What characteristics must a smartphone have to be a flagship killer? According to OnePlus, there are many factors that will play a role here: tech specs, design, and above all, added value for the user and a low price. On paper, the OnePlus One offers some impressive hardware for an unbeatable price. Whether the smartphone can really live up to and maintain its goal and various promises can be discovered in our hands-on review.
Update: The OnePlus dropped in price on May 25. Head to the Price and release date section below for more details.
- Cheap price
- High quality craftsmanship
- Unique back cover (Sandstone black)
- LTE problems in some regions
- Mediocre camera
OnePlus One release date and price
The OnePlus one saw a price drop on May 25, 2016. The 64 GB model is now available directly from OnePlus for $249. That's $100 cheaper than it was a year ago.
OnePlus One design and build quality
The 64 GB model of the OnePlus One comes with a back cover which the company has called 'Sandstone Black,' and this description truly hits the nail on the head. In fact, the cover feels slightly like fine sandpaper, without being scratchy or uncomfortable to hold. This gives the OnePlus One a unique feel that we’ve never come across with any other Android smartphone.
The display also offers some interesting details: it is slightly elevated and doesn’t take up the complete front side of the device, which allows the chrome-like plastic frame to show above and underneath the display. Thanks to this subtle detail, the craftsmanships of the OnePlus One really gives off the impression of being of high quality and from appearances only, it would be hard to guess the exact price class of this device. Lastly, despite its large size, it is still quite comfortable to hold, but one-handed operation proved to be slightly cumbersome, even with bigger hands.
OnePlus One display
The OnePlus One has a 5.5-inch display with Full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels). The pixel density lies at 401 ppi. The effects of this are super sharp texts, an enjoyable display brightness and true-to-nature color presentation. That being said, there are some users who have noted a slight yellow hue, but we couldn’t confirm this with our OnePlus One where it wasn’t the case. If this is a problem for you, you can calibrate the display. Though there are many good factors to speak of, the OnePlus One display isn’t devoid of faults either: though the display is bright enough, when in direct sunlight the screen becomes hard to see because of a strong reflection. The viewing angle stability on the OnePlus One is good, however we noticed a minimal whitening of the screen and colors.
OnePlus One special features
Beneath the display, the OnePlus One has three capacitive buttons for menu, home, and back. These can also be deactivated and instead the user can use the software buttons known of Nexus devices. In my opinion, they could have done without the capacitive buttons at all, which would have made for a more compact phone but it does provide the user with a choice. It should be noted that the background lighting of the capacitive buttons isn’t very bright.
Another special characteristic of the OnePlus One are the gesture controls: when the display is deactivated, you can draw a V on the display to activate the flashlight. A circle will launch the camera, while a two finger gesture will open the music player. The gesture controls worked well and were quite accurate, even when apps were running in the background, however you aren’t able to make up your own gestures.
Last but not least, the stereo speakers on the bottom side of the device offer not only great sound for a smartphone, they are also quite loud without sounding echoey.
OnePlus One software
The OnePlus One runs on CyanogenMod 11S which is based off of Android 4.4.2 KitKat. Though this is a custom ROM, CM 11S doesn’t offer root access like the standard UI, so you would have to root it manually, if so desired. The reason for this is because of the pre-installed Google apps, like the Play Store. Since the OnePlus One is completely Google-certified, they had to go in this direction or else they wouldn’t have been able to have Google apps pre-loaded.
CyanogenMod 11S is largely identical to the versions without the S. There are, however, some differences which separate the standard holo design from the CyanogenMod theme, one of which is the lock screen.
The design gallery which offers an overview of the themes which can be used in the custom ROM, has already been pre-installed. With CyanogenMod 11S, the OnePlus One offers many customization options that you don’t get with stock Android, especially the support of various themes and free reign to configure the software and hardware buttons as you like. For Android beginners, all of these options could be a bit overwhelming at a first glance, but the rest will love the freedom it offers.
OnePlus One performance
A quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with a clock speed of 2.5 GHz can be found in the OnePlus One, with 3 GB of RAM at its side. With this powerful combination, the smartphone is an absolute hardware monster, and this reflects in a snappy performance. Whether using apps or playing graphically-demanding video games, the OnePlus One operates smoothly and jitter-free. With such speeds, the back cover of the smartphone tends to get a bit warm, but not so hot that it will burn your fingers.
OnePlus One camera
The back facing camera comes from Sony (Sony Exymor iMX214) and shoots with a resolution of 13 MP. In our test, the picture results were pretty mediocre and had to do a lot with chance most of the time. Often the colors seemed a bit washed out and slightly pale. We’ll likely do a more intense camera test with the OnePlus One in the near future, as well as compare it to its competition. Until then, you can check out the pictures below as well as view a whole album full on my Google+ account.
OnePlus One battery
The battery capacity of 3,100 mAh on the OnePlus One allows for about one day of use. For the most part, the battery was still at over 50 percent after about 14 hours, during which time the camera was not used. However, I synced five accounts, made phone calls for about 20 minutes, and regularly surfed the internet, wrote emails, took pictures and sent SMSes. The display brightness was on automatic mode the entire time.
OnePlus One technical specifications
If you forget about the entire pre-release hype, their controversial marketing ploy (which involved the company inviting users to win a device if they burnt their flagship or gave it to a charity as long as they were one of the chosen 100 people), the terrible packaging and the delay in delivering the first phones to the lucky few, the OnePlus One is a top smartphone with a shamelessly low price. The only disadvantage that we could really find was of course the camera, but the quality will likely be improved upon with the next software update.
The price for the OnePlus One costs 299 USD / 269 Euro / 229 GBP for the 16 GB version in ‘Silk White’ and 349 USD / 299 Euro / 269 GBP for the 64 GB version in ‘Sandstone Black’. The device will be available in the US, Canada, UK and other European countries.