I remember the first spotting of the OnePlus One being as a sponsored post on the @Evleaks Twitter feed. Little did I know back then that about eight months later, I would actually consider spending my own money on a device, I have absolutely no clue far and away of then. That is how far OnePlus, a Chinese company with close tie ups with Oppo has come. What was launched as Flagship killer then, is a complete flagship today, no questions asked. And therefore when we had the opportunity of picking up and checking out the OnePlus One for a review, we could not have been more excited.
In fact, the device has generated so much buzz, that seeing the phone in my hands, a couple of my close friends and even family members totally immediately recognised the unit and were left mighty impressed in their little time with the One without getting into the intricate details of things. But, we are here to look at the device a little more closely, so what did we find out in our ten days with the One Plus One? Does the device live up to its billing as a true competitor to the likes of HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5 or the iPhone 6 of this world? Let’s find out.
Availability and Box Contents
The OnePlus One is not available in India at the time of this review. In fact even abroad, like the US, you will need an invite to purchase the device. These invites are not the easiest to get, mind you and sometimes you will have to wait weeks on end for it. The best bet is to hang out on the OnePlus forums and hope that your luck turns green. The device is expected to come to India in the first week of December as an exclusive to Amazon and the pre-buzz for the same has already started.
However, if you are impatient and need to pick the device like us, then the only option is to go via the route of Shop and Ship, once you have the invite code. The device comes in a sleek white colour packaging which is extremely thin. Sliding that out, you get an orange box that flips open to reveal the device. We had the 64 GB sandstone black variant with us.
Inside you also get a tangle free USB cable with a pretty well done USB port and a SIM Ejector. There are some documentations but no headphones or power brick included. The overall packaging is tough but very minimalistic. It is the sort of box that you would open, pick the device and accessories and never go back again. And before we forget to mention, the SIM ejection pin is one of the best that you will see, so well done to OnePlus for that.
Design and Build Quality
The OnePlus One is a phone that is all about software, or basically enhancements to stock Android. The hardware totally gets out of your way to allow you to enjoy the software and performance of the device. You have the screen which measures 5.5 inches diagonally with a 1080 P resolution dominating the front with a front facing camera and couple of sensors on the left of the earpiece grille on the top. At the bottom of the display you have the standard three hardware capacitive buttons which can be turned out in case you prefer on-screen buttons.
The phone has a nice metal rim running around it on the front panel. The back is made out of what is a rough sandstone feeling matte plastic. This provides ample grip to the phone but does scuff away with time. You have the OnePlus logo, some more branding, 13 MP camera with dual LED flash and a secondary earphone on the back. The bottom chin houses the Micro USB port and main microphone alongside stereo speakers. The right chin of the device has the power button, while the left side has the micro SIM slot as well as the volume rocker. The SIM tray is a proper pain to eject, especially with a deeper than normal hole to eject the tray. It also doesn’t feel too premium and was one of the issues we had with the device.
The phone in itself weighs 160 grams, so you will not have an issue of bulk. The slightly curved back makes the OnePlus One sit very snugly into your hands, so that was a fine design decision too.
The OnePlus One not even for a bit feels like a sub-Rs 25,000 device, which is the expected price of the OnePlus One in India for the 64 GB variant. It feels as premium, if not better to hold in the hand as the Galaxy S5. Yes, the M8 or the iPhone 6 have a sheen about them and definitely on another level when it comes to the attention to bodywork, but the OnePlus One feels very good too.
The device has no loose ends and creeks of any kinds and provides very decent grip in the hand. In fact, despite the large size of the phone, it was the rough plastic shell that made sure we never felt the phone will slip away. The unit has aged well and other than a few scuff marks due to fall on concrete, there is no issue with the casing. Overall, the design of the phone is rather minimal and gets out of your face, while the build quality is perfectly acceptable, if not very good. Here is how the device looks next to an HTC M8:
The OnePlus One features a 5.5 inch LCD display with a 1080 P resolution which gives it a PPI of 401, which, frankly speaking is not as good as some of the other devices like the LG G3 or even the Mi4. While the display is not the brightest or vivid, like some of the AMOLED panels, it is more than adequate. The colors are perfectly accurate without any sort of oversampling or weird contrasts. The display is sharp and has excellent viewing angles.
We had no issues with the display when viewing them directly in the sunlight, even in the tropical Mumbai weather when sun can be fairly intensive.
Auto brightness for parts was plain lazy, and for the rest excellent. You are better advised doing things manually though, especially as we felt the device had a tough time really toning down the nits in absolutely dark places. The display here is manufactured by JDI, which has also manufactured the gorgeous IPS panel on the HTC M8 and you can definitely draw parallels, although the screen on the M8 was just a little more vivid and blacks popped more there. Reading text was sharp and watching multimedia was never an issue with the panel.
Overall the screen is definitely one of the strong points of the OnePlus One and you will never have an issue with the quality of the panel. Though, we must clarify that there are a few stories going on the internet where the OnePlus One that some of the people have received has a yellow tinge, OnePlus has been cautious of the same and has replaced those units.
Software side of the story
The OnePlus One runs Android 4.4.2 out of the box with CyanogenMod 11S. The device was updated to the latest Android version 4.4.4 thanks to OTA updates, and in our little over 10 days with the phone, we received at least a couple of updates over the air improving the performance underlying the commitment of OnePlus to give you the best user experience possible. The good thing about CyanogenMod 11 is that, if you have used a Nexus device running stock Android, you will have no issues getting used to the device.
In fact, CyanogenMod 11S adds plenty of cool features and values to the stock Android feel. With the OnePlus One you can choose between the capacitive system buttons or software based on screen keys, which again, can be mapped as per your requirement.
The general look and feel of the OS, including the settings menu is exactly like stock Android, other than a few additional apps and subheadings thrown in there.
You have an application for enhancing the audio output of the device as per your requirement, including that of the speakers and the headphones, which is neat. You can select a preinstalled equaliser or custom set one based on your preferences or surroundings.
The keyboard on the device is pure joy to type on and we had a fantastic and accurate typing experience on the device. Auto correct worked really well and the large screen space meant our large fingers had enough room to manoeuvre.
You can also customise themes from the theme engine of CyanogenMod 11S which can totally give your phone a new look. From bringing the Lollipop look to the LG G3 skin, you can virtually customise every aspect of your phone, be it the font, on-screen keys, wallpaper, icon pack, lockscreen etc.
The lockscreen shortcuts and widgets too can be customised by the user as per their choice, which is a neat add-on. The quick settings panel on the device too allows user to pick up his choice of most frequently used shortcuts, for example if you tether a lot, you can add the hotspot switch right in the quick ribbon in the notifications panel and also set the width or size of the same. Boot animations can also be changed without the requirement of any kind of rooting, by directly downloading from the Google Play Store.
Talking of Android Lollipop, it is already available for the developer units, so you can actually go ahead and flash the preview version already. It is also pretty much confirmed that the OnePlus One would be one of the first devices to get the official update to Android 5.0, given the community support as well as the capability of the CyanogenMod team. You do get a space of about 54 GB on a 64 GB unit, so you would never have to delete a file on the go if you are using the unit that we used.
Other default CyanogenMod apps such as the messaging app, file explorer app, torch app, camera app, gallery app are all on board and work just as the way they should. Chrome is the default browser, so you do not have to battle on choosing one in that aspect. While software looks pleasant on the eye and definitely is very slick, you cannot help but feel there are places where it’s half-baked. There were several force closes along the way and the gestures that we set would automatically go off without much interference with the phone.
The display hue and saturation settings too reset twice on its own without a reason, and keyboard occasionally would just stop responding and the only way out is to quit the app and restart all over again. The double tap to wake up and side swipe down for settings panel are all welcome additions. And while the whole thing looks one-step short of being really good, the software on OnePlus One is definitely closer to being done right than not.
Performance- Day to Day
We mention day to day performance because that is exactly what a general user will put the device through. We can be hyper-critical by saying that the phone totally heated up and stopped responding after we pushed it to play GTA, FIFA 14, Riptide GT and Ingress without closing any in the background, but we doubt too many people will do that. Play one heavy game at a time and you will have no issue, play two with one in the memory and from drops are very obvious.
