OnePlus One vs Galaxy Note 3 first look

April 23, 2014
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OnePlus just launched its first device and, we have to say, it’s a very impressive debut. Packing high-end specifications, an attractive design, and the power of CyanogenMod out of the box, the OnePlus One is a great phone, even without mentioning its starting price point of just $299.

But the OnePlus has one “drawback” that could turn off many customers – its large footprint. The 5.5-inch display puts the OnePlus One on a collision with Samsung’s mighty Galaxy Note 3. So, if you favor large phones, which one is better for you?

We try to answer this question in our OnePlus One vs Galaxy Note 3 first look.

Design and build quality

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The appearances of our two contenders are starkly different, with one side favoring minimalism and the other embellishments and texture richness.

Starting with the OnePlus One, we see the general features of the cousin device Oppo Find 7, with the two phones seemingly sharing the same chassis and general dimensions. But there are a couple of features about the One that set it apart, including the chrome plate around the camera and flash assembly, the monolithic black of the front screen, and the distinctive logos of OnePlus and Cyanogen on the back.

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The unadorned front of the screen features capacitive keys, but, in an interesting twist, you can turn them off in favor of an on-screen navigation bar, making them disappear in the phone’s bottom bezel. With speaker grills on the bottom and a classic power and volume rocker setup, the OnePlus One looks and feels premium, without innovating in terms of functionality.

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The flashier Note 3 combines Samsung’s tried and true design language with the now well-known faux leather texture of its back cover. Samsung wanted to evoke the feeling of a nice leather-bound notebook, the sort of object an executive would use in the boardroom to take notes. Speaking of, the phone’s S Pen stylus is probably its most distinctive and, arguably, most useful feature. Samsung stuck with the physical button on the front of the device, which may or may not please you. The device feels premium too, though some users might find themselves tired of an appearance that has not changed in its essence for a few years.

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Size is important for this type of devices, but there’s no big difference in this department between the Galaxy Note 3 and the OnePlus One. The One is a bit lighter (6 grams) and a bit narrower (0.6mm), but we’re not sure you will be able to tell the difference. Both devices feel great in hand, but don’t expect easy one-hand usage from either one.

Display

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We have a battle of the best in their classes here. The Note 3 features a superb Full HD AMOLED display of 5.7-inch that’s only matched in terms of color vibrancy, contrast levels and, brightness by the newer Galaxy S5. You get a no compromise display here, even if pixel density is a bit smaller than on some other high-end Android devices, at 386 ppi. Even the color accuracy, long an issue with AMOLED panels, is now improved, especially in Cinema Mode, which is very close to the standards in this respect.

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Representing the LCD camp, the 5.5-inch Full HD display of the OnePlus One holds the flag up without any faltering. The display is made by Japan Display Inc using a Touch On Lens technology manufactured using the Low Temperature Polysilicon process. In plain English, that means you can expect great brightness, clarity, and color vibrancy, and, as a bonus, better resistance to mechanical shocks. At least that’s what OnePlus One’s marketing’s team claims, and we definitely wouldn’t go knocking the OnePlus One around.

This is probably a tie – both phones come with top-notch displays and any preference of one over the other may be subjective.

Performance and hardware

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The OnePlus One may have a nominal advantage in the slightly better Snapdragon 801 processor inside, but the differences between it and the Snapdragon 800 in the Note 3 have no truly discernible effect in real life usage. Both phones come with 3GB of RAM, which should be more than enough for day to day tasks involving multitasking and gaming.

At a quick flick through the user interface, we spotted no true lag on either device. With that said, the OnePlus One’s CyanogenMod implementation is clearly more agile, and the absence of flashy animations accentuates this perception.

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In terms of bells and whistles, you get about the same endowment on both phones, with the notable exception of the SD card slot. The OnePlus One lacks one, even if does feature a removable back plate – that’s only for cosmetic purposes, unfortunately. With the base version featuring 16GB of storage, we therefore recommend shelling an extra $50 for the 64GB model, though that only comes in black.

