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OnePlus One Review – The Most Awaited Smartphone

Almost none of us are completely satisfied with our smartphone. There has to be something or the other that we wish our phone could do better, which only shows that we did compromise, at least to an extent, when we made our purchase. Trying in vain to find a phone that has everything we desire, we end up settling for something that has 95 percent our preferred features, and thus that never meets our satisfaction fully. Every now and again a device emerges and we need to make very little compromises. The OnePlus One launched and this low cost handset is packed with a crazy amount of features for the price. In this OnePlus One Review I take a look if a handset at this price point can take on the big boys like Samsung and Apple.

Positives
  • Low price
  • Amazing Spec
  • Customisable OS
  • Fantastic display

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Negatives
  • No microSD slot
  • Non-removable battery
  • Low speaker volume

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OnePlus has an interesting motto, “Never Settle” clearly reflects the mission of the Chinese company, its producer, that is to create and sell completely perfect smartphones. Its very first creation is One, which is a great looking gadget with amazing specifications and a customizable firmware. The best thing is you can get it for just $299 or £219 (around AU$320), free of contract, and unlocked, and this costs you less than what a Google’s Nexus 5 would. If you find this hard to believe, particularly keeping in mind that it has been created by a company that has no official track record, then let us get to learn about One a little more, before you can come to any concrete conclusion.

  • Processor: Quad Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801(8974AC), 2.5GHz
  • Screen Size: 5.5in
  • Screen resolution: 1,920×1,080
  • Rear camera: 13 megapixels
  • Front camera: 5 megapixels
  • Storage: 16GB – 64GB
  • Battery: Built-in 3100mAh
  • Wireless data: 3G, 4G
  • WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n/ac (support 2.4GHz/5GHz dual frequency)
  • Size: 152×75.9×8.9mm
  • Weight: 175g
  • Operating system: Oxygen OS (Android 5.1)

The OnePlus One phone looks nothing like any other phone that you could get for this price point. Its polycarbonate build, beautiful arched back, stylish frame, and a great spec sheet makes this look like it should cost twice the price. This is only because many other companies are actually selling such a product at twice the price.

Now you must be wondering then how is it possible for such a new brand to sell such an amazing product at such a low price compared to its competitors. Well, it is simply because the company does not intend to make money to begin with. The only track record of One that is worth mentioning is that its founder and also a large part of its workforce comes over from a very renowned brand Oppo. One is offering its great creation at such low rates only because it first needs to prove, needs to show what it is capable of producing.

One has amazing features that any smartphone user is sure to fall in love with. It has a 5.5-inch display, and is 0.6mm thicker and 1.7mm taller compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. At the same time, it is 6 grams lighter and 4mm narrower than Samsung’s 5.7-inch phone. If you have not ever used phones bigger than Nexus 5 or Galaxy S5, then this phone will help you stretch and use those hand muscles you perhaps never knew even existed. Even if you have the habit of using big sized phones then using the OnePlus will be a very comfortable experience. Its arched back makes it easier to hold the phone, and its blunt edges will allow enough space for your fingers to rest easily.

One has a pixel density of 401 ppi and a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD panel. Now the very careful observer, those who have immense knowledge in this sphere will perhaps say that it is not as great as are gadgets like Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8, but the fact is without going by numbers, if you actually use it, then you are sure not going to find any difference. In fact, many people like the display of One far more compared to that of other popular smartphones, and its better than Nexus5 as it makes use of an IPS panel. The viewing angle of One is one of the best that you will ever come across, it matches the quality of M8 and leaves GS5 far behind. Even though it is not bright enough like GS5, but it still is quite good. In fact, its whites are whiter compared to the three other phones already mentioned. Moreover, its colors are natural and thus, you will enjoy viewing it more, at least more compared to the overblown Nexus 5 and saturated GS5. Just in case you do not like this, no worries, you have the option of customizing the color saturation, contrast, and intensity to match your preference.

The display screen rises a little above the rest of the phone’s frame and thus you get to enjoy a more exposed screen, compared to what you might have so long used. Your screen will stay protected all thanks to a slab of Gorilla Glass 3, so no need to worry about your pens, keys, or other such objects getting in touch with your phone. The phone has a 5MP front-facing camera that you can find close to the sensors and earpiece, and there also are three capacitive buttons below which you can turn off whenever you wish to use the virtual soft keys.

On the left side of the One phone is a micro-SIM slot and a volume rocker, and on the right is a power button. On the top, there is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and close to the micro-USB port located at the bottom are twin speaker grilles. Some buyers might be disappointed with the fact that the phone does not have any micro SD storage slot, but then you just need to spend $50 or £35 more and you can enjoy the 64GB version. If you would buy another phone offering you that much space, then you would have to spend another $200 £150, so this indeed is a great deal.

