OnePlus seems to be taking bold steps in 2020. First, the company introduced its much anticipated affordable smartphone, the Nord series. This new series marked a shift in the strategy for OnePlus after sticking to the “Never Settle” mantra for years. Instead of the usual Snapdragon 800 series chips with a price tag north of the Rs 25,000 mark, Nord debuted with a mid-range SoC. The company managed to convince users that hardware isn’t everything. Instead, a fluid software experience is equally important. Hence, it is likely that OxygenOS is one of the biggest reasons for the success of Nord. OnePlus offered a streamlined UI, while focusing on performance instead of gimmicks and bloated features. Moreover, unlike some smartphone makers, the timely delivery of updates serves as a cherry on the cake.
Over the years, OnePlus has improved the OxygenOS experience and focused on features that are important to the user experience while leaving out the clutter. Keeping this in mind, the company finally released the beta version of its Android 11-based OxygenOS 11. However, this time, the company has likely opted for some bold changes in the OS design. Inspecting closely, the company has redesigned the interface to make it easier for one-hand usage. But, as noted previously, this makes it somewhat close to Samsung One UI in resemblance. I have been using the latest OxygenOS 11 on OnePlus 8 Pro for some time. Let’s take a closer look at the new, missing, and upcoming features of the OxygenOS 11 along with my thoughts.
Watch: OnePlus Nord Review
OxygenOS 11: The new stuff
Always on Display (AoD) has been a long-requested feature and OnePlus has finally added it. It offers the user a quick glance at important information including the time, battery status, and any notifications without waking up the screen. Looking at the default AoD style, we get a clock with a colorful bar that is both cool and useful. In case you are wondering how this works, let me tell you each time you unlock your phone, it breaks the bar. So, the longer your usage, the wider the groove will be.
You even get to see the total unlocks in a day. While this does drain battery to some degree, you can schedule the AOD feature to save some battery. You just need to search Always-on ambient display in the settings and you will find the schedule option there. Alternatively, you can just keep using the ambient display feature to save more battery. OnePlus offers a total of 12 clock styles, so you have a lot of choices. However, what is missing is the ability to change the color of these clocks, or more fancy things such as Gifs. Yes, one will find this and other customization options on Samsung One UI and more. Personally, it would be great to have such features on OnePlus OxygenOS.
There are a lot of people who have criticized OnePlus for adding big header text and white space on the top half of the screen, resembling One UI. I don’t really think there is an issue with this as the UI is still smooth and animations are fluid. In fact, this design refreshes the look while making things more user-friendly. With companies going for massive displays, it is becoming very difficult to handle a phone with one hand. The company has just tried to solve this issue by offering a UI designed for one-hand usage. This is better than the separate One-hand mode and you will find this mode on Android 11-based OxygenOS.
In addition to the user interface, the company has also changed its in-house apps and major user experience elements in a big way. The first place where you will see these changes is in the Settings app. Once you open the Settings app, you can now easily access the first few options. While I liked this idea of throwing away most of the upper screen to a header and pushing the options to the bottom half, OnePlus seems to have missed out on something here. So, if you visit any section in the Settings, you won’t witness the same one-hand optimization there. This makes the entire experience a bit strange and inconsistent. It also beats the whole purpose of redesigning for the easy one-hand experience. The company should fix this with the upcoming updates. Finally, you can’t change the new dual-color theme in the “Accent” section out of the box.
Customizable gesture for OnePlus Shelf
The most surprising part is the customizable feature for OnePlus self. OnePlus has found a way to let you access Google’s discover feed, Notification shade, and the company’s Shelf too. Currently, you just need to swipe-down gesture from anywhere on the home screen for notification shade and swipe right to access the news feed. Now how will you get to OnePlus shelf?
Well, you can now access the Shelf by swiping-down from anywhere on the display. But for the Notification panel, you need to swipe-down from the top-bar of the screen. This sounds a bit complicated, but you will get used to it. Though, those who use all the three features might not be very pleased as accessing the notification panel would be very difficult. It is good to see that OnePlus has tried to offer something different.
Improved Dark mode, OnePlus Sans font
The company has also significantly improved its dark theme experience. I absolutely love the new overall design of OxygenOS 11 and everything is very smooth and optimized that you will be satisfied with the stable release. OnePlus has basically ditched the all-black look and gone for dark gray hues to differentiate important interface elements when Dark Mode is enabled. This for a change looks good, but one cannot go back to the old all-black look if they get bored.
You can schedule dark mode too as per your needs. In addition, the dark theme is a lot easier on the eyes while saving some battery. You now don’t have to look for the dark mode in the settings as you can access it from the Quick Settings menu. I would also like to mention that the new OnePlus Sans font also helps offer slightly better readability.
Zen mode, Gallery, Weather, and other apps
As mentioned above, OxygenOS 11 also brings significant design changes to many in-house OnePlus apps. The first example of the redesign is the Gallery app. OnePlus has also added functionality that automatically creates stories using your photos and videos on a weekly basis. You now just need to swipe right to get to the next section in the Gallery app, offering a better user experience. I think that OnePlus should consider adding Pro mode to the “Video” section in the camera app. This would offer great help to many users who record videos using their phones. What you do get with OxygenOS 11 is the new share menu feature in the camera app. So, after clicking an image, you can immediately share it to different social media or messaging apps, saving the hassle of opening the particular app and then finding the media to upload.
Beyond the changes in the Gallery app, one of the apps that stand apart after the redesign is the OnePlus Weather app. The new one gives you more details on the current day with some other relevant information and cool animations. The Notes app has also received a minor interface update, but it would be great if OnePlus adds more customizations to the app. Samsung Notes app offers tempting modification options like drawing, colorful palette, font size, and other things to make it more useful.
The company should add support for Spotify or other music apps in the clock app so that one can use it for setting alarms because ain’t you bored of the default tones. Yes, you can download songs and set the song, but these days people are using music streaming apps. Finally, the company has also updated its Zen Mode app with new themes and a group feature. The latter basically means that you can now enjoy the Zen mode with your friends.
Bonus: Android 11 features
Apart from all this, you also get standard Android 11 features. However, OnePlus has not added the new media control option in the Settings yet. You will need to wait for the next update to get the media controls in the Quick Settings section alongside the other controls. Once you expand the notification panel, you will see a full set of media controls in Quick Settings. Google has also changed things in Notifications shade. So, users will now witness three categories in that panel. These include Conversations, Alerting, and Silent. Other features of Android 11 include chat bubbles, notification history, and more.
Upcoming features and concluding thoughts
There are some of the interesting features that OnePlus plans to add to its OxygenOS 11. Earlier this year, the company confirmed on the OnePlus forums that we will soon see features like the ability to enable fingerprint lock for hidden pictures in the Gallery app. When your OnePlus phone is fully charged, the device will alert you with an audio cue. It will add folders within the app drawer and more essential features to Zen mode. Overall, the experience might still be half-baked, but we never felt that it is cluttering or slowing our Android experience. However, the company still needs to make the experience more rounded and consistent to reach that higher level of quality.