The OnePlus One – A True Flagship Killer

I have been writing reviews of mobile devices and technology since 1999. In that time, I’ve reviewed well over 100 mobile devices of all shapes and forms, starting with the H/PCs of days gone by to the current crop of Windows Phone and Android devices. To say I don’t get excited about phones much any more is an understatement.

Then came along the OnePlus One. It’s a phone that has been out there for nearly a year now and while it had a fitful start in life (a somewhat botched invitation system to buy them), they are now readily available. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a phone as much as I have enjoyed this… One.  Spec wise it is top-notch with a powerful processor, huge amounts of RAM and on-board storage, an all day power user battery, a stunningly good camera (front and back) and a display that is easy on the eyes. It has everything that you would expect in a flagship device from any manufacture but at a budget friendly mid-market price of $299 for the 16GB model.  Beyond the specifications however, the OnePlus One is a joy to use.  It has a solid Android Lollipop build with powerful features and functionality built in that allows you as a user to customize it the way that works best for you.

The OnePlus One is without a doubt one of the best phones I’ve ever reviewed.  It is not perfect but it is close.  Real close.

Specifications

The true mark of a flagship device is an uncompromising attention to the core components that make up that device.  This includes things like the processor, GPU, RAM, Camera, etc.  It’s the

whole package, not just flashes of brilliance in one category or another.  The OnePlus One hits the mark across the board.  It is built with high end performance in mind without compromising in another area.  In other words, you aren’t paying for that high end CPU with a sub-par camera.  Indeed a similarly spec’d Samsung will easily be double the cost.

OnePlus One
OnePlus One
  • CPU:  Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor running at 2.5GHz
  • GPU: Adreno 330 clocked at 578MHz
  • RAM:  3GB LP-DDR3 clocked at 1866MHz
  • Storage: 16GB or 64GB eMMC 5.0 (Non-Expandable)
  • Battery:  3100mAh Battery (non-replaceable)
  • Display:  5.5″ LTPS IPS with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
    • Resolution: 1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080) with 401 ppi
  • Camera:  13MP Rear Camera with 6-lens Sony Exmor IMX 214 optics f/2.0 aperture / 5MP Front Camera
  • Video:  4K Rear. 720p Slow Motion with 120 fps
  • Connectivity:
    • GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz
    • WCDMA: Bands: 1/2/4/5/8
    • LTE: Bands: 1/3/4/7/17/38/40
  • Wi-Fi:  Dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G) 802.11 b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC: 65T (software card emulation, payment methods and multi-tag support

These are just the highlights but you get the idea.  The OnePlus One is powerful and fully loaded.  I’ll dive into the details of most of these areas throughout the review but a couple of points to make before moving on.  First, the phone is sold unlocked and has a significant number of LTE bands.  I am an AT&T customer so they along with T-Mobile here in the United States are fully supported.  That said, in my case, I had to contact AT&T support online and provide them my One’s IMEI number so they could register on their system so I could get full LTE.  Without it, I was getting HSPDA+.  Within 15 minutes of online chat with support I was up and running on LTE.

Back of the OnePlus One
Back of the OnePlus One

Second, some folks have expressed frustration over the lack of memory expansion but I have always chalked this up to individual preferences.  Many flagship devices do not offer expandable memory so it isn’t like the One is unique in this regard.  In most cases, the 16GB unit will fit the needs for most users.  However, 64GB is only $50 more ($349 versus $299).  Try to buy a 64GB unit from Apple or Samsung or Google for $349.  Also keep in mind that the Galaxy S6 doesn’t offer expansion to the on board storage.  On this I say the same thing I said on my review of the BLU VIVO IV which is also non-expandable:  For me, it works.  It may not for you so consider your options but don’t let this be the only deciding factor.

Form Factor

Despite the large 5.5″ display on the OnePlus One, the overall size of the device is quite comfortable due to the design of a very thin bezel around that display.  Overall the One measures 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm and weighs in at 162g.  In old money, that measures 6.02 x 2.98 x .35 inches and a weight of 5.71 ounces.  The Galaxy S6 by comparison  is 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm (5.65 x 2.78 x 0.27 in) and weighs in at 138g or 4.87 ounces.  So they are close in size but keep in mind that the One has a 5.5″ display versus the S6’s 5.1″.  Also keep in mind that the battery in the S6 is a 2550mAh so slightly less power available over the course of a day but the smaller battery lightens the load.

