OnePlus One hands-on: first look at the $299 “flagship killer”

April 23, 2014
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The highly anticipated OnePlus One is finally here, following months of an interesting teaser campaign in which the company itself revealed every key specification of the device. That definitely served to keep the hype surrounding this smartphone going, but was it all worth it in the end?

The self-proclaimed “2014 Flagship Killer” promised a lot and the expectations surrounding it are certainly very high. Is the OnePlus One¬†all that it was said to¬†be? We find out as we go hands-on. Here’s our first look at the OnePlus One!

Design

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At a first glance, the OnePlus One will definitely remind you of the Oppo Find 7, but with a few subtle differences.

The gorgeous “jet black” display is pretty much all you’ll see up front, with the screen slightly raised and surrounded by a discreet chrome ring. You do get capacitive buttons below the display, but you get the choice to switch between using them and on-screen keys, which will discuss in a little more detail below. When the capacitive keys are off, they become invisible, and¬†the bezel they are located¬†doesn’t throw the phone off balance.

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The minimalistic design language continues as you turn to the flat sides of the device, with only the power button and the volume rocker to the right and left respectively. Turning the device over, you see the 13 MP camera with a dual LED flash, the OnePlus logo at the center, and a CyanogenMod logo etched into the bottom of the smooth plastic back.

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The sleek and elegant lines make the OnePlus One very comfortable to hold, despite its size and relative heft, and though the device is 8.9 mm thick at its thickest point, a curved back results in a tapered edge of just 4.6 mm. The OnePlus One is definitely a big phone, but isn’t as wide as some other devices that fall in the phablet category. So, while the handling experience may fall just on the line of discomfort when it comes to one-handed use, the width does help. Even if you aren’t used to such large smartphones, it does get easier over time.

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What’s most striking about the OnePlus One was the weight distribution. While its¬†dimensions are very similar to the Oppo Find 7, the OnePlus¬†feels¬†nimbler in the hand, with a light feeling throughout, making the hand gymnastics that you may have to perform to get to different elements on the screen fairly easy, further helping¬†the handling experience.

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OnePlus promised that its first flagship smartphone would feature one of the best designs around. And, while design is entirely subjective, we have to admit that the OnePlus One is a great looking device.

Further enhancing the phone,¬†you will also get the option to¬†change¬†the OnePlus One’s back covers, called StyleSwap covers.¬†These covers will be¬†available in different material choices, including wood and denim, but you’ll have to hold out for a bit, as they¬†aren’t available right away at launch.

Display

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As far as the display is concerned, you get a large 5.5-inch screen with a 1080p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of ¬†around 401 ppi. Made by Japan Display, the screen is an LTPS (low temperature polysilicone) LCD display that brings along TOL (Touch On Lens) technology. TOL¬†eliminates the layer¬†between the touch sensor and the display panel, improving viewing parameters and adding significantly to the screen’s resistance to mechanical shocks. Everything’s topped by a sheet of¬†Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which features improved scratch resistance compared to the previous generation.

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The OnePlus One screen delivers the sharpness you’d expect; colours are vivid and pop on the beautiful, large display, that should be great for watching videos, surfing the web, or playing games. Viewing angles are also fantastic.

Performance and hardware

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As mentioned by OnePlus as a part of its teaser campaign, the One features the best processing package currently available: a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, clocked at 2.5 GHz, backed by the Adreno 330 GPU, and 3GB of RAM, which should make multi-tasking and general performance an absolute breeze.

CyanogenMod is also catered towards providing a smooth experience, and overall, the OnePlus One left nothing to be desired, even when comparing with the best Android flagships out there.

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There is no expandable storage via microSD card available; built-in storage options are 16GB or 64GB, so if you’re worried about storage, the latter is definitely the better choice. Keep in mind though that your pick of the storage option also determines which color version you’ll be getting, with the 16GB version available in Silk White, while the 64GB device comes in Sandstone Black.

You get the full range of connectivity options with the OnePlus One, including 4G LTE support, Wi-Fi, GPS, GLONASS, Bluetooth 4.1, and NFC.

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Although I was able to spend only a short time testing out the speakers, my initial impressions were that the speaker is somewhat lacking in volume and sound fidelity, but I’ll definitely go¬†into this a little deeper during our¬†more comprehensive review.

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As far as the battery is concerned, you get a large non-removable 3,100 mAh unit, which,¬†coupled with the more energy efficient display and a processing package that’s comparatively¬†frugal, we reckon you¬†should get a full day of comfortable use out of the OnePlus One.

While the OnePlus One may not offer all the bells and whistles that are available with some of the other flagships out there, you get a lot of power and fantastic performance, and the company certainly hasn’t skimped on what is absolutely essential.