The beautiful curved back has a 13MP camera with dual LED flash, logos of Cyanogen and OnePlus (the Cyanogen logo would not be present if you own the Chinese version), and a noise-canceling mic. You can change the back cover so this gives you the freedom to alter the hardware to an extent. So long, only five plates have been mentioned with different textures and/or color, but at the time of launch, only two amongst these will be made available. Removing the back can be a little difficult, so you need to practice enough to get perfect. What you will have to do is eject the SIM tray and now using your fingernails try to open the back. Once you succeed, you surely will feel as if you have done a great task, a great sense of achievement.

The One will have two variants – one for the entire world, and one specifically for China. OnePlus has tried to include as many connectivity options as it could with penta-band HSPA+, quad-band EDGE/, and seven LTE bands. So, US readers can use it on T-Mobile or AT&T but not Sprint or Verizon. Users based in the UK can use the handset on any of the major networks.

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Software

If the features so long mentioned were not enough to lure you, then the fact that this phone offers a far more customisable Android experience than what almost 99 percent of users are presently enjoying, will certainly increase your interest. The reason behind this being that OnePlus is an exclusive partner with CyanogenMod, so its first phone has the firmware included.

So, what is CyanogenMod? It has a custom firmware based on the ASOP (Android Open Source Project) and it allows more opportunities to experiment with themes, icons, settings, and almost everything that an android experience includes. Cyanogen is in fact amongst the most popular third-party firmware in the Android world and can be installed on many devices, but with One, it offers you a far better experience since it is built in into the phones. As CyanogenMod was able to work with the hardware from its early developmental stages, it includes various optimisations that you will not get in other phones.

Initially, it will not look different from usual android apart from some style changes like buttons and icons. But the reality is different, and you shall experience them once you start using the phone. There are many new features with tweakable settings that you will find everywhere. Many people just need an inexpensive phone and are not interested in making changes to the android setup, and the best thing about CM is that it will match your taste as much as it will suit the style of power users who are so keen in customising.

There are many different types of CyanogenMod themes you can select from, all thanks to its modding community. Do you somehow like Samsung or LG’s interface a bit too much, no worries, just visit the Themes Showcase app, and download anything you desire. Even though all of them are not completely perfect, but they certainly will allow you to enjoy some familiarity that you are completely used to. You can even download various fonts, wallpapers, boot animations, and sound packs.

The One has few capacitive keys that you will find right below its screen, but whenever you want just deactivate them and use the soft buttons instead. This might not be a great idea for those who wish to make the most of the available screen space, so you can just let things be the way they are and continue using the buttons.

You may even customise the status bar as per your preference to see the battery percentage, the clock, and notifications for apps like Gmail, and so on. You can also simply slide your fingers to the right or left on the bar and adjust the screen brightness, or you may double tap to reach to activate sleep option.

If you do not like the way tiles look in your quick settings menu and want to change that then simply hit the plus icon you will find at the top. Instead of using a two-finger gesture to reach the menu you may even pull down on the right side of your status bar and get there, and if you pull down on the left you would reach the standard notification bar. Furthermore, you may even select and change the shortcuts that appear on your lock screen, and the quick launch shortcuts that you get to see while you slide up from your home button.

The One makes thing more interesting by allowing you to use gestures to activate different things on your phone. Even though this is not customisable, it is enjoyable for sure. Just double tap and wake the gadget, make a V motion and you activate the LED flashlight, make a circular gesture and you reach the camera, and move your two fingers down/up and you turn on your favourite music. Even though these features are extra sensitive on the pre-released gadget, it perhaps will be fine-tuned by the time the date of the official launch comes nearer.

Yet another very interesting feature of the One phone is its great voice recognition. CM offers some modifications that allow you to enjoy customization. Once the gadget gets used to your voice you just need to say “OK OnePlus” “Hey Snapdragon” and activate Google Now or any app you want.

The Camera

Oneplus One Back

There are many interesting features offer by Nexus 5, but its camera surely is not that appealing. The OnePlus One phone contrarily offers a great 14-megapixel camera with six elements lens setup, Sony sensor, and f/2.0 aperture to allow you take great low-light photographs. Its front facing 5MP camera also allows enjoying every click you take.

The camera app is something special created by the CyanogenMod Team. It has three round buttons on the side using which you can take panoramic shots, videos, and stills. At the top there are some scenes, some settings, and a toggle to reach the front-facing camera. Apart from the night mode, landscape, HDR and some other options, the One also offers interesting scenes like theater, party, sunset, and snow. So if you like experimenting with your camera you surely will find this a lot interesting, even though the auto mode itself is enough to take care of most scenarios on its own. But if you want to do it yourself then just swipe your finger down or up on the viewfinder. 

