OnePlus One Review: Cyanogen Out, Oxygen OS In
The OnePlus One got its release date in June. But it's still rarer than hen's teeth. We snagged one, though! Here's our OnePlus One review
OnePlus is a relative newcomer to the smartphone space, but it has already left its mark thanks to its very direct approach to customers - the company spends a lot of time on its own forums chatting with fans and giving them exclusive deals and information on upcoming projects. Another key thing though is how the OnePlus One follows on from devices like Google's Nexus 4 - it has a boatload of premium hardware onboard, and yet the price is nice and low - a mere £299 for a high-end processor and display, as well as some pretty slick design.
And today –– and every Tuesday after, for a limited 24-hour period –– you can buy the OnePlus One without an invite. That’s right: all you have to do is head over to OnePlus’ website, link’s here, and select the version you want and pay for it. Once you’ve done this a shiny new OnePlus One handset will be winging its way to you from China.
It’s an odd way of doing things, however, because if the company has the resources to do this every week then surely they’d be better off just leaving it open all week and let people buy one? Guess it’s more of that classic OnePlus ninja marketing.
OnePlus One Review: Design
The OnePlus One is a big phone. It's bigger than all the most famous 5-inch phones of the year because it has a pretty large 5.5-inch screen. And unlike the LG G3, it doesn't have a screen bezel thinner than Nic Cage's real hair.
It is a handful, and I think that if you're upgrading from something like the Nexus 4 or Moto G – two other phones that got bargain hunters all in a flutter – you need to get your hands on one first. But, of course, you can't. OnePlus only sells the One from its website at the moment. Head into a phone shop and ask about it and you'll probably get a blank look followed by a prod in the direction of whatever phone will earn the little scrote the most commission.
But we digress. Aside from the size issue, the OnePlus One is a nice-feeling phone. And it's also a rather weird-feeling phone. The texture on its plastic back is quite unusual, with a soft touch-style finish that's also quite rough. Some say it's like fine sandpaper, others that it's like a teddy bear version of shark skin (no, we've never actually heard this, but it's about right).
It's this feel, more than the look, which adds distinctiveness to the design of the black 64GB version of the OnePlus we're testing. The look is more conventional. You get an inoffensive silver plastic screen trim, low-key light-up soft keys and a footprint that's a little more angular than some, but not so much it's noteworthy.
The stats tell the same story – the 8.9mm thickness, the 162g weight. They're all competitive without trying to be thinner or lighter than everyone else. OnePlus cares about saving you money more than providing a phone dazzling enough to make your eyes pop out so far they can make their own way to A+E.
OnePlus One Review: Cyanogen Out, Oxygen In
OnePlus has officially launched its own, bespoke mobile OS –– Oxygen OS. Here's a break down of what the company had to say about it at launch.
Why Build Your Own Custom OS?
“By doing so, we can offer better localization and faster updates. We can directly implement user feedback and make it easy for the OnePlus community to shape our ROM and create the OS that they want to use. Integration between hardware, software, and the cloud will become more seamless and unified for everyone using a OnePlus device. By creating our own software, we’re better able to work directly with our users to improve our OS. It’s something we’ve become quite fond of saying: when we work together, amazing things happen.”
What Will Oxygen OS Be Like?
“As we’ve promised before, OxygenOS will not ship with any bloatware. We’re keeping it clean and streamlined for performance. We value things like battery life and system efficiency, so we’ve remained true to our ROM’s namesake and created a seamless experience that is lightweight and essential.”
“Any additional features will be non-obtrusive and extremely useful (tap-to-wake and customisable navigation buttons, for example). With OxygenOS, we want to build something that works for users and gets out of their way. And, that’s exactly what we are doing.”
Oxygen OS Release Date
OnePlus says there are a lot of certification hoops to jump through before a new platform can be disseminated out to handsets in the wild. For this reason, and the fact it is its first attempt at a mobile OS, OnePlus is currently conducting extensive tests on the platform to ensure that it works seamlessly and is perfectly stable when it is eventually released.
“Because this is our first major software release, we have to ensure that everything is solid and stable before making it available for download. We wouldn’t ask you to settle for anything less, and we appreciate your patience.”
OnePlus One Review: Screen
OnePlus has made sure the screen is a bit more noteworthy, though. You get 5.5 inches of IPS LCD display, where you'd be lucky to get a smaller 720p display from better-known rivals at this price. It's a good screen too, one that can stand next to rivals like the LG G2 and HTC One M8 without looking like the only kid that couldn't afford the Nike trainers. No, you don't get the deep blacks of the Samsung Galaxy S5, and no you don't get the ridiculous QHD resolution of the LG G3. But should you care? I don't think so. Not at £230, and probably not all that much even at £500.
Everything still looks very sharp, and the colours don't look radioactive or anaemic. You don't have to pay all that much to get a good phone screen these days but we don't normally see something this good and such a bargain basement price. It is, frankly, insane. The tone of the screen does come across as a little too warm but apparently this was a deliberate move on OnePlus’ part (so make of that what you will).
