OnePlus One Review – The Flagship Killer That Lives Up To It’s Name

The 2014 Flagship Killer. That’s a strong statement for anyone to say, but when a small startup from China says it, it’s adds a whole new layer to that. That’s the story behind the OnePlus One. Created by the company OnePlus, the One is a flagship phone with flagships specs, but it starts at only $299 unlocked. Can it really kill the other flagships on the market? Let’s find out.

Specs:

  • 5.5” Inch FHD Display – 1920×1080
  • Quad-Core Snapdragon 801 Processor  -2.5GHz
  • Adreno 330 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat – CyanogenMod 11S
  • 13MP Rear Sony Exmor Camera
  • 5MP Front Camera
  • 64GB Internal Storage
  • 3,100 mAh Battery

The Hardware



The OnePlus One is not made of metal, but in this case, that could matter less. This phone has a plastic build with some very very interesting design choices. First of all, let’s talk about the back of the phone. We have a rough texture on the back that feels most like a type of sandpaper. It’s actually very tough to explain what this phone feels like in the hand. It’s grippy, but then it’s also not. It does not gather any fingerprints at all, but does sometimes gather a bit of dust. The back is removable, even though the battery isn’t. Like the Moto G, you can take the back off and swap it for another one. For the OnePlus One, you have three choices right now. The sandstone black material, a matte white, or a bamboo cover. They can all give a nice new feel to the device if you’re ok with the price tag. Around the front, the glass lays completely flat on the display until you meet the top and the bottom. Here the glass is recessed showing a faux metallic area. There’s nothing added by this, but it definitely looks great. The silver trim goes around the edges of the entire front, but is slimmed down around the sides. The phone looks absolutely stunning, and when you pick it up, it’s all the more amazing. The phone feels great in the hand thanks to the texture on the back. The buttons located on the right and left sides of the phone are very tactile and after getting used to them feel very natural to use. The speakers are located at the bottom of the device flanking the charging port on both sides. Unlike the iPhone 5S or Nexus 5, these speakers are truly dual speakers and they do sound pretty good. A little extra volume would be welcome, but quality is good considering the location. Of course we all want front facing speakers, but we’re never going to get everything we want. My only complaints about the hardware are that it’s too big and also the SIM card slot. The phone may have a 5.5” inch display, which in itself brings a big device, but the bezels around the display make the phone bigger than I feel it should be. The other complaint would be the SIM card slot. I will not lie I felt like a complete idiot the first time I went to pop a T-Mobile SIM card into this device. The slot blends in perfectly to the device’s exterior. Without really good light, you probably won’t be able to see it at all. It also doesn’t help that the place where you put the ejector tool is the exact same size as any of the several microphones on the phone.

The Software

The OnePlus One has great hardware, but as we all know, that means nothing without great software. Any time I go to purchase a device, the software is just as important as, if not more than the hardware and specifications. Luckily, the One packs some pretty awesome software on board to compliment it’s amazing hardware. CyanogenMod 11S is found out of the box on the OnePlus One. It runs on top of Android 4.4.2 KitKat, with an immediate upgrade to 4.4.4. If you’re unfamiliar with CyanogenMod, it is the custom ROM built on top of Stock Android that is available for a multitude of devices. CyanogenMod 11S is a slightly tweaked version of the ROM built specifically for the OnePlus One. The software has about a million customization features built in from themes to the ability to swap the hardware buttons for on-screen navigation keys. For the period of my review, I’ve been using the latest version of the software which is built on Android 4.4.4. There are a lot of things to focus on with the software, so I’ll try to hit on as many as I can.

First, let’s talk about CyanogenMod as a whole. The software out of the box is extremely near-stock and performs incredibly well. Every animation and transition goes buttery smooth and very rarely has a hiccup. With 3GB of RAM on board, there’s plenty of memory to work with, so running as many apps as you like shouldn’t be an issue. Bugs are far and few in between. The only problems I ran into were with themes, and I’ll get into that a little more in a bit. Everything in the software feels extremely well laid out and support from Cyanogen is constant. Since unboxing the device, I’ve received at least three software updates to crush bugs. The default applications do the job, but there’s nothing too special about them. What I really want to focus on however is the theme engine built into CyanogenMod. This theme engine is what really makes this phone amazing in my opinion. CyanogenMod without it is already extremely customizable, but the theme engine takes it to a new level entirely. With just a couple clicks, you can change the way your device looks entirely. Every theme is a little different, and there are hundreds to choose from. Some are paid, and many are free. My favorites during my usage were Flux, Liv, and an Android L theme. Applying a theme is as easy as choosing the theme, choosing the elements, and hitting apply. You can change everything from the icons to the fonts to the wallpapers to the boot animations. The software on the OnePlus One is definitely a massive highlight for the phone, and developer support is huge as there are already many ROMs available for the device, some from OnePlus themselves.

