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Featured Review: No 1 Plus – One Affordable Phone to Rule Them All

December 18, 2014 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Inexpensive phones are a dime a dozen nowadays.  If you’re looking for a new phone or just a backup phone and don’t want to spend a lot of money you could get a good used one off one of the many websites or another local place near you, or you could opt for a new phone with a newer version of Android and specs that are probably newer than that used phone as well.  No. 1 has come along with a range of phones for the savvy consumer that wants the look and feel of a popular device but doesn’t want to spend as much money as some of those devices require.  We reviewed the No 1 Mi4 just the other week and found that it very well could be the best phone you could buy for $150, but what about going a little bit cheaper?  The No 1 Plus is a phone that looks strikingly similar to the OnePlus One or the Oppo Find 7 but costs just a fraction of what those phones cost, coming in at around $125.  We’ve seen from some other Chinese smartphones that once you pass a certain price level things just get too cheap, so does this one fall within that range or is it more like the No 1 Mi4 where it finds the delicate balance between price savings and quality components?  Let’s find out!

Specs

Specs are always a good way to quickly compare devices, so take a look at what we’ve got here in the No 1 Plus:

  • 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD
  • MediaTek MT6592 Octo-Core 1.7GHz processor
  • Mali-400 GPU
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • 8GB internal storage, no microSD card support
  • 2800 mAh Li-Po battery
  • Android 4.4.2, FreeMe 3.0 skin
  • 8MP rear-facing camera, Dual-LED flash
  • 8MP front-facing camera

You’ll notice here that, when compared to the $25 more expensive No 1 Mi4, basically every spec on the sheet has been bumped.  The two noticable differences are the camera, which has received a slight downgrade from 13mp to 8mp, and the internal storage which is an unfortunate 8gb without a way to expand it.  Everything else from the screen size and quality, processor, amount of RAM and even the battery size is better.  In the US you’re only going to get 3G/HSPA on AT&T’s network, otherwise you’ll be stuck with 2G/EDGE.

  • 2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • 3G: WCDMA 850/2100MHz

Display

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At first I had a difficult time telling whether or not this panel is 1080p or 720p.  In the end I decided it had to be 1080p because comparing it side by side with a device of the same screen size but at 720p, like the Galaxy Note 2 for instance, the screen was definitely sharper.  Overall though it’s definitely a soft 1080p but still comes off looking just fine in the end, especially when playing games or other graphics intensive applications.  Colors are accurate and black levels are excellent giving you an overall good picture to work with.  There’s also very little to no ghosting which is something even some higher end LCD panels struggle with, making this all the more impressive.

Hardware and Build

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The build quality of the phone definitely makes it feel like a cheaper phone than most.  The plastic has a lot of give to it and the back feels rather hollow, but the rest of the plastic body feels solid and doesn’t creak as some other cheap plastic phones do.  Under the removable back plate you’ll find a removable 2800mAh battery, dual SIM card slots which include a single nano SIM and a single micro SIM, but unfortunately no microSD card slot.

The front face of the phone is a large 5.5-inch screen surrounded by fairly minimal bezels that remind me a lot of phones from a year or so ago.  Below the screen are three capacitive buttons, from left to right is a menu button, home button and back button.  Reverse from most phones are the volume rocker, which is on the right side of the phone, and the power button on the left.  I found this to be awkward as a right-handed person but lefties might actually find this to be the preferable position.  The bottom of the phone has what looks like stereo speakers but removing the back reveals only one physical speaker.  The top of the phone features both the charging slot and heaphone jack, which is super convenient when needing to both charge and listen to music.

Performance and Memory

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Overall performance of the phone is super snappy, although sometimes it can be inconsistent.  General usage on the phone yielded no significant slowdown or lag in any application, and 2GB of RAM basically ensures that just about everything you could have open on the phone stays locked in memory.  Switching between the browser, messaging app and whatever else you’re doing causes no reloading of any app whatsoever.  The phone uses the old way of Android multi-tasking where you need to hold down the home button for a second or two for the recents window to come up, and thankfully they stuck with the stock KitKat recents menu instead of the awful row of icons many other Chinese manufacturers and ROMs use.

Gaming was great on the No 1 Plus for the most part.  Games like Temple Run 2 ran at a perfect 60FPS, while some more visually intensive games like Angry Birds Go or Sonic Dash ran around 20-30FPS.  Games that have more visual control options will probably find that somewhere around medium to medium-high settings will work best for this phone.  Remember this is a little bit slower of a processor and GPU than higher-end 1080p phones and still has to render at the same resolution so there’s a bit of a tradeoff here.  Still I was incredibly impressed at what this thing could do, and not just for the price either!

Battery Life

Battery life was nothing short of fantastic.  Standby was utterly unbelievable, and leaving it on overnight without being on the charger lost a whopping 1% while I was sleeping.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen standby this good on any phone regardless of size or OS.  Actual usage was right in line with other phablets out there, netting my the average 3.5 hours of screen on time when using it that I’ve gotten with every large phone since the original Galaxy Note.  Some users out there will get more usage out of it, I tend to be a weird user and can’t ever get more than that out of any phone, so essentially it’s my theoretical max screen on time and this phone reached it.

