I tried OxygenOS 13, and it’s everything I feared it would be

OxygenOS 13 is here. Well, sort of. OnePlus released the OxygenOS 13 open beta for the OnePlus 10 Pro on August 9, giving users a chance to get a quick glimpse of what the future of OnePlus software looks like.

Android betas are always an exciting thing, but there’s particularly high anxiety surrounding OnePlus’ take on Android 13. Since OnePlus’ deeper integration with Oppo, software on OnePlus phones has found itself in a worrying place. For years, OxygenOS has been praised for its speed, smoothness, and lack of unwanted clutter. But when the OnePlus 10 Pro shipped with OxygenOS 12, it was clear OnePlus was ready to take a different approach.

Android 13 logo on a OnePlus 10 Pro, running OxygenOS 13.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

In February 2022, OnePlus promised that OxygenOS 13 would “maintain its unique visual design” and return to a standard user interface. And at its OnePlus 10T launch event earlier this month, OnePlus spent a lot of time assuring fans that it was listening to feedback, taking notes, and ready to do it right.

Now that I’ve had the chance to use OxygenOS 13 for myself, it’s obvious that none of that was true.

Slow, clunky, clunky interface

With OxygenOS 11 and earlier, OnePlus’ software looked like a modified version of stock Android. OxygenOS 12 has moved away from the minimalist approach, favoring heavier and bulkier design elements instead. Unfortunately, OxygenOS 13 only moves in that direction.

OnePlus says it updated OxygenOS 13 with its “Quantum Animation Engine 4.0” and much of the UI was inspired by water/nature. Specifically, OxygenOS 13 is – for all intents and purposes – the ColorOS software used on Oppo phones. This is seen with the revamped Quick Settings panel, app drawer, Clock and Calculator apps, and more. Everywhere you look, OxygenOS 13 is a shell of itself.

But it’s not just a matter of aesthetic preferences. Although I personally prefer the simple design of OxygenOS 11 and earlier, OxygenOS 13 also feels worse. Specifically, it feels horribly slow.

When you come home from using an app, an animation shows the app floating to your home screen, which is what all Android phones do. But the animation on OxygenOS 13 is stretched to be noticeably longer than on OxygenOS 12 and 11. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it adds extra waiting time for no apparent reason. The in-screen fingerprint sensor animation also takes longer to load, and when you unlock the phone, a slower animation plays to bring you to your home screen. It’s a lot of little things that make OxygenOS 13 feel heavy. This was already a problem in OxygenOS 12, and OxygenOS 13 only makes it worse.

And, of course, there are the more glaring UI changes. The Notification/Quick Settings shade now takes up the entire screen when opened. Additionally, the Quick Settings layout has received a significant overhaul. I like the rotating sun that moves as you adjust the brightness, and being able to customize the two large/rectangle toggles is a nice touch. But again, OnePlus clearly favors maximalism over minimalism. Now there is a media player widget to display any audio file that is playing on your phone. It’s handy when you’re listening to something, but even when you’re not, it’s still there – just taking up valuable space for no good reason.

OxygenOS 13 also introduces new interfaces for the Clock, Files, Calculator, and Notes apps. They’re not totally overhauled from their OxygenOS 12 releases, but they all look a bit bulkier.

But, more importantly, OxygenOS 13 removes the infamous “1+” Easter egg from the Calculator app. If you want an easy way to sum up the direction OnePlus is taking with OxygenOS 13, here we go.

Feature overload at its finest

And that’s what OxygenOS 13 looks like. The update also adds a suite of new features to OnePlus phones. Some people may find them useful, but in my limited testing I’m struggling to get anything out of them.

The page
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

One of these features is Smart Sidebar. Similar to what’s available on Samsung and Motorola phones, the Smart Sidebar lets you swipe from the edge of your screen to access customizable tools and app shortcuts. You can add screenshot tool, screen recording button, screen translation and any app you want. There’s seemingly no limit to how many you can add to the smart sidebar. Sounds good, right?