Finally, the batteries of the OnePlus One and Note 3 are about the same capacity. The Note 3 is among the best Android smartphones in respect of longevity, and we expect the OnePlus One to give Samsung’s phone a run for its money, at the very least.

Camera

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If you were impressed with the camera on the Oppo Find 7, you will be impressed with the OnePlus One, with the only big difference being the camera app, now supplied by CyanogenMod. You get a Sony Exmor RS sensor of 13MP, coupled with a 6-part optic system that should remove most distortion. The dual-tone LED on the back should come in handy when taking portraits, as it’s better at illuminating human skin in a natural way, compared with single-LED flashes.

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The Note 3 holds its own, even if it’s a bit behind in the camera arms race. You also get a 13MP camera with an excellent f/2.0 aperture (just like on the OnePlus One), and, from our experience, the resulting image quality is great in most situations.

The OnePlus takes a lead in the front camera race, with its generous 5MP sensor and 80 degree viewing angle, perfect for group selfies or video chat sessions.

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While the camera app on the OnePlus One is not by any means lacking in features, the Note 3 is probably better equipped in this area, at least when it comes to the sheer amount of features and options you can fiddle with.

Software

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The OnePlus One is special because – among other things –  it’s the first phone co-developed with Cyanogen Inc, makers of the popular custom ROM for Android. Based on Android 4.4 KitKat, the OS on the One is actually called CyanogenMod 11S, with the “S” serving to indicate the customizations and special features present on the phone compared to the regular CM version.

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In terms of appearance, the OnePlus is the stock-like beast we all know, but the OnePlus One gives you the option to change the interface radically from the Themes settings area. You can easily change icons, fonts, general UI appearance, and wallpapers, and you can browse and download additional ones from the built-in store.

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Feature-wise, the OnePlus One stands out through its emphasis on security and privacy, with CyanogenMod’s Privacy Guard and secure messaging service front and center. OnePlus’ contributions are the voice commands, that let you wake up the phone without touching it, and the gestures shortcuts, that let you quickly launch your favorite apps by scribbling a gesture on the screen, even when the phone is sleeping.

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Samsung strikes back with its TouchWiz overlay and feature set, that we won’t dwell upon too much, as they are almost universally known. Highlight features of this eye-candy heavy OS include the multiwindow multitasking mode, as well as the collection of productivity features enabled by the S Pen. It is the S Pen that sets the Note series apart from any other phone in its size class, and if writing on the screen and manipulating the interface with a stylus is important for you, there isn’t any better option than the Note 3.

Specs Comparison

 OnePlus OneSamsung Galaxy Note 3
Display5.5-inch LTPS IPS with TOL display, 1080p (1920 x 1080), 401 ppi. 5.7-inch Super AMOLED, 1080p (1920 x 1080), 386 ppi
Processor2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801
Adreno 330
2.3 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800
Adreno 330
RAM3 GB3 GB
Storage16/64 GB, no expansion16/32/64 GB, expandable
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
13 MP rear camera, LED flash
2 MP front
Battery3,100 mAh3,200 mAh
ConnectivityGPS, GLONASS, microUSB 2.0, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFCGPS, GLONASS, microUSB 3.0, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE
NetworksGSM/WCDMA/FDD-LTE/TD-LTEGSM/WCDMA/FDD-LTE/TD-LTE
SoftwareCyanogenMod 11S based on Android 4.4 KitkatAndroid 4.3 Jelly Bean
Dimensions152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm
162 grams
151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm
168 grams

Gallery

Pricing and conclusions at a glance

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There you have it – two of the most impressive smartphones of the moment battling out for your favor. The winner might actually be decided by its price, rather than feature set, and this is where the OnePlus One truly impresses. Available for $299 for the white 16GB model and $349 for the black 64GB model, the OnePlus One is cheap enough to offset any shortcomings it may have.

The problem is not all of you reading this post will be able to buy the OnePlus One, as it will only be available in some markets and through an invite system. At least in the period right after the launch, we expect it to be rather hard to come by.

The Note 3, while more expensive, could well justify its price tag if you look for a strong productivity device or you favor Samsung’s features and design. And, given its worldwide availability, you’ll certainly be able to buy it, unlocked or on contract.

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