OnePlus One Review

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OnePlus logo on the OnePlus One╩╝s packaging

The One by OnePlus is a flagship phone designed and produced by the Chinese startup OnePlus founded in December 2013. Only a few months later, the company announced the phone in April 2014. The astonishing speed can be explained if you know that the company’s founder, Pete Lau, previously was Vice President at Oppo Electronics and is no newcomer to the smartphone business.

The phone’s specs are clearly targeted at the high-end market. For example, it features a 2.5 GHz quad-core CPU, 3 gigabytes of DDR3 RAM, a 1080p IPS display and a 3100 mAh battery. The official website has the details – there really is no point in repeating all of them here.

I swear, it’s that large

There obviously already is a myriad of reviews on the OnePlus One (for example on YouTube), so I’ll just skip ahead to the points that are relevant to me as computer scientist and the features that surprised me. My biggest concern when ordering the phone was its size. At 5.5 inch, the screen is huge, after all. I was pleasantly surprised to see the 15.3 x 7.6 cm phone fitting in my front pocket comfortably. It does get a little cumbersome at times while driving, but that’s entirely manageable and only manifests itself during long drives. On the contrary, it was interesting to see how quickly I adjusted to the available screen real estate. Even before I actually switched my SIM over to the new phone, I was asking myself why I bothered for so long with the vile 4.3 inch, 480x800 screen of my old HTC Desire HD.

And it also lasts that long

A definitive plus in my opinion is the One’s battery. The 3100 milliamp hours easily last for two days, even when you’re bored and watch three hours of YouTube videos in Full HD before going to bed. While I’m writing this, my phone is on battery for a little more than 13.5 hours and has still 81 % of its charge left. I made a couple of screenshots after a two-day stint to help you estimate your range with the battery:

Battery usage after two days: 25% left, power consumption 27% screen, 10% voice calls, 9% wifi, 9% idle, 8% system, 7% youtube Battery burndown after two days: mobile network and wifi always on, significant awake time

There is one downside though: The battery is not customer-replaceable. I’m not racking my brain on this at the moment. If a replacement becomes necessary in a few years I might just go ahead and do the replacement on my own. It might not be as easy as plugging in a connector, but I refuse to believe that it can’t be done with a little effort.

It’s going to satisfy you

The most important part of the OnePlus One is obviously the software. The model of the OPO sold in Europe ships with Cyanogenmod 11.0.0 M8 which is based on Android 4.4.4. It comes with all the features you expect from Cyanogenmod like a plethora of customizable settings and Privacy Guard. The One offers a choice between hardware buttons at the bottom of the screen and software-painted on-screen buttons if you prefer those. The phone does not come with a music player, but features a pretty nice camera app. It supports theming and comes with a theme store, but to be honest the themes I’ve tried did not look very good. Even the one you can choose to enable during the phone’s initial setup does weird things to your app icons, and to make things worse, I couldn’t get it switched back to the normal icon set. Google apps are pre-flashed and cannot be deleted from the phone, so if that’s an issue for you, you will have to flash a custom ROM or delete them using ROM modification software.

Speaking of custom ROMs, getting root on the One was actually pretty easy. Besides the usual fastboot oem unlock that will trigger a factory reset of your phone and allow you to flash arbitrary ROMs there also is a way to set the tamper and unlock bits directly. This allegedly allows you to unlock the boot loader without data loss (I have not verified this). While I’m usually cautious with stuff from xda developers, this script is actually really easy to review, and I encourage you to do so. If you mess up, there is documentation on how to reinstall the OEM image. Since the original software is already very good I even considered not rooting the phone at all. The only thing I really needed to root for is ad blocking.

One of the selling points of the phone for me definitely was the Cyanogenmod-based software. I hope this will prevent the update disaster I had with HTC’s Desire HD, which was never updated to Android 4 despite continued promises by HTC to do so. This experience will keep me off HTC phones forever and left me wary of anything but Google’s Nexus phones until now.

Looking at the responsiveness leaves nothing to desire. The Oneplus One is blazingly fast at tasks that took my previous phone up to twenty seconds, such as getting a list of all sharing options offered by the installed apps. Here’s a short video to give you an idea. Note that I have encryption enabled on my phone – it might be even faster without that.

Was it good for you, too?

There is a lot more to say about the OnePlus One than I can cover here. Please check other reviews or ask specific questions in the comments if you want to know more about any of the following topics:

  • camera image and video quality, slow motion filming
  • look and feel, especially of the back side
  • storage and the lack of an SD card slot
  • radio and call quality
  • audio quality
  • display quality
  • gesture shortcuts
  • hardware button location and impression
  • weight

Overall, I can definitely recommend the OnePlus One and would buy it again. Please drop me a message if you’re interested in an invite and I’ll try to think of you when I get some.