OnePlus One equals two good

I received an invite for the One from OnePlus a few weeks ago and pulled the trigger. I’ve used it as my daily driver ever since, replacing my iPhone 5S.

Yes, folks, the Cornerplay does reviews. If you have something you want us to look at, send it our way. We leave the factual details to excellent publications like Engadget (rated the OnePlus One 9/10), Gizmodo (9/10) and PC World (9/10); and focus on providing insight into all the other things that make the phone interesting.

What I want to start off with is what an amazing job OnePlus did marketing this phone. The smartphone market is super saturated, with giant corporations like Apple and Samsung spending multiple billions on advertising their phones. Here is this tiny Chinese company who, without having spent much if at all on marketing, has made the OnePlus One famous among tech enthusiasts.

This is already a sought after phone because of its flagship performance and low cost; couple that with limited supply and what you’re left with is – incredibly – a status symbol among tech snobs. I can’t believe the amount of attention I’ve gotten because of this phone, both in real life and online. One guy found me on Instagram and started liking a bunch of my photos in the hope that I would give him an invite!

All this from a tiny Chinese company? Unprecedented. Amazing. Stupendous. Good job, OnePlus.

Let’s take hype aside. How is the actual phone? Pretty darn good it turns out.

I love how it looks. Only the HTC One bests it in terms of aesthetics and it’s on par with the LG G3 and Nexus 5. My opinion of course; beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. The “floating” screen is a nice touch. The display is gorgeous with great colors and nice viewing angles. It’s bad in direct sunlight compared to the iPhone 5S, but still viewable.

I got the 64 GB version with a sandstone back. At first, I didn’t like the sandstone – it felt like smooth sandpaper, or cheap PVC office carpeting. Then over the next couple weeks I fell in love with it. It doesn’t attract finger prints, got a nice tactile feel and doesn’t get gross and grimy like most polycarbonate phones. Today, I merely like it. It CAN get grimy, and when it does it feels worse than plastic. Fortunately, it takes a lot more to get there and it’s easy to clean. I’d place this material above plastic but clearly below metal.

OnePlus has a clever casing strategy. There are other novel materials in the pipeline, like bamboo, denim and carbon fiber. It’s a creative way to improve the feel of the phone without resorting to costly aluminum. Samsung, take notes!

I came from an iPhone 5S so the phone felt HUGE at first. My fingers felt tired holding the phone and I have trouble using my thumb to tap apps and buttons on the other side of the screen. For many of you, this phone will feel too big.

Happily, after weeks of use the size of the phone feels fine – I don’t give it a second thought any more – and it’s the iPhone 5S that seems comically small. So it is something you get used to, and there are a couple of tricks to manage the size better. More on that later. In exchange, you get a gorgeous 5.5 inch display that’s great for reading and playing games. It’s worth the trade-off.

The performance of the phone is fine. It has an 801 Snapdragon with 3 GB of RAM – equal to or better than other flagship phones. It performs well but the phone still doesn’t scroll as smoothly as my iPhone 5S, though thankfully it isn’t as laggy as the Samsung Galaxy S5 either. This isn’t a hardware issue as 3D games run beautifully on the OnePlus One.

The phone does get hot playing 3D games. It got so hot one time I worried it might actually affect the hardware.

Battery life is fantastic. By the end of my work day, my One usually had 20% more battery life than my iPhone 5S. The OnePlus One easily has all day battery life.

Speakers are great. There are two of them and the combination is nice and loud.

The only major disappointment with the phone is the camera. It’s a good camera on paper – 13 megapixels with f/2.0 lens from Sony – but it’s noticeably worse than my iPhone 5S. Low light performance is awful. Yet, according to multiple reviews, the OnePlus One camera is better than that of a Nexus 5. So we can probably peg it as “good but not great.”

