OnePlus One Review
Pricing of a smartphone doesn’t always depend on what the company includes in it. This was set as an example by two names – Google and Motorola. While Google’s Android OS has been there for quite a few years now, it didn’t have a control on the pricing of the smartphones. Thus, the famous brands like Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony had always set hefty prices for their flagship smartphones. But then, Google started the Nexus series which put a dent to the pricing factor, and gave the most decent and well performing smartphones that are priced quite lesser than what the OEMs did. Motorola, under the hands of Google, also launched the Moto X, and even cheaper Moto G and Moto E. Thus started the pricing war, and this although hasn’t affected the main brands, it did put an impact in the minds of buyers. OnePlus, a brand from China which out of no where, came with some brilliant marketing tactics, and announced the OnePlus One! The first smartphone from the company, available for a shockingly low price of $299 and having the specifications which the current flagship smartphone with double the price have got. Is it really something one should be excited about, or is it just a hype with the numbers game?
Design, Form Factor
To sum it up about the looks – A $299 smartphone never looked better than this, never felt more comfortable than this for the 5.5-inch screen! When the brands selling millions of smartphones a month keep trying to employ the best designers and researches for a good smartphone design, OnePlus nailed it with a brilliant design, putting a focus on each little detail.
It is no special material used. The polycarbonate back though looks elegant, with the plastic shell all around the device meeting the chrome plastic rim around the front. Having got impressed with the design part, I do have to admit that I always like it when the back cover is removable and battery is accessible. In the OnePlus One, you get a unibody design and the back cover cannot be removed in any way, and may be that is why the company managed to put out this slim profile. The back cover doesn’t offer anything else except for the slots, buttons and the branding. There are power and volume rocker buttons on the right and left side respectively, placed at the right places where one can easily access them. The back isn’t totally flat, and it curves down on the sides for making it easy for the hand as holding a 5.5-inch flat bar phone isn’t really comfortable.
For the early users of OnePlus One, there is a Cyanogen branding on the back for a limited number of devices, but later that is removed although the phone still runs CyanogenMod, the latest version which brings you the Android 4.4.2 KitKat OS version. There’s the certification along with the connectivity data mentioned on the back bottom area, while on the top, the thin and tall raised section of camera is seen, with the lens with Dual LED flash. It does stand out and pose a little risk to the lens glass. The OnePlus logo below the camera is what makes the design very classy and beautiful.
Having said all this, OnePlus hyped about the design so much that they went on to compare with each of the well known brands around. But is there anything that really stands out and make the device different from the others? nothing if a reality check is done. But at the same time, is there anything that bothers you and makes you feel that the design is not what you wanted? nothing for me at least.
There has to be some credit given to OnePlus for doing nothing wrong, nothing unnecessary and actually nothing stupid while making the hardware. A few examples that come up in the mind while I say this, are the finger scanner in Galaxy S5, the Back buttons on LG G2 & G3 and the Duo Camera on HTC One M8. While the finger scanner rarely recognizes the fingerprint on first attempt, the buttons on the sides aren’t ever bad, and HTC has been doing some experiments in the market where numbers have been more important for everyone. Rather than having it with faulty performance, it is better not to have it.
Overall for the design, the OnePlus One is a combination of huge body, beautiful and curvy profile, and simple intelligence. I might be asking a lot, but some certified water resistance would have made it a cent percent perfection. We haven’t tested the durability in any way till now though.
Display, Outdoor (under the sun) brightness, Viewing angles
This is where one might be disappointed. Not because of anything else but the outdoor brightness, because under the sunlight, the full brightness wasn’t that good at all. We tried on straight angle and saw that the content was hardly visible, although that is the case with many other devices too. When we talk about the actual display, it is brilliant on viewing angles in the normal conditions because of the IPS panel used. While there can be some discussion about the low pixel density, thanks to the screen size, but that is quite fine because the content on the 1080p display looks no bad at all, and I actually liked the color output on the One’s screen when compared to that on both, Nexus 5 as well as on Samsung Galaxy S5. But having said that, one has to accept the fact that you are going to struggle in reading the content under direct sunlight.
Comparing the pixel density with the other flagship devices of this year, the OnePlus One is not the best out there, but is that the decider?
As said above, the Galaxy S5 doesn’t even come in comparison when talking about the viewing angles, but the OnePlus One won’t be able to beat HTC One M8 in terms of outdoor brightness. But again, the question comes – aren’t we asking a lot than what is given for a likes-of-flagship device which is priced almost 50% to that of the flagship players?
OnePlus One also has the Touch on Lens technology, using which the touch panel and the glass are brought closer and thus, the touch sensitivity and response time both are improved. This is one of those things which is talked about, but practically we don’t find much difference. The screen has the protection from Gorilla Glass 3, thus you shouldn’t worry while using it with ease or slipping it down in the pocket with keys or anything similar.