I don’t have huge hands but I found that holding the One was not a problem and operating it with one hand (thumb navigation) was quick and easy to do.  This, of course, is going to vary per user.  My wife for example can’t thumb navigate it because it is too big for her hands (to be fair, this is why she still rocks her iPhone 5S as the iPhone 6 is too big for her).  The thinness of the One helps too.

On the left side of the device you will find the volume control rocker while on the right you will find the power button.  At the bottom of the device is the MicroUSB connector for charging.  It is the USB 2.0 standard but does support USB OTG (On The Go).  On each side of the USB connector you will find the dual speakers which are really dual.  The only connector you will find on the top edge of the one is the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.

The Menu, Home and Back button are soft keys at the bottom of the display but you can move these to be on the display itself and disable these if you prefer.  Above the display you will find the earpiece for your calls with the 5MP front facing camera next to it on the left along with the LED indicator for when you have notifications or your phone is charging.

On the back of the One you find the 13MP rear camera at the top center with the dual LED flash just below it.  In the middle of the back you will find the OnePlus logo.   On the back next to the camera as well as on the top edge and bottom edge you will find three very small holes.  These are the three microphones built into the One.  They work independent of each other when it comes to your voice to optimize the experience for your callers but likewise, they work together through the software for noise cancellation.  I have found that callers have had no issues with hearing me, even in noisy or windy environments.

The OnePlus One is offered in two colors:  Silk White and Sandstone Black.  I bring this up because they have a different tactile feel from each other.  The Silk White has a matte feel to it that is pretty common on most devices while the Sandstone has, well, a sandstone feel.  It is bit more textured which I personally like as it feels more “grippy” to me.  Now here is the interesting bit:  The Silk White is only available on the 16GB while Sandstone Black is only available on the 64GB.  OnePlus has indicated that removable backs are coming but we are nearly a year out from release.  I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Operating System

Usually when I do a phone review I don’t really discuss the Operating System but in the case of the OnePlus One I think it is important to cover.  Out-of-the-Box it comes loaded with Android KitKat 4.4.4 based on the Cyanogen build of Android.  You can also install the Oxygen OS which may be the purest form of Android out there and OnePlus supports (in fact they provide install instructions) for Oxygen OS.  There seems to be a love/hate relationship with Cyanogen in the Android community but it is pretty clean.  I found the performance of it to be excellent and the level of customization you can do is exceptional.  If you like to tinker and turn All. The. Knobs. then you will like this OS.

OnePlus has already released an updated version of the Cyanogen OS based on Lollipop which is available

If there is one thing that using the One and the Cyanogen build of Android has taught me is that I really don’t mind as much as I thought I did.  What I mind is the bastardization of Android by OEMs.  They load it up with crappy apps and modify it to the point where it isn’t really looking, feeling or (worse) functioning like Android. Sure Cyanogen is modded up as well but there are a lot of pure Android elements to it.  I like it.

Performance

By definition, a device with 3GB of DDR3 RAM and a SnapDragon 801 Quad-Core processor should have performance in abundance.  But you know… and I know… that we know that isn’t always

OnePlus One Single Core Test Results
OnePlus One Single Core Test Results
OnePlus One Multi-Core Test Results
OnePlus One Multi-Core Test Results

the case.  Thankfully, in the case of the OnePlus One.  Running the Geekbench 3 app to benchmark the One, it out performed every device measured in the app both on the single core as well as the multi-core tests.  And in the case of the multi-core test, it handily out performed everything.  The version of Geekbench 3 currently available only has the Galaxy S5 listed as a tested device which is similarly equipped to the One.  However, the new Galaxy S6 does out perform the One on both the Single and Multi-Core tests for a point of reference.

In day-to-day use I’ve put the One through a wide range of every day apps like mail, Chrome and so forth while also using higher demanding games like Dead Trigger 2 and Real Racing 3.  Those resource intensive apps were no issue for the One with games playing smoothly, even with cinematic transitions.  There is plenty of punch in this device and even demanding users will find it will fit the need for performance.

