From a very early age, the importance of first impressions is drilled into us – people make snap judgements, based on appearance, very quickly. This is a lesson that Chinese start-up OnePlus has clearly taken to heart.The beauty of OnePlus’ debut smartphone, the One, is heralded even before you see the device through absolutely gorgeous packaging and presentation. Everything from the box the charger comes in to the SIM tray remover is coloured with a beautiful bright red and a pure white, in a Beats style set-up. Normally, packaging for smartphones is average and merely to the point, however, the OnePlus One’s packaging is an artistic triumph.
Of course, things like the packaging are not the difference for most between buying the phone or not, but it is little, subtle details like this, which highlight the beautiful, high quality which sums up the whole of the OnePlus One.
When you have finished unpacking, repacking and just staring at the phone and beautiful paraphernalia it comes with, the device itself doesn’t disappoint. The first thing that you have to notice about the One is its size; it’s colossal. The phone sports a 5.5 inch (1080 x 1920) display, something which certainly takes some getting used to. Once you have done some thumb exercises, though, the phone’s size is nothing but a bonus and it is clear why Apple have joined the hordes of manufactures creating “phablet” devices with, as someone described it to me, “obscenely large” screens.
Despite the size, the phone is surprisingly light and feels comfortable in your hand. The back is made of an odd material which feels like astro-turf or fine sandpaper, and again, once you get used to this you learn to love it, as it doesn’t ever show fingerprints or water. However, a word of caution, finger nails can really ruin the look of the back and wear it down – one of OnePlus’s cases may be a wise purchase.
Despite costing under £280 (for 64GB version; £230 for 16GB) in the UK, the One has all the build qualities you would expect from a Samsung Galaxy S5 or an HTC One M8. However, there are a couple of minor design flaws which take away from its claim to be the perfect flagship killer.
Coming from a Motorola Moto G, I thought the placement of the volume rocker was poor and hard to reach for anyone with small hands or even medium-sized hands. The power button is placed at a good height on the right side of the phone, but the volume rocker is quite a stretch on the left hand side and back buttons or some other alternative may have served the One better in this situation. I am also not a fan of placing speakers at the bottom of
the phone as the sound gets muffled by the user’s fingers when gaming (e.g. FIFA 15 UT). However, this sounds like clutching at straws – a reviewer sceptical that a phone this cheap can be this good – and in many ways that’s all this is. All phones have flaws and the One’s are minimal to say the least – it is a stunning device in terms of hardware and is very easy on the eye to boot.
The software on board the OnePlus One is an aspect of the phone which has been getting extra attention. The One runs CyanogenMod, an enhanced open source software based on Android, and is the first commercial phone to do so out of the box.
CyanogenMod is based on Android but has levels of customisation most Android users could only dream of. With the option to customise anything from the saturation of the screen to the font used, the options are virtually limitless. It takes rooting your phone to the next level, except with the One (because it comes running CM) you don’t have to root it at all. Furthermore, the phone does not require them to be tweaked to run: you can tamper around with the settings to your heart’s content or leave them just as they were when you turned the phone on and the phone will work just as well either way.
There were a couple of issues I did encounter using the One: random app crashes (especially Snapchat); once a few horizontal black lines across the screen using messaging; and quite intense CPU overheating during gaming, which I can only assume are due to a bug somewhere in Cyanogen. However, I felt these were a small price to pay. Moreover, the excellent response speed from OnePlus and regular over-the-air updates mean that most bugs don’t stick around for long.
This does, though, lead onto my chief worry with the OnePlus One: its ability to work hard. Armed with 3GB of RAM, you would imagine that the phone could deal with almost anything you throw at it no problem, yet things aren’t always that simple. There is no lag whatsoever, granted, but gaming and watching videos for a couple of hours really takes its toll on the phone, often to the tune of 40% of the battery and a very hot CPU. This I found worrying, given that if you ever want to game or watch anything on your phone, you have to have your charger within touching distance. Again, however, these issues did not really affect the day to day use of the OnePlus One, as when I used it for these things I was generally at home.
Ultimately the OnePlus One’s taglines “flagship killer” and “never settle” sum both the company and the device up perfectly. The One really can compete on every level with the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8) and all the rest of the main players and – with plans to arm it with Android L within 3 months of its release – could well beat Google’s latest software. This uber-quick update guarantee also encompasses “never settle”, which also seems very much true of OnePlus.
With OnePlus introducing a new pre-order system at the end of the month (along with its current invite system), if you have the cash spare to spend on a new phone, then the One is by far the best use of your money with specs to rival the best, an unbeatable price tag and, in my opinion, a superior software experience.
Image: (1 & 2) SIM remover and charger © opopododo, flickr ¦ (3 and banner) OnePlus battery and device © OnePlus(.net)