The story of OnePlus, a new Chinese startup company, began near the end of last year with the company's founding in December 2013. Since then OnePlus has been hyping up their first phone, appropriately titled the One, and has seen a number of unfortunate delays and problems with the phone. They finally got their first two batches out just a few weeks ago, and I've been fortunate enough to snag one in the process. The OnePlus One is being sold via a unique invite system that's designed to keep production costs low while simultaneously trying to meet demand, and there's been quite a lot of demand for this phone. The big reason is that it carries all the same specs as the cream-of-the-crop phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 and LG G3, but it's half the price and double the internal storage space. For $350 you're getting the equivalent of a $700 phone, and OnePlus wasn't kidding when they coined their motto of Never Settle. So while you could buy most of last year's flagships for the same amount of money second hand, OnePlus is offering people this year's specs for the same price. Of course the invite system is a bit convoluted now, but OnePlus is promising to iron it out and have a much more public release in the coming weeks and months. Will it matter by the time they get their act together? Let's find out.
- 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz
- Adreno 330 GPU
- 3 GB of RAM
- 16 or 64GB internal storage, no microSD card support
- 3100 mAh Li-Po battery
- Android 4.4.2 CyanogenMod 11S
- 13MP Sony Exmor IMX214 rear-facing camera, Dual-LED flash
- 5MP front-facing camera
As you can see from the specs everything about the OnePlus One is comparable to every other flagship out there right now. The big differences being screen size and quality, non-removable battery, large internal storage possibilities but no microSD card support, and an extra gig of RAM over some other flagships. Again this is with half the price tag, which has to be mentioned as part of the specs since it's a huge factor in most of the world's decision on buying the phone. The OnePlus One supports the following network bands:
- LTE 700/1700/1800/2100/2300/2600
- HSPA 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100
- GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
This pretty much covers any GSM network outside of a few in the UK, so you're pretty well guaranteed the OnePlus One will work where you live if you're on a GSM network. The OnePlus One is a carrier unlocked phone by design and thus isn't stuck with a single carrier's bands.
One of the biggest factors of any modern smartphone is its display, and for good reason. It's not only the primary way to interact with your phone, but a sub-standard display could leave you with an essentially non-functioning phone in direct sunlight and other types of situations. Thankfully OnePlus packed in a super high quality 1080p display on the OnePlus One, and quite frankly I think it might be the best 1080p display I've ever seen. While I'm still partial to the way a Super AMOLED screen looks, this is easily the nicest LCD panel I've seen, with vibrant colors, good black levels for an LCD, and great outdoor brightness. The colors aren't quite as punchy as a Super AMOLED and the blacks aren't as deep, but that's just the nature of the display. If you hate the way AMOLED displays look you'll love this display, but even an AMOLED lover like myself enjoyed it. While it's not quite as good outdoors as the Galaxy Note 3 or S5 are, it's very easy to see, and I never had to strain my eyes even in the bright sun of Florida.
For the positives this is absolutely the most crisp 1080p display I've ever seen. It sounds weird given that it's a 5.5-inch display and there are other 1080p displays that are physically smaller, which gives them a higher pixel-per-inch (PPI) count, so there's got to be some kind of display magic going on here. This is the only display I've seen in a while where people actually say wow when I hand them the phone. Auto brightness works like a charm, although the default settings don't go dark enough for my tastes when you're in a dark room. Thankfully you can adjust this with the software, although I think it could be a little simpler. You adjust the brightness by how many nits, a measurement of light, the light sensor is taking in, and there are a lot of sensor levels. I wish there was a baseline you could run and then adjust each by a certain percentage. As it stands you have to adjust each slider individually, making it annoying to tweak those brightness levels if you want to change the overall scope of brightness. The sensor itself is super quick to adjust though, and is considerably faster than any phone I can think of at changing to adapt to brightness conditions.
Color representation is extremely accurate too. No saturated colors like you'll find on a Samsung phone, rather they are much more accurate colors, and as such maybe don't carry as big of a wow factor in some situations. Some users have reported a slight yellow tint to their screen and this should be adjustable via the color settings. Again just like the brightness adjustment this could use a little more of a user friendly tweak, as the sliders are confusing and I ended up just leaving it at the normal color settings instead of tweaking too much.
