Review: OnePlus One

OPO-001These are exciting times we live in, especially for one like me that lives in Malaysia. First, Xiaomi enters the market here, then Zopo, Vivo, and we’re even getting Meizu coming by soon with their MX4; devices are coming in really cheap, and without much compromise as well. Possibly the king of “bang for buck” then as crowned by the community is the OnePlus One, and even OnePlus as a company is opening a regional headquarters in Malaysia.

You can probably see where this is going, and yes guys, I am just as excited about this review as you are, as here I am today, to review the (in)famous OnePlus One. Now, I was lucky to get an invite for the phone but even up till today, not many people have been as fortunate.

Is it worth waiting (and possibly saving money) for though? My sixth sense tingles as I find myself sceptical to believe that there really can exist a phone that gives you so much, but asks for so little. I am however, open to have my mind blown though.

Unboxing


OPO-002

The OnePlus One comes in probably the coolest looking packaging I’ve ever seen. I’ve honestly never really encountered anything like this, as the first step to opening it was to tear away at a perforated edge from a rather flat and square cardboard box with a red string, with the OnePlus logo at the end of it. Lifting up the real box that houses the phone from there, it just screams premium at you when you see it, and holding it feels really good in the hand.

Sliding the red smaller compartment out through the right, you’re now faced with a magnificent red box with the one plus logo in white. From there, you flip it open from the left as if it were a book, and lo and behold, you’ve now greeted with the good stuff. Here’s the breakdown:

  • OnePlus One Smartphone
  • Red and White Flat MicroUSB to USB Cable
  • OnePlus Keychain that doubles as a Sim eject pin (probably not wise to bring on a plane)
  • The cutest wall charger I’ve ever seen, rated at 5v, 2A.

I love what OnePlus have done here with the packaging. They’ve really made it a point to make everything of a matching theme (minus the phone of course), and so everything is a mixture of red and white. The unexpected point for me was pulling away at the base that the phone sat on, only to reveal the MicroUSB cable underneath, that looks absolutely cool in a red and black theme, and a keychain that doubles as a SIM eject pin.

The USB cable itself is one of the newer more hip flat designs, and it comes with a silicon cable tie as well, that helps keep the cable at bay. The ends are duo tone as well and they have the OnePlus logo embedded in them; A nice touch that just adds to the premium feel of things.

The wall charger itself comes in a separate box to the phone, and even then OnePlus didn’t skip on the packaging, as the box for the wall charger has the red and white theme, and even the profile of the charger itself embossed on the top. Sliding the box open, I find myself greeted with possibly the cutest wall charger I’ve seen that’s given by a manufacturer; a small rectangular box with curved edges and two prongs at the end of it, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without the OnePlus logo embellished on the side either.

As you can tell by now, I’m absolutely pleased and amazed at the wonderful work that OnePlus has put into the packaging here, as many companies do tend to overlook this. It’s the attention to the minute details that certainly makes me feel impressed with OnePlus as a company, given how new and relatively unknown they are in the business.

The one thing I find that isn’t included though as I’m used to seeing it, is manuals to the usage of the phone, and perhaps a pair of earphones for music listening and handsfree. I can’t really say I miss them though, as with a phone this beautiful, no one has time for manuals, and honestly, I probably have better headphones than any bundled accessory.

But let’s not waste anymore time. Onto the money-maker!

Specifications


  • OS: Android 4.4.4 KitKat
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 w/ Quad Krait 400 Cores @ 2.5 GHz
  • GPU: Adreno 330
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Internal Memory: 64GB non-expandable
  • Camera: 0MP Sony IMX214 6 element f/2.0 Rear Camera w/ LED Flash, 5MP Front Camera
  • Display:5” IPS LTPS LCD Display @ 1920×1080 (401 ppi) w/Gorilla Glass 3
  • Connectivity:
    • 4G Cat-4 LTE
    • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Bluetooth 4.1
  • Battery: 3100mAh Non-Removable
  • Dimensions:9mm x 75.9mm x 8.9mm
  • Weight: 162g

Walk around the device


OPO-003Probably the first thing that stood out to me when I first looked at the phone was how slim it looked sitting in the box, and those suspicions were confirmed. Despite housing a 5.5” LTPS Display up the front, its body was still thinner than that of my Galaxy Note 2, and I found that to be quite surprisingly pleasing. The display itself has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, making it look really sharp and nice, and viewing angles are great from all directions though I should note that the unit that I got suffers from the same problem that plagues most OnePlus One displays; the noticeable yellowing at the bottom of the display that stands out on a white background. I will add though that through the time the phone has been with me, the yellowing seems to have subsided, but it’s still there none the less.

