OnePlus has officially unleashed the stable OxygenOS 12 update which is based upon Android 12. Thanks to the early beta phases we had a good idea of what to expect – and that is ColorOS Lite.

Enthusiast brands can only appease the hardcore following for so long. In recent years we’ve seen OnePlus unravel thread by thread until we’re now left with little more than an outright direct Oppo underling. Sure, it was bound to happen, but the most positive fan out there would have, at the very least, expected some divergence in the software experience.

Sharing components and hardware production pipelines is one thing, but for many, the crux of why they still continued to persevere with OnePlus was OxygenOS. While OxygenOS 12 – and by extension ColorOS – is not terrible, it will leave a very bitter taste in the mouth of those aforementioned hardcore OnePlus fans.

In simple terms, if you do not like Oppo’s ColorOS, then you will not like OxygenOS 12. For you, a jump to Google’s Pixel series might offer the clean software experience that you crave. If you are still happy to stick with OnePlus then read on.

Video — OxygenOS 12 review

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OxygenOS 12: The bad stuff

Simply by virtue of such a huge change for OxygenOS, it’s only fair that we discuss the problems right up top. If you have never used a OnePlus phone before you might not care, but for stalwarts, these changes and tweaks grate and irritate right out of the gate.

OxygenOS 12 rids you of certain levels of control and customization that have been staples of the Android skin for a long time. Google did something similar in favor of Material You’s wallpaper-based theming, and that too hurts the customization credentials of Pixel devices too.

You lose out on the ability to change individual icons, and the status bar personalization is very limited. Google’s Discover Feed cannot be disabled in favor of the OnePlus Shelf. Consider that even with a facelift in Android 11, none of these features were unceremoniously removed. OxygenOS is getting more rigid, and while you have plenty of customization tweaks in other areas, things are not quite as fluid as in previous iterations.

It’s hard to deny that there are areas where you can clearly see a lack of attention to finer details. A prime example is that of the redundant double confirmations you get when deleting homescreen widgets. Long pressing then tapping “Remove” initiates a secondary confirmation pop-up panel where you can cancel the action. This might be useful to some, but it feels unnecessary in these instances.

The move away from OnePlus Slate to OnePlus Sans over the past couple of years has been quite disappointing as it’s just Oppo Sans in all but name. Luckily you can stick with the traditional Roboto if you find the overly rounded aesthetic a tad too much. Personally, I don’t mind the new font, but I would prefer a unique character set dedicated to OnePlus hardware rather than a recycled Oppo design choice – something that is a signature of OxygenOS 12.

Default icon theming is another area that lifts directly out of the ColorOS playbook. This is both a positive and a negative trait, though. The neat ability to change individual app icons and add custom labels is gone, which is a major sore point. However, you can more easily adjust, tweak, and tune the size, shape, and design within the wider “Personalisations” settings section. It’s almost as if OnePlus gives with one hand while taking with the other.

Google’s big Dynamic Color theming system that adds app accenting based upon your device wallpaper isn’t fully implemented in the stable OxygenOS 12 build either. You need to manually set a system color rather than your wallpaper being the catalyst for added UI theming, and the changes are very minimal, to say the least.

Bugs and bugbears

ColorOS 12 and OxygenOS 12

[Update]: OnePlus has since confirmed that the OxygenOS update has been pulled due to various bugs and issues:

We are aware of the issues caused by the OxygenOS 12 update and our software team is fixing them. We will suspend this software update and roll out a new iteration as soon as possible.

It’s not clear when we’ll see a reissue of the update but existing issues for those that have upgraded still remain.

For a so-called “stable” release, OxygenOS 12 is riddled with bugs and issues that honestly make it very hard to suggest that you update and install on your eligible OnePlus phone. It’s not even in just one or two areas either.

The system manages “locked” apps or apps that stay in RAM for quick access via the Recents menu. This leads to a frustrating situation whereby the “Close all” button within the app switcher simply won’t close every app. Having to dive into settings to disable this feels counterintuitive and a little shortsighted.

Earlier in the beta phase, notification status bar icons changed behavior. Swapping out simple, effective reminders for bright, colorful icons – rather than the line-style icons that we have become accustomed to on most Android devices. While this was jarring and didn’t fit with the rest of the system theming, some of the traits of this change remain.

Should you get multiple notifications back-to-back, OxygenOS 12 stacks these, and some will not show an icon within the status bar. Notifications can sometimes show in an incorrect order or be jumbled without reason. The way in which OxygenOS 12 handles notifications is pretty poor and compounds the problems that have been there for some time already.

One problem that isn’t unique to OxygenOS 12 but is annoying, all the same, is how the Always-on display handles the in-display fingerprint scanner. Often the guidelines for the scanner will just disappear, meaning you’ll need to tap your display to activate and then place your finger over the scanner again. Sure, that’s a nitpick, but it’s an annoyance all the same to the point it feels almost like a bug.

OxygenOS 12: Added Android 12 features

As you’d expect, a ton of changes added in the AOSP build of Android 12 have jumped over to Oxygen OS 12, and almost all were present in the early beta phase. Most are verbatim copies of what you’ll find on Pixel phones, with the Privacy Dashboard and enhanced camera and microphone access toggles also making the jump.

