OnePlus have created so much hype around their first phone, the OnePlus One, that it would be difficult to buy even without the invite system. So is the OnePlus One really the flagship killer that was promised or something else?
Since the start of the OnePlus phenomenon, the global marketing team behind this spin-off brand from Oppo have promised us a “2014 Flagship Killer”, told us to “Never Settle” and have made various pot shots at big name rivals.
Some of the choices that OnePlus have decided on haven’t won them any favours, but their true fans are diehard and follow the company through invite systems, controversial promotions and media backlash.
It’s been a roller coaster of a ride, one which the OnePlus team seem to be riding quite well, but what about their product? Their first phone. Is the OnePlus One everything it promised to be?
OnePlus One Review – Design
Whatever OnePlus want us to believe, the reason that the OnePlus One is so affordable isn’t that they are a start-up, or that they save money by cutting out the middle man and dealing direct, no. The real reasons for the low price are 1) All the R&D was done by Oppo for the Oppo Find 7a, 2) The OPO is sold at close to cost with the hope that component costs will drop and they will eventually make a profit.
The 2nd point is also the reason for the invite system. Keeping demand high and supply low has bought the company time, prices have now dropped so that OnePlus can actually make more phones and loose less money. OnePlus will deny this, but its the same method Xiaomi use, along with Huawei and others.
So while the low price has meant an invite system many hate, and a long wait for many fans, it does mean a well made, high spec phone can be made at a great price.
Once you get your hands on the OnePlus it really does feel like a quality piece of equipment. The phone is not only extremely well put together but the materials and components used are second to none. There are issues with the yellow screen though (no not the ‘warmer’ colour settings of CM11s seen below), and some early customers had build issues, but not everyone is reporting these.
For this review I’m focussing on the 64GB Sandstone finished OnePlus One, but everything here applies to the 16GB baby skin model (except for the texture of the rear panel).
Choose the 16 or 64GB version of the OnePlus One and from the front both phones are identical. They both have that lovely looking, polished, recessed bezel, and large 5.5-inch JDI display.
Rear panels of the OnePlus One can be removed, but only to switch your style cover from one to another. It’s not an easy job as the rear case is extremely tight, but with a little persuasion it can be done, just remember to remove the SIM tray first.
Speaking of the rear this is where we get the dual LED flash and 13 mega-pixel Sony IMX214 rear sensor with F2.0 aperture. The camera lens and LED flash are located on a metal back reminiscent of the Oppo Find 5. Beneath the camera is the OnePlus Logo which is machined out of the surface, and towards the bottom we have the Cyanogen logo. If your OnePlus doesn’t have the Cyanogen logo then you have a Chinese version of the phone.
External speakers are located in the base on either side of a micro USB, a 3.5mm headphone jack is at the very top of the phone. Single SIM tray on the left as well as the volume rocker which leaves the right side to accommodate the power button.
The OnePlus One is not a flashy phone. In black it looks understated and classy, and always manages to draw attention with its understated looks. With the optional bamboo and wood covers it will truly be an awesome looking device.
If you really want to be picky then the OnePlus One is too long. There is no reason for the phone to be this length, well expect that fact that it is based on the Oppo Find 7, which is also too long.
As we are back on the OnePlus and Oppo similarities we cannot not mention the fact that the OPO lacks a removable battery and hasn’t a micro SD expansion bay. Two features the Find 7 has. Obviously Oppo weren’t going to cannibalise sales of the Find 7 by giving the OPO these features though, and 64GB is enough for me at least. Still these are missing features, which have led to some question the “Never Settle” motto of the company.
OnePlus One Review – Specifications
The OnePlus One is an affordable phone by flagship standards. In China the retail price is 1999 Yuan for the 16GB and 2299 Yuan for the 64GB. In the U.S the price is actually slightly cheaper with the 16GB model costing only $299 USD. Prices do vary depending on where you live, but no matter how much you end up spending the OPO is a better equipped and cheaper alternative to other flagship phones.
A 5.5-inch JDI 1920 x 1080 display takes up the front of the phone and provides beautiful viewing angles and crisp clean text. The CM11S version of the OPO does have a slightly warmer colour setting to the Chinese ColorOS version by default, and can be adjusted depending on the level of ‘warmth’ you prefer’. This is a separate issue to the screen yellowing that many OPO owners have complained about, and I can confirm that the screen on my phone also has yellow patches towards the bottom. This does’t bother performance or use, I only notice it when I look, but there is no denying it is there and it really shouldn’t be.
On the inside of the phone the OnePlus One meets the standard specification for any of the current flagship phones. It has a Snapdragon 801 processor from Qualcomm, there is 3GB RAM on board, NFC, 3100mAh battery, 13 mega-pixel Sony sensor with F2.0 aperture, quality stereo speakers, WIFI, and LTE.