Hardware and Build
Starting with the packaging you immediately feel like the OnePlus One is in a class of its own when it comes to craftsmanship and quality. The packaging is not only higher quality than what I've seen from other phones, it's also a lot more interesting. Everything is packed in artfully and with style, and you feel like you're unwrapping a premium product from beginning to end.
The build quality of the OnePlus One is second to none. In my first impressions article I talked about how substantial the feel and weight of the phone was and how well balanced it is. This hasn't changed a bit for me in the past 2 weeks since receiving the phone, if anything I'm appreciating it even more now than ever. The phone itself is built incredibly well and exhibits a feel that most phones don't even come close to. There's no cheap, hollow plastic here, only what feels like super-premium materials and craftsmanship. I'd equate this to HTC One or iPhone levels of build quality, and that's something to celebrate. The phone itself is big though, and if you don't like a phone that's the size of a Galaxy Note 2 or 3 this isn't the phone for you. If you still want a 5.5-inch screen without all the extra space the LG G3 is the phone for you. That being said the bezels around the display aren't huge or anything, they just aren't as small as LG's.
The back of the sandstone black model, which is the one I have, feels just like it sounds. If you've ever held a pumice stone you know how rough and grippy it feels, and that's exactly what the back of the black OnePlus One feels like. In fact it's so grippy that some skin manufacturers aren't making skins for it because it ruins the aesthetics of the phone, something that is quite unheard of. I could even sit it at a 45-degree angle on my jean's legs and it doesn't fall off. It feels so good I literally rub the phone every time I pick it up, and it's wholly unique to the OnePlus One from what I can tell. I haven't had a chance to experience the white one since they aren't really shipping those out right now, but it's supposed to be a soft-touch back like you can find on the Nexus 7.
Physical buttons are kept to a minimum with the power button on the right and the volume rocker on the left. The buttons themselves have a ceramic feel not unlike what's on the Nexus 5, and have an excellent click. It's not too much of a click though to make you shift the phone, which is good when trying to snap pictures using the volume rocker so you don't end up with a shaky photo. OnePlus did something weird with this phone though; they added Home, Menu and Back capacitive touch buttons on the bottom of the face, but allow you to turn them off in favor of on-screen buttons. Personally on-screen buttons are the way to go, as they are way more versitile and let you do more with them, including swiping up to get to quick-launch shortcuts. Either way though the choice is yours as to which sorts of buttons you prefer, and the capacitive ones barely take up any space on the bottom of the phone so you won't feel like you're wasting space.
The phone design is downright sexy and minimalist, with elegant lines of silver around the trim of the display. Speaking of the display the design here is rather interesting, with the display itself protruding above the actual body of the phone. This creates an interesting layer of protection on the sides of the phone where one would usually drop it if they were so unfortunate to do so, but adds a layer of sensitivity when dropped on the face. I'm not about to test dropping the phone myself, but I imagine it wouldn't fare too well given the design. This one gets a 10/10 for looks for sure though, just not nearly as high for built-in protection of the display.
Performance and Memory
The Snapdragon 801 inside the OnePlus One is the fastest processor you can get on the market right now. While the Snapdragon 805 will likely be in all the Fall 2014 phones, there's not a whole lot more you're going to want out of a phone that "only" pushes a 1080p display. Playing games, multi-tasking and everything else I tried to do on the phone was pulled off without a hitch, even running Dalvik over ART. In fact I've never seen a phone using the Dalvik stack multi-task so fast, as pressing the recents button brings up the multi-tasking screen instantly; a feat normally reserved for phones running the ART run-time. Speaking of ART you can choose to run it if you'd like since this is running Android 4.4 KitKat, and it's right in the developer options menu where it should be. The next version of Android, Android L, will feature ART as the default runtime, but if you want to see just how much of a performance increase this will be you can use it on the OnePlus One right now. 3GB of RAM sounded like overkill for an AOSP-based phone when OnePlus announced the specs of the One, but clearly it helps make the phone even zippier than AOSP usually is.
AnTuTu is the benchmark of choice for many nowadays, and it scored on the same level as the Galaxy S5, LG G3 and HTC One M8 with 35,243. Honestly with these scores and performance it almost doesn't matter what comes out between now and the end of the year in terms of performance, we're not going to see anything hardware wise that improves overall user experience this year.