Unfortunately, there’s a weird quirk to Smart Sidebar. If you open an app from it, the app always opens as a “flexible window” – another new feature in OxygenOS 13. Flexible windows lets you open apps in a small window on everything you do on your phone. You can browse Reddit with a small Twitter window on it, watch a full-screen YouTube video with an Instagram window on top, and more.

That’s fine, but I haven’t found flexible windows any more useful than Android’s standard split-screen feature. Plus, being forced to open apps as a flexible window from the smart sidebar is a bewildering choice. You can turn a flexible window into a full-screen app, but only after pressing another button, removing the convenience the smart sidebar would otherwise have had.

Another novelty is something called Quick Return. In OxygenOS 13, OnePlus describes Quick Return as a feature that lets you “tap a tile to return to the full screen or floating window app.” The software gives a few examples, such as quitting a rideshare app after calling a car, or when you die in a multiplayer game and wait for a respawn. In these scenarios, Quick Return lets you perform other activities with your phone, keep tabs on what’s going on, and return to this app when you need to. The problem? My OnePlus 10 Pro says none of my apps are compatible with Quick Return.

As you explore OxygenOS 13, you’ll also find a new kids’ area, simple mode, and a revamped work-life balance system. On one hand, adding new features to your device is great. But many of these features are things that I would probably completely ignore in day-to-day use. They’re not bad or overwhelming, but it also feels like OnePlus is loading OxygenOS 13 with features just for fun.

Doesn’t fix any of the OxygenOS 12 issues

More than anything else, what annoys me the most about OxygenOS 13 is its failure to address the complaints people raised with OxygenOS 12 – which were many!

You still can’t change individual app icons with the default launcher, touch responsiveness with the app drawer and lock screen notifications remain inconsistent, and you’re still constantly bombarded with prompts to agree to the Terms of Service with virtually every feature/settings you open. for the first time. If there’s something about OxygenOS 12 that annoys you, chances are it’s still there in OxygenOS 13.

A quick note about Omoji

Finally, I have to say something about Omoji. And, yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Omoji are cartoon characters you can create in OxygenOS 13 that are animated using face tracking from the front camera. You can change the skin, head, hair, eyes, nose, headgear, glasses, etc. of your Omoji.

Editing an Omoji in OxygenOS 13.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Not only is the concept of Omoji like Memoji on iOS, but the interface to create a look identical to Apple’s implementation. Seriously. Side by side, it is almost impossible to tell the two apart.

I must give OnePlus/Oppo credit where credit is due – this is the most egregious Memoji scam I have ever seen pic.twitter.com/E4YQjRSsd1

—Joe Maring (@JoeMaring1) August 10, 2022

Making things more comical is the implementation of Omoji. Face tracking with the 10 Pro’s front camera is ridiculously bad, you can only use Omoji for your always-on display, and the option in the Settings app to change your Omoji randomly appears and disappears for no rhyme or reason. It’s all pretty amazing.

OxygenOS, as you knew, is no longer

To be fair to OnePlus, these are all impressions after a few days with the OxygenOS 13 beta. OnePlus has compiled a list of known bugs on its community forum, and more will likely be discovered – and fixed – in the coming weeks.

OxygenOS 12 and ColorOS 12 home screens.
OxygenOS 12 (right) and ColorOS 12 (left) Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

But my biggest issues with OxygenOS 13 have nothing to do with bugs. My issues lie with the core idea of ​​OxygenOS 13. From the various UI changes, slow animations, and pile of dodgy features, there’s nothing here to capture what brought me down. in love with OxygenOS in the first place.

It’s not fun to write 1400 (mostly negative) words about OnePlus’ big software update of the year being a huge disappointment. But, unfortunately, that’s where we are. We should have seen it coming since OnePlus and Oppo announced their merger. I’m not surprised what happened to OxygenOS 13, but as a die-hard OnePlus fan since the days of the OnePlus One, I also feel like I’ve lost an old friend. And I hate that.

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