As far as the camera performance is concerned, it is pretty decent. The colours here look more natural than on Nexus 5, but they are yet not as saturated as should be. If you like perfect images, then you might find the sky not looking as blue as it is, and some images taken also shows the problem of soft focus. In the low-light shots, the larger aperture does not help the camera capture enough light as the details level is not quite like what the Nokia Lumias (high-end ones) or HTC One M8 offers. It also makes a lot of noise. If you compare it to the N5 it uses a similar amount of light, but you will enjoy a better white balance at night with the One camera. Last but not the least, the HDR mode of the gadget is way too strong, and it highlights the shadow so well that the end result looks a bit weird. It will not be wrong to say that camera is one such area where octet popular devices do a better job than One, but it still is slightly better than the Nexus.

However, One’s built-in editing software does deserve mention here, just in case your pictures need some post-production correction. If you find the HDR effect way too strong then you may change the filter strength or even switch to another type of preset style. You may even change the brightness, sharpness, focus, and color. You may select some areas of the images that you can tweak. The phone also offers many filter options that you may consider using.

Video recording of the phone is great with 20 Mbps bit rate and 4K resolution. As One does not come with optical image stabilisation, CM tweaks the software to offer better results. This does reflect in the results, as the footage looks a lot smoother. Even though it is not possible to replace the hardware but this software enhancement does make a good difference. The front mics pick sound better compared to the rear ones, and one needs to remember this while shooting.

Battery Life and Performance

Oneplus One Front

It will be difficult for any one to believe that a phone like One, at just $300, offers almost everything that you get from an Oppo Find 7 and Nexus 5. You, in fact, will not be able to move technically faster than this, as the phone comes with a 578MHz Adreno 330 GPU, 3GB RAM and a 2.45GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801. Until, somewhere later this year, the snapdragon 805 hits the market, this certainly is the best silicon offered by Qualcomm. But how is this beneficial to you? Well, this ensures a very smooth and quick experience. The gaming experience here can be a little sluggish but that is only for very close observers, else you will have a nice experience here too.

With CyanogenMod’s firmware, you can alter your performance profile and reach the modes ranging from power conservation to battery sucker. If presets are not something you like then you instead may manually adjust the settings. Doing this, however, might not be a great option, unless you are really sure of what you plan to do.

There is a problem with the soft audio output in the earpiece and also the external speakers. The conversations may sound softer than ideally should be, and hearing music can also be a difficulty unless at full volume mode. However, on using headphone the problem is solved, and in fact, you may need to even lower the volume for a comfortable hearing experience. 

The battery life of the phone is pretty good. One comes with a 3,100mAh non-removable battery that is slightly smaller than what you find in Note 3, and a little larger than that present in One M8 and GS5. If you use the phone the entire day, you still perhaps will be left with about 5-10 percent battery at the end of the day. This usage includes checking email, making calls, social networking, and playing games for a while. So, it roughly gives you a 10 hours battery life, which might not be the best, but is quite good, more so for a $200 phone.

The Competition

Already those who have heard about OnePlus are keen on buying it. This will make it difficult for the company to meet the demands, and this is why, to begin with, OnePlus will be available at an invite-only basis. First, the 16GB option in white will be shipped, and this will be followed by the black ones. As for those who are still waiting for an invite, you may get them anytime soon.

The One phone at launch will be available in 16 countries, Belgium, Austria, Canada, Hong Kong, Finland, the US, the UK and others. The device that is closest to its price range is Nexus 5, which is available at $349 or $399. It is available unlocked, has native Google experience, but its spec list is not as great as One. If you are interested in regular updates then the Nexus 5 can be the right option for you, but CyanogenMod is known for offering updates quickly, and as the ROM is placed in this device, the chances of you getting regular refreshes are higher.

To Conclude:

With all the amazing features that it offers, OnePlus One should likely not be this inexpensive. It looks great, feels amazing, offers a great performance, and it does not look like something created by an unknown company. No matter how it sells, it certainly will show the world and the industry how great an affordable phone can be. It is better than Nexus 5 in almost every way, that too at such a competitive price. The OnePlus One phone, even though it is trying to be perfect, it is not for everyone. Many might not like its big size, or non-removal battery option, or low storage capacity. But then what more can you expect of a $299 worth device, particularly one that already is offering you most features that far pricier smartphones give. To conclude, it will not be wrong to say that the OnePlus is an almost perfect phone, even if it is not fully perfect, it is better than many well-known brands sold at higher ranges, so is certainly worth it.

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