Storage is something you'll probably never have to worry about either, with 64GB built in you've got an actual 55GB of use after partitioning for the OS and future updates are done. While 4K video takes up a lot of space, it'll still take quite a bit of video to fill up all of it, and most apps aren't anywhere near big enough to fill this thing up quickly either. The 16GB version, however, will find itself running out of space quickly, and unfortunately neither version supports microSD cards; something most flagships nowadays have support for. This was a poor oversight on OnePlus's side, but it's not something completely negative as now you don't have the weird management of drive space usage that happens when using an SD Card either.
One of the biggest concerns of a modern smartphone is battery life, especially when the phone ships with a non-removable battery like the OnePlus One does. OnePlus stuck a 3100 mAh lithium-polymer battery inside the One, which is a pretty standard size battery for a phone of this physical stature. The real test though isn't the size of the battery, it's how much life you can get out of it. In my two weeks of testing I never once had the OnePlus One die on me, no matter what I did with it. That's incredible to me, and something I've never seen out of any phone I've ever used or had before. Generally I kill phones pretty quickly, anywhere from 8-12 hours and most phones are dead with my usage. The OnePlus One got through every day without problem, and never even hit that dreaded 15% low battery warning level either.
Normally I charge my phones at night when I sleep, so it's off the charger from around 5:30am to 11:00pm in a normal day. The phone charges super quickly with the built-in charger, and generally seems to hit near 100% after an hour of charging. This is great for you binge chargers out there or ones that don't like to keep it on the charger overnight for whatever reason. Standby time was fantastic too, and in my tests of leaving it unplugged all night the phone only lost 4-5% battery over 7 hours, which means this thing could go days and days if you don't use it very often or are just trying to save it as long as possible. Oddly enough I wasn't able to charge it very well with any other charger than the one included in the box. After many hours of charging most standard 1-1.5 amp chargers only gave me a few percentage points while the included charger began charging right away. Odd for sure but it's got to be down to power rating of the charger itself.
The OnePlus One is unique in a number of areas, but nowhere more unique than with its operating system. This is the first phone custom tailored by the team at Cyanogen, Inc., and you've likely heard a great deal about their custom firmware before, CyanogenMod. Built on Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the team at Cyanogen, Inc. have created a custom version of their popular CyanogenMod after-market firmware built just for the OnePlus One. What exactly does this bring to the table over regular CyanogenMod for any other device? For starters it's built specifically for this hardware, including all the unique traits that OnePlus has packed in. This includes full support for the camera's HDR, time-lapse, slow-motion video recording and shutter speed settings. Besides full camera support we're also talking full CPU support including functions like gestures when the screen is off, always-on listening for Google Now commands, and a few general tweaks throughout the OS that many devices just won't ever see. Besides full integration with the hardware we're basically guaranteed updates for life thanks to the fact that this is built on CyanogenMod, so even if the team at CM decides to up and leave the phone in the dust one day you're just a simple flash away from a new version of Android. That's the magic of having a custom OS built for a specific phone, so let's dive into what we're going to find.
This feature is sort of half-baked right now, but works really well for what's enabled. Out of the box OnePlus has enabled a feature called Gesture Shortcuts that let you draw a shape on the screen to perform an action even when the screen is off. There's quick access for the camera by drawing a circle, turning on and off the dual-LED flash on the back to use as a flashlight by drawing a V, and music control. The music control is a little more complicated, as swiping two fingers vertically plays or pauses music, and drawing a left or right arrow skips to the next or previous track played. I found the music control to be way too sensitive though, and I found myself unpausing music all the time when I was only grabbing the phone. Likely this is something I'm doing wrong other than something the software is doing, but it feels almost like the feature wasn't tested before being implemented.
Another gesture is double tap to wake or sleep. LG made this one popular with the G2 last year, and it's an incredibly easy and intuitive way to wake or sleep your device. Simply double tap anywhere on the screen while it's off to turn the screen on, and double tap on the notification bar up top while the phone is on to lock it and turn the screen off. Unfortunately though I found this feature to be way too sensitive as well, and I'd frequently take the phone out of my pocket to find that it had been unlocked and my leg was performing all sorts of tasks on the screen that I was unaware of. I never had this issue with the G2, so again this feels like an untested feature that needs to be tweaked before it actually becomes useful.