Software

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The No 1 Plus runs Free Me 3.0, which is a custom skin on Android that I hadn’t heard of before, but sort of resembles Meizu’s Flyme Android skin.  There are a metric ton of options to work with here, from screen off gestures where you can double tap to wake the phone or slide up, draw a c or an e to launch a custom app without the screen even needing to be on.  There’s even hands-free gesture while in certain apps like the included launcher, gallery or video player where you can swipe above the phone with your hand to move between pictures like on a Samsung phone.

You’ll also find a color LED that can blink different colors for specific sets of apps like phone, messaging, music and power states.  Even screen casting is built into the OS allowing you to mirror your screen to any supported device natively without any third-party apps.  HotKnot is included here as an alternative to NFC, which is great for sharing as you actually touch screens together with another HotKnot supported device rather than the backs as you do on NFC.  Unfortunately this removes the possibility to pay with your phone using Google Wallet or another NFC type payment method.

Quick Toggles are closer to a Samsung style rather than stock Android, which means there are plenty of buttons to press but none of them are going to give you live info.  For instance the WiFi quick toggle doesn’t say what you’re connected to, only lights up when WiFi is enabled.  On the bright side there’s a brightness slider right at the bottom of quick toggles to quickly adjust the brightness if the auto brightness doesn’t do its job.  The OS will even ask you if an app is allowed to perform a certain permission before it actually does it, for instance asking for your location, and you can expressly allow or forbid this on a one-time basis or always.  My biggest problem with this feature was I couldn’t figure out where to manage these permissions after setting them.  I also had the same problem with accounts, as I couldn’t figure out how to add or remove additional Google or other accounts once the initial setup was complete.

Sound

Sound out of the No 1 Plus was impressive given that it uses a single speaker at the bottom.  Loudspeaker calls were loud and clear and I didn’t have any issue hearing them in a running car on a highway.  Music and other audio coming from it was loud and clear too, and playing games using the built-in speaker was a good experience.  I was actually impressed with the general quality, clarity and overall volume coming from the built-in speaker, which is usually pretty quiet and tinny on many phones.  Audio coming out of the headset jack was equally impressive, delivering quality sound that surpasses some other phones out there.  There’s an audio enhancement setting under audio settings but I didn’t notice a difference with this on or off, so it may be tuned more for earbuds or other smaller driver speakers.

Camera

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Most budget phones don’t exactly feature a great camera, but I can happily say that the one on the No 1 Plus is better than most budget phones.  The built in software looks and functions similarly to the Android camera from before the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update, including swiping to the left to get to the gallery without even having to leave the camera app.  This makes it super convenient and quick to review the pictures you’ve taken without having to wait for the gallery or camera to reload every time you switch between.  The shutter is also instantaneous, meaning as soon as you press the shutter button the picture is taken, no delay to refocus or save whatsoever.  The only exception was HDR mode, which seems to take the picture fairly quickly but takes in upwards of 10 seconds to process, leaving the camera useless during this time period.

There are plenty of shooting functions in general to contend with including normal, HDR, Panorama, smile and face beauty.  Within normal mode you also have night capture, voice and timer capture to add to the functionality of that mode.  Video recording doesn’t have many options, only recording at 720p around 20fps, but the camera has a number of interesting size modes that range from QVGA all the way up to 4:3 or 16:9 18 megapixel.  To top that off the resolution between 16:9 and 4:3 isn’t consistent with what’s being viewed.  Generally on a smartphone when you change the aspect ratio of the picture to 16:9 the top and bottom of the shot get cut off because the actual sensor is 4:3, but not on this phone.  16:9 will actually see a wider viewing angle where as 4:3 will see just a taller viewing angle.  Things get cut off in either mode so you’ll have to decide what works best.  16:9 mode actually features around 200 pixels more than 4:3 mode so that may be preferable in the end.

All said and done the camera is either a really soft 18 megapixel sensor or it’s an 8 megapixel sensor but interpolated to 18 megapixel resolution.  Either way the full res shots are the full 18 megapixel resolution, but the results don’t look like an 18 megapixel shot.  Things not immediately in the foreground have a loss of detail usually seen with a 5 megapixel camera, and the colors and light balance in general are washed out.  Still this camera is better than the one found on the No 1 Mi4 and most other phones at this cost range.  It’s a pretty standard fair camera but again this is a $125 phone, and in that price range it actually moves into a more impressive performance slot.  Check out the samples below to see for yourself.

Conclusion

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For $125 this is easily one of the best deals you’ll find in the world of smartphones right now.  With a great screen, phenomenal battery life, great call quality and reception, good sound and a passable camera the No 1 Plus is everything you could ask for and plenty more in a budget-minded phone.  Couple that with software that’s packed full of some of the latest features from much more expensive phones and you’ve got a winning combination for a phone that costs next to nothing compared to others on the market.  You can find all of No 1’s products at their website which include the No 1 Plus, the No 1 Mi4 and a slew of others even including a smartwatch that looks like the Samsung Gear 2.