The OnePlus One has a specifications sheet that screams high-end. It has a custom version of one of the most popular Android ROMs ever. It also sells with a miraculously low $300 price tag. Could this be the smartphone of the year? In truth we find a 5.5 inch Android smartphone that flirts with true brilliance, coming very, very close to being the ‘Flagship Killer’ it is billed to be.
A Day in the Life with the OnePlus One Smartphone
Before you get stuck into the full detailed written review, be sure to check out this fun video review which covers a day in the life of the OnePlus phone with Nicole and I on a Saturday afternoon in Taipei, Taiwan. Watch to the end… it eventually gets a bit messy.
We knew from the outset that OnePlus where aiming to challenge devices from Samsung, Sony and HTC with a marketing campaign that drew direct comparisons between the OnePlus One and the most expensive high-end handsets on the market. The hardware we see listed in the specifications sheet does indeed fail to disappoint with some truly top grade component choices.
The OnePlus One is powered by the exact same Qualcomm processor that we see on the Samsung Galaxy S5, the Snapdragon 801- doubtless the most powerful mobile SoC in use today. The display is a 5.5 inch IPS developed by Japan Display Inc, and it looks fantastic with plenty of bright, crisp pixels crammed into the 1920 x 1080 resolution panel. A 13MP Exmor lens on the rear sounds good on paper at least, while there are other pleasant hardware choices that include a generous 3GB of RAM, a large 3,100mAh battery and a design and build that is truly outstanding.
OnePlus One Smartphone Specifications:
• 5.5 Inch 1080p IPS LCD Display from JDI
• 401 ppi with Corning Gorilla Glass
• Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 Processor
• Quad Core 2.5GHz w/ Adreno 330 Graphics
• 3GB RAM
• 16GB / 64GB of Internal Storage
• 13MP Rear facing Camera w/dual LED Flash
• 5MP Front Camera
• Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi g/n/ac
• A-GPS, GLONASS
• 152.9mm x 75.9mm x 8.9mm
• 162 grams
• 3,100 mAh Battery
• CyanogenMod 11s
• Sandstone Black, Silk White
The software too is in keeping with the company’s bold and aggressive outlook with a customized version of the popular CyanogenMod Android ROM. Broadly recognized as being one of the industry’s top Android development communities, Cyanogen Inc. here put their product on a commercial device for the first time. The inclusion of Cyanogen as a partner is a big part of the devices’ attraction for many, and OnePlus is happy to leverage the popularity of the OS. There’s even a small Cyanogen Inc logo on the back.
OnePlus One Availability
However one of the most interesting things about OnePlus as a company, is their willingness to try an approach that we have not seen before from a Chinese manufacturer. OnePlus are not pushing their product on general consumers, aiming for high volumes and distribution through global carrier partnerships. No. OnePlus are trying to create a group of loyal and enthusiastic fans that attach to the product in a stickier way and interact with the company through social media and forums.
Controlling inventory is crucial for any manufacturer like OnePlus who have also created their own, purpose built, global distribution channel. We have seen Xiaomi take an approach where batches of thousands of Mi3 phones will be sold directly from their website in a matter of hours to customers on a first-come-first-served basis. OnePlus however have taken the somewhat arrogant approach of only selling to people who have achieved invitation status. You can only get invites from people who already have the phone, thus setting in motion a viral chain reaction of fanboys and fangirls making the majority of initial purchases. The down-side is that the device is actually now notoriously difficult to acquire, a fact that has fanned the flames of hype surrounding it and also made quite a few people pissed off.
Comparing the OnePlus One with the Big Three Smartphones
Before we even got hold of the OnePlus One smartphone, these specifications had us licking our lips. The $349 USD price tag for the 64GB version literally screams bargain. This means that before you even get in the same room as the OnePlus, you know you are getting a lot of high-end hardware for your money. Here is a chart that compares the main specifications of the OnePlus with the three main flagship contenders.