Last year with the Moto X, Motorola pioneered what was known as "always-on listening." This is a feature that lets you launch Google Now with your voice even when the screen is off and the phone is locked. It's an amazing feature that's tailored to your voice and works way more often than not. Cyanogen hasn't yet implemented this feature on the OnePlus One, but it's slated for a future software update after some more testing is done on it. Unfortunately like the shipping of the phone to most people, this feature has been delayed because of technical issues on the part of the recording quality that was done. Qualcomm built this feature into the Snapdragon 801 and has to approve the usage before it's implemented, so the quality assurance testing is done by them. We don't have a specific date, but Cyanogen, Inc. and OnePlus assure us they are working hard to get this one out the door.
Every manufacturer seems to have their own spin on the Android lock screen, although more manufacturers are using the stock Android lockscreen now than ever. The OnePlus One allows you to choose between a custom lockscreen specifically made for this phone, and a modified version of the standard one. The custom one features a stark half-screen cyan-colored block on the bottom-half of the screen that shows the time, date, weather information and battery percentage. This colored block turns into a really sweet looking equalizer when music is being played, and gives a really nice effect to your music. Unfortunately full-screen album art, which was introduced in KitKat, isn't available on this custom lockscreen, but can be seen as you swipe the colored square down to unlock the phone. The biggest downside to this custom lockscreen is that you can't use custom widgets or shortcuts to apps, it's just a simple swipe-down-to-unlock method, although you can still quick launch the camera by dragging the lock screen to the left.
The modified standard Android lockscreen features all the things you're used to: custom widgets to the left, camera shortcut to the right and at the bottom, and full-screen album art. It also features an incredibly handy 5-way slider that lets you launch 4 custom apps of your choosing, which is handy no matter how you slice it. While the custom lockscreen is arguably prettier at first glance, full-screen album art and the functionality brought by custom widgets and the 5-ring slider make this one the winner overall.
Theming and UI
One of the biggest set points of CyanogenMod 11S is the brand new theme engine that's included, and unlike previous theme engines it doesn't require root access to use. This is good since the phone doesn't come rooted out of the box (a practice that's an incredible security hazard for most people), but it's even more powerful than before. Themes can change every single aspect of your phone, from the font to sounds, boot animation to icons in your navigation bar, icons in apps, and even colors of the whole OS. There's already a few dozen themes on the Theme Showcase app, which is a simple way for users to find themes that are compatible with the new theme engine, and all the links take you to the Google Play Store listing for ease of billing and updating. Some themes are free, others charge money, but they are all unique and will make your phone look like no one else's. You can choose to apply a full theme or just one of its many elements, so if you like the font from one theme but the colors and boot animation from another you are free to choose what you will.
As far as custom UI tweaking goes you can tweak both the bottom navigation bar and the top notification bar. If you have capacitive keys enabled you can get custom actions to long press and regular press for each bottom. Enabling soft keys gives you "proper" Android Back, Home and Recents keys, and even lets you customize what buttons are available. So if you're one of "those people" that like a menu button still you can add it, and you can even replace the recents button with it if you so choose. Swiping up on the home soft key will just give you Google Now on most phones, but swiping up-left or up-right are customizable shortcuts on the OnePlus One, and you can choose to launch any action or app that you please.
The notification bar up top is full of options, starting with a ribbon of settings on the standard notification shade if you like that way of quick toggling as it is on a Samsung or LG device. Standard Android quick toggles are available on the secondary notification pane, which is brought about by either swiping down from the top right of the screen or pressing the button on the top right of the notification shade to toggle between panes. This is by far the most useful method of quick toggling, as it not only provides more visual options but more information as well. Things like currently connected wifi and cell networks, network speed, brightness toggles, GPS settings, torch on and off, battery percentage, what's connected via Bluetooth, quiet hours and more are found here. You can add or remove buttons and there's around three dozen things to choose from to put up here.
There's also context sensitive buttons that pop up when actions are performed such as switching keyboards when you are typing, launching the equalizer when you are listening to music, USB tether, casting your screen and others. Icons on the top can be tweaked too, as CyanogenMod lets you change the battery icon type, choose to display battery percentage within the icon, show or hide the clock and a few other little things.
