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I'm a former OnePlus fanboy, and the OnePlus 12 doesn't make me feel anything

Let's look at the OnePlus 12 through the lens of a person who loved the OnePlus One.
By

Published onMarch 9, 2024

When the OnePlus One came out in 2014, I was a huge fan, not only of the phone but also of OnePlus itself. I stayed a fan all the way through 2019 with the launch of what I consider the company’s peak, the OnePlus 7 Pro, a phone I waxed lyrical about here at Android Authority whenever I was allowed. In 2020, with the launch of the OnePlus 8 series, I lost interest and moved on. Since then, nothing OnePlus has done has enticed me back — in fact, I would say most of what it’s done has pushed me further away.

Fast-forward a few years, and the OnePlus 12 is now available for everyone to buy. Obviously, it is quite different from the OnePlus 7 Pro and certainly much different from the OnePlus One. A lot has changed in ten years, after all. As an experiment, I used the OnePlus 12 alongside the OnePlus One and made the video you see above. I came away surprised with how much I missed the early days of OnePlus. Not just because of the phones but also because of how OnePlus used to make me feel. I realized I hadn’t felt that way in a long, long time.

Why I was (and no longer am) a OnePlus fanboy

OnePlus One Back on Chair

In 2013, when OnePlus entered the mobile scene, it directly appealed to people in the custom ROM development community. This community was bursting with passion for all things Android, and in 2013, it was thriving. The Android operating system was fairly new then, and independent developers were having a blast seeing how far they could push it. It was an exciting time to be in the Android ecosystem — and OnePlus knew how to take advantage of that. I know that sounds like OnePlus co-opted a movement or something, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like being “seen,” I suppose.

Then, with the OnePlus One, the community had a phone to get excited about. When it launched, the One came with a ROM that started as an independent fork of Android called Cyanogen (now known as Lineage OS). This immediately legitimized it to the community. It was also just a really cool phone on its own. It had the best Android processor at the time, an incredibly low price, and a unique design, unlike anything we’d ever seen. It was a geeky phone for geeky people — the original “Flagship Killer.”

OnePlus One with Cyanogen Logo on Screen

But the number one reason that OnePlus was so important to me was that it felt like I could directly communicate with the company. The OnePlus community forums at the time established a one-on-one connection to the brand. This is obviously hyperbole, but it really felt like I could post a suggestion on the forum, and someone from OnePlus would read it and enact the change. This was “our” brand.

OnePlus felt like 'our' brand in the early days.

As the years went by and OnePlus released more and more phones, it became very disconnected from the community. It all culminated with the OnePlus 6T, which followed the iPhone-led trend of launching without a headphone jack — the first OnePlus phone to do so. This flew right in the face of what the community wanted. I can confidently say that no one in the OnePlus community wanted to buy a phone without a headphone jack in 2018. By doing this, OnePlus sent what I felt was a tacit message: We no longer care about what you think or want.

After that, it was only a matter of time before I started to lose interest in the company. OnePlus moved away from focusing on the developer community and started to cater its phones to general consumers. It started launching devices exclusively in certain countries, Carl Pei left, OPPO took over, Oxygen OS lost its identity as more and more Color OS features crept in, and on and on. At this point, the company is a shadow of its former self.

My views on the OnePlus 12

The OnePlus 12 is a terrific phone; I want to clarify my opinion before proceeding. It offers many premium features at an incredibly competitive price, at a time when phones are getting more and more expensive. I really like it.

The phone also looks very different from others on the market, especially compared to an iPhone, a Pixel, or a Samsung phone. It has some unique elements, such as the beautiful Flowy Emerald back. I think OnePlus has nailed two very important features of a good smartphone here: an exciting design and powerful hardware.

Throwing a ton of specs into a cool-looking phone isn't all you need to do to win me over.

But it takes much more than a cool-looking, feature-rich phone to make someone like me passionate about it. Despite its strengths, the OnePlus 12 has a lot of things that just don’t do it for me. The most prominent issue is the software. Back in the day, Oxygen OS was basically stock Android with many new features added to it — and it was great. Now, Oxygen OS is just Color OS, and it’s not my cup of tea. The modern Oxygen OS is a mix of Android and iOS overlaid with some cartoony designs. It doesn’t appear to have a distinct identity, and it certainly doesn’t have anything that draws me in.