OPO-004Below the display you’ll find the 3 capacitive keys that are backlit, and here’s another thing that I’d like to point out about these backlit touch keys; upon closer inspection, they don’t seem to be very evenly lit, as you can definitely tell that the backlighting looks kinda patchy when it comes on, and honest to god, together with the yellow band on the bottom of the display, they make for two very irritating points on a phone that looks this beautiful.

Above the display you’ll find the 5MP front facing camera, which is pretty generous as far as front facing cameras go, and also the earpiece for making calls.

OPO-005The OnePlus One that I have is the 64GB variant that has the Sandstone Black finish, and I’ll be very clear about this; it feels WONDERFUL in the hand. It has a rough texture to it that feels like a refined stone, but something that I found quite interesting is that the surface isn’t hard at all, in fact it’s actually got some minute amount of bounce and softness to it. I think it really helps with the ergonomics of the phone, as being a 5.5” phablet, the OnePlus One is a really easy phone to old and use.

OPO-006Shifting focus away from the beautiful looking back, up top, the 13 MP Sony IMX214 6 element f/2.0 Rear Camera. Yes, it’s worth mentioning all of this, because it’s actually quite capable of taking really beautiful photos. Together with the dual LED flash, they sit in their own metal frame of their own, that helps protect the lens no doubt. Small pinhole beside that is the secondary microphone and below that, the OnePlus logo that’s carved out of the texture in the back in a glossy piano black finish.

OPO-007Dropping below all that are all sorts of markings, like the FCC markings the information about the phone and the assembly location and finally the CyanogenMod logo, since I have the international version and not the Chinese one (note that the Chinese model doesn’t have this marking)

OPO-008Down right, the only button here is the power button that unlike the rest of the body that feels rough on touch, the button itself has a smooth finish, and I’m pretty sure it’s made of some kind of metal as it can be quite cool when touching it.

It doesn’t extrude much from the body of the phone, and I found that to be a little bit of an issue as it made it slightly harder to find the button, and even harder to press it if you have a case on. Pressing it down does have a nice satisfying click to it though, so that’s always nice.

OPO-009Over to the left the volume rocker that has the same attributes as the power button, so I won’t go over it again, and a small pinhole and the SIM Tray that camouflages itself with the rest of the body. Ejecting the SIM tray requires to use quite a long pin, and not to mention a skinny one, so if you don’t have one of those handy and you need to swap your SIM out, then… tough luck. Perhaps this is why OnePlus bundles the keychain that also works as a SIM eject pin tool.

OPO-010Top of the phone is home to another microphone for noise cancellation, and also the 3.5mm headphone jack that has a satisfying click to it when hooked in, and very little wobble present when pressuring the cable around.

OPO-011Moving down under (Hail Aussie.), the two grills for the loudspeaker that flank both end of the bottom, the primary microphone that is used for taking calls, and the microUSB port, that honestly, is quite tight. I mean, this thing is TIGHT. It is tight to the extent that on plugging in some USB cables, I wonder if I’m actually putting it the right way in, and when it’s in there, it doesn’t wobble a bit. It’s REALLY solid, and that just makes me feel that much better about the construction of the phone.

Down bottom, the primary microphone that you’ll be using for phone calls, and the micro USB port. Again, just like the headphone jack, the micro USB port felt solid, and didn’t have any discernible wiggle to it when plugged in. You’ll also find that nice same satisfying snap in when hooking in the USB cable.

