OnePlus One Review: A Flagship Killer Smartphone for Sure


In this article, we review the OnePlus One, which is often referred as a 2014 flagship killer. This device is priced as a budget phone, but has the specs, features, design and user experience of a high end smartphone. That makes it worth the hype.

OnePlus is a technology startup committed to bringing the best possible technology to users around the world. Created around the mantra Never Settle, OnePlus works towards creating beautifully designed devices with premium build quality. To know more on the Success Story and the Strategy of this company, read this interview. OnePlus One is the first smartphone from this start-up.

This write-up concentrates on 6 key impact areas.

Price and Availability:

This device is priced at 299 USD for a 16GB version and a 349 USD for a 64 GB one. This 50 USD difference between the models is totally justified, considering that, players like Apple have a whooping 200 USD difference between the 16 and 64 GB versions of iPhone. This device is not available in India at this moment; and if you manage to get an invite, you can use various services which are available to shop and ship the goods from the US.

On the price, the phone gets a 10 out of 10. The only problem I see here, is the accessibility to buy the phone, let’s talk about that in a while. Alright, Lets have a closer look.

Hardware, Look and Feel:

First thing, the phone is very handy; though it has a 5.5 inch screen, it does feel comfortable working on it. Thanks to the excellent placement of the volume rocker and the power buttons. This makes it even more accessible with one hand.  The sandstone black also gives you a great finish, and most importantly, it doesn’t slip off your hands easily. It has a 5.5 inch full HD display; with a pixel density of 401 powered by a snapdragon processor clocked at 2.5 Ghz, 3 GB of RAM and a 64GB of internal storage. This is not expandable, because it does not have an external SD card. Considering that even Google doesn’t recommended external storage for applications on Android, having a good internal storage is a boon.

It also has a 5MP front facing camera for a 1080p video and a 13MP camera on the back which gives you options to shoot videos at 4K resolution. At the bottom, we have two speakers, they are not stereo; but does give great sound. Three microphones for some great sound recording. A dual LED flash for extra brightness.

On the top you would see a proximity and an ambience light sensor along with an LED notifier next to the camera. You will also notice the flush earpiece, which the OnePlus team spoke about in their keynote on how dust resistant it is; because, it doesn’t stick out or stick in like other phones.

There is a nice metal bezel which surrounds the glass and it gives you a feel of a floating glass and a robust design. Towards the bottom, there are these soft key controls; but you can also choose to turn them off and enable the on-screen menu controls if you like.

I would’ve really wished if the IR blaster was a part of the hardware too. This would’ve helped me install remotes to control my TV and other devices at home.

In the specs department, the phone gets a 9 out of 10. If you are very keen about the Antutu Benchmark scores, you can have a look here on how this device outperforms some of the flagship devices.

Software, User Experience:

This phone is powered by Cynogen, running CM11S running Android 4.4.4. There were some of the bugs in this OTA update which just came in few days ago; However, a quick update was released yesterday, which even fixed this. On one of the threads in the official forum, the company had confirmed that, within 60 days of the public release of Google Android L, the One Plus One will recieve its update.

oneplus-gestureThe phone gives you some nice Gesture or rather Touch Controls while the phone is locked. For example, You can double tap it to wake up the phone; and tap again in the notification area to lock. You can also draw a circle to start the default camera app; draw a V for the flash and you have some music controls as well, by drawing a pause symbol and angular brackets for changing tracks.

appdrawerIf you take a look at the home-screen, it pretty much feels like your stock android. However, with CM, you get a ton more options to customize your phone. For example, you can move your app-drawer icon, and when you click the menu options here, you have variety of scroll effect options.  If you like to move your app-drawer icon, you can do that as well. See this example (on the left), where I have moved the app drawer icon to further right for easy one hand operations.

You can sort the applications based on the launch count or the most used apps and install time. Of-course, you also get options here to customize your wallpapers, widgets etc. If you prefer an onscreen menu controls, you can customise the same to Enable On-screen Nav bar. It does take away some space. If you like more area for your apps and reading purposes; press and hold the power button, you have an option called Expanded desktop which fills up the screen.