Display

Screens are becoming more and more a part of our lives. From our computers to our TV’s right down to our smartphones, we always want the best screens we can. On that front, the OnePlus One delivers bringing a large, 5.5” inch 1080p display. While not the pixel heavy beast we see on phones like the OPPO Find 7 and LG G3, it definitely gets the job done, and gets it done well. The display has great viewing angles and color accuracy is pretty good. You can even change the color temperature and contrast through the software. Brightness levels were great. At it’s highest setting it should be plenty usable both indoors and out. The display also gets dim enough to use at night in a dark room. Playing games and watch video also look great on this display thanks in part to it’s massive size.

Camera

The camera on the OnePlus One is definitely an impressive one. Using a 13 megapixel Sony Exmor sensor, the phone can capture some impressive shots. Directly below the sensor is a dual-LED flash. You won’t find any OIS on this camera though. Instead OnePlus is counting on the optics of this camera. The sensor has an F/2.0 aperture which helps in low light situations and in overall shooting. Shots are made more detailed thanks to the special 6 lenses in the camera. The camera app is minimal, yet hides many settings and shooting modes. Right away you see options for taking a regular photo as well as taking video and a few options along the edge of the display. Those include the options to use the 5MP front facing camera, the flash, and access more settings. Below I’ve included some sample photos that I took with the OnePlus One. Click on any one of them to view it full screen.

Performance

As expected with a flagship phone today, the OnePlus One has a pretty beastly spec list. Most notably, the quad-core Snapdragon 801 CPU backed by 3GB of RAM. What does that mean? The OnePlus One is an absolute beast in the performance department. Playing most games even on their highest settings didn’t see anything more than some dropped frames. Scoring a 47,734 on AnTuTu 5, this phone blows away it’s competition, specifically it’s competition in it’s price bracket. The phone can handle opening many apps at once as well with ease. Luckily the phone doesn’t also heat up during this type of usage either, most of the time anyway.

Battery Life

With a 3,100 mAh battery inside, this phone easily has enough power to get you through a day. On this device I could easily get 4-5 hours of screen time a day if I wasn’t using games. With games usage hovered around 3-4 hours of screen time. That might not sound like a lot, but that’s over 15-17 hours of use and in an area with very spotty T-Mobile cell coverage. I’d say this device will easily get your through a day, if not more. Many days I went to bed seeing that I still had 30% of my battery left.

Video Review

Price

After reading everything you’ve read so far, you might expect a hefty price tag out of this device. Instead though, the OnePlus One carries a starting price of only $299 off-contract. That is for the 16GB White model. However you can add four times the storage, bringing the total to 64GB for a mere $50 more. That price continues to impress me. If I was not slave to the Big Red, the OnePlus One would be my daily driver in a heartbeat.

Availability

This is where the troubles comes. The OnePlus One is a great looking, powerful, and inexpensive Android phone, so why doesn’t everybody own one? Mainly because of the way it’s sold. The OnePlus One is manufactured by a Chinese startup company. Even though the demand to buy the phone is great, the company simply cannot keep up with it. To combat that, they’ve implemented an invite system. Instead of going to simply buy the phone, users will instead need to be invited to do so. Invites can come from either a friend who passes it along or be given to you by OnePlus themselves. That has severely slowed sales on the phone and killed the interest of many. Luckily the system will be ending in October, but the phone still won’t be for sale like any other one would.

Wrap-Up

Overall, the OnePlus One is an awesome device. It doesn’t try to do everything, but also doesn’t compromise in many key areas. When you look at everything about it, it’s the best phone currently on the market, but due to the fact that it’s tough to purchase I think it may have a tough time in the future, even if they kill the invite system. Should you buy it? Yes, if you actually get the opportunity to do so. If you’re looking for an off-contract Android flagship, this phone is at the least worth considering.