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 an early glimpse at what the future of OnePlus software looks like.

Android betas are always an exciting thing, but there’s an especially high amount of anxiety surrounding OnePlus’s take on Android 13. Ever since OnePlus’s deeper integration with Oppo, the software on OnePlus phones has found itself in a concerning place. For years, OxygenOS was hailed for being fast, smooth, and free of unwanted clutter. But when the OnePlus 10 Pro shipped with OxygenOS 12, it was clear that 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 “retain its unique visual design” and shift back to a stock UI. And during its OnePlus 10T launch event earlier this month, OnePlus spent ample time assuring fans it was listening to feedback, taking notes, and was ready to make things right.

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

A slow, heavy, and clunky interface

With OxygenOS 11 and earlier versions, OnePlus’s software looked and felt like a tweaked version of stock Android. OxygenOS 12 shifted away from the minimalistic approach, instead favoring heavier and clunkier design elements. Unfortunately, OxygenOS 13 only moves further in that direction.

OnePlus says it upgraded OxygenOS 13 with its “Quantum Animation Engine 4.0” and that much of the UI was inspired by water/nature. More accurately, OxygenOS 13 is — for all intents and purposes — the ColorOS software used on Oppo phones. This is seen with the redesigned Quick Settings panel, the app drawer, the Clock and Calculator apps, etc. Everywhere you look, OxygenOS 13 is a shell of its former self.

But it’s not just a matter of aesthetic preferences. While I personally prefer the simple design of OxygenOS 11 and older versions, OxygenOS 13 also feels worse. More specifically, it feels horribly sluggish.

When you go home after using an app, an animation shows the app floating back to your home screen — something every Android phone does. But the animation on OxygenOS 13 is stretched out to be noticeably longer than it is on OxygenOS 12 and 11. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it adds an extra beat of waiting for no apparent reason. The on-screen fingerprint sensor animation also takes longer to load, and when you do unlock the phone, a slower animation plays to take you to your home screen. It’s a lot of little things that give OxygenOS 13 a sense of heaviness. 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 shade/Quick Settings now take up the entire screen when opened. Further, the layout of the Quick Settings has gotten a significant overhaul. I like the rotating sun that moves when you adjust the brightness, and being able to customize the two large/rectangle toggles is a nice touch. But once again, OnePlus is clearly favoring maximalism over minimalism. There’s now a media player widget to show whatever audio is currently 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 precious space for no good reason.

OxygenOS 13 also introduces new interfaces for the Clock, Files, Calculator, and Notes apps. They aren’t totally overhauled from their OxygenOS 12 versions, but they all look a bit chunkier.

But, most important of all, OxygenOS 13 removes the famous “1+” Easter egg from the Calculator app. If you want a simple way to summarize the direction OnePlus is heading with OxygenOS 13, there you go.

Feature overload at its finest

And that’s just how OxygenOS 13 looks. 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 'special features' page in oxygenos 13, showing all of the various features for the software.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

One such feature is Smart Sidebar. Similar to what’s available on Samsung and Motorola phones, Smart Sidebar allows you to swipe in from the edge of your screen to access customizable tools and app shortcuts. You can add a screenshot tool, screen recorder button, screen translate, and any app you’d like. There’s also seemingly no limit to how many you can add to the Smart Sidebar. Seems fine, right?

Unfortunately, there’s a weird quirk to Smart Sidebar. If you open an app from it, the application always opens as a “flexible window” — another new feature in OxygenOS 13. Flexible windows allow you to open apps in a small window over whatever else you’re doing on your phone. You can browse Reddit with a small Twitter window over it, watch a full-screen YouTube video with an Instagram window on top, etc.

It’s fine, but I haven’t found the flexible windows to be any more useful than Android’s standard split screen feature. Furthermore, 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 tapping another button — taking away the convenience Smart Sidebar would have otherwise had.

Also new is something called Quick Return. In OxygenOS 13, OnePlus describes Quick Return as a feature that lets you “tap a tile to go back to the app in full screen or in a floating window.” The software gives a couple of examples, such as leaving a ride-hailing app after calling a car or when you die in a multiplayer game and are waiting for a respawn. In these scenarios, Quick Return lets you do other activities with your phone, keep an eye on what’s happening, and jump back to that app when you need to. The problem? My OnePlus 10 Pro shows that zero of my apps are compatible with Quick Return.

As you keep digging through OxygenOS 13, you’ll also find a new Kid Space, Simple mode, and a revamped Work Life Balance system. On the one hand, adding new functionality to your device is great. But so many of these features are things I’d likely completely ignore in daily use. They aren’t bad or damning to have around, but it also feels like OnePlus is loading OxygenOS 13 with features just for the sake of it.

Not addressing any of OxygenOS 12’s problems

More so than anything else, what annoys me the most about OxygenOS 13 is its failure to address the complaints people raised with OxygenOS 12 — which there were plenty of!

You still can’t edit 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 terms of use with virtually every feature/setting you open for the first time. If there’s something about OxygenOS 12 that annoys you, chances are it’s still here in OxygenOS 13.

A quick word on Omoji

Lastly, I need to say something about Omoji. And, yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Omoji are cartoonish characters you can create in OxygenOS 13 that are animated using facial tracking from the front camera. You can change your Omoji’s skin, head, hair, eyes, nose, headwear, glasses, etc.

editing an omoji in oxygenos 13.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Not only is the concept of Omoji just like Memoji on iOS, but the interface for creating one looks identical to Apple’s implementation. Seriously. Side by side, it’s nigh impossible to tell the two apart.

I've gotta give OnePlus/Oppo credit where credit is due — this is the most blatant Memoji rip off I've ever seen pic.twitter.com/E4YQjRSsd1

— Joe Maring (@JoeMaring1) August 10, 2022

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

OxygenOS, as you knew it, is no more

To be fair to OnePlus, these are all impressions after a couple of days with the OxygenOS 13 beta. OnePlus has outlined a list of known bugs on its community forum, and more will likely be discovered — and patched — 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 problems with OxygenOS 13 have nothing to do with the bugs. My issues lie with the core idea of OxygenOS 13. From the various UI changes, slow animations, and the pile of questionable features, there’s nothing here to capture what made me fall in love with OxygenOS in the first place.

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

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