OnePlus One review: Is it still worth picking up?

9 Jun 2015

Image via Connor McKenna

While it’s been over a year since it launched, the OnePlus One has only recently been made available to buy online normally rather than through an invite or on a Tuesday, bizarrely. So is the big spec for cheap price phone worth it?

As far as smartphone companies go, OnePlus are certainly one of the more unique ones to have entered the market given its business model, which attempts to drive demand by limiting products’ availability, all while selling its first phone, the OnePlus One, at effectively cost price.

That face obviously piqued the interest of many who suddenly realised they could potentially own an Android phone for nearly a third of the price of, say, a flagship Samsung or iPhone.

Last month, the company made country-specific online stores, including Ireland, with the phone now available to order online at any time.

Of course, a year on, anyone looking to get in on the OnePlus One will no doubt be keeping one eye pointed towards the inevitable OnePlus Two that is likely to launch by the end of this year, albeit with the return of the invite-only sales model.

So is it worth investing in the One even at this point?

OnePlus One – take a deep breath with OxygenOS

Keeping its image as the company that does things a little differently, the first obvious difference when booting up the OnePlus One is that the operating system (OS) is a modification of Android known as OxygenOS, based off Android’s Lollipop.

It’s been a valiant effort from OnePlus, which following its split from previous OS providers Cyanogen Mod, went and did its own thing with OxygenOS to create a system which for all intents and purposes looks rather similar to stock Android, something which I’ve always loved.

It’s quite responsive and has some nice little features such as double tapping the screen to wake it up, but the widgets are slightly cumbersome and there are some noticeable delays with the auto-brightness adjuster, which either doesn’t work or takes an age to adjust.

I will say that while I herald the choice to follow stock Android, I would throw an asterisk at the end of that as it took me a bit of time and some googling to find how to get rid of the theme that turned all my apps into ugly blocks, as well as some other aesthetic issues.

OxygenOS is like buying a ‘fixer-upper’ car, in that you know there’s something good there, it just needs a bit of fine-tuning to get it going like it should, which might not appeal to the type of person who wants a phone that’s ready to go fresh from the box.

Oxygen OS on the OnePlus One

Image via Connor McKenna

OnePlus One – meaty innards of processor and camera

Here is where the OnePlus One really shone when it was first released back in April. With its Quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU and 3GB of RAM, the phone is more than capable of handling itself with most tasks thrown at it.

While it’s probably outshined now by the Samsung Galaxy S6, it’s still close enough to offer similar performance, which is excellent given its cost (which we will get into later).

OnePlus in its webpage for the phone make a big deal about its camera, which it has to be said is worthy of praise with its 13MP Sony Exmor IMX214 camera with f/2.0 aperture thanks to its six lenses as well as its 5MP selfie camera.

From testing, images are pretty crisp and with dozens of different image settings to play around it’s ideal for those who dabble in Instagram and want to cut straight to the chase.

Video too boasts some prowess, with it being able to record 60fps at 1080p at and even 120fps at 720p, so definitely a phone for camera aficionados.

OnePlus One camera

Image via Connor McKenna

OnePlus One – hefty battery

With a big phone comes big battery, or at least it should. And in the case of the OnePlus One, it certainly does, with a capacity of 3,100mAh to put it on a par with the other large phones now on the market.

Even when tested to the limits with video playback and recording and regular internet usage, it still managed to hold its own.

For sure you’ll get a day out of it or even a day-and-a-half, but charging it is a different matter.

While it is a micro-USB connection, the stock OnePlus One cable charges the phone much faster than one of the dozens of standard micro-USB cables that you have lying around the house, which is a bit of an issue for me.

OnePlus One texting

Image via Connor McKenna

One Plus One – big screen to play with

As far as screen sizes go, the OnePlus One’s 5.5in 1080x1920p screen is definitely in the larger scale, which is now increasingly common with the flagship phones such as the iPhone 6 for video content and gaming fans.

However, while the OnePlus One has the familiar Corning Gorilla Glass 3 found on a range of Samsung phones, I can’t help but notice that smudging is common and when looked at in a particular light, is rather noticeable.

Glare too was an issue that required you to bump up the brightness, which your battery won’t like too much.

OnePlus One – design

For all its prowess, I can’t help but feel they didn’t try particularly hard when it came to designing the OnePlus One, possibly to keep the price down.

While it’s perfectly robust, the phone has, frankly, ugly bezels at the top and bottom of the screen that stick out like a sore thumb and end up doing nothing but attract daily dust and dirt.

As for functionality, the power and volume buttons are nowhere near as pronounced as I’d like and I would regularly have to look at the phone to see whether I was actually turning the volume up or down.

I have to say, however, that I really do like the back of the phone with its sandpaper feel that feels good in the hand and doesn’t allow it to slip on a glass table, for example.

OnePlus One reverse

Image via Connor McKenna

OnePlus One review – verdict and price

To put it simply, the OnePlus One is a flagship phone for the person who does not fancy coughing up the €700-plus for an iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6 sim-free.

Having recently had €100 knocked off both the 16GB and 64GB versions, the OnePlus One now starts from an incredibly cheap price of €249 for the 16GB version and €299 for the 64GB version, which is far cheaper than many in its class when talking in terms of it being unlocked from any network.

This means the OnePlus One is definitely up to the task for someone who wants a phone with a good cost-power ratio, but maybe not for someone who really likes their Galaxy S6 and just wants something cheaper as it requires a little finesse.

A workhorse that still has some life left in it, for sure.

OnePlus One graphic

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic