Photo: David Nield (Gizmodo)

OnePlus phones just keep getting better and better, but what’s not often talked about very much is the software that comes pre-installed on board. It’s Android, but it’s OnePlus’ own brand of Android called OxygenOS and it’s getting very close to beating Google at its own game.

From the once-very-bloated-but-now-not-so-bad offering that is Samsung One UI, to more vanilla takes from LG and HTC, to the quirky OS skins that Huawei and Xiaomi put out, every manufacturer likes to put its own particular spin on Android (apart from stock Android devotees like Nokia).

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For many years it was accepted that Google led the way with the slickest, most intuitive, most efficient software: the ‘stock’ Android experience that appeared first on the Nexus phones and survives in slightly altered form on the Pixels.

Spend a while with OxygenOS, the spin-off of stock Android that OnePlus launched back in 2015, and you could well make the case for it eclipsing what Google is doing. It keeps the best bits of what Google has built, and adds some thoughtful, well-designed, functional and very useful extras.

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Messages on a Pixel (left) and OnePlus phone (right).
Screenshot: Gizmodo

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1) OxygenOS has a better interface

Stock Android might be bloat-free and streamlined, but it’s very, very dull to look at. OxygenOS, meanwhile, is much easier on the eyes—and that makes more of a difference than you might think. You get more control over the look of the software as well, whether that’s the overall theme, the font, or the accent color used.

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From the design of app icons to the use of fonts to the little visual tweaks inside the apps themselves, it’s hard to fault the look of OxygenOS. It manages to be clean and elegant without being boring, whether you’re flicking through the Settings menu or sending text messages. And get this: The weather app in the app drawer actually changes according to the local weather.


Gaming mode runs automatically but you can easily customize it.
Screenshot: Gizmodo

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2) Gaming mode makes a lot of sense

OxygenOS brings with it a gaming mode that Google would do well to copy if anyone’s actually using their Pixel phone to do some serious gaming. Offering features that are just common sense, it kicks in automatically when a game starts but can be heavily customized from the phone Settings menu.

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Gaming mode lets you block notifications, route calls to the speaker only, disable automatic brightness adjustment, enhance the display with an HDR-style boost, add some extra oomph to the haptic feedback, and even focus as much of the phone’s processing power as possible to the game you’re playing.


3) OxygenOS lets you run apps in parallel

The ability to run parallel apps isn’t exclusive to OxygenOS, but it’s implemented very well here, and it’s something that’s sadly lacking in stock Android for the time being. Essentially, it means you can run two different instances of an app with two different sets of login credentials.

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Need to run two WhatsApp accounts on the same phone? Have multiple Instagram accounts you need to keep on top of? The Parallel Apps feature makes it possible, and it’s a breeze to configure as well. Like a lot of other features on OxygenOS, it just works as intended, with the minimum of fuss.


Gesture control on OxygenOS.
Screenshot: Gizmodo

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4) You can navigate around with gestures

Once you’ve got used to navigating around your phone with customized gestures, you won’t want to give them up, and this is another area where OxygenOS on a OnePlus phone really excels. Swipe up and to the right to go to the most recently used app, for instance—it’s like the Pixel gestures, but upgraded.

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OxygenOS also lets you draw on the lock screen and write certain characters to launch certain apps (like the flashlight, or the selfie camera, or whatever you want really). This can all be customized through the Settings page, and you’ve also got a choice between gesture navigation or soft navigation buttons for the OS as a whole.


Power up, power down with OxygenOS.
Screenshot: Gizmodo

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5) OnePlus phones can wake themselves up

This is a combination of hardware and software rather than something exclusive to OxygenOS, but we’d love to see it available more widely. Head to Utilities from Settings then choose Scheduled power on/off to choose when your handset powers up or powers down: Very handy for managing battery life.

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Even better, you can set alarms to wake up your phone too—you can turn off your OxygenOS-powered phone at night safe in the knowledge that it’s still going to spring into life when your alarm goes off. Not a feature that’s going to change your life perhaps, but handy to have nevertheless.


The App locker gives you some extra peace of mind.
Screenshot: Gizmodo

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6) The App locker offers extra security

In this privacy-conscious age, it’s refreshing to see something like the OxygenOS App locker implemented so well. Again, it’s not a feature exclusive to OxygenOS, but it’s not available natively in stock Android, and it’s something you can quickly find yourself coming to depend on.

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Essentially, it locks your pick of apps behind an encrypted barrier, so they can’t be opened without entering your PIN or using a recognized fingerprint. It’s perfect if other people—kids, your partner, your parents—often have access to your phone and you want to keep certain sections locked away.


The OxygenOS Shelf.
Screenshot: Gizmodo

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7) The OxygenOS Shelf improves on Google Assistant

At first glance the OxygenOS Shelf—one swipe away from the home screen—looks like a poor imitation of the equivalent Google Now/Google Assistant feed you get with stock Android. Spend a bit more time with OxygenOS though, and you realize the Shelf keeps all the useful stuff while cutting out the fluff.

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Kept in are shortcuts to notes, files, the camera, recent apps, your data, and battery usage—everything you’re actually going to use, in other words—while pushed out are ‘personalized’ news stories and sports scores that Google thinks you might be interested in. Oh, and it’s easier to customize as well.

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