Camera

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I don’t want to¬†keep making the comparison, but, for the sake of clarity, the camera hardware package is identical to what is available with the Oppo Find 7.

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The¬†13MP Sony ExmorRS IMX214 camera with f/2.0 aperture and dual-toned LED flash promises to deliver amazing shots, made more distortion-free and detailed by the six physical lenses. If selfies are your thing, the 5MP distortion-free front-facing camera with a lens that allows for 80 degree capture should work wonderfully for you. The rear camera also comes with the ability to shoot slow motion 720p 120 fps video, which we’re very excited to try out.

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Working with the CyanogenMod camera app showed a number of different modes and applications of the camera optics, and, in initial testing, it worked well to get shot after shot. Of course, we’ll save picture quality judgement for when we’re able to really run the OnePlus One¬†through its paces, during a more in-depth review or camera shootout feature focus.

Software

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The other big news with regards to the OnePlus One is its software, the CyanogenMod 11S OS based on Android 4.4 KitKat. CM 11S is a special version¬†of CyanogenMod that’s specifically designed to take advantage of all the features of this smartphone.

A clean, minimalistic look helps keep the software experience fast. Once again, “keep it simple, keep it fast,” is the mantra to follow. Of course, as is expected with CyanogenMod, many customization options are¬†available with the new theme engine and store, though¬†you can always switch back to a more stock-like experience if that’s your cup of tea.

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CyanogenMod staples such as SMS encryption and Privacy Guard are available, and you also get advanced camera and gallery apps to help you get the most out this smartphone. Other useful software features are the Voice Commands that let you wake the device, and the ability to draw gestures on the sleeping screen to wake up the device and jump to apps like the camera or the flashlight. Simply draw a circle, for example, and the phone will wake up in the camera app, ready for action.

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As I mentioned above, you can choose between on-screen and capacitive keys to suit your preference. Opinions are starkly divided on which option is better, so being able to cater the experience to your liking is definitely a big plus.

CyanogenMod brings an¬†optimized¬†experience made entirely for the OnePlus One. Cyanogen’s OS¬†not only feels right at home on this stylish device, but also brings with it some unique functionality that further differentiates the OnePlus One.

Pricing and availability

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Considering the specifications and hardware, you’d expect the OnePlus One to be priced upwards of $600, but this is where this smartphone gets incredible. Considering that the phone features a beautiful 5.5-inch display, a great Sony camera, top of the line hardware, and a smooth software experience with CyanogenMod, it is absolutely amazing¬†that the OnePlus One is priced at¬†$299 for the 16GB version and just¬†$349 for the 64GB version. At this price, the OnePlus One¬†is only rivalled by the Nexus 5, and is an absolute steal in the flagship class.

The OnePlus One will initially be available in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and the United States in 16GB Silk White and in 64GB Sandstone Black.

The big caveat here is that the OnePlus One will be offered through an invite system. This means that each buyer will receive a number of invites that they can send over to friends, while more invites will be made available through contests and giveaways. Considering the low price of the device, we fully expect high demand for it, so you may have to be patient for a time.

As if the price wasn’t low enough, a hundred¬†lucky applicants will get the opportunity to pick the the OnePlus for $1 by offering to smash their current smartphone, via the OnePlus Smash program that begins on April 25.

Specifications

Display5.5-inch LTPS IPS with TOL display, 1080p (1920 x 1080), 401 ppi.
Processor2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801
Adreno 330
RAM3 GB
Storage16/64 GB, no expansion
Camera13 MP rear LED flash, Sony Exmor RS sensor, 6p lens, f 2.0, 4K, HDR
5MP front, f 2.0, 80 degrees field of view
Battery3,100 mAh
ConnectivityGPS, GLONASS, microUSB 2.0, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC
NetworksGSM/WCDMA/FDD-LTE/TD-LTE
SoftwareCyanogenMod 11S based on Android 4.4 Kitkat
Dimensions152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm
162 grams
ColorsSilk White/Sandstone Black

Gallery

Conclusions at a glance

OnePlus made a lot of lofty promises for¬†its flagship smartphone, and the company has definitely delivered. Just the amazing price point of the device is more than enough to forgive any of its shortcomings, but luckily, there aren’t any major flaws with the OnePlus One, at least based on our first impressions. You get a fantastic design, albeit very similar to that of the Oppo Find 7, a beautiful, large display, a great camera package, the absolute best in hardware, and a software experience that should be smooth, fast, and quite interesting to play around with.

So there you have it, our first look and hands-on with the OnePlus One. What are your thoughts? Does the OnePlus One meet your expectations? Let us know in the comments section below!

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