OnePlus One Review: Software and User Experience
But what's the phone actually like to use? The OnePlus One uses an interesting open source community version of Android called CyanogenMod. People fond of tinkering with their phones install this on their devices after hacking them, but this time around you get it right out of the box.
On a very basic level, it looks and feels a lot like 'normal' Android. It doesn't instantly come across as software designed by a committee of nerds – which is pretty much what it is.
It does offer a lot more scope for fiddling with than the normal version of Android, but unlike the software of Samsung and co., CyanogenMod doesn't offer endless reams of pop-ups telling you how to use superfluous function X or how to turn off gesture command Y. Here the features are simply there if you look for them. I think this is a good thing, but it does mean that the OnePlus One isn't a phone that people new to tech are going to get the most out of.
Still, one part of CyanogenMod's customisation is very accessible – themes. A themes browser app comes pre-installed, showing off all the custom looks you can give your OnePlus One. There are dozens of the things to choose from, made by all sorts of people, not just the makers of CyanogenMod.
These alter things from the wallpaper to the icons to the lock screen. You're free to give your One more facelifts than Joan Rivers if that's your bag. There are plenty of good-looking ones too, but as with any third-party Android makeovers, there's a lot of dross also.
OnePlus Releases Official Android Lollipop 5.0 Alpha Prevew Build ROM
OnePlus' direct relationship with its fan community is pretty well established now and it has seen fit to continue the practice by announcing the launch of an early Lollipop build ROM on its forums.
More precisely, the build is described as an Alpha Preview, and OnePlus' announcement admits it is "so early, in fact, that this build contains to extras beyond the stock features of AOSP [Android Open Source Project] Lollipop."
"It's the base that we will continue to build upon, improve, and customize as we stabilize core functionalities on the latest firmware updates," it added.
"As we look towards the official ROM release in the near future, we will keep to our promise and deliver an experience that is customizable, yet bloat-free with stock-Android-like simplicity by default; we wouldn’t ask you to settle for anything less. In the meantime, we thought you’d appreciate an early community preview and a progress report."
If you've got a OnePlus One you can install the ROM on your device and get a taste of Lollipop early, however, OnePlus does advise some caution.
"Please be sure to read and follow all of the instructions carefully before installing! Flashing custom ROMS, in itself, does not void the hardware’s Limited Warranty. However, in order to make a valid claim, the hardware issue must persist after the OnePlus One has been re-flashed with the latest default ROM, fully tested and officially approved by OnePlus. The user takes responsibility for any permanent damage or issues caused by flashing custom ROMs."
In the boxout below you can find verbatim OnePlus' instruction for using the ROM. As always, do this at your own risk and Know Your Mobile accepts no responsibility if your phone is damaged or bricked in the process. If you're not sure then wait for the full release!
Since this is an alpha build with limited testing, please proceed with extreme caution and backup your phone before flashing this build.
You will need to have TWRP recovery installed on your device. If you don’t have it, please follow the instructions on the site to flash recovery onto your device.
The experience is best when you have GMS (Google Mobile Services) installed. If you have GApps package, you can install it after you flash the ROM to have access to all the google services.
This build does not have a built-in recovery so if you do a clean wipe, you may have to reflash TWRP onto your device.
Step 3 Once you are in the recovery interface, the first thing you want to do is go to Wipe and do a factory reset to clean your data, cache, and Dalvik. Note that you will lose all of your files so make sure everything is backed up before continuing.
Step 4 After the wipe, go to install and find the zip you copied to your device and confirm flash. This should flash the ROM to your device.
Step 5 After flash is complete. Clear your cache again. If you have GApps, install it now. Reboot your phone.
Step 6 You should now be booted into the new ROM. Enjoy.
Notes: General Known issues
- Data roaming is on by default. Make sure to turn if off to avoid potential charges.
- As always, flashing a custom ROM incurs the risk of bricking your phone. Make sure you know what you’re doing and backup everything.
- Camera and video may be unstable. This build supports 4k video, however quality may be low as we are still fine-tuning the camera.
- Capacitive keys do not turn off when you enable software keys.
- Clock crashes periodically.
- If using the new app pinning feature in L, make sure to turn on the software keys first. Otherwise, you will have to reboot your machine.
- On first boot, startup time will be a bit slow. Rest assured we will speed things up in the future.
- Wi-Fi may be unstable.
- This build is not eligible for OTA updates.
CyanogenMod Firmware Updated To CM 11S 38R
OnePlus has released another update for the One, this time it's new CyanogenMod firmware designated CM 11S 38R and being pushed out over-the-air. As well as the usual package of bugfixes and optimisation tweaks, a few new features and capabilities are introduced with this build.
Of particular significane is included support for a wider range of audio codecs, battery life has been improved, and there's also support for ANT+. In addition the camera app now supports RAW format.
Here's the official changelog:
- Improves the responsiveness of the touchscreen.
- A new and very cool lockscreen.
- Ability to take photos in RAW format.
- Enhanced audio capabilities (24 bit, 96/192khz—flac/alac/wav files without resampling).
- ANT+ support.
- Added method for users to report bugs directly to Cyanogen.
- Added pause button during video recording.
- Improved battery life.
- Fixed issues with camera exposure compensation stuck in ‘auto’.
