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OnePlus One (64GB) review: A flagship phone with a mid-range price tag

sandra-vogel.jpg
Written by Sandra Vogel on
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9.0

OnePlus One (64GB) review

Outstanding
$1,326.18 at Walmart
Like
  • Durable, slimline design
  • Plenty of internal storage (64GB)
  • Excellent value for money
  • Optional firmware tweaking via CyanogenMod
  • Good battery life
Don't Like
  • No MicroSD storage expansion
  • Lacks support for 800MHz LTE (band 20)
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

OnePlus is a new name in smartphones, but if the 5.5-inch OnePlus One is anything to go by, it's a name that will become increasingly familiar. The Chinese startup company's first product packs in an amazing array of features and represents superb value for money. To buy the One you either need to sign up for a OnePlus account and wait for an invitation, or head to the OnePlus website on Tuesdays, when there are 24-hour open sales (which 'may not last forever', the company says). There are two models: £229 (or $299) buys you 16GB of internal storage, while the 64GB handset costs £269 ($349). We were sent the latter for review.

The 64GB OnePlus One comes in 'Sandstone Black'.
Image OnePlus

The OnePlus One packs in an array of hardware features you'd normally expect from flagship handset costing around twice as much. And it goes a step further, offering something we've not seen before in an Android handset out of the box: an open-source firmware-based Android modification called CyanogenMod, which supports a wider range of tweaks and settings than is possible with Google's stock Android. You're offered the option of using this, or ignoring it, when you first switch on the OnePlus One. (OnePlus and CyanogenMod have recently fallen out, and the company plans to develop and use its own OxygenOS Android ROM from March.)

The OnePlus One is a large phone measuring 75.9mm wide by 152.9mm deep, making it too wide for many users to reach across one-handed. It's impressively thin at just 8.9 mm, and while arguably rather tall for its 5.5-inch display, there's very little bezel running down the long edges.

The screen has full-HD (1,080-by-1,920-pixel) resolution, giving it a pixel density of 401ppi, and is also protected by Gorilla Glass 3. This compares very well with flagship handset screens from the leading vendors. Although LG's G3 has a 5.5-inch screen with a 1,440-by-2,650-pixel resolution (534ppi), this is very much the exception. More typical are Apple's 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus (1,080x1,920/401ppi), Samsung's 5.1-inch Galaxy S5 (1,080x1,920/432ppi) and HTC's 5-inch One M8 (1,080x1,920/441ppi).

We found the OnePlus One's screen bright and clear, and great for web browsing and email reading. We appreciate the option to have the Android touch buttons either on the screen or below it: the latter arrangement frees up more screen space for viewing data, while the former allows you to reconfigure and augment the touch buttons.

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The 16GB OnePlus One model comes in 'Silk White'.
Image: OnePlus

The 64GB version of the OnePlus One has a deep grey back finished with a very rough patterning that provides the most grip-friendly texture we've seen on a handset. It feels, and looks, a lot like fine-grained wet-and-dry sandpaper. The MicroSIM tray on the left edge is so well hidden that its little release hole is more visible than it is.

There's a thin volume rocker on this edge, which is mirrored by a power button on the right side. The build is solid and strong: we couldn't bend or flex this phone in our hands, and it's clear that there's been plenty of attention to detail across the whole design.

The OnePlus One is a 4G handset, and perhaps its major failing is its lack of support for 800MHz LTE (band 20). In the UK, this means you're catered for by Three or EE, but if you're not with these mobile operators then this isn't the LTE handset for you.

The OnePlus One runs on a 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU and a 578MHz Adreno 330 GPU, with 3GB of RAM. This is a high-end specification, and not one we'd normally expect in such an affordable handset. Nor is the processor the only surprise. As noted earlier, our review sample had 64GB of internal storage, of which 54.8GB was free out of the box.

Sixty-four gigabytes is a decent amount of storage, but we're still disappointed with the lack of a MicroSD card slot to support further expansion. Still, support for USB OTG (On The Go) means you can access USB storage, and we had no problems streaming video and music and accessing images and documents using this method. As well as GSM/3G/LTE, there's 802.11ac wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and GPS (with GLONASS support).

The rear-facing camera is a 13-megapixel Sony unit with a bright dual-LED flash. It performs well enough for a handset camera, with particularly good HDR performance -- although it isn't the fastest at producing the final image. The front-facing 5-megapixel camera should be fine for selfies and videoconferencing.

Android 4.4 is, as we noted at the outset, optionally augmented at startup by CyanogenMod. If selected, this adds a host of additional tweaks and settings for the mobile OS. Some of these are stylistic, while others concern usability. You can select the style of the battery status indicator, for example, and choose from a wide range of different themes, viewable through a preinstalled app called Themes Showcase.

More useful, perhaps, is the ability to set a range of different unlock gestures, such as drawing a V on-screen to start the flashlight, or a circle to fire up the camera. You can also use CyanogenMod to revoke permissions in specific apps and set up a mobile phone blacklist, encrypt SMS via a feature called WhisperPush and much, much more. If you like to tweak settings it's certainly worth a look, although you need to reboot to activate or deactivate it.

oneplus-bottom.jpg
The bottom edge of the OnePlus one, showing the Micro-USB 2.0 slot flanked by speaker grilles.
Image OnePlus

Twin speakers sit under a grille on the handset's bottom edge. They deliver reasonable volume, although the balance is a little tinny for our taste. Sound through headphones is fine for general listening. Yet another feature of CyanogenMod is an equaliser with separate settings for speaker, headset, Bluetooth, wireless and even USB output.

The OnePlus One's 3,100mAh battery kept us going through a standard day of phone use and we didn't feel the need to top up the charge in the early evening to get through a few hours away from a mains socket. In our admittedly limited experience, this handset's battery life seems to be better than average. If you're a mainstream rather than power user, you should expect to get a full day's use from a single battery charge.

Conclusion

The OnePlus One is a great example of what can be achieved by thinking a little beyond the usual smartphone parameters. The distinctive backplate design and inclusion of CyanogenMod (soon to be replaced by OxygenOS) make this handset stand out from the crowd.

Given the specification, the OnePlus One's affordable price is also a big draw -- it's just a pity that the LTE support doesn't cover band 20 (800MHz), and that there's no MicroSD storage expansion. Still, this is a very impressive and highly recommended handset, and we're excited to see what OnePlus comes up with next.

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