There are a few custom apps shipped with CyanogenMod 11S, namely the camera, gallery, theme showcase, file manager and screencast. The file manager is a simple to use one that provides much of the functionality that a lot of paid file managers do, and is definitely more in depth than those normally offered by OEMS like Samsung, HTC or LG. It's not a root file browser though, so if you need that functionality you'll need to look elsewhere. Screencast uses Android 4.4 KitKat's built-in screen recording and actually makes it accessible with a simple start and stop button. This will record your screen and use the microphone for audio so you can narrate it.
Gallery is the only other big project from the CyanogenMod team, and while it's a mostly excellent affair it's a pretty bare-bones app. The gallery sorts your photos into what it calls Memories by default, which is an attempt to group them together by time, location and other EXIF data. This helps organize photos without you necessarily needing to do it yourself. That's actually good because there's no way to create folders or organize them otherwise. This was a huge letdown for me coming from Samsung's rather feature-rich gallery app that lets you do all these things. An annoying problem I ran into was when you slide through your carousel of pictures, the information about the picture pops up every time. This is extraordinarily annoying because you have to dismiss it every time a new picture appears, making scrolling through your pictures unpleasant at best.
One other thing the gallery app does really well is organizing all your social media and other photo storage into one place. You can add Google+, Dropbox, Facebook and Flickr among other services to your local gallery, meaning all your photos are in one location instead of a bunch of separate apps. You can also view pictures by each network location or all in one place, as well as just viewing files stored on your local device. Hopefully Cyanogen, Inc. adds more features to this app, because it's definitely got a killer base to work from.
OnePlus is using the Qualcomm WCD9320 audio chipset, which is found in a number of Samsung devices out there, and the audio quality produced from it is nothing short of stellar. It also helps that CyanogenMod has a built in equalizer with a lot of functionality that makes music end up sounding better than either of my vehicle's head units' equalizers do. I've literally shut the EQs off on the head units because this thing is so good, and that's definitely a first for me. As was stated above the equalizer is front and center on the phone and appears in the quick toggles pane when music is playing. This gives you a quick shortcut to the equalizer, which makes switching out sounds easy as pie. The equalizer works for the audio headset jack, the phone's external speaker, a USB audio connection, Bluetooth and Wireless connections. There are all sorts of presets for rap, rock, electronic, country, etc. that are standard fare, and modifying any of them takes you to a custom equalizer that's saved for you. My only beef here is there's no way to save custom equalizer presets, so your modified rock preset has to be redone every time you change that custom preset. Otherwise this is a seriously stellar EQ, and one that actually works unlike what I've found on other phones in the past.
The speaker on the OnePlus One is better than most phones that I've heard, but of course nothing is quite Boom Sound as found on the HTC One series. It features dual speakers on the bottom of the unit much like the G2, iPhone and a few other notable devices. The sound itself isn't too tinny or high pitched, and the volume levels are quite loud. I can easily hear the phone ring across the house, and music sounds clear and undistorted. Call volume through the external speakers leaves a bit to be desired though, as it's nearly impossible to hear someone over the speakerphone if the other person is also on speaker. Using the handset proved to be just fine and I never had any issues hearing the person on the other end, so I'm thinking this got cleared up in the last update or two. Unfortunately for me it seems like the OnePlus One doesn't support T-Mobile's rather excellent HD voice, or at least T-Mobile hasn't added support for the phone yet. There's no reason it shouldn't work, as the hardware definitely supports the standard, but it seems like it's not enabled.
Finally, we get to my favorite part: the camera! I've already gone over the camera in a few articles, including some sample shots, night mode performance and a comparison with the LG G2 and a few other phones, so check those out individually for all the details. The rear camera is usually what most people think about, but what about the front-facing one? OnePlus has included a 5 megapixel camera on the front, something that only HTC has done with its phones, as this is a much higher resolution than most other phones. This for me resulted in a significantly clearer image that was actually very free from noise compared to some other times I've used the Note 3, which is a 2MP camera on front. The downside to this camera is that it's super tiny and is prone to blur if you move the phone too much, but that's not any different from other front-facing shooters I've used either.
We'll go ahead and tear down the brand new camera app that Cyanogen, Inc. built and see how it fairs on the OnePlus One.