- Fixed issues with ‘4G Preferred’ option not connecting to 3G data.
- Fixed issues with delay in torch activation.
- Fixed issues with unresponsive screen requiring reboot.
- Fixed issues with static in speaker when changing volume while headset plugged in.
- Fixed issues with rotation not triggering when rotated slowly.
- Fixed issues with Quiet Hours / system UI causing battery drain on last day of month.
- Fixed issues with camera not starting when LED torch is already on.
- Fixed issues with Bluetooth volume low on connection.
OnePlus One Review: Specs and Performance
OnePlus Silver Bullet Earphones For Your OnePlus One
OnePlus has now made some high-spec (yet affordable) earphones to accompany your OnePlus One handset. The in-ear earphones are called the Silver Bullet Earphones and you’ll be able to buy them in all 16 launch countries from September 29.
In the US each pair will cost only $15 but it’s unclear how much a set will cost in any other market. A straight up conversation means it’ll be under a tenner, an absolute bargain.
OnePlus said in a blog post, “We have meticulously engineered the Silver Bullet to deliver powerful and immersive sound while ensuring a compact yet durable feel.
“The brushed aluminium casing perfectly complements the rugged texture of the One’s Sandstone Black cover. Best of all, now you are in control of your music, camera, and voice calls without ever having to reach for your One.”
With a Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5GHz processor and software that's ultimately reasonably similar to the Android 4.4.2 kernel it's based on, the OnePlus One predictably offers pretty great performance. There's no obvious lagginess, games run as well as they do on a Galaxy S5 and the 3GB of RAM should ensure pretty decent speed even if you decimate the phone's internal storage with your Farmvilles, your Clashes of Clans and photos of your dinner.
However, we did notice the occasional visual glitch, down to bugs in the CyanogenMod 11S software used in the OnePlus One. There's nothing major, but it's a reminder that you're using a very good community project, not a version of Android made by a multi-billion dollar company.
OnePlus One Review: 4G and OnePlus Problems
There's also some evidence of this kind of bubbly youthful inexperience in less obvious parts of the hardware too. While the OnePlus One is a 4G phone, it doesn't offer perfect 4G support; not in the UK anyway.
The frequencies it supports leave out the 800MHz band used by many of this country's networks. O2 4G won't work, neither will Vodafone's. And as O2 4G isn't supported, that also rules out Tesco, GiffGaff and Lyca Mobile. Those last three are important because their super-competitive 4G deals and the OnePlus One's low price match up like Elton John and Bernie Taupin. And no, that is not a gay joke.
The OnePlus One will work with EE and, to a lesser extent, Three (part of its 4G uses 800Hz). But this is the key reason why I would think twice before buying the One.
Another weird issue is that anything that uses the microphone comes out very, very quiet. Calls are too quiet, ditto dictaphone recordings. However as this appears to be a software issue – as the internal speaker is incredibly loud – a fix should be on the way at some point. Fingers crossed.
OnePlus One Review: Camera
Back to the good stuff, the OnePlus One's camera is pretty decent. It's not Samsung Galaxy S5 good, but if we compare it to £250 phones, it's among the very best.
It has a 13-megapixel sensor on the back, and a 5-megapixel selfie one on the front – the latter is unusually high-res. You don't get optical stabilisation or any whizzy doodad-sounding focusing technology, just good old contrast detection, but you can get nice, sharp shots without too much effort. And while low-light shots are quite grainy, they're not too bad either.
You get a few extra modes in the OnePlus One, including panorama, creative filters and HDR, but nothing quite on the level of the Samsung Galaxy S5 or Sony Xperia Z2. And while the HDR mode is super-effective (see below images) it does look a little too 'larger than life' – the mode advanced mobile HDR modes offer effectiveness without looking like your camera has dropped a tab of acid.
The front camera is a real standout thanks to its 5-megapixel sensor. Colours in photos are a little under saturated and you'll never look more wrinkly and more tired than you will in a 5-megapixel selfie. But such things are largely the preserve of the young and happy anyway. Morose old gits may have a go, but probably shouldn't.
This selfie camera is one of the few bits where the OnePlus One might be seen as showing off a bit. However, one of the best bits is quite how surprisingly easy the phone is to get on with thanks to its relatively straightforward approach. The battery helps too – good hardware efficiency means the 3,100mAh battery lasts for a solid day and a half, or around 11 hours of video playback.
Of course, this all only adds up to so much if you're desperate for 4G when the OnePlus has worse UK 4G support than the £80 Alcatel One Touch Pop S3.
OnePlus One Review: Conclusion
The OnePlus One is a great phone that sells at a frankly ridiculous price. We thought the Nexus 5 and LG G2 were good value – they still are – but the OnePlus One is on another level.
But it does have a few issues – namely that 4G issue and the noted software bugs. Also, it’s easier to come across weapons-grade Plutonium in the UK than this handset. Collectively, these are all things that limit the phone's appeal. And what about the future? Buying a OnePlus One is a leap of faith, simply because the company that makes it is so small, so young, so inexperienced.
Work around these not-exactly-trifling problems, though, and you have a top phone bargain.