You further get hundreds of themes which are CM ready and are available to download. Some of them are free; and these themes give you options to modify icons, text, wallpapers, notifications, alarms as well.

themes

If you look at the app drawer, you get some of the Google Apps loaded on the phone, and of-course you can always download them from the Playstore. The torch app is handy, you also have a notification control when the light is on. I personally love this app which comes pre-loaded with the phone, called Screencast. This basically records the screen on what you are working right now. This is pretty slick if you want to include your app demo videos, how-to videos or even record a video to file a bug while you are testing an application. It also records the audio and the video. See a sample video here.

The gallery app is very impressive. It is divided by moments, which is sorted on the day. You have albums basically structured by the folders; and the media option to look through all your photos and videos. You can also add additional photo source. Be it your Facebook Albums, Google+, Flickr or even your pictures stored on Dropbox. This is a indeed a cool addition. You also get a file manager to quickly scan through the contents on your device.

The quick notifications and settings panel is very slick too. Give you options to customise, add more tiles and even reach out to your quick favourite settings. I also love the “quiet hours” option here. Its similar to the Do not disturb feature, where you setup a schedule so that the ring-tones, notification alerts don’t disturb you while sleep! You also have options to adjust different profiles for various places you go. You can also add additional profiles. If you observe in the bottom of the screen here, you do have an option to create custom triggers; It can be your office wifi network, a bluetooth or even an NFC Tag.

UX

runningappsWhen you tap and hold onto the menu button, it brings the list of running apps; you can basically swipe it to close the app; or even clear all at one touch.

In the User Experience department, I would definitely rate the phone a 10 on 10.

Camera.

The front camera gives you options to shoot great pictures and also HD videos. The rear 13MP lens is fantastic. The colour reproduction is brilliant and the contrast is also tad sharp. However, there is no built-in optical stabilisation; this can sometime result in shaky pictures in low-light scenarios. The phone also gives you some smart scene modes for easy access. At the same time, gives you some advanced camera controls as well. You do not need to be a pro to use it; you just need to get some basics like the Focus mode, the shutter speed and the Exposure controls.

In the camera department, the phone gets a 8 out of 10.

Here are some sample pictures and videos clicked using a OnePlus One.

Sample 4K video. (for best results, change the video resolution and watch it on a 4K monitor or a retina Display screen.)

Sample 1080p video

Pros and Cons, Value for Money:

Great Hardware, Premium feel, beautiful and clean stock like experience with advanced options for customisations, 64 GB of space, great battery life and the price of 349 USD are the positives of the device.

If you are in India, and based out of Bangalore, Airtel 4G (LTE) does work on this phone; the band is supported. That’s a huge Pro considering we have very very few devices which supports the bands in India. This would eventually change; but as of now, this is an awesome sweet deal.

Talking about cons, the only thing which I can probably raise a question is on the model of sales. You need to have an invite to buy a phone as of now. Once you claim your invite, you have to buy the phone in the next 24 hours.  Each person who buys the phone, further gets an option to invite 3 people. Again, not everyone who has bought this phone has an option to invite. They are distributing the invites in the chronological order and considering the number of sales, one may have to wait for a while before seeing the invites reflect in their account to share. I don’t see a huge problem in this model now; but yes, I did have a challenge when I didn’t own this device. Also, when you look at various Facebook groups and OnePlus Forums, the number of people showing their desperation for an invite is really high. If you do not mind spending a little more cash, you can buy this phone from oppomart or from eBay; however, I haven’t seen any official note from the company on this.

Support can be a huge concern at this moment. If you plan to import the device from the US and use it in other countries, you will have to ship the phone to the US, If there is any hardware issue on the phone. That can be a challenge. I have been hearing some rumours of an official release of the phone in a month for India; but again, no official reports as of now. Once they release, the support model can be simple. Again, not sure, if they would consider the devices bought outside India for warranty and service.

Similar to Xiaomi, OnePlus has a strategy of marketing through existing buyers and social media, rather than investing huge bucks on media advertisements or finding retailers. That helps them offer a great phone at a reasonable price. Nevertheless, its a fantastic phone. If you get a chance to buy it, there is no reason why you should be thinking twice before ordering the same.

Summing up, this device scores a great 9 out of 10. Whether you are in a budget or not, this is one great device which I would recommend anyone who is looking at buying a smartphone. A fantastic piece of design. Hopefully this review would’ve helped you in making a decision about this phone. Do let me know your thoughts and questions if any.