Performance, Speed, Benchmarks
The OnePlus One gets powered by the same chipset which is used in all the latest flagship devices, i.e. the Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, LG G3 and Sony Xperia Z2. While we are awaiting for an International release of the LG G3, the scores in benchmark for the OnePlus One are surprisingly better than the ones we found on other flagship smartphones.
It was clearly the best out there in AnTuTu and Nenamark 2, and was beaten by HTC One M8 in Quadrant standard, but we shouldn’t really be going only by these scores because it was not a heavily used device that we put into the test, unlike the other devices. Check out the comparison charts below, followed by the views about performance.
The One employs a 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset along with Adreno 330 GPU, and there is a support by 3GB RAM. We won’t compare the devices here, but would actually talk about the performance. Very snappy, responsive and taking no time to load the apps. We specifically tried out a few things which combine two different things. For example, the facial recognition to unlock the screen. On the other devices which have this feature for the screen unlock, it takes more than a couple seconds for the camera to start and then recognize, but on the OnePlus One, it was very fast.
To add to this, the smartphone’s 3GB RAM is good enough to handle multitasking quite easily. What was good to note is that the OS itself without any background apps didn’t use much RAM, thus there is a lot of other stuff which the RAM can handle on the background, thus is the good performance of the One.
Do we call this the fastest in the industry? Not that easily. There is no device which is perfect to the point where one can call it the smartest of all. Same is the case with OnePlus One. It is very fast, doesn’t give up on anything. But, the phone would not be the same when you switch between camera app and any high-end game, and you would see the little lags, which was something which we didn’t notice on the HTC One M8, so something worth noticing.
And it does heat up quite a lot, especially the sandstone black which we tested for a lot more time, and while playing the high end games, the area near the camera heated up in just about 20 minutes gaming. Not alarming really, but still worth mentioning.
Cameras – capturing samples, video recording, features, modes
There’s a lot we talked in the camera department – the camera app, the rear and front cameras and a lot more. Read out OnePlus One Camera Review.
There’s no Optical Image Stabilization, if we are to talk about the cons. And that is actually a problem if you wanted to capture something in the low light, because that requires a very stiff hand to capture a good one. The modes, settings are in abundance and the capture quality, color reproduction is all good. The HDR mode works perfectly but takes time, but at least that would bring out a stable capture when the surrounding light is not sufficient.
The front facing 5-megapixel camera does a good job not just with the selfie captures, but also with the face recognition for unlocking the screen, and for the video calling. Head to the camera review to read more.
Call quality – reception, speaker quality
In simple words, great signal reception. The antenna pulled a lot of signals in areas where usually we see a poor quality signal. And the call which usually drops when we aren’t still at a place, wasn’t affected even when we were moving. The call quality, i.e. the voice is pretty clear because of the two extra microphones provided, which do the job of canceling whatever the background noise would be. Although these mics are more for the video recording, the call voice quality is very much appreciable. Speakers in the bottom come handy when you aren’t holding the device near your ear and have the speakerphone activated.
Software – OS, Interface, Ease of use and Apps
Here comes the tricky part for most of the users. Software, OS version and the interface is what many ask about. The OnePlus One runs CyanogenMod 11S, which is based on Android 4.4.2 Kitkat. Now what’s that? it is a custom firmware / ROM created using the Android Open Source Platform, and it is one of the those very well known forked Android versions since quite some time. It gives users more choices than the stock ROM would give, for tweaking with the settings, themes and stuff. The OnePlus One is a product made out of partnership between OnePlus and CyanogenMod, thus the 11S build (latest one) was loaded into it.
Although it is the latest OS version as of now (Android L is announced, not launched), one shouldn’t really care about the OS version because the ROM gives you a totally different experience. The home screen doesn’t look much different from any standard Android home screen, and what the cyanogenmod here has, is the sharp edges for everything, from widgets to app icons. This makes it look different, interesting and overall not a bad design. Wherever I check, it was sharp squarish – quick settings panel and section in the notification panel, the bottom tray icons and then the standard app icons for the system apps.
Preinstalled apps – there are quite a few very interesting pre-installed apps in the OnePlus One, some of which can come to good use. These include AudioFX, Camera, Calculator, Calrndar, Email, Screencast, Sound Recorder, Theme Showcase, Torch apart from the big bundle of Google apps including Google+, Search, Gmail, Maps, Youtube, Play Store, Play Books, Games, Movies and Music and Photos.
Themes Showcase – this is something worth highlighting, and this is one of the examples why CyanogenMod is more preferred by people over the stock ROM. The Themes Showcase has a big database of themes which can be either downloaded (if free) or purchased, and these all direct you the to Play Store, but the Showcase is an easy way to check what you are going to get in the pack.
There’s loads of customization possible in the CyanogenMod, especially with the interface design. The themes section in Settings allows the user to change the theme pack, style, icons, fonts, wallpapers on home screen and lock screen, boot animation and the sound packs. Multitasking screen won’t change in any way though, as you get to see the vertical list of running apps with thumbnails showing the current preview of the app.