OnePlus One - Flagship Specifications Comparison
|OnePlus One||Samsung Galaxy S5||Sony Xperia Z2||HTC One (M8)|
|Display||5.5" 1080p IPS LCD|
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
|5.1" 1080p Super AMOLED|
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
|5.2" 1080p IPS LCD|
|5.0" 1080p Super LCD3|
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|RAM||3GB DDR3l||2GB DDR3l||3GB DDR3l||2GB DDR3l|
|Storage||16GB / 64GB||16GB / 32GB||16GB / 32GB||16GB / 32GB|
|microSD||No microSD Support||Up to 128GB||Up to 128GB||Up to 128GB|
|Cameras||13MP & 5MP||16MP & 2MP||20.7MP & 2.2MP||4MP Ultrapixel & 5MP|
|Weight||162 grams||145 grams||163 grams||160 grams|
|OS||Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat||Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat||Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat||Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat|
|UI||CyanogenMod 11S||TouchWiz||Sony Xperia UI||HTC Sense v.6|
Design and Build Quality
The OnePlus One is one of the best built phones you have ever touched. This much is apparent the first time you pick it up. The only phones which I think have the same effect are the HTC One series, Sony Z2 and perhaps also the Elife S5.5. from Gionee which has devastating thinness. At only 162 grams, the One is light for a smartphone with a 5.5 inch display. When you consider the really thin bezels around the edge of the HD display, the One is also fairly small for its size, if you catch my drift. The screen fills almost all the front face, making a very well optimized design that really doesn’t feel much bigger than any 5 inch device you are used to using.
The recessed chrome bezel that surrounds the edge of the display is subtle and lends a certain elegance to the look of the One which has gently curving corners, and likewise a curved back that is 8.9mm at its thickest, tapering nicely at the edges. The rear camera unit is located centrally at the top of the device, sitting slightly atop the back panel, with the Sony Exmor lens above the dual LED flash. The power button is on the left edge of the phone while the volume rocker sits exactly opposite. In terms of logos you get a OnePlus logo etched in the case just below the camera, plus Cyanogen logo at the bottom joined by certification details and the fact that the device is ‘Designed by OnePlus Assembled in China’. Stereo speakers are fitted on the bottom of the chassis, either side of the micro USB 2.0 port.
The back of the Sandstone Black edition that we have here in the office is also a good design decision in our minds. The finish really does feel very professional, essentially making plastic feel very un-plastic-like. The back panel is removable requiring you to first remove the microSIM slot using a small poker key provided in the retail box (catch the OnePlus One unboxing here). The removable back does give you access to the internal, removable battery, but there you discover that there is no microSD card slot – a fact that I personally find inexplicable. HTC realized their mistake with the One M7 which also skipped the microSD slot, adding microSD support in the subsequent M8 design.
Overall however, the design and build quality of the OnePlus is exceptional.
The display on the OnePlus One is one of the high points of its abundant appeal. The IPS LCD is bright, vibrant and pretty damn sharp with a just over 400 pixels-per-inch. It lacks nothing from staying within the bounds of standard Full HD resolution, the 1920 x 1080 pixels look as good as we have seen from an IPS LCD display, giving the Super AMOLED of the Samsung Galaxy S5 a run for its money.
The viewing angles are also really good, and in our outdoor usage proved that it has the luminosity you need to be totally usable in bright weather conditions. The capacitive touchscreen behaves very well, and the Corning Gorilla Glass looks classy as always. Colors look natural and blacks are deep and dark.
The One’s display is manufactured by Japan Display Inc (JDI), a joint venture formed two years ago from Sony Mobile Display, Toshiba Mobile Display and Hitachi Displays. From the evidence we have here with the OnePlus, JDI are capable of producing top tier medium sized device panels.
Watch our comparison video of the OnePlus One and the Samsung Galaxy S5:
The display on the OnePlus is real beauty that compares reasonably well, even against top shelf devices such as the Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2. The hype in this particular part of today’s appraisal is indeed warranted.
The OnePlus is well endowed in the processor department. OnePlus probably didn’t have to give too much thought to the decision process that arrived at the Snapdragon 801 chip from Qualcomm. I can imagine the conversation was fairly brief – what’s the best performing mobile SoC available? The 801. Ok, we go with that. There are other options from Nvidia and perhaps now Intel with their Bay Trail platform, but in truth, if OnePlus were determined to build the best phone they could, the Snapdragon 801 was always going to be the obvious choice once it became available earlier this year.