Display

The 5.5″ LTPS IPS with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display of the One is superb.  It is bright and crisp with colors being vibrant yet easy on the eyes.  The display is a 1080p Full HD display and has 401ppi, something that makes it quite comfortable to view for long periods of time.  Likewise, the performance of the display is great thanks to the Adreno 330  GPU, clocked at 578MHz. Like the RAM and processor I discussed earlier, having a responsive display and GPU is critical to maintaining that flagship status.  OnePlus did it right here on the One in my opinion.

If there is one knock I have on the display is it is slightly more difficult to view in bright sunlight than similar displays.  Even with the brightness set to full strength it can be a bit difficult to read while other devices seem to cope with this a bit better.  It isn’t a deal breaker for me as I’m usually not viewing my devices in full sunlight but you should be aware of this if you are considering the One.

Memory & RAM

I’ve already talked a fair amount about the RAM built into the OnePlus One so I’m not going to cover it in too much detail again.  In the One you have 3GB of DDR3 RAM clocked at 1866MHz, of which about 2.7GB are generally available with no apps running, just Android.  The old saying of the more RAM the better is still true today, especially on mobile devices.  3GB is a huge amount and it adds to the performance and zippy feel of the One as you use it.

Storage Memory on the One is either at 16GB or 64GB and it is non-expandable through a MicroSD slot.  For some, this is a deal breaker as I pointed out in my opening comments, there are a lot of flagship devices which are not expandable.  The storage built in is fast, eMMC 5.0 technology which has a throughput of 400MB/s so it really does come down to if 16GB is enough for you or you need 64GB.  Personally, while I have the 64GB model, I’m still using less than 7GB of total storage.  This is mainly due to the fact I stream my music (Xbox Music or Spotify) so I don’t need a lot of storage.  But for $50 more to get triple the storage, why not?

Camera

The cameras on the OnePlus One are just outstanding.  The rear camera is 13MP in 4:3 ratio and drops down to 9.7MP in 16:9 format.  Likewise, the front facing 5MP camera is 4:3 while it drops down to 2.1MP in 16:9.  The rear camera can shoot 4K video as well as 120FPS slow motion video while the front camera can shoot up to 720p.  Finally, the rear camera has an f/2.0 aperture so it

Indoor Photo with The OnePlus One
Indoor Photo with The OnePlus One
Twighlight Shot Outdoors with OnePlus One
Twilight Shot Outdoors with OnePlus One
Outdoor Shot with the OnePlus One
Outdoor Shot with the OnePlus One

works very well in low light.  The performance of the cameras in the One live up to expectation.  Photos are crisp with good color saturation.  I find a lot of cameras built into smartphones to run a bit “cool” with a blue tint.  That was not the case with the One as the White Balance seemed to do a very good job regardless of the lighting conditions.

To the right are three photos I shot with the OnePlus One to give you a feel for what it can do.  These are thumbnails so click on them to see the full resolution images.  None of them have been edited.

Battery Life

One of the things I love about my Nokia 1320 is the battery life thanks to its 3400 mAh battery.  While I liked the BLU VIVO IV, the smaller battery meant I was struggling to make it through a day of normal to heavy use.  That is not the case with the OnePlus One.  The 3100 mAh battery easily gets me through the day, even days where I do a lot of phone calls or photo taking.  On average I end the day with about 15% battery left and that is without enabling the many power saving features that is built into the Cyanogen ROM (which, based on Lollipop, is pretty energy efficient).  The bigger built-in battery does add some weight to the One so there is no getting around it – you face a trade-off of lighter and smaller versus all day battery.

Price

OnePlus has marketed the One as the Flagship Killer and part of that is down to the price.  The 16GB model is $299 (currently on sale for $249) while the 64GB model is $349 (on sale for $299).  There is no other phone on the market today with the feature set the One has at this price point and finding comparable devices from Samsung, HTC or Motorola will easily add a few hundred bucks.  Personally I think the One is one of the best values available today.

Conclusion

It is hard not to like the OnePlus One.  It has all the makings of a flagship phone and performs like one.  The overall set of features it comes with, the performance it produces and the photo quality out of the camera will easily put it on anyone’s shortlist of devices to consider.  The OnePlus One is unquestionably one of the best smartphones I’ve ever had the chance to review and I have no reservations in recommending it to anyone looking for a top-0f-the-line phone without the top-of-the-line price.

The OnePlus One comes in two configurations:  16GB for $299 while the 64GB version is $349.  For more information and to get your OnePlus One, visit the OnePlus website.