OnePlus One Review: Totally Worth The Wait

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OnePlus is a Chinese startup company that launched at the end of last year. Less than a month later, they announced their partnership with CyanogenMod, one of the most well known custom ROM developers in the Android community. On April 23, 2014, they unveiled the Oneplus One. A phone they called the “flagship killer.” Not only does the handset have high end specs but its price point of $300-$350 is probably what is really attracting Android lovers out there. There is (or was) only one caveat: you cannot buy one right now unless you’re invited to do so. I bought one just for review purposes, but ended up using it as my daily driver. Here is why.

Specs

  • Operating System: CyanogenMod 11S (Android 4.4.4)
  • Processor: 2.5GHz Qualcomm® Snapdragon 801 quad-core
  • GPU: Adreno 330, 578MHz
  • Memory: 3GB RAM
  • Display: 5.5 inches 1080p FHD display (401 ppi)
  • Camera: 13 megapixel with dual-LED flash; front facing 5MP
  • Speakers: Bottom Facing Dual Speakers
  • Internal Storage: 32GB / 64 GB
  • Expandable Storage: None
  • SIM: 1 slot – Micro SIM
  • Connectivity: HSPA/4G LTE, Wifi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, A-GPS, GLONASS, Bluetooth 4.0 LE + APT-x, NFC, USB 2.0
  • Dimensions: 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm
  • Weight: 162 grams (5.71 ounces)
  • Battery: 3,100mAh non-removable

Hardware

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The first thing you will notice when looking at or even holding the OnePlus One is this is NOT a $350 phone. It is well built. The back cover of the Sandstone black model is some type of textured plastic. It almost feels like sandpaper but without the sharpness. You basically do not need a case to protect the phone. The bezel is chromed out (not metal), sleek and it really makes the display stand out.

Talking about the display. It is slightly raised above the bezel. This is great if you like to install screen protectors. It makes it easier not to mess up. I am currently using the Nillkin tempered glass on it and it feels like it is not even there. Even though we’re talking about the tough Gorilla Glass 3 screen, I still prefer to have some protection – if you know what I mean.

Size-wise the OPO sits up there with the Galaxy Note 4. It is not small. It has a 5.5-inch 1080p display with 441 ppi (pixel-per-inch). It is beautiful to stare at even under direct sunlight, but it isn’t quite as good as the LG G3 screen, for example. And that’s not a bad thing. Why? because it does not hog your battery. The colors look really good, and viewing angles are among the best I’ve seen in Android handset.

On top of the phone, there is the 3.5 mm audio jack and a mic. On the right side, you’ll find the power button which can be used to wake the screen (power or restart as well). On the opposite side, you have the volume rocker which is made out of plastic along with the microSIM slot (you need a pin to pop the tray). The micro-USB port, second mic and two speakers are located on the bottom. Finally on the back of the OPO, there is a third mic next to the Sony-made camera. The back is removable but needs some work. It took me a good 7 minutes to remove it. To do so, you need to remove the SIM tray, apply pressure to the back cover with your thumb and peel with your index finger where the micro USB slot is. If you want to see that in action, click here. To dress it up, OnePlus is going to start offering “StyleSwap” covers. Currently, the bamboo style is listed as “coming soon.” We’re kind of anxious to see what the other options are!

Software

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Most phone OEMs sell their products flavored with their custom user interface, that is sitting on top of Android. OnePlus chose a somewhat different path. They partnered with famous ROM developer, CyanogenMod. This partnership means 3 things for users: customization, near Android stock experience and faster updates. This resulted in the creation of the CM 11S ROM, specifically and meticulously developed for the OPO.

Prior to the OnePlus One, people who wanted to flash custom ROMs such as CyanogenMod, needed to learn how to root their devices which isn’t always as easy task. If you buy the OnePlus One, you’re set. No need to root, unlock the bootloader or watch tutorials to customize your phone.

One of my favorite features is the ability to change your phone’s theme. With this, you can modify your icons, font, wallpapers, boot animations and sounds. Theme packs can be found in the “Theme Showcase” app. You can browse the growing selection of themes, with something to suit everyone! I am currently using the “Android L” theme by tung91.

If you’re a fan of the double-tap to wake your phone up, the OnePlus has it. In addition, you have the option of turning the capacitive buttons off and switch to on-screen control keys which is customizable. The options are the “menu”, “recent”, “back” and “search” buttons.