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My photos are uninteresting, so here’s one with the phone from Engadget

The phone has a version of CyanogenMod built specifically for the OnePlus One so it should be faster and more stable than if you installed it on another phone. Out of the box, my software experience was just ho-hum; but after fooling around with its many customization options, I’m in love. See here for a detailed breakdown on those customizations. Briefly, here’s what I like:

  • Turning on the phone with double tap and closing with a swipe-from-home gesture; I don’t ever have to use the power button and this makes the phone’s large size manageable
  • Unlocking the phone with face recognition, which works well on the One
  • Profiles, so when I’m connected to my home or work WIFI, the phone is smart enough not to require unlocking
  • Onscreen vs. capacitive buttons
  • Highly customizable themes, and a theme app store
  • Customizable notifications and quick setting panels, including the ability to get either one depending on where you swipe down

I’m aware that most of the above can be achieved with myriad apps, but it’s nice to have it all out of the box and native to the device.

oneplusflux
My OnePlus One with the Flux theme

My only concern with CyanogenMod is that it’s not clear how quickly it’ll get new Android versions. The company says it’ll take three months to update to Android L, and for now all we can do is take the company at its word.

A minor annoyance is that Android still doesn’t have native support for volume controls on headphones. Speaking of headphones, I was surprised the OnePlus One didn’t come with a pair. It’s fine in that most of us already have headphones, but it’s a cost cutting measure that feels just that — cost cutting.

And that brings us to the price. This phone would be a contender even if it was $600, but it starts at $300 for the 16 GB version and $350 for the 64 GB version. That is amazing value. If you can get your hands on an invite, it’s worth the purchase.

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What a super-rare invite looks like

That’s probably the worst thing about this phone. Before I got my invite, I wondered whether it was all an elaborate scam where only a few phones get made — enough to sell to bloggers and journalists to create the perception it’s real. A marketing campaign to attract attention to the brand and its sister company Oppo. At least one friend researched and purchased the Oppo Find 7 after giving up on waiting for the OnePlus One.

I wonder too whether I would’ve gotten an invite if not for this tech blog, the best in the universe. :)

Now that I have this phone in my hands, it does feel very real. This is the best phone you can buy for $350, bar none. Get it if you can, and then bask in the envy of your tech-snobby friends.

Update (August 16, 2014): We have three invites to give away!

7 thoughts on “OnePlus One equals two good

  1. I agree, it takes a long time to get an invite. I signed up on April 25, 2014 and got the invite on August 13, 2014. I bought it for my wife, who is simple amazed by the battery life. Granted she still had a Galaxy S2. By the time she was leaving work her S2 would be anywhere from 5-20% battery left. Now she is usually in the 20-40% battery left by the time she goes to sleep with the OnePlus. The phone is fun to play with and agreed, if you get the chance to buy one, do so!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Folks, one thing you seem to be forgetting is that we are dealing with a Chinese company that has no number where you can contact them, and whose meager support staff may be not humans but just software that automatically spews out pre-drafted responses.

    I kept telling them I have not received my phone, and wrote to them through several tickets that the phone was apparently sent back to their distributor. They keep telling me phone was delivered, matter closed. Kafkaesque really.

    In other words, support is solely through a ticket system through which it was impossible to get resolution.

    Case in point: I ordered and paid for my phone on 11/28. It is christmas eve, and I do not have it. Do not know if I ever will!

    Am out almost $390, the phone was sent back to wherever it came from due to a faulty zip code.

    With any other phone, I would have had my phone reshipped to me a long time ago. Here I do not know if it ever will.

    Bottom line: To cut down the price so much, they had to eliminate something. What this company never set up, was a customer service system, the way we in the US expect it.

    Very unhappy. No matter how good they say the phone actually is (and even that remains to be seen), be aware if anything happens, you are on your own.

    Like

    1. Hi Robert, that sounds horrible. I’ve forwarded your comment to someone I’ve emailed with at OnePlus — no guarantee he’ll follow through, but here’s to hoping your situation gets resolved.

      Like

    2. Hi Robert, here’s the reply I got from my guy at OnePlus:

      “Thanks Jeff! I had our support team answer him, although over the past few days this seems to have already been resolved. Keep up the good work on the blog, and happy new year to you too!”

      Hope it really was resolved!

      Like

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