If I had to use adjectives to sum up this phone aesthetically: Sexy, solid, well built, ergonomic, rugged. I could probably do a lot better than that, but off the top of my head, those are the 5 words that come to mind. You certainly don’t need me then to tell you that I’m absolutely a fan of the looks and design of the phone. I mean, it by all means is not perfect, as from what you can read above, I do have issues with the display having that yellow tinge down the bottom and the lack of uniformity in the backlit capacitive keys, but other than that, it’s a spectacularly beautiful phone to look at. It’s a shame then that it’s got two thorns in its side that keeps it from being perfect.

Let’s see if it runs as elegant it is looks.

Hands on and Benchmarks


Starting up the phone, the OnePlus Logo with a Powered by Android logo below it and not long after, a smooth transition into the boot animation that’s chime-less. Clean, simple and effective; So far I like what OnePlus is doing with the phone, though it took longer to boot up than most other phones, at 31 seconds, though rather marginally.

OPO-LockscreenThe lockscreen has your current wallpaper blurred out, and fading slowly into a black gradient down below. A clock widget in white followed by the date below it can be seen, and further below that, the battery level and weather in red. Unlocking to the homescreen is as simple as swiping downwards. A quick way to access the camera from the lockscreen is to slide the right edge out, though I’ll get back to this later, as there’s an even faster way to access the camera, that doesn’t even involve the lockscreen.

With the phone’s display turned off, there are 3 quick gestures that you can make by swiping on the display that launches certain functions on the phone. First up, double tapping the display is as good as pressing the power button to wake the phone up, and honestly, I love this feature as it allowed me to peek at the phone really quickly if let’s say was on the table and I needed to see if I had pending notifications, or maybe just the time.

With the screen still off, drawing a V pattern lights up the LED lights behind the phone to make for a quick torch when needed, and finally drawing a circle clockwise on the display launches the camera. Neat little gestures that I really appreciate and find myself using quite a bit, so much so that when it was time to head back to my normal daily phone, I found myself at a loss. More phones need quick shortcuts like these!

I should note as well that when playing music the lockscreen looks gorgeous as you have a blurred out cover art that fades to black down the bottom, with a bar equalizer overlayed over it together with music controls up the top.

Screenshot_2014-10-14-02-37-23Standard launcher on the OnePlus One looks a lot like the Google Experience Launcher, or GEL Launcher, except with a few changes here and there. For starters, it doesn’t have the swipe left from the home screen to Google Now, and not to mention it gets a facelift in the form of icons. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same as the app drawer doesn’t allow you to categorise apps into folders, they’re alphabetically named, and long pressing on an app’s icon allows you to either drag it to your position of choice on the homescreen or drag it above the screen where you can choose to either uninstall it or get some App Info about it.

Most of the preinstalled apps are just Google apps, though there are some non-standard apps like AudioFX, File Manager, Screencast, Sound Recorder and Torch.

OPO-NotificationPulling down the notifications bar, while again it’s quite similar to how stock android operates, you do have a slight difference here, as up top you have access to some quick toggles that you can customise like WiFi, Bluetooth, Data Sync and more. Just in the same way you to with most KitKat stock roms, tapping on the toggles list on the top right corner then brings you to the full lists of toggles that again, you can customise.

Screenshot_2014-09-21-05-22-26The version of the OnePlus One that I got is the 64GB variant and fresh out of the box, it comes with 54.87GB of internal storage for you to use to store your movies, applications and music, etc; More than enough to spare in my opinion, as even transferring my whole entire EDM collection in, I can’t even make up more than 30% of the space.

OPO-AntutuBenchOPO-AntutuScoreThe Snapdragon 801 inside helps the OnePlus One to get a breathtaking score of 45,485, which is without a doubt the highest score that I’ve ever recorded on my benchmarks.

OPO-3dMarkThe same is the case in 3D Mark, as the “One” takes highest spot in IceStorm Unlimited with 19,527 while maxing out the two others

OPO-EpicIn Epic Citadel, the phone scored 57.3fps under High Quality settings, and 51.1 fps in Ultra High Quality settings. Apart from the occasional fps dip here and there, the OnePlus One breezed through it all.

OPO-GFXBenchFinally, firing up GFX Bench, the OnePlus One steals away top spots from the Xiaomi Mi3 with T-Rex Scoring 1614 and 1080p T-Rex Offscreen scoring 28.1fps.

Screenshot_2014-09-22-20-57-47While I know that other forum users encountered issues with the OnePlus One and multitouch, I didn’t seem to run into any of those problems at all, but apart from that, I managed to register up to 10 continuous points with ease.

Sound, Speakers and Media Playback


Screenshot_2014-10-15-00-25-42Call quality is great on the OnePlus One. On the earpiece, everything can be heard really loudly and clearly, and the microphone sends it all out loud and clear on the other end as well. Awesome.

The loudspeaker… really puts the word LOUD in loudspeaker. This thing is LOUD. I mean, it can be so loud at times that I forget that it can even get that loud as I’m used to setting all the volume settings to full. Just don’t expect to play music with full fidelity with it though, as it’s mainly made to be heard, and while it doesn’t sound bad, it’s just not made to really play music with as it can sound just a little bit flat.

Vibration motor is alright I guess. It’s not the most noticeable vibration out there on a phone, but hey, it gets the job done. I do wonder if it’ll cause some notifications or calls to go unnoticed though.

OPO-MusicTo test the audio output, I hook in my Koss KSC-75s and I fire up some of my favourite Trance/ Vocal Trance and House tracks. I will note that I am benchmarking these devices with what I consider to be an audiophile level player, the Cowon J3, so without further ado, first up, Kyau & Albert’s Down. I found the bass to be lacking in solidness, sound separation and positioning to be average, leading to the mids and highs being slightly mashed together, making it more difficult to discern the different electro tunes, and the highs to really be lacking in that crispness and clarity that I’m used to listening to, leading to a lot of loss of detail. Not off to a good start.

Moving on to the next track, Ferry Corsten’s Hyper Love. Right off the bat, the electronic cymbals at the beginning are lacking the clear crispness that I’m used to, and further along, the issues with the separation become more evident, followed by the bass lacking that solid thump. Once the electronic beat in the chorus kicks in, flaws in producing the high notes come out again, as again, the lack of crisp sharpness, making it sound muffled at some points.

Sad story so far, so I feel a bit apprehensive moving onto my next track that tests the OnePlus One’s ability to dish out acoustic instruments. I load up Sunlounger’s White Sand (Chillout Mix). Beginning of the song itself mostly has the guitar playing and while the lack of highs is noticeable then, it’s not until the guitar hits the high notes that it becomes evidently clear that audio output probably wasn’t one of OnePlus’ primary concerns; the notes sounded extremely muffled and lacking.

I think I’ve heard enough.

Screenshot_2014-09-25-18-28-40Trying to play my copy of The Thing 2011, I fired up the gallery app and tried to load up the movie, but unfortunately that got me nowhere, as nothing in the default arsenal was able to play the movie. In the end, I resorted to getting MX Player, which either way is my player of choice anyway, so no big deal.

Camera, Photo Quality & Video Recordings


Screenshot_2014-09-21-05-23-33The camera app on the OnePlus One is Cyanogen Camera, and I feel that it finds itself inspired just a little by Google Camera, though mostly in the way you access the camera controls. Down the right, a dedicated video record button, the shutter button and the panorama button below that.

Bottom of the screen, the toggle to switch to front facing camera, the flash settings, some additional controls that allow you to set the exposure compensation, white balance, shooting mode/ effects, timer and location storing

It should be noted as well that if you swipe on the display from either top to bottom or vice versa, you can cycle through the shooting modes really quickly and you set these shooting modes to toggle through by enabling them by tapping on the O icon when looking at the shooting mode/ effects menu. I really like this as it presents itself another way into getting the settings you need quickly and efficiently.

OPO-CamAdvTapping on the settings button, a translucent menu with 3 tabs pops up, from where you can make even more changes to the camera’s settings.

Over in the Camera tab, you can set the size of the image taken, photo quality, burst mode, the exposure duration during slow shutter speed mode the option to save taken photos in raw, duration as to how long touch focus lasts for, focus mode, ISO, exposure metering mode, and finally the ant banding frequency.

Moving over to the Video tab, the size of recorded video that goes up to 4K UHD and 4K DCI, Slow Motion mode (not available during 4k shooting) and time lapse mode. Another interesting thing that I’ve never quite seen before is the ability to choose which codec you want to encode your videos in and the audio codec to go with that. Fancy settings for a fancy phone.

Finally, heading into the last tab, General, you can enable the option to allow you to use the power button as a shutter buttom, volume to control the zoom, flip over the UI for left handed use and to always prop the display up at maximum when the camera is in use. I’d like to say that I’m quite impressed that OnePlus added the option for left handed phone users as well. How thoughtful of them.

My experience with the OnePlus One camera has been a good one for the most part. Where I found it had issues in is auto white balancing at times, where photos can come out quite overexposed or colder than they’re supposed to be, and not to mention despite its ability to take really close up macro shots, it was difficult to get it to focus on something really small with nothing behind it. With those issues out of the way, when the colour balancing works, the photos actually look really nice, with a more neutral/ natural look to them. Depending on your shooting mode as well, they can be quite punchy, though I suggest to really stay away from HDR mode as more than 70% of the time, the results were more than disappointing. HDR has the tendency to over saturate the photos, such that even the most natural shots can look really unnatural at times, and contrast levels can look very strong. When it does work, it works well, but for the most part, it doesn’t.

Details and sharpness is held out really well in the phone, and it becomes even better should you choose to shoot in Clear Image mode, that stitches together 10 individual images, then processes them to create an almost noiseless, really sharp photo. I really love this mode of theirs even though it takes a while longer to process.

Noise during daylight photography is controlled really well, but as soon as it gets darker, the chromatic noise starts to pop up and becomes really noticeable really quickly as well. HDR mode adds a bit more of that punchiness during daylight photography but when it comes to night shots, and I’m not sure at all what’s going on here, it looks like a total mess. It tries to compensate too much for the darkness by slapping the ISO really high I guess, but it makes for some REALLY weird looking photos.

For my indoor low light flash test, I took three photos with the OnePlus One; Auto, Flash, HDR, Clear Image and Slow Shutter. Auto mode did quite well with good amount of exposure and good dynamic range, though I did find that a bit of chromatic noise starts to show, especially in darker spots in the photos. The flash has a bit of a yellowish orange-ish tinge to it, and I find that while it doesn’t throw my subject into overexposure, the surroundings and the background does get quite dark and underexposed. Probably won’t find myself using the flash too often. Using HDR mode, the same sort of issues crop up, with the photo being overly exposed and overly vibrant, as if trying really hard to compensate for the lowly lit conditions. Clear Image gave me more resolved detail in the photos but at the exchange of more noise as well. If you’ve got a steady hand or are used to taking long exposure photos, then the Slow Shutter mode is the best option here. If you look at the photo gallery, the Slow Shutter sample that I took there was taken at ISO 100 with ½ a second exposure, and that’s all done by hand (my hands of course). You can get the same amount of resolved detail as using the Clear Image mode, without all the noise, provided of course you’ve got a steady hand.

It’s only appropriate then that we move on to full on night photography where I found Auto mode to be laden with chromatic noise while not being all that bright, Clear Image to have its algorithm really shine as photos look really well exposed, with noise levels balanced out really well, HDR mode to be a disaster as noted before, Night mode to be obsolete (seriously, there’s no point taking in Night mode as it gives marginally more exposure with a lot more noise vs Auto, and if you have Clear Image, just use that.) and finally, to no surprise, slow shutter to steal the show with the ability to manually set the exposure time, and the ISO leading to extremely clean images that have brilliant exposure, but again such is to be expected from night shots with 8 seconds of exposure at ISO 108, which if I may add, is nearly impossible to pull off without a tripod or mount of some sort, given that the phone doesn’t have any form of Optical Image Stabilization.

Tapping on the video button on the camera menu allows you to instantly start capturing videos, and you can take photos whilst you’re doing so as well, provided you’re not filming in 4k mode.

As expected of 4K, detail is really good, and colours look pretty good. The one thing that surprised me however, is how good the audio quality for the record was, as compared to most other smartphones that is. It didn’t sound tinny or empty, and in fact felt quite well balanced without picking up a lot of background noise.

Connectivity


OPO-ConnectivityWhere it came out more around the middle/ lower end spectrum in terms of performance for the 5m WiFi test, surprisingly it was one of the best when in the 25m WiFi test.