There are 3 pre-loaded gestures that can be found the settings menu. To start the camera, all you have to do is draw a circle on the screen. The flashlight can be turned on by drawing a “V.” You can also play or pause your music by vertically swiping 2 fingers. I am not a fan of gestures on this phone because it was a hit or miss type of experience. I have them turned off for now.

If you’re fan of automating your phone’s settings, the CyanogenMod profiles setting will do that for you. As an example, you can teach your OnePlus One to to disable Bluetooth, data sync, mobile data and turn off any type of sounds when you’re sleeping. There are so many ways to configure these profiles. You will not be disappointed.

You will find another type of profile. This time, they’re performance-related. You have the “Power Save”, “Balanced” and “Performance” settings. Each one of them is good for different types of users. Guys, this phone allows you control your CPU’s frequency, memory usage and other things. If you do not know what you’re doing, I suggest you keep everything the way it is.

One of my favorite feature is Privacy Guard, It can be accessed via the settings menu. What it does is control each app’s permissions to access your personal data. You can enable Privacy Guard by default where you will get a notification every time an application is trying to tap in your location, call log, read your calendar, and other things. Next in the privacy section is “Blacklist.” It allows you block phone calls and texts from any number you add to it. Finally, you have “WhisperPush”, an SMS encrypting service designed to protect curious people form accessing your messages.

Rooting the OnePlus One isn’t really that hard. And so is unlocking its bootloader. You gain access by using the ADB and Fastboot method which can be found over at the XDA Forums. The only issue I encountered was getting my Windows 8.1 laptop to recognize the phone. Once I got over that, everything was smooth. You may ask me: why root? I usually root most of my phones to have ability to back up my apps, settings, pictures and more. I also do it to be able to have more control of the device.

Performance

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For a mere $350, you’re going to get a top notch Android phone. During my 2+ months of ownership, the performance has been stellar – even better than the recently-reviewed LG G3. The OnePlus One has become my daily driver and I haven’t put it down since the first time I turned it on.

The OPO comes equipped with the 2.45GHz Snapdragon 801 processor (also found in the Galaxy S5, HTC One M8), Adreno 330 GPU and a whopping 3GB of RAM. This combination with CyanogenMod has made it fluid and almost lag-free. I rarely experienced any type to hiccups or sudden shutoffs. You will be very pleased with the OnePlus One performance and then some.

The audio is where this phone cannot touch the One M8 . The sound quality of the speakers is okay at best. It is not as powerful as I would have wanted it to be but I will not complain about it. If you use headphones to listen to music, you should definitely check out AudioFX.  In it, you’ll be able to adjust the quality of the sound.

Another bugger is the call volume. It is pretty low. An update supposedly took care of it but not in my OnePlus One. I had to use Root Explorer to access the “mixer_path.xml” file and increase the volume value. (This requires root)

Battery Life

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During the first weeks of use, I was able to get over 15-16 hours of use with 3+ hours of screen time. This average has dropped a bit but overall, I am very pleased the battery life I am getting with this phone. None of the high end phones can come close to it. The OnePlus One has become the only phone I can take out with me without worrying that it’ll die on me. We can thank OnePlus for including a 3,100 mAh battery (non-removable) and pairing it with the optimized CynogenMod ROM. When it comes to battery life, this $300 phone crushes the other flagship phones.

Camera

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I am a firm believer in using an actual camera to take nice pictures (I personally love my Olympus E-M1). But recently, with evolution of cameras in phones, I am starting to change my mind.

The OnePlus offers a 13-megapixel Sony Exmor camera with an f/2.0 aperture and dual LED flash. Its 5-megapixel camera is great for selfies. It also supports 4K video recording at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps and 720p at 120fps.

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The overall quality of the pictures and videos I have taken with it is good but not great. The photos taken are on 4:3 format not 16:9. Taking the affordable price tag into consideration, I’d say that this the best camera you can get on a phone that is $300. Auto-focusing is a bit off. You’d have to keep tapping on your target to force your phone to focus on it. The colors are bit washed out but once again, they’re acceptable and I am personally satisfied with that. In low light condition, even with the f/2.0 aperture had a hard time getting enough light to the pictures. Check out the gallery below and let us know what you think.

Final Toughts

The Good

  • Affordable
  • Beautiful design
  • Fast & responsive
  • Battery life is stellar
  • CyanogenMod is the closest thing to stock Android

The Bad

  • Invite system
  • Camera could be better
  • No microSD slot
  • No removable battery

Verdict

If you have been waiting to get an invite to buy the OnePlus One, I’d say be patient. This phone is totally worth the wait and it will not hurt your pocket.