OnePlus 12OnePlus 12
AA Recommended
OnePlus 12
Bright, sharp display • Blistering-fast charging • Approachable price
MSRP: $799.00
The flagship killer returns.
The OnePlus 12 is an important update for the brand that never settles. The phone offers the latest and best technology, including a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor, 50W wireless and 80W wired charging, next-gen Hasselblad cameras, and more.

My personal gripes about the software aside, the OnePlus 12 certainly has an incredible spec sheet. It’s got the best Android processor right now (Snapdragon 8 Gen 3), solid camera hardware, and one of the most impressive displays you can get in 2024. Once again, though, specs don’t make a phone. Look at the OnePlus One. The One was incredible when it came out, but it wasn’t that exceptional as far as specs go. Yes, it had the best processor then (Snapdragon 801), but the rest of the specs were standard. The overall package of the OnePlus One, though — design, software, community, support, price, ambition — played into what made the phone so exciting. It wasn’t just specs, it was everything, and those exciting yet intangible aspects are things the OnePlus 12 lacks.

The OnePlus One was great not because of specs but because of the overall experience. The OnePlus 12 lacks this intangible asset.

The question that most occupied my mind while using the OnePlus 12 was this: Who is this phone for? The Galaxy S24 Ultra is the top-of-the-line, best-of-the-best device in the Android world. It’s for those who want their phone to do anything and everything. It has the S Pen, the best camera hardware, Galaxy AI, and an incredible display — everything about it is simply the best. And then you have the Pixel 8 Pro, which isn’t the best phone by any means but is specifically designed for the Android purists who want the best point-and-shoot camera experience you can get, combined with Google’s own unfiltered take on Android.

Then you’ve got something like the Nothing Phone 2, which doesn’t have the best of anything, really, but it has a unique design with Glyph lights, a transparent back, and a wholly reimagined skin of stock Android. It appeals to young consumers who want a very fashion-forward phone. And then, of course, you have the iPhone, which is for all the people who don’t want an Android phone.

But the OnePlus 12? I don’t know who this is for. It’s not for mobile photographers, fashion-forward youth, Android purists, or the people who want the best-of-the-best specs. OnePlus sells millions of phones, so I’m not trying to say no one buys its products, but who is the consumer that OnePlus is going after? It’s not clear to me after using the OnePlus 12. It has no distinct identity other than being nice to look at with some power under the hood, and that’s not going to make me feel anything close to passion for it.

Can OnePlus get its groove back?

OnePlus One Back Close Up on Logo

Considering everything I’ve said here, the big question becomes: Can OnePlus do it again? Could the brand make me (and others like me) feel as passionate about its phones now as it did when it launched the OnePlus One? Is it even possible for OnePlus to get its groove back?

I don’t think it can — at least not with how things are today. When OnePlus was first developed, it was very early in Android’s history. Things hadn’t settled like they have now, and I think OnePlus stumbled into a lightning-in-a-bottle situation. It was the right company with the right phone at the right time.

OnePlus succeeded despite the fact that it wasn't trying to, so I don't think what happened could ever happen again.

Even if the OnePlus of today wanted to re-capture that lightning in a bottle, I’m not sure it could. It’s just too big. It would need to take too many risks to be that kind of company again. Think about it: When OnePlus first started, it was just an offshoot of OPPO, and it only expected to sell 50,000 OnePlus Ones. It was going for a niche market and then suddenly found itself selling a million phones. In other words, the company succeeded despite not trying to do so on any grand level. It was so small, and it had such direct intentions to go for the Android development community specifically that it seemingly didn’t need to worry about shareholders, selling millions of units, and appealing to multiple different types of consumers. The OnePlus of today, though, cares deeply about all three of those things.

I miss the way OnePlus made me feel

OnePlus One vs OnePlus 12 On Floor

Looking at the OnePlus 12 in one hand and the OnePlus One in the other has reminded me of how much I loved OnePlus and how long it’s been since I felt that way — not only for it but for any phone or phone brand.

Just getting the OnePlus One made me excited. I had to snatch an invitation to buy a OnePlus One back in the day, which I could only get from someone else who had already bought one. So just being able to click that Buy button felt like an achievement. Then I was unboxing it, touching the sandstone back for the first time, flashing a new ROM, and showing it off to friends and family; it was an event.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way again about a phone. It didn’t happen with the OnePlus 12, and I don’t think it’s ever going to happen with OnePlus in general. It’s also probably not going to happen with any other company. I think Android might be too established now. The excitement is gone. From now on, it’s just going to be taking a phone out of a box, installing some apps, and going about my day.

At least I’ll always have the One to remind me of what it was once like.