Variations of the Snapdragon 801 processor (there are currently six models) now power the elite spectrum of the current mobile space, with design wins that include all flagship devices from Sony, Samsung, HTC, LG, Oppo, Lenovo and Xiaomi. The 801 is clocked higher than the 800 chip the preceded it, and also features a higher-clocked Adreno 330 GPU.
OnePlus One - Benchmark Comparison Table
|OnePlus One||Samsung Galaxy S5||Sony Xperia Z2||HTC One M8|
|GFX Bench Manhattan||12.3||11.5fps||11.7fps||11.1fps|
|GFX Bench T-Rex||28.4||27.1fps||26.9fps||28.2fps|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||19654||18373||18753||20594|
In the benchmarks above we found that the OnePlus performed at the levels we expected, even pulling ahead in several benchmarks including Antutu and GFX Bench. The OS experience was very fast and fluid with the 801 purring like happy kitten when multi-tasking and gaming. This is real flagship performance, on a device that costs much, much less than the competition.
The Cyanogen OS on the OnePlus is a superb Android Kit Kat experience, but it could also be a frustrating experience for the less tech savvy among us. The OS looks great and carries a very graphically appealing design with more configuration settings and options than you could possibly imagine. This is as we might expect, as these are the areas where CyanogenMod builds have typically excelled. However, this is the first time that Cyanogen have worked this closely with a hardware vendor, and we were hoping that they would thrive in this new environment. In truth we find a user experience that almost bites off more than it can chew at times.
It has been a good long time since I last experienced anything approaching the app crashing that we experienced at the weekend. The Cyanogen Gallery app (not the regular Android one which is also available… do we need two gallery apps?) in particular froze on several occasions. Other apps also suffered random inconsistencies that I found quite annoying. I am familiar with CyanogenMod 10 which I use on my Galaxy Note 2, and although I may be more forgiving of a community-led build, I actually found CyanogenMod 11S to be less than 100% stable at times.
Other issues include default settings for many of the more adventurous features, particularly gestures, which led us to have several head scratching moments. I managed to accidentally engage the flashlight directly from a locked screen at least fives times. Nicole took multiple photos of the inside of her back pocket, again accidentally engaging the camera app directly from the screen lock by simply walking down the street, (and we have about two dozen butt shots and videos to prove it…lol). I understand that OnePlus want to offer great gestures and lock-screen short-cuts, but to deploy them by default on new users seems a bad call.
Subsequent updates may well rectify a experience that feels like its trying too hard to impress. The simplicity of CyanogenMod remains somewhat tainted by an over zealous urge to stand out. The UI looks great, the options and settings (especially things like transition options) are fantastic and remind us of exactly what Cyanogen are capable of, but should I argue that they have fluffed their lines on their big stage debut? That is perhaps a little harsh. I look forward to subsequent updates from OnePlus , a company who thus far have no record of software maintenance, development and support. It will be interesting to see how they react.
In terms of apps, Cyanogen offer a decent bundle of apps that are very minimalistic and not far away from a vanilla Android Kit Kat experience at heart. There is no bloatware whatsoever. The menu systems and shortcuts are familiar Kit Kat style and most of the fonts and icons used are also pretty unfussy, standard Android.
There are lots of great customization options for the look and feel of the OS, with options to select which aspect of a per-installed themes you want to implement- select from the wallpaper, font, icons and even boot-load screen options. This is the most customizable mobile OS I think I have ever used. Days later, and I’m still finding new options. Even options for the options.
CyanogenMod 11S Gallery
I think CyanogenMod 11S is best described as a great OS waiting to mature. There are some things that we really love, but the general feeling is that it is not quite the polished and stable experience we are used to from major smartphone vendors. We hope OnePlus persevere and get it right ASAP.
