OnePlus One: An Australian review

Giving it to the Samsungs of the world by delivering top-tier hardware for bottom dollar

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OnePlus One
  • OnePlus One
  • OnePlus One
  • OnePlus One

Pros

  • Market leading hardware
  • Bespoke accessories
  • Great camera
  • Relatively inexpensive

Cons

  • Too tall

Bottom Line

Arguably the OnePlus One is the coolest smartphone around. The 5.5in Android device runs refined CyanogenMod software, models leading hardware and manages to do so from $299 in its home country of China. The real downside to this smartphone is its local availability; buying one requires an invitation. Otherwise, it dwarfs even the Nexus 5 on both value and performance.

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  • One V 259.00
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Commotion surrounds a new Chinese manufacturer called OnePlus and its first smartphone, the One. The promise of top-tier hardware for bottom dollar has the internet ablaze, and big guns Samsung, Apple and HTC paying attention.

A stunning phablet

The OnePlus One towers for a smartphone at 153mm tall, but in fairness it does have a ‘phablet’ sized display. The 5.5in screen has a rich 1920x1080 resolution and packs a respectable 401 pixels-per-inch. The Gorilla Glass finishes short of a chrome border to give the impression the screen is floating.

Top and bottom bezels are generous enough that the One can be held in landscape orientation without your fingers obscuring the screen. On the downside, resting this smartphone in your jeans pocket brings about irritating discomfort — the kind where you feel climbing stairs will snap your pocketed phone in two.

...running hacker software, modelling leading hardware and doing it all for less...

Height is one way OnePlus has kept the One thin. A rounded back tapers to sides measuring 9mm thick. The shape is crucial in making this phablet comfortable to hold.

The plastic back cover has a texture that closer resembles ceramic. Our review unit was white — a blinding shade of white. The cover might adopt smudges and fingerprints, but the colour remained unblemished throughout our reviewing period.

Centred up top is a 13 megapixel rear camera and, sitting fractionally below, is OnePlus’ insignia engraved. These black touches, along with black volume and power buttons, accentuate the subtlety of the smartphone’s details.

Stereo speakers fire from the base of the smartphone downwards. Plenty of sound is produced, but the positioning makes it easy for your hands to muffle the speakers.

The capacitive buttons can be deactivated in favour of on-screen keys
The capacitive buttons can be deactivated in favour of on-screen keys

Note: The OnePlus One has not officially launched in Australia. Our review unit was kindly provided by MobiCity, who is currently selling the smartphone.

Android according to CyanogenMod

The One runs a version of Android 4.4 tweaked by respected modders CyanogenMod. Most people turned to a CyanogenMod ROM when the bloated interfaces of their Samsung, HTC or Sony proved tiring. In a way, CyaonogenMod’s software is the software chosen by the people.

Rival manufacturers tweak everything Android, not necessarily to improve the experience, but rather to differentiate themselves from their competitors. CyanogenMod doesn't indulge in this pretence; if something works well, then there’s no reason for it to be redesigned. Google’s stock homescreen, stock music player, stock messaging app, stock keyboard and much more remains, well, stock. Not adding redundant versions of the same features keeps this overlay light and spiffy.

The homescreen, launched and notification blind
The homescreen, launched and notification blind

The floating texting application is a nice touch
The floating texting application is a nice touch

In a way, CyaonogenMod’s software is the software chosen by the people

Improvements made tend to the shortcomings of the 4.4 KitKat operating system. Take the notification blind for instance, which can be tweaked to showcase a plethora of shortcuts and even animated widgets.

Cyanogen’s software empowers the user by enabling them to tailor settings to their individual liking. Don’t like the capacitive keys? Fine, select on-screen keys instead. Want to turn on the torch by gesturing a ‘V’ on the inactive homescreen? Presto, there’s an option for that, too. Want the capacitive home key to launch the camera when double tapped? It’s as good as done.

Nominating and then configuring an audio profile, followed by the menu used for button customisation
Nominating and then configuring an audio profile, followed by the menu used for button customisation

A personal favourite is the programmable profiles. They add a level of autonomy to the OnePlus by making good use of triggers, which implement settings defined by you. Set up a work profile and when your smartphone jumps onto the office Wi-Fi, the One will automatically turn off volume controls, enable the vibration and deactivate superfluous connectivity options, such as Bluetooth and GPS, for example.