Interface and Settings
The interface is a really minimal one, where modes are swiped between instead of chosen in a carousel-type selector. This makes selecting modes not only quicker, but much easier too. Swiping between modes only selects modes that are enabled, so you'll want to pick the ones you use often to go here. Choosing the circle button on the right to open up the quick options reveals a magic wand. It's here where you'll select which modes are in the swipeable selector, while you'll need to go in here to select the rest. What's fantastic about this way of doing it is you can select the ones you actually use and don't have to bother with the rest unless you really need them. This makes taking photos a lot less convoluted and gets down to what you really care about: the picture.
Modes present are too many to list, but they include varieties like auto mode, HDR, slow shutter among others, as well as plenty of live filters to apply to photos. Unfortunately, these filters are only for photos and don't work on video. Other scene adjustments that can be made are similar to the old Google camera and include exposure metering to increase or decrease auto exposure by values of -2 to +2, white balance, GPS tags and a shot timer to take pictures after a few seconds of waiting.
Moving into the actual settings menu gives us a huge list of settings that actually let you fine tune the image on the fly. I really wish these settings were available to place as a quick button or something on the main interface instead of having to go through the options menu each time, as it makes it inconvenient to use these modes. In here you can change the size of the picture, quality of the JPEG file it saves, turn burst mode on or off, select the shutter speed, ISO, exposure mode, etc.
Burst mode can take up to 20 pictures nearly instantly, and takes no more processing time than an HDR shot does, which is quite incredible. Shutter speed ranges from auto all the way up to 8 seconds, allowing you to take some amazing night photography so long as you can keep the phone steady (again see the night mode article above for full details here). Adjusting the ISO allows you to choose from 100 to 1600 in standard increments, and even includes a Hand Jitter Reduction mode, although I didn't see any real need or noticeable improvement from this feature. Antibanding helps reduce that gradient artifacting that can come with JPEG compression, and focus duration keeps your presses focused for the set amount of time.
Auto exposure is an option most smartphones don't seem to support anymore, and brought me a great deal of happiness when using the different modes. Choosing between Frame Average, Center Weighted and Spot Metering makes a massive difference in white balance, colors and overall picture quality depending on the situation. The camera defaults to Center Weighted, which is probably the best for more situations than not, but I found that I preferred Spot Metering in more situations than not so that I could choose my lighting balance by just touching a spot on the screen.
The interface while taking video is super minimal, even more so than what's presented in the photo mode. You've only got two buttons in video mode: start/stop and take a picture. Taking a picture only works in 1080p or below mode too, so if you're shooting 4K you'll be taking no photos at the same time unfortunately. While this isn't different from really any other phone out there, it is disappointing that you have to make the sacrifice. Video quality as a whole, especially 4K video, is downright stunning. I don't have a 4K monitor or TV to view it on, but the clarity difference even on a 1080p monitor is noticeably better, which makes sense since it's over twice the number of pixels to catch all the details. 4K video is shot at 30FPS for reference.
Other modes include slow motion at 60FPS or 120FPS, as well as time lapse video. The OnePlus One shoots 1080p video at 30 and 60FPS, and 720P video all the way up to 120FPS. Slow motion looks and performs every bit as good as I would expect coming from the Galaxy Note 3, but I definitely would like some higher quality 120FPS video from phones in the future, especially since the 4K and 1080p video modes look so good. 1080p 60FPS mode really looks quite amazing, and the jump to 720p 120FPS feels more like a jump down to 480p instead. Again this isn't different from what I've found on other Android phones that can do all these video modes, it's just disappointing to not see the phone do it better since it's got newer and more powerful components than most other phones out there.
HDR video is missing, which is strange since the sensor and the processor both support this mode. In fact one of the big features of the Sony Exmor IMX214 sensor that the OnePlus One has is HDR video at 1080p 30FPS. There are plenty of options that could be built into the software in the future, but there's no telling if that's going to happen. I suppose it's possible that this is enabled by default but it's not clear, as there's nowhere in the settings or in the camera that says otherwise.
While I've already gone over photos enough in the other articles, I feel like it's necessary to sum up my thoughts on the camera in general. For the most part the OnePlus One takes incredible pictures; considerably better than the Galaxy Note 3 I had before, and right on par with the LG G2 depending on the situation. Photography is all about personal preference, and the differences between how the LG G2 and the OnePlus One shoot pictures is usually less about overall quality and more about personal preference in terms of lighting, color balance and the overall look of the scene. When I posted comparison shots on the OnePlus forums I was surprised to see how many people thought the OnePlus One's camera was bad, while there were plenty of others who thought it was great, including myself. What's important to me is this: is the overall shot good? Can you make it a wallpaper on your desktop without it being blurry, muddy or washed out looking? Does it take pictures of my kid, who tends to move fast and be difficult to focus on? Those are the important things to me, and the OnePlus One's camera excells at all of those, but then again so did the LG G2's.