There is nothing missing from this line up, the OPO will even support VOOC fast charging if you use the charger from the Oppo Find 7, although this isn’t a feature that has been advertised.
OnePlus One Review – CyanogenMod 11S
I’m going to come out and say it right away. I’m not a fan of CM11S on the OnePlus One. I do love the fact that it is fast, lightweight reliable and works well with all the apps and accessories I have tested. For many this is a big enough selling point by itself, but I was/am hoping for more.
With such a capable phone I feel a little let down by the lack of ‘Wow’ features. I often bump in to people who have heard of the OPO or have an interest in high-end smartphones in general, the story is always the same. They are amazed by the design and quality, they love the hardware, price and speed, but they are always left wondering “What does it do that my (insert flagship phone here) cannot”.
Ok so these people might not ‘get’ what the OnePlus One is all about, but to be honest we should be treated to some killer ROM features to really test that killer hardware. ColorOs has an amazing camera app, and seriously customisable lock screen gestures, CM11S doesn’t. MIUI is chock full of useful features, CM11S isn’t.
I want more features on my “2014 Flagship Killer”. I want Hotword support (it isn’t enabled in CM11S yet), I want that 50mp image capture that the Oppo Find 7 has, I want the gesture options from Oppo too! In fact after using the OPO with ColorOS for a time, I actually preferred it, despite the terrible UI.
CM11S isn’t without it’s issues and bugs either. When I first set up my OPO the camera app wouldn’t save photos so I needed to reset the phone. The few lock screen gestures we have ( ‘V’ for flagship light, double tap to unlock) are far to easy to activate by accident, often finding the phone dialing numbers in my pocket, which was never an issue with the Find 7. And for some reason when I have been listening to music for an hour or so the volume starts to adjust itself (this is really quite an odd bug).
OnePlus One Review – Battery Life
For those of you who think you are settling for a non removable battery, Let me tell you that I would feel I was settling if it got one. Having a none removable battery in the OnePlus One has meant a larger battery can fit in the same size body as the Find 7, and directly soldered connections means less resistance and better battery performance.
The battery on the OnePlus One lasts, and lasts. Its on par with the battery on the Vivo Xplay 3S and Vivo Xshot, meaning you can easily get a day of use with all data on, and a day and half is possible.
Never have I been out with the OPO and been let down by lack of battery life. Perfect!
OnePlus One Review – Camera
For me the sign of a good smarphone camera is the quality of the photos, the user experience of the camera app, and how often you feel you need to take photos. With the Vivo Xshot (which I still believe is the best Chinese phone on the market, and the phone to beat) I am always dipping my hand in to my pocket to snap photos of anything and everything. The quality of the Xshot camera is awesome, the features are fun and useful and the speed of capture is superb.
Photos caught on the OnePlus One aren’t as good as the Vivo Xshot, but they aren’t miles behind, but it isn’t as enjoyable to take photos with the OPO. The camera app lacks useful features, speed of capture isn’t as fast and auto focus isn’t as accurate.
The camera on the OnePlus isn’t terrible, anyone who tells you it is is just wrong, but it isn’t the best, and it isn’t fun to use. Again the he hardware is there, but the OS is lagging way behind.
OnePlus Camera Photo Sample
OnePlus One Review – Performance
There isn’t anything to complain about at all here. The OnePlus One has 3GB RAM, Snapdragon 801 processor and powerful Adreno GPU. The OPO is a powerhouse, not the most powerful, but powerful enough for every app you could every want to run.
Interestingly benchmarks between ColorOS on the Chinese version of the OnePlus One and those of the global model running CM11S are quite close. Again, the hardware on the OnePlus One is killer.
OnePlus One Review – Global vs Chinese OnePlus One
OnePlus One Review – Conclusion
I am lucky with my job. I get to play with some of the most exciting smartphones on the market, and the OnePlus One is undoubtedly one of the more exciting to date, but I don’t use it anymore.
This is the 2014 Flagship killer people all over the world are itching to be invited to buy, and I have given it to my wife who is already telling me she wants her Meizu MX3 back. I’m back my Vivo Xshot and I don’t see that being replaced anytime soon (although the Mi4 review is coming so that might change).
I’m going to use football to try and explain my feeling for the OnePlus One. Basically the OnePlus One is the England Football team. Take each individual player away from that team and you have the some of the best players in the world. Put them together and you have a quality looking line-up who are capable of beating the world, but once you start playing something isn’t quite right, there is something lacking.
The OnePlus One is a great phone, if you buy chances are you will love it, but as someone who tries new phones day by day I can tell you there is better out there. The OnePlus One is nearly but not quite the flagship killer that I hoped it to be.
Now bring me an updated OS, with an improved camera app and give it some ‘life’ and we will revist this review again.