We have already spoken about the issue with force closes and poor optimisations at places and that shows in performances, which were greatly improved in the update we received on the last day with the device. While video playback was perfect with a clean memory, there were times when we felt choppiness, especially when we had just come off a heavy process like running a heavy memory intensive benchmark test.
There was no evident lag once the device was well booted up and running, the 3 GB of RAM clearly does its magic here. The Snapdragon 801 SoC is without a doubt one of the best chips in the business and that was evident in some pretty stunning benchmark scores. Chrome performed really well too and we had no issues scrolling through long web pages or rendering HQ images. In fact, we were surprised how well some of the HTML5 content played along and if only the sound output was better, the whole experience would have been fantastic. Coming to the experience of speakers on the device, while they were loud, they had major noise issues especially at full volume. The application on board helped with it to an extent, but we definitely preferred music via the headphones. Opening applications from the multitasking window was not an issue, and at least 4 to 5 applications could be accessed without any sort of lag or problem, that is not to say the rest were an issue, but definitely you could feel some latency. Here are the benchmark scores:
Battery Life and Phone Calls
The One Plus One has a 3100 mAh non-removable battery. This despite the fact that the back panel is removable. However, you will not have an issue with the non-removable battery given the stamina on the device. We easily got a day out of the phone and in fact almost 32 hours with light usage, even on 3G. The standby drop overnight was about one percent over an hour with two accounts with auto sync on and the usual set of applications.
The phone calls and data connection for some reason was the disappointing part of the device. We very quickly got our main SIM out of the phone as the voice quality was really bad. We had to really push the earpiece in our ear to hear the other person and even then the person on the other end continuously complained of disturbances. Even simple things like Ok Google, took were a bit of hit and miss, making us question the microphone.
Data speeds were extremely erratic too and we somehow felt that the device did not perform great as a mobile phone which was disappointing. We are not sure if this is a thing down to a software issue or plain faulty hardware, but we could not use the device as our primary phone for taking calls. Given the average performance of the speakers, it was not a great companion for conference calls either.
Camera Performances and Samples
The OnePlus One has one of the most simplistic yet feature filled camera apps that you will see on an Android device. It may not have the shenanigans of a Sony or a Samsung device with a billion things to do, but the app does what it needs to very well. While you can control the various aspects of a picture, namely white balance, exposure, etc right from the menu, you can go deeper into settings to pick up custom settings such as indoor lighting for performances that are good. The front facing camera, in fact impressed a lot with the selfies, and it was one of the best things about the device. Pictures had true color, and just the right amount of over saturation to make pictures even in challenging situations look good.
For the rear camera the story was not really the same. We felt the device takes a second more than it should to focus on the subject and with HDR or too many manual settings picked up, the camera viewfinder really stutters badly, in fact to a point where it can be really difficult for instant shot composition. The ability to capture RAW images was a definite bonus, and we wish more OEMs added that.
You also have slow motion video recording along with 1080P and 720 P video recording. The Sony Exmor BSI sensor with f/2.0 aperture definitely does a very decent job in direct light but takes a bit of hiding when the lighting dims out. We recommend all users to take pictures in HDR Mode for best result and keep the phone really steady after you press the shutter as the device takes a good one second to process the shot. You do have the burst mode as well as Panorama, which work just as you would expect on any high-end phone. Out of the ten shooting modes from within the camera options, smart select is all you would really need as we thought it adjusted things like white balance, saturation and shutter speed well, unless you are really into long exposure shots and things like that, in which case, you will have to do things manually.
OnePlus One sadly has OIS only done by software so, you will see the occasional choppiness or jerkiness when you shoot videos without a proper tripod or support, other than that, the videos were of reasonably good quality and we had little to complain. Few shots from the device:
The OnePlus One, as we had thought before laying our hands on it, is every bit a flagship device. In fact, if you told me this device costs just $350, I would have a tough time believing you. Given the excellent CyanogenMod community support, the device will have no problem with things like rapid OTA updates and keeping up with the rapid moving Android world.
However, there are places where the device glaringly lacks and we just could not understand how a smartphone in 2014 can struggle with something as basic as radios for phone calls. We hope that OnePlus will fix these little issues, cause truly, if you have cash to spare, the OnePlus One deserves spot in your pocket.