You’ll get an upper-right notification “dot” to indicate that your camera or microphone has been accessed. Expanding the notification shade and tapping the little icon will bring up another pop-up that tells you just which app has recently accessed your on-device hardware. It’s great for accountability, and being able to block access to the microphone and camera with the tap of a notification shade toggle comes in very handy.

OnePlus Shelf and the Scout feature are not technically new, but the extra control panel has received a facelift with the global search option also now available in all regions. This is a great place to stash Android widgets if you prefer not to clutter your homescreen but can be disabled completely. While you can no longer replace the Google Discover Feed, the Shelf portion is still well implemented and offers a unique take for common data points and quick access panels.

OxygenOS 12 tunes the impressive gaming modes available here too, with some notable new tweaks such as a voice modulator for in-game chat. This allows you to change your voice pitch for better anonymity when playing online titles. We can’t for certain say how well it works, but it’s an interesting addition and one that adds an extra “fun” layer to mobile gaming.

There is also a new “Data Monitor” option that gives you a draggable pop-up to manage and check your phone’s vital stats such as screen framerate, GPU, and CPU utilization. If you see performance dips, this can be a good way to keep track of your favorite titles. In the past, we’ve suggested that a OnePlus device can offer a better experience than many dedicated gaming phones and this still appears to be the case in many regards.

OxygenOS 12: The good stuff

It would be foolish to say that every change in OxygenOS 12 is objectively bad. ColorOS has its merits and many of those jump over here. However, OnePlus devices gain a few extra features that are good and are worthy inclusions to the software mix on offer.

A prime example is the ability to tweak and tune the system dark theme. While many other OEMs simply offer one “tone,” you can adjust the dark theme between an AMOLED-friendly “Enhanced,” a semi-gray “Medium,” and light-gray “Gentle” setting. This even applies to the forced dark mode that can be set on an app-by-app basis, which gives you options to suit your own personal preference. Apps with their own dark theme settings may not adhere to this, but it’s a positive inclusion all the same.

OxygenOS 12 also handles screenshot gestures very well. The partial screenshot or three-finger drag gesture really is an excellent option and one that continues to be accurate and precise. It’s nice to see that it isn’t being ditched here. It is joined by a familiar Oppo solution for quickly entering split-screen mode. A 3-finger downward drag lets you jump into two apps simultaneously without needing to enter the recent app menu directly.

I’m in love with the Work-life balance toggle and would love to see more OEMs adopt a similar feature. Essentially, this allows you to create two distinct profiles on your smartphone. The “Work” profile is pretty self-explanatory, as you can restrict access to games or social media apps or only allow access to work-focused content when active.

The “Life” option can be used in the same way, giving you access to all the apps you wouldn’t usually use during your non-work-related existence while blocking out work-related content. On the face of it, this sounds fairly similar to the Focus mode already available in Android, but it goes a few steps further with enhanced customization.

Each profile can be activated or deactivated based upon time, Wi-Fi connection, or location. This creates a more autonomous switch and I must admit that this is a fantastic way to handle such a feature. I can foresee this being a popular new addition and it’s one I would love to see on more smartphones across the broad spectrum of Android.

OnePlus may have made significant changes across almost all facets of OxygenOS 12, but one area I’m happy was not altered has been to the notification shade toggle layout. Material You on Pixel devices has decreased the utility of this section somewhat, but that is not the case here. You still have access to 12 quick toggles across multiple pages. It’s a delight for accessibility.

The new “High performance mode” offers people wanting the maximum from the hardware on offer a way to choose battery over full-throttle access. In all honesty, I couldn’t see a major difference in my brief testing period, but it is good to see such an option exist – even if it only offers some framerate increases in games or specific apps.

While there are bugs across many areas of OxygenOS 12, there is more attention to the animations, which in many cases feel more deliberate. The whizzbang OxygenOS of old stripped animations to the bare essentials and as such could feel janky or choppy as a result. In Android 12 for OnePlus phones, app transition animations feel more fluid and “finished.”

Final thoughts

In summary: OxygenOS as you know it is basically gone. This is a new software era for the Chinese firm that, like Realme and Vivo, is going to be tied directly to ColorOS. On top of that, it really doesn’t help that the first “stable” update based upon Android 12 for OnePlus phones is at times a bit of a buggy mess.

Now, this poses a problem for current OnePlus owners. Do you jump ship or stick it out? If it’s the latter, our advice is to reset your device before upgrading. At the very least, this may mitigate some of the early teething problems but, even so, it’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to stick with OxygenOS 11 over this Android 12 version.

The hardware might not have changed but these fairly huge software changes will leave a lot of fans scratching their heads and wondering why try and tweak what was once a winning formula. One saving grace is that if you simply cannot deal with OxygenOS 12 as it currently is, third-party ROM support might offer a lifeline for your OnePlus phone.

Underneath the second-hand veneer, there are some nice features added here that offer a glimpse of the OnePlus that hardcore fans once lauded. Mainstream appeal may be the end goal but it’s tough to see how this current build achieves that with bugs, inconsistent design, and a weird cookie-cutter approach that will only hinder the all-important competitor differentiation. There is no doubt that the Oppo-OnePlus merger will prove to be a bitter pill to swallow – and a large one at that.

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About the Author

Damien Wilde

Damien is a UK-based video producer for 9to5Google. Find him on Twitter: @iamdamienwilde. Email: damien@9to5mac.com

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