transparencies, blurs, etc). HydrogenOS itself was admittedly very different, and we did see some influences like those seen in Chinese ROMs in the community builds. Proportion changed, accent colors were altered, and the UI tried to imitate Nougat in some places like the notification shade. This software eventually made it to the OnePlus 3T as the main firmware.

A Taste of Nougat

Yesterday we saw the release of the Nougat Open Beta 8 for the OnePlus 3, meaning users finally got to try out the OxygenOS vision for Android 7.0 (and not 7.1). When I personally saw the forum announcement, my immediate doubt was whether the OnePlus 3 would leave Stock Nougat alone – an update which I consider the best refinement yet – or if the community builds’ design language would make its way to the beta. Luckily, my concerns were quickly eased and the Nougat Beta 8 actually has a very tasteful implementation of Nougat, and certainly better than the OxygenOS found in the OnePlus 3T in my opinion.

Above you can see a gallery comparing some basic elements of the old Oxygen OS and the OP3T’s version, and below you can compare the latter with the Nougat build. As you can see, the proportions are different almost everywhere, given the OnePlus 3T’s firmware had a rather shoddy imitation of Nougat elements. Much of what makes Nougat great is left untouched, although there are some noticeable changes here and there, namely in the accent color and theme options. But the default theme’s accent changes are pretty pleasing, I think, and the blue motif reminds me of the Pixel XL’s UI more than the OxygenOS I grew used to. With the light and dark themes, you can still change the accent (the color options are fine) but I still wish OnePlus would let us customize that while using the default theme, and that they’d let us choose the green accent of Stock Android as well.

The user experience of the Nougat beta is also quite satisfactory in general, I found. First, though, let’s take the bugs and inconsistencies I’ve experienced out of the way. The setup process was abnormally laggy, but the device settled in after a while; however, I ran into a black screen crash not even an hour in, and a few hours later I also experienced a full device freeze. Since then, though, I haven’t had any instability issues. There are also some software oversights, such as the Nougat settings sidemenu not being properly themed on the System UI tuner (interestingly enough, it becomes stock-ish green), and the software keys can initiate multi-window (recents longpress) but the hardware keys cannot — and there is no option in the keys customization to allow for it yet. I’ve also seen more launcher redraws than I’d like, and while not a bug, I wish the volume bar behavior would allow me to set “vibrate” by turning the volume all the way down. Mind you, these are only a few clear issues out of many, many bugs that people have encountered, and your mileage might vary.

[Beta 8] feels like the good old OxygenOS philosophy applied to a Nougat base, and that’s just what OxygenOS needed

I expected these kinds of issues given that this is a beta, after all — in fact, some of those problems were present in early CM14 builds as well. Moving onto the good, though, OxygenOS running on top of Android Nougat is very well-executed: OnePlus brought all of the best features over, including the app locker and the new gestures, while still keeping everything that’s new tidy and unobtrusive.

And this is perhaps the best part of the experience: this feels like the good old OxygenOS philosophy but applied to a Nougat base, nothing less and nothing more, and that is just what OxygenOS needed. Many features from Android Nougat further enhance the OnePlus 3’s user experience and general philosophy, too. For example, multi-window is arguably an enthusiast feature, and at the very least it’s something Android enthusiasts have wanted implemented on Stock Android for quite a while. The OnePlus 3 is an enthusiast device if there ever was one, so it’s great to finally see the feature implemented on OxygenOS. Furthermore, the fact that the OnePlus 3 has the option for capacitive keys means that multi-window is further enhanced by maximizing the amount of screen available for the two applications.

Beta 8 effortlessly merges the best of Android Nougat with Oxygen features

screenshot_20161201-123539And this is made even better with the inclusion of DPI scaling courtesy of 7.0 — regular OxygenOS had to have its DPI adjusted through adb or build.prop edits, and this would often result in some UI elements not being scaled properly or outright breaking. To the side you can find an example of the OnePlus 3T’s toggles becoming left-biased under a non-stock, manually-adjusted DPI.

The better notifications, cleaner toggles, and other Nougat additions are the icing on top. It’s also fair to recognize that OnePlus had made it a staple of its software model to implement upcoming features on current software; the OnePlus 2, for example, had permission controls and other Marshmallow features, and the OnePlus 3 also touted some functional improvements like a reworked Doze mode. But if I must be frank, I am glad that such features eventually get replaced by the proper Android implementation. Ultimately, OxygenOS Beta 8 feels very effortless in its merger of Nougat and Oxygen features.

Back to Basics

I’ve only had 24 hours with the new beta build, so I can’t comment on battery life yet. Performance, too, would take a while to analyze, but do know that the touch firmware is the same as the OP3T’s (thanks to u/JakeChambersOy for letting me know). A OnePlus representative also told me they have been looking into improving touch latency before the controversy broke loose, which is reassuring if true. So far, though, the experience has been fast and smooth, and it’s worth noting that clean flashing it, or if wiping after, will grant you the F2FS improvements we took a look at yesterday.

There will be bugs, and rolling back to Marshmallow is not straightforward

Overall, this is a solid beta for what looks to be a very solid future update. I can’t quite say it’s daily driver material given I have experienced a couple of crashes and annoying bugs, but I do think it’s something worth trying… However, rolling back to Marshmallow is not a straight-forward process at the moment and it involves flashing a custom build of Android Marshmallow, which you have to request by contacting customer support. Before flashing the build, do read a guide and people’s opinions on the forums and check out the bugs and feedback that the community is offering.

It’s comforting to know that many of the community build’s UI modifications are being rolled back in favor of Nougat’s aesthetics, but it does make me wonder why they went through that trouble if that UI only saw official stable debut on the OnePlus 3T. Perhaps it’s because we’ve heard that the OnePlus 3T won’t receive its Nougat beta until after the OnePlus 3’s testing period is done, but in the end and like we originally stated, OnePlus 3 owners get to experience the OxygenOS Nougat builds before those getting the upgraded hardware. I just hope that there is no bait and switch with these beta builds, and that the refined user experience that we see is what we ultimately get, only with the extra polish it deserves.

Check Out XDA’s OnePlus 3 Forum >>

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