The key component in the camera array on the OnePlus One is the 13MP Sony Exmor IMX214 sensor. Our general verdict is that it is a very decent camera sensor, and one that outshines pretty much all other devices in this price band. The bad news is that this is one area where the ‘flagship killer’ tag of the OnePlus gets dented somewhat. The 13MP shooter has an f/2.0 aperture and solid dual LED flash, but it is not of the same quality as either the Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2 or Nokia’s high-end offerings.
The camera app included on the Cyanogen 11S OS is also a little tricky to understand at first. The OnePlus gives you a broad array of modes which you access by swiping the upper portion of the screen. My first issue is that it is not so obvious that you can change modes in this way. There’s nothing to indicate where to swipe, or that this is indeed the mode selection area. The idea is that you simply scroll down through a list of modes, each of which are applied in real-time as you scroll.
There is also a small mode icon in amongst the general settings which allows you to select which modes should appear on your mode list. There is a very expansive list that throws together a broad range of quite different modes; Auto, HDR, Smart Scene, Beauty mode, Slow Shutter, Action, Backlight, Beach, Candlelight, Fireworks, Flowers, Landscape, Night, Party, Portrait, Snow, Sports, Sunset, Theatre, Mono, Sepia, Negative, Aqua and more…
I just feel that this way of configuring the camera’s shooting mode is an attempt at simplification that actually backfires a little. It’s easy at first to get confused with configuration of what modes are available through the mode list, and actually selecting a mode for shooting. Less savvy users will certainly find it all a bit overwhelming, and a touch confusing.
The position of the camera lens in the center of the devices rear may be aesthetically pleasing but in truth it makes the camera difficult to use at times without getting your hand in the way. Corner positioning may not look as pleasing, but it makes it easier to take shots. Outdoor shots in good light look crisp and sharp, without over-saturation. Auto focus works well, but it is not the fastest we have seen and can be inconsistent, but it can also be awesome.
Check out this shot we took at the pool. We have zoomed in so you can really catch the sharpness and clarity of the splashing water.
Generally speaking the camera on the OnePlus One is a very good quality camera. In fact it is probably better than a $300 smartphone should have. It is not going to beat the flagship devices out there however, and it will not give you a truly flagship camera experience – but it will give you a damn good one.
OnePlus One Example Photos Gallery
The OnePlus has a large 3,100mAh battery that performed very well for us during testing. There should be no problem getting a full day of usage from the device, for regular users at least. The one problem we encountered was related to gesture controls being accidentally activated when the phone was in a pocket, or even a bag. Once or twice we were shocked to find that we had lost 10% battery in a short space of time, so for sure certain apps like the camera app will drain power if engaged for extended periods.
We ran the Laptop Mag Battery Informant 2.3 app, where the OnePlus One lasted for 9:38 (9 hours, 38 seconds). This is a solid score. Check out comparison battery life scores at laptop mag here.
The OnePlus One is billed as the first smartphone to feature true stereo bottom facing speakers. We have seen bottom facing speakers before however, with the Xiaomi Mi3, but as far as we can see they are not actually separate stereo speakers, appearing to be a single mono speaker – so hooray for OnePlus and a first for the industry. The audio playback experience of the OnePlus is good but in all honesty the stereo experience is a little difficult to really enjoy with both right and left speakers in such close proximity. The HTC One M8 remains leagues ahead of OnePlus with its Boomsound audio, also enjoying better stereo separation due to its top and bottom speaker placement.
The OnePlus One is without doubt one of the best smartphones we have had the pleasure to review here at Mobile Geeks. The design and look of the device is awesome, the performance is as good as anything out there, the display looks great and battery life is excellent. The camera is not the absolute best, but it is actually very, very good. The one blemish really is the CyangenMod 11S OS, which just feels a little too aggressively configured with every bleeding edge feature enabled by default. However, it looks incredible and offers a tweaker’s bounty of options that really makes you feel like you are in control once you get to grips with what is happening. It is designed and configured for genuine geeks, sure… but even us Mobile Geeks encountered plenty of head-scratching moments.
The OnePlus is without doubt a smartphone I would recommend, even for a price of $500 or above. The fact that it retails for as little as $300, is simply astounding. If you can deal with a slightly clumsy and even annoying purchase procedure, then you will not be disappointed.