Buttons – the OnePlus One has two physical buttons – power and volume. The function is always expected to be the same. But in the OnePlus One, I loved the way I could change the options that appear when the power button is long-pressed. You could use the Reboot menu, screenshot, expanded desktop, profile switcher, Airplane mode and sound panel in that menu. Having a screenshot shortcut is very handy, when you aren’t good enough in the button combination for screenshot.
Taking the customization levels ahead, the CyanogenMod in the One has a lot of gesture controls, options to change the onscreen stuff such as the buttons layout in the bottom. Moreover you could choose to either use the buttons on the screen or remove them, because the device comes with the space below the display where you get the buttons, so that again is for the personal choice of the users. For the users with smaller hands, the navigation bar can be shifted to the left side in the landscape mode for easier access.
Screencast – This was a feature introduced when Android KitKat was announced, but practically it didn’t come for any devices except through an app for the Nexus 5. The OnePlus One has this beautiful feature where we could record the screen with the microphone on so that you speak and record you voice as well.
Overall, the OnePlus One’s CyanogenMod interface is pretty cool. If you have already used the previous version of CyanogenMod, there is nothing much you would notice as a change, but for someone using the standard Android OS would feel it refreshing. But again, with so much you could do, it isn’t easy to get adjust to this new OS system if you are one of those who preferred always to use a very simple and neat looking interface in your smartphone.
Ports, Speakers location and quality
The ports are located quite well at the locations which are standard for a smartphone, with USB port in the bottom, headset jack on the top, and speakers in the bottom on the either side of USB port. OnePlus has done a brilliant job with the speakers, which they call as Stereo speakers because there are two actual speakers on the either side of the USB port in the bottom, and they are loud and clear while not just playing music but also while listening with speakerphone activated in calls. With clear, we don’t mean these are the best ones out there, but still, the attempt made to have two speakers, one behind each grill makes it good although the concept of Stereo speakers should have been different.
Battery life (testing the life on light and heavy usage)
It takes me back to the days when I was in awe about the Galaxy Note 2’s battery. It was one of the best back then, and now there is nothing to complain about the 3100 mAh massive battery included in the OnePlus One. It isn’t removable, and that could be a factor many have in mind, but the capacity is going to keep the user thinking whether an extra battery is really needed.
We won’t tell that OnePlus has done a lot in the software aspect to improve the battery life, because so much of customization possibility would put some load of the internal hardware and in the end, battery is used. But due to the big screen size, the battery packed on the back is large enough to give you a backup that you don’t have to charge the phone during the entire day.
Again, talking of the OS, there is nothing given for the users to try and tweak the settings so that the battery life can be extended, but it seems more of an effort from the company to ensure that you don’t run for a charger during the day, because 3100 mAh is no less and it does easily survice on calls, Internet usage and occasional usage of camera and graphic-loaded apps. Nothing extra-ordinary but nothing bad at all, unless you try to give it more of a load than you usually do.
Connectivity – data network, other options tested
The OnePlus One has many bands available, thus it wouldn’t be an issue for the users to connect to the particular data network on most of the network providers in the US and UK, although we haven’t tested it there. The signal reception for calls as we said above, was great, and so was the 3G connectivity in the network we tested. It wasn’t much different from the other flagship devices that we tested alongside it, but who wants more when you get what is expected from the smartphone?
Other connectivity options were all running perfectly fine, and again, nothing overly done and nothing much missed by OnePlus. We will come up with the actual test results of connectivity very soon, comparing it with the other smartphones on particular networks.
Value for money and Final Verdict
While one would criticize the OnePlus One for software if they aren’t getting well adjusted to it, or might even go further into it and curse it for some other reason, but keep the pricing in mind. OnePlus has made an aggressive attempt to price this piece of beauty for just $299 unlocked, which is a price no other device with similar specs matches. Nexus 5 comes no where in comparison with specs, although it is the only device with somewhat similar price.
For $349, you are getting a hand on a whooping 64GB storage variant. For such pricing, the One easily laughs over the competition, i.e. the likes of Galaxy S5, One M8, Xperia Z2 and LG G3. Although not an established brand, and this being their first attempt with a direct jump into flagship range, OnePlus has not ignored any little details, and that is what makes it worth the price. In fact, looking at everything, it seems the company isn’t doing much justice to the device by pricing it this low. There are two positives for the customers here – 1. a heavily loaded smartphone for cheap, and 2. competitors would surely reconsider the pricing strategy in the coming days, making smaller holes in the pockets of customers.
The odds against OnePlus One are – non-removable battery, non-expandable storage, large body and the biggest – no proper availability and a lot of delays in releasing the device (still available only on invites while we write this review). But if you don’t really care and put your efforts to get one, you are not going to regret buying this!