A well designed image gallery links to online albums from a variety of social networks
A well designed image gallery links to online albums from a variety of social networks

OnePlus may have validated the CyanogenMod team by relying on their software, but it is the spirit of CyanogenMod, representative of the rebellious hacker, that makes the OnePlus uber cool.

Hardware that “never settles”, Battery to match

The One has some serious guts. Flagships Samsung and HTC have a powerful 2.5GHz quad-core CPU and 2GB of RAM, while Sony’s Xperia Z2 has a slower 2.3GHz quad-core CPU but a greater 3GB of RAM. The One stays true to its mantra and “never settles”.

We admire the OnePlus for its bravado because it’s championing the user experience first

Beating inside is a Snapdragon 801 chipset with a 2.5GHz quad-core CPU and 3GB of RAM, which tips its innards towards the leading end of the smartphone market. Offsetting no support for expandable memory are two storage options: 16GB and 64GB.

Technically it is possible to remove the plastic back of the OnePlus One, in the same way it is technically possible to stare directly into the sun. Our exaggeration is warranted on account of greatly struggling to remove the cover and fearing it’ll snap due to its incredibly taught construction. Those brave enough to creep the back cover off while discover a non-removable 3100 milliamp-hour battery.

None

Good Gear Guide enjoys brutally using smartphones. The OnePlus One was used as our primary smartphone throughout our week testing period. We listened to hours of music each day, played movies on its Full HD screen, binged on YouTube, surfed websites, chatted over social networks, connected to Bluetooth devices, sent a myriad of texts and made hour long phone calls.

Under these gruelling testing conditions, the One managed to last 15 hours without needing a charge. The seemingly stout figure looks far more robust when it’s compared to the 11 hours of battery life averaged by the 5.5in LG G3. Lighter usage fared well for the One’s battery with the smartphone lasting almost a whole day (23 hours) without needing a charge. A whole day of battery for a smartphone armed with cutting-edge innards is commendable.

“Flagship killer” status couldn’t be achieved without comprehensive connectivity. The One is a 4G smartphone, is compatible with dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11ac), supports the latest 4.0 version of Bluetooth and is kitted with a near field communications (NFC) chip.

13MP camera, UHD recording

Studding the back of the One is a 13 megapixel camera from Sony. The camera has an aperture of f/2.0 and works with a dual-LED flash when lighting is limited. These numbers add up to an experience that makes the One’s camera reliable when out and about.

Overall camera performance is impressive with photos proving rich in colour and clarity. Viewing photos in their native resolution on a UHD television revealed little image noise and impressive low-light results. Landscape shots in particular stood out as the One managed to capture varying depths of focus without losing much detail.

Taken with the OnePlus One
Taken with the OnePlus One

A 100 per cent crop of the photo above
A 100 per cent crop of the photo above

Taken with the OnePlus One
Taken with the OnePlus One

The rear camera is capable of recording videos in the nascent Ultra high-definition (aka 4K) standard. The same aptitude for colour shines through recorded videos and the frame rate makes for smooth footage. However, the One won’t do people without steady hands any favours.

Although we don’t believe UHD recording is practical — a 1.03 minute video consumed 469 megabytes — we do prefer the One’s UHD recording over the LG G3’s.

Fans of ‘selfie’ photographs will relish the One’s front facing camera. It takes photos at 5 megapixels and records high definition videos.

Taken with the OnePlus' front facing camera
Taken with the OnePlus' front facing camera

CyanogenMod deserves commendation for the One’s fantastic camera interface. The transparent interface offers detailed settings in an easy-to-navigate menu setup
CyanogenMod deserves commendation for the One’s fantastic camera interface. The transparent interface offers detailed settings in an easy-to-navigate menu setup

Final thought

Arguably the OnePlus One is the coolest smartphone around. Running hacker software, modelling leading hardware and doing it all for less is akin to giving the established smartphone players the finger. And we admire the OnePlus for its bravado because it’s championing the user experience first. The methodology has proven popular to the point people can’t just purchase a One from OnePlus: they need to be invited.

Keen parties interested in buying a OnePlus One in Australia can do so from online store MobiCity. The etailer is offering the 64GB One Plus for $539.95, a premium of almost $200. That said, not everyone will be lucky enough to land a golden ticket.

None

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