GSM signal strength was also a surprise, but more of the bad kind. I found that it scored amongst the lowest in the group, and that had real world implications too; occasionally while indoors, I couldn’t receive any calls and they would jump straight to voicemail.

OPO-GPSGPS wise, it got a lock really quickly, coming in at 6 seconds, and not long after, with an accuracy of 3 meters. Impressive.

Battery Life


OPO-BatteryLifeI ran some applications, collected their battery usage, and based on that, extrapolated the results to bring you these estimates on battery life:

– 10 hours 45 minutes of video playback
– 9 days 18 hours pure standby (GSM, Wifi)
– 2 days 1 hours 47 minutes of normal usage

I will note that I had to redo the test as I upgraded the system firmware from XNPH33R to XNPH38R. The OTA update brought along quite a bit of changes, notably increased battery life, and it was quite evidently noticeable as prior to that, I got only a 126 Hour (5 days 6 hours) rating on idle, which was abysmal. After the update, battery life has nearly doubled up, and so if you’re planning to get the phone, please remember to install this update.

With XNPH38R, battery life was nothing short of impressive, making it one of the best devices that I’ve ever tested, only coming short to the FonePad 7, which is a tablet with a much bigger battery, and not to mention a dual core with a lower resolution screen.

Another lovely thin is how fast this phone charges up, so it’s been an absolute thrill for me to use this device as a daily driver.

Conclusion


“Never Settle”. That’s OnePlus’ motto as a company. I’m not sure how much of that is true though. The OnePlus One is not without its flaws. The yellowing screen and the unevenly lit capacitive keys for starters on the outside, followed by the audio playback quality and the camera quality in normal situations speak otherwise, but in the grander scale of things, they’re just thorns in the side of what could have been the most absolutely perfect device out there right now.

The body looks stunningly beautiful, and feels great in the hand as well. Ergonomics is really good for a phone of this form factor and display size, and the back texture is just a breather of fresh air from the multitude of either pure plastic or metallic bodies. Have I ever mentioned how much I love the texture and the look of the back of the phone? I can’t really say it enough.

As much as I can proclaim that I’m not much of a fan of CyanogenMod as well (I’m more of a Paranoid Android person), I feel that they’ve done a splendid job with this phone, as it feels light, fast, responsive and clean. It’s also customisable and out of the box it comes with quite a few nifty features that I can really appreciate. It also departs from the standard android look that is rather boring by now to something a little bit more colourful and livelier to look at, and I can really appreciate this. I like what they’ve done with the lockscreen, but can only wish that they had done the same for the dialer when picking up calls; as of now it still looks like stock boring android. There’s also the camera on the phone, but it’s something that I feel that once you get the hang of it and pretty much manually tweak each setting, you’re able to produce some pretty stunning photos that are sure to grab the attention of any of see it.

I think best of all is the price tag in which this phone comes at, which is 349 USD for the 64GB version, which let’s be honest here; with this spec sheet and beautiful body, it’s just a steal at this point, but perhaps this is the reason why people have been clamouring non- stop to get their hands onto one of these phones.

It’s worth it though. From opening the most cool looking beautiful box right up to holding the phone and using it for the first time, I think there’s only one word that successfully describes what I feel about the OnePlus One: Avant-Garde.

OPO-Scoring

Pros

  • Really beautiful body
  • Solid build quality
  • Great ergonomics even at this screen size
  • Textured “Sandstone” back feels amazing in the hand
  • Pretty display that has great natural looking colours
  • Top of class performance with a Snapdragon 801
  • Light and clean operating system that runs on a lightly skinned stock Android.
  • Camera does great at night shots (Clear Image or Slow Shutter)
  • Really good Video record with good audio capture
  • Quite frequent updates
  • Amazing battery life
  • 349 USD price point

Cons

  • Yellowing on the display means that QC could have been better
  • Unevenly backlit capacitive buttons also means that QC could have been better
  • Audio output is not audiophile level
  • Camera’s HDR is disappointing.
  • I’m nitpicking, but no MicroSD or removable battery.

I give this epic device a 9.5/10.

 

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