HDR photos with the stock Cyanogen camera are a mixed bag. On the positive the CM camera is fast. I mean really fast. It focuses nearly instantly and almost always on the right subject (something that I've had problems with on other phones), and even HDR can catch a moving object without producing a double image. Indoors and in lower light the HDR shots come out amazing. Usually nearly completely noise free, great color and lighting balance, and the overall shot normally looks considerably better than the same shot on the plain auto mode. Outdoors or in strong lighting, however, the shots can really vary quite a bit. I took a couple of landscape shots that came out really great, if not a little over saturated and artificially colored, but there were others that had weird processing artifacts with just plain wrong colors and an overall washed out look. Look at these shots with their 100% crops to see what I mean:
It's this inconsistency that's annoying about smartphone photography at times, because this thing can take such good pictures more often than not. I've found that using the Google Camera or A Better Camera, both of which I generally swear by, eliminated these problems completely, and produced some absolutely stunning HDR photos. A Better Camera was the best software I used in my test, as it was lightning fast at taking the picture (must be this sensor) and you can really tweak the HDR settings quite a bit. Google Camera took a little long to take the photo and sometimes I'd end up with a double image if I twitched a bit.
Low light shots are a mixed bag. Sometimes the OnePlus One takes incredible low light shots, and other times they are full of noise or overexposed. I'd like to see some more consistency in this area with the camera, as it's the only spot where I found software didn't improve the quality of the picture when it was poor. Honestly though I've only ever found one location that I was unhappy with the low light performance, and I used it in my comparison article with the LG G2. One of the more impressive low light locations for me was at a bar, which you can see below:
And of course what would a review be without a smattering of random photos? Have a gander at these, all taken with the rear camera except for the last one, in case you needed to see how good the front facing camera is:
- Amazing price, especially for an unlocked phone
- Top-of-the-line Specs and performance
- Superior Build to most phones
- Super sharp and vivid display without looking fake
- Absolutely fantastic camera in most situations
- Night shots using slow shutter mode are mind-blowing
- CyanogenMod built in, meaning lots of customization and quick updates
- Phenomenal battery life
- Sounds output via the built-in equalizer is off the charts good
- Software still feels like it's beta sometimes
- Call volume needs to be louder when using speakerphone
- Too much noise in some low light shots when using auto mode
- HDR quality needs tweaking on the stock CM camera
- Screen off gestures can be finicky
The OnePlus One is the best phone I've used in years. Even with the few nuisance bugs that are present, including less than desireable call volume when on speakerphone, and the bugs that have popped up in strange places in the software, this is a better, more coherent experience than I've found on some of the big manufacturer's phones. Couple that with the downright blazing performance, the specs and of course the price and you'll quickly see why this is going to be one of the best phones of 2014. Once OnePlus can iron out the bugs in their manufacturing process and get this out to more people, things will really be cooking.
There are still a few announced features that haven't made it to the production device yet, like the always-on listening commands. These are promised to come, and hopefully given Cyanogen, Inc.'s past with keeping their ROMs updated right after AOSP source hits, we're looking at a phone that will be supported for years to come. The promise of updates on a non-Nexus device is always rough, with big companies usually not finding it in their best financial interests to keep old phones updated, Cyanogen, Inc. is promising to do it different, and ultimately better.
While the camera could use some work, it's better in most situations that I've found other phones on the market, and it gets more things right than wrong. The UI can be tweaked to suit your pleasure, including a powerful theming engine that lets you customize every aspect of what you see on the screen. CyanogenMod lets you tweak things that most manufacturers would never let you have access to, and it's this sort of power that makes this custom version of Android truly feel superior. While you're not going to get as many features as a Samsung or LG device, you're not getting the bloat either, or the expensive price tag. For $350 this 64GB phone is the best money you'll spend in the smartphone market right this moment. That is, of course, if you can get your hands on one.